From Office of Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere. Donald Trump on steroids, literally. Covid19 causes encephalopathy in fully a third of patients who are hospitalized, with symptoms ranging from confusion and hallucinations to delirium, memory loss, and stupor. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Trump’s supporters are the only people in the world who don’t realize the gravity of the President’s condition—and how much danger we’re in because of it. The rest of the world can see clearly that no one is in charge. No one could be in charge. Why wouldn’t China invade Taiwan right now?

On June 4, Tim Willasey-Wilsey, who served for 27 years with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office—latterly as a director, focused on Asia—wrote a short piece for Military Review, the professional journal of the US Army. It was titled, The Question: Why would China not invade Taiwan now? “The political arguments,” he wrote, “for an invasion of Taiwan by China have grown considerably stronger in recent weeks.”

That left only the military question: Is the PLA capable of achieving a quick victory over Taiwan?

Might China risk it? In May, Willasey-Wilsey noted, the premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, Li Keqiang had submitted an annual report concerning the reunification of Taiwan. The word “peaceful”—until then, boilerplate—no longer preceded the word “reunification.”

Speaking to the PLA on May 26, General Secretary Xi Jinping told them they should “comprehensively strengthen the training of troops and prepare for war.”

China has harassed Taiwan, militarily, for years. But it has also traded with Taiwan, with both sides growing wealthy from the exchange. The world has come to assume China will never follow through. Why would it? What’s the upside?

But in recent years—as it happens, since Trump came to power, although correlation does not entail causation—China has cracked down on Hong Kong, thrown the Uighurs of Xinjiang into concentration camps, expanded its military presence in the South China Sea, and done battle with India in the Himalayas.

The military gap between China and Taiwan widens every year. China has spent decades amassing vast military power, overtaking even the US. In the past five years, China has produced five times the number of ships the United States produces.

Nor is it just the size of China’s fleet that should concern us, but its nature: China’s new generation of amphibious warfare vessels, and its expanded marine corps, would play a critical role in an invasion of Taiwan.

In the past year, Taiwan has been forced to scramble fighters to intercept Chinese warplanes flying toward or even into Taiwanese airspace twice as often as in prior years. PLA Air Force planes have flown into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone and crossed the Taiwan Strait median line more than 28 times this year alone.

Willasey-Wilsey does not argue that China will invade Taiwan before the election. There are many reasons for it to hesitate. It would be a massive gamble, particularly for an armed force that has never seen combat, not even among their senior ranks. Their aircraft carriers and amphibious landing ships are new, it is true, but this means they are untested; a lot could go wrong. Failure would be a powerful, perhaps career-ending humiliation for Xi and even the CCP. Most of the members of the CCP, Willasey-Wilsey concludes, would argue for patience.

That said, Willasey-Wilsey proposes that there will surely be at least one member of the CCP making all of the following ten points:

  1. There may never be a better moment. The whole world is focused upon managing the pandemic. The West, in particular, lacks the attention to react to a global crisis. Meanwhile, China is over the worst of its own outbreak.
  2. China has always intended to unify the country before the CCP centenary in 2021—and long before the centenary of the PRC in 2049.
  3. “One country, two systems” has failed in Hong Kong. China’s crackdown in Hong Kong will make it impossible to lure Taiwan into a similar arrangement.
  4. The victory of the DPP in Taiwan’s January 2020 elections proved that Taiwanese nationalist spirit remains strong. The DPP does not respect the “1992 Consensus” of accepting, tacitly, that China and Taiwan are a single nation. There is no guarantee a pro-Beijing party will win in 2024—indeed, this is all the less likely once Taiwan sees the coming systematic and brutal repression of Hong Kong.
  5. In Willasey-Wilsey’s estimation, China believes Trump Administration has no appetite for overseas military adventures. The CCP does not think Trump would go to war with China over Taiwan. They believe he sees no value in US military commitments and alliances; likewise, they perceive him to be unmoved by abstractions such the liberty of Taiwan (or Hong Kong, or Tibet, or China itself, for that matter). In China’s view, Willasey-Wilsey claims, Trump’s interest in China is confined to securing economic advantage for the US via trade deals.
  6. Americans, too, he notes, are ambivalent about their defense commitments to Taiwan. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act fell short of a guarantee to come to Taiwan’s assistance should China invade. Even President Reagan’s “Six Assurances,” in 1982, failed to mention US military intervention.
  7. The US is unlikely to sail a carrier strike group in or near the Taiwan Strait, he claims, because the PLA Navy is equipped with quiet submarines. The loss of a US surface ship could escalate to a full-scale war, which neither China nor the US want.
  8. Putin showed how to do it by annexing the Crimean Peninsula: Achieve victory quickly, worry about the sanctions and the diplomatic outcry later. As for that, the West will lose interest soon enough; it has a short memory. Trump has already proposed readmitting Russia to the G7.
  9. For China to be recognized as the premier world power, it must show, first, that it is willing to use its army. Second, it must prove the PLA superior in battle. Even as the US has shown its military power and will in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the PLA has been idling in its barracks. It is time for its début.
  10. China couldn’t be more unpopular than it already is. There will be plenty of time to improve China’s diplomatic standing after Taiwan has been reabsorbed. What’s more, pro-Western countries such as Japan and South Korea will be humbled—and less likely, thereafter, to place their faith in the US defense umbrella.

