Author Page for Robert Farley
Where do China and the US disagree? Before we start thinking about the geopolitical implications of increasing Chinese power, let’s think about the actual disagreements that might spark conflict. Stalin and Truman didn’t just wake up in mid-1945 hating each other; rather, the USSR and the United States had a series of more or less intractable foreign policy disputes that made friendly, mutually beneficial collaboration extraordinarily difficult. It was obvious well before the end of World War II that these disputes would exist, and the only question was whether the leaders on both sides could resolve them in a peaceful manner.
There are a few areas of genuine disagreement between China and the United States. Taiwan is the big problem, as I’ll discuss tomorrow. China’s claims on various island chains create friction with several Asian countries, and thus the United States. China’s mild support of North Korea has been a source of mild tension.
But what else? Other than Taiwan, nobody thinks that any of the above would be worth fighting for. China has acquiesced in U.S. global hegemony. China has decided to play an active, supportive role in the economic order that the United States has created. Since the 1970s, the People’s Republic of China has made no effort whatsoever to revise the structure of international politics. Rather, China has enthusiastically joined and participated in that system. China has not even made a serious effort to challenge the ideological underpinnings of the modern US-dominated state system.
The contrast with Soviet behavior in 1945 could not be starker. The US and the USSR disagreed about the division of Germany, the disposition of Eastern Europe, the balance of power in China, the reconstruction of Japan, and the role of the Allies in Iran. Moreover, the USSR represented a fundamental challenge to the international order the United States and its allies were trying to construct. The ideological conflict was genuine and serious.
So, given that we have some grasp on what China does not want (a transformation of the international system), what does China want?
The legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party is built around two pillars. The first of these pillars is economic growth. The People’s Republic of China is dedicated, therefore, to foreign policies that maximize the opportunity for successful economic growth. In pursuit of this goal, there is no conflict whatsoever with the US dominated world economic system. That system creates no limitations on the economic growth of particular states, only on the method by which such growth can be achieved. While I suppose it could be argued that China’s semi-market economy is ill-equipped to match the challenges of the US dominated system, the empirical evidence seems to suggest that the Chinese economy is doing just fine. Although China’s economic statistics are suspect, and developing countries have more room to grow than developed ones, it’s pretty hard to argue that ANY country has done better economically since 1990 than China.
This goal does not a revolutionary power make. Indeed, it clearly inclines China towards a status quo position in international affairs. If China is doing well in this system, and if this system indeed seems to be leading to a degree of Chinese economic hegemony, then the Chinese really have no reason to change it. Rather, China’s interest is in upholding that system. Empirically, it would be difficult to argue that they’ve been doing anything other than that. The CCP has gone so far, in fact, that they’ve tied the health of the Chinese economy tightly to the health of the US through exports and investment in US debt.
As far as I can tell, the only remotely plausible argument that has focused on economic conflict between China and the United States regards scarcity of energy resources. As the Chinese economy grows, it will use greater energy resources. If the arguments about peak oil are anything close to correct, oil production will not be increasing to meet the Chinese demand. Eventually, we could see some sort of conflict between the United States and China over access to oil.
I don’t find this scenario particularly plausible. Oil has been crucial to the economies of the developed world for the last century, and has only played a significant factor in one great power conflict, that between Japan and the United States. In that case, the oil problem was only a surface manifestation of a deeper disagreement between Japanese and US foreign policy aims. The Japanese economy could have (and since 1945, has) grown without the need for the conquest of the oil resources of Southeast Asia. The Japanese desire to overturn the Eurocentric international system and the consequent need for control of oil resources caused the war, which is different than saying the war started because of oil scarcity. The Cold War wasn’t even remotely about access to war. Indeed, rather than fight about it, the Great Powers of the twentieth century tended agree more firmly about the flow of oil than just about any other issue. Thus, I think that oil scarcity will no more be a source of conflict between China and the US than it will between Japan or Europe and the US.
