Those Chinese sailors who "harassed"
a U.S. military vessel lingering perilously close to a Chinese base on Hainan
Island, in the South China Sea, reportedly
stripped down to their underwear when our sailors turned water hoses on them.
Maybe the shower facilities on Chinese fishing vessels – it was fishing trawlers,
not military gunboats, that met the Americans on China's doorstep – are insufficient,
or maybe the Chinese were mooning us. I'm inclined to think the latter. In any
case, Sunday's incident ratchets up tensions with China – which have been roiled
in recent weeks, not only by a series of similar
incidents, but also on account of issues broader than China's claims to virtually
the whole of the South China Sea.
To begin with, the U.S. claims that the USNS Impeccable was manned
by civilians and was just going about its undefined business when, suddenly,
those big bad Chinese started "harassing" us – the bullies! But wait.
Take a look
at the Impeccable:
This baby is 5,368 tons, and over 281 ft. long: it is a surveillance ship,
designed to track enemy submarines. China's contingent of nuclear-powered subs
based at Yulin, on Hainan. And while the U.S. government maintains that the
crew is "civilian," half
its crew are military personnel.
Now look at the Chinese vessels that were supposedly "harassing"
this rather intimidating U.S. warship:
As John Stossel would put it: Give me a break! These are the ships that
"aggressively maneuvered" around the Impeccable – as the Pentagon put
it – "in an apparent coordinated effort to harass the U.S. ocean surveillance
ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters"?
Behind the whiny rationale, however, lurks a damning admission: Yes, the U.S.
routinely spies on the Chinese, and fully expects to get away with it. After
all, for centuries
foreigners have been lurking on the Chinese coastline, establishing colonies
and warily poking and prodding the Chinese, with mostly limited responses –
The Chinese, some analysts aver, are "testing"
the Obama administration to see how much they can get away with. They are sending
a "signal," we are told, which ought to have been clear enough after
the 2001 incident,
in which a U.S. surveillance plane was forced to land on Hainan after a collision
with a Chinese fighter jet. The fallen Chinese pilot, one Wang Wei, is today
hero, symbol of a resurgent Chinese nationalism that has little to do with
who sits in the Oval Office. In the self-referential parlance of Washington,
however, it's all about a "test" for President Obama.
Imagine if Chinese
military vessels appeared 75 miles off the coast of, say, southern California,
for the quite obvious purpose of tracking our submarine defenses and conducting
surveillance of our San Diego naval base. It would be bombs
away, pronto, and no questions asked. However, the Chinese penumbra of sovereignty
is apparently more restricted.
Beijing claims U.S. actions violate the UN Law
of the Sea, a treaty to which they are signatory and the U.S. is not. However,
in contesting this assertion – which came up in the aftermath of the last Hainan
incident – U.S. officials routinely note that the UN law, while granting China
sovereignty over its "exclusive economic zone," would have been violated
only if the Impeccable was on a commercial
expedition, and yet the clear concern on the part of the Chinese is that this
was a military mission.
We have our Monroe
Doctrine, which was specifically aimed at the crowned heads of Europe, who,
in our nation's youth, posed a threat on our very borders. (This same doctrine,
ironically, was later tweaked
and twisted into a rationale for our own imperial ambitions in South and
Central America, as well as Mexico.) Other nations, however, are
not entitled to a Monroe Doctrine of their own: China, Russia, and Iran
have no corresponding prerogative to their own spheres of influence, as granted
by geography, tradition, and the military necessities of a credible defense.
It is a consistent application of the Bushian
doctrine of preemption: to assert a "right" that is neither a
matter of settled international law nor the subject of a treaty, and is clearly
provocative in the extreme. What are we doing in China's backyard?
For decades, the Taiwan lobby has bought and manipulated U.S. politicians and
succeeded in passing legislation that requires the U.S. to provide for Taiwan's
security needs, including
going to war in case its disputed sovereignty is violated. A huge
arms sale under the Bush administration was orchestrated as a result of
this unique legislation, which is a monument to the power of foreign lobbyists
in the Imperial City.
Hey, wait a minute, aren't we're supposed to be in a new era here, with the
ascension of Obama
I to the imperial throne? One would think that such Bushian orthodoxies
as the Wolfowitz
doctrine – which assumes U.S. military supremacy on every continent – would
be thrown in the dustbin of history. This is apparently not the case: the U.S.
continues to assert its imperial prerogatives as if nothing has changed, as
indeed it has not.
The administration has made a big
show of abjuring torture and repudiating the legal
doctrines that underpin it, but that's just an ordinary sense of decency,
the least we might expect from the savior of our national honor. Now what about
repudiating the military doctrines that were the foundations of George W. Bush's
foreign policy? Let's give the doctrine of military preemption – you know, the
whole rationale for our disastrous Iraqi adventure – the heave-ho. The real
change that's needed when it comes to the conduct of our government in relation
to the rest of the world would be the abandonment of our legendary arrogance,
which presumes our leading role on the world stage.
Bush and his neocon supporters gloried in what Charles Krauthammer exultantly
unipolar moment," but that moment has clearly passed. Indeed, it may
have passed even as Krauthammer announced it. The Washington-based analysts
are all atwitter about what prompted the Chinese to move on this front – even
as U.S.-Chinese negotiations have been deemed a success and a visit
to Washington by China's foreign minister is planned.
Yet the Chinese, even more than we, are well aware that America's moment may
be passing. The biggest holders
of U.S. debt are Chinese state-owned companies. No wonder they're resentful
of our spy ship trawling their coastline: after all, they paid for it. What
ought to be worrying the Obama administration is that the interest they're getting
on their loan may not be enough to cover their national pride deficit. We may
have the mightiest
military in the world, but if the Chinese stop buying our debt, then the whole
structure of the American warfare-welfare state will come tumbling down with
There is plenty of anti-Chinese political sentiment in this country, and it's
a constituency that is bipartisan. Among the Democrats, you have organized
labor, which is instinctively Sinophobic in this country and always has
been, as the history of the oppression
of Chinese coolies in California amply demonstrates. The protectionist unions
are in a lather about the fact that Chinese workers produce cheaper and better
products that American consumers want to buy. In tandem with international
do-gooders of every sort, the anti-China popular front also consists of
of the sort who will welcome any fresh enemy, as long as it means more subsidies
for the military-industrial-congressional complex. Throw in the wacko cultists
of Falun Gong, and what
you have is the reincarnation of the old, bipartisan anti-Communist alliance
of yesteryear, which brought us wars in Korea and Vietnam – and may yet succeed
in provoking a third war on the Asian landmass, one just as futile and unwinnable
as its predecessors.
The formulation of American foreign policy is all about domestic political
pressures. It is the domain of lobbyists and de facto foreign agents, most
of them unregistered, who work with targeted American constituencies to further
various commercial and foreign interests. A rational foreign policy, i.e.,
one that serves authentic American interests, is virtually impossible in these