America declares ‘War’ – I
by Michael Brenner on 06 Nov 2023 0 Comment

American foreign policy has set the country on a course destined to lead to a world of rivalry, strife and conflict into the foreseeable future. The United States has declared ‘war’ on China, on Russia, on whomever partners with them. That ‘war’ is comprehensive – diplomatic, financial, commercial, technological, cultural, ideological. It implicitly fuses a presumed great power rivalry for dominance with a clash of civilizations: the American-led West against the civilizational states of China, Russia and potentially India.


Direct military action is not explicitly included but armed clashes are not absolutely precluded. They can occur via proxies as in Ukraine. They can be sparked by Washington’s dedication to bolster Taiwan as an independent country. A series of formal defense reviews confirm statements by the most senior American officials and military commanders that such a conflict is likely within the decade. Plans for warfighting are well advanced. This feckless approach implicitly casts the Chinese foe as a modern-day Imperial Japan despite the catastrophic risks intrinsic to a war between nuclear powers.[1]


This historic strategic judgment is heavily freighted with the gravest implications for the security and well-being of the United States – and will shape global affairs in the 21st century. Yet, it has been made in the total absence of serious debate in the country-at-large, in Congress, within the foreign policy community, in the media and – most astonishing – at the highest levels of the government as well. The last lapse is evinced by the superficiality of the statements issued by Biden, Blinken, Sullivan, Harris, Austin, Milley and their associates.


We have heard nothing in the way of a sober, rigorous explication of why and how China or Russia poses so manifest a threat as to dictate committing ourselves to an all-out confrontation. Nor do we hear mention of alternative strategies, their pluses and minuses, nor are there candid expositions of the costs that will be incurred in their implementation. Most certainly, silence reigns as what happens if this audacious, all-or-nothing strategy fails – in whole or in part.


The stunning rise of China along with the reemergence of Russia as a formidable power are developments apparent to attentive observers for quite some time. For Russia, the landmark dates can be identified. The first was Vladimir Putin’s speech to the Munich Security Conference in 2007. There, he made clear his rejection of the Western script that relegated Russia to a subordinate position in a world system organized according to principles and interests defined largely by the United States. Whether fashioned as neo-liberal globalization or, practically speaking, American hegemony, it was unacceptable.


Instead, Putin set forth the twin concepts of multipolarity and multilateralism. While emphasizing the sovereign status and legitimate interest of all states, his vision did not foresee conflict or implacable rivalry. Rather, it was envisaged demarcating international dealings as a collective enterprise that aimed at mutual gain based on mutual respect for each other’s identity and core interests.


Washington, though, interpreted it otherwise. In their minds, Putin had thrown a monkey wrench into the project of fashioning a globalized world overseen by the United States and its partners. The Bush administration made the judgment that an irksome Russia should be fenced-in and its influence curbed. That objective animated the campaign to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, the sponsorship of the doomed Georgian attack on disputed South Ossetia, on the attempt to block the building of a new gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, and on setting strict terms for commercial exchanges.


It culminated in the 2014 Maidan coup and the bolstering of Ukraine as a power that could keep Russia in its place. The rest of that story we know. Then, the image of Putin as a diabolical Machiavellian who works relentlessly to cripple America was given a thick layer of varnish by the ‘Russia-gate’ charade – a scheme cooked up by Hillary Clinton and her allies in order to explain how she could lose an election against somebody who started the fall campaign with a personal unfavorable poll rating of 67%.


The confrontation with China is not marked by equally clear events or decision points. Designation of China as the challenger to the United States’ position as global supremo crystallized more gradually. It was the Middle Kingdom’s growing strength in every dimension of national power and capacity that stirred first anxiety and then fear in the American psyche. This challenging rival had become a threat to the foundational belief in the United States’ exceptionalism and superiority.


Hence, an existential threat in the truest sense.* The string of disputes over this or that issue were symptoms rather than the cause of the antagonism mixed with dread that has led Washington to treat China as a mortal foe. When we look at the chronology events, it becomes evident that the American bill of indictment does not come close to justifying that conclusion.


The fashionable – now official – view is that it’s all China’s fault. Xi & Co supposedly spurned the opportunity to join the outward-looking community of liberal nations; they have grown increasingly repressive at home – thereby disqualifying themselves from partnership with the democracies; they have been aggressive in pushing their territorial claims in the South China Sea; they have not composed their differences with neighbors, most importantly Japan; and they have deviated from the Western (i.e. American line) toward Iran while mediating a modus vivendi with Saudi Arabia. Closer to home, China is accused of operating extensive spying networks in the United States designed to purloin valuable high technology; of systematically manipulating commercial dealings to their advantage; and they are extending their cultural influence in a porous American society.


In this bill of indictment, no reference is made to dubious actions by the United States. Washington’s record as a global citizen is less than impeccable. Specifically in reference to China, it is Washington that made what are by far the most provocative moves. Let’s recall the jailing of Huawei’s CFO in Vancouver at the Trump White House’s insistence on specious grounds (violation of Washington’s own illegal sanctions campaign against Iran) in order to thwart the company’s success in becoming a dominant player in the IT field. Trump himself admitted as much in stating that the United States might refrain from pursuing her prosecution were China ready to concede to his demands in the bilateral trade negotiations.


