BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT
Old Bureaucracies Die Hard
When the Cold War ended and over 200 new countries came into fruition, America experienced its “unipolar moment,” as Charles Krauthammer dubbed the 1990s. The United States was a giant straddling the world; there was nothing we could not achieve and there was no part of the world that was denied to us. For the entirety of the Cold War, the United States had spent an inordinate amount of time pushing capitalism and liberal democracy upon the world. This was as much of a cynical calculation as it was a true ideological imperative: the Soviets were a revolutionary power opposed to capitalism and liberal democracy. The entire purpose of Soviet foreign policy (at least on paper) was to further the Communist revolution across the world. Therefore, the United States needed to not only counter the Soviet military threat with a massive arms buildup and covert intelligence capabilities, but it also had to compete for the world’s hearts and minds.
Thus, championing human rights, calling for elections in oppressed lands, and advertising the true benefits of capitalism to the world became deeply ingrained in U.S. foreign policy. They were necessary for projecting what we now refer to as “soft power.” These ideological, soft power policies, were instrumental in helping to gain supporters even from behind the Iron Curtain.
Moreover, the American government had become used to maintaining bureaucracies primed for ideological confrontation. When the Cold War ended (the defense establishment had assumed that the conflict would rage for another 40 years when things collapsed in 1991), the bureaucracies that helped to bring about that historic, mostly peaceful victory remained. From NATO to the legacy defense projects at the Pentagon, America still armed itself and funded its military as though the Soviets were just over-the-horizon. The missionary zeal of American anti-Soviet policies that was instrumental during the Cold War became an inhibitor to innovation at the bureaucratic level. Consequently, America’s national security threat (as well as its economic might) were paradoxically threatened by the continued existence of the bloated Cold War defense establishment. That stodgy establishment failed to recognize and quickly reorient itself toward addressing new and rising threats in the post-Cold War era (stateless terror groups or countering a rising China).
Clearly, as with all bureaucracies, old habits die hard.
After the Cold War ended, the United States retained its commitment to spreading liberal capitalist democracy. Using its unparalleled global military power (as well as its international alliance system), the United States broke down trade barriers and encouraged a process of trade liberalization we know today as “globalization.” It worked. More people in more places around the world were lifted out of poverty because of these policies than at any other period in time (1 billion people in the last 20 years, according to The Economist). Yet, what few dare to mention is that the majority (about 680 million out of 1 billion) of those people lifted out of otherwise hopeless poverty were in China (cue Alfred Hitchcock-like music). While this is a victory for humanity, it is a loss for the United States.
Because, despite what Libertarian scholars, such as Charles Murray believe, the Chinese did not embrace “entrepreneurial capitalism” of the sort that we in the United States enjoy and have championed. No, the Chinese engaged in something known as “state capitalism,” or a system of limited economic liberalization with strict government control–where, ultimately, the profits produced from economic activity are used to empower the state (whilst “lifting” vast numbers of the population out of poverty).
Back in the United States (particularly in coastal cities), many Americans made out like bandits during this period, too. In fact, in many cases, those who were considered “middle class” saw their fortunes rise to such a degree that they were elevated to the upper class (or, at least, the “upper middle class”). This, in part, helps to explain why there was a diminishing of the middle class in the West during this time. Indeed, in many cases the reason why so many American “upper class” households were getting a higher share of income over the last 20-30 years compared to their middle class counterparts was because there were more households in the upper class than in the middle class for the first time in history!
Of course, there was a darker side to the impact of globalization (as well as sadder explanation for why much of the middle class shrank, despite such an historic explosion of global wealth, especially after the 2008 Great Recession). While many were getting rich from easy trade policy (and loose fiscal policy on the part of the Fed), many people in the old blue-collar, working-class industrial communities throughout the American Midwest (and countless other rural areas in mostly Western countries) were being left behind. Indeed, in many cases, their livelihoods were being stripped away from them purposely by the same big corporations in America that were pushing for greater trade liberalization on the international stage. In places throughout the former Communist bloc, or places that were once the ideological battlegrounds of the Cold War, like the Developing world, these big Western companies were transplanting the jobs previously held by the Western working-class into countries like Mexico, India, and yes, China.
And, while the post-Cold War period saw the institutionalization of globalism (and all of the follow-on prosperity and downsides), the process began in the 1970s. It was a byproduct of America’s aforementioned ideological commitment to spreading democracy and capitalism globally. When the Soviet Union collapsed and entirely new markets opened up, however, the process was put into hyper speed. Do you know who benefited most from this trend? Sure, the Western states that had defeated the Soviet Union got richer (at least, the elites certainly did). But, more than anyone else, it was America’s one-time ally, the People’s Republic of China.
In many ways, the Chinese learned at the feet of the West. Despite retaining the worst aspects of the Communist political system, the Chinese embraced capitalism as a means of getting rich, empowering their otherwise sclerotic political system, and remaining competitive on the global stage. While the United States euphemistically referred to the 1990s as the “end of history,” the Chinese continued to view the world in classical geopolitical terms: the Chinese had no permanent enemies or allies, merely permanent interests. Remember Deng Xiaoping’s dictum mentioned in part one: “hide your capabilities and bide your time.” Compare that with Francis Fukuyama’s wistful claims that the world experienced the “end of history” following the Cold War. Neither China nor the United States were operating in the same reality.
