Beginning where Admiral A. James Winnefeld and Mr. Michael J. Morell’s “The War that Never Was: Part 1” finished, the following story offers what the end of the beginning could look like, considering their dire and unlikely ending. Using their article as a prelude, the following starts from a point where the decades-old careful balance of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)–United States–Taiwan relationship has ended—no more Three Communiques, no more possibility of China’s peaceful rise, no more Taiwan as part of the “One China.” Assuming such a prelude, there is no need for ambiguity and there are many paths to victory, with leadership, energy, and imagination.
0100Z 1 February 2021, Kaoshiung, Taiwan
It was shocking when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) commandeered the entire five-star hotel to use as barracks. Now, there is only the smoldering remains of the hotel and reporting that very few PLA troops escaped. A force calling itself the Republic of Taiwan Army has taken responsibility for this and several other attacks on the PLA overnight. These attacks, along with a nationwide strike and anti–Communist Party of China (CCP) demonstrations throughout Taiwan and in Shanghai and Hong Kong, are complicating the situation for the PLA.
0900Z 1 February 2021, Kattegat Strait
“Motor Vessel COSCO Glory, M/V COSCO Glory. This is Danish warship Foxtrot 360.”
“Foxtrot 360, this is COSCO Glory.”
“M/V COSCO Glory, this is Danish warship Foxtrot 360. We will be escorting you to Aarhus.”
“Danish warship, COSCO Glory’s destination is Shanghai.”
“M/V COSGO Glory, this is Danish Warship Foxtrot 360, your plans have changed. By order of NATO and Denmark, we will be escorting you to Aarhus Port. We are authorized by our government and the Coalition to board you or use force as necessary.”
Similar conversations were happening on the high seas around the world, as the navies and coast guards of the Coalition seized Chinese-flagged and Chinese-owned shipping. The non-Chinese big shipping companies had been forced into a choice and their unanimous decision, driven by an international blockade and steep insurance rates for ships operating in the PRC littorals, was to stay out of Chinese waters and avoid seizure or destruction by the Coalition. Chinese trade with the world—at sea, overland, and via the airways—was grinding to a halt.
The 12 days since the U.S. Presidential inauguration seemed like minutes. The political mood had shifted completely to focus, not on COVID nor the political divide between the parties, but on the threat posed by the CCP. With the paralysis behind, the President wanted a defense secretary who was an expert on the Asia-Pacific region and who had a theory of victory for the upcoming fight. This led the President to ask people such as Jim Mattis, Ash Carter, Jim Webb, the president of the Naval War College, “Where can I find a creative military leader, who can imagine and deliver victory? Where is my Grant?” After two days, these conversations led to a retired four-star admiral with a lot of Pacific experience; Hank Rasch spoke the truth, was self-deprecating, was not mired in tactics or at least spoke little about them to seniors, and said right up front that this was not going to be easy, nor short-term, but that victory could be achieved.
2100 EST Inauguration Day 2021, Oval Office
“Mr. President, I am honored that you called me here tonight. What can I do for you?”
Directing the admiral to sit on the sofa, “Admiral, I think you know the Vice President. I need you to tell me if we can win this war with China?”
“Mr. President, is there war with China?” raising eyebrows in irony. “There seems to be nothing going on and that everything is over.”
“Admiral, it’s not over. We’re in the middle the first inning, we’re just coming up to bat, and you’re the third person to know. How can we win?
“Mr. President, are the American people up for this?”
“The people will support this fight. Tojo, Sadam Hussein, and Osama Bin Laden all underestimated the American people but died well aware of the danger of waking sleeping giants. It’s not a predictable business, but we Americans don’t have a history of backing down when our interests are attacked. Xi and his cronies don’t realize what they have unleashed.
“Mr. President, how would you define winning?”
“Well, what if I said that I wanted Taiwan free and independent and a reversal of the One China policy globally? Is that doable?”
“Mr. President, that’s well-defined. We can accomplish this if we have the time and the willingness to leave the CCP in a weakened state or possibly out of power.”
