Does the United States do any strategic thinking at all? During the Cold War the United States was focused on defeating the Soviet Union, and everything was secondary to that. Even the insult of the explicitly anti-American Iranian revolution was largely ignored in the name of fighting the Soviets. The US government colluded in arming Iran during the 1980s after all. But for the thirty years since the cold war it really hasn’t been about focus… it’s been about finding or creating the enemies necessary to keep the defense money flowing. We’ve been going everywhere and been acting as offensively as possible to keep the world dangerous.
We have clearly reached the limits of that approach. Biden’s supposed withdrawal from Afghanistan (I’ll believe it when I see it) could be an early recognition of this. The US is still overwhelmingly powerful, but when we’re on the border of an enemy that cares infinitely more about a piece of territory than we do, like Ukraine or Iraq or Taiwan, we can’t effortlessly exert our will anymore. If we continue to act as unwisely as we have in the past two decades, we seriously risk getting caught out in a much more serious way than the Iraq disaster. The most obvious way this could happen would be if we somehow blunder into a simultaneous war with Iran and China, in two different regions. With today’s video I examine that possibility, and come to the obvious conclusion that the best thing we can do for the security of Taiwan is get back into the Iran nuclear deal. Fewer enemies mean we might be able to more effectively compete in the rivalries we maintain.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there, In Tuesday’s video I made it pretty clear that I don’t currently see China as a big threat to the US world order. But what if I am wrong? What if US media and government are right, and China really is on the cusp of trying to upend everything and conquer Taiwan? Well if that’s the case then the best possible thing the United States could possibly do for the Security of Taiwqn, is rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal.
So if China is going to invade Taiwan, it wants to win. That should go without saying. The consensus today is that the US can no longer defeat the Chinese Navy in the Taiwan Strait with a level of casualties that would be acceptable to the US public. I am not so sure about that, but the topic deserves a video of its own, so for today, let’s just assume that that’s the case. But any war between the US and China will have many more dimensions than just Taiwan. Militarily speaking, Every point on the international trade routes will become an opportunity for the US Navy to choke off the food and raw materials China needs to function. More importantly, in the Diplomatic sphere, a Taiwan invasion would instantly make the world more enthusiastic about this new Cold War the US government has been failing to sell so far. There is only one scenario where I can imagine China trying its luck with Taiwan. And that’s a US war with Iran. A war like that would negate all of the US’s many advantages. Obviously it would be an extraordinary distraction, tying up necessary US resources on the other side of Asia. Simultaneous war with China and Iran would be massively more complex, expensive and bloody than simultaneous war in Iraq and Afghanistan. With two countries to focus on,controlling all those sea lines gets a lot more complex. With the US mired in two wars Russia might take the opportunity, if not to pile in on the US, maybe to try its luck against Turkey, and reorder Russia’s access to the Mediterranean the way it’s always wanted to. These military scenarios are all grim, but the diplomatic consequences of a war with Iran would hurt the US defense of Taiwan even more.
“Allies are essential to any US strategy against China. Our relatively small population, and distance from the world’s emerging economic center in Asia make careful diplomacy necessary. When we are in tune with our allies, as we were in 2016, China’s range of motion on the world stage is closely limited. China was reduced to impotently pouring concrete into the sea and calling it power projection. But when Donald Trump took power in 2017 he set about ripping this international system apart.”
The way that Trump blew up the JCPOA was uniquely insulting to our European & Asian allies. Because we didn’t just put sanctions on Iran ourselves. We forced all of our allies to sanction Iran as well, completely against their will. We are treating them like subjects when it comes to Iran, not friends. Europe & Japan are content to operate in the world without full sovereignty. But they really don’t like having their noses rubbed in it.
“Earlier this year, the Trump administration unilaterally destroyed the Iran nuclear deal. Macron of France, Merkel of Germany and some others angrily declared that this was impossible. It was a multilateral agreement, and Germany and France were sticking by it. German and French companies didn’t agree with them on that. What these European companies knew, and their leaders didn’t, was that the US had too much financial and legal power to be denied. The US has the ability to ruin foreign companies, under multiple laws, for transactions that have nothing to do with the United States. It’s Washington DC’s world, the rest of us are just living in it.”
Europe remains outraged about this, and they have not just kept the JCPOA going in defiance of Trump, they have started building financial mechanisms designed to defeat US financial power everywhere. If the US stays out of the Iran nuclear deal, and forces Iran into war, we are unlikely to have much support from Europe. This lack of support would absolutely transfer to a simultaneous US conflict with China over Taiwan. After all, our allies economic relationships with China are vastly larger than their relationships with Iran. If the US wants any allies at all in its fight to save Taiwan it needs to get into the JCPOA.
Oh and there is also the question of weapons. Many doubt that the US Navy’s 20th century weapons are all that useful for a 21st century battle over Taiwan. Modern missile technology might mean that aircraft carriers and manned jet fighters are completely obsolete. The Pentagon tells us that that’s not true. The true defensive and offensive capabilities of all our ships and planes are some of our country’s most closely guarded secrets. Well the Taiwan Strait and the Strait of Hormuz are similar environments. The US Navy will approach war with Iran and war with China with similar tools. Even if a US war with Iran doesn’t lead directly to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, it will destroy the ambiguity about US naval power that is one of the cornerstones of Taiwan’s defense. In a US war with Iran, everybody in the world is likely to get a pretty clear idea of what the US Navy truly is and is not capable of.
So if the US government is truly interested in keeping Taiwan safe, the most important thing for it to do is remove the threat of war with Iran by getting back into the JCPOA. Biden has hired all the personnel necessary to get this done. He just needs to do it.
One of the most common objections to this is that even if Biden jumps back into the Iran deal, Trump, or some other Republican president will destroy it. This is a risk of course, but I think the concern misses some important historical facts on timing. The Iran Nuclear Deal was signed in mid 2015, but it didn’t start even being implemented until early 2016. The benefits of the JCPOA sanctions relief to Iran were supposed to come from international banks and companies reopening business with the country. But with that short a time frame, Most businesses were waiting for Clinton’s victory before piling back into Iran. And that never happened.
But the Iran deal still exists today. There is no ramp up necessary. Biden just needs to remove Trump’s sanctions, and we are back in business. Even if Trump or Tom Cotton gets elected President in 2024, we still have three and a half years before that Republican is in power. That’s a serious chunk of time.
As I pointed out on Tuesday, the point of the JCPOA is not just to deal with Nukes, but to build the foundation for settling all of the US’s messes in the Middle East. With barely a year between the beginning of the deal and the rise of Trump, none of that was possible in 2016. All of it is possible between 2021 and 2025. Even partial progress on any of these issues would make the end of the JCPOA much much harder.
Even back then it took Trump over a year before he could take the US out of the deal in mid 2018. Biden needs to get back into the JCPOA as soon as possible. It’s the best thing for the world, it’s the best thing for the United States, and yes, it’s the best thing for the security of Taiwan too.