From this perspective, the entire Western world had entered a Kantian paradise in which its members had turned away from power in varying degrees. Criticizing the Europe’s post-historical power malaise, Robert Kagan wrote in his 2003 book “Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe In the New World Order.” that,
“Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation [in the European Union]. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant’s ‘perpetual peace.’ Meanwhile, the United States remains mired in history, exercising power in an anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable, and where the true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might.”
Kagan was correct about the diverging European and American worldview. However, his work almost exclusively focused on the major division within the Western world (in response to the George W. Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003). Opening the aperture a bit more, looking at the Western world vs. “the rest,” one sees something entirely different. While it’s true, the United States is much more “mired in history” compared to Europe, the Western world compared to the Eastern world–specifically, China–is completely in a post-historical world. The Chinese are (and have been) playing for keeps, as I proved in part one of this essay. America has been playing for the world’s first participation prize in global affairs.
Take Kagan’s opening paragraph cited above and apply it to the East-West divide today (as Niall Ferguson refers to it as “the West and the Rest”). In this example, the West encapsulates North America and Europe primarily. Replace all references to “Europe” in Kagan’s quote with the “West,” and exchange all references to the “United States” with “China.” Read it again with this in mind.
And, while the United States certainly does have greater military power–and a willingness to use it–than their European partners do, keep in mind what I wrote about above in how the United States’ post-Cold War foreign policy was predicated on becoming nothing more than “armed humanitarians” and dedicated Democratic Globalists. These policies, whether intentional or not, squandered America’s historic Cold War victory and sapped America of its greatest strengths: its self-confidence, its economic might, and and its martial ethos. From 1991-2016, America self-immolated as China slowly rose, consuming as much advanced technology, wealth, industry, and military knowledge from America as it could.
Cowering Generals and Crowing Professors
Retired U.S. Army Intelligence Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters wrote a withering response in 2007 in The American Interest to an article penned by then-General David Petraeus, in which the former General insisted that America’s military leaders needed greater levels of higher education to be effective in modern combat (Petraeus holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from Princeton). Responding to what Peters viewed as Petraeus’ mistaken assertion, Peters wrote of the withering of America’s once-mighty martial ethos by stating, “It has been heartbreaking to watch our timid military leadership tie itself into knots in Iraq as it tried to wage the sort of conflict academics assured them was necessary.”
Peters asserted that the politically correct, Leftist bent of modern academia–and the military’s insistence on sending its officers for additional training to these universities–has created a strategic culture in America of “cowering generals and crowing professors.” All one need do is read Barry Rubin’s book, “The Silent Revolution: How the Left Rose to Political Power and Cultural Dominance,” or James Piereson’s book, “Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order,” to get a sense of how bad modern academia is in terms of imbuing its students (let alone military officers) with the knowledge and skill sets required to be effective on the battlefield of life. Indeed, contrary to former General Petraeus’ assertion that, “The benefits of civilian education are substantial,” former Lieutenant Colonel Peters believes that the more civilian education our military officers receive, the less effective they are in combat.
While the post-Vietnam War All Volunteer Force (AVF) has likely been a net boon for both the morale of our military (and also for our economy), critics would argue that since the creation of the AVF, the United States military’s success record has been mixed: Four wins (Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, Kosovo), two losses (Somalia in 1993 and Iraq, 2011), one stalemate bordering on a loss (Afghanistan, 2017), with one undecided (ISIS in the Levant).
I disagree with the critics on this point, though. There is something to be said about imbuing our population with a martial ethos that can only come through conscription, however, Milton Friedman’s assertion that an “army of slaves” (e.g. conscripts) is not an effective force rings true. So, the current AVF’s ineffectiveness has less to do with the fighting force and more to do with political and military elites who craft policies.
Indeed, the Vietnam War was fought with a conscripted American force and the United States still lost the war. What’s the common factor then? The political class and their sycophants in academia (as well as political generals in the military, more interested in playing the Potomac Two-Step than actually winning a war). Just read “Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam,” by the current Trump Administration National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, for a better snapshot of some of America’s problems in this regard. Also, for a more general critique of America’s elites, check out Christopher Lasch’s “The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy.”
Thomas E. Ricks is a renowned national security journalist currently writing for Foreign Policy. Since 1997, he has documented the previously unseen dangers of having only one percent of America’s population involved with the military (and of that small cohort of Americans, 80 percent of them have non-combat roles). According to Ricks, “more than twenty years [the article was written in 1997] after the end of conscription the ignorance of American elites about the military has deepened.” As such, the military, evoking Peters again, is led by “Hamlets,” the “unmanly prince” who “dithers, stalking himself, until his belated action—inevitably, too complex in its conception—leaves the stage covered with bodies, including his own,” while the Henry V’s of the military’s lower ranks, those who “win battles because [they aren’t] afraid to get close to the enemy and kill him,” are wasted talent.
Peters further critiques the Petraeus article:
“The basic question regarding university and postgraduate education for military officers is, ‘How much is enough?’ Certainly, every officer should have a four-year degree, without which he or she would not be sufficiently attuned to the broader frequencies of American society. For many officers, a master’s degree or the equivalent makes sense, as well. But a Ph.D. is deadly (if not to the officer receiving it, then to his subordinates). I know of not a single troop-leading general—not one—whom I believe is a more effective combat commander because he holds a doctorate. On the contrary, too much formal education clouds a senior officer’s judgment, inhibits his instincts and slows his decision-making. I have watched with dismay the process of unlearning necessary for the too-cerebral officer to become the visceral killer any battlefield demands. For the better sort, war does eventually knock the Hamlet out of them, but at what interim price? Even Schopenhauer, hardly an illiterate, warned that an excess of theoretical knowledge obscures reality.”
