The Big Red Line

Here’s some saber-rattling from John Bosco at the National Interest on the subjects on which I touched yesterday, China’s provocative actions on its periphery and our apparent inability to articulate clear objectives. Mr. Bosco recommends that the president take up one of the pens he’s mentioned recently:

The president should take that same pen and draw a red line across the Asia Pacific region in response to China’s threats of force in the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea, and the East China Sea. The line would also transverse the Korean Peninsula at the 38th Parallel.

Then he needs to pick up that phone and enlist the cooperation of America’s regional allies—Japan, South Korea, Australia, Philippines—as well as friends and security partners like Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia. He should assure them of Washington’s commitment to maritime and aviation security in the region and seek their material and diplomatic support for that common good.

China’s leaders, and some U.S. commentators, will charge provocation. But such a presidential declaration will ultimately avoid conflict by affirming freedom of navigation and flight as a unifying theme in the regional and international order that has existed for over six decades.

It would not be the first time a U.S. leader drew a line on the map of Asia. Secretary of State Dean Acheson and General Douglas MacArthur, supported by President Harry Truman, did it in early 1950 to declare U.S. strategic resistance to Communist expansion. Unfortunately, their defense perimeter did not include South Korea or Taiwan. Beijing and Pyongyang saw not a red line but a green light, and the Korean War erupted.

I don’t think that’s any more in our interest than carrying so much of the water for our putative European allies has been but I strongly suspect I’d be out-voted on that.

32 comments… add one
  • TastyBits Link

    From linked article:

    If President Obama fails to lay down a convincing red line regarding China’s threatening misbehavior across East Asia, the world may see a disastrous reenactment of the Korean War miscalculation.

    This is beyond silly. China is not going to war. They are being provocative. Why not?

    Does he have any idea of what it takes to cover the area he proposes to cover. The US cannot cover its southern border, but it is going to cover half of eastern Asia.

  • jan Link

    China may merely be provocative in it’s more aggressive Asia-Pacific moves. Or, it may be testing the waters, sending up trial balloons as to how others will react to what appears like overt threats to countries like Taiwan. However, what you allow is oftentimes deemed a ‘permission slip’ by another, which is always the fine line leadership walks when making decisions regarding action versus inaction.

  • You may think that, TastyBits, but it is not clear that the Chinese think that as well. The original article cited is translated here. That goes quite a bit beyond provocation.

    Note that I’m not advocating a more confrontational stance by the United States. My preference, as I have said any number of times before, is a clear, simple, narrow, concise articulation of genuine interests on our part that we can be expected to follow up on. Sadly (from my point of view), we’ve been undermining that for the last 35 years.

  • TastyBits Link

    As long as Japan has a defensive treaty with the US, China is not going to war with Japan. The only way to secure a claim on territory is by occupying that territory. The Chinese are going to push as far as they can.

    Taiwan they believe is, was, and always will be part of China. It is just a matter of time before something is done – militarily or diplomatically.

    Vietnam, Indonesia, Mongolia, Tibet, and other neighbors are going to have to learn to live with China. Forty years ago, Vietnam picked the wrong friends. They are not our problem, but we can sell them stuff to break things.

    China is not a direct threat to the US. Period. China is a threat to US allies without a strong US commitment. These US allies often act as if the US is the problem. Well, let them deal with China. Let’s see if they can tell who is the bad guy.

  • michael reynolds Link

    The original article is nonsense. We get this kind of speculative crap all the time in US journals, it doesn’t mean much of anything. And we don’t need to draw red lines, the red lines are tacitly understood.

    Taiwan is 150 miles from China. When you look at a Google map of the area you see green/yellow areas that are the land. Then you see blue areas that are the ocean. Wherever you see blue on a map of the region, plant a big stars and stripes, because that’s ours. We own the Pacific Ocean.

