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Nov 1, 2023·edited Nov 1, 2023

Nice point about which problems US power is good for.

It's not that the Mideast doesn't have big problems; it's that they're problems American involvement can't solve. Iraq and Afghanistan showed we can't reform even single countries by force. How are we supposed to reform a whole region?

Sure, we can hold back Israel from the worst excesses and deter Iran from outright war. But that still leaves nine-tenths of the Mideast's problems bleeding and unfixed. Are we supposed to sink ourselves into the Mideast for a generation just to make things worse?

But in Asia, America is wanted not for reform, but for deterrence. "Deter China" means we need a fresh military buildup, since we let the arsenal of "Deter the USSR" go to rust. But America was good at building weapons in quantity once; I have faith we can do it again. And the mission is one we know. Deterrence is what the American military is actually good at!

So while the Mideast barely wants us, and has problems we can't do more than bandage, Asia wants us very much, for a job that exactly suits our strengths.

For the Middle East, America is just the indispensable scapegoat. For Asia, we can be the indispensable deterrent. Let's go where we're wanted.

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I agree that we have a much more robust economic relationship with the Far East, but a major war anywhere in the world is going to seriously impede commerce. Most obviously, that would be oil and the Suez Canal. That is why we have an economic interest in the Middle East not blowing up.

So, our Middle East policy has to be as strong as our China policy.

Check out my take on the future of American foreign policy: https://kathleenweber.substack.com/p/its-hostile-its-real-but-dont-call

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While that being true (Japan & South Korea both rely heavily on oil from the Middle East), it is also important to convince Asian allies that the US will not be distracted and the US will be firmly and unequivocally commited to the region.

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Ours is a small world and shrinking every minute. We must pay attention to both Asia and the Middle East. As always, Africa and South America seem to get left out.

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In terms of marginal benefit, there is really not much we can do in the Middle East anymore militarily. Most countries in the region are US allies & can take on Iran perfectly well; they just need to get along -- most importantly, the US needs to get Israel to agree on a two-state solution to relieve some of the popular pressure in Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt. Diplomacy needs to take the mantle there, as the Pentagon failed miserably. There is very little to do there for US military power -- Israel's F-35's etc. are perfectly adequate to deter Hezbollah and the Houthis, who do not have the same incentives as Hamas to be bombed back to the Stone Age.

There is, however, quite a lot for US military to do in Asia. Freedom of navigation missions, joint exercises to prepare for a Taiwan/SCS contingency, marking the Chinese subs operating out of Hainan, managing the shoal situation off of the Philippines... The possibilities are endless.

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Middle East oil and the Suez Canal are both very important to Europe, but not really to the United States.

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I find this analysis pretty confusing. Where we should deploy US troops, money etc is about where we think that deployment offers the best resturn on investment -- not what location is the most important overall (otherwise we'd deploy marines to the London financial district). And it's not at all clear that applying US influence in the middle east takes away, rather than supports, our ability to influence the east.

The fact that Asia has a better status quo suggests useful interventions will be more expensive. Korea and Japan spend quite a bit on defense and have well-trained troops and it's not the wild west. Where a small base can potentially have region wide impacts in the middle east it would take huge resources affect the balance of power in Asia much.

Realistically, the choices the US faces with China are questions of strategic investment (and economic competition) -- do we contract with SK to expand our naval fleet, do we increase defense spending etc. I think one can make an argument that demonstrating our concern about allies in the middle east which don't have that much we want will help our position with allies in Asia (convince them we won't abandon them when it's convenient).

Look, I dunno how this all shakes out but I'm pretty sure we can't figure out how to adjust US foreign policy by only looking at how important a region is and not the cost/benefit ratio and extent to which one intervention interferes with others.

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I feel like he laid it out pretty well. Asia is the center of global commerce and the Middle East has little strategic importance to the US. Ergo, invest more in Asia, wind down Middle East

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Well, Janet Yellen said we have money to support the money laundering in Ukraine and now Israel. Why, not Asia, too? JOEBAMA just prints money to raise the national debt with no intention of paying it back.

