Sayings — on Diplomacy

‘ They [Communist China] were looking at 2050 for Taiwan, but now with perceived weakness on the part of the United States they are moving now. They are taking what they think is rightfully theirs — world leadership, economic superiority, and certainly Taiwan.’

Sayings gathers remarks worth remembering. Casual and spontaneous in style, yet with a depth of thought and experience. I add punctuation, remove introductions and repetitions, and insert brief contextual notes in brackets. Otherwise I leave the Joycean flow of thought, with its stimulating range of association, as it is.

Transcripts of remarks worth remembering — casual and spontaneous in style, animated by historical understanding and experience, lightly edited for continuity and context.

Interview with former U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser K T McFarland

[On the diplomatic meeting in Alaska] The Chinese came ready with a prepared statement that they wanted to criticize the United States and humiliate us on our own soil and in doing so they wanted to use the words of the American woke media and the cancel culture and the people who say that American is a racist nation, that it was conceived in evil et cetera yadda yadda, so they quoted those those people back to the American leadership. It was meant to be humiliating and so when The American Secretary of State had an opportunity to respond, instead of saying this is outrageous and walk out which is what I would have done, he said well you know we’re trying, we’re not perfect, we’re going to get there someday. And it was that not only the fact that the Chinese said it in such a brazen in-your-face way on American soil, quoting the Americans back to our leaders, but then our leaders instead of acting strong and tough and respond, just a rolled over. The second part of it was that for the Chinese this is a new Cold War, Cold War 2.0, and it’s going to be different this time, it’s not going to be like the old first Cold War nuclear arms race around the world. In a different sphere it’s going to be economic competition it’s going to be technology leadership and competition it’s going to be cyber it’s going to be all in a no-holds-barred — there’s no international law that’s going to prevent technology theft and acquisition and a lot of the things that the Chinese have already been doing but now it’s out in the open. The Chinese to my mind have now concluded that there rise is and America’s decline is inevitable and they think that they are or at least soon will be in a more dominant position in the world than the United States economically technologically diplomatically they plan to replace the United States as the global world leader and then rewrite the liberal World Order The Rules of Order Rules to order and to have quote Chinese characteristics. In Alaska nothing was accomplished but it was significant because it showed the Chinese intentions and I think it showed the United States that the Biden administration is in a position of great weakness which will reverberate around the world to our disadvantage.

We should bring up these issues that are neuralgic for the Chinese. They give you a red line, cross them and mention the Uyghur camps and say you can’t even bring them up. The Chinese involvement in the coronavirus I think that we should have brought that up. The whole world is suffering from a pandemic the Chinese knew they were unleashing on the world and the consequences are probably in a lot of ways more devastating than a World War would have been and so why not bring it up. You work with your allies and in this case in Asia Japan Australia particularly in the United States and you form a relationship with these countries to stand up to China. You use American technological superiority and you really double down on American investment in STEM education. They’ve had a couple of meetings [with India and Australia] but they’re not to the point yet where we’re having these four countries in Asia stand up and maybe do military operations together maybe do intelligence-sharing maybe do co-investment. The United States has an opportunity right now with India where we could invest in India the same way we invested in China 20 years ago. India is soon going to have a larger population than China and India is a democracy. Why not talk about covid-19. That’s been recently up in the news again with Robert Redfield former CDC director basically having expressed again the position of the previous administration basically that the most likely scenario was that it escaped from the lab.