There are a wealth of good counter arguments, which I leave as an exercise for readers. But these are not trivial points.

Willasey-Wilsey rightly points out that the West’s first instinct when considering questions like this—to wit, that no adversary would be so reckless—has often been wrong. We believed the Soviets would never invade Czechoslovakia. They did. We believed they would not invade Afghanistan. They did. We believed the Iraqis wouldn’t invade Kuwait. We were wrong. We thought Russia would not invade Crimea. They did.

“Even the Israelis misread the signals at the start of the Yom Kippur war in 1973,” Willasey-Wilsey remarks. “This is not an area where the West has a good record.”

In the discussion section below his article, three heavyweights weigh in. The first is General Martin Dempsey, Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He agrees the proposition is plausible:

Though the Chinese are quintessentially patient, they are also demonstrably opportunistic. I would be surprised if this debate hasn’t already begun within the CMC. In the end, I think they will conclude that there are more reasons for them to remain patient on the Taiwan issue. But I hope we have our antennas up.

Admiral James Stavridis, Former Supreme Allied Commander, NATO, similarly agrees there is “a cogent argument to be made at the most senior levels in Beijing that this is a perfect moment for a strike on Taiwan.” But, he says,

) I would ascribe less than a one in four chance that they make a military move in the immediate future, i.e., before US elections. The risks militarily are far from negligible. The Taiwanese will fight and fight hard.

… Second, China has much more to lose internationally from economic sanctions than any other major economy.

… Finally, I think it is valid to say the U.S. won’t want to get into a war over Taiwan; but there are many military options in cyber, South China Sea strikes, special forces, and other means to indicate displeasure in the event of such a move. All of this is a somewhat close call ….

but my assessment is the Chinese will crack down on Hong Kong, build their fleet, economy, and cyber for another decade, and make their move then against Taiwan—not now.

It would be good to think so.

Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, Former Special Advisor to the DNI and former CIA Director of East Asia Operations, finds the question “interesting.” He agrees that there are probably hawks in Beijing arguing, right now, for the invasion of Taiwan, confident the US will not respond militarily.

But, he says, they would be wrong.

Failure to defend Taiwan, he writes, is not an option. The Taiwan Relations Act of January 1, 1979, mandated by the Congress, is explicit:

It is the policy of the United States to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.

It is also the policy of the United States, the document continues,

To maintain the capacity of the U.S. to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social and economic system, of the people of Taiwan.

DeTrani believes that the President and Congress, with the strong support of the American people, would swiftly and decisively counter an invasion of Taiwan. “This is a moral and geostrategic imperative for the US,” he writes.

Moreover, he argues, an invasion of Taiwan would be a military and economic disaster for China. Taiwan is not Crimea. Militarily, Taiwan has capabilities that coupled with U.S. support would repel an invasion, inflicting significant damage on China. Economically, China is experiencing high unemployment. Some estimates suggest that between 15 and 20 percent of the population is now unemployed, with export orders falling to rates as low as they were during 2009 global financial crisis. Invading Taiwan would devastate the mainland’s faltering economy; global opprobrium would bring to an end its ambitious Belt and Road program and similar initiatives.

