Dan Blumenthal is the director of Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute. During the administration of President George W. Bush, he served in the Department of Defense. Blumenthal’s most recent book is The China Nightmare: The Grand Ambitions of a Decaying State.

Elbridge Colby is a founder of the new think tank the Marathon Initiative. During the administration of President Donald Trump, he served in the Department of Defense. Colby’s most recent publication is The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict.

In this wide-ranging conversation, Colby and Blumenthal discuss what the United States and its allies can do practically to deter China’s expansion in the South China Sea and its aggression toward Taiwan.

To view the full transcript of this episode, read below:

Peter Robinson: China and the United States. Consider just one set of statistics. The United States Navy now numbers some 290 Battle Force ships, and the Biden Administration's 2023 budget would shrink that number still further. The Chinese Navy by 2025, just a couple of years from now, it is expected to number 400 ships. Should we be worried? Strategists Dan Blumenthal and Elbridge Colby on "Uncommon Knowledge" now. Welcome to "Uncommon Knowledge." I'm Peter Robinson, shooting today at the Hoover Institution offices in Washington, DC. Director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, Dan Blumenthal earned his undergraduate degree at Washington University, his master's at Johns Hopkins, and his law degree at Duke. During the administration of President George W. Bush, he served in the Department of Defense. Dan Blumenthal's most recent book, "The China Nightmare: The Grand Ambitions of a Decaying State." Founder of a new think tank, The Marathon Initiative, Elbridge Colby earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard, and his law degree from Yale. During the administration of President Donald Trump, he served in the Department of Defense. Elbridge Colby's most recent publication, "The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict." Dan, Bridge, welcome.

Dan Blumenthal: Thank you.

Elbridge Colby: Thanks, Peter.

Peter Robinson: We'll come to strategy in a moment, but first could I ask a kind of threshold question? If China were to have its way, if President Xi Jinping were to attain every one of his aims, how would life in this country be different? What's in my mind here is that in the old days, during the Cold War, we'd see newsreels of the Soviet Union, and it was obviously grim and gray, and people were trying to escape all the time from Eastern Europe. We had some sense that whatever it was, we didn't want it. But China, we buy our toys from China, they make wonderful electric vehicles, they seem technologically advanced, they produced riches and great companies. If they got what they wanted, how would our lives be different? Dan.

Dan Blumenthal: Well, first of all, the world itself would be a much more authoritarian, corrupt and dictatorial place. So it wouldn't be a welcoming place for Americans who cherish their freedoms and their liberties and so on. The Chinese would enforce their will as they've done in Hong Kong and other places to make more countries authoritarian and dictatorial. Second of all, we would be locked out of many of the economic arrangements inside the East Asian area, which parts of it have the potential to really boom and really be the future of economic activity throughout the world. And third of all, our military would be reduced to probably defending around our hemisphere, and be locked out of having access to East Asia. We've really needed access to East Asia to secure ourselves since the end of World War II. So, at these three levels, I think the world would be a lot more difficult and challenging for the United States.

Peter Robinson: So, over in your neighborhood in Northern Virginia, people at the State Department and Treasury Department who are running the top country would no longer be running the top country. Would ordinary Americans feel poorer?

Dan Blumenthal: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: What difference would it make to ordinary people?

Elbridge Colby: I think it would be a very profound change. And I think Americans would be poorer and less free. And the reason is, I think that even a modest conception of what Xi Jinping, and not just Xi Jinping as a person, but Beijing as a state, and I think a great number of Chinese people are pursuing in the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, is a hegemonic or dominant position. Not imperial like in the old days, but a kind of soft control over, first Asia, as Dan rightly pointed out, is going to be the world's largest market area, upwards of 50%, and growing and sharing. So it would orient the world's largest economic area around itself. So it would have the best universities, its treasury department would enforce sanctions against everybody, its companies would become the world beating one, its stock exchange would be the world's best, its currency would ultimately supplant the dollar. What would that mean for Americans? Well, first of all, we know we would become a lot poorer because the Chinese would gate keep that large economic area, not only against Americans, but also against Europeans and Middle Easterners and Latin Americans, who would be essentially forced to play ball in the same way that today many countries play ball with our sanctions even though they don't want to. What would that mean? It would mean that Americans would become a lot poorer because our companies are institutions, our educational institutions. Stanford University would no longer be one of the top universities over time, et cetera. And then we become less free. Why? Because if we don't have economic control, or at least a significant amount of control over our own destiny, and we're becoming poorer, the issues are going to be settled. Even down to your employment is going to be settled ultimately in Beijing. So my favorite example of this is social media companies. Today we have a lot of debates in our country about social media companies. I have a lot of concerns about them, but we all are assuming that the issues can be solved in Washington or Sacramento or Albany or whatever. That wouldn't be the case anymore. And they would instead settle in Beijing, either directly or indirectly. Our speech and so forth. And today the Chinese are talking about Xinjiang or Hong Kong or Taiwan. But we know it's human nature, and we've seen this with the Chinese, their ambitions and their demands would expand and escalate.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so that's the next question. What are the outer limits of what China wants? "Strategy of Denial," quote: "China has a potent interest in establishing hegemony over Asia." All right. And then comes "The China Nightmare." You're writing here about a report that Xi Jinping delivered to the Communist Party in 2017. And here you begin by quoting China expert Peter Mattis. "The document," Xi Jinping's document, "mentions mankind 14 times and global and world appear a combined 54 times." And then you yourself write, "The goal for the Middle Kingdom is to dominate global politics." Now, if a great big rich China wants to dominate its own region, that's one thing; but if they're closer to, it seems mad to us now that the Soviet Union, now that Russia is such a basket case, but the Soviet Union, that communist ideology really truly called for worldwide revolution. But it did. So it's a different matter altogether if what they want is to dominate the planet. Which is it? We can live with that. We can't live with that.

Dan Blumenthal: I don't think we can-

Peter Robinson: You can't live with either?

Dan Blumenthal: We can't live with either. Because East Asia is just so fundamentally important for US national security. So East Asia itself is, you're talking about massive economies. Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, the growing economies of the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, that's a massive population right there, parts of India. But what Xi Jinping is doing is challenging us everywhere all the time. And he is very clear that this is a global struggle. He is supporting Russia, completely supporting Russia in its war against Ukraine. Without Chinese economic support, without Chinese economic support, Russia would probably not be able to keep carrying out this war in Europe. So he's supporting Russia, he's supporting Iran now. Iran exports more oil to China than to any other country. It is Iran's top trading partner. He's looking to build bases around the Gulf. He wants to challenge the United States. Xi Jinping will not be satisfied that he is safe and secure, as he told Vladimir Putin, unless the world order fundamentally changes. He believes the United States is implacably hostile, ideologically hostile, trying to throw the communist party out of power. And unless the United States is a second or third tier power, he won't be safe.

Peter Robinson: So, what is in this man's head? The two models seem to be, he's an emperor, he's operating in the ancient Chinese Imperial tradition, or he is a communist. And you Dan, say, in "The China Nightmare," "The CCP is no longer a communist revolutionary party," close quote. On the other hand, little Robinson doing my research, discovered that shortly after becoming General Secretary, Xi Jinping gave a speech to the party in which he said, quote, "There are people who believe that communism is an unattainable hope. But facts have repeatedly told us that Marx and Engel's analysis is not outdated. Capitalism is bound to die out," close quote. Okay, so the background here is Deng Xiaoping decides to open markets a little bit, at least, in '78 and '79, and within the order that the United States established after the second World War, the trading order, the notion of free markets, China flourishes as it never has in its history. Why isn't it delighted? They've brought hundreds of millions of their own population out of real abject poverty. There are still hundreds of millions to go, but it's a different nation altogether. And that has happened because of free markets, and in this world of free trade, according to rules, looser rules, tighter rules as you interpret them, that were established by the United States and its allies after the second World War. Is it communist ideology that requires him to view this as a threat, when in fact, they've benefited from it? Is it the old imperial? What is going on? Why aren't they happy with the world order? You see what I'm getting at?

