Stagflation Will Be Biden’s Legacy
By Peter Morici
June 7, 2022 – First published at Washington Times)
My inbox is stuffed with articles about the prospects for stagflation, but slow growth and runaway prices are descending on America right now.
Sooner or later, dumb policies catch up with a society. Wars, natural disasters and pandemics often instigate the reckoning — just ask the crack logicians marshaling the Russian army.
The West is smack in the middle of such a calamity too.
As this column has argued, short of a punishing recession Americans will be lucky to see inflation at 4%, never mind the Federal Reserve’s official target of 2%.
Broken supply chains
The war in Ukraine and sanctions have broken supply chains. Along with Climate Change induced heat, drought in some places and excessive rain in others, this is driving up food prices.
Land use planning is predominantly state-driven, and in the American West, it mostly promotes new industry and urbanization at the expense of agriculture. The national interest in sustaining an affordable food supply and exports to a hungry world be damned.
If the Biden administration is aware and prepared to mitigate, I am at a loss for evidence.
In Ukraine, the Russians have longer-range artillery, air superiority and the capacity to bomb Ukrainian cities into oblivion, but President Biden won’t give Kyiv the missiles and intelligence to target critical infrastructure and leaders inside Russia for fear of escalation.
Nuclear and chemical weapons are a dicey business and could backfire — Russian President Vladimir Putin would achieve a shock effect but no lasting advantages, as we could destroy the Russian fleet in retaliation. But shortages of Ukrainian wheat, sunflower oil and corn, as well as Russian fertilizer, threaten to break fragile food import dependence in the Middle East and Africa and turn sanctions on their head.
By blockading Ukrainian ports, Mr. Putin is driving up global food prices and imposing more costs on the West than the West imposes on Russia.
All of this will take massive amounts of capital to just mitigate that could otherwise be better spent on R&D, infrastructure and other productive investments.
COVID-19 and the war are slicing U.S. and European growth by about 1.5 percentage points — that’s well more than half the pre-pandemic pace.
Underarming the Ukrainian army
Yes, Virginia, underarming the Ukrainian army is inflationary and also stifles growth.
Chicken is expensive because COVID-19 and working from home have driven up demand. Swine flu is pushing Asian consumers from pork to poultry, and avian flu has cut chicken flocks. Yet, Mr. Biden demonizes as monopolies the four large American meat processors.
Before investing in more chickens and processing facilities, these firms must worry about the Justice Department coming for them. That won’t bring down prices, but it will sure slow growth.
These kinds of mistakes repeat in other sectors.
Permanent student debt relief
Mr. Biden is weighing permanent student debt relief but not reforming universities whose tuition has rocketed on the jet engines of the federal student loan program. Universities will continue to waste capital by preparing students for jobs that don’t exist — or not teaching them to think at all.
Mr. Biden’s ballyhooed infrastructure plan so favors the union and social justice movements, much of the $550 billion in new money will be wasted. Amtrak will continue to move too slowly, highway congestion will grow, and American businesses will be saddled with more delays.
Progressive policing policies that beget unsafe cities are keeping people from returning to offices. If those are still occupied a few days a week, not much capital will be saved to pay for additional computers, printers and home offices in the suburbs.
Slower growth courtesy of the AFL-CIO and Black Lives Matter.
Starving the petroleum industry
Starving the petroleum industry for leases will continue to raise oil and gas prices and smother demand for other goods, especially among the nearly half of households with incomes less than $75,000. Already they are fleeing Walmart and Target for dollar stores.
A handful of large money managers like Blackrock, State Street and Vanguard — aided by the radical environmental movement — are forcing incoherent, growth-killing environmental, social and governance standards on American industry.
Exxon, Shell and the like are peopled by petroleum and mechanical engineers of various sorts. They know about as much about solar technology as the Yale Law School does about nuclear physics.
Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.
High Inflation Becoming Permanent
Americans Should Gird for a Long, Tough Battle with Inflation
By Peter Morici
May 25, 2022 – First published at washingtontimes.
Americans should gird for a long, tough battle with inflation.