    We have bases in Japan and South Korea, we have allies in same as well as Taiwan itself and the Philippines, and I’d suspect we have some facilities in Vietnam. Look at the map of China, look at the US bases, look at the absolute naval dominance of the US and its allies, look at the dominance of the air by the US and its allies, look at the history of successful invasions, and come back and explain to me how the hell China moves a couple hundred thousand men and tanks and trucks and ammunition across 150 miles of US Navy.

    And bear in mind that surprise is impossible in this era. We’d not only see the invasion, we’d see the 5 years of intensive preparation, which would fail utterly unless China had somehow achieved a lead over us in air and naval forces. In six years? Ain’t happening. A few US subs could stop any invasion, let alone the entire fleet, let alone the air forces we have.

    Much more likely is endless pressure applied with an eye toward a peaceful “re-unification” with Taiwan. The rest of the list in the article is small ball, aside from a confrontation with Russia which the author rather sensibly pushed off into the distant future.

  • China is not a direct threat to the US.

    If I haven’t made my position clear, I have held that position for a very long time, including when the Bush Administration was making noises about military confrontation with China.

  • TastyBits Link

    @Dave Schuler

    I did not take that to be your position.

    In the context of where the Bush Administration wanted to position the US militarily, it made more sense, but whether the overall policy made sense is another matter.

  • jan Link

    I’m looking at this ‘red line’ post from another perspective — more along the lines of being a ‘weak’ horse versus a ‘strong’ horse image, which seems to be an important cultural aspect of cultivating respect in the ME. In my POV the United States has approached most of it’s foreign policy forays from the weak horse stance. We convey an erratic standard of lines to be drawn and defensive/aggressive military options to be used. Our policy is often viewed as directionless and incoherent. There is meekness rather than decisiveness in the tactics we do employ. along with an unnerving breathless urgency to be nice to ruthless rulers.

    Even in self defense classes, as well as the literature discussing tactics useful in not becoming a victim, the consensus is to develop a strong body language and voice to defend yourself from attack. Being aware of your circumstances, the immediate environment, not taking safety for granted is another bit of cautionary advice. Even when it comes to parenting, vacillating, giving mixed signals, inconsistent rewards/punishments just breeds rebellion, not cooperation.

    Consequently, IMO, our actions of late have been that of a novice world power, a global parent pursuing global appeasement, rather than one who is using wise, strong-minded instincts to keep the world’s terror in check, maintaining peace through credible follow-through, and valuing respect from it’s world neighbors over gratifying egos with tempting overtures of love and approval for this country and it’s ‘rock star’ leader.

  • Michael Reynolds Link

    Yes Jan, I get that you prefer a swaggering idiot white male with a stuffed codpiece declaring victory from the deck of an aircraft carrier, but you seem to overlook the fact that it was during Mr. Tough Guy’s tenure that we suffered our worst terror attack which was followed up by Saddam’s refusal to be cowed, and the subsequent decade of misery.

    Seriously, do you people have some kind of operation that removes big chunks of your memory?

  • Michael Reynolds Link

    And if course it was during the administration of your other conservative man-crush that we lost 241 marines in a terrorist attack and followed it up by running away. So do you have even the slimmest real world support for the thesis that strutting and puffing out our chests accomplishes something useful? As opposed to, say, actually getting OBL?

  • Ken Hoop Link

    The US should take it bases out of Europe. If it “can not” do this, it should take them out of the Mideast. If it “can not” do this it must surely remove them from the Orient.
    The US is not protecting anything but Global Capitalism (the gradual pauperization of its own working-middle) oiligarchy and for the time being, Israeli theft.
    It’s certainly not protecting the western Flank of Western Civilization from the “yellow peril.” The US ceased to be Western, oh, about 1933.

    Why is it subjects like variants of the above can be discussed within
    certain “respectable” parameters, but the subject of the US having real national health care is , if you asked Obama the “liberal” off the table?
    (Answer, the Empire is as evil as was that other supposedly evil one.)

  • michael reynolds Link


    We don’t just have forces overseas to protect capitalism. We have forces overseas so that countries with a history of untrustworthiness (to put it mildly) will not see the need or the opportunity to build up their own forces. Germany and Japan are both militarily weak – which is how we, the Brits, the French, the Russians and the Chinese as well, all want them to be. And by the way, the Germans and Japanese agree.