The other pillar of CCP legitimacy is national greatness. Nationalism causes difficulties, and is sometimes in tension with economic prosperity. The two pillars aren’t always in conflict, as national greatness requires a degree of economic prosperity. However, the goal of national greatness can create problems in relations between countries, as we saw in the recent disturbance over Japan’s lack of war guilt, or as we’ve seen in a few tense moments between the US and China. Nationalism can also turn small problems into big ones, as governments tend to be reluctant to back down even in minor disputes. With an authoritarian government, one that relies, as the CCP does, on being a defender of national greatness, real problems can emerge over small causes.
Chinese nationalism is a cause for worry, but it’s worth noting that the problem is limited in scope. The Chinese state is not expansionist in the same way that the Russian and eventually Soviet states were. To the extent that China has territorial disputes with other countries, they tend to involve areas once controlled by the Qing Dynasty. Even in these cases, Chinese action has been relatively subdued. The PRC has made no effort to regain control of Outer Mongolia or the Maritime Province, although it might well have the military power to do so. Chinese nationalism has made control of several island chains a touchy question, but is unlikely to lead to a major conflict, except in the Taiwan situation.
China’s diplomatic activity supports my argument that Chinese foreign policy goals are not directly in conflict with those of the United States. Over the past five or six years, China has taken pains to establish positive relations with its neighbors. Recently, China has even managed to patch things up with India a bit, suggesting that predictions of future Sino-Indian rivalry may be premature. China’s behavior during the War on Terror has been extremely supportive of the United States. It’s extremely odd that France, our democratic ally, supplied the primary diplomatic opposition to the Iraq War and that China stayed very quiet. A China even slightly hostile to US hegemony would have taken to opportunity to score some diplomatic points against the US. The Chinese did nothing. Can you imagine the Soviet Union taking a similar position on a US foreign policy move during the Cold War?
The realists and the hawks face a burden on the China question. Supposedly, China’s growing power will throw it into conflict with the United States on any number of different issues. That hasn’t happened yet. The one issue on which China and the United States might end up fighting, Taiwan, has been a point of contention for the past fifty years, and has nothing whatsoever to do with China’s increasing power. A period of mutual hostility may be on the way, but it certainly hasn’t hit yet.
This is the first in a six part series on the future of US-China relations.
Part I: Foreign Policy Goals of the CCP
Part II: China’s Growing Military Power
Part III: In Defense of Ambiguity: Taiwan, China, and the United States
Part IV: China and the Republican Party
Part V: A New Cold War?
Part VI: Chinese Democracy
Steve is plugging away, this time in comments. Assertions are made, insults are thrown, facts are tossed about without the faintest effort to produce a coherent argument.
Your friend Erik is a coward. And it is shameful for you to support him.
If this war is so important, then he should enlist. He shouldn’t sneer at soldiers and suggest they deserve their fate. Especially when he refuses to share in it.
His arguments are weak, silly and filled with cowardice.
You can bullshit this anyway you want, any how you want. But this war is wrong, supporting it wrong, and supporting it while refusing to serve is pure, unadulterated cowardice.
Again, your friend is a coward and you are shameful for supporting him.
If Erik is a coward for opposing immediate withdrawal while not joining the military, then he has a fair amount of company. I, for example, am also a coward. So is Matt Yglesias. So is Juan Cole. So are the majority of the major bloggers on the left side of the blogosphere, the vast majority of whom have not called for an immediate withdrawal.
Because that’s really what we’re talking about, aren’t we? I won’t get into whether an immediate withdrawal is a good or bad idea. I think it’s bad, but there are good arguments on both sides. That “1700 people are dead,” isn’t one of them. Unless you’re a pacifist, there are always foreign policy goals that are worth the deaths of our soldiers. The justice or injustice of the Iraq War is secondary to question of what we ought to do now, and people can disagree as to whether staying in Iraq serves legitimate policy goals.
Unless, of course, they listen to Steve Gilliard, who believes that virtually all of the elected representatives of the Democratic Party, most of the major bloggers on the left, and a pretty substantial selection of the country as a whole are “shameful cowards.”
