Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



We are entering a dangerous time in relations with adversaries abroad. No matter who is declared president after the Nov. 3 election, we will face two and a half months of difficult times at home.

Major adversaries, China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are ready to test U.S. security policies in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Their leaders look at political turmoil in Washington and may conclude this is the best time to move.

North Korea displayed two weeks ago an intercontinental missile that's capable of hitting the United States. Kim Jong-un, North Korea's dictator, doesn't intend to use it, but to intimidate South Korea and Japan to his view that the U.S. is too divided internally to challenge his pressure on both neighbors.

Iran is determined to persuade the U.S. to withdraw its power from the Persian Gulf and give Tehran control over oil-rich the Arab states. Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, hopes to persuade Washington that it's not productive to continue protecting Saudi Arabia.

Moscow's objectives.

Russia under Vladimir Putin's authoritarian regime, decided twenty years ago to restore Russia's historic role as a major power in Eastern Europe, His plans were stymied by NATO's decision to deploy troops to Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. But Ukraine, long an integral part of Russia's economy, was a different matter, he thought, because it isn't under NATO protection.

A popular uprising in Kiev in 2014 ousted its president, a loyal Putin ally, and a new government sought membership in the European Union, and potentially NATO. Putin retaliated by sending arms and surrogate troops into eastern Ukraine to aid its Russian-speaking and Moscow-oriented population. The European Union declined Ukraine's request for close economic ties, citing its rampant corruption.

President Putin apparently doesn't want war with the U.S. and NATO, but he is determined to undermine America's willingness to defend the Baltic States, and stop U.S. military aid to Ukraine. He is now pressing a massive disinformation campaign during our election campaign, hoping to undermine America's support for democratic government. The weeks following the Nov. 3 election may give him ample opportunity to sow conflict within American society.

China and Taiwan

China's Communist government under President Xi Jinping's leadership may be preparing the Chinese public for war. Xi reportedly told his troops two weeks ago to be prepared for war, and last week said in a major speech that China had defeated American forces in Korea during the 1950-51 war and commemorated the Korean War as a great victory over the United States, This sobering account of Xi's efforts to prepare his people for a new war with America was published in the Washington Post, Oct. 25. ("China and Xi commemorate the Korean War.")

Liberating Taiwan is the obvious objective of Xi's preparations.

After the Red Army took over China from the Nationalists in 1949, China's new Communist leaders declared Taiwan was a part of China and must be brought under Beijing's control. Six years ago, after the Communist Party elevated him to the presidency and control of the military, Xi decided it was finally time to deliver on that promise. By imposing his control over Hong Kong, Xi signaled that Taiwan was next on his agenda.

What better time to move, the Chinese leader may calculate, than when America is mired in political turmoil and unlikely to challenge his pressure against Taiwan, including military actions. He may calculate, as Hitler had in 1938 when Great Britain didn't oppose his grab for part of Czech territory that America wouldn't act. At the time, many Britons believed Czech territory was so far away and Britain had no vital interests there. Winston Churchill disagreed.

How should the U.S. respond if China declares that Taiwan Strait is China's territorial waters, restricts international traffic and tightens political and economic screws on this semi-independent island of 24 million people?

We may not know for weeks who won the election. But Donald Trump will occupy the Oval Office until January 20, no matter the outcome. It's unpredictable how he would respond to China's pressure on Taiwan that's less than a full invasion. If Joe Biden is the winner, he will be preoccupied with forming his cabinet and may not want to respond until after January 20.

The reality is that Xi Jinping may be emboldened to use the political uncertainty in Washington to see how far he can go in his quest to bring Taiwan under Beijing's control, after waiting seventy years for this opportunity.

File last modified on Saturday, 31-OCT-2020 04:10 PM EST

Feedback to Author