In short, he concludes, an invasion of Taiwan would be a catastrophic miscalculation on the part of China.

These too are strong arguments. But I’d point out several caveats.

First, the Budapest Memorandum, like the Taiwan Relations Act, was explicit. We ignored it, or pretended it did not mean what it very obviously did. This cannot have escaped notice in the Zhongnanhai.

Is it true that the President and Congress, with the vast support of the American people, would respond quickly and decisively to an invasion of Taiwan? It’s hard to say. There is certainly, now, a bipartisan sense of a Chinese threat. Defending Taiwan is a moral and geostrategic imperative for the US. Before Trump, it would have been unimaginable to think any US Administration would have dreamt of allowing China to push the United States out of the Pacific, no matter the cost in blood. If Taiwan goes, the Western Pacific goes. All of East Asia would fall under China’s sway. The US would cease to be a Pacific power.

But Trump doesn’t think about national security this way. He may be unable to see why this would be a problem. On an impulse, he withdrew US forces from Syria, waving off the region and our allies in it as “sand and death.” It is not a great stretch to imagine him waving off Taiwan in the very way he did Crimea. “It’s Chinese because everyone who lives there speaks Chinese.”

So no, I don’t feel certain the US would react. And if I don’t, neither does the CCP, which makes it distinctly more likely they might be tempted to take a chance.

If Ambassador Joseph DeTrani is right, and if we reacted to a Chinese invasion with all of our fury, it would prove a catastrophic miscalculation on China’s part. But if we stumble into a war because we failed clearly to signal that we would, if pressed, defend Taiwan, it would represent an equally catastrophic miscalculation on ours.

Countries that signal these things poorly tend to wind up in wars no one wanted. That’s precisely how Margaret Thatcher found herself forced to defend the Falklands: By indicating that she would not defend Hong Kong, she inadvertently persuaded Galtieri that she would not defend any island people so far from the British mainland.

How wrong he was.


We would not necessarily win such a conflict. China has focused its military development on acquiring an array of anti-ship missiles designed specifically to defeat the US Navy. China is now the world leader in this technology.

The PLA now has anti-ship cruise missiles like the YJ-18, whose range is longer than anything the US possesses. They may be fired from a shipping container. This could turn Beijing’s large commercial fleet into warships, and its commercial ports into missile bases.

China has designed anti-ship ballistic missiles specifically to destroy our aircraft carriers. These weapons are, precisely, what China needs to deter or repel any US intervention on Taiwan’s behalf.

Does Taiwan have capabilities that, coupled with US support, can repel an invasion? Opinions vary. Two years ago, writing for Foreign Policy, the Taiwan-based strategist Tanner Greer wrote confidently that Taiwan Can Win a War With China.

Greer has since recanted. Recently, in an interview with Jordan Schneiderhe explained why he no longer endorses the title’s declaration. Taiwan faced two kinds of challenge, he said; on the one hand, problems of military strategy; on the other, problems of training, culture, and morale.

Behind these problems, he continued, is the dysfunction of the civilian leadership charged with reforming the defense system. Taiwan is “marred,” as he puts it, by “a dysfunctional civil-military relationship, destructive partisan infighting, and a spirit of defeatism.” These problems, he concluded, made it difficult for Taiwan to embrace the reforms it needed to guarantee its independence and security.

I am not a Sinologist; I cannot adjudicate these claims. But I can see, as my readers can, that among Sinologists, there is doubt, and in international relations, where there is doubt, there is risk. The most stable situations are ones where there is no doubt. Overwhelming military might tells challengers, “You will not win. Don’t even try.” Given the uncertainty that Taiwan could defend itself, and the uncertainty that the US would join the fight, a CCP with an appetite for risk—and domestic problems from which it urgently needed to distract—might well decide, “There will never be a better chance.”

There is one point of unanimity among military analysts: Should Beijing invade, it would happen in April or October. Why? The weather. There are only two one-month windows per year in which a transport fleet could make it across the straight.

