46 Comments

A generation ago, we should have started growing our own scientist and engineers. We're not. One of my sons is in graduate school and over 75% of his year is foreign.

And considering colleges teach kids to hate their country, I'm learning Han.

Expand full comment

People have a way of underestimating the probability of bad times, and particularly the likelihood of war. That makes it easy to sleepwalk into a large one, especially as is the case in America, where a vast majority of the citizenry has been personally insulated from war for a few generations now.

Expand full comment

Very incisive summary. The key is Taiwan; it’s the equivalent of the Rhineland in the 1930s; the point where Hitler could have and should have been stopped. I’ve never been, but YouTube videos polling their youth are not encouraging. Compared to Ukrainians or Poles talking about Russia, they do seem unconcerned. Maybe it’s a cultural thing I’m missing. You don’t talk about it for fear of making it manifest, but underneath they’re prepared. I don’t know.

The other key is the U.S. election. If we have another Biden term, we and Taiwan are screwed. Trump I think has the credibility with the Chinese and our allies to halt the crisis. Everyone knows he means what he say, and delivers.

I’m glad my son is not in this military.

Expand full comment
founding

If Biden wins there is no reason for war. What would be the point....other than some crime family battles over turf?

Expand full comment

That's one thing that bothers me... we know from history that a great many of the Democrats will either openly advocate surrender (see the "unilateral disarmament" movement of the late 1980s), or will work to bolster Chinese interests and undercut the U.S. Even if Trump wins, he probably will not be able to stop very much of this, since the entire executive branch bureaucracy will be working against him.

Expand full comment
founding
Apr 2·edited Apr 2

We are stumbling into a global conflict like a drunk who triggers a bar room brawl by crashing into a nearby table. The war in Ukraine will likely take a decisive turn when the weather warms up and Russia launches a Spring offensive. If Ukraine falls, what will neighboring Euro's do? They will likely arm up even faster than they are now when faced with a victorious Putin who may be looking for some payback. The US policy of weaponizing the $ has backfired spectacularly as Russia now sells all the oil it needs to sell to China, India, etc. Russia is arguably stronger now than before the UKR invasion.

Gaza threatens to regionalize once Israel attacks Rafah. And why wouldn't ISR attack? The world was never going to praise Israel for its restraint. So why wouldn't they go all in? MIght that trigger a response from Hezbollah in the north, backed by Iran?

With growing conflicts in Europe and ME, what will US do if China makes its play for Taiwan? Is there any country who thinks Biden can't be pushed around? Especially since China probably has proof that the Bidens are in their pocket. And if China does invade, is there anyone who thinks the current US has the stomach for a 2-front war?

This all reads like a 2024 version of the Guns of August.

Expand full comment

One difference with 1914 is at least one of the great powers desperately wanted to trigger a continental war. They expertly maneuvered their way into it. That was Germany. Here what is more likely to happen is that one of our adversaries will assume that a much desired military action will NOT trigger a world War because they believe the US won't really respond. This is by far the greatest danger.

Expand full comment
founding

Mark Helprin (Claremont Inst) outlines a frightening scenario in which Israel, with its military forces fully committed in southern Gaza comes under attack from Hezbollah in the North (200,000+ rockets that we know they have) with full backing from Iran, overwhelming cities in northern Israel. At the same time, Palestinian forces, backed again by Iran, attack from West Bank. If the attack from the north was strong enough, a thrust from the east could conceivably split Israel in 2. This would be a very real existential threat to Israel, leaving them no choice but to launch a nuclear attack. Anyone think Israel is going to surrender? What happens then? There are no Kissinger's in the world any more. US diplomacy is ... I'm not sure how to describe it, but formidable and persuasive are not words that comes to mind

Expand full comment

That is extraordinarily unlikely. First, Israel will never have all its forces committed to Gaza. It isn't so committed now. I It's airforce will be fully available and plans are already in existence to eliminate Hezbollah and all its missiles if necessary. It will be disastrous for Lebanon and Israeli cities will take hits but Israel cannot be overwhelmed. The West Bank has no "forces".

Expand full comment
founding

You're probably right of course. I didn't mean to imply that the WB has military forces. A hasty wording on my part. But an organized uprising in the WB, combined with a Hezbollah attack from Golan ( I doubt Iran cares too much for Lebanon's fate) and a separate attack from the northeast (from Hezbollah, Syria and Iran could seriously threaten ISR. You're right, ISR won't have "all" their forces in Gaza, but they might have a dangerously high concentration there if fighting bogs down in a street to street fight in Rafah.

Anyway, an attack doesn't have to overwhelm Israel. It just needs to weaken them, or just give the appearance of weakening them, enough to the point where the other Arab states think that now would be the time to pile on. Especially if they believe that the US is wavering in its support for Israel, as it would seem to be the case right now. I'm not saying that the Arab states would be smart to do it, but when has intelligence ever guided events in the ME?

I mean, yeah, I agree this is all a very low probability. But it's not zero either.