It [Redfield’s statement] doesn’t bring any information as much as it brings it together all in one place. His background is actually in viruses he spent his whole career so when he says it I pay attention to this guy. I don’t care if he’s a Republican or a Democrat or an independent or whatever he’s got a lot of credibility in the field and then secondly let’s look at the pieces of this puzzle. Number one we now know that the Chinese knew the lethality and the contagion of covid, and they knew it well enough and soon enough so that they closed down the city where it came from — all travel for people traveling around other parts of China shut down. However at the same time they opened up travel kept open travel from Wuhan to the rest of the world and when countries like the United States and others tried to close that travel down the Chinese accused them of racism. So in other words in China they didn’t want it to happen in their own country. Another piece of evidence that I think is significant is that when it was first discovered it was World Health Organization scientists and doctors in Wuhan who raised the alarm and they talked about it but early on those same scientists and doctors they were disappeared they were told to be quiet and they were never heard from again, and at that point early on before before it became a pandemic internationally the Chinese government and the scientists in the World Health Organization in China had to turn everything over to the Chinese military. They passed a National Security Law saying that anybody who was going to talk about this virus has to get permission from the central government from the military before they talk about it. What are they trying to hide? They wouldn’t even let and they still haven’t let American scientists in. It’s been a year and now they are finally letting scientists come in and have a look, but you know a year is a long time to cover up the evidence and if the Chinese have nothing to hide why did they not let people in and why do they not help the world prevent a pandemic that they caused? Maybe it was just bats but it almost doesn’t matter because it’s what the Chinese did once they realized the lethality, the contagion and let it spread around the world and here we are today.

[Nobody talks about it.] It’s almost like the attitude is well we don’t want to embarrass them some so let’s just move along here, and what they’re doing now is they are using with a cold war diplomacy they’re using all the elements of Chinese National Power to punish countries which are disagreeing with them. Australia for example Australia early on a hundred other countries asked the World Health Organization let’s get to the bottom of the origins of the coronavirus and the Chinese government says to Australia don’t talk about that. Australia wouldn’t stop, so the Chinese have now set out to destroy some of the agricultural exports to China. It has already wreaked havoc on their economy. With a lot of countries that dare to cross their red line and a big element of this I was just reading about recently is their extensive disinformation and misinformation operations. I was just reading recently about how US Special Operations Command is creating a task force basically to specifically deal with Chinese disinformation operations. This seems to be a key area of this warfare, not the nuclear mutually assured destruction doctrine anymore, it’s all these other ways which are typically not thought of as warfare. These disinformation campaigns are so powerful and frankly so effective because they can get us all going after each other. And the other part of their disinformation campaign — let’s be nice and call it diplomacy — they are looking at the rest of the world and saying okay America you’re where you are but we want to lead the the next world order, we want to be the leaders of a non-white world of Asians and Central America Latin America and the subcontinent and Africa and that’s one of the reasons that they can continue to sort of parrot those in the United States who are talking about America is racist. I don’t think they care about whether Americans are racist or not. But they want to portray America as morally flawed as they try to ascend to diplomatic dominance around the world.

The Chinese Communist party has been fanning the flames of this very actively yeah of course they are because it suits their advantage. I graduated years ago, at Oxford University I studied communism and revolutions, I read Marx and Engels and Lenin had a phrase or he called them useful idiots, those are the people in free societies or in other countries who kind of buy into the Soviet disinformation and propaganda campaign and then from within those countries they tried to tear down the leadership. I look at America and see there are a lot of useful idiots here, the people in the cult of the cancel culture, in the Twitter mob who go after political leaders or anybody in the conservative movement to try to destroy them. Well you know if the Chinese are going to be running the world — I hope they won’t, I don’t think they will — but if they do, the first people that they get rid of are the useful idiots.

The Chinese leaders basically said you know the Korean War and the 1950s that cost us Taiwan the real country we cared about was Taiwan and bringing Taiwan back into what they thought the greater China and by the Korean War it got the whole world turned against China so China could not make its move. China has made it very clear they said it to us in the beginning of the Trump Administration. They go through their list of what they call their core interests or red lines or non-negotiable demands so that’s what they told Biden and that’s what they told us: hands-off Hong Kong and at that point there were no Uyghur concentration camps [their existence was not well-known] but those were their two things; they consider Taiwan be part of China, it’s a domestic Chinese issue what happens to those countries. They were looking at 2050 for Taiwan, but now with perceived weakness on the part of the United States I mean they are moving out now. They are taking what they think is rightfully theirs — world leadership economic superiority and certainly Taiwan. So I don’t think that these are all precursors to some kind of an invasion or a war but they are trying to put down the marker of think twice everybody in the world if you want to criticize us over Taiwan. I think they assume that most countries will back down and probably even Taiwan will back down.

