Danger: President Joe Biden’s sophomores running U.S. foreign policy today live in a dream world on the verge of becoming a nightmare. The nightmare – military confrontation with both Russia and China – now looms.
It is scary enough that Biden seems to be out of it. Scarier still is the reality that his advisers appear to be oblivious to the tectonic-change implications of Russia-China entente. Blinded by the illusion of US"exceptionalism," they may have to learn the hard way. The nightmare into which they are sleep-walking may be the last nightmare for pretty much all on this planet, except maybe the cockroaches.
Okay: Antony Blinken is no longer a sophomore. But he was a sophomore 20 years ago when he helped his then-boss, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden lie about weapons of mass destruction to win congressional approval for war on Iraq. Neither of them were held accountable for that – one of the worst foreign policy disasters in U.S. history. Indeed, the only thing they seem to have learned from it is that they will never be held accountable, not even if they wander, oops, into cataclysmic disaster.
Blinken is his now-boss’s, loose-cannon Secretary of State. Will Blinken, now an upperclassman, and the insider-sophomores like national security adviser Jacob Sullivan get us, willy-nilly, into war with Russia? How about war with both Russia and China? Do not put it past them.
Oddly, they have the benighted notion they can "manage" China; keep it from military-alliance-type support for Russia; or – if necessary – handle a two-front war with the two other major nuclear powers. Odder still, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, who should know better, seem cowed by Blinken and Sullivan – despite the fact that they have less military experience in the military than an ROTC cadet.
No Renaissance Men (or Women)
Bruce Fein, a Renaissance-man-type lawyer, pins the blame squarely on these benighted policy makers for trying to encircle and handcuff both China and Russia. Fein is not impressed by the fact that these specialists come from "the best schools." Here’s Fein in a recent substack post:
US foreign policy is earmarked by chronic stupid stuff because we no longer produce Renaissance men or women who see things in their proper perspective and avoid magnifying fleas into elephants. Renaissance thinkers understand, like Lord Byron, that history, with all its volumes vast, hath but one page, that there is nothing new under the sun, and, that an Aristotelian mean is the presumptive optimal approach to any problem. Narrowly trained specialists cannot see the forest for the trees and routinely stumble.
Quick: Someone tell Blinken and Sullivan about Aristotle’s Golden Mean; explaining that it does not mean "golden boys (and girls) can be extremely mean and get away with it. Rather, it can be rendered, in loose translation, as: "Stop doing extremely stupid stuff or you’re going to get us extremely dead."
China and Russia: Now Joined at the Hip
If China’s President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin were out to prove one thing as they conferred in Moscow last week, it was that they would defend their own – and each other’s – core interests regarding Ukraine and Taiwan. Sensible planners must assume they will.
But Biden and Blinken don’t seem to get it. Here’s Biden on Friday trying to reassure us that he does not take either China or Russia lightly. He then goes on to suggest that reports of rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing have been "vastly exaggerated." Blinken is similarly out to lunch, dismissing deepening ties between China and Russia as a "marriage of convenience."
Biden and Blinken have reiterated Washington’s latest red herring to "prove" that the US can prevent Beijing from going the next step in supporting Russia. Both have noted that China had so far declined to provide weapons to Moscow for its war in Ukraine. "We have not seen them cross that line," Blinken said of China.
Right! As things now stand, Russia is in no great need for weapons or ammunition from China. (It is NATO-supported Ukrainian forces that are running out of both.) And, in the unlikely event that Russia would come to need such support in the future, it is safe bet that China would oblige. After all, XI Jinping is well aware that China is next, behind Russia, on the list for the US/NATO/collective West.
Putin on the New "Crazies"
Speaking on Oct. 27 at the Valdai International Discussion Club, Russian President Vladimir Putin questioned the sanity of those who would “spoil relations with China at the same time they are supplying billions-worth of weapons to Ukraine in a fight against Russia.”
In answer to a question on “the growing tensions between China and the United States over Taiwan,” Putin labeled visits by top US officials to Taiwan a “provocation.” Putin added:
“Frankly, I do not know why they are doing this. … Are they sane? It seems that this runs completely counter to common sense and logic … This is simply crazy.
“It may seem that there is a subtle, profound plot behind this. But I think there is nothing there, no subtle thought. It is just nonsense and arrogance, nothing else. … Such irrational actions are rooted in arrogance and a sense of impunity.”
Needless to say, it is not healthy – to say the least – for adversaries to regard those with the power to obliterate them as irrational, crazy. I don’t think Putin’s observations betoken paranoia. Equally important, Russian military planners have to take this seriously. If Biden and crew are crazy enough to blow up the Nord Stream pipeline, what else might they be crazy enough to do?
Glenn Greenwald made some instructive points in describing the "banality of evil" on the part of government functionaries. Hannah Arendt coined the term when she went to the Nuremberg trials:
She watched Nazi war criminals, one after the next go on the stand. And she was shocked at how kind of mediocre they were. They didn’t have any sense that they had done anything wrong, and they really didn’t believe it. They were just basically like I just did my job. And my job was to count the number of Jewish citizens being transported on these trains. And I filled out that report. I don’t have hate in my heart for anyone. I was just doing my job.
And so it goes.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).