JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: CHINA RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES IN THE 21ST CENTURY – SOME DIFFICULT AND DANGEROUS TIMES AHEAD AS THE WORLD NOW RAPIDLY EVOLVES IN WAYS AMERICA’S ESTABLISHMENT REJECTS   Leave a comment

John Chuckman

COMMENTS INSPIRED BY AN ALASTAIR CROOKE PIECE ABOUT AMERICA AND CHINA AND RUSSIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY

 

I just read an excellent piece by Alastair Crooke, a former British diplomat, who often writes excellent pieces which appear in the foreign and alternative presses.

I’m not dealing with his entire thesis here. Just a portion of his piece serves as my take-off point on subject areas in which I have long held an interest

He was writing about what, from many indicators, appears to be a serious new turn in the convictions of Washington’s policymakers.

The convictions are against China and against Russia. The disquieting aspect of his words about China includes the idea that American hostility towards China is becoming something far broader, all-encompassing, and perhaps all-consuming than just the trade war Trump has started.

Indeed, we have the idea that America’s elites are hardening attitudes towards China and coming to a consensus about a new kind of Cold War, one involving hostilities on every front – economic, military, and diplomatic. Some have suggested the war will dominate the 21st century.

I don’t doubt most of what the article says at all. I’ve written many times about the American establishment’s enduring antipathy towards Russia, the real basis for everything from Russia-gate and baseless accusations about election-tampering to the general Russophobia pervading America and blinding it.

Russia gets in the way and Russia has the capacity to destroy America, so Russia is hated regardless of how it has changed, how it is governed, how its laws operate, and how it behaves. Which last, for the most part, is very admirably, representing such a change from forty years ago that it should astound anyone, but that doesn’t influence the permanent grimaces and pronounced forehead veins of those gathered around huge oak tables in Washington.

Crooke emphasizes, with regard to Russia, the harsh words he heard from one American official about Russia’s need to learn that it has not won the war in Syria and that there’s a lot of trouble ahead if it doesn’t learn that. A claim, of course, for America’s right to use and dispose of other nations, such as Syria, as it pleases. So, just stand aside, don’t get in our way, and shut-up. Even if you are helping your legal ally, we do not recognize your efforts as legitimate because they conflict with our plans

I have no doubt that that is a deep conviction in America’s power establishment. It explains why there was so much covert effort against Trump even after he was legally elected, it being thought at the time that he was not going to support all the establishment’s convictions about Russia and the need for wars in the Middle East. America, a country almost continuously at war, some place or another, since WWII and brimming with homecoming football-game rah-rah pride and enthusiasm about its “boyz” abroad, just does not like looking as though it is losing to anyone.

Even though, in the case of Syria, America has never directly joined the war as it did in Iraq. But the illegal and very bloody American invasion of Iraq generated a lot of criticism and ill-will in the world even from friends. So, in Syria, America has kept to covert activities and supporting proxies – recruited mercenaries disguised as jihadis, fake NGO outfits (such as the “White Helmets”) working to extend the conflict rather than bring peace, and other groups posed as legitimate opposition to a “tyrannical” government (which somehow remains fairly popular, especially with minority religious groups like Christians, and continues to be supported by the armed forces after more than a half dozen years of bitter war) – never once admitting to the true nature of what it is doing, which is to destabilize a government it doesn’t like and perhaps to dismember the country.

America supports the proxies with weapons, intelligence, propaganda, covert special forces advisors, dark-ops, bombing of every description, and Saudi and Gulf states’ money. Plus, it shepherds a little chorus of allies, such as Britain and France, each with its own assigned dark tasks. Such is the real story of the Syrian “civil war.”

And even though America has lost several wars through its insistence on doing things which were better not attempted – its out-and-out defeat in Vietnam, its long pointless stalemate in Afghanistan, and the chaotic messes it made of Libya and Iraq – it not only often still attempts such tasks, it arrogantly and foolishly underestimates its opponents. “After all, we are Americans, entitled to do as we please, anywhere. Little peasants in straw hats or godless ragheads better not get in our way.”

But they do get in the way, and sometimes with great success. It helps, of course, when an American target country has an ally or allies as does Syria. Still, the “we’re Americans” attitude is quite prevalent in the United States, even outside establishment circles. “Exceptionalism” as Putin accurately likes to call it. It’s a result at least in part of constant indoctrination via everything from newspapers and television and Internet news and public affairs to Hollywood movies and magazines.

The public’s embrace of exceptionalism helps the establishment undertake what it views as needed tasks virtually without opposition at home. Just consider, except for one limited, intense period during the decade-long Vietnam War, there has been, and is, effectively no opposition in America to all the nation’s pointless wars. Decade after decade after decade, it’s just an accepted part of what it is to be an American, hearing and reading about foreign wars and interventions in the news.

That American official’s words about Russia thinking it won in Syria would be heavily reinforced by the interests of Israel. As we all know, Israel can make life hell for any American politician who wavers from the true path. And Syria, like Iraq before it, is an Israeli-inspired project, Israel working with America, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, and a couple of others. Part of what America’s Condoleezza Rice arrogantly and brutally referred to as “the birth of a new Middle East,” the screams of tens of thousands of victims representing the “birth pangs.” That’s Washington’s god-like way of looking at human misery, human misery for which it is directly responsible. Not much different than seeing ants being stepped on.