Intelligence analysts believe that Taiwanese, American, and Japanese leaders would suspect the PLA was preparing for a cross-strait war more than 60 days before hostilities began, and would know for sure more than a month before the first missiles were fired.

It is now October 6. I have heard few rumblings to the effect that the mainland is readying its forces, but I noted one report to the effect that the PLA, in July, was staging a military exercise across from the Taiwan Strait appeared as if it might culminate in an amphibious assault on an island in the South China Sea. Taiwan’s military—fearing the exercise might be cover for a real plan to seize the island of Dongsha, claimed by both the PRC and Taiwan—declared a state of emergency.

In recent months, PLA air and naval assets near Taiwan have been violating the island’s airspace and territorial waters. China staged a 79-day military exercise opposite Taiwan, orchestrated by the PLA’s Southern Theater of Command. As part of the exercise, China deployed its two aircraft carriers. Reportedly, the military exercise will conclude with an amphibious assault by Chinese Marines upon Woody Island in the Philippine Sea, south of Taiwan.

I’m not sure whether this could, in fact, amount to exactly the kind of prepositioning we’d see before an October attack on Taiwan proper, but the Chief of Taiwan’s Joint Operations, Major General Lin Wen-Huang, made a point of asserting that in such an eventuality, Taiwan’s military had plans and preparations in place. Perhaps he too wondered if the real target of the PLA amphibious assault was the Taiwan-held island of Pratas, 548 kilometers southwest of Taiwan.

The thing about these kinds of predictions—“we’d have months of advance warning”—is that they’re often wrong, like “The Germans will never get through the Maginot line.” It never occurred to French military planners that the Germans could just go around it. Perhaps China is capable of mobilizing in less detectable ways? I don’t know, and none of us will, unless it happens.


For a long time, the Zhongnanhai played the long, slow game. The goal was slowly, slowly to draw Taiwan into the orbit without major upheaval. But in the higher echelons of the Zhongnanhai, the belief has grown that belief peaceful means have failed.

In 2017, Xi Jinping spoke to the 19th Party Congress for three hours. These words drew the longest applause of any during his speech:

We have firm will, full confidence, and sufficient capability to defeat any form of Taiwan independence secession plot. We will never allow any person, any organization, or any political party to split any part of the Chinese territory from China at any time or in any form.

In 2016, Xi went off script in a meeting with KMT officials and said, “We have the determination, the ability and the preparedness to deal with Taiwanese independence, and if we do not deal with it, we will be overthrown.”

A dangerous number of currents are intersecting. The restraint imposed by the PRC’s perception that it needs good relations with the US has eroded. And whether or not it is true, it is now widely believed, throughout Asia, that the United States is in precipitous decline. This impression can be as dangerous as the real thing.

John Berthelsen, of the Asia Sentinel, described the reaction throughout Asia to the catastrophic debate between Trump and Biden in a newsletter titled, Welcome to the ‘Shitshow’ of American Politics.”

If Asians were looking to the United States as an exemplar of democratic government to counter the authoritarianism of Xi Jinping and his overbearing regime, then the debate on September 29 between President Donald Trump and his Democratic Party challenger Joe Biden was a disheartening disaster, termed by observers the worst debate in American political history. …

What are those in Asia to make of this, those who presumably take their inspiration from 226 years of successful democracy that began with President George Washington’s farewell address—one of the world’s first willing transfers of power? What are the opponents of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s authoritarian reign to make of it when Donald Trump refuses to agree to leave power if defeated in a democratic election? Hun Sen’s opposition in Cambodia? The Junta in Thailand? What are the members of the ketuanan Melayu government in Malaysia to think when the president refuses to condemn racism? What do the democrats in Hong Kong think who hoped to resist Xi’s brutal crackdown on their nascent efforts to transition to one-man, one-vote rule?

Not much.

The US has lost influence across Asia since the Vietnam war ended in humiliating defeat. This loss has accelerated since Trump took power in 2016.