Paul Volcker is fondly remembered as the Federal Reserve chair who slew double-digit inflation in the early 1980s. Often forgotten is that for 10 years, through prosperity and recession, the annual rate of increase in the consumer price index averaged about 4%.
For the decade between the Global Financial Crisis and COVID-19, the pace was a bit less than 2%. But that was a historic anomaly driven by more-intense globalization, the buildout of Chinese manufacturing and competition forcing businesses to minimize costs through economies of scale and wage arbitrage.
Problems with over-optimization have been laid bare by the semiconductor industry. Fires in two factories — in Japan and Germany — would have caused a global chip shortage even without a pandemic.
Shortfalls in production
China’s mishandling of COVID-19 is causing shortfalls in production from low-tech manufacturers in Vietnam who rely on components from the Middle Kingdom to behemoths like Apple and Toyota.
The Shanghai COVID-19 lockdown makes apparent the vulnerabilities inherent in the heavy reliance of supply chains on China, but it did not create them.
More pandemics are almost certain, and it’s clear we have over-globalized — at least as it concerns dependence on a Communist Party dictatorship that is paranoid about western influence.
Sinopharm is an inferior vaccine, but it will be a rainy day in hell before Beijing puts the health of its citizens first and asks the West for large quantities of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. And it would rather cast its population into isolationist purgatory than admit to the folly of its Shanghai policy.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen calls the great globalization rethink friend shoring.
Apparel retailers like GAP buy more from Central America. The U.S. government seeks to diversify sources of lithium, rare earth minerals, medical supplies, semiconductors and several other products away from China and Taiwan.
All of this will make America more secure, but is terribly costly and will stoke inflation.
Climate change is raising temperatures and causing droughts and floods in the western United States and around the globe. These cause shortages of affordable grains, vegetables, dairy and cooking oils.
The disruptions caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, sanctions, and resulting export embargoes in India for wheat and Indonesia for palm oil heightened the adverse consequences of rising global temperatures but hardly created them.
NATO’s policy of avoiding direct confrontation with Russian and limiting weapons and intelligence supplied Ukraine prolongs the war — perhaps to a stalemate — making crisis prices in petroleum and food markets increasingly permanent.
The private sector is moving out of fossil fuels as quickly as emerging battery technology and scarce and vulnerable supplies of lithium and other critical materials will permit. However, Biden administration policies that limit U.S. petroleum producers’ access to leases needlessly raise gasoline and natural gas prices and stoke inflation.
A more sensible approach would encourage solar and wind power, and electrification of transportation and buildings while still enabling U.S. oil and gas supplies.
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin are both ruthless autocrats. U.S. energy policies senselessly make difficult and more expensive diversification of European and American sourcing away from Russia, Saudi Arabia and other unfriendly states.
President Biden’s refusal to engage the U.K. and EU in genuine free trade negotiations and reenter the Trans-Pacific Partnership weakens our staunchest and most effective allies. It drives Asian nations to question the durability of the U.S. commitment to counter Chinese expansionism and limits commerce and supply chain investments that would optimize friend shoring.
Domestically, higher interest rates may slow but will hardly break the secular rise in housing prices and rents. It is driven too much by restrictive zoning for land close to cities, work-from-home and the resulting demand for more residential space, and the crime wave begotten by defunding the police and prosecutors who won’t indict looters and even violent criminals.
Yes, Virginia, soft on crime is inflationary.
The pandemic inspired U.S. and European governments to overspend and print too much money. Witness the nearly $3 trillion in additional post-pandemic bank deposits and cash held by U.S. households and nonprofits that keep consumers spending even as interest rates rise.
Rearming the West to counter Chinese and Russian expansionism must be paid for by higher taxes, less spending on social programs or bigger budget deficits enabled by central banks printing more money.
My bet is on more money, more demand and more inflation.
But our Federal Reserve chair tells us the money supply does not matter. He’s aiming for a soft landing when 11 of the 14 tightening cycles since World War II were followed by recessions. His words don’t inspire confidence.
We are likely looking at 4% rather than 2% inflation over the next decade.
Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.
America’s national interests require tolerating some bad actors around the world
But we can choose the devil with whom we deal
By Peter Morici
April 13, 2022 – First published at washingtontimes.com)
The loadstar of American foreign policy should be the security of our citizens and assets abroad, national prosperity and the promotion of human rights.