Now, American concern about China’s remarkable rise and its competitiveness have been around for a while. We saw it in many things from annual State Department lists of human rights abuses – wow, talk about sheer hypocrisy – to arguments about China manipulating its currency or engaging in unfair trade practices or stealing intellectual property. The innate cleverness and hard work and organizational skill of the Chinese couldn’t possibly have created what we see. It must be the result of underhandedness, underhandedness especially towards America, the place where all good things originate, of course.

On the economic and trade front, things came to a head recently with Trump’s clumsy revival of the centuries-old concept of Mercantilism – an old and discredited economic-political  philosophy of using protectionism to generate favorable trade balances to increase your own country’s wealth, clearly something not everyone can do at the same time, so it is a philosophy inherently antagonistic – as a way to make America richer, or, as he puts it, “make America great again.”

Trump’s approach to Mercantilism is bullying the other party into making concessions favorable to the United States. So, it is easy to see how this kind of policy is on a continuum with the outbreak of actual hostilities. He uses a major new American government industry in generating and enforcing tariffs and sanctions to create pressure, “maximum pressure,” to obtain a trade treaty, one that according to his thinking, and this where Mercantilism comes in, must be better than balanced between the parties. It must absolutely favor America over China owing to all of China’s past abuses, “taking advantage of” the gentle, uncomplaining giant he believes America has long been.

I won’t run through all the flaws contained in Trump’s thinking. They are many, but just the notion that you can “beggar your neighbor” to make yourself richer is ignorant and dangerous. It is as unthinking as the conviction of the Luddites that they could stop the Industrial Revolution, with all its unwelcome changes in their workplaces, by smashing the new machines. Trump’s views are really that crude.

I suggest China may well just choose to make do, of course having taken serious reprisal measures but forgetting about any agreement with the United States, rather than submit to public pressure and unfair demands.

What Trump does not “get” is that most of China’s modern success is about natural competitiveness, not unfair practices or imagined tricks. China started with a great cost of labor advantage combined with great organizational skills and new, more-enlightened laws governing business, but already it has exploded past those starting advantages to serious technological and scientific competitiveness, what took centuries in Europe’s development. The reason a company like Huawei, some of whose technology is the world’s best of its type, has been under intense American attack is only that and nothing more.

The Communist Party under Mao, while holding the country together through difficult times, was an inhibitor of the country’s advance, much as the Catholic Church once was in Europe. But today’s Chinese Communist Party is something altogether different. It provides intelligent leadership, builds advanced infrastructure on a large scale, supports advanced education, again, on a large scale, generates important new long-term strategic national projects, provides new approaches to national defense – all while cementing national unity and allowing for considerable flexibility in the activities of individual companies.

As just one example of the Chinese government’s efforts, adult literacy rates, since the early stages of the new economic order in the 1980s, have grown at a phenomenal average rate of more than ten-percent per year, bringing them close to those of traditional advanced countries. Remember, this is a vast country with a population about seventeen times the size of Germany’s, one where rural peasants represented a large portion of the population. This is not a government which squanders resources.

And there will no pausing, as immense, government-set, brilliantly-conceived projects proceed in everything from the New Silk Road – something that literally will change the earth’s economic geography – and about 20,000 miles of operating national high-speed rail lines, two-thirds of the entire world’s total and still growing, and a galaxy of hundreds of modern airports built as China prepares to overtake the United States as the world’s largest air-travel market in the next couple of years, to imaginative moon exploration and truly advanced quantum physics work show us. As someone has observed, China now has about eight times the number of students studying science, engineering, and technology in universities as does the United States, just an immense investment in “human capital” for the future.

China has coped well with Trump’s tariffs. They have a national model that combines a powerful, well-informed, stable central authority with freedom for individual firms to adjust as they see appropriate. You must be exceptionally bright, as is Xi, to become the leader of China in recent times. The celebrity and populism and advertising and marketing we see in American politics have little place. It is a powerful state model for the kind of ambitious growth China has experienced and one well suited to any serious challenge such as Trump’s trade war.

Trump started something I believe he cannot win. But going beyond the threadbare limits of Trump, the American establishment, if Alastair Crooke is right, is committing itself to a greater, longer-term battle that it also cannot win. One, importantly, that will chew up immense American resources far better invested elsewhere. And one carrying implicitly the risk of war.

Today, America wastes huge sums on its military and on destructive wars motivated by 19th century imperial thinking. A major part of the reason that it can manage doing that, despite its immense debts, is the dollar’s special position in the world. But that position is rapidly deteriorating, and making enemies of China and Russia, plus all the pressure America applies now to everyone from the EU, and Germany in particular, to South Korea, plus the abuse of its financial and payments systems for arbitrary domination, as in the cases of Iran or Venezuela or Russia,  are unquestionably speeding the end of the dollar’s privileged reserve-currency role. The process of dethroning the dollar is already well underway. It is not clear just when it will be completed, but it will be completed.

