In the 1999 film “The Matrix,” Morpheus gives Neo the choice of a blue pill or red pill.
The blue pill offered the chance to remain in his comfortable fantasy world, believing whatever he wants to believe. The red pill would cause Neo to confront a brutish reality. Neo takes the red pill, and everything that follows flows from that decision.
President Biden will soon face a similar choice. The law requires that he produce a national security and a national defense strategy within the first year of his presidency. And the clock is ticking.
Those documents must describe America’s vital national security goals, what’s needed to deter aggression, and our current capability of carrying out the necessary tasks. Both allies and adversaries will scrutinize these reports to discern what they can expect from this president and to gauge his resolve to defend U.S. interests.
If Mr. Biden opts for the blue pill, these documents will reassert his previous claims the greatest security threat facing America is climate change and that international diplomacy, allied action and economic sanctions can reliably dissuade China, Russia, North Korea and Iran from doing their worst.
However, if he takes the “red pill,” these reports will acknowledge that America needs a stronger military to reinforce our diplomacy and keep in check the likes of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in check.
Unfortunately, the signals so far suggest Mr. Biden will “go blue.”
His March interim national security guidance was long on slogans like “America is back” and “Diplomacy is back” but lacked specifics. While the 24-page document mentioned climate change 14 times, it was oddly silent about “quaint” national security topics such as the Navy or Army.
Mr. Biden’s first budget request grew the budget of every federal department by an average of 16%—except for Defense and Homeland Security; their proposed budgets did not even keep pace with 2% inflation, much less today’s runaway prices.
The first plan released by Mr. Biden’s Pentagon came in October. Forget about China. This was a “Climate Adaptation Plan” describing how the Pentagon will “take bold steps to accelerate adaptation to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change.”
Throughout 2021, the Biden defense team prioritized initiatives like tracking down extremism in the ranks, ensuring the electrification of military vehicle fleets or providing transgender surgery for military members.
Meanwhile, China, Russia and Iran were otherwise occupied.
China began a broad nuclear breakout, to possibly quadruple the numbers and types of its nuclear weapons. Mr. Putin massed 100,000 troops across from Ukraine and presented Mr. Biden with a list of demands to be met in order for him to de-escalate. Tehran discarded any semblance of complying with international restrictions on uranium enrichment and plowed ahead with plans to build a nuclear weapon.
The reality is that incoming U.S. presidents are often confronted with unexpected situations which force them to alter their agendas.
Former President Jimmy Carter was forced to react to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Former President George W. Bush was transformed overnight into a wartime president by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Mr. Biden had hoped to focus on COVID-19, jobs and the climate.
But the world has intervened. In the last 12 months, the world has become unquestionably less hospitable. Autocrats are on the march.
In the end, what defines a presidency is not the platform the successful candidate campaigned on, but how quickly and effectively a president reacts to critical, unanticipated circumstances.
Mr. Biden in the coming weeks has a choice to make. He may well take the blue pill and continue to believe what he chooses to believe about the world we live in. Or he can react to the new global realities and direct vigorous and innovative security strategies which include building and maintaining a stronger U.S. military.
The Matrix is fiction, but in the red pill/blue pill choice facing Mr. Biden and the consequences for America could not be more real.
Neo chose red. Let’s hope Mr. Biden does too.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times