Monday, April 14, 2008

The New Cold War: Fought with Dollars and Yuan

In this essay posted at Nautilus, Emanuel Pastreich draws interesting parallels between the modern US-Chinese relationship and those of great nations in history. Essentially, he points to how the sun set on the British Empire as a result of the UK going into massive national debt and losing its financial and technical edge to the US...much as we are to China right now. England had the misfortune of two destructive wars, one of which occurred on its home soil. Fortunately, if we wake up, we can avoid this fate:

Great Britain actually helped the U.S. in that process much as the U.S. aids China today. Britain's ensnarement in two debilitating world wars during the 20th century taxed its resources to the limit and encouraged reliance on the United States for both finance and manufacturing. For example, during the Second World War, it was not that the United States forcibly took control of shipping lanes from England, but rather the U.S. Navy stepped in to protect shipping lanes when the British Navy proved, due to overextension and other commitments, unequal to the task.

It requires no stretch of the imagination to envision a scenario in which the United States concedes its dominant status to China, not because of China's nuclear arsenal, but rather because the U.S. has unnecessarily mired itself in a global "War on Terror" that, because the term "terror" is so broad in meaning, recognizes no end and promises to harm America's prosperity, curtail its traditional freedoms, and leave a moral blot on its reputation among the community of nations.

Pastreich would probably criticize my position that we should regard our relationship with the Chinese as the start of a New Cold War. Fair enough - I don't share his optimism that the modern US-China rivalry is more like the early-to-mid-20th-century UK-US rivalry than it is like the US-USSR rivalry. At the same time, his point is very well-taken that economic imbalances and globally-visible moral scandals are more of a threat to America's power than direct military build-up and confrontation might be.


Squid said...

I get impatient with the whole meme regarding the War on Terror causing the U.S. to implode on itself. Our military spending remains a tiny percentage of our total output. If Congress had the desire, it could restore military funding and manpower to Cold War levels and relieve most of the strains we're currently seeing. I still can't believe that they haven't taken any steps in that direction, given the obvious evidence that new global rivals are emerging.

But no. Gramma needs free drugs, so that's where we're going to put all the dollars.

Honestly, with the kind of leadership we have in DC, we deserve to fade from the world scene.

Thomas Paine Jr. said...

Ah. You're buying two different things there, mister.

The War on Terror is expensive, but now that we've recognized the threat of religious extremist,
non-rational actors running around loose, we have little choice but to respond to the threat. This of course costs money.

On the other hand, the Iraq War is INCREDIBLY expensive. March 2008 estimates both by Congress and independent observers put it around
$435 million per day. That's 5.88% of the Federal budget of about $2.7 trillion. An immediately crippling debt? No. Do we have better things to spend it on? Of course. And even keeping all those expenditures within national defense, looking at long-term strategies in Asia so we can keep a better eye on China and Russia. And of course, I remind conservatives, our national debt today is approaching twice what it was when Clinton left office.

But your main point, that grandma wants free drugs, is well-taken. Entitlement programs (like Ponzi Security as you call it) chew up a much greater chunk of our government expenditures. The political problem is that those are entitlement programs that many flag-hugging fake conservatives
would scream bloody murder if you touch some of those same entitlement programs - like Ponzi Security I mean uh, Social Security and Medicare.