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First, that money that's being spent in Ukraine largely isn't. We send them a bunch of old ammo -- in many cases weapons we'd have had to pay to decommission -- and then we buy new kit.

But it's not free, however why do we have such a large military budget in the first place? Largely to be able to face down China and Russia should we ever need to do so. One way to maintain a military advantage with respect to Russia is to buy the latest fancy tanks/missles and hope they'll work well against Russian kit. A much cheaper and more certain way is to give the Ukrainians a small fraction of our yearly defense budget and let them decimate Russia's military.

If the CIA managed to undermine Russian military power to the extent Ukrainian aid has for 10x the price it would be considered a major victory. Why hate it because it also helps the Ukrainians.

(please don't tell me it's because you believe Scott Ritter. He predicts more Russian victories than the Russian MOD...and they claim to have shot down twice the number of planes Ukraine ever had)

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My husband came from Communist Hungary. The Ukrainians never treated the Hungarians in a decent fashion. Ukraine is a corrupt Country. We are bankrolling Ukraine and keeping

Zelensky and his family living in high standards. Just heard his mother-in-law lives in a

mansion somewhere in Europe. Zelensky owns property in Miami, Florida. This is all on

the American taxpayers dime. Are you kidding me. Do you honestly think that Ukraine

could ever decimate Russia's military. JoeBama and his Leftist group that surround him

spend the defense budget on other things. During a war, you don't have to account

where the money is spent. Has the US spent money on the latest fancy tanks/missiles?

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But how important a region is just doesn't tell us how useful intervention there is. If that argument worked we should be intervening in Canada and London.

What determines where we should intervene is the costs and benefits of a given intervention. Nothing he said shows that ratio is better in Asia (same argument would seem to show it should be even better in Canada... better status quo, more important as our direct neighbor etc..).

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The ratio has been largely negative in the middle east. So even zero in Asia is better.

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If you include Vietnam I don't think the ratio is so clear. And I don't think it's fair to compare crap we rushed into as a result of 9/11 to more normal policy choices.

Ultimately, it's really hard to know because the successful interventions tend to be the ones where something didn't happen and the worst ones are those where we end up in a guerilla war.

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That Vietnam you mentioned is another time when America's intervention, rightly or wrongly, was to prevent that country to become a Communist country like China. Unfortunately history proved that was a mistake. But now is exactly the time when our intervention would be beneficial, for us and for Vietnam, whose Northern neighbor has been a nightmare and obsession for 4,000 years!

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I forgot to add that the mistake we (actually it was Truman) made (and what a devastating mistake!) was that we sided with the vicious French colonialists against the nationalistic Vietnamese, who were trying to get off the colonial shackle. That left the Vietnamese with no choice but to seek the Chinese's help, even though they would have preferred us over the Chinese whom they had fought for over a thousand years!

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"crap we rushed into as a result of 9/11"

I think you mean: "Crap we used 9/11 as an excuse to rush into".

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Well, unless the Russians suddenly become polar bear mutants and invade over the North Pole, Canada is about as safe as can be. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the South China Sea...not.

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I'm not so sure Asia is low risk (if you mean expected harm...I agree it's less likely to go bad but the harm if it does is much worse). But I don't think the kind of risk posed by Asia is something that's in tension with intervention in the middle east.

The risk in Asia is of Chinese aggression or threats. What's relevant for that is simply the overall size and capability of the US military (particularly navy). Doesn't matter if we fly those assets in from the middle east or the mainland in case of a war -- only that they exist. So I just don't see a tension here.

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I wouldn't exactly call Vietnam "small" as its population is about twice that of South Korea, even if it is considerably poorer.

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Totally agree with the premise, I just hope that Americans are able to understand the importance of defending Taiwan and regional allies (Philippines, Japan, Korea...). China is constantly signaling to its people the likely inevitability of their invasion of Taiwan (which they loving refer to as "re-unification"), but in the US public opinion is more reactive--jumping from crisis to crisis whether in Ukraine or Israel. Do Americans understand how critical Taiwan is to US national interests? Are they aware that the Philippines is a US-treaty ally? In addition to helping these countries arm themselves, the US public needs to be primed that this is the battle that matters: hopefully it can be avoided, but if not then we must be all-in.