This requires accepting tradeoffs, domestic policies that minimize vulnerabilities and acknowledging we can’t antagonize every autocrat on the planet.
The West is celebrating a reinvigorated NATO and stiffened resolve among Pacific allies, but the American posture remains timid and defensive.
The conflict in Ukraine is morphing into a war of attrition that Kyiv is challenged to win.
Western sanctions are porous, and Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t yield. Renault is resuming production in Russia, Pepsi is supplying Lay’s potato chips, cheese and other “essentials.” Moscow’s central bank can work through the 20% of Russian banking still free to do business in the dollar.
Mr. Putin’s domestic approval rating has climbed to 83%. If Russian citizens can acquiesce to the execution of Ukrainian children, we are morally rudderless to enable their access to daily necessities.
By denying Ukrainians fighter jets and other air defense systems necessary to defend the sky and offensive weapons to take the war to the Russians, we invite a false peace. Mr. Putin slices off Donetsk and Luhansk, we de facto acknowledge Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, and Moscow plants operatives further east to subvert Ukrainian authority.
If confronting Mr. Putin provokes a Russian engagement with NATO forces, President Biden should make plain that the U.S. Navy would sink Russia’s fleet, seize its commercial ships at sea and blockade its ports.
Otherwise, Mr. Putin will learn from his mistakes, rebuild his military and improve its logistics and ultimately take aim at Sweden, Finland or the Balkans.
Diplomacy is always the first option, but when dealing with terrorists like Mr. Putin, a sharp sword lends authenticity to all the flowery prose.
The West isn’t disengaging from China — foreign investment and trade are booming, and its technological progress and modernization continue apace — and the American military in the Pacific needs restructuring to deter China from taking Taiwan.
Taiwan’s defense can be hardened with American anti-ship missiles, advanced sea mining technologies, anti-aircraft systems and improvements in its army’s readiness.
Former Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy has written persuasively that U.S. naval and air readiness in the Pacific should create a credible threat to “sink all of China’s military vessels, submarines, and merchant ships in the South China Sea within 72 hours.”
President Xi Jinping
Then Chinese President Xi Jinping might think twice about crossing the straits to win a place in the pantheon of Chinese heroes.
Unfortunately, the world is not conveniently divided between spheres of democratic states — NATO and Japan, Australia and a few other allies in the Pacific — and belligerent autocracies — Russia, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and several others.
Too much of the world’s oil is locked up in belligerent states and in a nether space — Iraq, Kuwait, Nigeria, Indonesia and others — between democracy and its adversaries. We must cultivate the nonaligned, choose among lesser evils among the belligerents and get out of oil as fast as we can.
Mr. Biden’s greatest sin against facts and reason has been to work tirelessly to stifle the U.S. oil and gas industry.
Drilling here and supplying Europe doesn’t have to slow Mr. Biden’s goals for electrifying the American road and a low carbon economy. It does mean we won’t have to foolishly remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations to get a nuclear deal and oil from Iran.
Choose the devil
We can’t escape the fact that we could drill full out in the United States, and the West would still need Middle Eastern oil and gas — especially with Russia handicapped from participation. But we can choose the devil with whom we deal.
The region is irrevocably divided between Sunni Muslims led by Saudi Arabia and Shiite Muslims led by Iran. And freed of sanctions, Iran would become a greatly enhanced terrorist state, an economic powerhouse beyond oil and with twice the population, a many times greater menace than Saudi Arabia.
China is buying 1.8 million barrels a day of Saudi oil but we supply the Patriot missiles the kingdom needs to defend against Iranian-supported Houthis attacks and have the technology it seeks to diversify its economy.
We can’t oppose the Saudi war with Iranian supported fractions in Yemen and vehemently criticize Mohammed bin Salam’s domestic policies, and then ask him to pump more oil, nudge him to treat dissenters and women better, and join with us in the Abraham Accords to build a more peaceable region and credible answer to Iranian aggression.
Adults recognize there are lots of bad actors in the world. Americans must get tougher with the worst of them and tolerate those least threatening to best serve our national interests.
Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.
The six tragic errors the U.S. made that permitted Russia’s war on Ukraine
The U.S. and its Western allies appeased Russia and China, weakened their defenses, and summoned aggression in Eastern Europe and the South China Sea
By Peter Morici
March 24, 2022 – First published at marketwatch.com)
History will mark the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a devastating attack on the peaceful community of democracies. And that America and its allies—so inured with a sense of moral and systemic supremacy—committed six strategic errors that summoned aggression and ultimately let an invasion degrade into a humanitarian tragedy.
First, at the end of the Cold War, America and its allies opened the Western market economy through the World Trade Organization and other mechanisms to Russia and China following the thesis that participation in free markets would instigate democratic reforms.
Instead, Russia and China transformed socialism into forms of crony- and state-capitalism that empowered ruthless, autocratic regimes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains his military machine and internal repression apparatus with revenues from oil, gas and other commodity sales to the West. Chinese President Xi Jinping can rule without elections by delivering export-driven prosperity and imposing an Orwellian system of behavioral control.
Second, the West appeased Russia when it invaded Georgia and the Crimea and, after establishing a nascent democracy, the United States abandoned Afghanistan to the mercies of the Taliban.
Third, appeasing Russia by limiting NATO forces and positioning only defensive weapons in the Baltic states, Poland and southeastern Europe. Putin still created a fable about NATO’s aggressive intensions, appealed to Russian cynicism, and invaded Ukraine.
Now, absent NATO kinetic intervention—specifically, an allied-enforced no-fly zone—or providing the Ukrainian government with jet fighters, Putin won’t leave Ukraine empty-handed.
Fourth, appeasing Russia by not equipping Ukraine with offensive weapons. Moments after crossing its frontier, if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could have rained missiles on approaching Russian forces and hit several strategic targets inside Russia, then Putin’s adventurism would have looked much less appealing to his military and countrymen.
Fifth, American and European energy policies are fundamentally flawed. Fossil fuels will remain necessary for years, because wind and solar power can only be built out as fast as new battery technology falls in price.
Russian energy leverage over Europe is potentially very short term. Europe has adequate LNG terminals to import much of the gas it needs and could build capacity within three years to eliminate Russian natural-gas imports.
Sixth, American troops in Germany and the still modest NATO contingents stationed in states bordering Russia remain an inadequate deterrent, and U.S. forces have grown terribly vulnerable.
Missed was that Putin also brandished “several cutting-edge weapons” that could defeat any adversary. Russia and China possess hypersonic missiles and antisatellite
The United States spends $768 billion on defense—Russia $154 billion and China less than $250 billion. I doubt Defense Secretary Secretary Lloyd Austin could adequately explain why U.S. forces lack comparable weapons.
Like other top-level Biden appointees, he’s good at forming task forces, producing vapid reports and satisfying the diversity and inclusion requirements of progressives in Congress and the bureaucratic interests of his departmental employees.
However, the Pentagon’s November Global Posture Review failed to offer an adequate strategy to reconfigure and modernize American forces in the Pacific to the China challenge and missed Ukraine badly.
How long would it take for American isolationists on the hard left and right to win the argument to let Russia have the Baltic states or Poland if Putin made the lights flicker and paused transit systems during a Manhattan rush hour or smashed an abandoned Midwestern factory with a missile.
Before jumping in patriotic fervor consider how much support Europeans could offer. Germany, the continent’s largest NATO member, can hardly muster an army.
However, effective deterrence and hardening of economic resilience will require substantial new spending when Germany and the broader continent are grappling with the huge costs of modernizing their aging industrial base.
It’s going to take firm diplomacy to ensure the Europeans muscle up enough, but the endurance of continental resolve ultimately may prove wanting. And the Biden administration lacks the political will to stare down the green lobby and encourage U.S. shale producers to manufacture and export the additional LNG that Europe needs.
Presidents Putin and Xi can accomplish at lot more mischief before Inauguration Day 2025.
Why voters are so unhappy with the economy and Biden
President spends too much and tells Americans it’s good for them
By Peter Morici
March 22, 2022 – First published at washingtontimes.com)
Americans have good reason to be unhappy with President Biden — the economy stinks.
