April 18, 2001

In bed with the anti-China Right

The utter meaninglessness of the "left"-"right" political spectrum was brought home to me the other day, as I read yet another anti-Chinese diatribe: "It was," averred the editorialist, "a sweet triumph for the philologists of appeasement" when the Bush administration settled the Hainan incident with a few words of diplomacy. WorldNetDaily? Nope. The Weekly (Sub)Standard? Wrong. How's about National Review? Wrong, again: if you thought that only right-wingers were frothing at the mouth over the Hainan incident, then you're being naive. That was The New Republic talking, fountainhead of unreconstructed Clintonism, otherwise known as the Church of Al Gore.


Of course, the outcome of this short-lived hostage crisis was a bitter reminder to the ideologists of American arrogance that fate occasionally intervenes to punish hubris. After terror-bombing Serbia into submission without suffering a single casualty, and doing the same to Iraq, the American elites in government and the media thought they could get away with anything. They already had deluded themselves into thinking they were omniscient, and it was but a short distance to believing that they were omnipotent as well. US policymakers and their pundits-in attendance thought they were as gods, who could direct their thunderbolts in any direction, and that no one would defy them out of knee-knocking fear. The Hainan incident proved them wrong.


But arrogant people, especially those who hold political power, don't like to be proven wrong. In the economic world, those who learn from their mistakes by correcting their behavior are rewarded with success in the form of profits. In power-politics, however, those who stand corrected will usually compound their errors rather than admit they were wrong. Otherwise they will lose "face."


This concept of "face" – as applied to both sides – was the subject of much discussion at the height of the crisis, and was utilized to explain American as well as Chinese behavior. But what, exactly, can this mean? Lose "face" – in whose eyes? In the Chinese context, the meaning of this was clear enough and widely acknowledged: it meant that if the regime didn't stand up to the Americans, they would lose "face" in the eyes of their own subjects. But on the American side of the equation, the spin was quite different. For example, the by-now-infamous editorial in the Weekly Standard, sourly denouncing Bush's graceful diplomatic exit from the quicksands of another prolonged hostage crisis, was clearly concerned that this alleged loss of "face" could only serve to further embolden the Chinese. This is nonsense: for we can hardly base our strategic decisions on how we are perceived by the Chinese, but instead must construct a policy based on the objective facts. Our Eastasian policymakers must objectively assess the realistic balance of military power and define our legitimate national interests in the region. In the case of the former, a poor Third World nation like China is no match for the mighty US, and Beijing is acutely and painfully aware of this fact. But aside from this, and the obvious problem of maintaining that our own "national security" involves hovering in disputed waters 70 miles from China's shores, an important point is getting lost: none of the commentary on the Hainan affair, including that in the Weekly Standard, discussed the really serious loss of "face" by the US government resulting from the Hainan incident. . . .


The biggest loss of "face" – that is, legitimacy – for the Americans occurred right here at home. Every time we are caught with our pants down overseas – every time we are nabbed for meddling in other people's business – the credibility and legitimacy of our political leaders, and their rotten foreign policy of global intervention, is called into question. Please don't bore me with hifalutin' notions about the alleged evils of "moral equivalence." The same rules that apply to the Commie gerontocrats ensconced in Beijing rule the fate of those kleptocrats in Washington D.C.: once they lose their legitimacy, they are finished. Be it a democracy, or a dictatorship, a state headed by a President or a Commandante, all are utterly dependent, in the end, on the consent of their subjects. Whatever its coloration or rationale, the regime, absent this consent, collapses, as their former subjects rise up and simply shrug them off. This nearly happened during the Vietnam war, when the US government insisted on following the same policy that failed in Korea, and led to disaster for the French at Dienbienphu. The result was that our rulers nearly lost their legitimacy at home, at least for a while. It happened to the Soviet Union in the 1990s,: again, the catalytic agent was a foreign policy disaster, namely the Kremlin's ill-fated intervention in Afghanistan, where apathetic Soviet conscripts were simply cut to pieces by the motivated Mujahadeen. Suddenly, the weakness of the Soviets had been exposed, and not just to the people of Afghanistan: the Soviet defeat inspired the peoples of the Soviet Union itself to rise up and confront their oppressors, who didn't seem so mighty after all.


The same fate awaits any American regime that dares, once again, to launch a land war in Asia – or, indeed, any prolonged military conflict in a foreign land. What's more, our rulers know this: the much-noted aversion of the American people to body-bags coming home with their sons and daughters in them is second only to the aversion of American policymakers to picking fights where the odds aren't overwhelmingly in their favor. Sure, they'll knock around poor little Serbia, and beat up on the Iraqis: but the Chinese, who number close to a quarter of the world's population? Fuggedaboutit! Such a war could not, by its very nature, be in our interests, and the goal of US policy must be to prevent it rather than provoke it. While the New Republic and the Weekly Standard scream "appeasement" in unison, this assumes that the Chinese are inherently malevolent, unchanging, and eternally dedicated to our destruction. In short, the Chinese are the demons of the cold war, revived and brought back for a second and even more profitable run.


