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Decent Into Débâcle: Pyrrhic Victories, Lies and Strategic Miscalculations

China and Russia are joining hands militarily. This will portend a strategic paradigm change that may force a U.S. re-consideration of the way ahead.

The sense that things are bad, and getting worse, is palpable. There is an undeniable eschatological tint to today’s zeitgeist. Spiralling geo-political factors all suggest extreme turbulence ahead.

Biden and the Democrats discover – to their surprise – that they are in a ‘bind’: Having thought to run in 2024 on ‘the Biden economic record’, Biden’s Team finds prospects dissolving in the face of accelerating events.

And Ukraine – which was to be precursor to the toppling of Russia per se – looks more likely to descend into débâcle. With defeat on two fronts (the financial ‘war’ and diplomatic) already established, and with the Ukrainian entity now incrementally atrophying under Russian military attrition on yet another front, Washington frets whether or not to run a Ukrainian offensive at all – fearing it might seal a Ukrainian catastrophe.

Kiev hears Washington’s equivocation on the likely outcome of the Ukrainian offensive; Kiev understands too that this could mean ‘curtains’ for the Zelensky ‘project’ – were Biden to decide that it is time to draw a line under it, and to complete the pivot to China. It would mean literally ‘the end’ for most of the Kiev leadership.

The change in strategy is already evident: John Kirby (Sullivan’s spokesperson) has been brandishing highly exaggerated Russian losses in Bakhmut/Artyomovsk. At the same time that he suggests that though Russia somehow may seem to be ‘winning’, in reality it has been defeated. Blinken followed up on this theme the following day with ‘Russia has failed in its objective to erase Ukraine’, and therefore, has ‘lost’ – having failed to achieve its objectives.

Clearly, Team Biden are falling back onto a Pyrrhic victory for Russia ‘narrative’, with Ukraine’s survival cast as ‘mission accomplished’.

The consequence was predictable: with a U.S. ‘exit’ apparently looming, some major provocation (i.e. the drone attack on the Kremlin) was to be expected. ‘Someone’ clearly is desperate to trigger a Russian overreaction that would, in turn, force the West to move to full war against Russia.

At time of writing, the details of who might be responsible for the Kremlin attack are unknown. There is however deep, passionate anger in Russia. The Kremlin must acknowledge this public sentiment. And there will be a response; but at the same time Moscow will not want to play into the provocateurs’ agenda. (9 May marks the Russian victory in the war against Nazi Germany. They will not want the day disrupted).

Faced with a prospective Ukraine imbroglio; with inflation spiking; a recession looming; a run on the banking system; and low poll ratings, ‘Team Biden’ seemingly has a plan. It is the re-making of Biden as a ‘War President’, through mobilising America to take-down China, whilst the Establishment believes America may still have the (conventional military) edge. The Pentagon ‘war-gaming’ reportedly implies the U.S. to have a chance before China becomes fully war-prepared.

Seems bizarre? Well, the other ‘fronts’ (inflation, the financial bubble, recession, unaffordable medication and education) simply have NO solution. They are deep structural problems. America today is a place where most everyone recognizes the problems, but where veto power, entrenched interests, and ‘Uniparty’ domination in Congress forecloses on any attempted reform. Trump tried to break the stasis, but failed. Biden would fail, too, if he tried. So, if solving America’s problems is ‘the problem’, then becoming a ‘War President’ conceivably could be seen as the ‘solution’.

Of course, since western societies today cannot look truth in the eye, the West must emerge as the ‘victim’ of events, and not the author of its plight; thus paving the justification for war. And to ensure this narrative sticks in the public domain, preparatory warning shots have been fired towards the mass media to ‘stay on team’.

“Great Power rivalry, and the competition for diminishing resources – are but old realities reborn”, Robert Kaplan warns. “Their return is the revenant of history that now defines a present of increasing peril and uncertainty”.

“The world situation is similar to that in the run-up to 1914. New technologies have not overcome rivalry over scarce natural resources, only shifted its focus”, Philosopher John Gray writes.

A new version of the late-19th-century Great Game is afoot. The two world wars were in part driven by a need for oil. Western societies’ belief that options can always be expanded by human agency has been a central feature of the western political project – and of progressive liberalism too, writes Professor Helen Thompson.

