Ignoring Foreign Threats Doesn’t Make Them Go Away

This week’s Courier Herald column:

The eighties are on line one.  They’ve been on hold for a while, but they’d like to talk about foreign policy.

Yes, that is an overt reference to President Obama’s debate retort to Mitt Romney, who had the temerity to remind us in 2012 that Russia was “our number one geopolitical foe”.  President Obama, in his clap back, argued it was Al Qaida.

There have already been far too many columns written on this now decades old exchange, but for those that need a review of the one-sided press pile on, I recommend a twitter thread by Drew Holden (@DrewHolden360).  In a February 22nd series of posts to social media, he documents the press continuing to dunk on Romney for being so old, tired, and out of date to think that Russia was still a threat.

While our country’s “thought leaders” have been focused on winning a 24-hour news cycle, our country’s rivals – Russia and China specifically – have been playing a long game.  They each understand our obsession with the present, and even use it against us and to their own advantages.  

I was in my final quarter as an undergraduate at UGA when I watched the Berlin wall come down.  We declared unofficial victory in the unofficial cold war. 

We named ourselves the only remaining world superpower.  We spent a “peace dividend”, shrinking the size of our standing military that we had expanded throughout the eighties.

We’ve now had a couple of generations that have grown up in an America that hasn’t had a mandatory military draft, that didn’t practice air raid drills in schools, that didn’t go to bed at night wondering if the Soviet Union would launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack.

Instead, we now have a generation that practices active shooter drills in schools, and uses the National Anthem as an opportunity to display divisions rather than to unite.

We are now conditioned to view our enemies as domestic.  Foreign interests that would threaten us are SO last millennium. 

The former NFL player that is generally credited with popularizing the protest of the national anthem got a nice contract from Nike.  Nike’s former CEO went on record during an earnings call – during a time when Nike and many other US based companies were fighting tariffs placed on Chinese imports – to state that “Nike is a brand of China, for China”.

Nike’s sponsored athletes have quite the freedom to protest actions in this country, with at least one even claiming expertise on Georgia’s recent voting law before it was even written.  But ask those same athletes to weigh in on China’s human rights abuses?  Suddenly their virtue signaling becomes clouded and they couldn’t possibly weigh in on such complicated issues.

It should be noted that China, not the USA, is the NBA’s largest market for viewers, with estimates from a few years ago noting it was worth more than a half billion per year.

Meanwhile, Russia has been methodically getting its USSR band back together.  Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine…

While we declared victory and moved on, Russia went to work.  We helped Russia get rid of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.  Once again, non-specific promises by the U.S. for security assistance were not the same as NATO membership.  Russia knows – especially after our disastrous abandonment of Afghanistan – that our country has no stomach for a land war in Europe. 

So Vladmir Putin has made a calculation.  He’ll endure some short term sanctions that drive up oil prices – his country’s primary source of revenue – and he’ll wait for us to change our attention to literally anything else.  It’s a speed bump on his way to restoring yet another piece of the former Soviet Union. 

He’ll have China in his corner.  They’ll likely be happy to purchase his oil and farm exports, and help him circumvent as many of his sanctions as possible.  They know that we’re just as equally afraid China will assert control over Taiwan, when we are already fully understanding the implications of outsourcing most of our semiconductor chip business to those two countries.

Our rivals are happy to provide us checkers to occupy ourselves while they play chess.  Now would be an excellent time for our leaders of both parties to outline what we must do as a nation to insulate ourselves from economic, energy, supply chain, and national security threats.

Don’t expect this to happen.  Instead, both red and blue are studying their board, trying to figure out a triple jump to “king me”.  That call from the 80’s is just going to have to wait a bit longer while the checkers game plays itself out.


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