Dan Blumenthal: Yeah. Go ahead.

Peter Robinson: Go for it.

Elbridge Colby: First, one thing I'd like to say, I think it's really important when we talk about this issue that we clarify between the stakes that are at issue versus what the strategic question is. And so, to your earlier question, Peter, and I think I agree with Dan, the stakes are global. But the strategy is primarily about Asia. And this gets back to something Winston Churchill very memorably said, I think it was at the beginning of World War I, he said, "Look, Europe is the decisive theater; if we get things right there, we can put everything else right again." Because he recognized through both World Wars, as did we, that if you defeated the Germans, which at the time, Europe was the world's largest market area, it controlled vast empires through its various countries, if you got things right there, you could set other things right again. So Asia as Dan, I think was alluding, is the decisive theater, but the implications will be global. What I would say is that we could survive in that world, but if you go back to the Federalist papers and the whole tradition of the American Republic, we ain't just looking for the bare minimum. We want a country in which people can flourish and grow and become prosperous and confident, and that creates a certain kind of culture, et cetera, et cetera. That is elemental to the American Republic, and that is what is at jeopardy in a way that is actually far greater in scale than even the Axis powers. China relative to the US economy today is larger than the three Axis powers were in say, 1942. It's very significant.

Peter Robinson: So back to Xi Jinping, why isn't he delighted with the world as it stands?

Elbridge Colby: A couple things; one, gratitude is not often found. As the Austrians once said, "We will shock the world by our ungratitude." So that's something to bear in mind. Also, the mindset that the Chinese have in their perception, and I think it is true that Xi Jinping himself is a dedicated Marxist-Leninist in some way. But look-

Peter Robinson: He is a communist?

Elbridge Colby: I think so, but the fundamental project that he has embarked upon is the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, which not only is not Marxist, but is actually in some sense-

Dan Blumenthal: It's nationalism.

Elbridge Colby: It's actually fundamentally different than Marxism, it's something closer to nationalism. Here's what I'm afraid of, Peter, and this is the way I try to approach in my book. We can kind of paint Xi Jinping and Beijing in the most lurid and negative light, but I actually think it helps from a strategic perspective to almost give them the benefit of the doubt. And the thing that I fear is that China actually has very strong potent incentives to create what I think of as the secure geo-economic sphere. Because they don't think we're a bunch of nice guys, as Dan rightly pointed out, and the Wall Street Journal just reported, they think of us as an existential threat. They think that we did nuclear blackmail, that we tried to divide them, that we've tried to exploit them. Going back to the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion, they think of the experience of the last 200 years, the Chinese leadership certainly, and I think a lot of Chinese people, as an incredibly terrible experience in which they were ruthlessly exploited by foreigners, Westerners, Japan, et cetera. And so, they have to be strong and dominant to be secure. That is not just Xi Jinping, I think that's a common view. I was struck a few years ago when I was in Beijing talking to a PLA officer, I said, "Who do you think is the greatest Chinese leader?" I thought he might say Sun Yat-Sen, he said, "No, Mao Zedong," because even though he made mistakes and he did some bad things, he was the one who got up at the proclamation of the People's Republic and said, "China has stood up."

Dan Blumenthal: So, ideologically, Xi Jinping is very afraid of the United States. He constantly talks about the fact-

Peter Robinson: You guys keep telling me that they view us as a great threat. You have yet to name a reason that sounds plausible to me. So far, it sounds to me as though this is some kind of delusion. They've thrived.

Dan Blumenthal: So, if you are taking over the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, when it looks like the party is experiencing a near death experience because there's a succession crisis, there was a succession crisis in 2012. One of Xi Jinping's rivals, a man named Bo Xilai tried to grab power in ways that didn't comport with the rules inside the communist system. And, Xi Jinping decided that the party had become lax in its discipline, that it was too polluted with Western ideas, that it was too culturally open to Western thought.

Peter Robinson: Can I step? Communism is a Western idea.

Dan Blumenthal: Right. To Western liberal ideas.

Peter Robinson: All right.

Dan Blumenthal: To liberal democracy.

Peter Robinson: All right.

Dan Blumenthal: And he made a speech, and famously, as I have in my book, a circular, a document called Document 9 was circulated as soon as he was ascended to power, saying, "We have about eight or nine things that we have to absolutely stamp out. Cultural influence of America and Western Europe. Intellectual influence, political influence. We're getting weak as a party, and most importantly, this is how Gorbachev lost control of the Soviet Union." Xi Jinping does study sessions about how Gorbachev lost control of the Soviet Union. His conclusion was that Perestroika and other reforms of the kind that China was already doing then led to the political destruction of the Soviet Communist Party. He said, "Not on my watch. Never!" And he went into a full blown ideological crusade to make the party so-called red again, more communist. Although, as you point out, and as Bridge points out, huge contradiction. Because the project is essentially nationalist. National rejuvenation. National greatness. It's dressed up in Marxist-Leninist language.

Peter Robinson: All right. Hard power. As I understand it, China has invested in two basic areas. We're talking about military now. Its own navy. From "The China Nightmare," "China has launched more submarine surface warships, amphibious assault ships and auxiliary vessels than the total number of ships currently serving in the navies of Germany, India, Spain, Taiwan and the United Kingdom combined." China's second major investment, forces capable of destroying our naval vessels. Ship killing missiles essentially. Again, from Dan's book, "China's massive arsenal of theater ballistic missiles now poses a costly and vexing challenge for Pentagon planners," close quote. They want us out of the Pacific? Is it as simple as that?

Elbridge Colby: Yeah, I mean look, we can argue about intent. I would point out to you a concrete historical example that I think has bearing, which is, was it rational? It was, sort of in an optimal, from a liberal point of view, for the Japanese to attack the United States and the European colonial powers at the end of 1941? Well, they did so for reasons that are not dissimilar, which is the creation of a secure geo-economic sphere and the perception that we were actually trying to strangle them. There are real echoes. Not to say that it's an exact analogy, but strict rationality in sort of neoclassical economic terms is not how countries often behave. So, one of the most important things, and I'm glad we're turning to hard power-

Peter Robinson: So, FDR was trying to deprive the Japanese of oil.

Elbridge Colby: Which was critical. It's an archipelago, right?

Peter Robinson: Right. And we are trying to deprive them of what?

Elbridge Colby: Well, Xi Jinping apparently, they think that we are trying to contain and suppress them. When Lloyd Austin asked Li Shangfu for a meeting at the Shangri La Conference and they turned him down, he said, "You are trying to contain and suppress us." And according to the Wall Street Journal, Xi Jinping personally uses the term strangling. That we are trying to suppress their growth. I was actually in a meeting with some very senior-

Peter Robinson: Every time you guys say, "This is what they think, this is the way they see it."

Elbridge Colby: Well, we're putting semiconductor sanctions-

Peter Robinson: This is crazy! It's crazy talk!

Elbridge Colby: It's crazy talk.

Peter Robinson: It's not crazy?

Elbridge Colby: It's not crazy because we are trying to decouple, and we are leveling things like semiconductor sanctions and shifting our economic policies and our international relations towards. The Wall Street Journal's reporting that there is a block creation.

Peter Robinson: This is a policy of only the last few years. It's clearly in response to this huge buildup of their's.

Elbridge Colby: Well, they would say that now we're-

Peter Robinson: I want to turn you into a China apologist. Keep going, keep going, Bridge, keep going.

