- - Thursday, November 11, 2021

Twice in the last three months, President Joe Biden has said that America would defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack. His staff quickly corrected him on both occasions, saying that our policy toward China – “strategic ambiguity” – hasn’t changed. 

The Biden administration’s actions belie those words. Mr. Biden has changed our policy toward China and Taiwan and the methods and means by which we are able to deal with each of them. The evidence is in at least two parts.

First, China is buying enough Iranian oil – in defiance of US sanctions – to reportedly keep the Iranian economy afloat. That means China is subsidizing Iran’s aggression across the Middle East. Yet Mr. Biden is taking no action to sanction or otherwise penalize China for buying Iran’s oil. Instead, he brags about playing basketball with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

To Mr. Biden, both China and Iran are too fearsome to attempt any action that might inconvenience either. It’s an appeasement twofer, weakening our policies on both China and Iran. It’s also entirely consistent with Mr. Biden’s foolish pursuit of renewing the 2015 Obama nuclear weapons deal with Iran

Second, China’s military is undergoing major transformative growth. In part, it is being redesigned to prevent our forces from being able to intervene in any attack on Taiwan, Japan, India or Australia. (The latter three, with us, comprise the nascent “Quad” alliance). 

Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that China’s tests of hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles might be a “Sputnik moment” for us. It is, but you’d never know that from the Biden administration’s reactions.

The 1957 Soviet launch of the first earth satellite, Sputnik, caused a national uproar that was reflected in making our effort to catch up to Soviet missile and space technology a top national priority. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Nixon pushed hard to catch up. 

There is no evidence of anything like a Sputnik-era effort in the 2022 Defense Authorization Act (DAA), with which Mr. Biden and Gen. Milley are evidently content. The DAA is the congressional authorization for everything the military does. This one authorizes nearly $770 billion. It would be more than enough to catch up if it weren’t burdened with the costs of climate change nonsense, increased parental leave, and other woke baloney.

We are sleepwalking while China and Russia are building new weapon systems against some of which, like its hypersonic missiles, we have no defense.

The danger in our failure to rush to meet China’s technological challenges was best voiced recently by Air Force Gen. John Hyten, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

At a recent Air Force Association symposium, Gen. Hyten said, “The biggest threat I worry about is us. Because we move slow, we are deliberate. We don’t take risks anymore…It takes us two years to do an experiment, then two years to build a requirement and two years to get a budget and then ten years to build a program that is supposed to last for fifteen or twenty years. And, in the meantime, somebody like China has built four different capabilities to do the same thing. And they’re moving unbelievably fast.”

One wonders if Gens. Milley and Hyten talk to each other. Their relative levels of influence on the 2022 DAA speak for itself. Gen. Milley is more concerned with “white rage” and wokeness and, thus, is Mr. Biden’s favorite general. Gen. Hyten is evidently quite the opposite. His remarks were comprehensively correct.

To fix the problems Gen. Hyten spoke of would require an overhaul of the defense acquisition system, a new approach to defense acquisition by congress, industry and a cultural change in the people who work within the system. 

Moreover, fixing these problems and seriously addressing the warriors’ needs requires an attitude change by the president, the Pentagon leadership and congress. But that is something for which Mr. Biden and his administration see no need. 

Our forces need a bottom-up review of what threats we face and what means we have to deal with them now and twenty years from now. Like the “Defense Guidance” process in the Reagan years, it would take the best intelligence of what threats we face and determine the best means to deter or defeat them. Today’s “Quadrennial Defense Review,” which is supposed to perform that function, is a diluted and politicized version of what a defense guidance process should be.

Yes, the Chinese have more ships than we do. They are planning warfare that includes information warfare to interfere with our government planning and our political will to deal with the threats we face. A defense guidance mechanism would recognize that the number of ships is less important than the ships’ capabilities and the strategies and tactics employed in war. We need to craft intelligence and defense budgets to meet the threats China, Russia, Iran and North Korea pose. 

For Mr. Biden and his team to be willing to face these challenges, they would have to understand – as Gen. Hyten does – that sleepwalking in our adversaries’ shadows is no way to defend our nation. But they don’t seem to care.

In Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, serious people with deadly intent are making use of their own “Sputnik moments.” If only we were.

• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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