We Must Elect a Wartime President in 2024 – The American Spectator

Last week’s Republican presidential debate means that however much one might wish otherwise, the 2024 presidential election campaign has officially arrived. We’re told that the 2024 election may be the most consequential since, well, whenever — pundits, after all, always say such things. This time, however, the pundits may just be right, although not likely for the reasons most of them put forward.

Despite the liveliness of the debate, the candidates on the debate stage largely ducked the most important question facing voters in 2024, namely, who among the candidates can best keep us out of a world war with China or lead us to victory if we are attacked. This is unsurprising. After the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the disappointments in Iraq, burgeoning troubles in Africa, and, effectively, a hostile invasion across our southern border, few Americans want to think about war right now. There are many other issues to grab our attention. (READ MORE: Vivek Ramaswamy Reveals Wisdom Beyond His Years on Foreign Policy)

There is a time-honored Latin saying: “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” or, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Being prepared to win is the best way to ensure peace. In concrete military terms, the measures designed to ensure victory if war comes are the very same measures most likely to deter an attack. Deterrence, of course, is infinitely preferable to war. Thus, we should prefer presidential candidates who understand, as Ronald Reagan did, the value of deterrence through strength. But what if deterrence fails?

China Is Preparing For War

It was Leon Trotsky, or perhaps Pogo, who reputedly observed, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” The wisdom stands, regardless of who said it. And whether we like it or not, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the 2025–2028 timeframe appears increasingly likely. For those who care to notice, Chinese President Xi Jinping is preparing his nation for something more than simply an invasion of Taiwan. 

The published language widely, indeed repetitively, available in English, makes this abundantly clear. Xi personally and repeatedly invokes the historical concept of China’s “mandate from heaven,” insisting that China is meant to rule the world. In the last few years, Americans have become accustomed to hearing Russian President Vladimir Putin condemn the West as corrupt and depraved. Xi and his followers use much the same language, particularly for domestic consumption. And, not infrequently, CCP organs portray the U.S. as nothing less than an existential threat. 

Chinese media frequently invoke the concept of a “people’s war” with the U.S. Within China, the drumbeat for war with the U.S. has been relentless. In a recent blockbuster for the Chinese domestic market, the Chinese movie industry celebrated a significant Chinese battlefield victory over the Americans in The Battle at Lake Changjin. It should go without saying that the U.S. Marine Corps recalls the battle rather differently, but the more important point is that while the Marines still celebrate “frozen Chosen” as a victory, the larger American public no longer seems to care or even remember. Not so in China.

For years now, the Chinese have backed this war of words with concrete preparations for war that extend far beyond what might be necessary for an amphibious operation in the Taiwan Strait. Every day brings further indications that China is making comprehensive military and diplomatic preparations for a war with the U.S., one in which the status of Taiwan may simply serve as a precipitating event. On the current trajectory, China’s military preparations will peak during our next presidential administration. (READ MORE: A Brief Exegesis of the Bad Mood, Both Trump’s and Mine)

China has engaged in aggressive international diplomacy backed by covert operations that literally extend across the globe. Emulating the Japanese in World War II, the Chinese are building a strategic position across the Pacific Islands. Today, their global footprint today extends from the islands of the South Pacific (can you spell “Guadalcanal”?) to around the globe. They have energetic influence operations in Europe, across Africa, and in Latin America. Think of their naval base on the Horn of Africa in Djibouti. Think of their economic penetration of the Congo’s mineral-rich regions. Think of their electronic eavesdropping base in Cuba and their increasing involvement with the Mexican drug cartels.

Finally, the Chinese have established deeply concerning positions within the U.S. Reflect upon the Chinese “police stations” in major American cities or their real estate purchases adjacent to sensitive national security assets. Consider, too, their infiltration of special operators across the southern border and the recently discovered malware aimed at massively disrupting U.S. military operations, both overseas and at home. Even baseball — as I write these words, the New York Mets are planning to co-host an event with a group tied to Chinese influence operations. The message should be clear. 

The military preparations are evident everywhere, and so too are the geopolitical portents as we enter a particularly unstable period. The Chinese economy is slowing, the real estate bubble is bursting, and the demographic crisis is accelerating. Every day brings further indications that, for Xi and his leadership cadre, establishing dominance over their Asian periphery represents the only solution to the looming economic and demographic catastrophe. Their language is explicit: Doing this means challenging the very notion of a U.S.-led world order — peacefully if possible, by war if necessary.

Our Next President Must Send the Right Message to China

For Xi and the CCP, the window of opportunity looks very much like the period roughly from 2025 to 2028. The president we elect in November 2024 should be the kind of wise and capable wartime leader we can trust if war breaks out on his or her watch. We can, of course, hope that the new president will be capable of finding a path that avoids war without compromising U.S. interests throughout the Pacific. 

Still, as Gen. James Mattis frequently and cogently observed, “the enemy always gets a vote.” Much has been made in recent years of our unfortunate propensity to engage in “wars of choice,” as if the choice always lies within the remit of American statecraft. This is the worst kind of hubris. If China chooses war and decides to leverage the advantage of surprise with pre-emptive strikes against American forces, we may be left with no choice but to fight.

So what, then, should we be asking of our presidential hopefuls as we contemplate a major conventional war with China on their watch? It comes down to leadership, specifically the ability to deter Chinese aggression by demonstrating strength and to deal with crisis if, in spite of his or her best efforts, war comes to us. 

In recent years, we’ve sent entirely the wrong messages. The disastrous and shockingly incompetent withdrawal from Afghanistan sent an unavoidable message of American fecklessness. President Joe Biden’s continued desire to “do a deal” with Iran, our hesitance in the face of continued threats from a reemergent ISIS, and the mixed signals that Biden keeps sending to Putin have further compromised our ability to deter China. (RELATED: Mills Attacks Austin: Will Anyone Be Held Accountable for Afghanistan?)

Above all, every day, our message to China itself is one of weakness. When John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate, insists on our continued need to engage with China on climate change, he encourages a kind of diplomatic hostage-taking. Xi and his minions laugh at the very notion of compromising their economic and political power in the name of controlling climate change.

When we failed to hold the Chinese — and their enablers in the U.S. — to account for the global COVID catastrophe, we appeared either naïve or, worse, cowardly. When we turn the other cheek in the face of calculated insults and threats, we invite their disrespect. When we dither as a Chinese intelligence-gathering balloon overflies the U.S. from coast to coast, we simply appear silly.

Electing the Wartime Leader We Need

This suggests the final and most important quality we must look for as we choose a wartime president in 2024: He or she must demonstrate an understanding of the Chinese threat and an appreciation that it extends far beyond a potential local conflict in the Taiwan Strait. That person must be strong when it comes to deterring war and stronger still if we are attacked. 

Recall the images of the USS Lexington, on fire and sinking after 1942’s battle of the Coral Sea, and then transpose the image to the USS Gerald Ford. The Chinese war games tell us that losing a carrier, even several, is a real possibility, with thousands of…

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