The Eurasian rimland is nigh-ablaze. The Middle East sits on the brink of large-scale war, which will not end absent a fundamental regional reorganization, and an enormous amount of human suffering inflicted upon Jew, Arab, and Persian alike. On the burning edge of the European continent, the Ukrainian armed forces hold off the Russian onslaught. In Asia, China menaces Taiwan, a legitimately representative democracy of 23 million with only the desire to determine their own fate and live unharassed.

All three instances of ongoing violence stem fundamentally from a crisis in American power. These theaters are afire because Washington refuses to recognize what it is—the center of a loosely democratic system that spans Eurasia and the Americas. Culturally and strategically, the Rimland is being punished for the blindness at its core.

It is not precisely that states of similar ideology are natural allies. Ideology is a nebulous thing. But there are ideological similarities between the modern democracies on the Eurasian Rimland that, in turn, extend to the fundamentals of American strategy. Simply put, the three states within the line of fire—Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan—have all adopted identities that reflect their conscious choices to join the Western camp.

Israel made its choice first by virtue of its founding moment. It came not in 1948, given the socialist character of the Israeli political elite and American unwillingness to assist the nascent Jewish state in its struggle against the Arab alliance, but in 1950, when Israel chose to support U.S.-backed resolutions in the UN General Assembly that condemned Communist aggression against the Republic of Korea. Despite multiple strategic spats between Israel and the U.S., most notably their dustup over the Suez Crisis, Israel never seriously considered reorienting itself toward the Eastern Bloc from then on.

Taiwan made its first real choice not in 1949 but in 1990–1996. The Chinese Civil War gave Taiwan no option but to side with the West, even if Republican Chinese ideology was fundamentally a syncretic mix of Marxism, European nationalism, and what we would now understand as postcolonial grievance. However, Taiwan made the conscious choice to democratize between 1987 and 1996, transforming itself from a one-party authoritarian state complete with a secret police and political detainees into a flourishing multiparty democracy with a dynamic liberal capitalist economy.

Ukraine was a Soviet satellite until 1991, and its politics until 2013 were defined by vacillations between European and Russian orientation. In late 2013, however, Ukraine demonstrated its fundamental desire to be Western, not Russian. Moscow’s demand that Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych, reject a deal with the EU and instead sign a robust economic pact with Russia sparked the Euromaidan protests, which ultimately drove Yanukovych from power. Every year since, Ukraine has tilted even further toward the Western camp, and particularly that of Europe and the European Union. In June 2017, Ukraine gained Schengen Area access, allowing Ukrainian citizens to travel to the EU absent a visa. One year later, in August 2018, Alexander Zakharchenko, the head of the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, was assassinated by car bomb in a café.

For Ukraine, the contrast could not have been starker. European and Western orientation meant access to European universities and Western financial and economic opportunities. Russian orientation meant at best the oligarchic economy of pre-2014 Ukraine, and at worst the gangsterism of the occupied Donbas. It should have come as no surprise that, when Russian tanks rolled over the border again in 2022, they were met not with flowers but with bullets, bombs, and individual acts of resistance.

Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan are all under direct threat from the anti-American Revisionist Axis consisting of Russia, Iran, and China. These three revisionists are ideologically diverse. The kleptocratic neo-Soviet Russian system bears only superficial ideological similarities to Xi Jinping’s resurrected Maoism or to the Islamist universalism of Khomeinist Iran. However, all three are authoritarian, closed societies with a shared set of economic-material interests. They are simply too large, and too bloated, to survive absent a world around them organized to their economic and commercial benefit. Hence their mutually reinforcing desire to destroy the U.S.-led Eurasian security and economic system.

By conquering Ukraine, Russia would add another 40 million souls to its dominion and position itself to corner the global food market, which would make it a bona fide Eurasian great power. With Taiwan in hand, China would dominate East Asia’s north-south trade lanes, allowing it to coerce Japan, South Korea, and other U.S. partners into its camp economically. Iran, meanwhile, must take Jerusalem to demonstrate its Islamic leadership credentials and, by extension, must eject the U.S. from the Middle East to remove the major obstacle to its influence on the Arabian Peninsula. All three therefore wage offensive wars of conquest against their pro-Western Rimland targets, and all three benefit from each other’s successes.

It is obvious that the U.S. has a distinct interest in defending and supporting all three Rimland powers against the Revisionist Axis.