    And we have forces in some places where their presence forestalls a local arms race that can become dangerous – the Persian Gulf, for example. Do we want naval clashes between Saudi Aircraft and Iranian patrol boats? No, we do not.

    In Asia we have a situation where three potentially hostile powers – South Korea, Japan and China – with long, long memories and more than enough grudges, are kept in check by the presence of the US. We don’t want a China-Japan arms race, do we? Nor do we want South Korea-Japan tensions. Which is why China has made no real effort to challenge our maritime dominance – the US fleet actually serves a purpose for the PRC.

    We are the preeminent status quo power – we want peace and trade and all that lovely stuff. My own personal feeling is that we can safely devolve some of this onto other folks, at least in Europe. But we’ve had about 70 years of maritime peace – aside from the minor dust-up in the Falklands – and that’s pretty unusual in history. No major sea battles, no sub attacks, the oceans have been pretty darned peaceful, and that’s a good thing, courtesy of the US Navy.

  • steve Link

    China is joining the League of Great Powers. I dont really see how we stop that, so we have to learn how to live with it. They will want to have maximal influence in their immediate sphere. That seems more like a problem for the countries in their area than a problem for us. I certainly don’t think we can claim that they are now trying to spread communism. They mostly seem to want to have financial influence and borders that they can dominate. To be honest, I think this is a chance for us to not have to play policeman of the whole world if we can handle this well.

    I think what could be problematic is the latent nationalism present in these places. That and the hostilities generated during WWII.


  • TastyBits Link


    I wrote two much longer comments, but I will just say this. All these pundits are continually wrong, and yet, people keep taking them serious. While Americans may be shocked to learn, the world does not revolve around US interests.

    I have written numerous comments here and at OTB on the ME, and with few exceptions, they are still valid. My opponents – not so much. I could put together a “strong horse” ME strategy, but I am not sure how much you would like it. They involve trade-offs, and none of them are real pretty.

    I would suggest that the US start looking at Central and South America.

  • TastyBits Link

    @michael reynolds

    Honestly, is the same president who could not bomb chemical ammo dumps is going to bomb troop ships? I am sure pictures of dead Chinese soldiers floating in the sea is going to make the world love the US.

    Of course, President Obama can give a speech explaining how this was in America’s best interest, and you can explain how anybody who disagrees is a racist.

    Military action is never as easy as it seems. Somehow the last ten years have been tossed down the memory hole. This time it’s gonna be different.

  • michael reynolds Link


    Well, he knocked off Gaddafi, now didn’t he? And he pursued a far more aggressive stance against terrorist groups, right?

    And he’d have to be fucking retarded to “bomb chemical ammo dumps.”

    Seriously, that’s your example? He refused to blow up stockpiles of Sarin and mustard gas in populated areas in a nation with which we were not at war and which had done absolutely nothing against us?

    Which president exactly would have been that stupid? I mean, I’m no Reagan fan, but he wouldn’t have been that big a moron. So I guess you’re looking for someone of surpassing stupidity. Maybe you could try Santorum, he may be that dumb.

  • TastyBits Link

    @michael reynolds

    Well, he knocked off Gaddafi, now didn’t he? …

    I am fairly certain that the Libyans dragged him out of a sewer pipe. President Obama got dragged into Libya by the Europeans who ran out of military supplies.

    Whatever the bombing strategy was, is, will be, it was as if we had President Hamlet. As to collateral damage, war is hell. If you do not want to kill people and blow up stuff, do not start shit. The point was dead bodies all around.

    I have not said very much about President Obama’s foreign policy. I did not like the apology tour, but the rest he is muddling through as well as anybody. He could be better, and he could be worse. Overall, the world is a mess, and there is little he can do to change it.

    Furthermore, I could nitpick President Obama’s foreign policy strategy and moves all day, but it would not result in anything positive. More than likely, it would be used by his political opponents as additional points against him, and what good would that do?

