Progressives in foreign policy: or, where the hell are they?

The dominance of the President, Senator McCain, and Senator Paul on foreign policy should trouble progressives. Why? To state the obvious, because none of these three camps adequately represents the views of most American progressives.

This is true. The President (both Obama right now, and the person who will fill the role in the future) is very likely to pursue a muscular, interventionist foreign policy. He/she is the Commander-in-Chief, and almost certainly has the most immediate and direct influence on foreign policy compared to the sausage factory of domestic politics. McCain, meanwhile, has scarcely seen a fight overseas he would not like to involve the US in. Rand Paul, meanwhile, combines a nominally non-interventionist foreign policy with what I suspect are likely to be Ayn Randian economic and trade views.

What’s more, Chris Murphy has a fairly compelling vision of his own here:

Frankly, it’s not hard to figure out what would be the organizing principles of this vision. A substantial transfer of financial resources from the military budget to buttress diplomacy and foreign aid so that our global anti-poverty budget, not our military budget, equals that of the other world powers combined. A new humility to our foreign policy, with less emphasis on short- term influencers like military intervention and aid, and more effort spent trying to address the root causes of conflict. An end to unchecked mass surveillance programs, at home and abroad, as part of a new recognition that we are safer as a nation when we aren’t so easily labeled as hypocrites for preaching and practicing vastly differently on human and civil rights. And a categorical rejection of torture, under any circumstances.

In a nutshell: an emphasis on diplomatic “soft power,” an increased focus on economic aid, an end to mass surveillance, and a rejection of torture.

Sure, sign me up. To be honest, I suspect you could get many conservatives to agree this is a good start to policy if you change the rhetoric slightly. There are some voters who are never going to be satisfied unless the current US President is literally hacking ISIS members to death with a machete. But if you can convince people that this would shift some of the costs off the US–as it arguably would, since you’d require a smaller military, fewer bases everywhere–you could probably find plenty of sympathetic ears. “Why is Europe allowed to freeload off US defense capabilities?” There.

Of course, the greater challenge might be getting Americans to care about US foreign policy in the first place.


Chinese State-Sponsored Hackers Suspected in Anthem Attack

Well, this is awkward:

Investigators of Anthem Inc.’s data breach are pursuing evidence that points to Chinese state-sponsored hackers who are stealing personal information from health-care companies for purposes other than pure profit, according to three people familiar with the probe.

The breach, which exposed Social Security numbers and other sensitive details of 80 million customers, is one of the biggest thefts of medical-related customer data in U.S. history. China has said in the past that it doesn’t conduct espionage through hacking.

The attack appears to follow a pattern of thefts of medical data by foreigners seeking a pathway into the personal lives and computers of a select group — defense contractors, government workers and others, according to a U.S. government official familiar with a more than year-long investigation into the evidence of a broader campaign.

I have two conflicting responses to this: one, this is fairly normal fare for rival nation-states, and two, this is creepy and possibly an escalation of what was known before. That China has a keen interest in US military technology is no secret, and should not be. That China is almost certainly stealing US technology is similarly not news. That China may be sponsoring hackers to steal private health information of defense contractors, federal employees, on the other hand is news to me.

My first guess would be that this might be useful to determine who might be vulnerable to bribes. If Timmy the Contractor has some serious medical conditions, and you can hack into his bank and determine his overall financial picture isn’t great either, that’s useful information.

I’m honestly not sure how useful knowledge of peoples’ health conditions alone would be. Obama has asthma, so let’s smuggle some mold into the White House? Billy with the DIA smokes, so let’s slowly increase the nicotine dosage on his cigarettes to shave 2 years off his life? Clearly I’m not very imaginative here.

China’s Scary Plans for Global Domination! etc


Hello! It’s been a while. I’ve been reading through End of the Line slowly, and it’s taken up a lot of my spare time.

I read an interesting article on, one of the many smaller news websites like proliferating lately, about China’s secret strategy of global domination. To wit:

China launched a secret 100-year modernization program that deceived successive U.S. administrations into unknowingly promoting Beijing’s strategy of replacing the U.S.-led world order with a Chinese communist-dominated economic and political system, according to a new book by a longtime Pentagon China specialist.