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Ukraine is the largest country wholly in Europe. Its coastline with Crimea dominates the northern Black Sea, giving it an integral geostrategic role vis-à-vis Turkey and the Middle East’s northern tier. A Western-aligned Ukraine would severely limit Russia’s ability to pressure Europe from its soft Mediterranean underbelly, while providing the U.S. and the West with a major source of food and, in time, critical metals central to future energy technology. Ukraine is not a strategic afterthought, a small country in Russia’s mythic near abroad, but a prize in its own right. Large-scale military-industrial support, along with a well-structured training mission to help Ukrainians fight in a manner that matches their circumstances, is strategically prudent and would help secure Europe from future Russian pressure. In turn, American assistance would provide Washington a legitimate ability to convince Kyiv to modify objectives as needed with a reduced sense of bitterness, thereby stabilizing a third of Eurasia just as China threatens Taiwan more openly.

Israel is the linchpin of any Middle Eastern order favorable to the U.S. The United States’ goal has been, and should remain, to prevent major conflict by supporting restrained, territorially satisfied powers and punishing regional revisionists. Yet the perplexing history of the Middle East, and particularly the reality of Israel’s founding, complicates the situation. Israel, as a non-Muslim, non-Arab power located at the region’s western exit point, is a natural target for any regional revisionist, considering the prevalence of historically pan-Arab and increasingly Islamist ideology. The only way to generate a stable Middle Eastern order is through a partnership with Israel that uses the Jewish state’s uniqueness—namely its psychological commitment to survival and well-designed conscript army—to punish revisionist activity, while positioning the U.S. as the only reasonable interlocutor for any Middle Eastern power that seeks a modicum of peace and stability.

This was the strategy Henry Kissinger pursued throughout his time in office, and it created the Middle East as it was understood until the October 7 attacks. A similar policy today would give Israel the space and time it needs not only to defeat Hamas but also to eject Iranian power from Lebanon and undermine it in Syria. It would also link Iran’s theaters together, punishing Iran for the actions of its proxies in Iraq and Yemen by pressuring it in Syria. This would demonstrate American commitment, credibility, and power to the Gulf States, while also reminding them that Washington is the only international actor with which they can reasonably deal on fundamental geopolitical and economic questions.

The logic for defending Taiwan is equally plain. The debate over Taiwanese defense policy, namely Taiwan’s supposed inability to invest in its own defense, is rather bizarre. One purported solution, a Taiwanese “porcupine” strategy of asymmetric capabilities, would make little difference absent U.S. and allied intervention. Moreover, a Taiwan under Chinese control would be simultaneously a moral tragedy and a strategic calamity. It would allow China to project combat power well into the Philippine Sea, jeopardize Japanese, South Korean, and Philippine security, and compel the U.S. to choose between fighting its way back into the First Island Chain or accepting the Pacific’s division into U.S. and Chinese spheres of influence. The latter would corrode U.S. power throughout Eurasia and ultimately impoverish and undermine the American republic. The natural implication is that the U.S. should take steps today, both openly and privately, to arm Taiwan and to integrate it into a coherent Indo-Pacific defense structure that includes powers such as Japan and Australia that publicly understand the role of Taiwan in their national survival.

When placed alongside the imperatives of U.S. strategy in Europe and the Middle East, this demands a forward-leaning military posture and large-scale defense buildup, with a financial commitment reaching around $1.5 trillion dollars annually or more to finance it.

The U.S., however, is headed in precisely the opposite direction.

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Part of the issue is inexcusable Congressional inaction and party politics. Republicans have tied funding for Ukraine to fundamental modifications in U.S. border policy. While the latter issue demands addressing, the former must take precedence as a question of national policy. Meanwhile, congressional Democrats and the White House have shown no interest in serious compromise. The calculation from the Biden administration seems to be that voters at best will blame Republicans for any strategic reversals in Ukraine, and at worst simply will not care.

Electoral considerations are also relevant. Joe Biden’s approval rating has dropped to under 40 percent, with 58 percent of Americans saying they disapprove of his actions. These are the worst presidential polling numbers since the last two years of the George W. Bush administration. Biden is behind in almost every national head-to-head poll against Donald Trump, who seems poised to clinch the Republican nomination. Although national polling can be misleading, and presidential polling so far removed from the election is questionable, there are unmistakable signs of Biden’s persistent popular weakness in most swing states—Biden is behind in Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada, leading in Pennsylvania, and in Virginia only narrowly. If the election were held tomorrow, he would likely lose by 48 electoral votes, a slim margin to be sure, but greater than John Kerry’s loss in 2004 and Al Gore’s in 2000.