Elbridge Colby: Well, I don't think it's actually totally an apologist, in the sense that the current administration seems to want to have it both ways and they're vacillating a bit. I'm not sure how far they're going to go. But I think even a left-wing Democratic administration is basically saying, now they're calling it de-risking, but obviously, the Chinese don't believe us. I mean, if you look at their ministry of state security statement in the fall of 2023, they're saying, "We don't believe you." And they're looking at the national conversation and where things are going. There's strong support for decoupling. European countries and others are shifting away. So again, if you go back to what are the fundamental stakes for China, if it's a secure geo-economic sphere, a good friend of mine, Dale Copeland at the University of Virginia, and if you go back to the work of Robert Gilpin, I think the most compelling scholarship about why wars often happen is a fear of economic slowdown. And if you think back to what Xi Jinping's incentives are, they do have to grow. This is the basic bargain of the communist party party.

Peter Robinson: He has to keep it up.

Elbridge Colby: Any government has to keep growing. I'm not saying that they're justified, just as I wouldn't say that Japanese were justified. But if we're thinking about it from a strategic point of view, we have to take that in mind. Now, that's what they care about, in my view. The means for them to pursue those goals are going to be military. So the way I would think about it from a hard power point of view is I wouldn't quite make the division the way you did. They used to have a military that was basically confined to what you would call territorial defense. Now they are not only developing a military very, very clearly that is oriented on solving the Taiwan problem, but is also clearly for what's called power projection. Think of a military like our own. Now the Chinese will sometimes say, "Well, you're being hypocrites!" But they used to say, "We don't want that kind of thing." And the thing about what that tells you, is military force development is perhaps the most revealing piece of evidence for future intent.

Peter Robinson: May I quote you to yourself?

Elbridge Colby: Yes.

Peter Robinson: Actually, I'm going to quote Bridge, but then I'm going to ask you.

Dan Blumenthal: You're going to have me answer.

Peter Robinson: I'm going to have you answer. I am, actually.

Dan Blumenthal: I answer for Bridge.

Elbridge Colby: That's right. I will defer.

Peter Robinson: This is from Bridge's book "Strategy of Denial." This is one of the most striking sentences in the book, I think. "War is not just another province of human activity; I argue that military affairs," military affairs, "are in important respects determinative." Do you buy that?

Dan Blumenthal: Determinative in international politics, absolutely. And I would say that the Chinese don't just have a strategy to keep us out of Asia, they use their military every day. Every day as we speak, they are intruding upon Taiwan's airspace and Taiwan's maritime space. They are putting pressure on the Japanese and the Senkaku Islands to loosen Japanese control over their own administered islands. They're using force today as we speak in the South China Sea, to intimidate, to make excessive claims. So they have this military, it's not just staying in garrison; it's out every day, shaping the region, intimidating the region, trying to send a message to the region that the United States doesn't have the endurance or the staying power to defend these allies. Their grand strategy is one of coercion. It's one of military coercion, military intimidation, and one of economic coercion. So one of the things that they've been trying to do, to answer your question before about the economic dimension, we'll engage in a little bit of Freudian analysis, they are projecting onto us what they would do to us if they were in the position. So, we caught them in 2015 and 2016 with these made in China 2025 plans. With these massive industrial plans, with massive industrial theft, with state-owned enterprises trying to get to the commanding heights of the economy. To put enormous pressure, to get on top of our supply chains and semiconductors and pharmaceuticals. to be in a position where they have more economic leverage than we do. Xi Jinping makes speeches that says "the economic containment was completely foreseeable, we're ready for it, and we're going to be in a position where we have more economic leverage over the United States than they do over us." And that's the game. So it's military coercion, and possibly preparation for warfare, if that's what they decide to do to escalate their current military operations in all the regions I just mentioned, and it's economic coercion. And that's what we face on a daily basis.

Peter Robinson: All right. Could you make a little mental note, that before this is over, you need to cheer me up.

Dan Blumenthal: Okay. Sure.

Elbridge Colby: You got the wrong guys here for that.

Dan Blumenthal: Right, right.

Peter Robinson: All right, Taiwan. From Dan's book, "The China Nightmare." "Beijing is obsessed with national reunification. Taiwan is the last imperial - the last Qing dynasty territory that Communist China has not managed to reconquer." I'm sure I'm mispronouncing that. It's spelled Q-I-N.

Dan Blumenthal: Qing.

Peter Robinson: Qing?

Dan Blumenthal: Qing.

Peter Robinson: Qing.

Dan Blumenthal: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: All right, Ching. If I were in charge of transliteration, at least I get that part right. The Qing dynasty fell 110 years ago. Why does the CCP want Taiwan now?

Elbridge Colby: Well, I would say there's fundamentally two reasons. One is nationalist irredentism. And on that point, I would say it's easy for us who've had a great last century to float magnanimously above these kinds of petty disputes. But if you're China, look, I put something on recently; let's say you were someone born in the 1920s. You yourself would've needed to survive warlordism, civil war, a Japanese invasion, a great leap forward, cultural revolution, et cetera. Your parents would've needed to survive the boxer rebellion, the Tai Ping rebellion of the 19th century, I believe is the second costliest war in human history or something like that. Most Americans have barely heard about it. So that's the experience. And a lot of that in the Chinese narrative, and there's some reason for it, is foreign exploitation going back to the opium wars and the exploitation of the weakness of the Qing. And so, what you have is nationalism, which in this Western Europe is considered a bad odor because they were the ones who imperialized everybody. But if you go to India, people are also very nationalistic and proudly so. Or Vietnam. And they remember the humiliations they suffered. First of all, they want to have a sense of justice, but more fundamentally, they don't want a repeat of that experience. So Taiwan is important in that context. And as the Chinese think about it, and I think this is genuinely felt, they do want to end the civil war, rightly or not. More importantly though, Taiwan is the critical way for them to pursue this geo-economic sphere. They have to break out of the first island chain, and they have to break apart what I call the anti hegemonic coalition, which is clearly forming and is part of the containment narrative that the Chinese see. There are elements of containment happening. Quad, AUKUS, the trilateral relationship with Japan and South Korea, the relationship with the Philippines, largely because of China's own behavior. But nonetheless, this is part of the tragedy of great power politics. But this is basically why they care about it, then you can add on the semiconductor issue. But you don't even need to get to that.

Dan Blumenthal: There's one more big, big issue. Taiwan is the only Chinese democracy in the world. And this drives the Chinese Communist Party crazy. And they used to send, before 2016, before the current leadership of Taiwan was elected, there would be tourists pouring into Taiwan from China. And China didn't like it because what would they do at night? They would watch political TV shows; the raucous democracy of Taiwan, and they would enjoy it. And this is something they just cannot countenance. They've been telling people for so long that democracy is chaotic, that democracy doesn't work. And guess what? In Taiwan it really does work. They're facing an election in a few months, it's going to be another peaceful transfer of power. And it's just something China cannot live with.

Peter Robinson: And Taiwan has gotten rich.

Dan Blumenthal: And Taiwan has gotten rich. That's right.

Peter Robinson: Okay, boys, there are moments in this complicated world of ours when the problems facing this country are simple. The overwhelming challenge we face is standing up to the military and economic coercion attempts by China to engage in military and economic coercion of us and of our allies. And the whole game right now is Taiwan. Fair?

Dan Blumenthal: I don't think the whole game is Taiwan. I think Taiwan is a critical part of the game. If we let Taiwan go to China, as Bridge said, we would be in a disadvantaged position geographically, we would've lost a democracy of 23 million people, we would've lost enormous credibility, we would have lost control.

Peter Robinson: And if you're Japan and Vietnam and Philippians and Australia, you say "We work out a deal with these guys."

Elbridge Colby: I'm betting on the wrong horse.

Dan Blumenthal: Right. But Taiwan is extremely important. The game is to restore our military deterrent capability, to undermine these Chinese coercion campaigns that are going on every day, to decouple such that we're not subject to China's decisions about what supply to cut us off from. Certainly not to do what we're doing when it comes to, let's say the green supply chain right now, which is making ourselves more dependent on China. We're moving to an electric vehicle supply chain that is almost completely dependent upon Chinese processing of rare earth metals.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so this brings us to the point that this man has been making on Twitter and everywhere he appears. The Russians invade Ukraine. We engage in a kind of slow motion escalation of our involvement. We give them more weaponry, we give them funding, now we're up to Abrams tanks, and the president is talking about cluster bombs. And we've given them, I don't remember the figures, but it is well into the high double digit billions that we've already awarded them, and the administration wants-

Dan Blumenthal: Triple.

