Sunday, February 17, 2019

"Will you govern it any better?"

This post got me thinking.

I know it's difficult to look past the grandiose follies of the TrumpenEra.

But Klare has a point; there seems to be a widespread consensus in the United States' geopolitical thinking, not just within the GOP but throughout the mainstream U.S. geopolitical thought, that "China is the enemy". As Klare points out:
"In eastern Ukraine, the Balkans, Syria, cyberspace, and in the area of nuclear weaponry, Russia does indeed pose a variety of threats to Washington’s goals and desires. Still, as an economically hobbled petro-state, it lacks the kind of might that would allow it to truly challenge this country’s status as the world’s dominant power. China is another story altogether. With its vast economy, growing technological prowess, intercontinental “Belt and Road” infrastructure project, and rapidly modernizing military, an emboldened China could someday match or even exceed U.S. power on a global scale..."
The recent tsuris over the INF treaty and both the US and Russia seeming more concerned about China that each other seems a part of that. There seems to be a LOT of U.S. conturbation over the perceived threat of a powerful China.

Is it just me, or does this seem unpleasantly reminiscent of the setting of the Irano-Byzantine Wars of the 3rd through the 7th Centuries, wherein the two empires were obsessed with defeating the other, to the point where both succeeded only in thrashing themselves into debilitation that was ideal for the rising power of Arabic Islam to dismember and devour?

Is the ascent of the PRC inevitable? It would seem that to be so the flaws in the economic and political systems that brought down the USSR would have to be avoided. But, if they could be, does a conflict between the PRC and the USA have to occur? And, if so, what form(s) would it take? And would it be possible for one polity or the other to succeed, or is a mutual exhaustion of the Sassanid-East Roman sort seem more likely?


(Oh, and the title? Its from the supposed exchange between the newly crowned emperor Heraclius and his deposed predecessor Phocas:

"Is it thus", asked Heraclius, "that you have governed the Empire?"
"Will you," replied Phocas, with unexpected spirit, "govern it any better?"


  1. What it takes now is an intelligent strategy, and I can tell the U.S. and most of all the fascists are incapable of applying it even if they had it served on a silver plate.

    (1) Goodwill move to build trust; give the Chinese the choice between U.S. reducing carrier fleet to 8, capping procurement of F-35, capping F-35 export to South Korea & Japan, cancel LRS-B or reducing SSBN fleet by 2

    (2) Agree with Chinese government on future security of trade (especially raw materials supply), prestige etc.

    (3) Give the Chinese public some Chinese prestige gains, make good for past humiliations, treat the Chinese as equals - and trust the Chinese government to hold up (1), cool down ultranationalism through their available authoritarian means (most of all, keep ultranationalists from making political careers or becoming celebrities)

    (4) Jointly ensure satisfactory trade, incl. access to raw materials

    (5) Double zero solution (PRC & USA) on amphibious land forces, amphibious warfare ships and airborne AFVs to limit both countries' potential for aggressive great power games

    (6) Somehow distract Chinese population away from hostility towards the West (maybe through manufactured issues with Russia, maybe with giant student exchange programs, maybe with funding of Sino-Chinese big budget movies)

  2. Sven: "Sino-Chinese big budget movies"?

    Was that supposed to be "Sino-American big budget movies"? In general, your English skills are great, the only reason I'm asking is that I want to make sure I understand what you're attempting to communicate.

    I really like the idea of a series of "Jurassic Park"-type movies with both the US and Chinese governments portrayed as the "not-bad" guys. Not sure Putin would like it, though.

    1. Yeah, I meant Sino-American.

      East Asians are underrepresented in American entertainment, Caucasians and African-Americans are overrepresented. That could be fixed, some blockbuster productions with Sino-Americans and established Chinese celebrity actors could make big bucks AND portray Sino-American relations and America in a good light.
      Maybe some buddy movies.

  3. FCC: "Is the ascent of the PRC inevitable?"

    I would argue that, in most areas, the PRC has already risen. They've got an amazing amount of economic power (admittedly most of which cannot be used without serious consequences both ways, but that's the nature of economic power) and very large amount of local military power (but all of their very close neighbors are either very friendly (smart of them) or too weak to be considered a threat (the Himalayan kingdoms for example). Russia is making an attempt at reasserting itself as a major power but so far that is playing out as a Chinese advantage rather than being a problem (this one, doubtless, is Xi's personal biggest nightmare).

    Not even Trump is dumb enough to make an unprovoked attack on China without ironclad evidence of an imminent attack. The consequences of such an action are unthinkable, which is pretty much the best evidence that China has made it to the Superpower status.

    1. I don’t think any of us can feel confident of what Donnie is not too dumb to do. He’s one dim sonofabitch.

  4. This was kind of my thought; the PRC and the US seem to have different enough spheres of influence that they need not be direct competitors. Is there a constituency here in the US for ceding the PRC their SOI in Eurasia, tho..?

  5. It is not in our best interests to get in a fracas with the Chinese. The same goes for them. Both the US and China should emulate Switzerland. We need to learn the secret that has kept the Swiss out of every foreign war for 488 years - other than invasion by Napoleon's troops during the French Revolutionary War.

    Switzerland never became a member of NATO, and did not join the United Nations until 57 years after its founding. The US during much of her history was non-interventionist. Washington warned against "entangling alliances".