This calculation undeniably influences Biden’s policy toward Iran and China. The White House’s greatest fear is a major regional conflict. A massive Middle Eastern war would inflame the left wing of the Democratic Party even further, while threatening to trigger another inflationary spiral as oil prices spiked and commercial flows through the Suez-Indian Ocean route dried up. An uptick of tensions in the Indo-Pacific, meanwhile, through Chinese pressure against Taiwan, would generate a market panic and potential shipping disruptions. The result would be a supply-chain crisis akin to that of the Covid pandemic alongside rising energy prices, a recipe for concurrent inflation and a recession. Voters would likely hand the White House to Trump. Hence the overriding objective of U.S. policy for the next 10 months will continue along the same path that Biden has followed throughout his presidency, escalation avoidance at almost any price.

Yet there is a more fundamental problem at hand, one of a strategy unfit for its purpose. The central premise in Europe, that the U.S. can afford to cut Ukraine loose, is wrong. The Europeans may well fill part of the gap, but the natural friction within European politics speaks against a coherent strategy. And by stepping away from Europe, the U.S. reduces any long-term leverage it has over Europe in the future. At the same time, the U.S. seeks European economic, financial, and political support to contain Chinese expansion and, in the event of war, cut China off from Eurasian commerce.

In the Middle East, the Biden administration is convinced that the crisis can be restricted to Gaza and that Iran’s proxies will simply back down once military operations in the Strip end—as long as the U.S. is seen to take a balanced line toward Israel and act as an “honest broker.” This explains a series of leaks and off-the-record statements that not only express U.S. displeasure with Israeli military operations, but that also warn of an Israeli escalation supposedly designed to save Benjamin Netanyahu’s political future. Never mind that Netanyahu is the least hawkish, most restrained member of the Israeli war cabinet, and the man most sympathetic to Washington’s pressure. And never mind his doubtful political future and thorough unpopularity beyond the core of Likud. The narrative is a public-relations ploy to sow discord in the Israeli government, not a serious diagnosis of strategic preferences.

In Asia, the Biden administration has aggressively and persistently sought a détente with Beijing since the beginning of 2023. Its first attempt was scuppered by the spy-balloon crisis of late January. Its second culminated in the San Francisco summit, a meeting light on specifics and heavy on largely abstract rhetoric. Immediately after William Lai’s victory in Taiwan’s elections in January, President Biden’s first comment emphasized American opposition to Taiwan independence. The message is clear: The Biden administration thinks it can soothe China rhetorically and is largely unwilling to make any moves that might  provoke a Chinese response. Never mind that there is no evidence that Lai has seriously entertained Taiwanese independence as a practical policy position during his career as a front-line politician. Unsurprisingly, he has developed the political good sense to avoid such an obvious provocation while getting on with the business of governing a liberal capitalist democracy of 23 million souls.

The threatened states of the Eurasian Rimland are therefore increasingly at odds with the U.S., not because they wish to leave the American-led coalition or reorient themselves toward the Revisionist Axis, but because they have a better conception of strategy than the Americans do. Ukraine’s leaders understand the need to repel Russian aggression, thereby securing their own future and that of Europe. For all their faults and missteps, Israel’s leadership has recognized the need to prosecute a long-term war against Iran that rolls back Iranian expansion in the Levant, and thereby defends Israel’s survival and reduces the strategic threat that Iran can pose to the U.S. Taiwan’s leaders balance a delicate set of domestic and international considerations, but its policymakers and elected officials recognize the threat that China poses and the dangers of Russian aggression throughout Eurasia.

But the Rimland powers cannot survive without support from the United States.

The Europeans will struggle to provide Ukraine with a coherent support system, despite their ability to sustain Ukraine through a positional fight. If Trump wins in November, European support may well disintegrate—particularly if he makes good on his alleged promise to remove the U.S. from NATO. No individual European power has the capabilities or will to take the lead, and the EU itself is far too fragmented to serve as a coherent policy organization. Hence while Ukraine is likely to carve out a bloody peace from this war, it and Europe will remain exposed to another Russian assault.

The entirety of Israeli strategy is premised on marrying high-tech U.S.-Israeli weapons with a mass-mobilization conscript army. The current war has already undermined the Israeli economy. A rupture with the U.S. would leave Israel isolated against Iranian aggression, while also ensuring that the Gulf States stayed firmly on the sidelines in the contest for the Middle East.

Taiwan falls absent American support, even if America’s regional allies were to fight in the island republic’s defense. Chinese power is simply too great, and Japan, the Philippines, and Australia too exposed, to withstand Beijing’s onslaught absent sustainment from America.

The Rimland powers cannot make policy for Washington. They cannot help American strategists see sense and impose coherence on a disordered world. The best they can do is survive and hope for a resurgence of American power. The risk is that they may well be living not in the shadow of empire but in the shadow of democratic leadership’s collapse.

Photo: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

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