Peter Robinson: Triple.

Elbridge Colby: Already.

Peter Robinson: Triple already. And the administration wants more. And Bridge Colby says we are taking our eye off the ball here. Among other things, we are $19 billion behind in delivering to Taiwan weapons and equipment for which Taiwan has already paid. That's one argument. The other argument is, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. If Xi Jinping sees us take our hands off Ukraine, he will conclude that that is the way we handle our allies, and that will embolden him in Taiwan. The correct way to see Ukraine is as follows: the defense of Taiwan runs through Ukraine. I know where he stands, where do you stand? You'll get your chance.

Elbridge Colby: Okay.

Dan Blumenthal: The defense of Taiwan doesn't run through Ukraine, The defensive Taiwan runs through Taiwan. Those $19 billion in backlog weapons, some of those weapons are going to Saudi Arabia, some of those weapons are going to places, this has to do with a security assistance system in the United States and a defense production system that's completely broken. It has less to do with Ukraine. But absolutely. I don't even know how practically this would work, if we went to NATO and we said, "I'm sorry, guys, we're done supporting Ukraine." It would not only harm us with our global alliance system. And the Japanese, I would say, I'm just back from Japan, I would say the single biggest transformative factor in Japanese defense, the fact that they are modernizing their military in the ways that they are, and scaling up their defense is because the Russians attacked Ukraine. They now believe that it's not abstract, an authoritarian great power backed by China will go to war. So, you don't have to hear it from me, you can hear from the Japanese, the Taiwanese, the South Koreans, the Australians, they all are backing resistance to Russian aggression in the middle of Europe. It would be a catastrophe if we didn't continue to aid Ukraine, who is damaging an ally of ours without us paying anything in blood. But the Taiwan issue has got to be dealt with. That backlog has got to be dealt with. The most important thing in terms of Taiwan though, at the end of the day, because China is so strong and can so overrun Taiwan, is our own ability to defend Taiwan. Our own ability to keep open the sea lanes of communication. Taiwan can be cut off. And if we're not able to essentially provide Taiwan with assistance, there's not much Taiwan can do on its own. The ball right now is China's support of Russia in the Ukraine. The ball right now is China's support of Iran in the Middle East. And the ball right now is the fact that the Chinese are using their military every day, and we're not answering it in Taiwan, in the Philippines and in Japan.

Elbridge Colby: Well, look, Peter, and I have a lot of respect for your view and some of the people that you talk to.

Peter Robinson: I don't even know my view, I'm just giving you different views.

Elbridge Colby: So, I think we have to get super real here. So, we are in an unprecedented situation where for the first time in 150 years, we are facing an economy that is roughly pure in size. So essentially, we could argue about the exact-

Dan Blumenthal: That's not true. That part of it's not true.

Elbridge Colby: Conventional assessments, it's by far the world's largest industrial power, for instance, which is what would be relevant for a war. I mean, I think that's indisputable.

Peter Robinson: You'd grant that.

Dan Blumenthal: It is the second largest economy, it's a very important economy.

Elbridge Colby: It has 200 times the ship building capacity of the United States, according to the office of Naval Intelligence.

Dan Blumenthal: It'll remain the second largest economy for some time, so it's a very important economy.

Elbridge Colby: In any case, it's much larger relative to the United States than any power we have faced. And it's been 150 years since we've had a rough peer. What is it that matters in dealing with China, and how is China going to move? And it sounds old fashioned, but it's really true. You asked about war being determinative. You could quote Thomas Hobbes, instead, I'll quote Mao Zedong, "Power comes out of the barrel of a gun." The Chinese Communist Party will use decisive violence to resolve its issues when it can. That's how it defeated the KMT on the mainland. That's how it defeated, in the civil wars, huge battles in Manchuria. How to take over Hainan Island? Another island off the Chinese coast, an invasion. They were preparing for an invasion. They used direct military force against us in Korea, for instance. And what they're doing is preparing for military force. They ain't never going to convince, clear as day, that people on Taiwan to give up because they're flying airplanes around or propaganda. In fact, it's gone the reverse. We'll see what happens in the election, but the people think the KMT is a pro-communist party, it's not true. There's no party in Taiwan that's pro CCP or pro PRC. They're all varying degrees of some autonomy. We can talk about the DPP. So if China's going to resolve it, which it has structural reasons to do so, and Xi Jinping has personally tied the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation to the Taiwan issue, they're going to use military force. If they're going to use military force, how are they going to do it? Clear lesson of Ukraine, and it's very obvious, it goes back to Clausewitz, a decisive military force. If you want to take Vienna, take Vienna. We can argue about the blockade or whatever, but they're developing a military to take it over. What's going to deter them from doing that? It ain't going to be hashtags like Ukraine flag hashtags, it's going to be cold, military steel. And the problem with what Dan is suggesting, a more moderate version, but what I hear from a lot of people, and I got to make a plea to my fellow conservatives, but particularly the Hawks, how can you be a Hawk and not take military force and the military bounds seriously? You worked for President Reagan. What did President Reagan do? He rebuilt the military force in the decisive theater after the loss of Vietnam. We can lose things. But he said, and you know him better than I do, I never had the honor of meeting him, but you're going to get that right. And for people to say, "We're doing all this, it's fine." Doesn't add up. Here's the thought experiment I have for you.

Dan Blumenthal: I don't think anyone's saying that.

Elbridge Colby: Sure, people are saying that all the time.

Dan Blumenthal: That it's fine?

Elbridge Colby: Yeah.

Dan Blumenthal: It's not fine.

Elbridge Colby: No, no, no. Leading members of Republicans in Congress will say the military situation in the Pacific is adequate.

Dan Blumenthal: The military situation is not adequate.

Peter Robinson: The current administration, the budget calls for the Navy, which is small now, to become even smaller. Over on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they think in some fundamental way things are fine. So they're saying it.

Elbridge Colby: Let me finish on this thought experiment though, because I think it's very on the point that say Vice President Pence or Governor Haley will often talk about the fate of Taiwan being resolved in Ukraine. Who cares more, in the international system, other than Taiwan about Taiwan the most? China. If that were true, China would directly intervene in the conflict. Because it cares more about Taiwan than anybody else. So if the Ukraine conflict were determinative of Taiwan, you would see direct Chinese intervention. Instead, you see China acting exactly as I would expect, which is to stalemate and distract and corrode our stockpiles and our sense of political will. And now you are starting to get, there was a big article in the New York Times in early November, Asian allies are starting to worry that the United States is being distracted. And the Rand Corporation over the summer said, "We are on track to lose a war over Taiwan." That's the reality. We need conservative and especially Hawks to get real about that.

Dan Blumenthal: The navy's absolutely too small. I've been arguing that since I did the first China military power report in 2002 to warn about the Chinese military modernization. The Navy's absolutely too small. We are not answering China's everyday coercion of Taiwan. It's not just planes flying around, it's planes flying around and encroaching on maritime territory. The way they did the South China Sea successfully was exactly what they're doing to Taiwan right now, piece by piece. The information operations on Taiwan on a daily basis are eroding the will of Taiwan. They're doing the same thing on the Philippines. They used decisive military force, sometimes in very different ways than we did. The last war they fought in 1979 was a tactical battlefield loss, but a strategic victory. That's the kind of thing they do. They punch people in the nose and lose tactically and still say that they won because they can come back. But I'm certainly not arguing that we're prepared for a China conflict. The problem with the Biden administration is that we have a world of war.

