Every War is Global
Europe, Taiwan, and Multi-tasking on the World Stage
“Every fight is our fight. Because what happens over here, matters over there. We don’t get to sit one out.” -General Shepherd, Modern Warfare 2
So goes a monologue from one of the most infamous villains of 21st century media. If you’re not familiar with the quote or the villain, well, shame on you. General Shepherd gave a generation of Americans deep-seated trust issues towards the US government. Written in 2009, his monologues were simultaneously profound observations for a FPS game and parody of the misguided conventional USG thinking that dragged us into multiple quagmires on multiple continents during the Global War on Terror. Today, you could quote them non-ironically in a policy meeting and get away with it (I certainly have.) It’s all about the framing.
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Of course, what General Shepherd and the NeoCons both got wrong was how to scope a response to a given policy problem. Not everything, in fact most things, do not require a sledgehammer. Today, we face a similar policy debate of all or none. Some say their countries have no business protecting those at risk of annihilation by autocracies, others say we should pick and choose with a harsh tunnel vision for policy options. They’re both wrong. There is *a lot* of space between everything everywhere all at once and doing absolutely nothing. Whether you’re French President Emmanuel Macron, an isolationist, a “restrainer” (aka a progressive isolationist), or a fascist-adjacent foreign policy pundit, you’re wrong about Taiwan and Ukraine.
Taiwan and Ukraine are on the frontlines of a global battle for freedom. But, at the risk of overquoting General Shepherd, “frontlines are history.” Liberty is under assault across the globe and at home by radicals just as much as it is by PLA missiles and Russian artillery. Democracy is at war. And what that war looks like depends entirely upon where you sit. The Taiwanese have PLA missiles flying over their heads and the Ukrainians have Russian artillery bursting all around them. Meanwhile at home and throughout the Western world we face a deterioration of freedom and democracy that is abused by domestic political forces as much as it is our foreign competitors. The natural and immature reaction to this global assault upon liberty are shallow, bumper sticker-esque policy absolutes.
“We must dedicate all of our resources to Taiwan at the expense of everyone else!”
“Europe can’t even handle Ukraine, we shouldn’t bother with Taiwan”
“We should get our affairs in order at home before we protect freedom abroad”
“The US has done Bad Things so we should do nothing and everyone else should suffer at the hands of authoritarians”
These are all the hallmarks of kneejerk, ignorant, and domestically opportunist foreign policies. These are all recipes for disaster. All wars are global, and on any given day we are involved in some capacity in many of them. Sometimes that’s just humanitarian aid or mediation, sometimes it means putting boots on the ground and warheads on foreheads. The frontlines are history, and what happens over here truly matters over there. For instance, let’s look at why French President Emmanuel Macron is wrong about Europe, Ukraine, and Taiwan.
In a recent interview, Macron made several comments advocating for strategic autonomy, Europe’s failure over Ukraine, and the need not to be a US puppet on Taiwan (whatever that means). This is yet another iteration of French mucking about in a failed attempt to lead the Western world going back to De Gaulle. It would be sad if it wasn’t on the heels of a trade promotion trip Macron made to Beijing where France agreed to sell the PRC nuclear technology and the PLA threatened once again to annihilate Taiwan with missile strikes. The French want to go it alone, and plenty of Americans are happy to say good riddance (as always). The problem with this thinking is that one of the best deterrents, and pain points, for Beijing is its piggy bank in Europe. PRC-EU trade is massive, and the CCP places heavy bets on Europe chickening out in they ever decide to go to war for Taiwan. Beijing isn’t afraid of a French armored column, they’re afraid of losing access to German investment. Over the last few years, Beijing has increasingly built in the loss of the US market (and sanctions) into its pol-mil calculations. The policy of dual-circulation, among others, is supposed to insulate the CCP from massive market shocks in the event of conflict. The other source of insulation is supposed to come from the European market. Beijing is betting at least a couple members of the EU will value trade with China over Taiwan’s free existence and disrupt a unified Western sanctions regime. It’s not a bad bet, not the least because some Euros are on record saying as much, but also because we struggled just to get folks on board with sanctions against Russia, whose economy is far smaller.