Trump did not understand, could not understand, that American influence depends upon its moral standing as much as it does its military power. In Asia especially, the example of a functioning, flourishing, and prosperous American democracy provided legitimacy to our demand that Japan adopt a democratic constitution in 1945. It allowed us to push for democratic outcomes, such as Myanmar’s liberalization in 2010.

Xi is undoubtedly thrilled to watch Trump grow more grotesque and lunatic as American ideals become attenuated and diminished. With Trump in office, there’s no need for him to take seriously American criticism of the concentration camps holding Uighurs in Xinjiang, nor even to respond to charges that he is subjugating Tibetans and superintending an autocratic takeover of the South China Sea.

Trump has torn up treaties and alienated allies around the world, but nowhere more than in Asia, where Trump has demanded exorbitant tributes and rents to keep American troops on Japanese and South Korean soil, in the manner of an old-school imperialist. Trump praised Duterte for his murderous drug war with its extrajudicial executions. According to Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton, Trump said that Xi should “go ahead” with building camps for Uighurs, which Trump thought was “exactly the right thing to do.” Trump abandoned the 16-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, an international diplomatic project that traced its inception to George W. Bush, without reading it. The message to the Pacific Rim nations was clear: As far as America was concerned, they should go it alone.

If Asian nations once admired the United States for its vibrant democracy, its commitment to civil rights, and its intellectual and cultural achievements, they now see a people so undisciplined that they elect to the highest office in the land a reality TV star—people who genuinely can’t tell the difference between entertainment and government. They see a nation in which a great portion of the 215,000 Americans who have died of the coronavirus did so because the President refused to take the pandemic seriously. They see civil unrest. They see an atomized culture in which the elderly are not respected. They do not see much to admire. All of this is to China’s benefit.

The damage is apt to be permanent.

Every White House outrage we have watched these past four years, on television, has been broadcast around the world, where it has stunned our allies and adversaries as much as it has stunned us. They too read the Tweets the President sends from the can at two a.m.


If the US intercedes on behalf of Taiwan, the PRC will not lead with a nuclear attack, limited or strategic. But if it feels it necessary, the PRC will embrace total nuclear war.

The PRC’s nuclear doctrine, set by Mao in the mid-1960s, is unlike ours. China believes it is the only country in the world that can win a strategic nuclear exchange, because it is the only county big enough, geographically and in population, to absorb the hit and survive.

If the United States were to lose one hundred million Americans—about 26 percent of our population—it is possible the Republic would survive. But it would do nothing but survive for a very long time. One hundred million dead, however, is only 7 percent of the total population of the People’s Republic of China.

You can’t think about the PRC’s desire to conquer Taiwan and expel us from the western Pacific without thinking about this.


Let’s go back to June, when Admiral Stavridis suggested the odds that China would invade Taiwan before the election were less than one in four. Things have changed since June. Asia—and the world—watched that debate. The prestige of the American government has never been lower. It was clear, from that debate, that Trump’s plan, should he lose, is to take the whole country down with him.

We have never had an incumbent President who vows not to recognize the the legitimacy of a result unless he is the winner. We’ve never faced the logistical problem of holding an election during a pandemic that has already half-decapitated the government. We’re at tremendously heightened risk of political violence and instability, probably for months, possibly for years.

The West Wing coronavirus outbreak is growing, as you’d expect. Kayleigh McEnany announced that she too is positive. So are two of her deputies. Nick Luna, the president’s personal assistant, is positive, too.

So, no one is quite sure who is running the country. Vice President Mike Pence should, right now, be in a hardened bunker in an undisclosed location. But he is not. He is being sent to maskless campaign rallies in Arizona, as if nothing was wrong.

We’re getting updates from Trump’s doctors that make no sense. The President is hale and hearty, they say; there’s nothing to worry about—he’ll be leaving the hospital tonight, pumped with steroids, at his moment of maximum infectiousness, when patients usually crash—but we’re told all this is perfectly normal, which clearly it is not. The Russian intelligence services almost certainly know more about the reality of Trump’s condition than we do.

His physicians’ press conferences have that vibe. They are saying, in so many words, that this isn’t a Presidency anymore. It’s the People’s Temple in Jonestown. The President is Jim Jones, and his supporters are determined to follow him right up to the moment of death. The world has seen that none of us will say no to him, no matter how crazy his demands.