    China need not fear the US, and vice-versa. No way they are going to invade Hawaii and California. And we have no desire to occupy Shanghai or Tientsin. The only points of contention would be Taiwan and the various claims on rocks, reefs, and man-made islands in the ECS and SCS. But those can be finessed without a shooting war. Maybe not in the short term with the current leadership in Washington, but certainly in the longer term.

    1. "We need to learn the secret that has kept the Swiss out of every foreign war for 488 years"

      Debatable. Switzerland provided until ~1870 a very large number of mercenaries for almost all wars in Europe. That changed only 130 years ago.


  6. I agree; the big difference between the PRC and the USSR is the abandonment of Marxist war-on-capitalism rhetoric by the former. There’s no reason for a New Cold War, and I don’t get a sense that there’s a significant constituency in the PRC for one.

    I DO get a sense that there’s a lot of anxiety in the U.S. foreign policy community over the PRC, tho. Even the antiwar/Sanders Left there seems to be little enthusiasm for the sort of sensible live-and-let-live engagement Sven suggests (not because there’s excitement over picking fights w China, but because there seems little interest in thinking about foreign policy as other than “don’t get involved”). We seem likely to drift into conflict just because of force of habit.

  7. Many in DoD believe war with China appears to be inevitable. But, most from what I have read believe that China will start that war, and NOT the US. Therfore it’s only wise to prepare for the possibility even if you don’t want it to happen or even if you don't think it will happen. I agree with that last sentence even though I do not think it to be inevitable. As someone (?) once said: "To totally ignore the possibility would be the height of foolishness."

    The bigger point is: What should be the end point of that war? The blogger at Navy-Matters once threw out some possibilities:

    1] Conquer all of mainland China – That’s just absurd. It would be idiotic and undo-able.

    2] Return to pre-war status quo – Would we then have to fight the war all over again, down the road?

    3] Negotiated settlement – Do we sell out Taiwan and/or Japan or the countries bordering the SCS? Does that make China bolder?

    4] Annihilation of Chinese Military – Could we even do that? I think not. Too big, too many men under arms. We could perhaps neuter the PLA Navy. But that is a maybe. And if we could, would it then require us to occupy major ports? Could the USAF demolish China's Air Force and military-industrial-complex? Doubtful.

  8. I think we've been in a "war" of sorts with China, we just aren't fighting back.

    They were admitted to the WTO on the condition that they would do certain things - and many of them they haven't yet done.

    Furthermore, they are explicitly promoting and trying to build an alternative to the western "rules-based" order. At the same time they are exploiting that order for everything they can get.

    I don't think they can have it both ways forever. And our political class seems to finally be realizing that China's mercantilist policies have not benefited a majority of Americans.

  9. The question being “would doing what it takes to force the PRC to change benefit those Americans, either?”

    The financial gains for American (and other) firms that gave the PRC those commercial advantages have not lessened. Tariff and trade policies that discourage American firms from running their supply chains through the PRC will not return them to American workers. They’ll simply go to Brazil or South Africa.

    I don’t see the US being any more successful preventing the PRC from doing to us what we did to the European economic powers in the 19th and early 20th Centuries than those developed nations were successful preventing our mercantile expansion.

    1. I think we need a policy of reciprocity when it comes to trade specifically, and trade with China in particular. And, if there's no alternative to continued off-shoring of US supply chains, then I'd much rather have it in Brazil or South Africa.

      The fact is that our one-sided relationship is what is funding China's military expansion as well as it's development of a China-centric world order. We've done this believing both that access to China's markets is essential and that China would grant us access to those markets. That's another area where China has not kept their end of the bargain. What they are doing instead is taking our technology, learning our processes and funneling those to domestic and state-owned firms to supply the Chinese domestic market.

      How is any of that in our interest?

      Not to mention there is a pretty clear connection between moving our industrial base overseas and the many issues we face here, like income inequality.

      Something's gotta change, the status quo is not sustainable and doesn't support American interests outside of of the executives and elites who do benefit.

      More generally, I think we need to do more to protect our labor pool here in the US, specifically lesser-skilled labor. As long as we have a system where the professional classes are protected from foreign labor competition while the un- and semi-skill labor pool are not, then the combined effects of globalization and automation will ensure that those outside the professional classes will continue to suffer from stagnant pay and benefits and, as a society, the continuation and growth of wealth and income inequality.

  10. I won’t disagree. A huge part of the hollowing out of U.S. economic society has been the loss of non-professional skilled labor as those jobs were offshored.

    But I’m not sure - no, rather , I’m VERY sure of the opposite conclusion - that the degree to which the U.S. 1) is a fairly open oligarchy at this point, and as a consequence the 2) political system cannot and will not act against the interests of the rentier classes. As I said; the burgeoning U.S. employed the same mercantilist policies in the last half of the 19th and early 20th Centuries and the then-apex economies of Europe were unable to effectively counter us for many of the same reasons we are hamstrung against the PRC today; to enact those sort of trade policies abroad would have required a level of domestic populism the then-rentier-class was unwilling to tolerate.

    It seems ridiculous that we’ve sold our birthright for the mess of pottage that is cheap Chinese-made Walmart crap. But that seems to be the case...