June 23, 2007

Manufacturing Enemies

Gordon Chang writes for Commentary, and much as his fellow bloggers and columnists are relentlessly banging the drums for war with Iran and agitating for a confrontational stance toward Russia, Chang specializes in agitating against China. This agitation is dangerous.

Lest I be misunderstood as an apologist for Beijing, China is run by a Stalinist party turned more or less openly capitalist, but has hardly established civil society or the rule of law. China continues to be corrupt, arbitrary, and authoritarian. One would surely not want to be a Christian, a Tibetan, a Uighur, or even mildly libertarian in that land.

U.S. and Chinese interests are not identical, and indeed, the Chinese, now that Marxism has failed, specialize in cultivating nationalist resentment (which may not require much cultivating), and from time to time test the U.S. with military needling.

This, of course, is what competitive powers do. The question is not whether China is a rival in some respects. It is. The question is whether the way to respond to this rivalry is to predict and prepare for military confrontation with China; to appease China; or to work at establishing a modus vivendi, and adjust over time to the probable growth in Chinese power relative to its neighbors and to us.

The fault of Chang and his many fellow-thinkers is to emphasize the nasty aspects of the Chinese regime as if another crusade for democracy were in our interests and to regard every Chinese effort at military modernization as virtually a casus belli. A case in point is the Chinese desire to build one or more aircraft carriers. Chang's reaction is typical of his viewpoint on the subject:
“As we gain experience in dealing with each other,” Gates said of China in his Singapore speech, “relationships can be forged that will build trust over time.” Unfortunately, our defense secretary has got it all wrong. Our experience in dealing with China over the past decade indicates we should be forging a relationship built on less trust—and on a greater awareness of unavoidable military competition.
If Chang's view were associated with a program of withdrawal from overseas military confrontation, and recognized that in a world of several powers, rivalry is inevitable, he might have a point. I fear, however, that what he and his fellow Commentarians want is to revive the Cold War milieu in which they were so comfortable, and characterize Russia, China and Iran not as competitive powers whose interests are not always congruent with our own, but as inevitably and increasingly hostile powers, which we should seek to isolate, subvert, and if necessary destroy.

Such prophecies are self-fulfilling, and in a nuclear age, dangerous.

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