Books like Shannon D. Beebe (who was a Colonel when she worked with Mary Kaldor) and Mary Kaldor’s “The Ultimate Weapon Is No Weapon: Human Security and the New Rules of War and Peace,” or General David Petraeus’ concepts of counterinsurgency (COIN)–winning of the hearts and minds through acts of kindness at the tactical level–are ubiquitous among our military officers today.
To punctuate Peters’ accurate critique of the Petraeus line of thought, the crusty retired Lieutenant Colonel recounts an interaction he had with a fellow Army Lieutenant Colonel buddy of his:
“A lieutenant colonel responded to an observation of mine by puffing himself up and beginning, ‘Speaking as a social scientist—’
‘You’re not a social scientist’, I told him. ‘You’re a soldier.’
He looked startled. ‘Well, I’m a social scientist and a soldier.’
‘No. You can’t be both. Which is it?’
To a lay reader, this conversation may strike no chords, but soldiering is a vocation akin to a religious calling. One may have other skills, but no soldier—no real soldier—would ever define himself first as a social scientist or as anything else. All else is secondary to the calling, and when the calling fades, it is the soldier’s last duty to shed his uniform before shaming it.
The conversation got worse. The ‘social scientist’ had published a book based on his academic work on campus. Having addressed mid-20th-century counterinsurgency operations, he was determined to apply ‘his’ solutions to radically different 21st-century conflicts. In the best academic tradition, he had no intention of letting the facts interfere. Unfortunately, this officer had been tasked to write Army doctrine. The draft manual he produced was utterly out of touch with reality. Its irrelevance was the topic of our meeting.
Confronted with the utter nonsense the manual propounded, the officer was challenged to defend his winning-hearts-and-minds, don’t-shoot, negotiate-with-the-sheikh-and-don’t-hurt-his-feelings approach to defeating insurgents (one is compelled to add that the officer and his associates also honored the academic tradition of writing very badly). Pressed, the officer admitted, in front of several of his peers, that the most effective technique employed by the unit with which he had served in Iraq wasn’t handing out soccer balls, but strapping dead insurgents across the front of their tanks and driving around for the locals to get a good look—after which the relatives had to come to the military base to ask for the bodies.
‘Well, why isn’t that in the manual, if that’s what worked?’ I asked.
It was a rhetorical question. The manual in question wasn’t about defeating insurgents, but about political correctness. The officer isn’t a bad man nor even the worst sort of careerist—on the contrary, he’s quite talented. But he was determined to defend his thesis to the end, no matter if we lost the struggle in Iraq. He couldn’t see that his airy theorizing was going to get soldiers killed for nothing. He had compartmentalized the techniques that actually worked for him and his peers in Iraq from those which he knew the military and political establishment wanted to hear. No conscious decision was involved: This is what the campus had done to him.
The military’s adulation of dead theorists at the expense of current experience would be laughable were it not costing the lives of our soldiers and Marines while failing to accomplish the missions assigned to our forces. Even the most talented general with a doctorate must go through the process of unlearning to rid himself of the last century’s intellectual baggage, finally enabling himself to see ‘das Ding an sich’, reality itself.”
The erosion of America’s martial prowess was never more apparent than in our inability to effectively resolve the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here were two countries that, for different reasons, had been targeted by America’s political leaders. In both cases, these two states were no match for the awesome power of the United States military and its attendant intelligence services. Yet, for whatever reason, once inserted into the conflict, the United States military began to function as nothing more than a big, green, meals-on-wheels machine. At a time when technology, economics, and logistical realities implied that the United States needed to fight in a nimbler, more agile way that reduced its military footprint in civil conflicts–such as the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ultimately were–the American government consigned its Armed Forces to the role of eternal beat cop in the land of the ultimate gangbangers.
To show you the delusional thinking of America’s post-Cold War, politically correct strategic culture, the United States was attacked by jihadists on 9/11 for very specific historical, political, and religious reasons. Instead of responding swiftly by identifying the threat (global jihadism) and warring against those forces, America declared a “Global War on Terror” (affectionately known as “GWOT”), while Presidents George W. Bush, and later, Barack Obama, both took to the airwaves during their presidencies to insist that Islam is not the enemy (Islam isn’t the enemy per se, but Islamism certainly is!). All the meanwhile, the Islamists continued increasing their destructive operational tempo against the United States, its Armed Forces, and its allies–both in the Mideast and around the world.
Ye who gets to name names, wins.
On top of that, rather than playing up America’s strengths in high technology and Special Forces; rather than tethering U.S. war policy to very specific ends-ways-means, the Bush and, Obama Administrations, led us down the rabbit hole of eternal police action in distant, foreign lands. Such endless warfare eschewed the concepts of victory, long-practiced by the U.S. military, and championed the policies of conflict resolution and other meaningless social sciences. In other words, as Victor Davis Hanson has argued, America has taken to fighting premodern enemies with postmodern tactics. It’s a born-to-lose solution. But, as the villainous Brother Cavil in the 2004 series, Battlestar Galactica, once sarcastically quipped, “Bureaucracy must be served!”
