E. Wayne Merry argues that it is, in today’s TAC spotlight article, “Paper Dragon.” The essay reminds us of just how drastically U.S. experts overestimated Soviet power, though the differences between the USSR and China are significant:

For years, the USSR embodied our worst fears—though after six years of service at the Moscow Embassy, including extensive travel around the Soviet Union, the wonder to me was that the Soviet system lasted as long as it did. Ronald Reagan only got it two-thirds right. Evil, check. Imperial, check. But the key factor in the Soviet collapse was irrationality. The Soviet system was structured to make people behave contrary to their rational self interests. The “new Soviet man” had to violate the norms of the system every day in order to survive. The contradictions were pervasive and understood by everyone. The system was structured on lies. When people began to speak the truth openly, the gig was up.

One feature in China’s favor is the comparative realism of Beijing’s leaders. The Chinese are a deeply proud people, and rightly so. But Chinese elites—both in public statements and in closed meetings—are remarkably candid about their country’s shortcomings. They note that two-thirds of China’s people live below the UN poverty line, and many still live below the UN extreme poverty line. This actually represents a stupendous achievement because, under Mao, most of the country was in the extreme poverty category. The fact remains that in GDP per capita China is not in the top 100 countries of the world.

Read on.

Also recently added: Patrick Deneen turns What’s the Matter With Kansas on its head and discovers the cultural roots of class war (“When Red States Get Blue”), while Jack Hunter argues that matters of war and peace mark the essential dividing line between neocons and traditional conservatives (“Why Foreign Policy Matters Most”).

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