How do you kill a lion? Years ago in Kenya, the question arose (no doubt over too many Tusker beers) and someone gave me what sounded like an authoritative answer.
He said even a skilled tribal hunter, armed with only a spear, would be unlikely to survive such an attempt. So a strategy was developed. Several hunters would surround the beast, and whoever found himself behind it would step forward and stab it. When the lion turned, the hunter now at its rear would do the same. On and on until, sooner or later, bloodied and exhausted, the lion would succumb.
The current administration deserves credit for addressing multiple threats to America’s national security that previous administrations chose to ignore or deal with fecklessly. But the sheer number of crises now coming to a head has to be cause for concern.
Start with the Middle East to which the Pentagon has deployed an amphibious assault ship, a Patriot antimissile system, an aircraft carrier and a strike group. The reason for this show of force: intelligence reports indicating that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been plotting attacks on U.S. troops in the region. Over the past 40 years, Iranian theocrats have been responsible for killing hundreds of Americans, and with virtual impunity. Perhaps President Trump has caused them to have second thoughts about trying their luck again.
Move to Asia where North Korea last week tested short-range missiles that military experts believe are modeled on Russia’s Iskander missiles — capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Might additional economic sanctions, a real “maximum pressure” campaign, make clear to Kim Jong-un that climbing the escalation ladder is not in his interest? I’d argue it’s worth a try.
Meanwhile, trade talks are at an impasse with China, whose rulers for decades have been stealing hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. intellectual property, high-technology weapons systems and private information on American citizens. Disabusing President Xi Jinping of the notion that such thievery is China’s entitlement would represent a major achievement.
Shift to Latin America, specifically Venezuela where Juan Guaido is recognized by more than 50 nations as the legitimate interim president. But Russia, Cuba, Iran and China are colluding to prop up Nicolas Maduro who, following in the footsteps of Hugo Chavez, has turned what was once a rich and promising land into a hellhole.
Both Cuban and Iranian intelligence officials are at Mr. Maduro’s side, along with what are believed to be Russian military advisors. At the moment, this axis of anti-American oppressors appears to be prevailing.
President Trump didn’t create these crises. His predecessors, Republican and Democratic alike, knew it would imperil America’s security should Pyongyang or Tehran acquire nuclear weapons deliverable to American targets. They understood that Russian revanchism ought not go unchecked. They were aware that generations of American leaders had opposed America’s adversaries dragging Latin American countries into their orbits. They could have perceived that China was not moderating or abiding by what are called – more hopefully than accurately – “international norms.”
Too often, however, our elected leaders are distracted by urgent issues or just shiny objects. Sometimes they take easy ways out, pursue short-term fixes or claim that doing nothing is “strategic patience.”
Our enemies and adversaries know that America remains stronger, economically and military, than any of them. What they may be testing is whether the U.S. is stronger than any combination of them.
Though Iran, China, Russia, North Korea and Cuba are very different nations, all are ruled by dictators who want America diminished – incapable of frustrating their various and nefarious geopolitical ambitions.
Should we allow them to achieve that objective? If the answer is no, we’ll need to do what it takes to grow our economy, increase our military capabilities, and think longer-term than in the past – no mean feat, I realize, given the demands of America’s election calendar.
The paradox of deterrence is that the stronger we are, the less likely that our adversaries will provoke a conflict with us. By contrast, if we appear weak or wobbly, those who despise us will be emboldened to take their best shots.
At an event last week organized by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Lt. Gen. (ret.) H.R. McMaster, who served for a year as President Trump’s national security advisor, and now chairs FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power, observed: “There’s this defeatist narrative that’s inaccurate, and doesn’t reflect what’s at stake and doesn’t reflect the actual situation.” It’s a narrative, he said, of “war-weariness” at a time when the U.S. actually “has a smaller percentage of its military deployed overseas than it has had since 1950.”
In response to General McMaster’s remarks, Senator Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy advisor, Matt Duss, snarkily tweeted: “Remember kids, if the Forever War ends, so does FDD’s grift.”
Though undoubtedly an intelligent man, Mr. Duss seems unable to grasp a simple concept: The “Forever War” ends only when one side or the other accepts defeat.
Those who call themselves our enemies are patient, resourceful, determined – not war-weary. They believe it’s only a matter of time before Americans, bloodied and exhausted by their thrusts and stabs, submit to a new world order of their design, one that will be – I guarantee you – inimical to American interests. And given the possibility that someone such as Mr. Duss may be providing foreign policy advice to the next American commander in chief, who can say with confidence that they’re wrong?
Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times.