[On sanctions against products made in forced-labor concentration camps] The Chinese response was to come back and you know double down and issue economic sanctions of their own on international corporations and in addition to that, they’re doing in China a PR campaign internally so that all celebrities TV stars personalities are wearing all cotton fabrics and cotton clothing made from these camps in part of western China. So the Chinese again from their perspective they think they’re there or they’re already there that they are already in the position of dominance and therefore any concessions to be made are not going to be made on their part, they’re going to be made by other countries and to show how powerful they are they use this economic weapon. And it’s a very powerful weapon especially in a democracy. What country is going to have an economic disadvantage to their own people in order to make a point? The Chinese can do this because they have an authoritarian government. You can’t do the same thing in the West because we’re a democracy. So they’re very clever. We have to get the free democracies of the world to band together because the Chinese plan long-range plan is to pick us off one at a time, pick off Japan pick off South Korea and use the Chinese leverage and their trade weapons to get these countries to do China’s bidding. However if all these countries are banded together, you know united we stand divided we fall, then why I think we do have an opportunity and are in a very strong position to go back to China and say well you may want this but we’re not going to let you get away with it.

What it looks like is these people in China being stirred up around these issues — look at how unfairly we were being treated here. An authoritarian government can do this, they passed a law a couple of years ago if the government or the Chinese military or the Chinese intelligence Services asked you for information or asks you to cooperate with them on something, you have to do it, it’s against the law if you don’t. You could put him in jail for life and so yes of course they’re able to mobilize. The other thing though and I guess I worry about this for a long time is that China has a population that has been nurtured on this notion that they were treated unjustly for about 200 years, that China was always the dominant most successful most powerful most just country in the world through the history of the world. But they had a lousy 200 years after the Industrial Revolution and they blame the West, blame the United States, they blame Europe. They have a chip on their shoulder about this, to a certain extent what they’re trying to do is payback time, they feel that they’re just resuming their rightful place in the world, that all these countries and companies who want to criticize them for forced labor camps or Hong Kong democracy, well you know you’re just little pipsqueaks. So the Chinese have stirred up this nationalist sentiment internally to say that this is the great Chinese history, this is the patriotic thing to do to other countries [like Taiwan and Hong Kong] and at the same time they’ve got this all-of-government approach where they’re using every aspect of government, not just a Chinese businessman or the Chinese military but they’re now disappearing H&M stores on Apple or Google Maps because China has an application that somehow in the middle of your when you try to find a location of Google maps, it disappears. I mean they’re really playing hardball, and they’re going to an enormous effort to have even the most what we would think kind of an insignificant thing. That’s why they’re such a formidable adversary. We’ve never had such a strategic threat to the peace and prosperity of the United States and to the world. This is much more serious than the Soviet Union or even Nazism. China is trying to, plans to remake the world in its own image and it is at our expense, make no mistake it will be at our expense.

[The Chinese sanctions are not exactly mirror images of the EU sanctions which are for crimes against humanity, while the Chinese sanctions are literally for saying stuff.] That’s a very insightful point, right. The West applies sanctions for crimes against humanity, but for China it’s all about you can’t say bad stuff. You can’t even criticize criticize China internally, we know that they have the world’s first total surveillance, but they’re not even allowing people outside to criticize China. It’s going to be a very difficult decade because China thinks they could replace the United States as the dominant world power by mid-century but with a pandemic and I think with the dysfunction in Washington they feel that they’re going to get there within the decade. This is going to be a very difficult decade that tries men’s souls.

[The prospects] We have the right to a political revolution and we go through this with great regularity every 40 or so years and the reason why is because American society is dynamic it’s always changing technologically sociologically religiously ethnically, all of the above, and revolutions where we kick the old party and ideas out, old leaders of both parties, and we have a new set of leaders and then that’s where America recreates itself, we reinvent ourselves and we do it time and time again and that I think is the definition of American exceptionalism. So how do you combat what I see is a growing threat to the peace and prosperity. I think America reinvent itself, it’s in the process of doing that now. And the technologies that we can’t even dream of are probably just around the corner and we’re going there again.

