BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT
Coronavirus is spreading across the world. As it spreads, it highlights the extreme risk and dangers to the United States that decades of an unquestioning commitment to globalization has posed.
First, coronavirus disrupted China, then Singapore, South Korea, it hopped a flight over to Iran; then Italy (notably in their northern financial district of Lombardy). Now, news is coming that Spain is also suffering an outbreak of coronavirus.
Meanwhile, American states possessing large metropolitan areas, that are along the coasts, as well as states–such as Florida–that are tourist hubs have been more exposed than other states. As I said over at The Seth Leibsohn Show recently: if you’re for open borders and limitless “free” trade, you are, on some level, pro-coronavirus.
The system is breaking down. But, that’s okay. It is only catastrophic if our leadership and society has become so tethered to the old way of doing things that it cannot adapt. The mere fact that someone like Donald J. Trump is in the Oval Office means that there are enough Americans still around, able to influence things, that the country can–and will–be made more survivable. Or, better yet, made anti-Fragile!
When the United States embraced globalization, free trade, open borders, deindustrialization, and all of the other ideas that formed the basis of our modern society today, it was in the aftermath of the Second World War. The world’s great powers had been laid low. America stood as the untouched industrial juggernaut. Whereas everyone else was struggling to rebuild from the epic destruction of the war, America grew and enjoyed a postwar boom.
Over time, though, the world started catching up. So, the United States worked to capitalize on its dominance. Corporate managers by the 1970s told themselves (and us) that we were going to ship jobs overseas; deindustrialize; build up the Third World, such as China; and allow for unfettered amounts of illegal immigration into the country.
None of this would matter because the United States could then focus on building a new high-tech utopia where everyone would benefit. Of course, that is not what happened. What has happened is that we’ve created a technological dystopia run by a class of oligarchs who can ill-afford to allow for any change to our political or economic system whatsoever.
Writing after America’s Cold War victory, Jeane Kirkpatrick took to the pages of The National Interest and wrote an epic essay entitled, “A Normal Country In a Normal Time,” in which she advocated for the United States to engage in a massive rethinking of its Cold War-era assumptions on trade, immigration, industrial policy, and foreign policy. She argued that the loss of the Soviet rival meant that the United States no longer needed to always think in the Manichean and dyadic terms that it had previously thought in to win the Cold War.
America’s ideological and geopolitical victory over the Soviet Union did not mean the “end of history,” as so many had assumed at the time. Instead, the Cold War victory meant a return to the normal patterns and impulses of people and nations everywhere. Far from being a new normal, the Progressive, ideological battles of the twentieth century–and all of the assumptions undergirding those battles–were unnatural to human history.
Yet, America’s transnational oligarchs did not receive the message.
They kept piling on with policies that weakened our country and made us more susceptible and vulnerable to foreign meddling and influence. No, the United States should not turn its back to the world. It should not “come home” as the recent cover of Foreign Affairs mockingly described.
Rather, America’s mission must be to recognize that the system as it was crafted almost 80 years ago (the foundations laid in the post-World War II agreements, then reinforced throughout the 1970s, and finally reaffirmed at the end of the Cold War) is no longer durable. It is as useful to us today as muskets or monarchy would be.
Let us look more reasonably at the industrial capacity of the United States compared to during the Second World War, for example. When the United States was viciously attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to order a massive surge in wartime production and an assembly of a military in which at least 12 percent of America’s large population went to war. Virtually overnight, the United States military went from being a tiny force–the butt of many jokes globally–to being a massive, hulking, juggernaut the likes of which would simply use mechanization and mass to roll over its foes.
Today, as threats from China and elsewhere rise, the US Navy cannot even build a handful of Virginia-class submarines reliably. American shipyards simply lack the capacity to build an order in a relatively short time period without a considerable reorganization of America’s industrial capacity and policy. America cannot field a large military, either.
At more than 320 million people and with a military force deployed basically everywhere right now, the US military accounts for less than one percent of the population. Thus, American military units are constantly redeploying troops and equipment–and has been doing this for 20 years. Given the rate of military suicides, depression, etc., this is taking a severe and sad toll.
