Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed author and The Washington Times correspondent on national security Bill Gertz to the newsmakers line to discuss Biden’s recent decision to leave Afghanistan, the U.S military, and the continued threat of China.
Leahy: We are joined on a newsmaker line, our good friend, Bill Gertz the well-known Washington columnist, an expert on National security, and an expert on China. Good morning, Bill.
Gertz: Hi. Good to be on the show.
Leahy: Well, we’re three to four months into the Biden administration. How is the Biden administration doing in terms of foreign policy?
Gertz: Well, it’s still a work in progress. They’re kind of getting their people in positions. They’ve got Tony Blinken the Secretary of State is kind of leading the foreign policy effort there Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon. I think it’s they’re battling now. The agenda is not so much between Democrats and Republicans, but between Liberal Democrats and radical Democrats in terms of policy fights.
The bright spot is that the China threat, which, again, is my big issue with things that I’ve written books about and in The Washington Times about is that the Trump administration pretty well boxed in the new Biden administration on a lot of China issues. So they’re really doing pretty much a lot of the things that the Trump administration was doing. Take Taiwan, for example.
Right now, we’ve got a real threat. The Chinese are stepping up tensions with Taiwan. They appear to be testing the Biden administration. And then on the other side of the world, the Russians are also testing the Biden administration by saber-rattling against Ukraine. So it’s going to be an interesting few weeks going forward to see how those two hot spots play out.
Leahy: The big news foreign policy-wise yesterday was President Biden’s announcement that the United States will be withdrawing entirely from Afghanistan. We’ve been there almost 20 years now, I guess 18 years. It’s not seemed to of made much progress. But is this a wise move? Will it create a power void in that area?
Gertz: Well, I think this is going to pit the political leadership and the Biden administration against the military. The military’s view is that we’re not done. We can’t leave now because the threat posed by the Taliban remains. I think it’s the right choice. I mean, if you’re not winning, you’re losing and they’ve been losing there. We don’t have a department of nation-building in the U.S government.
And the military, their job is to fight and win wars. You’ve got a low-level insurgency now. The Taliban controls quite a bit of territory in Afghanistan. So timing the departure to September 11th, though it may not be a good idea because it’s going to give the enemy a chance to just delay things and really step up its activities.
It’s not looking good for Afghanistan I can tell you that. The government there, I think it’s got problems with corruption and problems with governance. Afghanistan is not really a nation. It’s a bunch of tribes that are often fighting. And now you’ve got the Taliban to deal with. It’s a terrorist organization.
Leahy: What about the symbolism of selecting September 11th as a day to leave? That struck me as an odd choice by the Biden administration.
Gertz: Yes. I don’t know where that came from, but again, certainly, 9/11 was one of the reasons we went in there because Al Qaeda had managed to operate from redoubts within Afghanistan. There are still terrorist groups there. ISIS is there and Al Qaeda’s there. But according to the latest intelligence assessment that was just released this week by the office of the Director of National Intelligence, the terrorist threat is there, but it’s been degraded significantly by years of U.S military activities. A lot of our special operations people have been doing excellent work and really making the terrorist threat diminished.
Leahy: Is the Biden administration’s decision to leave Afghanistan, is that any different than what President Trump would have done had he been reelected?
Gert: Yeah. President Trump had tried to do that and kind of ran into opposition from the military leadership. The military’s view on it is basically no military leader wants to be the last one to say, hey, we didn’t win. And we’ve spent a lot of treasure and lives trying to solve this problem of Afghanistan. I think pretty much Trump definitely was trying to get out and the military push back. I think it was General Mattis when he was the Secretary of Defense. He quit in protest over the decision to pull out of Syria, where we have special ops people working there.
Leahy: In retrospect, was that war ever winnable?
Gertz: Well, I guess it was if there was a way to establish a stable Afghan government. And again, we spent trillions of dollars trying to do that. And yet it’s just a really difficult problem. Nation-building is not easy to do.
