are they thinking, some of these people in Congress and on television
who want to make more of the American spy plane near China incident
than is warranted? One is not surprised, perhaps, at advocates of
"benevolent" American hegemony like Bill Kristol and Robert
Kagan whining that the American side conceded too much and ended
up losing face and prestige in the resolution although it should
be noted that if anything such bellicose bellowings before the planeís
crew was released increased the danger, at least marginally, to
those very crew members when they were still being, er, detained.
Certain neo-imperialists rather consistently place the thoroughly
ephemeral image of uncompromising toughness far ahead of the mere
lives of pawns of empire like members of the military.
what is up with some conservatives who claim to be free enterprisers
yet are now agitating for economic sanctions and other forms of
subversion of free enterprise principles, for undertaking would-be
punishment of the leaders of mainland China that can only strengthen
the hand of hard-liners in Beijing? Is there really such nostalgia
for the Cold War, such a fervent desire for a powerful enemy in
the world, for windmills against which American lovers of conflict
can tilt? Why such a yearning for villains against whom to urge
regular three-minute hates? Can it be solely or even mainly a concern
to keep the military budgets growing? If so, why? Why is a bloated
military budget whose keepers are always on the alert for a justification
for spending more anything other than a distasteful aspect of the
Big Government conservatives claim to oppose?
it is an aspect of what Rush Limbaugh, in some of his better moments
and on different issues, calls the "Oprah-ization" of
America. It isnít how well you think or how much you know or whether
you consider implications thatís important in modern America, but
what you feel, how youíre using your feelings to feel better about
yourself. Even "Nightline" on Monday night (with Ted Koppel
taking the night off) participated in the orgy of feelings, interviewing
family members of crew members in the hours before arrival and getting
variations on the predictable "we sure had some anxious moments,
weíre happy he/she is coming back, weíre looking forward to it"
theme. What news or policy implications such understandable emotions
had remains mysterious, but we were all invited to share the feelings.
similar emphasis on emotions ranging from relief to renewed resentment
characterizes much of the discussion about the supposedly fragile
relationship between the United States and China as representatives
of the two nation-states meet in Beijing today. The Chinese people
are said (on what authority it seems not necessary to expound) to
be angry at the softness of their leaders in not exacting more concessions
from the Yankee hegemonists, and Americans are likewise supposed
to be angry at the mollycoddling attitude of U.S. authorities vis-à-vis
Beijing. Both sides are supposed to be in intractable moods, making
demands the other side canít or wonít meet because the blood is
too bad and the hurt feelings too exposed. What will become of the
young and the restless empires?
it might be better to have the dispute mediated on Oprah than through
the supposedly respectable media. Oprah might have her pet psychologist
Dr. Phil sit the sides down and say, "Cut the crap. Youíre
not two quarreling lovers with some inalienable right to have hurt
feelings. You are powerful nation-states with complex sets of relationships
and interests that that have or should have little or nothing to
do with emotions or feelings. Grow up and stop acting like babies!
Figure out cold-bloodedly what your interests are and negotiate
like adults, with an understanding that neither side will achieve
its most unreasonable and punishing goals. Nation-state relationships
are based on interests, not on anger or hurt feelings or a desire
to punish. The more you can minimize emotional investments the better
chance you can achieve accommodation with little if any conflict.
You donít have to agree on everything and you donít have a right
to impose your view on the other party or feel like youíve been
the case of the supposedly fragile relationship between the United
States and China, cold-blooded calculation might even be the best
route to relative peace. From a nation-state perspective, the United
States is the dominant but often reluctant world empire and China
is both an ancient regional power with a certain degree of continuity particularly
if you think of the Maoist and post-Maoist episode as yet another
dynasty of emperors and a rising power with more extensive ambitions.
On a political level the two are bound to clash from time to time.
