The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday concerns the truism of “peace through strength.” According to Wikipedia, the concept of peace through strength “is quite old and has famously been used by many leaders from Roman Emperor Hadrian in the second century AD to former US President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.” However, critics maintain that “peace through strength” can easily become “peace through war.”
I am aware of three United States Presidents who operated with the concept of peace through strength. In his 1793 State of the Union message to Congress, President George Washington enunciated his policy of peace through strength:
There is a rank due to the United States among nations which will be withheld, if not absolutely lost, by the reputation of weakness. If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.
Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan used the concept of peace through strength in the 1980 campaign against Jimmy Carter. Carter was the weak and vacillating incumbent president, and his weakness invited enemies to attack both the United States and its allies – much like Joe Biden’s weakness invites attacks by our enemies today. Reagan kept the idea of peace through strength as one of his main policies when he became president.
We know that peace is the condition under which mankind was meant to flourish. Yet peace does not exist of its own will. It depends on us, on our courage to build it and guard it and pass it on to future generations. George Washington’s words may seem hard and cold today, but history has proven him right again and again. “To be prepared for war,” he said, “is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.” Well, to those who think strength provokes conflict, Will Rogers had his own answer. He said of the world heavyweight champion of his day: “I’ve never seen anyone insult Jack Dempsey.”
President Donald Trump operated with the policy of peace through economic and military strength. Peter Navarro explained Trump's policy this way:
Trump knows the key to keeping America safe in an increasingly dangerous world is to “make America great again” through economic renewal. America must have the fiscal firepower to end Pentagon’s budget sequestration in order to fund the military the U.S. needs for adequate defense. Cutting the corporate tax rate and cracking down on unfair trade practices to increase America’s GDP growth rate are just as demonstrative of national might as the F-35….
The enemies of the United States did not attack while Donald Trump was in the White House because they understood that he would protect America and Americans. Trump did not want war, and he sought to bring the military men and women home. However, he always acted within his policy of peace through strength. His policy was that every nation should pay its own way before expecting money from the United States. Allies and enemies alike knew that Trump would make them pay if they chose to go against him.
The idea of peace through strength is defined by one word – deterrence – according to Victor DavisHanson. He described deterrence as “the ancient ability to scare somebody off from hurting you, your friends, or your interests – without a major war.” In other words, if we want peace, we must be prepared to wage war. Hanson continued:
Deterrence is omnipresent, and also applies well beyond matters of war and peace. The current crime wave of murder and violent assault in our major cities is the wage of loud efforts to defund the police and contextualize crimes as somehow society’s – rather than the criminal’s – fault.
As a result, lawbreakers now think there is a good chance that robbing people or hurting or killing them might result in monetary gain or at least bloody satisfaction. They no longer fear a likely sentence of 30 years in prison. So, they see little risk in hurting people. And innocents suffer.
With a border wall, an end to catch and release, and tough jawboning of the Mexican and Central American governments, a new American deterrent stance in 2019-20 discouraged once unstoppable waves of migrants.
Northern-bound migrants knew that even if they reached and crossed the border, there was a good chance all such effort would be for naught, given quick apprehension and deportation.
So, in their rational calculations, migrants waited at home for less deterrent times. And they found them when President Joe Biden stopped construction on the wall, renewed catch and release, and eased pressures on Mexico to interrupt caravans headed northward.
Hanson explained that “Trump restored the strategic deterrence lost by his predecessor.” Barack Obama drew his red lines in the sands of Syria without any intent of enforcing them, and ISIS knew it. China suspected that Obama would not do anything when they built military bases in the South China Sea. Obama was just as weak against Russia when Putin threatened Ukraine. “Aggression followed as U.S. deterrence eroded.” Obama did nothing to stop the threats of missile attacks coming out of North Korea.
Then Trump entered the White House. He “destroyed the ISIS ‘caliphate,” “obliterated an attack of Russian mercenaries in Syria,” “took out terrorist masterminds like Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani and the ISIA cutthroat Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.” He traveled to North Korea and calmed those troubled waters. Hanson continued:
To dangerous actors, an unpredictable Trump appeared likely to strike back if provoked. As a result, America’s enemies became fearful of challenging the United States. And its friends and neutrals were more ready to join a power again deemed not just reliable, but willing to take reasonable risks to assist in their safety.
Key to deterrence is for all parties to know beforehand the relative power of each and the likelihood that it may be used. When strong powers unfortunately transmit signals of weakness, whether deliberately or inadvertently, then weak powers are confused and come to believe their rivals may not be so strong as their armed forces appear. Often, unnecessary wars are the unfortunate result.
Anyone with eyes to see, ears to hear, and brains to think should know that the deterrence that the United States enjoyed under Donald Trump has evaporated under the weakness of Joe Biden. America’s allies do not trust her leaders, and her enemies are no longer afraid. Will Russia, China, Iran, or North Korea take advantage of the apparent weakness in Biden? They know that the U.S. military has the power to stop them. Their only question may be: does Biden have the backbone to use the military to stop them?
America is in a dangerous situation because she has lost the deterrence factor gained during the Trump administration. After watching the national destruction of the past nine months, I question if it is possible for America to ever regain the deterrence that Biden “so rashly and foolishly” threw away. May God bless and protect America until patriots gain control of the U.S. government!
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