Telling the Truth About Possible War Over Taiwan

Soldiers rush after alighting from an assault amphibious vehicle during a military drill in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan, Jan. 12.


Daniel Ceng/Associated Press

Honesty is not the default policy in Washington these days, so the political and media classes were jolted this weekend by the leak of a private warning by a U.S. general telling his troops to prepare for a possible war with China over Taiwan in two years. Imagine: A warrior telling his troops to be ready for war.

In an internal memo leaked to NBC News, Gen. Michael Minihan told his troops: “I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025.” The general runs the Air Mobility Command, the Air Force’s tank-refueling operation, and he says in his memo that he wants his force to be “ready to fight and win in the first island chain” off the eastern coast of continental Asia. He called for taking more calculated risks in training.

The general’s document won’t be remembered for subtlety. One of his suggestions is that airmen with weapons qualifications start doing target practice with “unrepentant lethality.” Another tells airmen to get their affairs in order. This candor seems to have alarmed higher-ups at the Pentagon, and NBC quoted an unidentified Defense official as saying the general’s “comments are not representative of the department’s view on China.”

But while Gen. Minihan’s words may be blunt, his concern is broadly shared, or ought to be. U.S. Navy Adm.

Phil Davidson

told Congress in 2021 that he worried China was “accelerating their ambitions to supplant the United States,” and could strike Taiwan before 2027. Gen. Minihan came to his post after a tour as deputy of Indo-Pacific Command. He like many others suggested that 2025 may be a ripe moment for Chinese President

Xi Jinping

to move. Taiwan and the U.S. both have presidential elections in 2024 that China may see as moments of weakness.

No less than Secretary of State

Antony Blinken

said last year that Beijing was “determined to pursue reunification” with Taiwan “on a much faster timeline” than it had previously contemplated. Are war-fighters supposed to ignore that message as they prepare for their risky missions?

Gen. Minihan is doing his troops a favor by speaking directly about a war they might have to fight. A recent war game conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies warned that, in a conflict over Taiwan, “the scale of casualties” would “stagger a U.S. military that has dominated battlefields for a generation.” Gen. Minihan’s boom operators are accustomed to working in skies the U.S. controls. Tankers would be essential in a fight for Taiwan given the vast distance over the Pacific—and would be vulnerable to heavy losses.

Former naval officer

Seth Cropsey

explained on these pages last week that America isn’t investing in the ships and weapons stockpiles that would be required to support a long war in the Western Pacific. Such yawning gaps in U.S. preparedness make a decision by Beijing to invade or blockade the democratic island more likely. Preventing a war for Taiwan requires showing Beijing that the U.S. has the means and the will to fight and repel an invasion.

Whatever his rhetorical flourishes, Gen. Minihan seems to understand this, and what Americans should really worry about is that some of his political and military superiors don’t.

Journal Editorial Report: Paul Gigot interviews General Jack Keane. Images: Zuma Press/Polish Defense Ministry via AP Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the January 30, 2023, print edition as ‘Telling the Truth About War Over Taiwan.’

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