Written by J.Hawk exclusively for SouthFront
The 2000 presidential race being done and over, except for the tens of millions of Americans who believe the election was stolen and a general cloud of illegitimacy that will hang over the Biden presidency for the entirety of his term, Joe Biden finds himself in the place of a dog who was chasing a car—and caught it. Given the magnitude of America’s problem, one would have to be a spectacularly vain and/or power-hungry individual to want the job of President, but then again, who if not Joe Biden is that guy? And now that he has the job, he will have to address a broad range of domestic and international issues in a way that somehow prevents the increasingly intractable problems from causing a system-wide crack-up of US politics. The occupation of the US Capitol with the participation of great many active and retired police officers and members of the military, to the point of prompting US Joint Chiefs to issue an unprecedented proclamation to their troops to shut up and follow orders, means that the temptation to seal the deepening chasms dividing the US society through some sort of desperate foreign adventure intended to secure new markets and resources for US corporations, and therefore US workers and farmers, will increase. That expansion is to be accomplished at the expense of China and Russia, replacing their own homegrown corporations and state monopolies with US-based ones, on the model of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states, and even European countries that are heavily penetrated by US financial and information technology firms to the point of having sacrificed a great deal of their sovereignty. Russia and China have preserved themselves from becoming US “semi-periphery”, in both economic and political sense, which makes them obvious targets for Biden’s own “maximum pressure” campaigns to subjugate them, of the sort that Iran and Cuba, for example, have been bearing for decades. But while it’s clear that US will be openly hostile to both China and Russia, seeking to delegitimize their political institutions and promote destabilization and regime change, it does not appear the Biden administration foreign policy team has a clear plan on how to prioritize between these to biggest targets.
It is evident from a variety of sources, including quasi-private think tanks like the Atlantic Council and the pronouncements of senior US military officers like Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Milley that the US establishment regards China as a rising power and Russia as a declining one. The latter assessment appears to be based on a simple lack of understanding of processes occurring within the Russian Federation in the last two decades, combined with the Western propensity to regard course of history in linear rather than cyclical terms. US power has grown since 1776, therefore it will always continue to grow. Russia’s power declined after the collapse of USSR, therefore it is bound to continue to decline. But regardless of the source of the misconception, in practical terms it means that while China is viewed as the bigger threat, the Main Enemy, as it were, Russia is seen as a more vulnerable and therefore more attractive target. Judging by the changes in the US policies toward Russia, it appears that the goal of US foreign policy became first regime change in Russia, followed by economic isolation of China that would be much easier to achieve once both the Middle East and the Russian Federation, potential or actual sources of vast quantities of raw materials China’s manufacturing and population require, became US satellites in the same way Australia, for example, already is.
This development would place China in a position identical to Japan’s in the late 1930s, a country that proved highly vulnerable to steadily escalating US economic warfare and which moreover could not capitalize on its Non-Aggression Pact with USSR due to its rather ill-conceived alliance with Nazi Germany. Once isolated by US pressure, Japan gambled everything on a three-theater war against China, the British Empire, and the United States which it ultimately lost. Moreover, should Russia become a US satellite state, its military forces could be committed to a land campaign against China, in the name of “democracy promotion”, mirroring USSR’s decision to join the war against Japan that was solicited by Western powers unwilling to sustain the heavy losses an invasion of Japan would inevitably cause.
The Russian Bear Refuses to Play
The “Free Russia” component of US strategy went into high gear in 2014, when it was expected that the Kiev Maidan would be swiftly followed by one in Moscow, particularly after Western economic sanctions that were imposed as “punishment” for the reunification of Crimea. Were that strategy implemented two decades later, it would have likely enjoyed quick success. Instead it merely validated Prime Minister Witte’s “if you give Russia 20 years of peace, you won’t recognize her”. Instead of becoming a US client state, Russia became more independent and assertive internationally, demonstrating this not only in Ukraine but also in Syria. In spite of the US dominance in the Middle East, the small Russian military contingent in Syria proved impossible to dislodge through the usual US means of supplying and directing proxy non-state actors against the Russian presence.
It does not appear that Western powers-that-be have fully grasped the import of the 2014 “stab in the back” to the Russia-West relations for contrary to the usual Western propaganda, the Russian Federation in 2014 was very much a West-oriented country, seeking greater membership and involvement in Western economic and political institutions. The betrayal of these aspirations by Western actions means that Western leaders are now viewed as utterly untrustworthy, which means that greater exposure to and interdependence with Western economies and institutions is seen as a source of mortal danger to the Russian state. Since both nature and geopolitics abhor a vacuum, the West’s rejection of Russia meant better and more extensive relations with China, motivated by both countries’ shared interest in countering aggressive policies aimed at each of the two. In practical terms it means that it is not in China’s self-interest to see Russia succumb to Western pressure, just as it is not in Russia’s interest to see China fall either. That convergence of Russian and Chinese interests means that Obama-Harris foreign policy will have to reassess the Obama-Biden strategy of “Russia first, China second”.