Macron thinks that a strategically autonomous Europe (under French leadership, naturally) is the key to Europe’s future. This separation, a political decoupling if you will, from broader US-led Western regimes plays right into the hands of Russian and CCP policies. A strategically autonomous Europe, one with its own EU-military, is not only a artifact of the fever dream that was the inter-Cold War period (1991-2021), it’s a threat to a unified West in the face of growing authoritarianism around the world. Fortunately, most in Europe do not buy into Macron’s ideas and prefer the NATO-led security model. But every fracture, particularly from public outbursts, feeds into the groupthink and kool-aid factory that is the CCP under Xi Jinping. Macron running off on his own really does reaffirm, in the eyes of the CCP, that the Western line can’t hold. In the eyes of Beijing, Europe is a swing-state that it doesn’t need to win outright, it just needs to split the vote and take the plurality.
Similarly, the “Taiwan or Bust” crowd in the United States threatens to break up the Western line on Ukraine. Every real China hawk wants to do more to be ready to fight the PLA, counter the CCP, and keep Taiwan and the rest of the free world, free. The “Taiwan or Bust” crowd, on the other hand, can best be described as a group of rigid ideologues, realists, and Trump-era policy folks who treat countries like chess pieces and every person who doesn’t come from a certain class or country as expendable. Unlike Macron, this group has a real sway over certain corners of DC. The problem with “realism” and IR theory in general is that it’s only ever one bad day away from academic cowardice, or worse, an excuse to do horrible things to people in the name of an ideology invented in a university breakroom. Realism all too often boils down to “how many people can I sacrifice before I have to make a moral choice that someone braver than me has already made?”
Taiwan Vs Everybody
In the case of Taiwan, the argument goes that everything we don’t give to Taiwan, and that specifically goes to Ukraine, hurts Taiwan’s ability to defend itself from the PLA. There’s a few problems here and I won’t dive into all the weird domestic US politics of it. Never mind that our WESTPAC allies (Japan and Taiwan) are actively meeting with and supporting the Ukrainians in any small way they can as an act of solidarity against authoritarianism, let’s start with the fact that not everything that Ukraine needs is what Taiwan wants or needs. I wrote a whole article about those varying needs here. I also wrote several articles about what Taiwan does need, and how we can achieve it. Moreover, if it weren’t for Ukraine, we would have never acted on the *well-documented but ignored* industrial chokepoints and shortfalls that the Taiwan or Bust crowd now argue will break if we don’t abandon Ukraine. Never mind that some of these people were in power years before and did nothing to remediate those issues. Never mind that the lesson we are learning in Ukraine are waking people up to the Taiwan fight, and have turned formerly dovish Dems into China hawks. Never mind that a weakened Russia that the PRC has to take care of makes them more financially and militarily strained than a healthy, resurgent Russia. And no, as I’ve written before, we’re not doing a second Sino-Russian split. We should take every opportunity to bleed our enemies. Let the PRC become ever more involved and invested in Russia, those are assets and attention they can’t dedicate to Taiwan. The game works both ways. And believe me, I know how bad things can get if we lose Taiwan, I wrote an entire book about it. But focusing solely on Taiwan can cost us to lose the game in other ways. A pyrrhic victory over Taiwan where we lose heavily elsewhere is just as dangerous for the long game and our prosperity.
Learn to Multi-Task
When I talk about scoping foreign policy solutions, adjusting your actions to the severity of the problem is what I’m talking about. It requires a good sight picture (intel and analysis) as much as it needs the right set of tools. Sometimes you have to take the fight to the bad guys, sometimes the bad guys walk into a bear trap of their own making and the whole world makes memes about it. Either way, seize the advantage presented. If you see a $100 bill on the street, pick it up. Don’t ignore it just because it wasn’t on your pre-planned list of things to do today. Sometimes all you need is a little aid money to win hearts and minds and ensure the stability of a whole region, sometimes you pour billions into weapons and literally decimate the Russian military without a single dead American soldier. And sometimes, sometimes when the big war comes, you have to go weapons free in the Western Pacific to ensure the world *stays*free.
Use the right tool for the job, and don’t be afraid to multi-task, because what happens over here really matters over there. “Sitting one out” leaves space for our enemies to seize opportunities, but that also doesn’t mean we have to smash every problem or forgo innovation. A little diplomacy, foreign aid, creativity, and strong alliances go a long way to fighting and beating the bad guys on our terms. In other words, good policy is a lot harder than “put all the big guns on one map square” and anyone who says otherwise should be looked at sideways because they’re probably not playing this game with a full deck.
As General Shepherd said: “Sure it matters who’s got the biggest stick, but it matters a hell of a lot more who’s swinging it.”
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And if you have any suggestions for topics for future articles, please send them my way on Twitter @Iron_Man_Actual or on Substack Notes!
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