BY GRADY MEANS, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR
December has arrived and it’s time to forecast 2022. I’ll start the ball rolling by framing the most gloomy scenario: 2022 could mark the end of the world, via global war and nuclear exchanges.
Most Americans will find that forecast surprising and offensive. We tend to be optimistic Bayesians: If the sun rose today, certainly it will rise the same way tomorrow. But unfortunately, there are “Black Swan” events — unexpected shocks to the system that totally change the future.
And today we confront two Black Swans — Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. Both are brilliant, experienced leaders. Putin has written extensively on his vision for Russia — for example, his Millennium Papers and his “PhD” dissertation on energy economics. Xi is similar. Both have consolidated power within brutal systems. Both are committed nationalists who see themselves as major historical figures. Both are men of action, willing to take large, calculated risks. And both likely understand that 2022 is the year they must act.
Putin is dedicated to the defense and rise of Russia. He seeks strategic territorial expansion, the destruction of NATO, and eventual political hegemony over Europe. The coming year could be the key stepping stone for his dreams. A first step would be invading Ukraine, giving Russia an economic boost and consolidating Black Sea strategic access. Russian troops are already massing on the border.
Xi envisions political hegemony over East Asia (and beyond). The next step would be the invasion and conquest of Taiwan, where he is upping military pressure. At the same time, Iran and its leaders dream of destroying Israel and gaining Middle East hegemony.
All of them recently have engaged in joint war games and all may be coming to believe that 2022 is their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The reason: President Biden.
New U.S. presidential administrations are always tested by global adversaries in the first year. The Biden administration failed miserably with the Chinese in Anchorage, with the Russians in Geneva, with Hamas after bribing them to cease their rocket attacks on Israel, with the world in Glasgow, and with Xi Jinping on a recent video-call.
The U.S. military displayed an astounding lack of leadership and judgment in the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Everyone has seen Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and national security adviser Jake Sullivan in action.
Biden has destroyed American energy independence and endangered national security by making America dependent on foreign oil. He has failed miserably to deal with COVID and has been afraid to aggressively pursue the political dynamite of its origin, or whether it or its variants were released intentionally. The American media have ignored or excused these failures.
U.S. defense, intelligence and justice systems have been politicized. Congressional Intelligence and Armed Services committees have been corrupted, manufacturing now-exposed fictions such as the Trump-Russia hoax. Politics has been polarized by woke-ism, racial tension, climate change and Donald Trump.
America is at its weakest politically in decades. Our enemies have seen all they need to see. They will act before the American political equation changes next November. Winter is coming and that often is the time to attack.
Americans are always shocked when our enemies act. But Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi know that, to become true historical figures, they must act when the time is right. The problem for America is that our enemies may well act together.
Russia may launch an attack and invasion of Ukraine simultaneous with a coup attempt. To keep NATO off balance, Russia would reduce winter gas and oil shipments to Europe, which gets 30 percent of its oil and 40 percent of its gas from Russia. The U.S. cannot help Europe through emergency liquified natural gas or oil shipments, thanks to Biden.
China could simultaneously launch an invasion of Taiwan. Iran, through its Hezbollah and Hamas proxies, could launch an all-out assault on Israel and slow oil flowing through the Straits of Hormuz. Saudi Arabia could reduce or fully cut oil supplies to the U.S. and Europe — the Saudis made it clear during the start of the COVID pandemic, and more recently during America’s oil price spike, that they are not a true ally.
When the dust clears, Russia would control Ukraine, China would control Taiwan, Israel would be weakened, NATO would be staggered, and America’s military and world leadership status would be permanently diminished.
Except for the wild cards.
First among the wild cards is Biden. After globally advertising their advanced nuclear strategic delivery capability over the past year, our enemies may miscalculate that Biden would hesitate to respond. But, caught off guard and strategically weakened, Biden and his defense team might overreact to “prove” themselves. That would involve some direct action against China or Russia, or both. That is potentially a straight line to nuclear exchange.
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North Korea might decide, with America distracted, to launch a conventional, chemical or nuclear attack on South Korea. Israel, under an existential threat, might launch an all-out attack on Iran. Pakistan and India might decide that a distracted world is the time to settle their differences. An attack on Taiwan might bring in Japan. Boom.
The one thing that could stand in the way of these catastrophes is a brilliant, strong, capable and decisive White House — which, in 2022, will not be the case. Holiday greetings: DEFCON 2.
Grady Means is a writer (GradyMeans.com) and former corporate strategy consultant. He served in the White House as a policy assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Follow him on Twitter @gradymeans1.