America has always reinvented itself and I think that that’s what we’re going through now it’s a process of sort of re-birthing and reinvention. The second wave of this virus is not going to be a physical viral disease it’s going to be in the economy and the destruction this is making on the economy and the United States becoming not only a debtor Nation but a debtor Nation that’s just borrowing all around the world including from China. The United States is going to look at the Chinese model and say no it doesn’t work here what works here is let’s find a cure and to keep our society open. From the Chinese perspective they are thrilled at the thought that we are raising a generation of kids who aren’t going to be socializing, not going to be educated, and we’re indebted we’re borrowing borrowing borrowing. Disinformation is a pretty effective way of getting America to lockdown forever, and you’re not going to manufacture stuff anymore, you’re just going to be in service, suspended animation. The American people aren’t nuts. At a certain point people just are going to look around and say hey I’m in California it’s not working for me, I’m going to Idaho. Or I’m in Manhattan, this isn’t working, so I’m going to Florida. It’s already started happening in the free states that have succeeded in battling the coronavirus, they’ve succeeded in vaccinating their populations, and they’ve succeeded in having their economies remain open. I’ll take that any day of the week over the lockdowns and certainly over the system that China has. People have worried about America for what two or three centuries, that we’re always just about to lose it to some other countries, they’re going to replace and take over and some other system is better than ours. At the end of the day I really believe in democracy and I really believe in free market capitalism and even though we’re going to have a rocky couple of years ahead I think ultimately the American people, the American system, and the American way of life and democracy and free market capitalism will survive and will indeed thrive.

A World We Have Lost

James Kurth, The American Way of Empire

The American Century. For those whose lives have unfolded during the American Century, 1945 – 2020, James Kurth’s The American Way of Empire comes with a shock of both recognition and melancholy. It evokes ‘a world we have lost’, managed by wise leaders whose policies guided war-torn Europe and Japan to recovery. With a strong U.S. Dollar as the de-facto world currency under the Bretton Woods system, world trade protected by the U.S. Navy, and military alliances in East Asia and Latin America modeled on NATO in Europe, it was hard to imagine that peace, prosperity, and stability would not continue long into the future. That was the American Empire, not the old-fashioned colonial type, but rather one of mutual benefit, albeit based on hegemony and dependency. That world now lies in ruins; Kurth’s book tells us why.

The story begins in 1945, the year Henry Luce marked as the beginning of the American Century. America’s decisive victory over the genocidal Nazi and Tojo regimes, followed soon after by a reconstruction program of extraordinary wisdom and generosity, set the tone for the next several decades. Blessed by visionary leaders with experience of both war and peace — Eisenhower, Marshall, Kennan, Acheson, Churchill, Adenauer, Yoshida — Germany and Japan recovered within less than 20 years to form the core of the Free World. American firms provided the goods and financing desperately needed by war-torn Europe and Asia, and the markets for their low-cost manufactures. To American elites, it seemed a natural arrangement, from which it would be unimaginably foolish to depart.

What Went Wrong in the 1970s. In Kurth’s account, the American Empire fell victim to its own success. The industries of Europe, Japan, and East Asia, for which America had provided financing and markets, within 20 years were making superior products at lower prices. This competition hollowed-out American industry in surprisingly short order. Thoroughly financialized, U.S. elites adopted a philosophy of ‘free trade’ that justified unimpeded investment flows to cheap-labor locations, seeking improved competitiveness in that way. Hardships to American workers simply did not factor into their calculations.

I remember thinking during the 1970s that something is wrong with this picture. The notion that services and information made manufacturing obsolete rang as hollow as abandoned Rust-Belt factories. But why would U.S. financial elites destroy the U.S. industrial base? The short answer is they didn’t care. It simply did not matter to them where in the world things were made — for them it was axiomatic that investment would flow to least-cost locations. It was more efficient that way from a global point of view, and anyway it was irresistible. Kurth locates the origin of this ideology in the New York financial elite.