Escalation or a Two-Front War?
Simply continuing the Obama-Biden strategy will be tempting but tricky. For starters, US sanctions against Russia have already greatly escalated during the Donald “Kremlin Asset” Trump presidency, whose initial outreach toward Russia which triggered #RussiaGate was likely nothing more than an attempt to interest Moscow in an alliance against Beijing, followed by economic warfare when it turned out Moscow was not about to sacrifice its stable relationship with Beijing for the sake of courting favor of fickle and unreliable United States and other Western countries. OFAC’s admission that there is hardly anything more that can be sanctioned in Russia suggests that all the “painless” options have been exhausted. Further expansion of sanctions, by leveling them against Russia’s sovereign debt or cutting Russia off from SWIFT, for example, would also have serious consequences for the United States and Europe. There is a reason these lines have not been crossed yet, and it remains to be seen whether the Biden Administration will be desperate enough to cross them. Further escalation of sanctions would also damage US-EU relations that Biden claims he wants to restore, and it is telling that Biden is framing the restoration of these alliances in terms of opposing China. Germany’s opposition to Trump-era sanctions against North Stream 2 means that the United States is limited where Europe’s vital interests are concerned.
Joe Biden’s War
Moreover, it does seem that the US “Deep State” is frustrated by Russia’s resistance and is getting impatient to finally grapple with China. It has already made many moves in that direction during the Trump administration, including the crackdown on Huawei, the effort to ban or seize Tik-Tok, last-minute moves to expand US contacts with Taiwan in violation of the “One China” policy, and most notably by the growing importance of naval and air power in Pentagon thinking. When Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley of the U.S. Army says that the Army will need to have its spending cut in order to bolster the U.S. Navy budget, this is no longer some Trumpian whim, but rather an expression of broad-based consensus preferences. Something that violates the long-standing if unwritten rule that each of the three major services, Army, Navy, Air Force, gets an equal share of the defense budget, cannot be anything other than an indicator of a major shift of focus.
Because while a US naval build-up would have consequences for Russia, since USN warships carry long-range land-attack missiles that are to be supplemented by hypersonic weapons and possess anti-ballistic missile defense capabilities, they are hardly suitable for the task of “defending the Suwalki Gap” and other NATO missions in Eastern Europe. Even the US Marine Corps, which during the Cold War had a major European NATO mission in Norway, is shedding its tanks and artillery to reshape itself as a force for littoral combat in the many archipelagoes of western Pacific. So, if anything, it looks like the United States military is actually sacrificing its ability to put boots, and tanks and guns, on the ground in continental Europe for the sake of putting ships and planes into and over the East China Sea and possibly the Arctic Ocean.
Biden’s team could try to reverse all that, but doing so would carry high political costs. Hunter Biden’s China ties are a liability that will be exploited should Joe “show weakness” toward China. The “Uyghur genocide” rhetoric will only intensify in the coming years, there is nothing that Biden can do to stem that, not anymore than Trump could tamp down on the “Russian collusion” theories that proliferated over the years. China’s success at tackling COVID-19 has only raised the sense of urgency about the “China threat” among the US supremacists. And finally there are the domestic US constituencies, often consisting of traditional Democratic Party voters, who backed Trump because the confrontation with China meant the possibility of manufacturing jobs of coming back to the US.
Oceania vs. Eurasia
All in all, it does not appear possible that Biden will have the luxury of picking and choosing theaters of Cold War, which sets us up for the spectacle of the United States that could not defeat the Taliban attempt to tackle two Eurasian major powers all at once. As in the previous iteration of “Cold War”, the battlefield will be the peripheral countries that are torn between the United States and the Eurasian powers. These include the European Union, whose economic interests are not served by US-led escalation toward either Russia or China, but also Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Australia, Philippines, and even India which collectively represent a geopolitical “no-man’s land” since their alliance commitments to the US are balanced by economic ties to America’s “designated enemies”.
Whether the United States is up to the task of handling this kind of a challenge is an open question. China’s, Russia’s economic systems are far more viable than they were during the Cold War, and are also healthier than Western economies that are struggling under massive debt burdens and require constant monetary stimulus policies by their respective central banks. US internal problems and divisions will likewise drain attention and budget funding away from international adventures. Should Biden focus on implementing this extreme foreign policy agenda at the expense of domestic priorities, the next round of isolationist backlash in the US will be even stronger than the previous one. So the situation in many ways resembles that facing the Nixon Administration in the late 1960s. However, is anyone in the Biden Administration willing to pursue détente policies?