The ultimate provocation has been the series of steps in regard to Taiwan that signalled clearly Washington’s intention to prevent its integration into the PRC. Thereby, it crossed the most indelible of red lines – one that the United States itself had helped draw and had observed for half a century. It is tantamount to an Old Europe aristocrat slapping another in the face with his gloves in public. An unmistakable invitation to a duel that precludes negotiation, mediation or compromise.


The United States finds it far easier to deal with manifest enemies, e.g., the USSR, than sharing the international stage with countries that match it in strength whatever degree of threat it poses to American national security. The latter is far harder for Americans to handle – emotionally, intellectually, diplomatically. Hence, the growing tendency to characterize China as not just a rival for global influence but as a menace. That results in a caricature of China’s ambitions and a downplaying of prospects for fostering a working relationship among rough equals.[2]


What we cannot admit to ourselves is the threat China presents is to our exalted self-image more than to our tangible interests. At its root, the problem is psychological.


By time that the Biden administration arrived in office, the scene had been set for the declaration of war and the taking of concrete steps in that direction. So, the oddity that so momentous a commitment should be made by such a lacklustre team of individuals with a diminished, distracted President as its nominal head. That can be attributed to two factors.


First is the dogmatic world view of the principals. Their outlook represents absorption of Paul Wolfowitz’s notorious memo of March 1991 wherein he laid out a manifold strategy for consolidating and extending America’s world dominance in perpetuity. Second is the neo-con passion to shape other countries in the American image. That blend was laced with a dash of old-fashioned Wilsonian idealism along with a drizzle of humanitarianism from the Responsibility To Protect movement (R2P).


This potent brew had become orthodoxy for nearly all of the United States’ foreign policy community. In addition, a rudimentary version has gained the adherence of the political class and has shaped the thinking of Congress to whatever extent that its members do any thinking about external relations beyond habitual resort convenient hackneyed slogans.



* “This town ain’t big enough for both of us!” A line as familiar to Americans as “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” It could be called “iconic’” were that word’s overuse – and misuse – not so irritating. ‘Famously’ overused, one might say.


We know it so well thanks to its punctuation of hundreds of showdowns in hundreds of Westerns. Often, it is followed by the semi-iconic threat: “get out of town by sundown – or else!” – growled ominously. The term’s popularity has encouraged its migration to other scenes – far from the dusty street in Dodge that runs between the Long Branch Saloon and Wilbur’s livery stable. Isn’t that what Al Capone said to ‘Dutch’ Schultz? Aaron Burr to Alexander Hamilton? Mohammed Ali to Joe Fraser? Madonna to Lady Gaga (were it only true!)? Nancy Pelosi to Alexandra Octavio-Cortes? Kobe Bryant to Shaquil O’Neal?


Its omnipresence notwithstanding, we never thought of it regarding foreign policy. Until now. Today, it’s a neat summation of the United States’ attitude toward China. Not just the Biden’s crew of self-righteous amateurs – but the international affairs establishment generally. It flashes red in op-ed columns coast-to-coast, in think tank briefs, in the electronic media, and even the ‘serious’ journals whose pages are filled with advice from a host of used-to-bes and wannabes. Instead, how about inviting the other guy for a drink at the Long Branch and a long talk. Dutch treat.


1] The extremity of Washington’s overreaching, militarized strategy intended to solidify and extending its global dominance is evinced by the latest pronouncement of required war-fighting capabilities. The recommendations just promulgated by Congress’ bipartisan Strategic Posture Commission. They include “The United States [should] develop and field homeland integrated air and missile defenses that can deter and defeat coercive attacks by Russia and China, and determine the capabilities needed to stay ahead of the North Korean threat.”


They were endorsed by General Milley in his post-retirement interview where he proposed adding up to a trillion more dollars to the current defense budget to create the requisite capabilities. ( The above strategy is what one might expect from a bunch of ill-informed frat boys playing a boardgame.


President Biden, in his weekend interview, reiterated the claim with buoyant optimism: (“we’re the United States of America, for God’s sake!; the most powerful nation in the history of the world”). The America whose war-fighting record since 1975 is 1 W - 4 L - 2 D.  5 L if we include Ukraine. (That tabulation excludes Granada which was a sort of scrimmage). Moreover, our stock of 155mm artillery ammunition is totally exhausted – as is that of our allies.


2] An enormous amount of energy is being put into this delusional enterprise. The target is ourselves; the project a bizarre form of conversion therapy designed to substitute a confected version of reality for the irksome real thing. Stunning evidence of this self-administered treatment is available on a routine basis in the pages of The New York Times. Every day we are treated to 2 or 3 long stories about what’s wrong with China, its trials and tribulations. No occurrence is too recondite or distant to be exempt from being used in an exaggerated diagnosis of social or political illness. The extremes to which the editors go in this re-education program is pathological.


(To be concluded...

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