The rest of the world knows how serious this is—they can see it clearly. The only people who don’t see how insane this is are Trump’s entourage and his supporters—about 50 million people, in a world of nearly 8 billion.

To send Mike Pence off to a rally in Arizona now is an act so reckless only two theories could account for it: The first is that Trump’s intimates are deliberately endeavoring to sabotage the United States, its government, its Constitution, its chain of command, and its physical security. The second is that they have succumbed to Trump’s fantastical and magical view of the world. He, his cabinet, and his adoring fans are so gripped by a folie à plusieurs that they have fully entered the President’s narcissistic fantasy—that the President is not an obese, 74-year-old Covid-19 patient—jacked up on steroids, gasping like a fish, and prematurely discharged from the hospital—who may very well take a turn for the worse, at any moment, require intubation, or die. Like Trump, they have come to believe that his exceptional physical stamina and his great genes grant him exemption from the biological risks that apply to other men.

It is one or the other, because a sane Cabinet does not, under these circumstances, send the vice president to Arizona—not least because Pence was at the Rose Garden super-spreader event and may well have contracted the virus. The CDC guidelines are clear on this point: Pence should be in quarantine.

But the Vice President will be flying to Arizona, exposing his pilot and the Secret Service to infection, then glad-handling donors at the corporate offices of TYR Tactical, a company that sells military gear such as the TYR Tactical® Sniper Harness Kit and the The TYR Tactical® Patented Female Enhanced PICO Integrated Carrier. (EPIC™ comes with “two lateral darts” that “contour around the females [sic] natural shape while still providing a full range of motion, support and eliminates [sic] excess compression on the breast tissue.”) They will be handy this election season, what with everyone and his mother rushing to join their local paramilitary so better to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.”

Pence should be in a bunker, in an undisclosed location, because Trump may very well croak, and this is a moment of great geopolitical danger.

We have E-6B “Armageddon” aircraft flying around both coasts. STRATCOM says this perfectly normal and routine and just a coincidence, and who knows, maybe it is. But the E-6B is built to receive orders from the President and convey them to US ballistic missile submarines. They can communicate with the subs, underwater, even if Washington is gone. They’re also equipped to remotely control our Minutemen, and given the order, to kill every last man, woman, and child on earth.

Who is authorized to give that order? One and only one person—the President of the United States, who is not only Donald Trump but now, literally, Donald Trump on steroids, a man suffering from an illness that causes encephalopathy in fully a third of patients who are hospitalized, with symptoms ranging from confusion and hallucinations to delirium, memory loss, and stupor.

If there’s a national security emergency, Trump will have to be removed, by the 25th Amendment—almost certainly, unless he’s unconscious, this will be against his will—and Pence will have to be sworn in. This cannot happen in the time frame required to respond to an emergency if Pence is off in Arizona, glad-handling a bunch of MAGA cosplay enthusiasts in their TYR Tactical® Sniper Harness Kits.

On a normal day, the United States is ready and postured to use more than 1,000 nuclear weapons on a few minutes’ notice. This is its own form of insanity, but it’s the routine insanity with which we’ve lived since the dawn of the nuclear era.

This is not a normal day. There’s a reason the Pentagon is showing rivals like China and North Korea that our nuclear command system is fully operational, even if the commander-in-chief isn’t. Yet it remains a fact that no one but the commander-in-chief is authorized to command this system.

If this were a normal administration, Trump would have already delegated authority to Pence. This is not a normal administration. The President is not, contra Kayleigh McEnany, “doing extraordinarily well, standing on the balcony days after his diagnosis.” Nor is he “LEADING and REASSURING the nation.” He’s scaring the living shit out of the solid majority of the nation who doesn’t believe a word of the lies anymore and can see that this is a grotesque, absolutely abnormal charade.

Trump’s tenure to date has been characterized by chaos, confusion, and outrageous mendacity. One after another critical, high level national security appointee—from the head of national intelligence to key Cabinet members—has abruptly been fired, forced to resign, frogmarched out of the office, or charged with a felony.

