February 19, 2024


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Biden needs to learn from Carter about standing up to our adversaries

With news of a national security threat from possible Russian nuclear weapons in space, as well as wars in the Middle East and Europe and the prospect of another over Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific, President Joe Biden has presided over the greatest loss of U.S. deterrence since the 1970s. Absent a major strategic reversal, the Biden administration risks inviting the very military escalation Biden desperately seeks to avoid.  

Forty-seven years ago, President Jimmy Carter entered the Oval Office with a view that the Cold War was over, so he set out to reduce the size and power of the military and engage in arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union.  

A strong advocate of détente, Carter believed that concerns over Soviet expansionism in the Third World and its military buildup were overstated. He proposed flat and declining defense budgets and rejected the outgoing Ford administration’s plans to build a 600-ship navy.  

Carter’s posture alarmed his team. Unable to keep pace with the Soviet military buildup and demands in the Middle East, Carter’s chief of Naval Operations told Congress he was ‘trying to meet a three-ocean requirement with a one-and-a-half-ocean Navy.’  

While his secretary of Defense and national security advisor pleaded with him to increase the defense budget, Carter demurred, rejecting calls for substantial growth in defense spending, instead blaming the military brass for causing a perception problem.   

Carter’s anti-defense program and policies emboldened the Soviets, who, by 1979, were on the cusp of realizing military superiority. A Soviet combat brigade was discovered in Cuba in September, echoing the traumas of the Cuban missile crisis.  

Soon after, Iranian revolutionaries took American diplomats hostage in Tehran. Yet Carter continued to push for détente, stubbornly lecturing critics that an arms control treaty was the better pathway to relaxing tensions with the Soviet Union and stabilizing the globe.   

Then the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, taking Carter by surprise. Unable to explain away Soviet behavior, and under bipartisan pressure to reverse course, Carter finally submitted to reality. In a televised speech to the nation, Carter acknowledged the Cold War had returned and the United States would have to counter Soviet aggression.  

It took three crises in three regions, in addition to evidence of the largest military buildup since World War II for Carter to begin his reversal on détente, defense, and his national security strategy. Growing bipartisan clamor from Congress for a major shift in defense strategy also got Carter’s attention.  

Leading Democrats, like Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, demanded 5% real growth in the defense budget — a considerable sum given the double-digit inflation of the time. Other détente skeptics in Congress refused to ratify the pending Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty or SALT II.  

The crises and failures began to take a political toll on Carter too. As the 1980 presidential election unfolded, Americans viewed Carter as weak just as Ronald Reagan was promising a set of policies anchored in American strength, including a military buildup.  

Feeling the pressure, Carter committed to grow the defense budget and announced the Carter Doctrine, which made clear the United States would use military force, if necessary, to defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf.  

While Carter tried to adapt to new geopolitical realities during his last year in office, Biden is showing no signs he is changing course. It has been almost two years since Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced their ‘no limits’ axis right before Putin’s war on Ukraine.  

Now, with revelations of a new threat in space from Russia combined with a brazen Iranian regime whose proxies are killing U.S. troops and taking Americans hostage, there is no evidence of a strategy to restore deterrence. Instead, we have an overstretched and underfunded military that is further weakened by an administration stubbornly committed to de-escalation rather than deterrence.  

The Biden national security strategy has been overcome by events. There is no framework or doctrine designed to deal with a China–Russia–Iranian axis. Our strategists and military planners are stuck in reaction mode, which, as in the 1970s, emboldens our adversaries.  

As a result, China now sees more détente than deterrence from the United States. Russia sees weakened resolve to compete in space and in Ukraine. And Iranian proxies attack U.S. citizens, troops and interests from Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, yet the Biden team has yet to recognize Iran’s leading role or produce a military strategy to arrest Tehran’s aggression.  

Feeling the pressure, Carter committed to grow the defense budget and announced the Carter Doctrine, which made clear the United States would use military force, if necessary, to defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf.  

All the while, the president sticks with a defense strategy that sizes the military to deal with one conflict at a time, rather than embarking on a military program that would allow our forces to simultaneously compete with China’s unprecedented military growth and have sufficient forces that can punish and deter Russia and Iran.  

Unlike the 1970s, though, there is no Congress demanding the president embark on a military buildup. It is mired in debates over basic supplemental funding to arm our allies while efforts to fund the government for a full year languish.  

The world has dramatically changed since Biden took office. Failure to adapt to the new era of lost deterrence is the surest way to invite a wider conflict. It’s time for Biden to channel Carter, reverse course, and change. As Carter learned, it is better for an American president to be mugged by reality than allow the United States to be mugged by tyrants and terrorists.   

This post appeared first on FOX NEWS