Leahy: Absolutely. Let me ask you this question about the difference between state and defense now. So we had Mike Pompeo, very powerful. I thought he was very much aligned with President Trump’s policies. And now we have this fellow who’s last name is Blinken. Tony Blinken. So he doesn’t seem to be a very powerful figure. He seems to be kind of a return to, I don’t know Jimmy Carter type foreign policy. Am I giving the guy a short trip there? Is there more to him than that?
Gertz: I don’t really know him, but I do know his background. He’s basically a Senate staffer, so he doesn’t bring a lot of vision and a lot of individual thought and strategy to the position. As you mentioned, I think Mike Pompeo is one of the best Secretaries of State that the U.S has had, especially when it comes to China.
He did groundbreaking work in really reorienting the entire U.S government position on dealing with the threat from China. Tony Blinken has inherited that and hasn’t really moved to change it. Again he’s adopting a lot of the Liberal left policies and climate change and personnel diversity. I don’t know how that’s going to affect American foreign policy.
It’s kind of one of those political issues, but so far, he has done pretty well on the China threat. And one thing I would give him credit for was he did not back down from the legal designation by the State Department of genocide by China of the ethnic Uhygers in the Western part of China. And I think I’d give him credit for that.
Leahy: I’m trying to figure out what on earth is going on at the top levels of the Department of Defense. The way it’s operating seems to me to be so woke, so progressive, so interested in equity and diversity and so disinterested in winning wars. This is just my view. What’s the story with Lloyd Austin, the new Secretary of Defense?
Gertz: Yeah, he’s basically following the Biden plan which is the new issue that the Pentagon is doing. They did what they call a stand down on extremism in the military. This is really a red herring issue. There’s not a lot of extremists. There may be a very small percentage of people, but it’s not a big problem and yet they’ve tried to make it a huge problem.
And they forced every military and defense component in the Defense Department to do a so-called stand down on extremism which is ill-defined. They haven’t defined it. And it looks to a lot of critics, I included, that this is some kind of a political purge to try and politicize the military, which has traditionally been a very conservative institution.
Listen to the full first hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed author and The Washington Times correspondent on national security Bill Gertz to the newsmakers line to discuss the threat of China in a Biden administration.
Leahy: We are joined now on our newsmaker line by the man who I believe is the greatest correspondent on national security issues in America. The great Bill Gertz of The Washington Times. Bill, welcome to The Tennessee Star Report.
Gertz: Hi! It’s good to be on the program.
Leahy: You’ve written so much on this bill my big question for you is, we’re in the first full day of the Biden administration are we on a path now with Joe Biden as president where American foreign policy interests will be subverted to the interest of the Communist Chinese Party?
Gertz: Well, that’s the big question. The Biden administration is really kind of an Obama administration 2.0. But I think one area where they’re going to have a hard time going back to those Obama policies is the issue of China. I think it’s been made clear even by the people that President Biden has picked that China poses the greatest threat to U.S. National Security.
The difference will be from the Trump administration on how to handle that and how to respond to it. And I think we’ll get more conciliatory policies. I think the Wall Street influence again wanting to trade with China as opposed to confronted on a lot of these technology thefts and cyber issues. It’s going to be where the differences are that we’ll be seeing.
Leahy: One of the last acts of the Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a report about the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts. He called them crimes against humanity and genocide in placing one million Uyghurs in camps. And this was the main thrust of the last week of the Trump administration. What will the Biden administration do to help protect the human rights of Uyghurs in China?
Gertz: Well that’s going to be another issue looking at the new the incoming Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He has said in his confirmation hearing this week in the Senate that he supports the designation of genocide against China. The point I’m interested to see is how the Chinese will react. The designation has been underway and the process for an exhaustive investigation into the crimes that were committed.
And as you mentioned they’ve incarcerated over a million Uyghurs. They’ve conducted four sterilizations. They’re really trying to destroy an entire ethnic minority group in western China through these policies. The question is will the pressure on China be great enough for them to back down? And it doesn’t seem to be that way.
The current Chinese leader is Xi Jinping sees himself as kind of a reborn Mao Zedong, the founder of communist China. And he’s taking a hardline communist approach on all of these human rights issues. And it’s not just Jinping. Now we see that they’ve destroyed democracy in Hong Kong which the Chinese government promised to allow a separate legal system.