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As always, this is an excelent piece worth reading. However, there is one very important but flawed argument in your reasoning. Nearing the end of the Article, you mention that:

"The U.S. isn't dependend on Mideast oil at all. Thanks to fracking, we are a net exporter of crude. Saudi Arabia and UAE and Kuwait could get eaten by Godzilla and our oil refineries would just keep humming."

This is a common misconception about the state of U.S oil industry. I am no oil or commodity expert, but I do read a few Substack accounts whose opinions I value highly when it comes to energy topics.

Let me qoute the Green Chicken (@Doomberg) for a clearer clarification of the misconception about U.S. oil self-sufficiency. ( This qoute is from a articled titled "Molecular Tourism");

" (...). At the risk of oversimplifying, the current fleet of US refineries was built to handle heavier grades of crude than the country currently produces and has been operating uncomfortably near the top of its nameplate capacity for years. It has been more than four decades since the US last built a new major refinery, and those original investments were designed to handle oil being produced domestically at that time, along with crude imported from countries like Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela."

Taking this into consideration, the US may be capable to produce large amounts of oil domestically, but it does not have the industry capacity necessary for refining this "type" of oil. The U.S, therefore, needs to import oil from other countries including the Middle east region.

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At the same time, it seems that we don't import much oil from the Middle East though? Middle East oil is of the light variety iirc; very different from the crude from Canada, Venezuela etc.

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The needed oil to balance the refineries need with the light sweet crude and west Texas intermediate is heavy crude. Canada has lots of this but Biden cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline that would have been used to import it. Biden is instead trying to get it by making a deal with corrupt communist Venezuela. Hopefully a huge find off the coast of Guyana that Exxon/Chevron are developing will also be of the needed heavy variety, but Venezuela is even trying to claim that as well.

https://www.wsj.com/business/energy-oil/oil-exxon-hess-guyana-7c2ca1f3

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Sounds like an opportunity to build up some of those rust belt cities...Might even help Biden's election chances

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The article overlooks how deterrence works. Abandoning allies in one place convinces the world that even in another place, allies will be abandoned. Besides, it may bring a catastrophe that ultimately necessitates full intervention nevertheless.

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The implication behind the article's note on “dar al-harb” ("house of war") is that outside of the Muslim world all is war, but that just isn't how it was used. It's origins are from the days in which the primary antagonism with Islam came from the Eastern Roman Empire (aka Byzantium). Within the Caliphate they spoke of "dar al-Islam", or basically where Islam has control and there is peace. "Dar al-harb" is the contested regions (mostly in Anatolia, the Asian part of today's Turkey) where war was permitted and encouraged in order to bring it into the dar al-Islam.

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Excellent piece. Whole heartedly agree. One tiny disagreement: We shouldn't "rejoin TPP" but forge a much better alliance. One that is truly about fostering multilateral trade, not one filled with pork and protection of dangerous IP laws for US Corporations

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In terms of prioritization between Asia and Middle-East ...this makes sense. However, if you are looking at overall international prioritization... my list would be:

1) North America ==> focus on Mexico ... get it to be prosperous/safe ASAP

2) Central America ==> if you do #1 and #2, you solve your immigration problems and build a very strong and tight ecosystem. Reduce dependence on China ASAP.

3) Western Europe/Australia/New Z ==> cultural/economic alignment ...

4) India/Japan ==> Can be stable..aligned partners

China/Russia ==> Need to be managed

Also, technologically...accelerate shift of energy such that Oil markets collapse... nearly all the problems of the world are caused by resource supported economies lead by dictators.

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For once I agree with Noah. A dollar spent preemptively building up Taiwan,s defenses is much better spent that funding a Ukrainian war already underway.

I do find it amusing he can't bring himself to criticize the Leftist faction of the Dem party for funding multiple wars at once and failing at each. Noah must be incensed at whomever is writing Biden,s thoughts.