After that last comment, I even felt kind of bad about going to Erik’s wedding. I should hardly have supported an operation that might result in the production of additional shameful cowards. Also, that time I managed his fantasy baseball team while he was on vacation was, in retrospect, a terrible mistake.
Gilliard’s language and approach is unbecoming of a major blogger on the left. The left, in my view, ought to honor a certain degree of diversity of opinion, even on questions of foreign policies. Gilliard’s approach is notable in that he launches affective appeals and personal attacks on Erik’s (and my) integrity without actually making an effort to deal with any of the arguments. I think it is quite reasonable to wonder whether an immediate withdrawal from Iraq would result in positive or negative consequences for the country. Moreover, as I pointed out in an earlier post, I think that I’m entirely qualified to consider both sides of the question without commiting myself to join the military if I come down on one side. Rather than dealing with this question or supporting his assertions, Gilliard simply resorts to obfuscating rhetorical bombast.
And let’s make this point a bit more clear. Steve Gilliard is being a colossal fucking asshole. He has impugned the integrity of my friend, myself, and every other person in America who believes that the occupation may be necessary but does not wish to join the military. He has called Erik and, by extension, the rest of us shameful cowards. He has implied that his side of the ideological divide has no room for well-reasoned, well thought-out debate.
In short, he has displayed every quality I associate with the worst of the wingnuts. As I do not typicall regularly read Powerline, Kim Du Toit, or LGF, I don’t think I’ll need to be reading Gilliard in the future.
You can’t split the difference. If you support the war in Iraq, then you need to be there to support it. If not, your words are that of a coward, no matter what cheap excuses you come up with.
Here’s a dirty little secret. However much fun it is to jeer at the 101st Fighting Keyboarders for supporting the war without enlisting, they aren’t really required to. It’s all well and good to lob the word “chickenhawk” at them, but it doesn’t really apply. In a country with a professional, volunteer military, support for military action does not require enlistment. Moreover, the left should not be making the argument that it does, because this argument relies on an understanding of military life that concentrates on romantic glory rather than on professionalism.
There are real chickenhawks. George W. Bush is one of them, Dick Cheney another. Actively avoiding conscription while supporting a military action is cowardly and deceitful, and the real chickenhawks, those with “other priorities,” deserve all the scorn that we can heap upon them. However, we don’t have a draft in the United States today. It is entirely legitimate to support a military intervention carried out by a professional military organization on the orders of civilian political authorities without personally enlisting.
I am no more required to enlist in a war that I support than I am to teach in a high school if I support public education. This is true even if there is a shortage of high school teachers. I support the Peace Corps, and appreciate that it is understaffed and underfunded. This commits me to a certain set of political actions, but it doesn’t mean that I have to join or donate all of my cash. There are a set of professionals who can do this job better and more efficiently than I can, just as there are a set of professionals that can fight the war in Iraq better than I can. If I support either the public programs or the war, I am committed to the support of these professionals, to taking action to give them what they need to succeed. I am not committed to join them.
What irritates us the most about Jonah Goldberg or the boys from Powerline isn’t that they support the war without joining it. The problem is that they spend their time glorifying toughness, honor, and military virtue while possessing none of it. They do not treat the military as what it is, which is an organization of professionals designed to serve the foreign policy objectives of the people and the civilian leaders of the United States. The glorify military virtue in order to attack civilians who disagree with them, and attack civilians who oppose military action as anti-military. In this sense, it is legitimate to ask Jonah Goldberg why he doesn’t join this organization he seems to love so much, because the question reveals a basic hypocrasy in his rhetoric. Gilliard has made the error of mistaking a rhetorical move for an absolute truth, and has decided to attack those who have not made the same error in the most reprehensible possible language.
Turning military professionalism into glorious personal sacrifice is not a mistake the left needs to make. The left needs to treat the military as a professional instrument capable of achieving some national ends, and not as a glorious romantic endeavour based on patriotism and ideological commitment. This is what Gilliard’s argument does, and it couldn’t be better designed to hand foreign policy to the right. If we think of our soldiers as committed patriots rather than as professionals (and they are both, it just depends on which element we’re emphasizing) then it becomes that much harder for civilians to constructively critique military policy and military operations.