Even before the onset of the American Century, Kurth writes in Chapter 15, Between America and the World: The New York Foreign Policy Elite, U.S. foreign policy developed out of the rivalry between Midwest manufacturing and Northeast finance. Financiers, frustrated in their attempt in the 1920s to establish a League of Nations, formed the Council on Foreign Relations to promote their globalist views. They eventually succeeded with the United Nations, World Bank, IMF, and other international organizations. From the clubby transatlantic world of the New York financial elite, came all of the legendary figures ‘present at the creation’, in Acheson’s phrase, of the postwar international order — Acheson himself, McCloy, Harriman, Lovett. These two sets of elites, Midwest manufacturing and Northeast finance, exercised roughly equivalent control over U.S. foreign policy until the 1970s, by which time finance had gained the upper hand. Successors of the heroic generation that created the postwar international order carried on with their globalist program, promoting borderless flows of money and people — in Europe as well as in America. They did not concern themselves with the consequences for the people adversely affected by their program.

The 1970s swept America through like a malevolent wave, unaccompanied by any hint of awareness of its origins by either academics or authorities. As far as they were concerned, the maladies of that decade were without cause and therefore without solution. Obfuscation was the order of the day. But as Kurth writes, America had succeeded so well in re-building Europe and Japan that America’s own industries had become uncompetitive. Deficit spending by President Johnson on both the Vietnam War and domestic welfare weakened the dollar to the point where his successor, Nixon, de-coupled it from the Bretton Woods gold standard.

‘Third, and finally’, Kurth recalls,‘the oil-producing states of the Middle East — states that had been protected by U.S. military power since the late 1940s — succeeded in the early 1970s to first double and then quadruple oil prices. This produced a massive inflationary shock to the oil-importing client-states of the U.S. hegemonic systems in Western Europe and East Asia, and was also another amplifier of inflation within the hegemonic power itself. At the same time, it greatly diminished the ability of consumers in these oil-importing countries to buy the industrial products which they themselves produced. The result of these three accumulating and combined economic disruptions was the Great Stagflation, which afflicted the United States and its hegemonic systems in Western Europe and East Asia during the entire 1970s.’

These misfortunes were presented to the public at the time with an air of inevitability that it would be idle to oppose. News media showed gasoline lines snaking through the streets, consumers faced with crippling costs, energy-intensive industries unable to pass on vastly increased costs, all of this as if it were a natural disaster like a hurricane. The notion that U.S. elites had acted with stupefying fiscal and strategic ignorance in the Vietnam War, and that they passively acquiesced in an act of economic warfare by the oil-producing states, was beyond the pale of discussion. I remember an uneasy sensation that the Vietnam War and the oil-price extortion would have long-term consequences. Kurth supplies the reasons why they were bound to inflict severe damage on the American Empire, and the entire Free World. The pity of it is that the damage was avoidable.

Failures of Democratization. In the academy, meanwhile, the American model of development reigned unchallenged as the template for other countries to follow (or for development experts to impose). It was as if two-party electoral democracy and economics-first capitalism had been ordained by Heaven. And how could it be otherwise? America had remade the Free World in its own image; other countries were classified as ‘undeveloped’, ‘less-developed’, or ‘developing’ in accordance with how closely they conformed to that image. These precepts later morphed into democratization projects characterized by placid ignorance of history and facts-on-the-ground. Even as unlikely a place for capitalist transplantation as the former Soviet Union was subjected to the disastrous ministrations of Jeffrey Sachs, whose effort to reverse 72 years of history overnight predictably induced mass poverty. Such was the success of the American rebuilding of Europe and Asia that the ad-hoc methods and practices of a unique set of actors, under a limited set of favorable traditions and circumstances, became a superstition to be applied mindlessly everywhere else. Kurth documents the many failures of this model of development that were ignored by those bent on applying it regardless.

