No world for empires
Thanks to you wonderful people on TPV, I came across this article this morning in Newsweek: China's Military Warns U.S. Must Get With the Times: 'Those Who Resist Will Perish'.
Now, this is a very click-baity headline, designed to elicit outrage from red-blooded Americans. “Who do those [insert Chinese epithet here] think they are??”
But read, if you will, the quote at the heart of the piece:
"No strategy should go against the times," Ren explained. "The trend of the world is mighty and overwhelming. Those who follow it will prosper while those who resist will perish. Peace, development and win-win cooperation are the trends of our times. Any strategy that is closed and exclusive, which is against the general trends, is doomed to failure."
This was exactly what Barack Obama was trying to do. He was trying to wind down the American Empire, and restore international order and norms. And it was working, for the most part. China wasn’t an adversary. Nations followed where we led. (Except for Russia, of course. There’s always an exception to the rule.)
It’s odd that Democratic presidents (Clinton, Obama) realize that the American Empire, as a construct, is ultimately untenable, while GOP presidents (Bush II, Trump) are willing to sacrifice the commonwealth to maintaining its ephemeral power.
Maintaining a $700 billion plus military budget perforce starves the economy of spending on more needful priorities. It prevents us from paying down the debt. It prevents us from ensuring healthcare for all Americans. It prevents us from bolstering our educational systems, which in turn harms us in the world marketplace. It condemns the poor to continued penury. It ignores the existential question of our time, whether we will destroy our climate, and thus ourselves.
Make no mistake: China is an autocratic prison, where its citizens trade economic well-being for political quiescence. But seventy years of Empire haven’t changed China’s behavior, nor Russia’s, nor Iran’s. This begs the question: What is the purpose of empire? If it’s for security, could that be achieved some other way, through multilateralism? China, the world’s exporter, has as much interest in a stable world order as the US. It’s not a democracy. It may never be one. But our attempts at nation building in the 21st century have been abject failures anyway. All our protestations at, say, the treatment of Uighurs haven’t moved China’s behavior one inch. If our aircraft carriers are to promote democracy, we’re not getting a return on investment. (And we’re not going to war for the Uighurs, in any event.)
The modern world is not built for empires. (Russia will learn this soon enough.) Rather than a unipolar Pax Americana, which is doomed to eventually falter, perhaps it’s time we look at alternative avenues to establish peace and security. You don’t change the world at the tip of a missile, but by the example you provide. An America which righted its multiple pathologies finally would be that shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan always went on about. China may be beefing up its military, but it knows that its soft power is what will bring it influence. Donald Trump is surrendering our soft power in a misguided belief in hard power. The next president will have to correct the course.
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