She continues that “… missing is the fact that technology cannot create energy [at least of the type that modern society needs]. This human agency conviction has long proved overly-sanguine. Those who assume that the political world can be reconstructed by the efforts of human Will, have never before had to bet so heavily on technology over [fossil] energy – as the driver of our material advancement”.

Aahh – Professor Thompson lets the cat out of the bag. This hugely risky ‘war bet’ – i.e. that our complex societies can be increasingly run on Green Tech, rather than ‘19th Century natural resources’ – is a gamble, brought on, Thompson suggests, “by an underlying mood of existential dread, a nagging suspicion that our civilisation may destroy itself, as so many others have done in the past”. (Hence the impulse to reassert domination – even at the price of accelerating a possible western self-suicide).

Her point is that the general cultural zeitgeist is trending towards the hopeless and nihilistic. Yes – but who was responsible for the West needing to place this bet for its future on technology over energy? Europe had a cheap, reliable supply of energy until it threw in its hand with the U.S. and European neo-cons’ plans.

The western ‘golden age’ was tied to zero interest rates and zero inflation. There were decades of near zero inflation precisely because of cheap manufactures coming from China and cheap energy from Russia. Now the West faces the demon of inflation and higher interest rates ravaging its financial system. It was its choice.

Oh yes; the ‘narrative’, as Robert Kaplan explains, is that “fate is ultimately in the hands of human agency. But human agency need not have positive outcomes. Individuals such as Putin and Xi are human agents, who have caused a vast and bloody war in Ukraine – and are driving Asia toward a high-end military conflict over Taiwan”. Oh – so Ukraine and Taiwan have nothing to do with the neo-con project to extend U.S. hegemony into a new era?

Unable to address issues honestly, this collective of western intellectuals base the justification for a future China war on the premise that Putin, without due cause, simply chose to invade Ukraine on 24 February 2022, and that Xi is guilty of the intent to invade Taiwan – for which the West must properly respond by ‘maximally’ stockpiling weapons in Taiwan.

This justification is as mendacious as was the justification for the Iraq War.

Preparations for this war are ramping: More weapons in Taiwan; U.S. Special Forces conducting exercises for their infiltration into Taiwan in wake of any Chinese take-over (presumably to launch a guerrilla insurgency). And as Andrew Korybko relates, the U.S. is rounding up allies in the Asia Pacific: South Korea has authorised nuclear armed U.S. submarines to dock at its ports;AUKUS is being strengthened; Japan is unofficially aboard; and Indonesia and the Philippines are under U.S. pressure to do their part.

In counterpoint to the usual play-book of rounding up allies ahead of a possible conflict, the EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, is proposing that the EU bloc’s navies patrol the Taiwan Strait. This came just several weeks after NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg declared that “We are now stepping up our cooperation with our partners in the Indo-Pacific: Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia.”

“The indisputable trend is that the U.S.’ European partners are poised to play a larger military role in the region, including a provocative one if they end up patrolling the Taiwan Strait”, Korybko writes.

The EU’s Von der Leyen and the EU is involved too – her name was mentioned three times in Jake Sullivan’s ‘New Washington Consensus’ speech in which the entire trend of policy, since the Reagan years, is scheduled to be reversed – from a return to protectionism; to central government intervention in support of industrial policy; to a bold investment in capacity-building;‘resilience’ and the re-appropriation of internal supply chains.

This is not however a true blueprint for reforming the U.S. economy – though it is billed as such. True reform would require huge structural change. It is all about re-orientating the economy for possible conventional war with China. (One lesson from the Ukraine conflict has been that industrial capacity matters). It is likely too, a pretext for increased fiscal spending (money printing) in the run-up to the 2024 Election.

Inevitably, those in the EU who are allied with the German ‘Greens’ and Von der Leyen are in ecstasy. Officials in Brussels were talking about the “Biden-Von der Leyen ticket” (as if she were a U.S. Vice-Presidential candidate on the Democratic ‘ticket’!),and gushing about a U.S.-EU power alliance extending up to 2028!

What to make of these shifts? To repeat: Biden is in a ‘bind’ and his Team is floundering. It is hugely premature for the White House to call ‘mission accomplished’ on Ukraine – but what else can they do? War with China will not be with China alone, but likely will be with Russia too. This surely was the essence of the Chinese Defence Minister’s four-day visit to Moscow (including a personal session with Putin). The message was clear enough: China and Russia are ‘joining hands militarily’. This will portend a strategic paradigm change that may well force a U.S. re-consideration of the way ahead – or not.

The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.