Is the United States Setting Itself Up for a New Pearl Harbor?

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It should be abundantly clear by now that American political leadership is not considering the full consequences of both its rhetoric and actions regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine — particularly possible adverse consequences for the American military and people. On the surface, it looks like Russia has gotten itself into a quagmire in Ukraine, possibly another Afghanistan-like situation that could lead to the downfall of the Putin regime. Indeed, President Biden may have been telegraphing this as the ultimate U.S. war aim when in Poland last month, he blurted out unscripted that Putin “cannot remain in power.” With all the setbacks Russia has experienced, including the recent sinking of the guided missile cruiser Moskva in the Black Sea, it increasingly looks like it may be a paper tiger, so why not continue to pour arms into Ukraine without restraint or fear of retaliation?

But, hopefully, somebody in the White House or Pentagon is paying serious attention to Russia’s recent warning that the U.S. and NATO’s continuing arming of Ukraine risks “unpredictable consequences for regional and international security.” Here it might be worthwhile to take a look at a similar situation from history, when Japan was bogged down with its own, ill-advised, cruelly fought war in China with the U.S. sanctioning the former and arming the latter. As I pointed out in a December 7, 2021 article examining the background to the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack:

On December 19, 1940, [Roosevelt] approved $25 million in military aid to China, permitting it to purchase one hundred P 40 pursuit aircraft. By late spring 1941, the United States had also earmarked over $145 million in lend-lease funds for China to acquire both ground and air equipment. In May 1941, Secretary of War Henry Stimson approved a Chinese request for sufficient equipment to outfit thirty infantry divisions, intended for delivery by mid-1942. Prompted by his special adviser, Claire L. Chennault, a retired U.S. Army Air Corps officer, Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek also obtained Roosevelt’s support for an American Volunteer Group (AVG) of about one hundred U.S. civilian volunteers to fly the one hundred recently purchased P-40s. These “Flying Tigers” began arriving in Burma in late 1941, becoming the first Americans to fight alongside the Chinese.

on July 26, 1941, Roosevelt seized all Japanese assets in the United States in retaliation for their occupation of French Indo-China. Britain and the Dutch East Indies quickly followed suit, resulting in Japan losing access to three-fourths of its overseas trade and 88 percent of its imported oil. This directly led to Japanese plans to seize the Dutch East Indies and its precious oil outright. The only force capable of stopping them was the U.S. Pacific Fleet

While FDR claimed the attack was “unprovoked” in his famous December 8th address to Congress, it’s fairly clear the actions of the U.S. and its British and Dutch allies weren’t leaving the Japanese much in the way of options. It was either run out of fuel for its military and face a humiliating disengagement from China or gamble on trying to neutralize the U.S. Pacific Fleet, take the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, the Philippines, along with other territories in the Pacific and hope the U.S. and its allies would throw in the towel and accept the new status quo. One might note there are similarities to U.S. protestations today that the Russia’s war against Ukraine was “unprovoked.” While it may have been as ill-considered as the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s, a violation of the U.N. Charter and indeed “dastardly” to quote FDR in terms of how it’s been carried out, pillars of the American foreign policy establishment like, George Kennan, while still alive and current CIA Director William J. Burns, have been warning for years that attempts turn Ukraine into a U.S./NATO ally and perhaps even a full member state would in fact provoke Russia into taking extreme action.

An important question somebody in the Biden administration should be asking is, if the U.S. and its allies continue to be the main reason Ukraine keeps fighting, how much longer will it be before Russia takes some kind of direct action against the U.S. itself and how prepared is it to face such an attack? Turns out there are a surprising number of devastating, non-nuclear actions the Russians or Russians acting in concert with China can take, if the latter feels it needs to keep its strategic partner afloat and perhaps at the same time settle the issue of Taiwan once and for all, as well as the question of who is going to be the dominant power in the Pacific. According to RAND analyst, David Ochmankek, quoted in a 2019 Breaking Defense article, in simulated wars with Russia and China, the “blue team” representing the U.S., routinely “gets its ass handed to it.” For example, though the F-35 fighter “rules the sky,” according to Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense also quoted in the article, says it “gets killed on the ground in large numbers.”

The article continues:

Even the hottest jet has to land somewhere. But big airbases on land and big aircraft carriers on the water turn out to be big targets for long-range precision-guided missiles. Once an American monopoly, such smart weapons are now a rapidly growing part of Russian and Chinese arsenals — as are the long-range sensors, communications networks, and command systems required to aim them.

Worst of all, Work and Ochmanek say, the US doesn’t just take body blows, it takes a hard hit to the head as well. Its communications satellites, wireless networks, and other command-and-control systems suffer such heavy hacking and jamming that they are, in Ochmanek’s words, “suppressed, if not shattered.”

How do you fix such glaring problems? According the Breaking Defense article, the Air Force asked RAND to come up with a plan in 2017, and, surprisingly, Ochmanek said, “we found it impossible to spend more than $8 billion a year.”

That’s $8 billion for the Air Force. Triple that to cover for the Army and the Navy Department (which includes the US Marines), Ochmanek said, and you get $24 billion. At the time that constituted only 3.3 percent of the $750 billion defense budget President Trump proposed for the 2020 fiscal year. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. has been spending even more enormous amounts on “defense,” along with massive amounts of military aid for Ukraine (notice how there is never any questioning of how any of this is to be “paid for”) but there is little or no indication, as far as I can see, that any of this money is going towards addressing U.S. military vulnerabilities or those in the areas of communications that could effect American civilians as well.

Yet at the same time, U.S. leadership seems determined to thwart any effort towards a negotiated settlement that would end the war before it escalates to to a level potentially more dangerous for Americans, both soldiers and civilians. On the contrary, the U.S. government seems determined to try win a World War II style, unconditional “win” against Russia. In startling contrast to governments and presidents going all the way back to Harry S. Truman, it seems to be unaware that we are living in a very different world than that of the pre-nuclear, far less technological 1940s, an era that makes great power conflict far more unpredictable, dangerous and something to be avoided at all costs. And it also seems to have forgotten that even a wounded, weakened opponent can sometimes still strike back lethally.

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