Peter Robinson: Well, so let me come to that. Raphael Cohen, director of strategy and doctrine program at Rand. You guys all know each other. "For years, American defense strategy argued that the United States should have sufficient military capability and capacity to fight and win two simultaneous wars in different theaters. Over the last decade, though, as America's military shrank in size and its adversaries grew increasingly capable, the Pentagon backed off such aspirations." Okay. Our forces are designed to conduct major operations in two theaters, at best, at best today.

Elbridge Colby: Well, they're not actually. Full scale conflicts, two, no.

Dan Blumenthal: We haven't resourced it.

Peter Robinson: All right, so not even two. We have Ukraine and the North Atlantic, we have the Middle East, we have Israel and the Mediterranean, and we have China in the Pacific. We are engaged in three theaters.

Dan Blumenthal: That's right.

Peter Robinson: Here's my little problem. I come in from sunny California to Washington and I get the feeling that we get the usual dysfunction here in Washington. The Republicans are screaming and the Democrats are screaming. This is serious, unless I'm misreading it. This moment is really serious.

Dan Blumenthal: This is a really serious moment.

Peter Robinson: This is really serious. What is happening in Israel would've been unthinkable on October 6th. And it's happening. The idea that Russia would invade a European country would've been unthinkable. The day before it happened, and it is happening. And now China has 400 ships and we're down to 290. I can remember on this program interviewing, then former Secretary of Defense, Bill Perry, who talked about sending a carrier group through the Taiwan Strait during the Clinton administration to demonstrate our support for Taiwan.

Elbridge Colby: We would never do that now because we'd be too afraid.

Peter Robinson: I talked to a retired admiral recently who said, "Oh, no, no, no. Our carriers must remain 1,000 miles away to remain safe."

Dan Blumenthal: We send ships in through the Taiwan Strait all the time.

Elbridge Colby: The more expendable ones.

Dan Blumenthal: Yes.

Dan Blumenthal: But we are in the most dangerous moment. We're in an incredibly dangerous moment. And we have failed to resource our strategy.

Elbridge Colby: But we are where we are now.

Peter Robinson: We are where we are.

Dan Blumenthal: We failed to resource our strategy.

Peter Robinson: So I have two questions, one is, you both work here, you're among the intellectuals who are off stage, the members of Congress are on stage, but they're always turning around saying, "Psst, Blumenthal, did I get that right?" "Bridge, what about this?" Is this town serious? Do you feel a sense of seriousness descending that is adequate to the moment?

Dan Blumenthal: Absolutely not.

Peter Robinson: Absolutely not. Absolutely not?

Dan Blumenthal: Absolutely not. We're in a world of warfare and we're not on a war footing. We're not on a footing that is producing the kind of capabilities that the Ukrainians need to get out of a stalemate. We're piecemeal about it. The strategy, if it had been faster and more decisive, we wouldn't be in this stalemate. We're in a situation where Iranians are attacking US forces, where the Iranians can escalate at any moment. This is the world we live in, where it's just impractical to think that we're going to be pulling out of those places because when we're under attack by the Iranians-

Elbridge Colby: Well, what if we get punched in the face in a decisive theater?

Dan Blumenthal: Well, if we get punched in the face again, I suppose.

Elbridge Colby: Yeah, but by Mike Tyson.

Dan Blumenthal: Well, the Russians are pretty close to Mike Tyson. So, with a fierce, fierce military who's getting decimated by an ally willing to fight. But we are not serious, and we have to get on a war footing. We have to resource our defense needs. We need to be present in the three major theaters that many people have advocated for many, many years, and saw this train wreck coming, including the National Defense Independent Panel a few years ago, saying, "We are not resourcing our strategy. We could face exactly this moment." The Russians attacking in Europe, the Iranians attacking in the Middle East, and the Chinese rattling their sabers and using their force in East Asia. We have got to get on a war footing. We have got to get our defense production up to the place where we can actually get the things to Taiwan that we need to get.

Peter Robinson: Who's saying that? Donald Trump?

Dan Blumenthal: Nobody is saying that right now.

Elbridge Colby: So Dan, just to take your argument, I understand that you and many others, and just 'cause you've said it, have been arguing that for a long time. But for 15 years people have been saying we haven't been spending enough on defense. And perhaps they were right. But if you carry that forward, then right now we are not prepared. And we are manifestly not prepared. There's a fundamental insolvency between our strategy, the way we're actually acting and the capabilities we have. And people who've been saying for 15 years that we haven't been spending enough, like the National Defense Panel, they should be the ones most concerned about the scarcity problem. Whereas instead, you mentioned the two war thing. We don't have a two war, you know why we shifted off the two wars? 'Cause we were going to lose one big war. Another thing Churchill said is, "You can fight two wars gentlemen, or you can win one." And we decided under General Mattis and President Trump, we said, "We cannot lose the big fight." And that's what we're risking doing. So the administration is fundamentally irresponsible, in the sense that the President of the United States gave his second Oval Office address and did not mention China, which is allegedly the priority. So in a sense, we don't know if the Chinese have been behind what's going on. Obviously they've been supporting the Russians and what's happening in Israel, and the Iranians. But clearly cui bono, they are benefiting. And now the administration in the meeting at APAC for instance, it reeks of a desperate attempt. In fact, administration officials were saying they don't want a crisis. So this is a perfect opportunity. But the thing is, if Republicans are going to be serious as strategists; look, if you're up on the hill, if you're a congressman in general, a lot of what you do is speeches in committee or you go on TV. But the buck stops with the Executive Branch. The President of the United States, Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor. If Republicans catch the dog, and we get into power. Not we. I don't know what happened to me, but just Republicans in general, we are going to face this fundamental discordance between where we are and where we would like to be. And the thing is, you can't solve that with defense spending. By the way-

Peter Robinson: You can't solve it with-

Elbridge Colby: No, no, it's going to take years. It's going to take years and years at best. There's something fundamentally broken about our defense industrial base. So you have Republican members of the Senate saying, "We're better off after Ukraine." If you read the defense press, you'll see the ICBM is about to be delayed. Congress is authorizing two attack submarines a year, but we can only build 1.2 or 1.3. We're behind in missile production, et cetera. It's going to take five, six years to rebuild simple things like javelins and stingers, that's the reality.

Dan Blumenthal: Let me say one thing here. So imagine this scenario: you want to go protect Taiwan in case the Chinese escalate from this current coercion campaign to an invasion in the next few years. So you go to Europe and you tell them we're done funding-

Peter Robinson: Your problem.

Dan Blumenthal: Yeah. Sorry, we're out, we're out. We're out, but can you please be with us on this Taiwan issue? And also, can you, the Japanese stick with us? We promise, on this one, stick with us.

Peter Robinson: We really mean it.

Dan Blumenthal: We really mean it. Sure we do.

Elbridge Colby: No, we don't.

Dan Blumenthal: Well, UK is in AUKUS, as you say.

Peter Robinson: AUKUS stands for?

Dan Blumenthal:The Australia-

Peter Robinson: Australia and Zealand?

Dan Blumenthal: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: All right.

Dan Blumenthal:And then we're going to want the Europeans' help with sanctioning China.

Elbridge Colby: It's not going to work.

Dan Blumenthal: We're going to want the European help with economic warfare. So, the plan in this scenario is we go there. Then in the Middle East, as the Iranians are attacking us, what do we do? We pull out and say we're not going to actually defend our allies in the Middle East, we're pulling it all over to Taiwan. This time we're serious, even though we left the Middle East under attack.

Elbridge Colby: But what's the alternative? What's the alternative?

Dan Blumenthal: The alternative is to start an emergency program of funding our defense.

Elbridge Colby: But you're not going to solve this scarcity problem for years at best. And by the way, people have been arguing that for years and it ain't happening.

Dan Blumenthal: So, now is the time, because there are two wars going on, now is absolutely the time to get serious about this.

Peter Robinson: Can I ask you another?

Elbridge Colby: We don't need the Europeans in Asia.

Dan Blumenthal: We need the Europeans on economics for sure.

Peter Robinson: The two of you are on the same side and your fighting.

