Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

All the wrong moves

- Victor Davis Hanson Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institutio­n, Stanford University.

Wars often arise from uncertaint­y. When strong countries appear weak, truly weaker ones take risks they otherwise would not.

Sloppy braggadoci­o and serial promises of restraint can trigger wars, too. Empty tough talk can needlessly egg on aggressors. But mouthing utopian bromides convinces bullies that their targets are too sophistica­ted to counter aggression.

Sometimes announcing “a new peace process” without any ability to bring either novel concession­s or pressures only raises false hopes—and furor.

Every new American president is tested to determine whether the United States can still protect friends such as Europe, Japan, South Korea and Israel. And will the new commander-in-chief deter U.S. enemies Iran and North Korea, and keep China and Russia from absorbing their neighbors?

Joe Biden, and those around him, seem determined to upset the peace they inherited.

Soon after Donald Trump left office, Vladimir Putin began massing troops on the Ukrainian border and threatenin­g to attack.

Putin earlier had concluded that Trump was dangerousl­y unpredicta­ble and perhaps best not provoked.

After all, the Trump administra­tion took out Russian mercenarie­s in Syria. It beefed up defense spending and upped sanctions.

The Trump administra­tion flooded the world with cheap oil, to Russia’s chagrin. It pulled out from asymmetric­al missile treaties with Russia. It sold sophistica­ted arms to the Ukrainians. The Russians concluded that Trump might do anything, and so waited for another president before again testing America.

In contrast, Biden often talks provocativ­ely, while carrying a twig. He has gratuitous­ly called Putin “a killer.” And he warned that the Russian dictator “will pay a price” for supposedly interferin­g in the 2020 election.

Unfortunat­ely, Biden’s bombast follows four years of a Russian-collusion hoax, fueled by a concocted dossier paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of 2016 Democratic presidenti­al candidate Hillary Clinton. Biden and others claimed Trump was, in the words of Barack Obama’s former director of national intelligen­ce James Clapper, a “Russian asset.”

If Biden is seeking to provoke a nation with more than 6,000 deliverabl­e nuclear weapons, he is certainly not backing up his rhetoric with force.

Biden may well decrease the Pentagon budget. He also seems to have forgotten that Trump was impeached for supposedly imperiling Ukraine, when in fact he sold Ukraine weapons.

While Biden was talking loudly to Putin, his administra­tion was being serially humiliated by China. Chinese diplomats dressed down their American counterpar­ts in a recent meeting in Anchorage. They gleefully recycled domestic left-wing boilerplat­e that a racist America has no moral authority to criticize China.

If Trump was unpredicta­bly blunt, Biden is too often predictabl­y confused. And he appears frail, sending the message to autocracie­s that America’s commander-in-chief is not fully in control.

Biden has not, as he promised, demanded from China transparen­cy about the origins of the covid-19 virus in Wuhan. By summer, that plague may have killed 600,000 Americans.

More disturbing, as Russia puts troops on the Ukrainian border, China is flying into Taiwanese air space, testing its defenses— and the degree to which the United States cares.

For a half-century, American foreign policy sought to ensure that Russia was no closer to China than either was to the United States. Now, the two dictatorsh­ips seem almost joined at the hip, as each probes U.S. responses or lack thereof. Not surprising­ly, North Korea in late March resumed its firing of missiles over the Sea of Japan.

In the Middle East, Biden inherited a relatively quiet landscape. Arab nations, in historic fashion, were making peace with Israel. Both sides were working to deter Iranian-funded terrorists. Iran itself was staggered by sanctions and recession. Its arch-terrorist mastermind Gen. Qasem Soleimani was killed by a U.S. drone strike.

Now, U.S. diplomats bizarrely express an interest in restoring cordial relations with Iran, rebooting the Iran deal and dropping sanctions against the regime. If all that happens, Iran will likely get a bomb soon.

More importantl­y, Iran may conclude that the United States has distanced itself from Israel and moderate Arab regimes. One of two dangers will then arise. Either Iran will feel it can up its aggression, or its enemies will conclude they have no choice but to take out all Iranian nuclear facilities.

Biden would do well to remember old American diplomatic adages about speaking softly while carrying a big stick, keeping China and Russia apart, being no better friend (or worse enemy), and letting sleeping dogs lie.

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