For more than four decades, Chinese leaders lulled presidents, cabinet secretaries, and other government analysts and policymakers into falsely assessing China as a benign power deserving of U.S. support, says Michael Pillsbury, the Mandarin-speaking analyst who has worked on China policy and intelligence issues for every U.S. administration since Richard Nixon.

This is sort of an odd way to start, honestly. It portrays China as this monolithic, scheming entity who has tricked the United States into investing many billions of dollars of capital into it. This is peculiar because the US has been using China to fulfill its own economic policy ambitions at least since Nixon visited China in 1972. The Sino-Soviet split was a VERY well-known wedge between the two biggest Communist nations on Earth, and the US had been trying to use this to its advantage since 1960.

The dream of going to China, and getting access to that sweet, sweet market of 1 billion people, was alive and well in the 19th century. St. Louis was going to be a waystation on the way to Greater Asia. The importance of the Northwest Passage, that futile attempt to find a water route through North America, was entirely so ships could sail to China easily. When Matthew Perry arrived in Japan, it was mostly to ensure US steamships could have a refueling point en route to their real destination.

The accusation of a “Chinese communist-dominated economic and political system,” moreover, rings of protesting too much. It’s like Soviet premiers who couldn’t believe American presidents could actually lose elections. The author is projecting US policy goals (we have a Space Command, for goodness sakes) onto China.

This is not to say that China does not have long-term political and economic goals. I would hope its nations leaders do, since they manage a nation of 1+ billion people, many of whom remain illiterate and impoverished. I think that policy analysts who focus heavily on China’s foreign policy are putting themselves at risk of overlooking the obvious: that China is basically its own giant continent, with significant problems that tend to demand a lot of time and money from Beijing. The US does not have ethnic minority separatist states, to my knowledge. Texas may talk of secession but it is absolutely not serious.

This is also not to say that China’s foreign policy goals will overlap with US goals much or if at all, and I think Mr. Pillsbury is wise to be wary here. But speaking of China’s nefarious 100-year-plan to become a global hegemon overlooks the obvious fact that the United States is presently the one and only global hegemon. Let us see what Mr. Pillsbury thinks our relationship with China was:

“We believed that American aid to a fragile China whose leaders thought like us would help China become a democratic and peaceful power without ambitions of regional or even global dominance,” Pillsbury wrote.

This is absurd. China, again, has 1 billion people. One hundred years ago, they were basically living under a feudal agricultural system. Today they are a nuclear power whose middle-class coastal population alone is greater than the entire population of the US or EU. Of course they are going to be more ambitious now that they have a wealthier populace. They have a lot of power, and China has not historically flexed it very far beyond the South China Sea.

China now is wealthier and wants to raise its citizens’ standard of living while also fulfilling goals that are either antithetical to or indifferent to US ones (procuring raw industrial resources, helping its wealthiest citizens become even richer, re-gaining Taiwan). When Hagrid raised a dragon in Harry Potter, we the readers were not surprised to find out this would be dangerous. Sooner or later, the dragon grows up.


There is still much to be optimistic about. China and the US are heavily interconnected economically, and any open conflict between the two nations would be utterly devastating. US military technology and spending levels furthermore render a military conflict unthinkable. That does mean, however, that you should not be surprised if China seeks to gain advantage economically. It is entirely normal.

The only way that being afraid of China’s behavior makes sense is if you also concede that other nations should be afraid of America’s behavior. Because it too is a large, powerful nation.

Postscript: I think it is entirely reasonable for other nations to be at least somewhat afraid of US actions. It is a large, powerful nation and it is going to sometimes pursue goals that are not your own. This should be expected, however. It’s par for the course. I feel like many American foreign policy journalists and scholars are genuinely surprised when we’re reminded that other nations don’t welcome American hegemony as much as Americans do. Of course they don’t!

Related Storify I wrote yesterday: