At the end of the Clinton administration and the beginning of George W. Bush’s administration, it was possible to imagine that America was permanently ascendant. The Cold War was over, the tech boom was going, and the worst stories in the news were of a slight increase in the number of shark attacks at the beach. The Soviet Union had collapsed, China was just beginning to emerge from Communist-made poverty into the light of capitalism, and surely they would swing our way. America had such a head start, though, who could catch up to it?
Sadly we know the answer. After 9/11, the United States embarked upon a series of ruinous wars. The wars did not have to be ruinous, but wars often are. Rather than keeping our footprint in Afghanistan limited to small special operations groups to hunt Al Qaeda, we embarked on what is now a nearly twenty-year industrial-scale program to remake the country. It has proven a vast sinkhole of American wealth, and cost the lives of many of our best youth. The Iraq war could have been avoided, or at least it could have been won in 2010 with a status of forces agreement that would have kept us from having another decade of war against ISIS and Iranian proxies. Yet then for some reason the Obama administration, which had run against the wars, decided to open new fronts in Libya, and then in Syria.
As a consequence of these multiple deployments, and the fact that the Afghan one required Russian support for our logistical route through the Central Asian republics, we were in no position to respond to Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Nor Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Nor Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As a wise man once said, only the heir to the throne of the kingdom of idiots fights a war on many fronts. Even two fronts seriously burdens a nation’s capacity for winning its wars. The United States made a series of costly blunders over the previous two administrations.
China appears to be about to embark upon a set of blunders of its own. The Security Studies Group has warned that the Chinese state could be readily embroiled upon three fronts at the decision of the United States and without the United States having to fight any of the wars. China appears to have elected to open a fourth front, and to have accelerated two of the others on its own.
The first three fronts were Taiwan, where China is conducting aggressive war games and protesting American and French weapon sales; the Uighur, where China is engaged in genocide against a large ethnic minority group that extends beyond its borders into Central Asia; and Hong Kong, in which China has ‘altered the deal’ by imposing decades-early direct control from Beijing.
The fourth front is the border with India.
Thousands of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops are reported to have moved into sensitive areas along the eastern Ladakh border…. In response, the Indian army has moved several battalions from an infantry division usually based in the Ladakh city of Leh to “operational alert areas” along the border, and reinforcement troops have been brought in.
From the American strategic perspective, this is good news. Every additional front China entertains makes it less likely that it will accomplish its goals on any other front. Taiwan can breathe a little easier as it watches Indian battalions digging into the Himalayas. Hong Kong, nervously awaiting the crackdown, can hope for better fortunes if either of those other fronts becomes hot. And should the Uighur find a large cache of arms, and perhaps some plausibly deniable trainers across the border in Afghanistan, not only will China be more likely to fail in its genocide but everywhere else as well.
This is in fact the strategy that ‘made America great’ in the first place. In two successive world wars, America avoided fighting the conflict until near the end of the fight. Instead it preserved and built out its industrial base by selling arms to its preferred victors. Though propaganda from the era suggested that it was war material merchants who were pressing for America to enter these wars, in fact the opposite was true. American war merchants of the era had every reason to let the conflicts drag, while they sold replacement ships and planes and tanks from an industrial base that faced no aerial bombardments.
If the Chinese Communist government insists on going down this road we should at least not stop them. We should, at least, be making outreach efforts to their proposed enemies to see how we might support them. One should never interfere with an enemy who is making a mistake. If one can instead profit off their mistake, all the better.