OPINION: Most dangerous 13 months ahead


‘Potentially the most dangerous months in world affairs since 1939’

(PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The reality of 2020 is a world awash in turmoil and real dangers. While this article does not pertain to Labor specifically, it pertains to the survivability of all of us as Americans —it’s a wake-up call for America. It was written before the assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani by an American airstrike, and the Iranian response of launching missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq, which makes this commentary even more compelling. William Enyart is a former U.S. congressman and retired two-star general with 36 years in the military who started his working life as a member of UAW Local 145, Montgomery, Ill., where he and his father both worked at Caterpillar Tractor Co. It’s a frightening observation of the 13 months ahead. It is being published for the first time in the U.S. in the Labor Tribune and is being considered for publication by the Cornell University Institute for Public Policy where General Enyart is a member of the editorial review board. – Ed Finkelstein)

Former U.S. Rep. (IL-12)
Major General, Illinois Army National Guard (retired)

The next thirteen months will be the most dangerous months in world affairs since 1939.

Why do I say that? After all, in 1939 there was no NATO, there was no United Nations, the United States, although with a global-reach Navy and a global economic powerhouse, had a diminutive Army and little interest in foreign affairs. The British Empire spanned the globe.

In 1939 the world saw regionally powerful dictatorships, Germany, Italy and Japan, which desired to grow their reach. Regionally powerful dictatorships that felt no constraint from other world powers.

In 2020, we are facing a similar circumstance with the latest Russia dictator, Vladimir Putin, who is much aggrieved at the collapse of the Soviet Union. He desires nothing so much as to restore the breadth of the Russian Empire so as to secure his place in history.

As Hitler seized the Sudetenland and incorporated Austria, Putin has seized Crimea and is moving on eastern Ukraine, as well as flexing muscle in Syria.

With his newfound friendship with Turkey’s Erdogan, any Western response to Crimea is a virtual impossibility. Even without Erdogan lining up with Putin, the logistics of responding militarily to the Crimean seizure via sea lanes would be extraordinarily difficult.

Like Putin, China’s Xi Jinping is seeking to restore what he views as China’s central role in world affairs. Xi views U.S. dominance in the Pacific as an affront to China’s sovereignty and a continued subjugation to colonial Western powers. Our support of Taiwan since the Chinese Communists took control of the mainland in 1949 is viewed as foreign interference in domestic Chinese affairs.

To put it in a context that Americans might better understand, it is as if the Confederacy, once defeated in the continental U.S., had fled to Puerto Rico (although that was a Spanish possession prior to the Spanish-American War of 1898) and with Russian support remained a rebellious outpost.

An ancient military maxim is to strike when your enemies are in disarray.

No one can argue that U.S. domestic politics are in anything but disarray. Internationally, with Trump’s ongoing attacks on NATO, South Korea and Japan, there is at least the appearance of disarray, if not the reality.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. had no peer competitor and with our falling oil production in the 1970’s and the terrorist attacks of 2001, the U.S. became obsessed with the Middle East and Afghanistan, neither of which, from a practical standpoint, posed hegemony ending strategic importance to the U.S.

North Korea in and of itself does not pose such a threat either. However, North Korea is a critical flashpoint between the U.S. and China and/or Russia. Kim Jong-un is virtually entirely dependent on China and to a lesser extent Russia for its economic lifeline. Were China to enforce the United Nations economic sanctions, North Korea would collapse.

The current standoff between the U.S. and North Korea over nuclear weapons is in China’s interest as it provides a distraction to the U.S. from China’s increasing military presence in the western Pacific.

While China is not ready to militarily confront the U.S., there is a significant risk that China, with the possible concurrence or assistance of Russia, may view allowing Kim Jong-un to invade South Korea as a test of U.S. resolve.

China and Russia could maintain plausible deniability as to any role in such a fight, yet they may view it as serving their short-term interests.

For Russia, it provides yet another distraction for the U.S., thereby giving Russia a freer hand in Eastern Europe, as well as in the Middle East.

For China it likewise creates distraction that allows for their further expansion in the South China Sea and moves on Taiwan.

Should the U.S. fail to respond to an attack on South Korea by the North, the NATO alliance, as well as the U.S. Pacific alliances with Japan, Australia and New Zealand, would collapse.

What about the U.S. military forces in South Korea? Although the U.S. maintains roughly 10,000 military in South Korea, there is but a combat brigade, roughly 3,500 soldiers, the balance are mostly U.S. Air Force. Those forces provide a “trip wire” function. Any serious defense of the South Korean peninsula requires an immediate and substantial reinforcement by sea and air. Heavy equipment, such as tanks, can only be substantially reinforced by sea.

MacArthur’s amphibious assault at Inchon was possible only because of U.S. complete dominance of sea lanes and air. Pull out a globe and look at the geography.

Consider Chinese naval development and “anti-access, area denial” capabilities, which much like Soviet MIGs in the Korean War, were made available to the North Koreans, while maintaining that they’re provided to North Korea for self-defense and operated by North Koreans, again sustaining “plausible deniability.”

The North Koreans, unlike in 1950-53, need little help with land forces, as they maintain one of the largest armies in the world. If the North Koreans strike quickly and surround the minuscule U.S. forces, thus holding them hostage to prevent resupply or reinforcement, what action would the U.S. take?

Both Putin and Xi view Trump as weak and a blusterer.

They see his attacks on NATO and other allies. They understand his lack of military and foreign affairs experience, and the loss of experienced officials at the highest levels of the U.S. government. They understand the logistics of resupply and reinforcement.
To solve the crisis, they offer to intervene with Kim Jong-un to repatriate U.S. forces and military dependents in exchange for the U.S. abandoning South Korea.

The gamble? Very little in their eyes, the worst that could happen is they disavow “wild man” Kim Jong-un and let the U.S. bleed more in dollars and soldiers.

The upside? The U.S. fails to muster a response, other than Trump’s usual bluster and China now has a dagger pointed at Japan. The U.S. is shown to be a “paper tiger.”

Russian tanks roll through Ukraine to, at a minimum, the Dnieper River and on the north through the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia to reunite Kaliningrad with the motherland.

With no response by the U.S., NATO – with its Article Five guarantees that an attack on one is an attack on all – crumbles.|

The reason the next 13 months are so dangerous?

With Trump’s approval ratings substantially below 50 percent, there is a good possibility that he will lose the 2020 election, thus putting a far more internationalist mind-set person in the White House.

Thus, if you are Putin and Xi, do you run the risk that a U.S. president, who will strengthen U.S. alliances, returns to the White House or do you take, what is for them, a relatively low risk action — that is turn Kim Jong-un loose?

If that happens…….?

(Major General-retired William L. Enyart’s 36-year military career included active duty service in the U.S. Air Force and the Army National Guard. He culminated his service as Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, commanding the more than 13,00 soldiers and airmen of the Air and Army National Guard at Scott Air Force base. He also served a term as U.S. Congressman in Illinois 113th Congress where he served on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Agriculture Committee. He holds a bachelor’s degree from SIU-Edwardsville, a juris doctor degree from SIU School of Law, a master’s degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College and an honorary doctorate from Lindenwood University-Belleville. He is a graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government U.S.-Russia Relations program and the George Marshal Center for European Security counterterrorism program.)


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