In a recent memo, Gen. Michael A. Minihan, commander of the U.S. Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, said he has a "gut feeling" that the U.S. will be at war with China in 2025. Written to the men and women under his command, it was clearly meant to spur them to "attain higher readiness, integration, and agility" deemed necessary to win in such a fight. Minihan’s blunt talk, aggressive instructions to his troops, and sense of urgency differs starkly from the Biden administration’s approach to the threat posed by China.
Minihan has said provocative things before. "Every part of your life is better [when] you can kill your enemy" nettled some. But his prediction of war with China just two years down the road, sent senior officials and national security analysts scurrying to distance themselves from both his forecast and the tone of his memo.
Pentagon officials said Minihan’s comments were "not representative of the Department’s view on China." That’s true enough. Their phrasing and word choice has consistently implied that they are more focused on building alliance structures that achieve security objectives peacefully and that do not antagonize China than in driving a military posture that is capable of and ready for combat action should the need arise.
This is a pity and a missed opportunity.
Rather than chiding the general for his aggressive spirit, defense officials and national security glitterati should have embraced and leveraged Minihan’s passion for combat readiness and warfighting effectiveness to make the point that the U.S. military is not something to be discounted by the likes of China. Many people today are inclined to dismiss talk of "peace-through-strength" as the fading gasp of aged Cold Warriors. Lost in tut-tutting this trite but true maxim is an appreciation for what "hard power" really is and what it takes to have it not just in material form—tanks, ships, aircraft, and missiles—but also in attitude, posture, training, and focus.
The federal government is awash in agencies that deal with all aspects of America’s engagement with the larger world apart from military action. There are the Departments of State, Justice, Treasury, and Commerce, and (pseudo-)independent agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Environmental Protection Agency, International Trade Administration, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and more. These organizations presumably ensure that U.S. interests in public health, stewardship of natural resources and the environment, trade, international relations, thwarting criminality, and so forth are addressed.
What none of them do is ensure the U.S. can defeat enemies in combat. That is why we have a Department of Defense and the military services.
With that in mind, you would think we would want military leaders who focus on warfighting and instilling in our troops the mindset that combat is serious business, and they need to be serious about being ready for it. When it comes to the defense of our country and our people, isn’t it better to have military leaders who lean into a fight, who want their people to be prepared for a fight than to have people in leadership positions who are more concerned about carbon footprints, generating statistics for equity czars and gender-confused apparatchiks, and worrying about whether an exercise with an ally might be seen as too provocative by our enemies?
Our military prizes the American commitment to civilian control of our armed forces and wouldn’t have it any other way. We do not want a political military or a military that becomes a political power in its own right. But neither do we want a military or military leaders who forget what their sole purpose is: to defend our country and defeat our enemies in battle. With that mindset and ensuring our forces are equipped, trained, and operationally ready to do that, the war they are prepared to win will be the war that doesn’t happen because our enemies will know they will be defeated. That is what deterrence is all about. And it is leaders like Gen. Minihan who create those favorable conditions.
The most recent example that proves this point? Balloongate, the nationally embarrassing spectacle of a Chinese intelligence collection asset serenely floating across the United States snapping up pictures, electrons, and who knows what else undisturbed by any U.S. intervention until it had completed its task for the Chinese Communist Party. Cleary, Xi Jinping, China’s autocratic leader, believes Beijing can act with impunity even in America’s sovereign airspace. Why is that? Perhaps because China believes it has nothing to fear. And what if others—Iran, North Korea, Russia—have come to the same conclusion?
Our national leaders and senior officials should embrace Minihan and those like him rather than distance themselves from them and making excuses for their zeal. Look to other agencies for economists, trade specialists, law enforcement and public health professionals, and career diplomats. They work to maximize the blessings of peace, liberty, and prosperity. But to create and sustain the peace that enables all the rest, our military needs warriors.
Preach on, Gen. Minihan! And that’s from a career Marine who appreciates a military leader when he sees one, regardless of service branch.
This piece originally appeared in Fox News