By Joe Sims
The Biden administration has been described as potentially transformative, equalling Lyndon B. Johnson’s years and possibly even rivaling Franklin D. Roosevelt’s tenure. While it’s still early, such comparisons may not be far off, considering the possible impact of pending environmental, infrastructure, voting, and labour rights legislation. If they become law (and at this stage that’s still a big if, thanks to Mr. Manchin & Co.), these bills would go a long way toward not only rescuing the country from the scourges of the health, environmental, racial, economic, and political crises that currently beset it. They would also mark a break with the neoliberal doctrine that has gripped decision-making since the 1980s. Or would they?
This question is brought into bold relief when considering the nine-month-old administration’s “inflection point” foreign policy doctrine. It too might be transformative, but the comparison now would not so much be to LBJ and FDR but rather to Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, Dwight Eisenhower, and even Richard Nixon. Transformation, in this instance, would represent a 180-degree turn towards positions not assumed since the height of the Cold War, away from not only the Obama administration’s rather constrained international posture but from the very concept of peaceful coexistence that at least, in part, influenced U.S. foreign policy for the past half-century.
Having retreated from the Afghan theatre in the war on terror, Mr. Biden’s administration now seems hell-bent on opening up a whole new battlefront, replacing “radical Islam” with China, socialism, and what are deemed autocratic states. In today’s Cold War redux, China is seen “as America’s existential competitor, Russia as a disrupter, Iran and North Korea as nuclear proliferators,” according to the New York Times.
Indeed, news of the military agreement between Australia, the U.S., and the U.K. aimed at China only underscores the danger.
“We’re in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century,” the 46th president recently declared. “We’re at a great inflection point in history.” “On my watch,” he later boasted to reporters, China will not achieve its goal “to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world.”
The administration’s lurch rightward in foreign affairs flies in the face of U.S.-China detente that dates from 1979 with Deng Xiaoping’s entry onto the world stage and China’s “opening up.”
Only two years ago, Biden was referring to China’s leadership as “nice people.” What changed?
Thomas Friedman, in a recent Times column, sums up the U.S. rationale succinctly, identifying technology theft, Hong Kong, the alleged mistreatment of national minorities (notably the Uyghurs in Xinjiang), and Xi Jinping’s leadership. The last factor tops Friedman’s list: “Then there is the leadership strategy of President Xi Jinping, which has been to extend the control of the Communist Party into every pore of Chinese society, culture, and commerce.” He continues: “This has reversed a trajectory of gradually opening China to the world since 1979.”
Trade is another key issue. Here, Friedman suggests that to end the tariffs imposed by Trump, China must first end its commodity subsidies. “Many U.S. businesses are pushing now to get the Phase 1 Trump tariffs on China repealed—without asking China to repeal the subsidies that led to these tariffs in the first place. Bad idea.”
Clearly, what irks U.S. capital and its apologists are primarily two issues: the Communist Party of China’s campaign to deepen its role and the country’s commodity export policy—in other words, how what’s called “socialism with Chinese characteristics” handles trade. The CPC has been campaigning against corruption and attempting to politically and ideologically reinforce itself, an effort that makes the likes of Friedman cringe. The op-ed writer’s call to “end subsidies” is basically a demand to dismantle China’s organization of production—in other words, its drive toward socialism. One might ask Mr. Friedman, should the U.S. end its subsidies to agriculture and oil as well?
Some might call these questions of national sovereignty, matters on which outsiders should dare not intrude. Friedman, obviously, has other ideas as he quips: “When dealing with China, speak softly but always carry a big tariff (and an aircraft carrier).” Small wonder the Chinese general secretary replied in his speech celebrating the 100th anniversary of the CPC with such vigor to the “sanctimonious preaching” of those who have the gall to tell them what to do and combine it with threats of military force.
Biden’s views, it seems, are widely shared in the circles of the 1 percent. Indeed, a new bipartisan ruling-class consensus has taken shape. Jake Sullivan, the administration’s current National Security Advisor, argued in a Dartmouth College interview in 2019 that the national security establishment of both parties in recent years had come to the conclusion that “we totally screwed up, we got China all wrong” in assuming that the People’s Republic would become more “liberal” and “responsible stakeholders” as they became integrated into the “rules-based order” (meaning the WTO and other international bodies).
When that didn’t happen, the powers that be concluded, says Sullivan, that the U.S./China equation is “no longer about cooperation; it’s about competition and competition in a way is kind of a code word for confrontation.”
But this is a standoff of a different type. U.S. policy towards the USSR and the socialist community of nations was premised on the strategy of containment and the hope that these newly emerging societies would collapse under the weight of their own inertia. Today’s plans toward China instead posit a zero-sum, winner-take-all pursuit of U.S. imperialist objectives. Last spring, Sen. Bernie Sanders sounded the alarm in Foreign Affairs: “It is distressing and dangerous, therefore, that a fast-growing consensus is emerging in Washington that views the U.S.-Chinese relationship as a zero-sum economic and military struggle.”
Kurt Campbell, a Biden loyalist who advised the vice president during the Obama years and is now a member of his National Security Council responsible for China, put it this way last spring at a Stanford University conference: The period of “engagement [with Beijing] has come to an end.” U.S. policy is now under a “new set of strategic parameters,” says Campbell. Fierce competition, according to the NSC staffer, is the new framework for the relationship.
Needless to say, this language is a far cry from the diplomatic niceties accorded state-to-state relations in normal times, at least in public. Still, it should be pointed out that these not-so-veiled threats must be weighed against Biden’s pledge to end the forever wars and repeated ill-fated U.S. attempts at nation building. At the same time, one might rightly ask, is the White House speaking out of both sides of its mouth?
Democrats, after all, are notorious for moving to the right on foreign policy, an alarming trend in normal times but extremely troublesome in light of the ongoing fascist threat. After all, it’s no secret that the conduct of the war on terror helped fuel far-right extremism, leading to Trump’s Muslim ban and ultimately the coup attempt of January 6th.
Here, Democrats contend that it’s possible to confront on the one hand (e.g., pulling back on technology transfers) and cooperate on the other (climate change), a most dangerous game.
The Biden administration is also risking a hot war with Russia over Ukraine and with Iran in the Middle East. U.S. imperialism is being challenged at the same time that Biden attempts displays of resoluteness in showing U.S. military and diplomatic “strength.”
Thus, there is plenty of room and opportunity to push the administration in a better direction, and pushing is a must. The goal here must not necessarily be to change the administration’s hearts and minds but compel change with real, mass, on-the-ground politics. This should include demanding a change of personnel in the State Department, which, having already badly managed the withdrawal from Afghanistan, is now pushing the country into a new balance of military and nuclear terror with China and possibly Russia. (IPA Service)
Courtesy: People’s World