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Except spending dollars on aid to Ukraine *increases* our ability to defend Taiwan (they aren't a charity case -- they can buy their weapons but it's our military that deters China).

We send Ukraine our *old* munitions and kit (sometimes things we might have had to pay to decommission) and then buy ourselves better new kit.

No it's not free but it's pretty cheap and the effect of that money is to hugely cripple one of our major geopolitical rivals. Before the conflict in Ukraine we'd have needed to keep lots of troops and kit in Europe even during a war with China to deter Russia. Because we give Ukraine aid the Russian military has a fraction of the military power it once did meaning those troops are freed up (and going forward we can spend primarily to counter China and worry less about Russia).

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Except that:

- sooner rather than later, the US is running out of old kit. I believe providing new kit is equally justified, the 'old kit' argument is merely convenient

- Russian power could already be in the dangerous middle - strong enough to avoid being overwhelmed by EU westernization, weak enough to not prevent China from de facto or de jure taking Siberia, solving its material needs.

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I think the US military needs to under go modernization. If it means couching it in selling old kit as a political strategy, so be it.

I am consistently confused by the European dimension. Europe has 4 times the population and 18 times the GDP; I don’t understand why the would struggle against Russian aggression. Perhaps it’s more about politics than ability

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A significant amount of what is going to Ukraine isn't "old kit," it is 155mm artillery shells, and GMLRS/ATACMS/Javelin/Stinger/Patriot missiles that are being expended far faster than they can be produced.

Coincidentally, Taiwan has been trying to buy a number of these things and we haven't been able to supply them in a timely fashion, even for a paying customer.

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Why do we have to evaluate interventions by region at all? Shouldn't we just look at each particular intervention/choice and evaluate it as it comes up? I worry pieces like this actively encourage people to imagine there is some false limitation on our ability to judge interventions in multiple regions.

Sure, we have limited troops and money but it's not at all clear that stationing troops in the middle east changes the fact that they are there to be drawn on in case of a war with China (arguably they gain experience too).

I fear this piece is like an analysis which argues that the NY tech sector will grow faster over the next 10 years than the SF tech sector -- therefore you should favor investing in NY over SF startups other things being equal. Even if true, it doesn't suggest that you should let the startup's location distract you from the buisness fundamentals. Similarly, if Asia is really the more important place to intervene then that should fall out of just looking at the costs and benefits of the particular intervention.

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I think looking at interventions in Asia clarifies what a successful intervention looks like. Namely, that it should look like something that would benefit us, benefit the region we're involving ourselves in, and be something that we can realistically do.

Seeing this contrasted against something like the Israel situation clarifies why we shouldn't be involved there.

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> a Eurasia dominated by China, Russia, and Iran would eventually force the U.S. to its knees through a combination of economic sanctions and military threats.

Like how you imagine it would be, if I may ask?

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Larger economy, and control of the seas.

At each stage, the logic of lowest cost is to accede to demands of the global hegemon. That's what non-hegemon states do.

How do you think the US has run the world for the last 78 years?

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I felt like the 2 world wars gives us a pretty good idea

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This seems too zero-sum to me.

Yes, some things (actual deployed troops, maybe foreign aid budget) are essentially a fixed resource, but I don't agree that "diplomacy" is. If anything, I think it's probably the reverse - demonstrating commitment to allies and the international order in one part of the world makes that commitment appear stronger in other parts of that world.

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I will briefly quibble here: if the US does not have the power to dominate the earth, then Iran/Russia/China definitely do not either. Russia is struggling to conquer a neighbor much smaller and weaker than itself. Iran is capable of even less. China could cause massive problems across the world, but the net result (for the US) if we allowed China to dominate its neighborhood (besides Japan and Australia) and let Russia conquer Ukraine is probably far less than many think. I do not think China wants to bring "the US to its knees" in the same way Germany and Japan did in WWII.

That does not mean we should not still try to stop China from doing what its doing, but I think the lessons are different than WWII and even the Cold War.