Elbridge Colby: Yeah, because it gets back to the stakes versus what matters issue.

Peter Robinson: Yes. Yes!

Elbridge Colby: It's what matters, and there's a clear logic that I'm making in my book that Hawks of all people value the importance of military force. I've had John Bolton, I remember he was kind of criticizing some of the arguments I made. He said, "Military power is fungible." I'm sorry, you can't use a missile more than once. It's going to blow up. This is the level of discipline the American people are capable of. We were bombed on December 7th, 1941 by the Japanese, but the administration pursued a Europe first strategy. And we were in a much better position economically than the Axis on our own, and we were relied on with the British Empire and the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, one of the three worst leaders probably to ever live. And people are saying, we can't? No, look, the Israelis actually want to fight.

Dan Blumenthal: We do not pull out of the Middle East right now when we're being attacked by the Iranians?

Elbridge Colby: Well, what's the alternative?

Dan Blumenthal: The alternative is defeat in Asia if you think we're going to war tomorrow. If you think we still have time in deterring.

Elbridge Colby: But if you're China and you're listening to Dan Blumenthal, you're saying, "I got my window."

Dan Blumenthal: If you're China and you're listening to Dan Blumenthal, then you're-

Elbridge Colby: Then you're smart.

Dan Blumenthal: You're certainly not saying you have your window, because I've been arguing about this.

Elbridge Colby: Well, no, no, no. One last point. Maybe you've been right, Dan, but that hasn't been the policy that we've pursued for the last 15 years. So we have to deal with the reality now.

Dan Blumenthal: The reality right now is we have to stop Chinese interference and coercion of Taiwan, the Philippines and Japan. That's the reality we face right now, today.

Peter Robinson: So, I'm trying to get to who's responsible for doing this? You see it. You see what needs to be done, you're right about it. This is immensely valuable, but it has to happen. A few questions, if I may, I'm stumbling along here, but where does the traction take place? Let me quote you, Bridge. You have the wonderful passage in "Strategy of Denial" about peace being something that isn't automatic. It's an achievement. I'm quoting you now: "Peace comes only from a willingness to consider what a war would actually be like. For the armed forces, this means a war-like temperament and professionalism," close quote. Well, the Navy's down to 290 ships, Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, last year, only the Marine Corps met its recruiting target. The Army missed its target for the 10th time in 10 years. And at this moment of danger, Ukraine, Israel, the Pacific, the United States Army is 10% below full strength. Why aren't there officers over at the Pentagon saying, "Congressmen, Mr. President, this has to happen. And unless the budget is so-and-so I will resign and run for office." Those are the guys who are right there in harm's way who know what's needed, know it's been underfunded year in and year out. They can't even hit their recruiting targets. Why isn't somebody from over in that five-sided building standing up and saying, "Enough!"

Dan Blumenthal: It's a source of enormous frustration.

Elbridge Colby: Serious indictment.

Peter Robinson: They do know what's going on, don't they?

Elbridge Colby: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Dan Blumenthal: I will add to that, that the North Koreans, talk about surprise in terms of Hamas and Israel, and people thinking that Hamas was contained and so forth. The North Korean situation is not exactly quiet. We have a lot of forces in South Korea there to deter North Korean aggression. They're due for some kind of provocation. It is a terrible indictment of US political leadership, it is a terrible indictment, military officers having to satisfy us with what they have. But we are in a very dangerous situation.

Elbridge Colby: Yeah, because I think this is really important, and it actually explains a lot of-

Peter Robinson: You guys both worked at defense.

Elbridge Colby: Yeah. So, in a sense, when I worked at defense, we actually did the strategy. Mattis signed off on a strategy that said China's the priority, we're moving to one war force planning construct with the bells and whistles. So on paper, it's been solved. So what is the problem? So partially, I wrote the book to say we need to convince a much larger group, within the defense establishment, but also politically of the reality of the problem and how to deal with it. You mentioned that I'm all over Twitter and wherever I can get heard, why? Because the hour is so late and the problem is so urgent, and what I'm trying to go after is, I think this residual, but very strong, I think it's essentially a hubris. If you really listen to what we're saying-

Peter Robinson: Hubris is a fancy word. Is it just laziness?

Elbridge Colby: No.

Peter Robinson: Is it complacency?

Elbridge Colby: I think people don't actually think the Chinese are a formidable threat. You see it on both sides.

Peter Robinson: All right, all right.

Elbridge Colby: President Biden, when he's unscripted, like at political press fundraisers, he will say very dismissive things about the Chinese. You also hear similar things. Oh, we have the best military in the world, we can handle this. We're America. No! We could actually lose. Our defense industry is in terrible shape. The military situation is in terrible shape. So fundamentally, this has to be politicians. And one of the reasons I go after the trade-offs is I think the beginning of wisdom is going to be the recognition that we can't do it all. Maybe in theory we could, if we pursued a different approach. And then the military takes its cues, the senior military, there's a lot of careerism. I think it is an indictment of some of the senior leaders that they haven't gone out and said, and I think that they could live to really rue it. If bad things happen, they know we're not prepared. They know it.

Peter Robinson: When you say we can't do it all, you mean we need to rely more on our allies, in Europe in particular?

Elbridge Colby: That's my logic. Is not to abandon your own, but to say, "Look, you step up."

Dan Blumenthal: That'd be terrific if we could rely more on our allies. Since I've been in this town, we've been saying that. The Japanese are finally moving in the right direction, and that's taken 20 odd years.

Peter Robinson: I'm reaching for historical parallels now, because the two of you have me good and rattled. And you mentioned one, 1941 we got bombed in Pearl Harbor. You'll remember the figures, but our army is minuscule, we have essentially no manufacturing base.

Elbridge Colby: No, we have a huge manufacturing base. It's civilian.

Peter Robinson: Civilian, civilian.

Elbridge Colby: But easily converted.

Peter Robinson: But we turn it all over, the country moves to a wartime footing, and it becomes, the phrase, the arsenal of democracy is true. The tens of thousands of planes we produce, the tanks, the ships, whereas over in Oakland, they were producing a ship a day in the Kaiser Shipyards.

Elbridge Colby: Can't do that anymore.

Peter Robinson: So it can be done. Or, let's see, what are the other parallels here? The other parallels would be Harry Truman at the beginning of the Cold War. He supposes the Soviets are our allies. He supposes FDR was right about them. He has to realize the Soviets are up to no good.

Dan Blumenthal: We tear down a lot.

Peter Robinson: That's right.

Dan Blumenthal: And then we the Reagan build-up

Peter Robinson: And then the Reagan build-up.

Dan Blumenthal: But we really thought that we could lose to the Soviets at the end of the 70s. By the late 80s, we didn't think that anymore.

Peter Robinson: So there are moments when the nation and this town stand up, sobers up, and pulls itself together.

Elbridge Colby: You have to go back to find a real example. You have to go back a long time, because in 1941, we had the world's largest industrial base, and we had the British and the Soviets fighting. Now the Chinese have the world's largest industrial base, and we're tied down in other theaters. So you have to go back. Lincoln avoided a second war with the British.

Dan Blumenthal: I think the 70s would be a good example.

Elbridge Colby: I would say the 70s is probably the best example.

Dan Blumenthal: 'Cause you also have the Soviets on the march in Afghanistan, the Soviets on the march in Latin America. We had a president who made the arguments about why we needed to raise defense spending, about why we needed to take a more aggressive economical, political-

Peter Robinson: So the solution was, in the first instance, political.

Dan Blumenthal: Yes, yes.

Peter Robinson: Ronald Reagan got elected.

Dan Blumenthal: He made the argument.

Elbridge Colby: But he also didn't commit American forces all over the world.

Peter Robinson: No, that's true, he was very careful about that.

Dan Blumenthal: He made the argument beforehand, and he committed America to a global fight against communism.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so look over the political landscape as we approach a presidential election in 2024, who's up to it? Do you see anybody?