America’s strategic culture was killed by the same politically correct, Democratic Globalism that led our armies into the quicksand of Mideast politics, and then abandoned them as political winds in Washington, the imperial capital, shifted against the wars. Our internationalist, technocratic elite became pensive and indecisive at the very moment that decisiveness and boldness were needed. Thanks to the fickleness of our ruling elite–both Republican and Democratic–America’s warfighters were tasked with merely experiencing warfare (so-called “war tourism”), rather than being allowed to fight and win the war. After all, postmodern warfare theory, as espoused by Democratic Globalists who are enamored with ideas of Kantian “perpetual peace,” is nihilistic and relative in nature. It is a matter of the present, divorced from a strategic end goal in the future, and ignorant of the past.
Chinese Strategic Culture: Mired In History
In his classic science fiction novel, “War of the Worlds,” H.G. Wells wrote of his villainous Martians:
“No-one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space. No-one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinized, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets. And yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us…”
In a similar fashion, as Americans busied themselves trying to remake a broken world in its image–trying to turn the Mideast into the Midwest (and failing terribly in the process)–the Chinese studied their American foes from afar. While we put on the longest-running, global pyrotechnical display for the world to observe, the Chinese continued hiding their capabilities and biding their time.
Initially shocked by the American military’s success in Desert Storm, the Chinese began a decades-long reassessment of their force structure and strategic culture. They assumed that the face of modern warfare was one of high-technology coupled with rapid mobility. Integrated warfare involving the ability to rapidly mass on a target, defeat it, and disperse, to repeat in short order again, was essential. So, the Chinese began downsizing its Cold War-era forces and investing in tactics and forces that would be essential in overcoming America’s military advantages.
In 1996, the Taiwan Strait Crisis sent an additional shiver up the Politburo’s spine: in trying to prevent the election of pro-separatist elements in the Taiwanese election of that year, Beijing ordered its massive missile forces to begin launching warning shots across the Taiwan Strait. The Clinton Administration responded by sailing an aircraft carrier through the strait, in an attempt to deter Chinese aggression and reassure the Taiwanese. It worked. The crisis was averted. But only temporarily. For China, the Taiwan issue is akin to the way that Lincoln viewed the South in the Civil War: a critical piece of their country that cannot allowed to be cleaved away–especially by a hostile foreign state, such as the United States (for more on Lincoln’s diplomacy toward foreign actors involving themselves in the American Civil War read, Amanda Foreman’s “A World On Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War.”) The Chinese realized how vulnerable to American military might they were. They resolved to remedy that vulnerability.
In 1997, the Chinese Communist Party was given a proverbial shot of confidence, when the British completed its handover of the prosperous colony of Hong Kong to China. Believing that history was truly on its side, Chinese leader Jiang Zemin is reported to have quipped to then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Britain and China could “finally move beyond their troubled history.” Blair, being a typical vacuous Western elite, admitted later that he had no idea how serious Zemin was in that statement; Blair, like so many post-historical Westerners, could not countenance how relevant history–even seemingly ancient history–is to China.
Three fateful years after the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, during NATO’s Kosovo Air War in 1999, an American fighter jet accidentally bombed the Chinese consulate in Belgrade, killing Chinese citizens and vaporizing sovereign Chinese territory. The Chinese Communist Party truly believed that the attack was intentional and that America was signaling to China that it would not tolerate China’s rise. After these incidents, China became wedded to the notion that it was destined to fulfill Napoleon’s prediction of becoming a giant who will shake the world.
More ominously, however, the Chinese became convinced that the United States wanted to prevent China’s rise at all costs–even at the risk of war. So, China set about anticipating being stuck in what Harvard strategist, Graham Allison, refers to as the “Thucydides Trap.” This is Allison’s notion that, throughout history, existing powers are more likely to use force to try and prevent a rising power from disrupting the existing political order–akin to what happened between the Athenians and the Spartans in the Peloponnesian War.
The book, “Unrestricted Warfare: China’s Master Plan to Destroy America,” written by two Senior Colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, called for China resorting to asymmetrical warfare as a means of defeating the United States. According to these Chinese strategists, no military force on the planet can rival the kind of conventional military dominance that the United States enjoys–at least not for some time. The Soviet Union tried to match America’s military power and innovation, with the attempt ultimately ending in the collapse of the Soviet Union. After having exhaustively studied American culture, politics, economics, and military life, Qiao and Wang observed, “Everything that can benefit mankind can also harm him.”
Qiao and Wang insist that China prepare for Full-Spectrum warfare, using the Internet, space, computers, terrorism, international law, economic warfare, disinformation in an integrated fashion. The goal for such a war would be to remove the U.S. military’s technological supremacy, while at the same time disrupting ordinary American life to such a degree with cyber warfare, attacks on America’s civilian satellites, economic warfare, and terrorism (the young people of China broke out in celebrations when news of the 9/11 terror attacks reached them–though the Chinese government had no connection to the attacks at all) to sow confusion both in America’s Armed Forces as well as in America’s civilian population, giving China the time it needed to achieve its foreign policy goals.
Or, as is written in the “Thirty-Six Stratagems,”
“Strategy 20 混水摸鱼, Fish in Disturbed Waters:
Before engaging your enemy’s forces create confusion to weaken his perception and judgment. Do something unusual, strange, and unexpected as this will arouse the enemy’s suspicion and disrupt his thinking. A distracted enemy is thus more vulnerable.”
