A lot has been written and spoken about the president’s press conference last week. But the single biggest take-away was that Joe Biden is, to be kind, less than adroit in the world of geopolitics. After watching the president’s performance, I could not help reflecting upon former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates’ comment that, “Joe Biden has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades. Biden watchers might say “big surprise” considering the administration’s disgraceful and ham-handed exit from Afghanistan, a withdrawal that blind-sided our allies and negated twenty years of hard-won progress regarding that country’s security, economy, education, and women’s rights.
Perhaps Mr. Biden should have read The Art of War by Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu (544-496 B.C.) who wrote, “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. Rather, to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” And the ‘skill’ Sun Tzu referred to can be described as having the ability to deter enemies by creating near certainty in their minds that they would face ‘consequences in the extreme’ should they cross a metaphorical red line; begging the question, what exactly is the standard for calculating that deterrence?
To be clear, deterrence is not about what “we think,” rather, it’s what our adversaries think. Historically, wars occur when one nation calculates it stands a good chance of prevailing in a conflict with another, irrespective of whether that calculation is valid. Conversely, deterrence occurs when one nation fears not only the power of another, but more importantly, its willingness to use that power.
(Manpower + Resources) x Will = Outcome
Richard Nixon, our 35th president, had an uncanny grasp of geopolitics, and in his landmark book, The Real War, he predicted the demise of the Soviet Union a decade before the Berlin Wall actually fell. But perhaps most insightful concept to come from that book was in the form of an algebraic equation, to wit: “Manpower plus resources, multiplied by will equals outcome.” And when we look at examples of weaker forces defeating stronger forces such as the Spartans at Thermopylae or the NVA in Vietnam we see that the common denominator was strength of will.
Measuring military prowess isn’t complicated, it’s a matter of surveying the size, readiness, and the technology of a nation’s military. And there’s little doubt our adversaries respect our capabilities: but they also understand the larger concept, that weaponry alone is not enough, as the saying goes, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”
Shock waves rippled throughout the geopolitical world when the president said Russia would face lesser consequences for launching a “minor” attack against Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is former KGB and he is well-aware that President Biden was an acolyte of Barrack Obama whose administration drew red lines that were crossed in Syria and the Crimea, making it doubtful he was surprised when the president followed that with, “It depends on what he does as to what extent we’re going to be able to get total unity on the NATO front, a statement that told Putin NATO’s ducks aren’t in a row. The White House attempted to clarify the president’s words, but one needn’t be a rocket scientist to recognize “a cleanup on aisle four.” And when the leader of the Free World makes a statement with implications about war and peace, there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle.
Why on earth would the President of the United States announce to an adversary he was unsure of what NATO’s response might be? Why not just inform the Russian president about the state of readiness of ‘The 6th Fleet?’ Vladimir Putin can spot weakness a mile away, and he’s fully aware NATO has 28 member nations and the notion that all are going to agree on what actions should be taken in the event he invades Ukraine is tantamount to making a square circle—it’s simply not going to happen. And you can rest assured that Russian diplomats and operatives are busily working to create doubt in the minds of the leaders in each of those nations.
A president’s words should speak for themselves. So, when Biden’s Chief-of-Staff, the White House press secretary and the Vice President were forced make emergency appearances on every morning news show the day after the press conference to clarify the president’s statements it can mean only one thing—there is no clarity—and while the Russians, Chinese, Iranians, and North Koreans may have suspected it before; they now know it for certain.
Thought for the day: When referring to a nation of 42 million people, creating a distinction between a minor incursion and an invasion is tantamount to referring to a woman as just a little bit pregnant.