A “weaponized” dollar simply does not provide the convenient medium of exchange people of the world need and want. Quite the opposite, it attempts to thrust politics and arbitrary limits into the world’s transactions. It also generates uncertainty, an enemy of all things financial. A weaponized dollar simply is not sustainable in the long run. As the dollar loses its reserve currency role in the world, America will be left not only without its immense currency-printing privilege but with slovenly habits and attitudes towards spending and debt and investment that it has accumulated over decades.

When it comes to defense, China and Russia each spend a fraction of what America spends, but they spend it wisely without the sense of unlimited resources to which Americans are conditioned, and they are producing impressive results. Russia spends less than a tenth of what America does. China now spends a bit more than a fifth of what America spends.

Both China and Russia have well-stated views on defense spending. Enough is required for the absolutely reliable defense of the homeland and no more. The amounts between them vary because so many of their individual circumstances vary, from physical geography to the current size and shape and state of their armed forces and to the level of mastering various key new technologies to be employed. But both states are committed to the idea of an arms race being wasteful and unnecessary.

The American establishment is, I believe, under the mistaken impression that it can repeat what happened with the Soviet Union during the Ronald Reagan era when immense new spending on exotic arms programs helped weaken the Soviet state as it strove to compete, its socialist system being inherently not as robust or flexible as a market-oriented one.  But that is entirely a wrong view, although of course it provides the Pentagon and defense contractors all kinds of opportunities to expand their empires.

Russia is no longer a socialist economy and neither is China. Despite the name of the Communist Party still being prominent in China, it has morphed into something quite different than what it was decades ago.

Putin especially has been clear about his philosophy of defense spending. Just enough to secure Russia’s very important efforts now underway to expand economic growth and national prosperity. You need peace for growth, and highly focused research efforts over years have given Russia the weapons capable of doing just that.

Weapons to assure the mutual destruction of the United States should it attack, remembering that it is the United States that, more than once in the past, produced detailed and aggressively-promoted plans for a massive nuclear first strike against the former Soviet Union, including all of its cities.

America’s increasingly aggressive pressures are driving Russia and China together, as we have not seen them before, to cooperate on a wide range of matters. Russia, apart from its products and excellent technologies in a number of areas, has the capacity to be a great natural resource provider for China’s ferocious industry, just as it has for Europe, especially for Germany.

Bonds that grow out of natural mutual interests are strong ones, just as antipathies over being told what to do, what and where to buy, and punitive threats are strong, antipathies which Trump and America’s establishment have been working hard in recent years to build.

America keeps putting new pressures on Germany, and the whole EU, with threats of sanctions for Russian natural gas projects, threats of tariffs on German cars, demands about new taxes being laid as by France on Internet commerce, and demands for purchasing overpriced American products from Liquified Natural Gas to F-35 fighter jets. Recent polls show a sizable majority of Germans are for ending sanctions altogether against Russia, sanctions which European governments have accepted in the name of a long-standing alliance. But serious cracks are starting to appear, both because the original purpose of that alliance has faded and because of America’s aggressive new and inappropriate demands. The American-imposed sanctions have cost Europe many billions of dollars of lost sales in everything from agricultural products to industrial machines.

China’s geography-changing New Silk Road is being welcomed in many parts of Europe, and countries are signing on to be a part of it. To some extent, China’s massive efforts on this project can potentially offset some of the effects of the economic collapse towards which America appears to be hurling itself. An important contributing cause of the Great Depression was America’s so-called Smoot-Hawley Tariff. It imposed protectionist policy on much of the world’s trade. Trump’s total effort to control the activities of other nations with tariffs, sanctions, and threats is doing much the same thing.

We do see something large taking form in the world that absolutely is against America’s comfortable, traditional position since WWII, and it is the American establishment’s belligerence itself helping to shape it. The new close ties between Russia and China, a quickly emerging new Eurasian center of finance and other important matters, Europe’s new skepticism about American behavior and intentions, the ties forming from China to Europe with the New Silk Road and other projects such as Chinese construction of nuclear power plants, Russia’s massive new Arctic projects and China’s serious parallel interest including launching its first huge icebreaker, Russia’s emerging Northern Sea shipping route as almost a branch of the Silk Road, China’s diligent efforts at economic relationships with Africa securing supplies of raw materials, American trade with Africa in sharp decline while Chinese trade enjoys healthy growth, the new African Continental Free Trade Area offering new opportunities for China building infrastructure, and new Russian and Chinese economic relationships in Latin America.

It is a greatly changing world, not necessarily hostile, unless you choose to regard it so. And, sadly, America’s power establishment does choose to regard it so. They do not want to give up the privileged position they have enjoyed since the end of WWII, something they fell into by the good fortune of being the last one standing more than inherent skill or superior abilities, but ultimately there is no choice. The stage is set, however, for conflict as America’s establishment fights to retain privilege, using its still mighty military and financial strength in a very uncreative effort to pry advantages from others or simply deprive others of advantages. The more intense this effort becomes, the more motivation there is for a still faster pace of change. And, of course, the greater becomes the risk of war.

 

Posted August 6, 2019 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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