There are conditions under which I could see myself volunteering for military service. Under other conditions I can, and have, supported military interventions without joining. Even a draft does not compel voluntary enlistment. I can believe in the justness of a war and sincerely hope that no one makes me fight in it. Waiting to be drafted is not the same as avoiding the draft, and millions of honorable, hardworking Americans have waited to be called upon even in wars they supported. Finally, if I oppose a war I think it’s legitimate to make whatever attempts I can to avoid the draft, although there are some questions about just how far such steps should go. But to cut the issue down to support=service makes a mockery of the complexity of the situation, and opens the door to the worst strains of pacifist thought.
Wingnuts wonder why we on the left complain so much about reprehensible behaviors committed by Americans and so little about the awful things done by the terrorists. The reason we do so is that we prefer the evil and the idiocy to be on the other side, and not on ours. Thus, we’re unusually harsh against the worst behavior of people on our side.
The same thing goes for the blogosphere. Powerline and LGF regularly commit blog atrocities, but I don’t really care because I expect idiocy from them. I’ll occasionally link to a particularly egregious post, but for the most part I expect that kind of behavior.
This is the most reprehensible piece of garbage that I have read in the blogosphere in quite some time. Steve Gilliard has launched an unprovoked personal attack against Erik Loomis for suggesting that opposing and immediate withdrawal from Iraq does not necessitate running to the nearest recruiting office and joining the US Army.
You are a coward. No matter how you sum it up, or explain it away, you are a coward. You support a war you are unwilling to fight in, and that is cowardice.
That Erik is a former guest blogger at LGM, a friend of this blog, and a dear personal friend on mine only adds insult to injury. This is just about the stupidest goddamn argument I have ever seen a major blogger on the left make. That Gilliard’s commenters can’t manage to see this does them no credit.
More later. My rage has not subsided.
I’m inclined to agree with Paperwight:
I shouldn’t be disappointed by this any more. I should be used to Democratic leaders rolling over to show their bellies like submissive dogs the second they (or any other Democrat who says something real) get any criticism. Democratic leaders rush to grovel in apology for Dean every time he says something the base likes, and now Durbin is doing the belly-crawl for having the temerity to say that it is wrong to torture, and torturing puts you in some very unpleasant company. (Just a quick hint: if you don’t want to be compared to bad people throughout history, don’t establish a policy of doing the types of bad things they did.)
For some reason, the Democratic leadership (with very few exceptions like Dean and Conyers) haven’t figured out that the entire political process in the US now runs on dog-pack psychology: show weakness and you’ll lose. Back down, and you lose. Apologize and you lose. Fail to attack and you lose.
The Republicans and their apparatchiks perfected this environment and the corporate media go right along with it. Worse, so does much of the Democratic leadership. I try not to think of the corporate media as careerist scavengers on the Republican attacks, but it becomes harder and harder the more I see what they focus on and what they don’t. And I just wince every time the Democratic leadership does the submissive-dog behavior when criticized.
Erik asks an interesting question:
I am a bit disturbed by this US Forest Service plan to start shooting barred owls who are pushing spotted owls out of their nesting areas. By all accounts that I have read, the barred owls have migrated to the West Coast from the Midwest without any assistance from humans. So should we intervene in this case to keep spotted owl populations up? It’s a tricky question. Humans have destroyed so many of the world’s species that if we can save some, even if they are on their way to dying out naturally, maybe we should. Perhaps some of you are aware of the fate faced by the Tasmanian devils, who have developed a genetic mutation that makes it so they can’t eat and is spread through biting, which the devils do to each other all the time. This mutation is wiping out the population of these animals very quickly. Australian scientists have quarantined some devils to hope they can rebuild the population. But by all accounts, humans have no fault in causing this to happen.
Erik ends up answering in the negative, but I answer in the affirmative. I don’t find much value in authenticity, even when applied to the natural world. If we can save tasmanian devils and spotted owls I’m all for it, even if our primary justification is aesthetic. Nonetheless, an intriguing question.