“Admiral, it’s fine to leave the CCP in a weakened state, until the Chinese people decide to act for themselves. A free and independent Taiwan serves as an example of what they could have. So, how can we go about it?”
“First, we need to think big. It’s not just us, we will need our friends, all of them.”
“To do what?”
“Mr. President, this is not a hot war right now. We could have ended this a few days ago but that window is closed for now. We need to first demonstrate clearly to the CCP and to the Chinese people the cost they will pay for their actions. We need to isolate the PRC to show them what living in a world without American goodwill looks like. You have a lot of levers, Mr. President, will you use them? If you tell the Navy to deny use of the world’s oceans to the PRC, they will do just that. They will do it best with our Allies—NATO, the Japanese, South Koreans, the Indians, partners around the world; this can be a big coalition once the world sees us standing up and not accepting this aggression.”
“Admiral, would you be my Secretary of Defense?”
“Yes, Mr. President, I would be honored. I would need freedom to shape the military. There are peacetime leaders and wartime leaders. We are going to need a bunch of the latter. I will need to clear the decks—feathers will be ruffled.”
“Of course. Yes, to all. Go out and find folks that know how to fight. I’ve got your back. Would you be able to speak to the NSC tomorrow to lay out your vision for how this can be won?”
“I’ll be ready, Mr. President.”
1100 EST 21 Jan 2021 Entering the Situation Room.
“Welcome back, Hank. The gang’s all here and ready to hear from you.
“Gentlemen, Ladies. The President directed me last night to lay out a vision for victory involving the situation with China and Taiwan and he was gracious enough to let me think about it all night. The first thing that we have to do is to define what victory looks like. The President did that last night, so victory has two elements: (1) Taiwan is free and independent and (2) the One-China policy is ended globally.”
Some movement around the table.
“Team. That’s it. The PRC is on the wrong side of history and we are the only thing that stands in their way. This is going to be what the next four years or more is about and it’s going to be difficult. All our chips are on the table, on these two elements of victory.”
“Well, that was the hard part. The other elements are things that we know how to do: My working description is Communicate, Isolate, Emancipate. The communicate part involves you Mr. President, and State, the Ambassadors, and the CoCom commanders. Moral high ground. We have to be able to explain to the world and to the Chinese people what we are doing and why. We need to build this narrative around what we have to stop the PRC from doing: occupying Taiwan, repressing the Uighurs, occupying Tibet, running a police state, stealing from the whole world, claiming territory that is not theirs, generally being a bully. We have to communicate these messages through and from all elements of government.”
“Yes, this is going to be an all of government effort. Vice President. I will ask you to take this on as your number one job.”
“Yes, Mr. President.”
“To isolate, there are two things that I have in mind. We are not immediately stepping into combat but are going to ramp up pressure to the point that there is almost certainty that we will end up in a shooting war. We must show the world clearly that the CCP does not legitimately represent the Chinese people. Secondly, we have to disconnect them from the rest of the world. To delegitimize the PRC, we need to take away recognition, remove our embassy and consulates, and send their diplomats back to China. This includes their diplomats that serve in the U.N. and other international organizations. We need to request that our friends and allies to do the same. Mr. President, this will be the first test. This will be the world’s first test to take sides. This brings to mind that it has often taken us a while to take sides and action in past wars, so we should expect a mixed bag at the beginning but ultimately nearly total success. When it comes right down to it, the world faces a binary choice. The Chinese Belt and Road initiative and, in fact, the PRC on the world stage, is over.”
“For State, send a cable to Beijing and have our people prepare to depart by Saturday. Summon the PRC ambassador tomorrow at 0800 to your office and tell him that he and all of his people no longer represent a country that we recognize and should depart prior to Monday. We have a lot of phone calls to make, in confidence, before this meeting happens.”
“Yes, Mr. President.”
“Can we really isolate the PRC?”