Iraq, for one of the most egregious examples, was to be magically transformed into a unified nation with free elections, speech, and markets. The stellar success of this model would inspire people throughout the Mideast to throw off the despotic tribal warfare they had endured for centuries, and walk joyfully into the modern world. What made U.S. elites so sure this would happen? ‘Reaching for models from the past to legitimate this vision of the future,’ Kurth writes, ‘the [Bush] administration repeatedly cited the successful U.S. occupations and democratizations of West Germany and Japan after the Second World War.’ But they forgot about the many failures of democratization, in Latin America, and of course Vietnam. ‘It is almost incredible,’ Kurth summarizes, ‘that anyone could seriously argue that the most relevant comparisons to Iraq were the homogeneous nations of West Germany and Japan in the 1940s. Only a globalist mentality and ideology would so blithely ignore such important local and historical particularities.’

One of Kurth’s virtues as a historian is to puncture the fantasies that govern elite policy-making. While pretense is of the essence of diplomacy, the occupational hazard of the statesman is to believe his own propaganda. Such delusions become dangerous when they depart too far from reality. U.S. elites, arrogantly proclaiming ‘the end of history’, set out to re-make the entire world in America’s image. In doing so they allowed themselves to be misled into several fantasies of their own making. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became an item of faith among U.S. elites that Russia would accept incursions into its border areas. According to this preposterous belief, Russia would stand aside as NATO and EU were enlarged up to Russia’s borders and even into what had previously always been buffer states. When this expansion reached Georgia and Ukraine, Russia carved off amputee regions that neutralized the nations of which they had once been parts, preventing their absorption by NATO and the EU. Another favorite belief of U.S. elites is that lesser adversaries, through sanctions, bribes, and occasional bluster, will see the error of their ways and take American direction. Thus successive U.S. Administrations have persuaded themselves that Iran and North Korea would abandon or slow down their nuclear-weapons programs. While the leaders of these regimes are adept at playing into U.S. elites’ fantasies, they never deviated in the slightest from their nuclear aims.

The Prospect. Kurth brings clarity of vision not only to recent history, but through his historical perspective, to the current situation as well. He writes ominously: ‘In short, the U.S. economic elite had repeatedly demonstrated during the past thirty years, and especially during the past ten years, that it cares nothing about the economic condition of the majority of Americans and of America itself. Rather, it has come to think about citizens of the United States in a way similar to how it has always thought about residents of Latin American countries…. The most crucial of all the fractures of today is the fractured relationship between the U.S. economic elite and everyone else. And that fracture will not be repaired until that elite is removed.’

The 2016 election in the United States was directed to exactly that end. Elites responded with an insurgency: ‘…[B]oth the Democratic and Republican elites determined that there would never be a functioning Trump administration capable of implementing anti-elite policies. Rather, they would conduct an elite-backed insurgency against the anti-elite insurgent candidate who (temporarily) occupied the White House.’ Even now the members of this elite insurgency are assuring foreign leaders that soon the old elites will be back in power. Should that be the case, the prospects for restoring the American Empire will be dismal indeed.

Kurth asks:

‘What was it about America in the 20th century that made it so dominant in the world, that raised the United States to the level of being the leading superpower and the American way of life to the level of being the standard aspired to by dozens of nations around the world?’

The American Century, he says, was enabled by superiority in industry, finance, and technology. These in turn supported U.S. military strength. U.S.-based manufacturing, as we have seen, has been hollowed-out, though a few indications of revival are apparent. Finance — along with the whole globalist project — has been discredited by the after-effects of the 2008 meltdown, and the weakened U.S. Dollar is at risk of losing its status as the de facto global currency. America’s military alliances in every region of the globe are under pressure. The one remaining element of American superiority, according to Kurth, is technology, particularly in rising industries such as biotech, medical care, artificial intelligence, and green industries.

That favorable prospect requires an environment of freedom in our research centers, access to private investment free of political constraints, and a minimum of regulatory barriers to entrepreneurial startup and operation. That’s a topic for another book. This one is of inestimable value in adjusting our expectations to historically conditioned realities. For that reason alone it is essential reading for elites and citizens alike.


Another review, Adolescent Empire, by Charles W. Sharpe, Jr