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China can already out-produce the US and the EU combined. To dominate the world, one only needs dominate Eurasia, minus India. In 20 years, China could do so, first by dominating Asia minus India. And to do that, by dominating east and southeast Asia. At each turn, China's bloc would be increasingly larger than the US bloc.

On the other hand, prevent China from dominating its neighbours through deterrence, and the chain of events never gets going.

It's akin to a domino theory for the 21st century, but through trade and gunboat diplomacy, not state ideology.

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"To dominate the world, one only needs dominate Eurasia, minus India"

What does this even mean? This is the kind of serious sounding statement people (myself included) frequently make which, on closer inspection, doesn't really make sense. Firstly, do we really believe that one "only needs to dominate Eurasia (and not even all of Asia, you don't need Inda) to dominate the world" because I don't. But what does it even mean to dominate Eurasia? Does Russia/China/Iran need to conquer Eurasia, just be the pre-eminent military power of Eurasia, be the pre-eminent economic power, both? What does this actually mean?

And let's suppose China did "dominate Eurasia (minus India)" why would this mean they would dominate the world? And why would China want to dominate the US, and why do we assume that's their goal? And do we really assume that (without the US) the rest of Eurasia will just meekly accept Chinese/Russian domination?

I'm all for deterring China from invading its neighbors, I just dont buy the malarky that my freedom in the US depends on it.

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To dominate the world i.e. to be the single global hegemon

Anyone who can harness the lion's share of Eurasian resources by whatever means necessary, because those resources are so outsized compared to the rest of the world, has the option to control the seas and set the world's rules, and deny that ability to anyone else.

I think the evidence the last few years is all around us that China will attempt to dominate anyone and everyone in any fashion it can. If you live in the US, your government hasn't been knocked around by the Chinese yet, instructing them on what their foreign policy must be, kidnapping their diplomats or showing up at their islands with gunboats, but everyone else already has had a taste. Ask the Australians, Japanese, Philipinos, Brits or Canadians how that is going. China already makes a point of punishing US allies for being US allies, because it lacks the power to challenge the US directly. So far.

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As an aside, for a while, China wasn't the only one beating up on US allies. For anyone here who thought "Trump got a few things right" (as I once did), pushing back on China is incoherent when your policy is to also punish US allies, seemingly only because it can be done. With Trump, every file was similarly incoherent - nominally positive actions were just random.

It turns out that leadership is harder than pretending on Twitter. Who knew?

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You had a lot of broad questions, and I probably can't answer them all in a week, but by 'without India', I mean without India's resources, i.e. having India opposed or entirely uncooperative to China and/or committed to autarky'.

For example, in the late 20th century, the US was the hegemon in the ME and Indian Ocean regardless of Iran's opposition.

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Just because China is powerful does not mean they're miraculously going to have enough power to just call the shots in all of Eurasia. I don't think Eurasia wants to be dominated by China, and if they tried to do what you claim, I would assume: they would stretch themselves too thin. One lesson on empire was: it really doesn't pay

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Thanks for a succinct analysis. Very hard choices ahead for the US.

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This is unusually concise synopsis of US geopolitical interests.

I would add or contradict with the following:

1) Asia may become dominated, but China-India in particular won't be united. Thus Europe remains the key geopolitical region for everyone else - it is what determines the balance of power in the world, not East Asia nor South Asia. So European security remains paramount in US interests (after North American security).

2) EU shows no sign of having the cohesion required to prevent even the weakened Russia of today from taking what it wants of easternmost Europe, and only fleeting signs of preventing China and Russia from turning EU states authoritarian. That could change, but it would take a miraculous turn of events, like a liberal democratic revolution in Turkey that then gains accession to the EU.

3) Among the Eurasian Axis of Russia-China-Iran, Russia threatens the most important geopolitical region for the US, and is the easiest/cheapest for American power to deal with.

That said:

A) the above logic is weakened but not undone as South/Southeast Asia becomes more important.

B) Also not undone is the case in Noah's article on the necessity for the US of preventing China from dominating East/Southeast/South Asia

Therefore:

- The US will have to continue to walk and chew gum at the same time, better than it has in a while.

- The Middle East is not either of those tasks.

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