Expand full comment

It's not zero but I would say you are overlooking the fact that for practical purposes the Arab States in question meaning Jordan, Egypt Saudi Arabia and others in the western orbit are aligned with Israel against the threat of Iran. So that is not a particular concern. The biggest concern is the threat of missile attacks from Hezbollah and the risk of serious escalation from Iran. If Israel is attacked by either in a serious way all the absurd fools accusing Israel of "genocide" now will see what a serious attack by a major air and missile force looks like. Because if forced tongo after either Iran or Hezbollah for real Israel will not be able to afford to hold back. Of course both Hezbollah and Iran know this so it will likely stay their hands for now.

Expand full comment

Has it all been laid out in Ezekiel 38?

Expand full comment

I've been feeling like it's 1938 for a while now. But it could be 1859...and China might be behind that possibility too.

Expand full comment

Add to the list of worries, the "enemy within." There are more than a few Americans who would assist in the collapse of the United States. And there are more than a few Americans who would be comfortable living under a totalitarian dictatorship, as long as it is their side (or ideological ally) in power. They always believe that they will get everything they want from society at the expense of their enemies, but it is never long before they outlive their usefulness to the regime and find themselves with a one-way ticket in a cattle car.

One possible solution: make legal immigration much easier for those who will embrace individual rights and freedom, and for every new immigrant, exile someone who does not want to live in a free country that protects individual rights.

Second, and more important solution: an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that every citizen has the right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. 90% of our problems would disappear with that amendment.

Expand full comment

I think the best thing Taiwan Japan and others who rely on the US for deterrence and protection can do is to find a way to stop relying on the US. This is a lesson I hope Israel is in the process of learning. The US doesn't lead anymore and to the extent it does our leaders lack the fortitude to do so effectively. This is for all intent and purposes a post American world.

Expand full comment

Planning in East Asia should include all the free countries, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Australia, the Philippines, New Zealand, and the countries in South Asia, starting with India.

Expand full comment

The "good" news is that Japan and South Korea could build a nuke over a long weekend, if they haven't already. The bad news is that nukes are not very useful (and are far less dangerous than most people think).

Expand full comment

Correct on all counts. There are large swaths of waste in DoD. Battalions and battalions of civilians and contractors need to be given their pink slips.

Expand full comment
Apr 2·edited Apr 2

That is a very astute observation, although the most recent example would be Vietnam. While it was not at the scale of the upcoming conflict, it was significant if you were of draft age. We also avoided a fuller-scale engagement by sacrificing the opportunity to win.

The risk of catastrophic armed conflict is increased because our adversaries view Biden as weak and incompetent, which is the correct assessment. That gives them the advantage. He always shoots behind the duck, which means "too late," metaphorically. And not just to shoot, his forte is surrender. Imagine Biden in the circumstance we find ourselves in. It is hard to imagine anyone could be worse. Biden does not have the mental capacity to develop a strategy for these complex times. Anyone supporting him and his puppet masters is an absolute fool.

Expand full comment

I believe the most dangerous time will be after a President Trump win in November and before the swearing in January. We will have an angry left with a President who was a tool of the left and an Administration filled with American haters. I pray I am wrong.

Expand full comment

Plus foreign adversaries that will know that they only have 2 months to act before a stronger administration is in place.

Expand full comment

My day job is helping to produce more oil and gas with horizontal wells. We will need oil and gas as the dollar's value plummets. I'm too old to serve unless they need a 50-something Jet Mech.

To raise awareness of our future plight I self-published a couple of books about a future war with China. "Arrow Storm", by Joe Salem, on Amazon ;), is about an attack on Taiwan, and an attack on America. The attack isn't to conquer but to intensify the rifts in the country and start a civil war. I wrote the first half in 2020 while watching the riots. I got some things right, a feckless and inept fictional president named Hamala Karris, a woke military and the use of drones to cripple our air force. I hope the rest of it is wrong, or the leadership starts to invest in manufacturing, steel and electronics. We will need it.

Expand full comment

People vote with their feet. The young men and women in my neighborhood were raised by people who cannot imagine their children spending any time in the military. Arendt and Strauss told us what it was like to be Jewish in Russia and Germany before their big war, Reynolds is telling us what it is like in America before our big war (a great rabbi told us that there will always be war and rumor of war).

Expand full comment

Prof- My father joined the National Guard in Clinton, Tn at age 16 in 1940 and was a Master Sargent at age 18! He won a contest for youngest Master Sargent run by Yank magazine and got a trip to Hollywood where he danced with Ava Gardner and other starlets at the USO. (He said she had a horrible complexion)

Expand full comment

Peter Zeihan’s writings and speeches on this are interesting. He famously predicts China’s collapse as a coherent nation in less than a decade. That aside, or perhaps more pertinent to the prospects of a near term Taiwan invasion are (1)China has no deep water navy and can’t really project naval power much beyond the South China Sea. Japan has the world’s second largest deep water navy. India has a formidable Navy. Australia and other South Asian countries are arming up with high tech land-based ship killing weapons.