“Sir, history has some examples of what happens to commercial shipping in war time. The example of the Confederate raiders, like Raphael Semmes, is a good one. A great tactician on the wrong side of the fight, but American shipping, particularly the whaling fleet, never recovered. Another example would be the conversation between the U.S. government and the government of Panama just before World War II. The Roosevelt administration asked Panama to arm their merchants to support the trans-Atlantic resupply effort to Great Britain. President Arnulfo Arias, a Nazi sympathizer, refused and so was removed from office and replaced with someone who would do what we needed. The point of this is that the flags of convenience have to choose, and their choice has to be stark—they can trade with the whole world but not China or they can trade with China and no one else and their security is denied on the high seas.
CIA Director: “Mr. President, I recommend the Agency makes representations to the non-Chinese ship owning companies to inform them of what is going on and to request their support and lay out their alternatives.”
National Security Advisor (NSA): Mr. President, with your permission, I would like to come up with a plan to sequence all of these actions.
President: Good. Work with the Hank. Hank, I know that if there’s one thing that DoD does well, that’s plan; so, get some planners on this right away and have them present a sequencing plan to you and the NSA and then you all present it to me. The planning, the actions all need to be post haste.”
“Yes, Mr. President. Navies don’t exist solely for attacking castles but are about controlling the seas. So, for the upcoming months, China can have the illusion of having control of what they call their near seas. Meanwhile, we are going to be ruling the seas of the rest of the world while their perceived strength crumbles. Some tyrant may deliver a potshot at the beginning of a conflict, but take heart, America and our allies rule the waves.”
“So, Hank. What about emancipate?
“The idea is presenting alternatives to the Chinese people: do you want to live in a democracy with a great cultural heritage or do you want to be ruled by the CCP known for repression and concentration camps? There are irregular warfare things we can do to magnify the paranoia of the CCP and to let the Uighurs, Taiwanese, Tibetans, and others rise up and take the freedom they deserve. The Chinese people deserve a way forward. Taiwan has been an example of what they can be. Honestly, Mr. President, we have a lot of work to do before we get to this part, but this will be in our messaging from the beginning. The beginning of the end of the PRC is delegitimizing this evil regime and cutting it off from the rest of the world. I believe we can set the conditions for China to transform itself away from Xi’s vision.
President: I think we have our first steps. Let’s meet back here tomorrow at 0800. I want the NSA to present the sequencing of the first steps and then we’ll bring the whole cabinet and Hill leadership onboard at 1000. Ask the Gang of Four to come to see me late this afternoon and I’ll give them a heads up. In the meantime, I am going to talk to some of the Allies and get their ideas. With that, we’ve all got work to do. Let’s get to it.
1900 EST 2 Feb 2021 Joint Session of Congress
“Senators and Members of the House, I am honored to stand before you tonight. We are in a period of great risk and hope for the future of our Union and of mankind. I extend my hand across the aisle. There is work to be done and we must do this work together.
The days of American goodwill toward the PRC have been repaid with aggression and are now ended. On the high seas and around the world, our forces and the forces of our allies, partners, and friends are ending decades of Chinese trade with the world through an international blockade enforcement. The United States and a coalition of nations have withdrawn diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China and their participation in many international organizations has now ended.
We are a peace-loving people, but the blatant aggression of the People’s Republic of China has eliminated any possibility that we can live in peace with the Communist Party of China operating unrestrained on the international scene. Our cause is just and has two purposes: A free and independent Taiwan and the end globally of the One China policy. Those are our simple aims. We Americans believe that the peoples of the earth have the right to self-determination and freedom.
Tonight, I am asking Congress to formalize the blockade of the PRC and the permanent removal of recognition of the PRC. I am asking you to pass an act to facilitate the remaking of our supply chains to non-PRC sources. We are now in a long-term struggle to end the CCP reign of terror and to eliminate the PRC being a bully to its neighbors and others around the world. Delegitimized and inward looking, the Chinese people will force their regime to change if they want to reap the benefits of living in a modern, connected, international system.
Our goal is simple: Restoration of Taiwan’s freedoms, now as an independent and recognized republic. This struggle will be difficult and war is likely. We must continue to aggressively prepare for this fight—we will be victorious. If it comes to it, the American people in their righteous might will win through to victory for this country and people of good will everywhere. God Bless the United States of America.”