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In 1940, America launched an embargo against Japan. In 1941, Japan responded with a surprise attack on America’s Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Fast forward to today. America could be in a similar situation against even more dangerous foes.
President Trump has made sanctions a cornerstone of his foreign policy. This includes “maximum pressure” against North Korea, a reinstatement of sanctions against Iran, and—in a similar manner—substantially higher tariffs on Chinese goods.
Trump just put new sanctions on Russia, too—awfully bold for a leader ostensibly beholden to Vladimir Putin. Reports indicate that these sanctions are a significant escalation and may include “downgrading diplomatic relations, suspending the state airline Aeroflot’s ability to fly to the United States and cutting off nearly all exports and imports.”
A Corrective to Appeasement
This is a sharp break from previous American policy. President Clinton, despite facing ongoing nefarious Kremlin activities, gave the Kremlin billions of U.S. tax dollars. President Bush was too busy chasing Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri (the latter being one Bush never could catch) to give due attention to bigger players. President Obama pursued a pro-Kremlin line which meant bringing Russia into the World Trade Organization, a “reset button,” and greater “flexibility” to downgrade U.S. missile defenses in Europe after his reelection.
Trump’s sanctions are a correction to Obama’s naïve policy of appeasement that emboldened American adversaries into ever more dangerous, degenerate, and subversive activities.
As a correction, however, they are also a significant change, and these countries will get a chance to respond. It’s not clear that Putin, Xi, Khamenei, and Kim are all on board meekly to give in.
Who Has More to Lose?
The problem is if they—or even just one of them—responds as Japan did in 1941, when facing similar pressure, it’s not at all clear that America is prepared to handle the consequences.
Most Americans prefer to assume that an attack from these adversarial countries is impossible. But the reasoning to justify this assumption is often nothing more than a collection of rationalizations to avoid thinking about something scary. That’s not a good basis for national security.
The thought leaders in Washington, D.C, who consistently have gotten just about everything on foreign policy wrong, argue that China won’t become involved in a serious war because it would hurt their economic self-interest. But China is Communist. General Secretary Xi recently affirmed this when he gave a long homage to Karl Marx for his 200th birthday. These are not people known for making the most enlightened decisions.
Iran supposedly can’t attack America because it means America will kill the mullahs. But that fails to consider matters from their perspective. They are hurtling towards regime change and face the prospect of being strung up by the neck. Who knows what theocratic mullahs will do under the circumstances. Maybe they’ll consider it their religious duty to attack America before they depart this world for Allah. Maybe they think they can draw Russia or China in to their defense. Maybe they will try to frame someone.
Iran could surprise Americans with how much damage they can cause. If Iran has terror cells in America and they destroy just nine key interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer then America could be blacked out for 18 months.
Russia supposedly can’t attack America because civilization would end. Actually, only Americans think that. The Kremlin has planned extensively for war. They may think they can launch a nuclear Pearl Harbor and win.
Here is possibly the scariest reason why an attack may come. North Korea could actually beat America in a war.
If North Korea detonates a single nuclear warhead miles above America they would cause an electromagnetic pulse that destroys America’s electric grid, putting America in a prolonged blackout, and ending America as it’s known today. America’s EMP Commission has reported that 90 percent of Americans could die in such an attack.
North Korea may have that capability already.
They launched two satellites into orbit which the Obama administration ignored. The Kim regime claims they are part of a program to explore the moon. Expert Peter Pry and his colleagues, however, warn that given the satellites’ altitude, size, and trajectory right over the heartland of America, they could easily hold nuclear bombs and pose an immediate and existential danger to Americans.
It is not safe to assume that the American government has accounted for each of these possibilities. Remember, the American military answered to Clinton, Bush, and Obama. The Department of Defense remains riddled with Obama holdovers.
To be clear, Trump is not causing this potential conflict today. All of these countries have been pushing America for a long time. Trump just started pushing back. If they escalate yet again it would be their moral responsibility entirely.
More important than moral responsibility though is the actual outcome. Pushing back against nuclear-armed tyrants is dangerous. Are Americans ready? Is Mattis ready? Is the American electric grid ready? It wouldn’t be so easy to come back from a modern Pearl Harbor.
Photo Credit: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images