Is America's Military Ready to Face Rising Dictatorships? | Opinion

New generations often retread paths that led their ancestors to destruction. Today, American elites are retreating from hard diplomacy, disarming the military and appeasing their nation's rivals—just as their forebears did after the First World War.

Back then, the democratic world reeled from the bloodletting of the Great War and the ravages of an influenza pandemic. In Russia, Italy, Germany and Japan, dictatorships emerged from the wreckage.

Still, Britain and France held the preponderance of economic and military power--until elites in London and Paris cracked. As George Kennan noted, it was not the ordinary citizen who gave up on king and country or the Third Republic; it was the best and brightest who lost courage. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the U.S. put faith in treaties that outlawed war and proceeded to dismantle American naval power in the name of world peace.

Democracies merely tut-tutted as the dictatorships marched into Ethiopia, Albania and Manchuria. In 1936, Adolf Hitler sent 22,000 troops into the Rhineland. Panzer commander Heinz Guderian later said his orders were to withdraw if so much as one French regiment appeared. The French never came. The totalitarians marched on. Ultimately, the road of passivity and appeasement led to another world war.

Today, the military power of dictatorships is building again. A new axis has formed: China, Russia and Iran. And democracy is retreating once again—in the South China Sea, Ukraine, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

The 20th century's lessons of deterrence, hard diplomacy and military strength have been lost in a miasma of woke multilateralism and what Mark Helprin calls "performative diplomacy." How else can one explain the Biden administration's obsession with reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, which Tehran views as a mere speed bump on its road to Persian hegemony at the crossroads of three continents?

U.S. Pentagon
ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - SEPTEMBER 11: A flag hangs outside of the Pentagon prior to wreath laying ceremony with President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff scheduled to take place later this afternoon at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial on September 11, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. The nation is marking the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, when the terrorist group al-Qaeda flew hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center, Shanksville, PA and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Whereas the Oxford Union pledged never to fight for Britain in 1933, our own secretary of state has invited the United Nations Human Rights Council (whose members include China, Russia, Cuba and Venezuela) to determine whether the United States is an irredeemably racist nation. Our elites believe they exist to, at best, manage American decline.

We are disarming once again. The Biden administration's fiscal year 2022 defense budget proposal falls below the minimum 3 percent increase over inflation needed to meet current demands and prepare for future challenges.

To accommodate this constrained budget, the administration has decided to limit shipbuilding resources, to reduce the training available to the Army, to shortchange the number of aerial refuelers essential for the current generation of Air Force fighters and to further reduce the size of the Marine Corps. In its current state, the U.S. military is only marginally capable of meeting the challenges that lay in front of it, and Russia and China will continue to aggressively modernize and expand their armed forces. New budget constraints will only hamper our ability to respond.

While the commander in chief declares climate change to be the greatest threat to American security and forces the military to tighten its belt and distract itself with witch hunts for "extremists" in the ranks, the People's Liberation Army Daily says China must go to war with America. Taiwan is now in the crosshairs, and with it, the sea and air lanes that control access to Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia and India.

If we do not awaken, we face an unimaginable cataclysm more destructive than any conflict we have ever seen. Our very way of life and thousands of years of Western progress and tolerance is on the line. The common Americans who did not crack are still out there. We need them to rescue us again. Winston Churchill warned that the most lamentable words in the English language are "too late." We still have time, but it's running out.

A former undersecretary of defense, Robert L. Wilkie is a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation's Center for National Defense.

Thew views expressed in this article are the writer's own.