The Republican Party is haunted by the specter of communism. Even now that “wars of democracy” are out of vogue, the myth of our Shining City vanquishing the Evil Empire remains central to conservatives’ self-identity. Reagan told Mr. Gorbachev to tear down that wall, and down it came.
This preoccupation with communism is the most obvious vestige of “Zombie Reaganism.” It’s a Trojan horse the establishment is using to smuggle its neoconservative foreign policy back into the new, Trumpified GOP. Just look at Washington’s new anti-China turn.
At first glance, an anti-China turn might sound like a good thing. It’s certainly time for the U.S. to wage an economic war on China. We should be taking our jobs back and paying American workers a decent wage to do them. (We might start by breaking China’s monopoly on sensitive industries like pharmaceuticals.) And we should hold to account those who pawned the American Dream to Beijing.
Of course, those hacks won’t go quietly. Now that they’ve sold our jobs to China, they want us to blame Beijing. For instance, last month the Hill published an outrageous op-ed titled, “America must prepare for war with China over Taiwan.” President Biden seems to be thinking along the same lines.
This warmongering is sending shockwaves through the country. As it stands, 52 percent of Americans consider China our biggest threat. By contrast, only 14 percent of Americans consider Russia our chief national foe. Fully half of Americans fear a war between the U.S. and China within the next five years.
What’s tragic is that such a war would be pointless, even if we won. And the odds of us winning are virtually nil.
First of all, barely half of Taiwanese support independence. And that’s assuming Taiwan would actually remain a sovereign state. But what if “independence” actually means permanent occupation by the U.S. Armed Forces—as it did for Germany, South Korea, and other countries we “liberated” from communism? Under those terms, I bet half of the pro-independence Taiwanese would change their minds.
That may seem strange, but it’s really not. Taiwan is well within China’s political, economic, and cultural sphere of hegemony. It’s the same situation in Ukraine, where over 40 percent of the population supports some sort of merger with Russia, including the majority of Crimeans. Going to war to prevent these annexations would be a huge and thankless waste of blood and treasure.
Second, Taiwanese independence isn’t especially advantageous to us. True, Taiwan is a valuable trade partner. But we trade with every country in the Chinese hegemony, including…err, China. As for the military implications of such a coup, Beijing has neither the desire nor the means to threaten our borders by conventional means. Nothing will change for us.
In fact, the Chicoms will come out much the worse. Assuming the international community butts out, an invasion would dispel any lingering illusion that China is only interested in making our smartphones and sneakers. They would publicly out themselves as the menace we’ve always known them to be. It could create a global movement to economically and diplomatically isolate China, a movement that’s long overdue.
The only way that such a war would profit China is if they beat the United States in the process. And they would beat us—not because their military is better, but because they’d be fighting on their own turf. They would also enjoy much higher morale. (Incidentally, much of D.C.’s anti-China lobby is on Taipei’s payroll.)
Even a diplomatic victory would be a boon to Beijing’s propaganda machine. If President Biden keeps escalating our government’s rhetoric and then backs down, we will no longer be the most respected power in the region. Teddy said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Joe is shouting incoherently and waving around an old dowel he found in the shed.
Third, while China clearly wants to take over the world, there’s no way it can. And here’s the real problem with the Shining City/Evil Empire myth: To hear conservatives talk about the Cold War, you’d think Jimmy Carter was getting ready to surrender to Brezhnev until Reagan rode in and saved the day. Were it not for the Gipper’s bold stand against Moscow, we’d all be speaking Russian.
Those conservatives show a surprising faith in the Soviet economy. In fact, that’s what communists themselves say: The Soviet Union would have done just fine if Reagan and his allies hadn’t put the squeeze on Stalinism. But they’re both wrong. The USSR fell because communism doesn’t work. Imperialism doesn’t work, either. Try to power an empire with a communist engine and you’re doomed from the start.
That’s the thing about China. They have a population of 1.4 billion. Granted, that’s a lot of people. On the other hand, Beijing has very few allies, and none that would go to war for them. They can’t possibly conquer the other 6.3 billion on earth all by themselves. Those who say otherwise have way too much faith in communism. The more they try to expand, the weaker they’ll become.
What if, instead of listening to the chickenhawks, we instead listen to someone who spotted the “hidden dragon” coming a mile off? Back when hardly anyone mentioned China, except for a few burnt-out hippies wandering around New York with “Free Tibet” signs? Someone like, oh, say, Pat Buchanan?
In his 2004 book Where the Right Went Wrong, Buchanan made this startling prediction:
As America fights small wars of democratic imperialism in the Middle East, in the Far East, a power is rising that may prove a far greater challenge to the United States in the twenty-first century. In Asia, China is the rising power, America the receding one.
He was right. A little grim, maybe, but absolutely right.
Later in that chapter, Buchanan says that, “If Taiwan declares independence, she must win it herself. ‘Who would be free,’ wrote Byron, ‘themselves must strike the blow’.” At the same time, “Any attempt to bring Taiwan back by force would be a manifestation of contempt for the United States, dictating a suspension of economic and trade ties.”
Pat was right then, and he’s right now. China outlasted the Soviet Union in part because they made themselves useful to the United States. They’ve become so powerful because we’re dependent on them. But they’re even more dependent on us, and we can use that to our advantage. If we were to reshore our manufacturing base, the Chinese Communist Party would dissolve like a sandcastle at high tide.
Our leaders would rather risk war with China than bring our factories back to the homeland. They’d rather send American troops to die in Taiwan than pay more for the new iPhone. But we don’t need another Cold War, much less World War III. What we need is to mind our own business. Let’s start by making our own goddam iPhones.