Neo-Imperialism still, or, the American Foreign Policy Blob has Learned Nothing and Forgotten Nothing

The title of the post is a nod to the bon mot of Talleyrand.

The article from the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security that this post considers below is monstrously long and in its own way preposterous. In making its recommendations it ignores key international realities, now no longer obtaining, that favoured the US when George Kennan sent his famous, signed “Long Telegram” from the US embassy in Moscow in 1946 (subsequently revised and published with authorization in 1947 as “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” in Foreign Affairs and signed by “X”, not “Anonymous” as in the case of the current piece):

a) the US then completely dominated the world economy;

b) large parts of its main adversary, the USSR, were in ruins and it had just suffered some 20 million dead in World War II; and

c) the US was the sole nuclear weapons power.

Now for “The Longer Telegram: Toward a new American China Policy“, draw your own conclusions. From the “Foreward” by Frederick Kempe, President and CEO of the Atlantic Council (p. 5 PDF):’

Written by a former senior government official with deep expertise and experience dealing with China, the strategy sets out a comprehensive approach, and details the ways to execute it, in terms that will invite comparison with George Kennan’s historic 1946 “long telegram” on Soviet grand strategy. We have maintained the author’s preferred title for the work, The Longer Telegram [it’s over 70 pages long!], given the author’s aspiration to provide a similarly durable and actionable approach to China…

The author of this work has requested to remain anonymous, and the Atlantic Council has honored this for reasons we consider legitimate but that will remain confidential. The Council has not taken such a measure before, but it made the decision to do so given the extraordinary significance of the author’s insights and recommendations as the United States confronts the signature geopolitical challenge of the era…

From the eleven-page “Executive Summary”, all I could read. Will they never learn?

P. 7 PDF:

There were, of course, many challenges to US interests during Hu’s second term [2008-12 as head of the CCP], but they were manageable and did not represent a serious violation of the US-led international order.

p. 9 PDF:

The overriding political objective should be to cause China’s elite leadership to collectively conclude that it is in the country’s best interests to continue to operate within the existing US-led liberal international order rather than build a rival order, and that it is in the party’s best interests, if it wishes to remain in power at home, not to attempt to expand China’s borders or export its political model beyond China’s shores.

Bit of realistic humility at p. 10 PDF:

…the United States’ China strategy also must address the wider political and economic needs of its principal allies and partners rather than assuming that they will choose to adopt a common, coordinated strategic position on China out of the goodness of their hearts. Unless the United States also deals with the fact that China has become the principal trading partner for most, if not all, of its major allies, this underlying economic reality alone will have growing influence over the willingness of traditional allies to challenge China’s increasingly assertive international behavior.

Pp. 11-12 PDF, good luck:

The list of core domestic tasks…

*resolving or at least reducing the severe divisions now endemic in the political system, institutions, and culture…

*addressing the critical question of future national political resolve to safe-guard, build, and even expand the liberal international order, rather than accept or embrace a new wave of isolationism that will inevitably drag the United States inward rather than outward—and proving China wrong in its calculation that this US resolve is waning.

Pp. 13-14 PDF, cloud cuckoo land, need a Super Metternich/Bismarck plus:

These areas of strategic competition against China should include the following…

*stabilizing relations with Russia and encouraging the same between Russia and Japan

*concluding a fully operationalized Quad with India, Japan, and Australia by inducing India to abandon its final political and strategic reservations against such an arrangement

*facilitating the normalization of Japan-South Korea relations to prevent Korea from continuing to drift strategically in China’s direction…

*enforcing China’s pledges on trade and investment liberalization, state subsidies, dumping, and intellectual-property protection, in partner-ship with friends and allies, through a reformed multilateral trade dispute-resolution mechanism…

And there’s more. Lots. Hegemonic blob arrogance and unreality to my mind. Here’s a twitter thread by Prof. Paul Poast of the University of Chicago (tweets here):

Relevant posts:

The Continuing Failure of US Neo-Imperialism [2015]

US Foreign Policy Elite Failed the (generally white) Middle Class Masses in the Middle of the Country [the author of the piece on which the post is based, a former senior State Dept. official, is President Biden’s nominee to head the CIA–maybe some thinking outside the blob? one can hope]