By making life hell on average Americans, the two PLA colonels assumed that it would sap the American peoples’ will to “meddle” in Chinese foreign affairs. Plus, by using asymmetrical warfare to neuter the American military’s technological supremacy, the Chinese figured that they would be fully free to do as they pleased in East Asia (and eventually, the world).
Why were the Chinese interested in taking on America in such a horrendous fashion? For the same reasons that the jihadists opted to attack America on 9/11: pride and historical resentment tethered to extreme geopolitical ambition. Since Mao Zedong, the Chinese vowed to become so powerful that they never again be threatened by foreign plots to violate Chinese sovereignty, as it endured throughout the “Century of Humiliation.” It was the 19th century, the so-called “Century of Humiliation,” in which Western colonial empires (as well as the Japanese) sliced and diced China as though it were a piece of meat.
Meanwhile, as evidenced above, America’s political elite entered into its own, self-induced “century of humiliation,” following the Cold War when the elite corrupted our political system with anti-American globalism; they warped an entire generation of military leaders with ineffective strategic teachings; and, as you are about to see, the elite sold America’s economic vitality out to the highest bidder–in this case, the Chinese.
“I create nothing! I own.” – Gordon Gekko, “Wall Street”
Thus, in the 1990s, as American businessmen sought greater access to the vast, untapped, and lucrative Chinese market, the Chinese insisted that they be given special treatment by the West (unequal treaties, if you will). Most Western business leaders would have defended their bad trade deals with China as having lived up to their fiduciary responsibilities. These deals not only undermined America’s national security in the process, but they also negatively impacted the economic security of scores of middle class and low-income workers.
To be fair, you really cannot blame the executives. After all, they did have a fiduciary responsibility to their corporations’ shareholders. Since the 1980s, something known as “shareholder capitalism” became the dominant form of capitalism in the economic realm (think Gordon Gekko of Wall Street fame). While there is nothing inherently wrong with this form of capitalism, it is very shortsighted from a national security and geopolitical perspective. Whereas during the Second World War, there are many tales of American corporate leaders abandoning their fiduciary responsibility in order to place their companies in the service to the United States during its wartime crucible, under shareholder capitalist system, such nationalist altruism on the part of corporate executives is impossible–especially in such a globalized world today.
Shareholder Capitalism places great emphasis on maximizing the profits of a corporation at all costs, in order to benefit that corporation’s shareholders (who tend to be normal folks, like you and I, who just happen to have a stake in a company). Whereas previous corporate executives before the 1980s, might have been concerned about the national security implications of doing business with a potential rival state, like China, today’s executives are taught in business school, and encouraged by the very economic system itself, to eschew such political and military concerns in favor of their corporate interests. And, while this would be tragic yet mostly inconsequential to you and I, the fact that most political leaders and parties are beholden to corporate special interests, means that the shareholder capitalist perspective is given far greater weight in policy circles than most other perspectives of a nationalist bent are given.
Ergo, Republican and Democratic leaders, such as Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, became convinced that they could turn China into a liberal democracy through trade liberalization. The argument was that China could become a major rival to the United States. But, in America’s period of post-history, wars of any kind (aside from Humanitarian Warfare) were obsolete. The way forward was in economics. Rather than risking another Cold War with another nuclear power–this time, China–why not trade with China? Once the Chinese get rich off of business with the West, they will inevitably democratize, and the threat will vanish.
So, China’s immediate demands for one-sided trade deals seemed like a passing phase of parochialism to such Liberal Internationalists and “Realists” in the U.S. government (as well as an economic boon for the shareholder capitalists who comprised the boardrooms of most major corporations in the West). However, it was, in fact, part of a larger Chinese grand strategy to achieve regional dominance in East Asia and, ultimately, global hegemony. As you saw in the first part of this series, Chinese history is replete with the Chinese overcoming superior foes with the combination of time, indoctrination, and economic interdependence–what Edward N. Luttwak referred to as “barbarian-handling tools.”
President Bill Clinton, who displaced the presumptive winner of the 1992 U.S. presidential election (by campaigning on the notion that all of America’s post-Cold War concerns should only involve “the economy, stupid!”) bought into the notion of democratization-through-trade completely. Clinton and his team reasoned that through trade, America’s economy would expand while U.S. companies would act as the vanguard of inevitable political liberalization and ultimate democratization in China. Yet, former President Clinton didn’t seem to understand that, although the Chinese had famously decreed, “to get rich is glorious!” (well, maybe) the old Communist political system (and its leadership) remained in control of China, and would only countenance “reform” so long as it benefited their monopoly on power.
The Clinton policy became loosely referred to as “convergence” (as in our shared economic interests with China would ultimately converge in a shared worldview of liberal capitalist democracy). In this utopian vision (utopianism being a tragic commonality among Western leaders in the post-Cold War era), China would abandon all pretense of being a separate, competitive power aimed at making the world system less American and more Chinese. Instead, thanks to convergence, the Chinese would become just another player–an indistinct widget, if you will–in the American-led Liberal International Order happily cooperating with Japan and Britain alike in a plug-in-and-play model of foreign policy and trade (that somehow knelt before the United States).