But on commercial, personal and tourist-oriented curiosity levels
the two countries have extensive ties from which both benefit. And
in both international and commercial relationships, the truth that
Americans seem to find hard to grasp is that you donít have to admire
or even like the person, business or country with which you have
a relationship. And when you have inevitable clashes or disagreements
it isnít necessary to develop animosity toward the other side if
you understand the nature of the game.
havenít yet uncovered evidence that American businessmen with business
interests in China actively lobbied during the 11 days to get the
matter resolved quickly, though I wouldnít be surprised if some
messages were discreetly passed along. But in a sense direct messages
werenít really necessary. The Bush administration knows, as the
Clinton administration knew before it, that many applecarts would
be upset if an incident were allowed to develop into a full-blown
conflict that would lead to sanctions being imposed, plants being
closed down, marketing mechanisms disassembled and the like.
as consideration of business interests related to China has received
any discussion, it has mostly been from the perspective of sneering
at those who would be influenced by nasty old multinational multimillionaires.
But from the perspective of those who would prefer relatively peaceful
relations which is not the same as admiring, worshipful or
willing to turn a blind eye to abuses between China and the
United States, as Lew
Rockwell of the Ludwig von Mises Institute has pointed out,
perhaps we ought to view businesspeople who serve as a brake on
militaristic tendencies as benefactors, if not necessarily as outright
heroes. The fact is, as Rockwell puts it, "free trade helps
quell governmentís passion for war. It creates powerful lobbying
groups on all sides that demand the preservation of peace and the
triumph of diplomacy over hostility."
in a busy couple of weeks since the spy plane incident, also
noted that China, the country being spied upon, had potential
grievances worthy of note by Americans who think their own government
should be smaller and not engaged as policeman of the world and
has even suggested that the US
government really does owe China an apology. As the two countries
sit down today to try to figure out when or whether China will return
the spy plane, which will obviously touch on related issues in the
complex relationship like arms for Taiwan, trade relations, human
rights and religious freedom, it would be helpful to consider the
possibility that itís not simply a one-sided issue, with the well-meaning
minions of beneficence in the United States as the uniquely aggrieved
day a deal to return the planeís military personnel was announced
I allowed myself to entertain the possibility that the entire incident
which despite my general inclination to think all presidents and
their people are beneath contempt I thought the Bushies had handled
about as well as might be expected would soon be forgotten. It looks
now as if I was wrong. Although Bush himself deserves some sort
of credit for not horning in on the homecoming personally, the administration
stepped up the rhetoric almost the instant the crew was on US soil.
interesting. Although I canít claim to have spies listening everywhere,
I donít detect all that much interest outside the Capital Beltway beyond
the generalized and usually vague mild jingoism almost any foreign
imbroglio stirs up in punishing China or extracting admissions or
concessions. Could it be that the people in general understand at
some level that spying between two major nation-states, one of which
seems like a potential competitor, is simply going to happen, that
it doesnít man theyíre all bad and weíre all good? Could it be that
beyond the Beltway people understand thereís a lot of gray, a lot
of morally and geopolitically ambiguous activity in which both countries
engage and it doesnít do much good to mount a high horse?
so, it could be that the people are more mature in their approach
to international relations than are a good many of their would-be
leaders who are busily holding press conferences and going on cable
news demanding that the United States extract a pound of flesh.
maybe not. The American people, or at least the fuzzy snapshot we
get of them through polls, talk shows and other imperfect feedback
receivers, still seem to be suckers for the idea of morality and
high indignation in foreign affairs. The fact that this requires
pretending that the United States always wears the white hat (despite
Kosovo, Waco, Ruby Ridge, the bombing of the Chinese embassy in
Belgrade, cruise missiles obliterating aspirin factories and on
and on) seems to bother only a few of us. The fact that the "weíre
the good guys fighting evil" line requires that foreign leaders
or foreign countries be demonized might only add to the fun.
now, however, letís just take a moment to celebrate the fact that
commercial interests seem to have had a certain sway even if indirect
and difficult to trace that militated in favor of getting the basic
problem of US service people detained solved fairly quickly in a
way that allowed both governments a modicum of face-saving. If there
is a commercial interest in the next phase, over the return of the
spy plane and some outline for future relations, it is probably
that they be conducted fairly quietly, with a minimum of publicized
accusations and few headlines.
will be fascinating to see if thatís how the negotiations begun
in a somewhat unpromising atmosphere play out.
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