Powers and Peoples
Our adversaries understand that their actions are constrained by hard realities. Our own leaders need to learn that lesson.
The U.N. announced earlier this month that its global population project predicts India will overtake China as the world’s most populous country next year. India has a reported population of 1.41 billion now, which is projected to increase to 1.6 by the midcentury mark. Meanwhile, China officially has 1.43 billion people, and its population is contracting.
I say “officially” with significance. Chinese record keeping has always been improbably, suspiciously meticulous, going back thousands of years, and the Chinese Communist Party has every incentive to downplay the effects of its disastrous boy-preferential one-child policy. I think there have probably been more Indians than Chinese for a few years now. University of Wisconsin scientist Yi Fuxian also believes Chinese population numbers are inflated, and recently claimed this has been confirmed by leaked population data from China that suggests the population has been contracting since 2018.
Those are all still enormous numbers, however, for any single state to govern. That is, as the old phrase goes, a lot of mouths to feed. And as history shows time and again and the Arab Spring reminded world leaders, a hungry people will not be ruled (though a starving people can perhaps be crushed). So, both China and India have their work cut out for them, even if China’s caloric needs are declining by the year. But these are the sort of hard physical realities the American leadership class has a hard time facing. Our alleged best and brightest regularly appear to forget that history is older than Hitler, or that it can be made up of anything beyond ethnic grievances and the march of progress. The last two decades suggest they cannot even learn from experience.
No, instead the American foreign policy establishment insists on treating statecraft as a series of soapboxes from which to scold the world—moralizing speeches about democracy and freedom a mostly self-deceptive cover for the fist of liberal hegemony, now fat and arthritic. Samantha Power, whose career seems to have been an internal civil war over nominative determinism, has embodied this tendency even more than most. In her ruthless idealism, as James W. Carden wrote for TAC last year, Power recalls no one so much as Graham Greene’s Alden Pyle in The Quiet American. Now from her perch as administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development she’s working hard not to let the Ukraine war go to waste, one more soapbox.
In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in D.C., Power scolded China “for hoarding fertilizer and grain while millions of people in East Africa face starvation,” as the New York Times reported Monday. “Countries that have sat out this war must not sit out this global food crisis,” she said. Artfully vague about the mechanics of the situation, the Times explained that “shortages started with a devastating drought and spiraled after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.” Times diplomatic correspondent (read: stenographer for and member of the same coterie as Power) Lara Jakes continued:
Beyond the battlefield devastation that is expected to continue for months, if not years, the war has severely interrupted wheat exports from Russia and Ukraine and fertilizer supplies around Eastern Europe, roiling global food markets and raising fears of a new African famine.
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Read that as a promise. President Biden and other Atlanticist officials have made clear time and again that they will fight this war to the last Ukrainian. Ukraine can only continue the war for “months, if not years,” with increasingly direct international support. American and European sanctions and spending may push the West into a recession and Africa into a famine, but Samantha Power is here to make sure she and her peers share none of the blame. Putin, she said, is “waging a war on the world’s poor by spiking food, fertilizer and fuel prices, while taking Ukrainian grain off the market.” Like a virus that can shut down businesses or put masks on toddlers, Vladimir Putin did all this by himself, and now maybe it’s China’s fault, too.
The Chinese live in a world where they must keep more than a billion people fed. They have other interests, too, that make it silly to expect them either to join the West’s war on Russia or to be happy cooperators in American-led liberal internationalism, but that fundamental reality remains a big one, even if shrinking. I have no admiration for the Chinese Communist Party, not even a political theorist’s appreciation for their methods, which are inartful. But I do fear American communists of Samantha Power’s type, wide-eyed ideologues who wield charity as a stick, far more than the Han. Our rivalry with China is a clear one, a thing of navies and shipping, manufacturing and trade. China’s rulers are ideological, sure, but they are also actors constrained by realities of population, energy, and agriculture.
No moment of the Biden administration has suggested that Power’s class has any grasp of those realities. Their vision is a higher one than this world. What sort of heaven is all this moral crusading supposed to build on earth? A recent bit of Ukrainian propaganda gives a nauseating hint. Mykhailo Fedorov, vice prime minister, thinks the way to buttress English-language support for the Ukrainian cause is to promise the most digital country on earth by 2030. It is an image of another Ireland, a hard-won nation whored to global corporations. The “high-tech sector,” the video tells us, will represent 70 percent of national GDP in the onetime breadbasket of Europe. Ukraine will be paperless and cashless. There will be “e-residency” and “courts with AI.” There will be a lot of other buzzwords. It is a fake promise of a fake world.