Dan Blumenthal: I think the people-

Peter Robinson: Can Donald Trump be briefed? Can he be brought around to this view? to understand it in detail?

Elbridge Colby: The whole shift on China happened under President Trump.

Peter Robinson: Donald Trump is not going to read this whole book.

Elbridge Colby: Well, I don't know if President Trump has read my book, but I think the side that president Trump, governor DeSantis, that kind of approach there, there is a recognition that China is the top challenge, and that we cannot and should not be frittering our resources away. I think the other side of the argument-

Dan Blumenthal: Well, I think under Donald Trump, obviously, we went after Iran in a big way. The world has a way of intruding upon your greatest plans. We did not build up our defense to meet the China threat. We did a lot to support Ukraine under Donald Trump. He actually, despite all this , he gave the Ukrainians a lot of what they needed and had. You have your constructs and then the world has a way of intruding. But that's not what happened.

Elbridge Colby: That is the key thing.

Dan Blumenthal: But the key thing is that over and over again, we're called back. We say we're going to pull out of the Middle East, we get a bloody nose, we get back into the Middle East. After a while, you have to say to yourself, "Well, maybe we have a vital interest in the Middle East." And let's fund it and resource it correctly. But again, the height of the lack of discipline of irrationality would be the idea that you're going to tell all these allies around the world that you're pulling out everywhere else, but you're going to go defend Taiwan.

Peter Robinson: Last couple of questions. Is it as simple as this: if the Republicans get in in 2024, this will get addressed?

Elbridge Colby: Oh, I don't know. I don't know.

Dan Blumenthal: I'm not sure.

Peter Robinson: Okay.

Dan Blumenthal: I think Nikki Haley probably has the closest thing to a realistic view of a global policy you need in a world at war.

Elbridge Colby: I disagree with that.

Peter Robinson: Oh, you do?

Elbridge Colby: Well, yeah.

Peter Robinson: Do you have a favorite candidate at least?

Elbridge Colby: Well, I haven't said anything about a specific-

Dan Blumenthal: I don't have a favorite candidate-

Peter Robinson: Hold, hold, I don't want to be partisan. So, is Antony Blinken alive to all of this? Is he doing what he can?

Dan Blumenthal: Not to the resourcing of defense.

Peter Robinson: No. And Lloyd Austin? Secretary of Defense Austin?

Dan Blumenthal: Not to the resourcing of defense. As you mentioned, they have taken on increasing commitments without addressing the arsenal of democracy problems, or without taking on the military posture problem.

Elbridge Colby: Look, I think the main thing, I try not to get into the personalities of the politics too much, but there's others like you who are much better equipped.

Peter Robinson: Okay, but my point is we have to find somebody.

Elbridge Colby: But, I think the case can be made, the key thing is that we have to live in the world of reality. With all respect, if Senator Lindsey Graham were elected president, he would not be able To pursue the policy.

Dan Blumenthal: That's not the world of reality.

Elbridge Colby: Touche. Pursue, the policy that he would actually want to advocate.

Peter Robinson: We don't have the tools.

Elbridge Colby: We don't have the tools. Both leading presidential candidates have said they don't want to cut Social Security. I'm not equipped enough to go into the details of all that. But there are strong political constraints. We're paying at interest rates at much higher levels than there were in the 1970s. We're dealing with a different country, the economic growth, the demographics are lower, et cetera. So, any Republican who gets elected is going to be dealing with a situation in which there is going to be a choice. And I think, Dan, it's stirring, but if you allow events to happen, no, no, no, if we did respond.

Dan Blumenthal: What I said was, the reality is that in the Trump administration, after writing the National Defense Strategy-

Elbridge Colby: It was not well implemented, don't get me wrong.

Dan Blumenthal: No, but what I'm saying is, that is the reality. We have to be realistic. Iran is going to attack. We can decide all we want.

Elbridge Colby: There's war in reality if you want.

Dan Blumenthal: Of course we can. But what I'm saying is-

Elbridge Colby: I don't want to lose the war again.

Dan Blumenthal: Neither do I. But what I'm saying is, you can say we're disciplined and you can say we're not going to fund Ukraine, we're pulling out of the Middle East. The Iranians will still have a vote in terms of where they choose to attack us.

Elbridge Colby: Okay, but the consequences of Iran are much lower than that.

Dan Blumenthal: So the actual reality is that events intrude all the time, and what you're dealing with is the National Security Advisor, and the president is a host of events that you have to respond to.

Elbridge Colby: That's just being a slave to events.

Dan Blumenthal: No, it's not being a slave to events. It's the fact that you anticipate the fact that these events are going to intrude in the Middle East, in Europe and in Asia, and you're going to respond to that.

Elbridge Colby: That's how we lose it all.

Dan Blumenthal: That's been the history for the last seven years.

Elbridge Colby: We can do better than that.

So you're saying we don't have time?

Elbridge Colby: In fact, we did do better than that under President Reagan, under President Nixon, we focused on the main theater, we didn't get involved.

Dan Blumenthal: President Reagan took on communists from Latin America to Afghanistan. President Reagan had a global strategy against communists.

Elbridge Colby: The military buildup was overwhelmingly about Europe and the nuclear buildup.

Dan Blumenthal: The strategy was to subvert communism wherever it found itself.

Elbridge Colby: Sure, we can subvert all we want, but the key thing is you got to have the barrier.

Peter Robinson: Plus 600 ships in the Navy.

Dan Blumenthal: Of course. And I am completely for 600 ships in the Navy. The other thing that we have to address is the fact that the Chinese economy is in a lot of trouble. And we ought to have a proactive strategy that takes advantage of that. It is very dependent on a lot of different countries. What Ronald Reagan would do is take a look also at the vulnerabilities of China, and start to really press on them, and press on them hard. And have confidence that if we have a comprehensive strategy that absolutely builds the hard power, but also challenges all over the world-

Elbridge Colby: Well, the only thing about that is you don't want to do that from a position of weakness, 'cause then you end up with 1941, which is kind of what we're doing.

Peter Robinson: So the question I have is, so you guys look over the field in 2024 and you say, "I'm not sure."

Elbridge Colby: Well, it's not the personalities so much as it is the political reality.

Peter Robinson: Have we lost Taiwan already?

Elbridge Colby: I am increasingly worried that it is going to be very, very difficult. I still think it's worth it.

Peter Robinson: Neil Ferguson said the other day that the Chinese could blockade Taiwan as early as January. That is weeks from today.

Elbridge Colby: So, Eli Ratner has said, and I agree with Eli, I have a lot of respect for him, that the Chinese would be unlikely to pursue a blockade. I go into the book, I think in "Direct Invasive"-

Peter Robinson: You say they have to control territory.

Elbridge Colby: If I could finish, one of the things I really respect about Neil on many things, and I disagree with him, is that Neil is grappling with reality. He's saying we're in a powerless position. Our military situation is bad, we need to pursue detente in the near term. I think we should pursue detente from a position of strength, but it's so important that someone like Neil is grappling with the reality of the situation. The problem is that the Taiwanese are not doing anywhere near what is necessary to have an effective defense. Dan makes an important point about the US role being central but actually the Taiwanese own role, it's not just a fairness point, militarily, they have to fight hard and capably, and they're not doing that.

Dan Blumenthal: So the fight is, right now, the Chinese actually do oftentimes blockade Taiwan and then stop and pull back.

Peter Robinson: Oh, is that so?

Dan Blumenthal: Yeah. Absolutely. They did so after Nancy Pelosi's visit in August of 2022. This isn't some abstract, one day they're going to invade. They are using their military every day to intimidate, to undermine, to erode.

Elbridge Colby: Has Taiwan given up?

Dan Blumenthal: Not yet, but we ain't seen nothing yet. And the South China Sea is a perfect example of how the Chinese do this. Chop piece by piece, and now they control the South China Sea.

Elbridge Colby: Yeah, but you can do that with an uninhabited island, versus an inhabited island.