    If you want to get into it over foreign policy or military matters, bring it. I would suggest you read or re-read my comments over the past five years before you start.

    You can throw your usual retorts to the Republican/conservative talking points, theory, dogma, and other assorted dumb ass crap into the garbage. They, their “deep” thinkers, pundits, talking heads, etc. are idiots. Same goes for your side.

  • michael reynolds Link

    You’re a guy who seems to think we should have bombed chemical weapons stores in dozens if not hundreds of locations across a country with which we were not at war, and with which we had no beef, and with apparent disregard for the fact that we’d have been directly responsible for gassing innocent people. So, really, any time you want to demonstrate your foreign policy chops, feel free. I’m sure I’ll be properly chastened.

    You could start by showing me any evidence of “an apology tour.” Go right ahead.

  • michael reynolds Link
  • TastyBits Link

    @michael reynolds

    As to Syria, my position from day one was let the Russians deal with it. Period. If President Obama wanted to get involved, he should toss it to the UN. At the time, nobody except @Dave Schuler had any idea of why I would include the Russians.

    As to chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in Syria or anywhere else, I do not care. Chemical and biological are overrated, and you really do not want to know my opinion on nuclear. In Syria, a few thousand dead by chemical weapons vs a hundred thousand dead by conventional weapons seems a little lopsided, but what do I know?

    As to the red line, President Obama drew it, and all he had to do was toss it to the UN. Are we seeing a pattern here? Instead, he threatened to start bombing Syria. What he intended to bomb, I have no idea, and I really do not care.

    You are going to be hard pressed to find anything from me advocating bombing anything inside or outside Syria. I would not be dropping drones on terrorists and everybody around them, but like I said, I am not going to quibble with the President.

    If the President did decide to bomb the chemical ammo dumps, I would suggest tactical nukes.

    Lowering one’s head below another’s head is a sign of subservience. I realize that you may not like this, but life is tough. Turn on Animal Planet, and study the animals.

    We have gone from a world that did not like the US because of George Bush to a world that hates the US because of Barack Obama.

  • TastyBits Link

    @michael reynolds

    I do not do link fests especially ones that refute Republican talking points. If you had any sense, you would wait for me to slice and dice them for you. I would do a far better job than anybody on your side could.

    You are a writer. Write it. This ain’t OTB. You do not get pretty colors for showing up. If the mean girls do not like me, they actually have to formulate sentences. If Dave ever puts in the thumbs down, I will be toast.

    I am stunned you would bring up the Syrian chemical fiasco. You may want to check my comments here and at OTB vs yours. I may not get pretty colors, but I mine are still accurate.

    Now, you and your OTB acolytes may still think that Putin is President Obama’s bitch, but I suspect the rest of the world thinks otherwise.

  • ... Link

    The US cannot cover its southern border

    Nooo, the powers that be REFUSE to cover our southern border because it furthers their interests to import Third World peasants into the US by the millions to undermine the US middle class. Not the same thing as “can’t” at all.

  • It’s off-topic but imagine if the U. S. military were guarding the border with Mexico. Every news outlet in the world would be covering the story on a nightly basis because a) it would be so safe and easy and b) it would show the U. S. in a bad light, a cottage industry worldwide.

    We’d be deluged with pictures of women and kids being detained and probably searched by American soldiers. Or worse. Every time a kid turned up dead pictures would be blasted everywhere. It would be politically impossible.

    If we wanted to stop illegal immigration from Mexico (something I believe likely to stop itself), we would have serious workplace enforcement, serious penalties for employers who hired illegals, and bounties for people who turned in employers who hired illegals.

    We don’t have any of those things because a) the reason the Ellipsis mentions; b) immigration activists who think that a large population of immigrants is their ticket to power, influence, and riches; and c) Democratic activists who think ditto. Someday blacks will catch onto the scam and the Democratic coalition will fracture but there are few signs of that yet.

    Meanwhile, the real immigration story for the 21st century will be in Europe, not the United States.