Of course, the US military of the Second World War had similar problems in terms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yet, at the time, science and medicine, to say nothing of society (remember Patton’s slapping of a shell-shocked soldier?) had not yet reached a point where it could effectively recognize these symptoms as signs of a real problem.
But, the larger force and the fact that the military had a definable mission with an achievable end-goal, coupled with a whole-of-society support of the war effort, likely helped to ameliorate some of the downsides to today’s All-Volunteer Force.
Compare that to today: our force is simply deployed and, in the words of former Marine Corps. Lieutenant General Joseph P. Hoar about US operations in pre-surge Iraq, “do stuff” around the world. The military does everything from conducti interdiction operations against terrorist cells and drug runners to provide humanitarian relief to refugee to conduct intelligence-gathering operations. Yet, it struggles to maintain basic “readiness” in the words of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
The Trump administration has done a good job of addressing many of these readiness concerns, but the lack of industrial capability in the face of growing great power challenges and the relatively small size of the force–coupled with an unwillingness on the part of most Americans to support a larger military force–means there are inherent limitations to the force (that most politicians fail to recognize).
In Christopher Caldwell’s new book, The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties, he observes that the Vietnam War created two versions of Americans. One version, the dominant today, are those who came from mostly-affluent families and avoided the draft.
These folks, in turn, assumed that they were smarter, better, more informed than those who could not or did not avoid the draft through deferments and whatnot. Caldwell believes that this faulty self-perception on the part of many Baby Boomer elites running the country today has informed many policies and decisions made over the last few decades–which explains the malaise that the country now finds itself in.
He may be on to something.
There really are two Americas today. At the same time, we’ve never been more vulnerable to things like the coronavirus and Chinese manipulation. As we spent decades outsourcing and deindustrializing (mostly to China), the Chinese juggernaut has arisen and become the seat of power for the supply chain.
We even rely on China to produce and ship antibiotics our way–something that the Chinese Communist Party reminded the Trump administration about recently in a not-so-friendly statement directed against Washington, D.C. Apparently, one Chinese Politburo member advocated cutting the United States off from Chinese-produced antibiotics during the “Trade War” last year.
Here are the limitations of our lazy obsession with globalization. We’ve now become so vulnerable that we cannot produce the strategic supplies we need to survive on a daily basis. We’ve also made our country more open to immigration flows, both illegal and legal, that have also brought in unwanted ideas and, yes, diseases–as well as drugs and violence.
Sorry, folks, but Donald Trump is not to blame for any of these trends that the coronavirus is exposing. If anything, his policies (protectionism, travel bans, immigration moratoriums, reinvigorating the industrial heartland) appear as the antidotes to so many of our woes.
The United States coasted by the post-Cold War era clinging to the old way of doing things. We neoliberaled the Hell out of everything. It was a good run, too, for those at the top. But, now, look at the countries and parts of the United States most harmed by the coronavirus. These are places that have liberal and injudicious immigration policies, trade practices–all of the places that most directly benefited from the globalist order.
Coronavirus may not be as deadly (though that remains to be seen) as the seasonal brand of influenza, but its origins and uncertainty has highlighted the grave dangers we face today. It’s time to bring our capabilities back to the United States; to put Americans back to work; and to abandon the Gene Roddenberry-type vision of a world made futuristic by the embrace of technological whizz-bangery and totalitarian “democratic” socialism.
Foreign Affairs worries that we might be “coming home” from abroad. This is a ridiculous assertion. We should be bringing home the bacon, though…and leaving the rest of the world to stew in its own fatty juices. There is a path forward that does not see the United States embracing “isolationism” but also eschews globalism. It’s not an either-or. Once we can start producing our own goods en masse here, we can start selling it abroad, just as our forefathers did. It’s time to bring back America and to stop operating at half-strength (which we’ve been since at least the 1970s).
As Frank Sabotka said in The Wire: the problem is that “we used to build shit in this country. Now we just put our hands in the next guy’s pocket.” You and I both know that this truer than we care to admit.
It’s time to change that. The coronavirus and China’s threat is a chance to change that.