Dan Blumenthal: These are some very powerful countries around the South China Sea.

Peter Robinson: I've exactly two more questions because we've gone long because I'm indulging myself, I'm having fun. This is a very strange kind of fun because you're rattling me and upsetting me, but still, listening to the two of you is fun. So, Hong Kong. Mainland China moves into Hong Kong and suppresses all its freedoms. I'm not giving you the detailed version here, but they take over Hong Kong, they suppress Hong Kong. And as far as I can tell, of the rich business class in Hong Kong, two object. Jimmy Lai, who's in prison, and Martin Lee, who's got some kind of suspended sentence. There are a lot of rich men in Hong Kong. And only two spoke up. So I am thinking to myself, When push comes to shove in Taiwan, the business class in Taiwan will say, "We'd better do a deal."

Elbridge Colby: And America too.

Peter Robinson: We'd better do a deal. Does that strike you as plausible?

Dan Blumenthal: I think Bridge's point about America too, is very important. So the Chinese campaign, and they have a comprehensive campaign that they're undertaking now when it comes to Taiwan, is to create rifts in the elite in the United States about who is for defending Taiwan, who wants to do deals with China to create rifts in Taiwan. Most importantly, they're changing the political narrative on Taiwan, fundamentally. So the debate used to be about unification versus independence in Taiwan. What they've changed, they said essentially, if you vote for this party, the Democrat, the progressive party, you're voting for a war. So they're changing the political narrative to be one of war and peace. And that's more favorable narrative ground for the Chinese. Because if you're Taiwan, you say, "Of course I want independence, but I don't want war." I don't want war.

Elbridge Colby: Those are nice precursor predicate.

Dan Blumenthal: So that's the game that they're playing, that's the information space that they're operating in in Taiwan. That's what the Taiwanese are trying to fight back against and say, "Look, if you vote for us, for the Democratic progressive party, there's not going to be a war." It's not an automatic thing.

Peter Robinson: Okay, boys, last question. George Kennan, at the beginning of the Cold War, quote, "The decision," between the USSR and the United States, "the decision will really fall in large measure in this country itself. The issue of Soviet-American relations is in essence a test of the overall worth of the United States as a nation among nations. To avoid destruction, the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation," close quote. Is something like that analysis applicable now? That the question between us and China is likely overwhelmingly to be decided here. That if this nation does pull itself together, we can stand up against China? You would go for that.

Dan Blumenthal: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: You would go for that?

Elbridge Colby: Yes.

Peter Robinson: So we do possess the moral, the economic reserves to sustain this conflict?

Dan Blumenthal: Yes. Yes. We are a far, far wealthier country than China. We have not used our wealth well, we haven't translated it into power. But we're far wealthier than China. We have an allied system second to none. We have a military that if we get our act together in the next few years, is second to none. It will be decided here. The Chinese have made enormous, enormous mistakes from COVID zero and what happened after that to millions of excess deaths and an economy that's suffering, to a whole lot of people that just cannot stand the Chinese Communist Party. And fundamentally, the policy, they don't want detente. We will never get detente with the Chinese Communist Party. They do not want to detente with the United States. They believe detente is a Trojan horse for us changing them. Fundamentally, we have to ally ourselves-

Peter Robinson: Because we did defeat the Soviets.

Dan Blumenthal: Exactly. They will never get a detente. They want instability, they want to keep us on our toes and so forth. We have to fundamentally ally ourselves with the Chinese people over time who do not want the rule of the Chinese Communist Party.

Peter Robinson: So, are you hopeful? "The United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy." Are you hopeful?

Elbridge Colby: Hopeful might be a little strong. I'm cautiously thinking-

Peter Robinson: He just cheered me up and now here you go.

Elbridge Colby: But I think what's important here, Peter, is we're in a different world than we were in 1947.

Peter Robinson: That's for sure.

Elbridge Colby: This is following the great World War, which by the way, destroyed the British Empire eventually, the French, all these big societies. Obviously we'd had a different experience, very costly, but not relatively so. I think today the mindset is a different one, and it's even a different one than when Ronald Reagan came in.

Peter Robinson: Mindset in this country?

Elbridge Colby: In this country. And there's a little bit of, and Kennan is not always like this, but in this context, Kennan's this sort of mystic chords of memory, that it's kind of just summon the willpower. I think this is how a lot of, you could say, traditional Republican politicians talk. And I don't think this is landing. And I think there's a reason. And I think that those of us, I'm a strategist or whatever you want to call it, so it's not my place. But for the politicians who want to make this case, I think they need to grapple and accept with speaker Johnson said, "We are in extraordinary crisis, not only in the world, but in terms of our spending." I know Paul Gigot for whom I have a lot of respect, and the Wall Street Journal op-ed page said that increasing defense spending is easy. Well, not really, apparently.

Peter Robinson: When Reagan took office, debt as the proportion of GDP was 30%, and today it's 120%.

Elbridge Colby: Yeah. So much of what I'm doing, and what I'm saying is, I believe, but I'm also trying to show people that I'm not just saying, "Hey, we should just triple defense budget and give a whole bunch of money to one of the Lockheed Martin." Nothing against them particularly, but that this isn't, and I'm not suggesting that Dan is, but look, we have made mistakes, we need to be more careful. We need to be responsible with your trust and your money. I always like to make this point on Fox News, if you watch it, I think the number one ad is the Wounded Warriors Project. The people who've suffered. Now, we're not directly involved in Ukraine, but have spent $1 billion dollars. That's a lot of money, and people are sick. And so I worry about Taiwan because a lot of people say, "Well, Bridge, you're going to be cottoning with the isolationists." And I don't think that's a fair term, but it's like, look, we have to look at young conservatives. Many of the people who watched your show. The George W. Bush, kind of Mike Pence approach, the freedom agenda is like, what I understand, is like a term of mockery in a program. Whether we agree with that or not. And I think that we have to grapple with that.

Dan Blumenthal: I don't understand what that has to do with what we're talking about.

Elbridge Colby: No, no, politically. Because this is a political question about American will. Is that the way to solve this is not morale-

Dan Blumenthal: We have to defeat our enemies, I think.

Elbridge Colby: Well.

Dan Blumenthal: We have to defeat our adversaries. In a lot of these cases, we fought a lot of wars and didn't win.

Peter Robinson: Vivek Ramaswamy said in one of the debates to Mike Pence, "It's not morning again in America." This is a dark moment.

Elbridge Colby: Vivek was right.

Peter Robinson: But this is a dark moment.

Elbridge Colby: It is a dark moment.

Peter Robinson: He's not wrong about that.

Dan Blumenthal: It is a dark, dark moment.

Elbridge Colby: And Ronald Reagan didn't always talk that way in 1979.

Dan Blumenthal: And we have been in dark moments before.

Peter Robinson: Morning again in America was his reelection campaign. Things had turned by then.

Dan Blumenthal: But Ronald Reagan made the sustained argument for what we needed to do to defeat communism. And nobody's making the same argument for what we need to do to defeat this axis of Russia, China and Iran. Well, neither of us are politicians. It hasn't been tried.

Peter Robinson: Well, no, it has been tried. Vice President Pence tried it verbatim.

Dan Blumenthal: Well, it hasn't been tried by a president to say this is what we actually need to defeat these threats that we're actually fighting today.

Peter Robinson: Gentlemen, thank you.

Elbridge Colby: Thank you.

Dan Blumenthal: Thank you.

Peter Robinson: Thank you.

Peter Robinson: I tried three or four times in a row to tie this one up neatly and you two just will not have it. Dan Blumenthal, author of "The China Nightmare." And Elbridge Colby, author of "Strategy of Denial." Thank you, Dan, and thank you Elbridge.

Elbridge Colby: Thank you.

Dan Blumenthal: Thanks.

Peter Robinson: For "Uncommon Knowledge," the Hoover Institution and Fox Nation, I'm Peter Robinson.

overlay image