  • ... Link

    Blacks will never leave the Democratic Party. Hell, they voted Democrats when all the segregationists were in the Party.

    And not only do we not need to militarize the border with Mexico, it would probably be counterproductive. But take the measures Schuler mentions as a way to curb illegal immigration. Once that flow of people lessens, smaller patrols can be used to stop the flows that will still be there, both in people and in illicit commodities.

    But again, it’ll never be done, because too many people in power are too vested in all the bad outcomes that result in allowing unfettered immigration from the Third World.

  • TastyBits Link

    @Dave Schuler

    Meanwhile, the real immigration story for the 21st century will be in Europe, not the United States.

    If you mean the Muslims, I suspect it will not end well.

  • TastyBits Link

    @Dave Schuler

    If I seemed flip yesterday, I apologize. DefenseNews is a good site, and the article should not be considered silly. I stopped keeping up on China some years ago, and I decided to take a wait and see stance. The article has a 30 – 40 year horizon, and they are still in the build up phase.

    If the rest of the world thinks the US is the bad guy, I would like to give them a few options. Let them choose – Russia, China, or the US.

  • I mean immigration from Africa, the Middle East, and West Asia. We are the natural target for immigration from the Caribbean and Latin America, where demography suggests far fewer population pressures in the years ahead than over the last several decades.

    Europe is the natural target for immigration from Africa, the Middle East, and West Asia. Population pressures, economic woes, civil unrest, bad politics, bad religion. They can get there overland or via a short boat ride. Here’s an example.

  • TastyBits Link

    It is my understanding that once you gain entrance into one country you can move to any of them, but there are some restrictions. They still have large populations of unemployed immigrants, but unlike the US, multiculturalism stops at the border.

  • jan Link

    “If we wanted to stop illegal immigration from Mexico (something I believe likely to stop itself), we would have serious workplace enforcement, serious penalties for employers who hired illegals, and bounties for people who turned in employers who hired illegals.”

    It’s symptomatic of the political hypocrisy surrounding the entire immigration problem. I agree if workplace enforcement were properly implemented there would be far less incentives for illegal migrants to make their way over the border. I also would add limiting access to entitlement programs, as well, to anyone with an illegal status. Finally, I think the number of seasonal work visas should be revisited and it’s numbers based upon need. Most illegals simply want work in exchange for money to send home to their families. If the visa quota was adjusted to fulfill those needs, then we probably would have fewer people coming here illegally, and instead using legal channels such as applying for work visas.

  • steve Link

    Illegals can’t vote. The reason we keep the border open is the desire for cheap labor. Also, it would cost a bundle to close it.


  • ... Link

    Sure, steve, they can’t vote and they’ll never be able to vote. It’s not like there is talk of some sort of AMNESTY or PATH TO CITIZENSHIP or something…..

  • Ken Hoop Link

    michael reynolds February 5, 2014 at 3:47 pm


    We don’t just have forces overseas to protect capitalism. We have forces overseas so that countries with a history of untrustworthiness (to put it mildly) will not see the need or the opportunity to build up their own forces. Germany and Japan are both militarily weak – which is how we, the Brits, the French, the Russians and the Chinese as well, all want them to be. And by the way, the Germans and Japanese agree.

    Tell the Shia of Iraq about “untrustworthiness” after Bush Sr encouraged them to rebel against Saddam then abandoned them.
    Tell the victims of the Gulf of Tonkin fraud about “untrustworthiness.”
    Tell the Native Americans about the trustworthiness of US peace treaty signings.
    Tell the Sunni Awakenings about the trustworthiness of those who abandoned after using them.
    Tell whatever aware American citizens there are left here about the trustworthiness of the “miraculously” rehabilitated Colin Powell
    who “misrepresented” WMD intelligence at the UN at the behest of his even more trustworthy superiors.

    American occupation?
    The servile canaille of the Germans agree, ditto the servile Japanese.
    You don’t want me to list the alternative forces of all the occupied
    Okinawans and Deutsch and Iraqis, etc. who do not/did not agree.

    You’re a real character, Reynolds.

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