The Temptation of America to Isolate From Ukraine—and Taiwan?

The American reaction to isolate from the Ukraine conflict has ramifications for any potential Chinese aggression Commentary Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought out many isolationist talking points that will have consequences for any potential Chinese aggression. Because American weakness in Afghanistan invited Russian aggression (it started amassing troops mere weeks later in the Zapad drills), and the Chinese regime is similarly aggressive, we must consider these arguments against action right now. Tucker Carlson is the most vocal and well-known isolationist speaking out against any intervention against Russia. In one editorial after another, he called the Western reactions a “lunatic push for war with Russia.” (Weak American sanctions against Russia or troop deployments to nearby NATO countries are not the same as war.) Carlson said that Ukraine is not a vital ally and we have “no legal or moral obligation to defend Ukraine’s territory.” He also said that helping Ukraine is “not in our interest” and mocks the concept of borders—which is strange considering his hyperbole over America’s southern border. In short, he believes that the war is “strategically irrelevant” and “won’t make America safer, stronger, or more prosperous.” But Carlson isn’t the only one to raise concerns. Some analysts contend that conflict in “Ukraine follows in a lengthy line of distant places that are said to be fulcrums on which global safety depends,” wrote Jordan Michael Smith in The New Republic. In other words, Ukraine is far away so it’s not a problem for us. Some believe the war is part of the desire of the arms industry to make more money, while others argue that the Biden administration prefers to talk about a foreign crisis to distract from the president’s domestic failures. Each of these points isn’t particularly new or original and they are ideas that fail to address serious problems facing America around the world. It might seem counterintuitive to suggest that dealing with problems halfway around the world is more important and necessary than dealing with problems here, but they are. Enforcing treaties and stopping bad guys when their bad behaviors are still relatively stoppable has its own difficulties. It requires military strength, and leaders need the moral courage to believe their cause is right, to accept criticism from political rivals, and worldwide opinion. But when the problems finally seem close and real enough to demand action without debate, they usually present themselves in the form of a Pearl Harbor or 9/11-style attack. By then, like late-stage cancer, the problem has metastasized and spread, and is then much harder to deal with. The skeleton of the World Trade Center twin towers in the background. Firefighters work amid debris on Cortlandt St. after the terrorist attacks in New York City, on Sept. 11, 2001 (Mark Lennihan/AP) Appropriately enough because this applies to any potential Chinese aggression, Chinese philosophers knew this principle of responding to aggressors very well. The classical Chinese thinker Shizi wrote: “Even a tree so big that it shields the sky was, at its beginning, only as thick as the base of a tree sprout: easy to get rid of. But once it has fully manifested itself, a hundred people using hatchets and axes are unable to fell it! When flames first arise, they are easily extinguished. But once it has gotten to the point where the Yunmeng and the Mengzhu swamp lands are aflame, then even with the help of the whole world ladling out the waters of the Jiang and Han rivers, one will still be unable to save the situation! The beginnings of misfortunes are like flames and tree sprouts: easy to stop. But then they are neglected and become great matters, then even worthies like Kong Zi [Confucius] and Mozi will be unable to save the situation!” Even before the Russian invasion faced a relatively weak reaction from the West, analysts predicted an invasion of Taiwan. Xi Jinping is facing criticism of his rule and, according to some analysts, he will need this war to solidify his authority. Taiwan is expecting “more severe” struggles with China in 2022, and both their defense minister and the U.S. admiral in the Pacific predict war within years. Beijing has already destroyed Hong Kong’s autonomy without consequences. Now, the communist leadership has even more reason to believe Taiwan will not receive aid and China won’t face serious long-term blowback for its action. Much like Vladimir Putin’s claims that Ukraine has always been part of Russia, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) claims that Taiwan is a historic part of China. Unsurprisingly, given its aggression toward the island, Beijing has used the chaos of the Russian invasion to test Taiwan’s air identification zone. Sanctions on Russian access to computer chips might make Taiwan’s dominance of that critical component of phones, computers, and cars even more coveted for mainland Chinese manufactu

The Temptation of America to Isolate From Ukraine—and Taiwan?

The American reaction to isolate from the Ukraine conflict has ramifications for any potential Chinese aggression

Commentary

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought out many isolationist talking points that will have consequences for any potential Chinese aggression.

Because American weakness in Afghanistan invited Russian aggression (it started amassing troops mere weeks later in the Zapad drills), and the Chinese regime is similarly aggressive, we must consider these arguments against action right now.

Tucker Carlson is the most vocal and well-known isolationist speaking out against any intervention against Russia. In one editorial after another, he called the Western reactions a “lunatic push for war with Russia.” (Weak American sanctions against Russia or troop deployments to nearby NATO countries are not the same as war.)