The public backbiting, infighting, leaking, controversy, and instability in this Administration has no precedent. One after another critical job has been filled without Senate confirmation. Trump has blown through four National Security Advisors, six Deputy National Security Advisers, three Chiefs of Staff, three Executive Secretaries, three senior Intelligence Directors, three Senior Directors for Europe and Russia, three Senior Directors for Africa, and three Homeland Security and Counter-Terrorism advisers. If there’s an emergency, who among this carnival of clowns is legitimately authorized to respond to it?

As usual, the Administration is denying what we can see in front of our eyes, making excuses, fabricating nonsense, and minimizing the danger of Covid-19—but the stakes now are far higher than at any previous point. The whole world can see that the President is not only ill, but nuts; that his entourage has now become an outright death cult, and no one knows who’s in charge.

Only Trump’s supporters believe otherwise. And they’ll believe anything he says, no matter how strained or ludicrous. But do they really imagine Xi is persuaded that the President is just fine? Xi watched that video of Trump gasping on the balcony, too, and presumably drew the obvious conclusions—which are not that the President is “doing extraordinarily well, standing on the balcony days after his diagnosis, LEADING and REASSURING the nation.”

Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and an array of sophisticated, transnational terrorist organizations are probably better-informed than we are about the President’s health, owing to their considerable intelligence capabilities, and they may be swept up in madness of their own, but they are not swept up in whatever madness it is that causes Trump’s supporters to want to believe his lies.

They can see plainly that no one is—no one could be—in charge.

If Trump dies—or starts seeing tarantulas crawling up the walls—the Vice President is the only man in the country who has a Constitutional claim to the President’s powers and the closest thing we’ll have to a legitimately elected President until January 20.

Whose decision was it to send Pence to Arizona?

Who is running the government?

If the odds of war were less than one in four in June, they’re more than one in four now. How much more? Hard to say. But we’ve got a better than one-in-four chance, before the election, of finding ourselves at war with China—a country with 1.4 billion people, nuclear weapons, and a long-established nuclear doctrine that suggests, unlike ours, that nuclear wars can be won.

Don’t you think it’s time for the 25th Amendment?

Claire Berlinski is the co-founder and editor of the Cosmopolitan Globalist.

5 Comments on "WHO IS IN CHARGE?"

  1. My first thought on seeing the news today that the Joint Chiefs had to quarantine because of coronavirus exposure (the NSC already has ordered its people to not go to the WH) was, This would be a prime time for China to invade Taiwan.

  2. Oh, I dunno; maybe because there’s this big ocean thing between them, while amphibious operations are the most difficult military operations of all, and China has no real experience at it? That could be a reason. Or maybe because the CCP is inherently rather conservative and highly risk averse, while being stomped like Narcs at a biker rally in an invasion of Taiwan might just cause them to be toppled? Or maybe because, while neither the US nor the PRC understands the other, nor ever has, this tends to play to conservatism and risk aversion where either might get involved?

  3. Thomas McGreevy | October 7, 2020 at 2:43 pm | Reply

    I’m sure that Xi has thought about this, but how wedded is he to it? He doesn’t give a fig for world opinion. But this action is above and beyond the purely internal actions he has taken so far. Would he tie his prestige to such a risk? Defeat is certainly possible, and the definition of defeat is correspondingly wide. Not the best course for an autocrat who is already firmly entrenched,

    Will we in future associate Xi with Galtieri, both an island too far.

    Thanks for the column.

  4. The #1 deterrent to China acting militarily has to be the fact that Trump is psychologically decompensating and we are closer than ever to a significant, irrational act — like deployment of nuclear arms — on his part. He would think nothing of the costs, which include but aren’t limited to human Chinese lives, American lives in the response, economic catastrophe from severed trade. And would think only about the (perceived) projection of strength and (perceived) benefits accruing to his re-election. The Chinese have to know that he is unstable, terrified of losing power, and absolutely capable of ordering a nuclear strike.

