In a lengthy and compelling piece in the National Interest, former CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seeks to grasp Ronald Reagan’s geopolitical mantle in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential election. Pompeo calls for confronting China “across the spectrum of power” by waging economic, cyber, and resource warfare to win the new Cold War with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) without fighting a kinetic war.
“Beijing,” Pompeo writes, “is an aggressor of similar malevolence” to the Soviet Union “which Ronald Reagan vanquished.” But he views China as a greater threat than the Soviet Union was because unlike the Soviets during the first Cold War, China in the new Cold War poses a threat to the United States and its allies across the spectrum of power — economic, cyber, resource, and kinetic.
If China achieves its goals, Pompeo warns, “freedom will be in jeopardy everywhere.”
Pompeo criticizes the Bush 43, Obama, and Biden administrations for their failures to adequately respond to Russia’s aggression in Georgia in 2008, Ukraine in 2014, and Ukraine again in 2022. But he realizes that the greater threat to America’s interests is in the Indo-Pacific, where China via its Belt and Road Initiative threatens to break through the first island chain by annexing Taiwan and thereby opening the Pacific to greater Chinese power and influence, while simultaneously expanding its economic and political influence throughout what the great geopolitical thinker Halford Mackinder called the Eurasian-African “World-Island.” China, unlike Russia, Pompeo writes, “is a near-peer competitor to the United States.”
China, Pompeo explains, is waging economic and resource warfare against the United States and its allies. The CCP, he writes, “strives to make the West reliant on resources, on products, and on supply chains that it controls.” He blames China for sickening the world “through its treachery in hiding the origin of SARS-CoV-2, thereby permitting its worldwide transference.” China, he claims, seeks to “create an empire of unmatched power” and to “supplant the United States as the world’s preeminent power.” If China achieves its goals, Pompeo warns, “freedom will be in jeopardy everywhere.”
He decries the CCP’s influence in the American business, entertainment, and sports worlds. He views the Belt and Road Initiative not just in economic or infrastructure terms, but as a geopolitical offensive designed to outflank the United States in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
The immediate focus of U.S. policy in the region should be Taiwan, according to Pompeo. “The conquest of Taiwan,” he writes, “would remove the key strategic chokepoint to a Chinese military breakout, which would threaten the entirety of the Indo-Pacific.” It would also interrupt the supply of semiconductors to the United States, making us even more dependent on China for a key ingredient in our economy. Pompeo understands that the Belt and Road Initiative has both land and maritime components, and China’s control of Taiwan is central to the success of the Belt and Road Initiative. Unlike the Biden administration’s confused approach to the Taiwan issue, Pompeo eschews ambiguity: “America should immediately recognize Taiwan as a free and sovereign country” and we should provide sufficient arms to Taipei that “can overmatch any invading force.” If the United States allows China to invade Taiwan, he writes, it would “constitute as great a strategic miscalculation as the appeasement that precipitated World War II.”
Pompeo also advocates lessening America’s exposure to Chinese financial pressures, but he falls short of urging complete economic decoupling from China. Pompeo lauds the efforts of Congress and President Donald Trump to protect American investors and the nation’s security by amending the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and signing Executive Order 13959. The goal of that legislation and order is to end America’s financial underwriting of China’s military build-up.
Pompeo concludes by invoking Reagan’s strategy in the 1980s that won the first Cold War. A key component of that strategy was economic warfare that imposed pressures on the Soviet economy that Moscow could not overcome. Reagan, Pompeo writes, achieved victory in the Cold War “without the resort to war.”
China will be a harder nut to crack. Its economy today is in much better shape than the Soviet economy was in the 1980s. Reagan imposed stress on the Soviet economy not only by purely economic means but also by engaging the Soviets in an arms race that he knew the Soviets could not win. Pompeo’s article is silent on that aspect of his proposed strategy. It is also silent on the need to identify, prod, and exploit fissures in the Sino-Russian partnership. Reagan reinforced the Nixon-Kissinger triangular diplomacy without which the first Cold War would not have ended as soon and as peacefully as it did.
Finally, Pompeo’s article is not only strategically astute but also politically astute. By invoking Reagan and seeking to occupy his mantle within the GOP, and by refusing to distance himself from Donald Trump, who remains very popular among the party’s rank and file, Pompeo is positioning himself to be Trump’s successor should Trump not run in 2024.
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