Carlson said that Ukraine is not a vital ally and we have “no legal or moral obligation to defend Ukraine’s territory.” He also said that helping Ukraine is “not in our interest” and mocks the concept of borders—which is strange considering his hyperbole over America’s southern border. In short, he believes that the war is “strategically irrelevant” and “won’t make America safer, stronger, or more prosperous.”

But Carlson isn’t the only one to raise concerns. Some analysts contend that conflict in “Ukraine follows in a lengthy line of distant places that are said to be fulcrums on which global safety depends,” wrote Jordan Michael Smith in The New Republic.

In other words, Ukraine is far away so it’s not a problem for us. Some believe the war is part of the desire of the arms industry to make more money, while others argue that the Biden administration prefers to talk about a foreign crisis to distract from the president’s domestic failures.

Each of these points isn’t particularly new or original and they are ideas that fail to address serious problems facing America around the world. It might seem counterintuitive to suggest that dealing with problems halfway around the world is more important and necessary than dealing with problems here, but they are.

Enforcing treaties and stopping bad guys when their bad behaviors are still relatively stoppable has its own difficulties. It requires military strength, and leaders need the moral courage to believe their cause is right, to accept criticism from political rivals, and worldwide opinion.

But when the problems finally seem close and real enough to demand action without debate, they usually present themselves in the form of a Pearl Harbor or 9/11-style attack. By then, like late-stage cancer, the problem has metastasized and spread, and is then much harder to deal with.

New York City firefighters work amid debris on Cortlandt St. after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001
The skeleton of the World Trade Center twin towers in the background. Firefighters work amid debris on Cortlandt St. after the terrorist attacks in New York City, on Sept. 11, 2001 (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Appropriately enough because this applies to any potential Chinese aggression, Chinese philosophers knew this principle of responding to aggressors very well. The classical Chinese thinker Shizi wrote:

“Even a tree so big that it shields the sky was, at its beginning, only as thick as the base of a tree sprout: easy to get rid of. But once it has fully manifested itself, a hundred people using hatchets and axes are unable to fell it!

When flames first arise, they are easily extinguished. But once it has gotten to the point where the Yunmeng and the Mengzhu swamp lands are aflame, then even with the help of the whole world ladling out the waters of the Jiang and Han rivers, one will still be unable to save the situation!

The beginnings of misfortunes are like flames and tree sprouts: easy to stop. But then they are neglected and become great matters, then even worthies like Kong Zi [Confucius] and Mozi will be unable to save the situation!”

Even before the Russian invasion faced a relatively weak reaction from the West, analysts predicted an invasion of Taiwan. Xi Jinping is facing criticism of his rule and, according to some analysts, he will need this war to solidify his authority. Taiwan is expecting “more severe” struggles with China in 2022, and both their defense minister and the U.S. admiral in the Pacific predict war within years. Beijing has already destroyed Hong Kong’s autonomy without consequences. Now, the communist leadership has even more reason to believe Taiwan will not receive aid and China won’t face serious long-term blowback for its action.

Much like Vladimir Putin’s claims that Ukraine has always been part of Russia, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) claims that Taiwan is a historic part of China. Unsurprisingly, given its aggression toward the island, Beijing has used the chaos of the Russian invasion to test Taiwan’s air identification zone. Sanctions on Russian access to computer chips might make Taiwan’s dominance of that critical component of phones, computers, and cars even more coveted for mainland Chinese manufacturers.

Finally, nowhere in all these arguments from isolationists is an explanation of why it is good to let Russia—and soon enough China—gobble up chunks of territory at their leisure. At the very least, doing nothing meaningful suggests a lack of American resolve that unfortunately sends a green light to aggressors around the world.

We still don’t know all the reactions that America will take against Russia, but they will likely not include military action, which will doom Ukraine to Russian aggression. Many of the arguments being made against intervention in Ukraine are common American arguments against any intervention. And that means the United States will be just as unlikely, if not more so, to help Taiwan or other future victims of the CCP’s aggression.

But the lesson of history, like Pearl Harbor and 9/11, show the need to bury the isolationist relics of the past and be ready for whatever dictators, like Xi, might do next. Because as Shizi wrote, only “stupid people contend with [problems] after they have become obvious.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Morgan Deane is a former U.S. Marine, a military historian, and a freelance author. He studied military history at Kings College London and Norwich University. Morgan works as a professor of military history at the American Public University. He is a prolific author whose writings include "Decisive Battles in Chinese History," "Dragon’s Claws with Feet of Clay: A Primer on Modern Chinese Strategy," and the forthcoming, "Beyond Sunzi: Classical Chinese Debates on War and Government." His military analysis has been published in Real Clear Defense and Strategy Bridge, among other publications.