Iran’s Direct Attack on Israel Underscores the Need for America To Restore the Concept of Deterrence

If we fail at that, Reagan’s famous formulation of his strategy could be reversed.

AP/Vahid Salemi
Volunteer troops of the Iranian army at a military base at northern Tehran, Iran, April 17, 2024. AP/Vahid Salemi

Iran’s strike on Israel has again underscored the urgent need for America to restore deterrence. Iran, Russia, Communist China, and their allies must again grasp that their malign actions will be met with intolerable consequences. That a credible threat of American escalation, with Washington poised to act, exists. Yet as long as President Biden is in office none of this is likely. It is not even clear if deterrence is the administration’s aim.

“Don’t” is not a deterrent. Neither is defense. While it’s a relief that Israel’s layered missile defense system intercepted most of the more than 300 drones and missiles, this is not cause to “take the win,” as Mr. Biden told Prime Minister Netanyahu. Iran should not have felt itself emboldened to attack Israel. Nor Russia, Ukraine, and China to flare tensions in the South China Sea. Yet they do as they view America as too timid to act.

We must quickly reverse course. This entails reintroducing a range of measures that would compel our adversaries to reassess their objectives and the perceived costs of achieving them — measures largely neglected by the Biden Administration. First, we’d need to revisit the fundamentals of hard power, central to which are enhanced military capabilities and a robust defense industrial base. A threat lacks credibility if it cannot be executed.

Our reduced capabilities likely informed Tehran’s calculus. The American-led military operation Prosperity Guardian, launched in January to counter Houthi assaults in the Red Sea, has largely failed. Drone and missile attacks on American and allied forces persist, signaling a troubling decline in our amphibious capabilities. Washington’s 2025 budget calls for just six battle force ships, the lowest number since 2006.

Our capacity to produce surface warships and submarines trails Beijing by a factor of 200. We need more ships and more repair and construction yards. We need more factories to manufacture artillery shells. The Scranton Army Ammunition Plant, one of our primary producers of 155-millimeter shells, caught fire on Monday. Needed, too, are enhanced missile defense capabilities, for which Mr. Biden has proposed $400 million in budget cuts.

In war, no amount of strategic finesse can compensate for sheer numbers and mass — a lesson that Moscow has learned and honed since its tanks crossed into Ukraine. This involves both weaponry and soldiers. Yet a mix of institutional, societal, and cultural factors rooted, in part, in the Biden Administration’s woke agenda has emaciated our military. Last year, the armed forces missed their recruitment goal by about 41,000 recruits.

Compounding the issue are decades of engagement policies that have blinded Washington to our enemies. To regain deterrence, America must shed the fantasy that China, Russia, and Iran can be coddled into submission. This means discarding the flawed notion that our adversaries are rational actors that weigh risks as we do. It also means careful study of our enemies. A foray into Xi Jinping Thought might clarify his aims.

Washington would then likely not assign its officials to seek “stable footing” with China as it facilitates an opium war against us. Or reassure President Putin that its response to a preemptive invasion of Ukraine would hinge on scale. Or extend an entry visa to Iran’s foreign minister days after Iran perpetrated an ostensible act of war against Israel. Such appeasement has  repeatedly failed and has undermined our security.

They have also emboldened our adversaries to cross so many red lines that the world may soon run out of red paint. Enough. Washington should not hesitate to pursue punitive measures to reset the terms of our relations. These would involve ending sanctions relief for Iran, revoking China’s permanent normal trade relations status, curbing export of our critical technologies, and denying adversarial officials access to our institutions.

As a start. It would also mean strengthening our alliances and restoring America’s credibility as a partner — credibility that was eroded by the Biden Administration’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and its policies since. Its treatment of Israel after October 7 is the latest example. For deterrence wanes in the absence of a network of resources and capabilities. I’m less likely to hit you if I know your allies will then strike me. 

After nearly four years, the Biden Administration appears unable or unwilling to grasp these principles. To restore American deterrence, then, a new administration is needed. For the story of America can only end in one of two ways: either we pivot and confront our adversaries, or we allow them to reshape the global order in devastating ways. President Reagan said, “we win, they lose.” The reverse could also be true.

The New York Sun

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