In the State of the Union, Mr. Biden waxed about GDP soaring and unemployment falling, but abstract statistics pale against voters’ everyday experience. Slow-growing paychecks aren’t keeping up with soaring electricity, gasoline and grocery prices.
Laughable were early denials and now the remedies offered by the Federal Reserve, Treasury and woke West Wing ideologues masquerading as professional economists.
Cecilia Rouse, chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, asserts inflation will subside within months. However, the omicron variant of COVID-19 is ripping through cargo ship crews and along with rising fuel costs, that translates into higher freight rates and more, not less, inflation.
She gets one dunce cap
How that’s going to bring down the price of furniture or eggs evades my expensive education in economics but not Dr. Rouse. She gets one dunce cap for her analysis. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen tells us Build Back Better will solve the labor shortages, but it would raise the cost of childcare for middle-class professionals over the next few years. Ms. Yellen is more experienced and should know better. She gets two dunce caps.
The president and his team have persistently claimed monopolies are causing inflation. Mr. Biden has instructed the FTC to investigate oil companies and accuses meat processors of anticompetitive practices. In February, he announced 72 initiatives across a dozen agencies to boost competition.
Where were all those monopolies when Donald Trump was president? Did they magically cartelize the American economy between Election Day 2020 and Inauguration Day 2021?
I can’t get an audience with Mr. Biden, but I think it’s fair to anticipate he has no good answers for those questions. He gets a provisional three dunce caps.
Consumer prices were up 7.9 % while wages increased only 5.8%
As an economist, I am compelled by convention to back up my words with numbers. For the year ending in February, consumer prices were up 7.9 % while wages increased only 5.8%.
That’s not huge, but those wage gains are only averages. Pandemic demand and stimulus spending benefited the wages of finance and high-tech workers, nurses and several other specialties — most other workers’ wages lagged behind.
Importantly, most folks get their pay adjusted annually, but businesses can raise prices quickly and lately have been. That’s a key source of rising worker resignations — often, the only way to beat inflation is to switch jobs.
CEOs are taking double-digit pay increases while magnanimously announcing they will increase white-collar pay by about 4.4% this year. What’s it like to be a loan officer, teller or work the IT help desk at Bank of America where Brian Moynihan is taking $32 million? He scores one oink.
Not to be outdone, new Apple phones are terribly expensive but no longer include chargers and headphones. That disguises how much prices have jumped. After golfing, yachting and ordering up the corporate jet, shrinkflation — fewer potato chips (silicon wafers) in the same wrap is a favorite CEO pursuit.
Take comfort America, it’s all for a good cause. Tim Cook is taking $99 billion in compensation — he gets two oinks.
Investment bank and private equity traders are grasping millions in pay jumps but how do we grade a whole class? At business schools, we like group projects. For their collaborative efforts, the professor awards three oinks.
Most concepts in economics are terribly inaccessible, but some are not. If the economy is experiencing shortages because the government is bent on handicapping the oil and gas industry, shipping lanes are clogged and work-at-home shifts spending from sandwich shops to home computers and printers, the government printing more money will bid up prices.
$1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan
Mr. Biden financed his $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan with help from the Federal Reserve printing money to purchase new Treasury securities.
A true believer in woke economics — spend too much and tell Americans it’s good for them — the president is dipping into his diversity list for new Fed governors with a strong bias toward printing money and manufacturing more inflation to create tight labor markets.
Worst among them, Liza Cook can’t tolerate ideas different from her own. She wanted the editor of the prestigious Journal of Political Economy removed for criticizing the defund-the-police movement.
Americans can see two things plainly. Tight labor markets and inflation are sending them to the poor house, and the country is being run by donkeys for the benefit of pigs.
It’s time to end this “Animal Farm” tale, but the midterms are still eight months away. I shudder to think what more damage can be accomplished before those provide our reckless septuagenarian president with some competent adult supervision.
Biden needs a course correction or the Democrats face disaster
Democrats ignore the economic and security interests of Americans by doubling down on woke politics
By Peter Morici
March 16, 2022 – First published at MarketWatch.com)
President Joe Biden needs a course correction, or the Democrats face disaster in the midterm elections. That’s tough with a cabinet and White House staff formed to appease woke progressives.
