I’ve noticed a number of so called “opinion articles” in the Hill recently written by Jonathon Sweet calling or subtly pushing for an immediate war footing, while making Joe Biden appear to be out of touch with the reality of what is going on in the world around him. The war hawks like Jonathan Sweet hope Biden will find an issue outside of Ukraine and focus on that, thus leaving Ukraine in the dust. And if Biden doesn’t play that game they will claim Biden is weak, out of touch. They will continue to hope he will make the wrong call at some point and send us all to hell waving the American flag.
Every authoritarian world leader right now that is on this war footing is saber rattling, launching missiles, intelligence gathering balloons as provocations, and even threatening to launch nuclear weapons. And they are all testing Biden’s strength and willpower, hoping he will launch something at them or pay attention to them or make a mistake, thus putting them and their contrived issues in the spotlight.
Much like Trump, who demands that you pay attention to his rhetoric, if he’s ignored he gets all upset over it and demands you pay attention to him by escalating his rhetoric. The same thing happens with other world leaders who are authoritarians. They want Biden to make a move, to pay attention to them, and Biden, being the smartest guy in the room just won’t play that game. Eventually these other leaders are going to take their balls and go home like the sad pathetic children they are. Until then, the war hawks like Jonathon Sweet will keep trying to get Biden to launch WWIII.
On Jan. 7, 1943, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union address to the 78th Congress. The world around him and the country he led were at war and his speech overtly reflected the existential challenges facing the Western democracies under assault from German and Japanese tyranny. 1942, the first full year of American participation in World War II, likely had been “the most crucial for modern civilization,” Roosevelt apprised, and 1943 would be just as “violent.”
Eighty years later, President Biden, speaking before the 118th Congress, was also surrounded by a world arguably at war with itself and its governing values, largely because of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and China’s machinations in the Pacific and beyond. Yet, despite the existence of these very real threats, hot and cold, respectively, Biden’s State of the Union speech on Feb. 7 buried these two clear and present dangers simultaneously confronting national security.
Biden’s initial focus in his speech was not the past year nor what his 2023 version of FDR’s 1943 of a world at war would look like but, instead, one of where the country is today, compared to two years ago. COVID. January 6th. Closed schools. A stalled economy.
But that was 2020. This is now.
Biden’s State of the Union framing was one of assessing the midpoint of his presidency. But his midterm assessment ignored China’s militarily conducting live-fire drills and surrounding Taiwan by sea and air after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited Taipei. He ignored repeated North Korean missile tests over the Sea of Japan, and Japan itself, for the past year. The speech also, inexplicably, completely overlooked that Iran now has enough highly enriched uranium — 154 pounds of it — to build “several nuclear weapons,” according to International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi.
Admittedly, it is easy to bandy about phrases such as “World War III”; however, it is equally naïve not to consider that the country — indeed, all of the West — is already in the middle of a global war. WWIII does not have to look or feel like a Hollywood version of it. This is, as we once cautioned, quickly devolving into a dystopian WWIII.
It should have been paramount for Biden to address the national security challenges facing the United States and the free world head on in his speech. Europe and its democracies are actively under threat. Merely defending them is not enough.
Not when Russian state-controlled media commentators still fantasize about Russia nuking London or Paris, nor given Putin’s veiled threats of their potential use after Germany and much of Europe agreed to dispatch Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Yet, it was not until near the end of his 1 hour, 13 minute, largely domestic speech that Biden briefly addressed the threat Russian President Vladimir Putin presents to the free world. Biden framed Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine as a “test for the ages, a test for America, a test for the world.”
If it is a test for the ages, why was it buried in the State of the Union? Moreover, how do we pass that test as a country and as the titular leader of the free word? What national sacrifices will be required of us to prevail?
Contrast Biden’s handling of this enveloping global war to that of Roosevelt’s 1943 State of the Union speech. FDR forcefully taunted the “Nazis and the Fascists” with military production figures: 48,000 planes, “more than the airplane production of Germany, Italy and Japan put together”; 56,000 combat vehicles; 670,000 machine guns; 21,000 tanks; 250 million small-arms ammunition; and 181 million rounds of artillery ammo.
Not once in Biden’s speech did he reference the pressing need for the U.S. to urgently go on a wartime economic footing. This, despite the recent call in Davos, Switzerland by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg for the organization to do just that. Stoltenberg, in clear terms, framed the war in Ukraine as an existential “fight for democracy.”
Democracy as we have known it since 1945 is under assault. Putin is aggressively calling for a multipolar world, and Chinese President Xi Jinping is intent on reshaping the global order to reflect Beijing’s self-serving belief in totalitarian democracy. This fight is taking place everywhere on a global scale — everywhere, that is, except where a far louder gauntlet should have been thrown down: in Biden’s State of the Union address.
Instead, Biden glossed over the Chinese spy balloon incident. He chose to indirectly reference it when speaking about protecting U.S. sovereignty from China’s threats. Further, there was no mention of China’s building of military bases around the world, be it in Equatorial Guinea or its naval installation in Cambodia that, when completed, will threaten Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Throughout Biden’s speech, he kept hitting on one theme: “Let’s finish the job.” Yet, when it came to Ukraine, there was no similar exclamation point to end his comments. Only a vague assurance to Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., after he introduced her to the audience, that “We will stand with you as long as it takes.”
Standing is one thing. Winning is quite another. But there was no talk of decisively winning this test of the ages — only a suggestion (hope?) that there would be no Ukrainian defeat.
Where were the FDR-like 1943 assurances of victory in Ukraine in Biden’s address?
What is the Biden administration’s proposed end-state in Europe, vis-à-vis Putin?
When is the Biden administration going to recognize that we are essentially in the equivalent of WWIII?
It has been “game on” for some time. We are, arguably, (quite) late to WWIII and seemingly blind that we are caught in the eye of a hurricane. It may move rapidly at any moment now — Ukraine, Taiwan, Iran and/or North Korea— and we could soon find ourselves badly exposed from a national security standpoint.
If this is a test for the ages (and it is), then we must rise to it — not just our armed forces or allies but collectively as a nation and as a people, as well. Whether Biden wanted to admit it or not, this existential inflection point in the form of a dystopian WWIII is upon us. He should have sounded that warning, but did not.
WWIII was never going to be about nuclear weapons, regardless of whether they are used or not. It was — and is — solely about whether democracy can survive in the face of tyranny. That choice is now upon us.
Mark Toth is a retired economist, historian and entrepreneur who has worked in banking, insurance, publishing, and global commerce. He is a former board member of the World Trade Center, St. Louis, and has lived in U.S. diplomatic and military communities around the world, including London, Tel Aviv, Augsburg, and Nagoya. Follow him on Twitter @MCTothSTL.
Jonathan Sweet, a retired Army colonel, served 30 years as a military intelligence officer. His background includes tours of duty with the 101st Airborne Division and the Intelligence and Security Command. He led the U.S. European Command Intelligence Engagement Division from 2012-14, working with NATO partners in the Black Sea and Baltics. Follow him on Twitter @JESweet2022.