China’s Scary Plans for Global Domination! etc

matthew_perry

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 freebeacon.com, one of the many smaller news websites like Vox.com 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.

dragon-drawing-2Surprise!

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: https://storify.com/haircuthippie/on-china-s-secret-plans-for-global-domination

Today’s big story, John Brennan’s press conference etc

The big topic of the day is John Brennan’s unusual press conference given this afternoon. I don’t get the impression that the CIA (or just CIA for those people in the know, apparently) likes to have much sunlight on its activities, so this was a bit of a rare opportunity. It was made stranger by Senator Dianne Feinstein live-Tweeting rebuttals to some of Brennan’s statements as he was making them.

I can only imagine having the Senate Intelligence Chair and CIA Director at odds does not bode particularly well for either intelligence-gathering or intelligence oversight.

The press conference itself seemed rather unremarkable to me. John Brennan is a career CIA officer, and his job is basically to defend his organization and the President. That he prefers to label torture as “EITs,” that he tried to minimize the problem to a handful of problem individuals, that he insisted on the general legality of those CIA officers’ actions, was all unsurprising to me.

I was more surprised how willing the journalists present were to go along with Brennan’s judgments. I understand Brennan has to do his job, but surely the reporters have to do theirs as well? Brennan has to do damage control, but does the press have to basically accept all of his conclusions? The lack of honestly challenging questions WAS surprising to me. I understand that reporters in Washington politics often show a lot of deference to high-ranking officials, but come on now.

I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Dick Cheney’s handling of this kind of stuff. His approach is basically: yes, we tortured, it worked, and we’d do it again if similar circumstances arose.

Are his views abhorrent and wrong? Sure. Can you argue directly with them instead of spending hours arguing over what “stress positions” are legal, or exactly how many agents did what, or how many detainees were involved, or what Bush knew when? Yes. This mealy-mouthed shit about EITS just obfuscates the real debate, which should be whether this is the sort of stuff America wants its government doing. I see the torture scandal as a real challenge to America’s values–if we’re torturing people, how are we different from ISIS? Are we?

  • The Cheney view is: we’re on Team USA, and if you fuck with us we’re going to torture and kill you, regardless of the cost in money, lives, and time.
  • My view is: we’re all humans, members of one species and one planet, and there are certain ethical limits we as a country shouldn’t cross if we want to aspire to be any better than any other nation. Torture is profoundly unethical and our government shouldn’t engage in it. And it’s a fucking terrible method of gathering intelligence.
  • The EITS view is: Well we were briefed originally in 2007 maybe or was it 2009 and we had either 101 or 129 detainees but maybe it was more and um we had sites in Poland and Thailand maybe and Egypt? oh gosh what was the question um so President Bush knew what was going on and so did Congress and the American people really were OK with this anyway even if we didn’t tell them everything and 9/11 was bad and…