15 February 2010


I think we can all agree that it would be awesome if the US could focus equally on every problem in every part of the world. I think we can also agree that it will never happen. Moreover, just about everyone agrees that trying to do everything leads to doing everything poorly, and then imperial overreach, collapse, etc.

However, over at Shadow Government, Thomas G. Mahnken thinks the US isn't doing enough to pay attention to China.

"As the world's sole superpower, the United States must be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Asian states appear to have their doubts."

Leaving aside the issues with referring to "Asian states" without any idea of what part of Asia he is referring to (East Asia? East + Southeast Asia? Central? Asia is a big place, and most of our attention is technically devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan--are you including those, Mahnken?), there is the simple fact that we only have so many resources to devote, and it has been obvious since at least 2004 that East Asia was going to have to take a back seat to the Middle East/Central Asia.

What happened in 2004? That was when Taiwan and China came closest to blows in the last decade over a referendum then-President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan had pushed through to tell China to turn its missiles around. The "Referendum Crisis" of '04 led to tensest moments since the '96 Missile Crisis. Remember that in '96 the US sent two aircraft carrier groups to show American resolve. What did Bush do in '04?

Diddly squat. And, on this one occasion, I have to give him credit for not trying to do more, because we had too much else going on. I'm sorry, but two ongoing wars took priority. We could not afford big, expensive displays that might take resources or attention away from higher priorities, nor could we afford to antagonize China when we were still fighting (and struggling) in Iraq.

And this brings me to the other reason why I was annoyed with this post. It seems to suggest that Obama is to blame for the US not having enough resources and attention to devote to "the China threat". If anyone is to blame, it's Mahnken's former boss, Bush. Add to that the growing list of other, higher priority issues (Iran, climate change, economy, etc.) and you have a government that really cannot afford to engage in meaningless dick-waving with China. I think it's stupid that the Middle East (which I assume is being used as a shorthand for the larger Muslim world, including Central Asia) is the major focus of our policy, but it is that way because of what Bush did.

In short: To avoid imperial overreach, we have to prioritize. Right now, the priorities have to include finishing what we've started in the Middle East/Central Asia, and not destroying the world. China, which is never as strong as the fear-mongers suggest, has to take a back seat.


  1. Maybe the Chinese mainland threat will be solved in a quite unexpected manner: There will be much more hardship soon with a looming Chinese collapse bigger than the Soviet Union's.

  2. There are a host of security threats that China is facing as well, including an ongoing mild insurgency in Xinjiang and the possibility of one in Tibet. I am more and more convinced that China is the paper tiger, now.