It’s an intoxicating fantasy, one that I fully admit I was sympathetic to in my college years. But, after 20 years of promising to liberalize in exchange for greater degrees of favorable trade; after watching my Midwestern family and friends gutted economically and socially by such utopian trade policies, how can anyone still believe that convergence has any hope of success with China? Or that convergence did anything other than turn China from a backward, agrarian land, into a full-fledged preeminent global power seeking to topple America’s much-vaunted hegemony? Rather than forcing China to supplicate before America’s strength and largesse, convergence inspired China toward greater opposition–albeit on subtle and covert levels–to American foreign policy.
After the failed democratic revolution during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, the Chinese Communist Party was disinclined to even countenance any thought of democratic reform (lest the CCP lose its cushy monopoly on power). Indeed, from 1989 onward, American presidents should have looked at the way that the Chinese government treated its own “unruly” children (the Tiananmen Square protesters were mostly teenagers and college students) for insight into the trustworthiness and reliability of China as a strategic U.S. partner. The Chinese government, despite all of its notions of “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” or capitalist, free market reform, was still a politically Communist state at heart. Thus, Chinese leaders live by the old Leninist credo, that the “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them.”
With friends like these, right?
And what of Clinton’s “convergence” theory?
Well, as Peter Navarro has documented in his documentary series on the matter, “Death By China,” the Chinese have not been made more liberal or democratic by their embrace of capitalism. In fact, their embrace of state capitalism has taken the economic fruits of trade liberalization, globalization, and slightly “free market” reforms in China, and used that money to buttress the political power of the Communist Party. This is an argument that journalist James Mann makes well in his 2007 book, “The China Fantasy: Why Capitalism Will Not Bring Democracy to China,” According to Mann, Western companies (such as Yahoo!) opted to hand over the identities of several Chinese dissidents (who were using Yahoo! email accounts to communicate their “subversive” ideas) to China’s state security services, so as to avoid losing their lucrative business deals in China.
In fact, this is not the only time that we’ve seen Western companies compromising basic Western values in order to do business in China. Recently, JPMorgan Chase was forced to pay out $264 million to the United States government, when it hired several children–the so-called “Princelings”–of prominent Chinese Communist Party officials, in order to win business in China. This sort of pay-to-play scheme is typical in China, in which the notoriously corrupt Chinese Communist Party insists that foreign companies pay them for granting foreign companies exclusive access to Chinese markets (in a sort of New Age “tributary system,” that the Chinese emperors of old insisted upon when dealing with the “barbarians”). Conversely, in 2010, Google refused to embrace China’s state censorship rules and was therefore evicted from the country.
In his 2008 book on the matter, “In the Jaws of the Dragon: America’s Fate in the Coming Age of Chinese Hegemony,” former George H.W. Bush Administration economist (and China expert), Eamonn Fingleton, makes the startling claim that rather than being converted to liberal democracy through trade, China’s wily Communist Party merely converted Western businesses and elites through trade! These businesses, according to Fingleton, once thoroughly corrupted by the CCP (with exclusive, sweetheart deals to gain access to China’s market), then turned around and began influencing policymakers in their home countries (like the United States) to compromise their own national security, to allow for greater business “opportunities” to be enjoyed by Western business interests. They also influenced political leaders in their home countries to make bad trade deals that benefited those big businesses and the Chinese government, at the expense of average workers.
Fingleton dubbed this, “reverse convergence.”
So, rather than being the vanguard of liberal democracy, American enterprise became the vital foothold into the Liberal International Order that allowed for China to slowly convert it into an illiberal order that favored Chinese policies and practices over American ones. From that foothold, over the last 26 years, China has expanded its scope and reach into the international economy and, more importantly, into the United States. Since 2008, for instance, China has begun buying out Western legal firms; employing American lobbying firms in Washington, D.C.; purchasing American telecommunications subsidiaries (or, at least, trying to), all as a means of soaking up as much Western technology, practices, and as a way to curry undue influence over America’s political and legal system.
Chinese leaders like former People’s Liberation Army Colonel Liu Mingfu, a hawk in Chinese military circles, insist that rather than a boxing match, like the Cold War, the competition between China and America is best analogized as a “marathon.” In this competition, one side will lag behind the other. He believes that China should use any means short of war in order to stay ahead of the United States and ultimately defeat it, as he believes defeating the United States would be good for the world.
Compare and contrast the cultures and worldviews of the Chinese and American leadership. The Chinese are scrappy, bold, and uncompromising–convinced of the notion that theirs is the historically great culture and that China was meant to rule. American culture, on the other hand, has become soft and weak. We refuse to teach our children the value of our ideals (in fact, we don’t even know what our ideals are any longer), while forcing both our children and fighting men and women to imbibe paralyzing concepts of globalism and political correctness. We are chock full of self-loathing and self-destructive ideas. There is no such thing as good vs. evil any longer. The military is nothing more than a humanitarian endeavor aimed at making guilty American elites feel better by seeing that young Marine corporal from Zionsville, Indiana handing out soccer balls to Third World kids rather than kicking Baghdadi’s rear end. Meanwhile, the only thing that is worth doing is obsessing over our stuff–get rich or die tryin’, especially at America’s expense.
Culture matters. This is why China is winning the marathon.
