No, Trump, America Doesn’t Need Bagram Air Force Base to Defeat China

Nuclear weapons changed everything. A single atomic warhead can level cities, annihilate carrier groups, and shatter armies. The mere presence of these superweapons radically altered the geopolitical situation after 1945. But try telling that to American politicians!

The favored response of our political class, from both parties, is simply to ignore the challenge of nuclear conflict. Of course, there are good reasons for this. What place is there for conventional militaries (and their massive budgets) in a world where a single autonomous missile can obliterate billions of dollars of machines and material, to say nothing of the men operating them? 

Nuclear weapons make conventional war between nuclear armed states obsolete. The traditional military, with all its tanks, uniforms, and centralized command structure, cannot really strike a decisive blow on the field of battle when the threat of annihilation at the push of a button lingers always in the background.

Put another way, the United States cannot possibly defeat China in open battle for the same reason that China could not do the same to us. Should either side begin to lose, they could immediately turn to their ace in the hole—the ability to wipe out the opposing power in the blink of an eye. Mutually assured destruction, even if limited only to legitimate military targets, makes the conventional warfare of the 20th century in the modern day the equivalent of attempting a cavalry charge against machine guns in World War II. 

The military industrial complex is well aware of the problem of nuclear weapons and the threat they pose to its bottom line. Which is why representatives of America’s defense contractors in the Washington swamp work tirelessly to prevent members of Congress and the public from asking too many questions. The endless stream of Hollywood propaganda and rah-rah public speeches about how America has the “greatest military in the world” covers over an extraordinarily inconvenient fact: Through no fault of its own, that force simply cannot win wars against America’s “near peer” competitors because such a war would never be fought.

Unfortunately, recognition of this painful limitation has not yet penetrated the consciousness of either party. Even President Trump, with his outsider’s perspective and instinctual skepticism of America’s overseas wars has yet to draw this conclusion.

In an interview on February 4 with the Epoch Times, Trump argued that it was “always” his plan to keep Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan because it “is right next to China. It is one hour away from where they build their nuclear weapons.”  

Trump’s comments indicate that he was willing to keep a permanent presence in Afghanistan—essentially continuing America’s “forever wars” in the Middle East as a way of containing China. This view is a variation on the “aircraft carrier thesis” espoused by prominent China hawks on the Right who saw Afghanistan as a key foothold for American power in Asia. This view, though prominent, is unsound. 

Trump’s claim that holding Bagram would in some way deter China is false. The problem of nuclear weapons remains. What good is it to fly aircraft against the Chinese nuclear bases when they have supersonic missiles and the ability to launch warheads at American bases all over the world? American submarines, which are highly mobile and hard to detect, are far more efficient platforms for deterring Chinese nuclear capabilities than an expensive, isolated, clearly identifiable base in the middle of a country whose population hates us.

If only the Chinese would try and seize the abandoned Bagram air base. Twenty years of insurgency in Afghanistan managed to bleed America of trillions of dollars and thousands of lives for absolutely no good reason. If the Chinese are as stupid as America’s beltway class (and we can only hope that they are) they will commit the same error of going toe to toe with the recalcitrant and spirited warriors of the Taliban. 

Trump has decent instincts but foolish advisors. These China hawks understand neither means nor ends. If the goal is to defeat China, conventional weapons are not the answer. For too long, the American military establishment has been riding the strategic high of World War II. These generals, bureaucrats, and think tank foreign policy “experts” earnestly believe that the conflicts of the future will look like World War II—the last time the United States truly managed to defeat an enemy on the field of battle.

The way to defeat China in an era of nuclear warfare is to use diplomacy and statecraft to undercut their anti-American goals. The obvious starting point is for the United States to stop helping China. During Obama’s presidency, the number of Chinese students in American universities tripled, going from 100,000 to 300,000 students. It is idiotic for America to continue educating the Chinese elite. The Chinese government has used subterfuge to wage spiritual and chemical warfare against the United States. Spiritually, the Chinese used propaganda efforts during the COVID crisis to convince Western elites to implement deadly lockdowns that crippled Western economies. Western governments adopted the Chinese model in response to the hysteria over the virus, perpetuated in large part by Chinese propaganda.

Government by mandates, decrees, and edicts from unelected bureaucrats mimics the form of government under which the Chinese people live. The Chinese government is the model for Western liberals, which is why they’ve spent the last half century cozying up to China and using the Chinese Communist Party as a political and economic weapon against their domestic political opponents. The American economic elite saw in China a way to gut the manufacturing centers in America’s heartland and extend their control over the bitter clingers and deplorables of middle America. 

The abandoned and hollowed out factories that line the rust belt are a lasting monument to the success of the American elite and their economic war against the American people. That war was made possible with the help of Chinese labor and the Chinese Communist Party. If Americans want to defeat China, the best way to do so is to bring back American manufacturing jobs from overseas. Tariffs are the ideal means by which this can be accomplished. Americans need good jobs and high quality products, not welfare and cheap Chinese crap. Trump’s attacks on “free” trade were a far greater threat to Chinese and American elite hegemony than maintaining a multibillion-dollar presence per year at the Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan. 

Trump’s border wall and desire for strengthened immigration controls also would have cut off the flow of Chinese-made fentanyl through Mexico and into the United States. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year from drug overdoses facilitated by the Chinese government. This low-grade chemical warfare against the American people cannot be ended by positioning bases in the South China Sea or spending blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Trump’s instincts on tariffs and the border wall are very good. His opinions about staying in Afghanistan, on the other hand, are the by-product of foolish advice from D.C. swamp creatures with a vested interest in continuing to grift off the military industrial complex and the ongoing strategic lie that nuclear weapons simply do not matter in the modern world. 

Trump should run again in 2024. And he should do so on the same platform that got him elected in 2016: bringing back American manufacturing jobs, stemming the tide of illegal immigration, and reducing the foolhardy and expensive footprint of American bases around the world. Trump should also go with his original gut instinct that COVID lockdowns, mandates, and restrictions are bad for the American people. Like climate change, COVID panic is fundamentally a religious hysteria designed to cripple the American nation and strip us of our freedoms. 

Trump deserves better advisors and real friends who actually want him to win. Far too often, those closest to Trump did not wish him to succeed with his agenda, and actively worked against it. They tried to co-opt his popularity for their own ends. The Make America Great Again and America First movements are not dead, however. There is still a chance to take back the White House and make significant strides in restoring our national unity, reducing crime, and raising the standard of living for all Americans—not just those in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and New York. Getting it right on ending our forever wars and understanding the real threat that China poses to the United States is crucial if Trump wishes to return to power and glory in 2024. 

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About Josiah Lippincott

Josiah Lippincott is a Ph.D. student and a former U.S. Marine Corps officer. You can find him on Telegram at https://t.me/josiah_lippincott or subscribe to his Substack here.

Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

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