(2)China imports the majority of its food and most of its “food inputs,” all of its oil, and its economy is massively dependent on exporting manufactured goods. Its geography and lack of deep water navy makes it relatively easy to blockade (Taiwan Straits, Malacca Straits, etc.). It could be literally starved in a month.

(3) Xi has supposedly hollowed out the leadership structure of government, military and business in China, so that essentially no one competent is left, no one is giving Xi information for fear of displeasing the Emperor and getting disappeared. So, how effective would any Chinese war effort ge?

Disruption of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry, for even a relatively brief time, would have significant impacts worldwide, though.

Expand full comment

I listen to most anything PZ puts on YouTube and have read his books. He has been making a couple of other points relative to Taiwan and chips in his most recent talks.

Chips come in three classes - singing margarita machine/IoT, basic industrial/communications, high-end computation(AI)/iPhones. Taiwan really only dominates in the high-end and is highly dependent on a global supply chain to do that. In additional to the obvious physical disruption of an invasion, the Chinese don't have a lot of success running their own chip industry which tends to fall into the IoT category. China isn't likely to launch an invasion to capture the chip industry though it's hard to guess what Xi might be willing to do as China spirals down. We'd probably survive a Taiwan take-over though we'd would have to give up on AI expansion until we could rehome the high-end chip industry. High-end chips could also be disrupted by conflicts in areas other than Taiwan, too.

Expand full comment
Apr 2·edited Apr 2

TSMC is building two high-end chip manufacturing plants in Arizona. And so is Intel.

They are having problems obtaining skilled labor to build the plants but TSMC's 4-nanometer Arizona plant is still on schedule to start production in 2025.

If I were Xi, I would attack Taiwan before that plant becomes operational.

The other thing that Peter Zeihan pointed out was that the ultra high purity quartz required to make the highest density chips comes from the United States (Spruce Pine, North Carolina).

Expand full comment

It's also not just chips. You need circuit boards, that green goo that covers them, the soldering machines that mount the sockets, the cabling that attaches the pieces/parts together, the fans, the power supplies, etc... AND the people who put it all together. Assembly at American wages will make computers ruinously expensive, even if all the parts are available.

Expand full comment

The United States still manufactures all that other stuff but not on the scale that we previously did.

If geopolitics devolves the way Peter Zeihan believes, we will need to make it all ourselves (the United States, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, and Australia within a security and trade pact).

Expand full comment

A lot of the other chip-makers are rejecting CHIPS money because they see the U.S. as hostile to manufacturing, and having a pool of uneducated and unmotivated workers. They're going to Central and South America instead.

Expand full comment

Intel, TSMC, and Micron are building in the United States. The future may hold high tariffs for those that aren't in a trade agreement with the United States. The tariffs will make it cheaper to manufacture within the United States with automation than to import and pay the tariffs.

This will be especially true if the US dollar loses reserve currency status. Making things here eliminates the fluctuations in pricing due to exchange rates. We have the capability, with trade and security agreements with just 4 or 5 other Western countries, to make everything we need without the rest of the world.

Expand full comment

Nice essay, Professor. Jordan Peterson and others have pointed out that the relative calm in Germany that followed WW1 led to an enervated ennui of their young-adult (military-age) population. As a result, the challenge and struggle and sacrifice demanded by H.H. had a certain appeal to young 'uns' sense of purpose and perhaps even danger.

Does the U.S. have a comparable young population (who haven't died of fentanyl yet nor sought "gender affirming care") whose hunger for danger, passion, and purpose is sufficiently strong to leave video games and social media behind and engage in the real world?

Expand full comment

I think so. I'm convinced that the video games are a proxy for what you speak of. Presented with an opportunity to engage in the real thing, I think a lot of them would turn out. It's the difference between watching a video of a roller coaster, and actually riding on one.

Expand full comment

This might be the biggest problem we face: where does the money come from? If you look at all of the industrial rebuilding that will be needed to support all of the weapons programs and all of the logistics (which, logistics will be a huge thing in a four-front war), it probably requires at least 10X the present military budget. Currently, about 85% of federal spending goes to two places: entitlement programs, and paying the interest on the federal debt. Everything else the government does, including the military, is squeezed into the other 15%. We could get out of some of the interest payments by renouncing our debts to China, but that would not only be viewed as provocative, it would also sharply limit the government's ability to borrow.

To me, there's only one way to do it: entitlements will have to take a huge hit. This will set off massive riots and insurrections across the country, mostly in the blue states. The National Guard will have to work to contain the damage and maintain order, which means those personnel won't be available to be called up to active duty overseass. And it could lead to a vote revolt that votes in a pacifist government that promises to cease fighting and allow China the run of the Pacific. That would set the stage for an eventual Chinese invasion of the continental U.S. At that point, it's probably all over -- our current military command structure will offer surrender, and most people in Washington will welcome a Chinese takeover.

Expand full comment