America’s hard left—like the hard right—is fundamentally protectionist and isolationist. In his State of the Union, Biden lauded Buy America—unions and other progressives view free trade as the devil’s work. The military is for parade grounds and pork barrel, not the defense of liberty, and the president has forsworn any direct U.S. military involvement in Ukraine.
For now, Biden enjoys a happy coincidence that his policy of relying on sanctions coincides the broader public sentiment, but what happens when the Zelensky government falls and is driven into the countryside to form a resistance? Russian treatment and conditions of Ukrainians in the cities will not be pretty, and continuing bloodshed and violence may well turn voters sour.
The precedent Biden has set for Taiwan, whose strategic importance as a semiconductor manufacturer is manifest, is downright menacing.
Biden has eschewed a no-fly zone over Ukraine, because it risks direct conflict with the Russian military. And Russian President Vladimir Putin is a paranoid, cornered leader who has brandished the nuclear option.
Concentration camps and genocide in Xinjiang illustrate Chinese President Xi Jinping is as capable of actions as evil as Putin. He could misread that similarly threatening to “push the button” would keep the Americans at bay if he chooses to take Taiwan by force.
The administration lacks a coherent strategy as Beijing threatens Taiwan with escalated military operations and builds hypersonic, antisatellite and cyber weapons. The latter could take out the Golden Gate Bridge, disable the navigation of the U.S. fleet during a conflict, and wreak havoc on the American power grid.
Putin has threatened with similar weapons and after defeats of American strategies in Afghanistan and Ukraine, Xi can similarly try to bully Biden.
Once Americans recognize China can capture Taiwan and controlling its semiconductor fabs could shut down the U.S. electronics and automobile industries, voter affection for Biden’s neglect of America’s defenses won’t help Democrats either.
Domestically Biden bet on COVID vaccines to enable a great reopening but was derailed by the delta and omicron variants. Now he has declared it’s time for Americans to return to their offices.
No doubt that will help the Democratic big-city mayors collect more sales taxes from weary commuters, but white-collar workers want to avoid the crime, tough drives and poor public transit those venues offer.
Biden would do better to champion a national initiative to accelerate the development and deployment of technologies to make telecommuting as seamless as possible.
Crime rages in cities that are captive to social justice governors, mayors and prosecutors, but Biden won’t challenge the hard-left theology that it’s all systemic racism. He says he is against defunding the police but does nothing to challenge the New York bail law that releases suspects in violent crimes onto the streets and progressive prosecutors elsewhere who won’t pursue criminals.
The crime issue will grip mightily in the fall campaign.
Biden boasts that the American Recovery Act and the Investment and Infrastructure Act will create growth and jobs. Although runaway inflation and falling real wages for ordinary workers have been instigated by pandemic supply-chain problems, those were greatly amplified by Biden’s overspending and printing-press monetary policy.
Now he wants to appoint new governors to the Federal Reserve who would further shift monetary policy toward stoking inflation, and curtail domestic energy production and promote social justice through the allocation of bank credit.
Meanwhile, investment bankers and private equity and high-tech executives get unconscionably richer, while the ordinary working folks Democrats’ progressive policies are supposed to help—blacks, Hispanics and working-class folks of any color—fall behind.
Religion without rice
In February recall elections, three progressive members of the San Francisco school board managed barely 25% of the vote in a jurisdiction Biden carried with 85% against Trump. They pandered to unions and focused on renaming schools and destroying artwork to uphold critical race theory when parents were rightly concerned about the destructive consequences of extended school closures on their children’s education and emotional development.
Unrepentant, Biden continues to practice the diversity-obsessed theology of the left, but voters—including Blacks and Hispanics—are growing weary of religion without rice. They will humiliate Biden and his Democrats’ false piety in the midterm elections.
Biden not up to defending America
U.S. defense budget is five times Russia’s, yet lacks comparable weapons
By Peter Morici
March 15, 2022 – First published at washingtontimes.com)
History will mark the Russian invasion of Ukraine as the moment hopes for a peaceful democratic world died. Russian President Vladimir Putin may be the evil protagonist, but American and European folly bear some responsibility.