China Abandons Marx to Save Marxism
The idea of Chinese Communists today still being Communists is not a new one. The best argument in favor of this belief that I’ve heard came from an Army Colonel who took a “Military: Theory and Practice” class (taught by legendary strategist Dr. Mackubin Owens) with me at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. The Colonel was a part of the Army Fellows Program and had spent some time in China when he made the observation that, in his experience, a Communist by another name is still a Communist. Of course, I was an uppity graduate student who worked on Capitol Hill–in other words, I was full of myself and refused to listen to him. He and I had a polite but forceful exchange, the Colonel defending his viewpoint, and I espousing the common “wisdom” shared throughout the Republican policy community that, in fact, the Chinese Communist Party abandoned Communism to become fiery nationalists.
I realize now that the good Colonel was right.
Strangely, as noted in the first part of this series, Communism, despite it being an internationalist political system–a stateless Communist world against the non-Communist community–has long fed off of nationalist sentiment. Stalin espoused “Communism in one country” during the Interwar Years (in other words, Stalin favored Russian hegemony of the Communist bloc and acted accordingly, suppressing Yugoslav Communism and doing his level best to keep Maoism in check). Similarly, Mao infused Marxist dialectic with classical notions of Chinese nationalism (his successors were even more pernicious practitioners of this methodology). Meanwhile, in neighboring North Korea, the Kim Regime has long-practiced Juche–a bizarre combination of rabid cult of personality, with strong calls for nationalistic rejuvenation, overt militarism, all while espousing the Marxist dialectic.
In fact, the entire Chinese economic model (what Joshua Kurlantzick refers to as, “State Capitalism”) is nothing more than a rehash of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP). In 1922, Russia was laid to waste after the brutal Russian Civil War (1918-1922) between the Bolsheviks and the pro-Tsarist force, the White Army. Meanwhile, the policy of “War Communism” that dominated socio-economic policy during the Civil War had left Russia’s economy in tatters.
Realizing that the Communist revolution in Russia would be vanquished by mass protests, lest Lenin’s government formulate some way of economic change, Lenin embraced an economic policy of “a free market and capitalism, both subject to state control.” He called it the “New Economic Policy” (NEP). Had Lenin lived beyond 1928, it is likely that the policy would have borne out a similar system that we see today in China. Though, it likely would not have been as effective as China’s economy was, due to the fact that the Soviet Union was never integrated into the global capitalist system the way that China was from the 1990s onward.
The Colonel’s belief that China remained a Communist state holds true, in light of historical facts.
As an addendum, just imagine, if you will, that the People’s Republic of China was actually the Soviet Union under Vladimir Lenin’s command, and that the economic system was that of Lenin’s proposed state capitalist New Economic Policy system. How would America’s foreign policy graybeards–the holdovers from the Cold War–feel about empowering Lenin’s USSR by selling out American workers and our national security? Given all of the hysteria over the baseless Trump-Russia “collusion scandal,” I suspect that the policy would look quite different.
Western Decadence, Eastern Discipline
Even as America’s political and business classes transmitted their good feelings through bad trade deals with China; while the American education system eschewed what should have been a renewed commitment to preaching the civic values of America’s Founding (and overall Western Civilization) to its post-Cold War generation of young people, America opted instead to embrace the virtues of globalism and political correctness. Americans abandoned the hard-nosed empiricism that created the culture of victory in the Second World War. Instead, they exchanged it for the kind of moral relativism that renders cultures inert and leads to an inevitable collapse.
Meanwhile, as Zheng Wang details in “Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations (Contemporary Asia in the World)”, after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the Chinese Ministry of Education embarked upon a rigorous civic education program that denied criticism of China’s “socialist” system as legitimate, and force fed their young people a hefty serving of nationalistic propaganda as a defense against future democratic protests. This, in turn, created the current conditions that dominate Sino-American relations, whereby any hope of peaceful coexistence (and the joint pursuit of economic advancement at the international level) is impossible.
Writing in his excellent new book, “Easternization: Asia’s Rise and America’s Decline From Obama to Trump and Beyond,” Gideon Rachman (of the Financial Times) says of China’s economy that, “Figures compiled by Yves Tiberghien of the University of British Columbia show that the Chinese economy was just 6 percent the size of the American economy in 1990. By 2000, the figure was still only 12 percent; by 2008 it was 30 percent, and by 2011 it was 50 percent.” Goldman Sachs, the World Bank, and professors, such as Danny Quah of the London School of Economics, all believe that by 2050, China will have far surpassed the United States in terms of being the largest economy in the world.
As the current United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis cautioned the Obama Administration in 2009, all military power flows out from a country’s economic power. And, I would add that a country’s economic power grows up from the strong foundations of culture. The CCP has ingrained in its next generation a deep belief that theirs is the next great superpower, set to topple not only America’s global primacy, but the entire West’s dominance. They have taught their people that it is the inherent superiority of Chinese culture that has created such a reality.
Speaking in 2013, the now-deceased, preeminent Asian statesman, former Singaporean Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, compared the worldview of the current generation of Chinese leaders with those of China’s young people today:
“This generation [the current Chinese leadership] has been through hell: the Great Leap Forward, hunger, starvation, near collision with the Russians — the Cultural Revolution gone mad. I have no doubt that this generation wants a peaceful rise. But this generation’s grandchildren? They think that they have already arrived, and if they begin to flex their muscles, we will have a very different China. Grandchildren never listen to grandfathers. The other problem is a more crucial one: if you start off with the belief that the world has been unkind to you, the world has exploited you, the imperialists have devastated you, looted Beijing, done all this to you — this is not good.”