A separate Democratic legal system for another 40 years or so. But they’ve gone back on that. I think it remains to be seen. As I said, I think the Trump administration really put down the marker and it’s going to be hard to go back to the appeasement policies of the Obama administration and earlier administrations.
Leahy: But you know, I look at this and I see nothing but appeasement coming forward. I guess you’re you are a little bit more optimistic about the Biden administration responding strongly to these Chinese efforts. What will be the first test of the Biden administration will?
Gertz: Yeah, I think the situation regarding China is somewhat dangerous in my view and the Chinese could precipitate some crisis with the United States. And I think one of the biggest flashpoints right now in Taiwan. The Chinese have been threatening Taiwan. Threatening to use military force to retake the island which has a separate system. And the U.S. is somewhat obligated to defend Taiwan.
We have the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which says the U.S. will prevent or participate in preventing the forcible takeover of Taiwan by the mainland. The Chinese have been taking advantage of the political discord in the U.S. and they’ve been making a lot of threatening noises. They’ve been conducting very intrusive aerial surveillance of Taiwan. They could trigger some crisis by trying to steal some islands off the edge of China that belong to Taiwan now, I think that’s the place where everyone has to watch closely.
The sources that I talked to in the Trump administration just a few days ago said that the U.S. intelligence community is closely watching every tiny move by the Chinese military because if they do something militarily against Taiwan they have to prepare for it and there would be indications we could see with our spy satellites or aircraft.
Leahy: You know, I am not a foreign policy expert but I look at this and what you tell me here’s the scenario I see. I see China being very very aggressive in every area politically, militarily, and economically. And when the moment is right, I think it’s highly likely they will take those islands near Taiwan. And I think it is quite likely that the Biden administration will do nothing and let them take those islands and then let them take Taiwan. I don’t see the Biden administration pushing back. Tell me why my worst-case scenario might be wrong.
Gertz: Well in my Washington Times column today, I write a weekly column called Inside the Ring. I talked about this. And one preview that we saw is a recent article in a foreign policy journal by Jake Sullivan. He’s going to be the new White House National Security advisor under Biden. And he talked extensively about the need to strengthen alliances as something that he claims the Trump administration didn’t do which they actually did. And if we intend to have a policy with strong alliances, there’s no way the Biden administration could allow China to do anything toward the island of Taiwan.
Leahy: Well, we’ll see. I hope your more optimistic view of how the Biden administration will react is the one we end up with. But we’ll see. Again, I just look at this politically. How are you seeing the allies you mentioned that Jake Sullivan wants to develop ties with? How are they responding to this new Biden administration? And will they join with us if China becomes very aggressive?
Gertz: Yeah, that’s a big question. If the Biden administration adopts some form of the Obama policy which was characterized as leading from behind. In other words not taking the lead, then we’ll have real problems. If they continue the policy of taking the lead on confronting China and pressuring China. I think a good start has been what the Trump administration has done in creating the so-called quad.
India, Australia, Japan, and the United States are big regional powers that basically can encircle China and really show through their unity that they’re not going to allow China to become a regional hegemon that is to bully other nations. Whether it’s in the South China Sea or whether it’s Taiwan or whether it’s Japan or whether it’s the Senkaku Islands which are the small islands north of Taiwan. So I think that will be the key thing. If the U.S. can hold together this newly formed quad alliance, that will be a big step in really dealing with the China threat in my view.
Leahy: When was that quad alliance formed?
Gertz: It’s an informal alliance. It’s not a formal alliance like NATO. But it was something that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who I think has shown himself to be one of the best secretaries of state that the United States has ever had. he was able to get these together. And another point is that India and Japan and Australia could be much more concerned about the China threat and how to respond to it than a Biden administration which again may take a more appeasement-oriented policy. So in one sense, those three allies could push the Biden administration to do more on the China front.
Leahy: When we come back, we’ll have more with Bill Gertz the National Security correspondent with The Washington Times and the author of several fantastic books on China. We’ll talk more with Bill Gertz after the break.
Listen to the full interview here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.