  5. I could response with so much, simply because your writing has so much in it. I’ve read through parts, and skimmed through others. I will quote the meat of an analysis from Geopolitical Futures, one of my strategic forecasting services:

    Nothing Has Changed With Taiwan
    By: George Friedman
    On Aug. 17, 1982, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz sent a memo via an American diplomat to the Taiwanese government. On Monday, just over 38 years later, the memo was declassified. Its contents were “secret” in that they were not publicly available, but the gist has been well known for some time; these points had to be part of U.S. relations with Taiwan and China because without them, U.S. policy toward Taiwan and China made no sense.

    The decision to make public a document after nearly 40 years comes at a time of rising tensions, military drills and Chinese threats in the Taiwan Strait, and is meant to stave off more escalation by clarifying its position. The memo outlines the following:

    That the U.S. had not agreed to set a date for ending arms sales to Taiwan
    That the U.S. had not agreed to consult with China on arms sales to Taiwan
    That the U.S. would not play a mediation role between Taipei and Beijing
    That the U.S. had not agreed to revise the Taiwan Relations Act
    That the U.S. had not altered its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan
    That the U.S. would not exert pressure on Taiwan to enter into negotiations with the People’s Republic of China

    In other words, the United States was not prepared in any substantial way to abandon Taiwan, and by releasing the memo, Washington confirmed that the position it has held since 1982 has remained in place, and that China should understand as much.

    The original context for the memo had to do with Richard Nixon’s visit to China, a groundbreaking trip born of mutual concern. Russian-Chinese relations were bad after the bloody conflict on the Ussuri River. China was afraid that the Soviets could defeat it. Meanwhile, the U.S., emerging bloodied from Vietnam, had weakened its position in Western Europe and feared the Soviets might take advantage of this opening. By restoring ties with the Chinese, the United States balanced this threat and opened a new threat against the Soviets if both attacked simultaneously.

    It made no ideological sense but perfect geopolitical sense. Yet, it left open the status of Taiwan. The Chinese insisted that Taiwan was part of China, and Nixon agreed with them in principle so long as it was understood that it meant nothing in practice. The Soviet Union was the central issue.

    By the 1980s, the Soviets were weakening a bit, the Chinese were increasing their power, and the Taiwan issue became more important. Ronald Reagan, of course, wouldn’t budge, so the memo – which was and remains the U.S. policy on China – slammed shut the door on modifying its Taiwan policy. It may not have explicitly said that the U.S. would intervene if China invaded Taiwan, but it left little to the imagination.

    “U.S.-Chinese relations have since deteriorated, and China has raised the possibility of invasion in various ways. Releasing this memo at this time does not surprise China, but does affirm that any Chinese move must take into account a U.S. intervention. Unlike many China watchers, the Chinese themselves know that an amphibious assault on Taiwan – armed as it is with U.S. aircraft, submarines and missile defense batteries – would likely fail, and that failure would vastly weaken their pretense of being a power on par with the United States.”

    The memo referred to in the paragraph is:

    “On Aug. 17, 1982, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz sent a memo via an American diplomat to the Taiwanese government. On Monday, just over 38 years later, the memo was declassified. Its contents were “secret” in that they were not publicly available, but the gist has been well known for some time; these points had to be part of U.S. relations with Taiwan and China because without them, U.S. policy toward Taiwan and China made no sense.

    The decision to make public a document after nearly 40 years comes at a time of rising tensions, military drills and Chinese threats in the Taiwan Strait, and is meant to stave off more escalation by clarifying its position. The memo outlines the following:

    That the U.S. had not agreed to set a date for ending arms sales to Taiwan
    That the U.S. had not agreed to consult with China on arms sales to Taiwan
    That the U.S. would not play a mediation role between Taipei and Beijing
    That the U.S. had not agreed to revise the Taiwan Relations Act
    That the U.S. had not altered its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan
    That the U.S. would not exert pressure on Taiwan to enter into negotiations with the People’s Republic of China”

    I don’t know why Trump doesn’t hawk his foreign policy, which has been better than the previous administration’s. According to interviews with ambassadors, he checks in on something, asks how’s it going, then says something like, “Better sooner than later.” He seems to know what they’re working on, but lets them do it. With the quiet release of this memo, he’s restated the US position on Taiwan. Don’t forget that early in his administration he visited Taiwan.

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