While the American people have suffered through one of the worst economic disasters in history, the Chinese have weathered the storm quite well. As Americans were told to get used to the “new normal” of high unemployment (specifically, high under-employment levels) coupled with anemic growth rates, the Chinese economy soared to new heights. At a time when American innovation was starting to wane, Chinese innovation and business success was exploding.
A major component for this success story, as David Goldman documents, is due to the strategic investments that the Chinese made into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields over the last two decades–investments which are now paying rising dividends. Indeed, the Chinese commitment to stringent STEM education has led to an influx of Chinese students acquiring degrees from prestigious Western universities, returning to China with that Western (usually American) education, and building their businesses, or leading Chinese government projects related to weapons development. Such skills are vitally needed in the United States, but they are decreasing among native-born American populations.
Just as it is becoming more difficult for America to make the next great leap forward in space technology or even computer technology, China has successfully launched and tested their Quantum Internet. Thanks to copious investments into research and development of this New Age technology, other systems are being developed that will shatter America’s technological, military, and economic dominance in scientific innovation. From their research into Quantum Internet, the Chinese have developed Quantum Radar–a system that uses quantum mechanics and which the Chinese claim renders any American stealth plane (including the much-ballyhooed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter) wholly ineffective.
To give you some perspective, the F-35 took nearly 20 years to design, develop, and deploy; it costs $100 billion per plane; the F-35 is a weight around America’s neck, because it is so complex that even doing a simple tune up is astronomically expensive. Meanwhile, for just half the price, the Chinese have innovated a potential new technology that not only renders America’s stealth obsession obsolete, but that also moves human technological development and scientific understanding forward.
I hate to sound like Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, but that really did used to be us.
The Chinese spent the 1970s until the early 2000s consuming as much Western industry as possible. It sucked the American heartland dry of prosperity, bringing the manufacturing, blue collar-type jobs to low-wage China. As it did this, it learned how to mass produce goods for a modern, global economy. From there, China got more aggressive and started wooing advanced Western corporations into China en masse, only to nationalize these companies’ holdings in China after the companies had uprooted their industrial technology from the West and into China. The Chinese then reverse-engineered everything they needed. Indeed, according to KPMG in 2012, a plurality of tech industry insiders predicted that by 2016 China would displace Silicon Valley as the leader of the high-tech industry. While this prediction did not come true, China remains very much on the path of becoming a primary source of innovation in the new knowledge-based economy. And, it’s safe to say that once China overtakes the United States in terms of economic size, it will be one step closer to displacing the United States in other areas.
Once a stable manufacturing base was created, China then began taking the money it earned from that economy and dumped it into building up its system to switch from Developing, manufacturing economy with high levels of savings, high trade barriers, and being export-driven, into a post-industrial, knowledge-based economy which imports its goods and spends more money. Of course, the transition between these two economic models will be tough–especially at the breakneck speeds that China has developed in the last several decades. Yet, the Chinese government is committed to pushing the changes through without risking its political power. Therefore, the political and social instability will remain at higher-than-usual levels in China for some time to come.
The next decade will be the make-or-break period for China: will it swing into a modern economy that rivals (and surpasses) America’s? Or will it repeat the dynastic cycle that has dominated China’s history, and collapse on the eve of its greatness? Only time will tell. One thing is certain, the Chinese have deftly used trade to suck America dry of her once-unquestionable economic dominance. They took the manufacturing jobs. After they mastered manufacturing and became a vital hub of the global trading network, they started to steal Western intellectual property; copying new innovations, even as they heavily invested in converting their old-style manufacturing economy into a knowledge-based one.
The pattern of China’s “barbarian-handling” is apparent. The United States was clearly their intended target even more so than the Soviet Union was when Mao assumed power in China. Like they did to the Soviets, the Chinese used America as a means to build itself up–thereby living up to the famous Chinese stratagem of “using a borrowed knife to kill your enemy.” As the United States frittered about the place, abandoning its commitment to Western moral traditions; while America squandered its military primacy in the quicksand of Mideast politics, the Chinese coolly observed America and took copious notes. They learned from our mistakes, imitated what they could, and now, with things like the Quantum Internet, are actually innovating.
As Oded Shenkar argues, the Chinese use imitation to gain a strategic edge and push themselves onto an innovative path. The art of imitation, then, is merely a stepping stone to actual innovation, just as Marx assumed that socialism was a mere rest stop on the way to full-blown Communism.
For far too long, the United States has built up its worst enemy with utopian-minded, self-destructive trade deals. As it did this, America’s elite ripped the very fabric of the country apart with the wanton embrace of a Democratic Globalist education system based on nihilism and moral relativism. Also, utopian-based visions of socially reengineering the world in America’s image (an image that had been lost, thanks to the Democratic Globalists’ aforementioned embrace of moral relativism and globalism, meaning that any mission to remake the world in our image was doomed to suffer “mission creep”) led us to destroying America’s martial ethos and breaking our massive military. As this occurred, the Chinese slowly gathered strength. Like a parasite, they sucked America dry of innovation, military technology, and wealth–leaving nothing but regret and weakness behind. Now, today, China readies to enter into the final leg of its long march toward toppling the United States.
America has very little time to respond. In the next part, I address how and when America should respond to the decades-long Chinese threat that has, until now, gone unheeded.
Part Three coming this weekend. Thanks.