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

2 thoughts on “Neo-Imperialism still, or, the American Foreign Policy Blob has Learned Nothing and Forgotten Nothing”

  1. From an Indian response to the “Longer Telegram”

    ‘‘Anonymous’ author’s paper on US’ China strategy makes a buzz, has sharp message for India
    The paper warns about the fast-reducing gap between US and China. For India, it means deciding whether to take sides in what could be a war in South China Sea or Taiwan.
    Tara Kartha

    India, the US and ‘pan-allied’ strategies

    Then we enter the operational aspects. The paper calls for an unprecedented ‘pan-allied’ strategy marching goose step to defeat China. That grouping doesn’t include India, which is listed as a ‘significant other’ together with Nigeria, Singapore, and Indonesia. It won’t please Delhi much, but then we are not seen as having the military or economic weight to stall Beijing. That’s to be done with a revived Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) so as to be able to jinx China’s current status as ‘the world’s indispensable economy’.

    But Delhi has a role. It is to be persuaded to give up reservations on a full-fledged Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) that includes Australia, Japan and the US. Before celebrating that status, understand that this is under the subheading of “strategic competition” defined as where “interests at stake are important (but) neither existential nor critical in nature”. In such cases, use of military force is not envisaged as it would where ‘ally interests’ are involved. In other words, Quad is to be used to spook China, but not much else.

    Don’t cross the red line

    There’s worse. The strategy paper very correctly calls for clear ‘red lines’ to be enunciated, such as an attack against sovereign territories of Japan or Taiwan, which would be met with all available force including tools of deterrence. The paper argues that ambiguity in stating these has led to China slowly pushing the envelope.

    “Chinese leaders respect strength and are contemptuous of weakness. They respect consistency and are contemptuous of vacillation. China does not believe in strategic vacuums.” Was Depsang and other parts of Ladakh seen as a vacuum? Because there is an expectation that China will continue to be hostile to Japan and India, but any ‘large scale economic or military belligerence’ against critical strategic partners like India would be met with strong diplomacy, etc., rather than military force. That’s not surprising since India is not a treaty partner. But then, unless it’s a definite error, the paper also has certain ‘treaty partners’ in the same category. The US has 47 treaty allies; presumably, Europe, Japan, and Australia are on the top of the heap. The rest can just hang in there.

    Last, the paper is embedded in harsh reality. It suggests the US to make up with Russia “whether it likes it or not”. A China that happily ignores its western border is one that can concentrate forces in the east. Delhi has been trying to get US policymakers to understand this for years without success.

    It seems Washington is now listening, though not to Delhi. President Biden’s call to his Russian counterpart was not all sweetness and light, but it did agree to extend arms control treaties and aim for ‘strategic stability’. A clearer signal of following the path of this anonymous strategy paper was Biden’s call to Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga where he not only reiterated ‘unwavering commitment’ to the defence of Japan (including Senkaku islands), but also reaffirmed the US’ ‘extended deterrence’. That’s a nice thick red line.

    For Delhi, the US strategy underlines the background against which our own strategic ‘propositions’ have to be weighed.

    First, this decade will see a China that, through Xi Jinping and his coterie, sees itself as almost equal to the US. That’s not the kind of power that will respect any boundaries, unresolved or otherwise. Nor is it likely to see India as a ‘pole’ in Asia. Second, that very rise presages certain conflicts. Whether that is good for India or not is a matter of pressing consideration. Third, this is as clear a statement as ever of the limits of US commitment to be a ‘balancer’ in this part of the world. This raises the question of some limited bandwagoning with China as it continues its onward march, now taking much of Europe along after a critical investment agreement.

    For India, China still remains the ‘largest source of critical items’. That could actually be the ‘long view’ if current border tensions were amicably dealt with first. The problem is that China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian flatly refused to link the border issue with development of bilateral relations, a statement that falls neatly into Jaishankar’s [Indian external affairs minister] ‘unacceptable’ criteria, as it should. Alternative to bandwagoning, it may be time for India to deliver a light blow, leaving the actual punch to better-armed friends. That should be done in the full knowledge that there’s no one behind you other than a very valiant Indian Army. But then we always knew that, any number of US strategies notwithstanding.

    The author is former director, National Security Council Secretariat. Views are personal.’

    Mark Collins


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