At the end of the Cold War, Western nations sought to embrace Russia and China economically to help forge democracy. Russia found new markets for its gas and oil, and China joined the World Trade Organization.
Yearnings for democracy are not universal. Granted, Mr. Putin maintains power by bullying and jailing opponents. Until setbacks took hold, he was able to generate enough public support for his invasion by generating propaganda about NATO’s aggressive intentions and with successful foreign adventures — Georgia in 2008, the Crimea in 2014, disrupting Western elections and SolarWinds in 2020.
Chinese President Xi Jinping can rule without elections by delivering prosperity and domestic order. American progressives whipping up crime and insurrection in U.S. cities provides ready footage for Beijing’s propaganda machine about the shortcomings of Western democracy and capitalism.
Articulated by successive American presidents, U.S. policy is guilty of five sets of strategic mistakes.
- First, appeasing Russia when it invaded Georgia and the Crimea and after establishing some stability and a nascent democracy, abandoning Afghanistan to the mercies of the Taliban.
- Second, appeasing Russia by limiting NATO forces stationed and positioning only defensive weapons in the Baltic States, Poland and southeastern Europe. Mr. Putin still created a fable of encirclement, appealed to Russian cynicism and invaded Ukraine. With overwhelming military forces and absent NATO’s kinetic intervention, Mr. Putin won’t leave Ukraine empty handed. His army battle hardened will learn from its mistakes and can move north to threaten the Baltic States.
- Third, appeasing Russia by not equipping Ukraine with offensive weapons. Moments after crossing its frontier, if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy could have rained missiles on Russian forces and put several Russian communities ablaze, then Mr. Putin’s adventurism wouldn’t have looked so appealing to his military and countrymen.
- Fourth, American and European energy policies are fundamentally flawed. Fossil fuels will remain necessary for years because wind and solar power can only be built out as fast as new battery technology falls in price. Russian leverage over Europe is potentially very short term. Europe has adequate liquefied natural gas terminals to import much of the gas it needs and can build capacity within three years to eliminate Russian natural gas imports.
- Fifth, American troops in Germany and modest NATO contingents stationed in Russian bordering states remain an inadequate deterrent, and U.S. forces have grown terribly vulnerable. At his Feb. 24 press conference, President Biden was asked what Mr. Putin meant when he referenced his nuclear weapons in his speech justifying seizing Ukraine. Mr. Biden said “I have no idea.”
Missed was that Mr. Putin also brandished “several cutting-edge weapons” that could defeat any adversary. Russia and China possess hypersonic missiles and anti-satellite and cyber weapons that could crack an American warship in two, disable the navigation systems of the U.S. fleet and wreak havoc on the American power grid.
The United States spends $768 billion on defense — Russia $154 billion and China less than $250 billion.
I doubt Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin could adequately explain why U.S. forces lack comparable weapons.
Like other top-level Biden appointees, he’s good at forming task forces, producing vapid reports and satisfying the diversity and inclusion mafia in the West Wing and the bureaucratic interests of his departmental employees.
The Pentagon’s November Global Posture Review failed to offer an adequate strategy to reconfigure and modernize American forces in the Pacific to the China challenge and missed Ukraine badly.
How long would it take for American isolationists on the hard left and right to win the argument to let Russia have the Baltic States or Poland if Mr. Putin made the lights flicker and paused transit systems during a Manhattan rush hour or smashed an abandoned Midwestern factory with a missile.
Before jumping in patriotic fever consider how much support Europeans could offer. Germany, the continent’s largest NATO member, can hardly muster an army.
For the moment, the political climate in Europe has moved in favor of beefing up NATO defenses, but effective deterrence requires substantial new spending when Germany and the broader continent are grappling with the huge costs of modernizing their aging industrial base and transitioning to green energy.
It’s going to take brass knuckle diplomacy to get the Europeans to muscle up enough, but I doubt Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Mr. Austin and Mr. Biden have a clue or the energy. They certainly have demonstrated little to make us believe otherwise.
Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi can accomplish at lot more mischief before Inauguration Day 2025.