But the updated version of this little morality play is a little different from the original in that, on both the right and the left, there is a distinctly anti-capitalist tone to many of the lines, a sneering disdain for an America that puts profits before "face," or, as the New Republic opines: "The Bush administration, which believes that the business of America is business, is failing at the business of America, which is not business. It is democracy." Against this capitalist plot to sabotage "democracy," the editors of the New Republic haul out a new and refurbished . . . anti-Communism! As they put it:

"In the aftermath of the suave American surrender this week, it is important to restate the principles that should form the foundation of American policy toward China. The first of those principles is the enduring relevance of anti-communism. Yup, anti-communism. For anti-communism never denoted merely an opposition to the Soviet Union and its empire. (Only the primitive right believes that it did.) Anti-communism was, rather, the most arduous and the most urgent instance of a foreign policy that acted on values as much as on interests, an idealistic foreign policy that adopted as its objectives the expansion of free societies and free markets. Such a foreign policy did not mistake the pursuit of those objectives for American imperialism. It also did not mistake the expansion of free markets for the immediate enrichment of American businessmen and consultants. Now, China is not exactly Communist; but it is not exactly not Communist either. Its leaders are embarked on a sordid experiment: they wish to prove that economic liberalization does not entail political liberalization, that capitalism can thrive in the bosom of authoritarianism. They are, in short, in transition from communism to fascism. But anti-fascism is the philosophical twin of anti-communism, or it should be. A non-Maoist tyranny in China is still a tyranny in China, and still a proper object of American opposition."


It is no doubt another delusion of the "primitive right" that free enterprise is the opposite of communism, and a principle worth fighting for, with free trade its international concomitant. Immune to irony, or to any form of self-examination, these "anti-Communist" liberals, with their disdain for the profit motive, have given a peculiarly Marxian ring to their "anti-Communism." Oh, but anti-communism never really just entailed opposing an alleged Soviet threat, we are told: instead, it was a glorious expansionist crusade to export our "values." It was "idealistic" – so much so, that it didn't confuse advocating "free markets" with actually having a free market when it came to trading with our Commie adversaries. Of course, in spite of cold war trade barriers, it was precisely this sort of economic penetration that eventually led to the overthrow of the Communist system in Eurasia: but then, such a strategy would be far too pragmatic for such exalted "idealists."


It is fascinating – in the sense that the horrible can be compelling – that we should hear "anti-Communism" now being revived and trumpeted, not only by the Right but also by the Left. For the struggle against the Soviet Union was used by precisely these people to argue for the expansion of government power at home. If we didn't institute a welfare state, said the New Dealers, the Communists would take over (this in spite of the prominent position of many Communists in the New Deal "Popular Front" coalition, some at the highest levels). Truman made the same arguments, and it was he who really got the cold war going, while consolidating and expanding the power of the federal government on every front: he threatened to nationalize the steel industry in the name of "national security," and it was the liberal "anti-Communists" of the New Republic persuasion who were in the forefront of the witch-hunt against domestic dissent. They relentlessly red-baited the non-interventionist movement, (with liberals like Arthus Schlesinger, Jr., accusing Senator Robert A. Taft of being a Communist "dupe") and openly took advantage of the collectivizing tendencies of any war, cold or hot, on a free society. They remembered the warning of Randolph Bourne, back in the days when liberalism meant opposition to wars of aggression, that "war is the health of the State" – and rubbed their hands together in gleeful anticipation.


Of course, the editors of the New Republic naturally would bring "anti-fascism" into it. They, after all, were the leading journal of the interventionists, back in the 1930s, howling for the rescue of their heroically endangered Soviet Union at Hitler's hands, and, in wartime, bitterly calling for the suppression of such instruments of "sedition" as the Chicago Tribune. They are right, of course: "anti-fascism" is the Siamese twin of "anti-Communism." Indeed, these doctrines were advocated by the same people, only at different times. The ironic interdependence of these two "antis" is underscored by their common history, for it was "anti-fascism" in the realm of foreign policy that saved the Kremlin from destruction. That is why its international agents and their fellow travelers coined the term "anti-fascism" and pushed the cause – in the pages of the New Republic of the 1930s – with such systematic thoroughness,. Without "anti-fascism" ensconced as the guiding principle of US foreign policy, there would have been no "anti-Communism" – because there would have been no Communism.


The self-perpetuating mechanism in place here ought to excite the suspicion of any thinking man or woman, or, indeed, of anyone with the street smarts to avoid being hustled. When they declare that a new Enemy is on the horizon, and that we must drop everything and arm ourselves for the coming Armageddon, reach for your wallet – and hold on to it. Creating a diversion is the oldest trick in the pickpocket's book. When they describe horrific conditions imposed by an all-powerful central government that steals from the poor to give to the state-privileged rich, that regulates its citizens to death and even kills them, look to see if there is a similar entity existing much closer to home – and remember Waco.


With the end of the cold war, and the implosion of Communism as a political system and as an idea – the War Party has been in a permanent funk. The "hate China" campaign is their last chance to create a Satan with a sword that both Left and Right can agree on. If they don't succeed, then the continuity of their foreign policy – indeed, of their whole rotten system – is threatened. For, without an external enemy, whose defeat is mandatory, Americans can turn, once again, to the problems besetting them at home: the erosion of constitutional government, the onerous tax burden, the exponential growth of Big Government and the loss of our civil liberties. Bereft of external enemies, Americans – our rulers fear – will turn against their real enemy: an omnivorous federal Leviathan eating away at our freedom on every front – and we couldn't have that, now could we?


This is why it is no surprise that the Church of Al Gore and the "conservative" idolaters of John McCain are united in their rage over the outcome of the Hainan incident, and why they speak with one voice in their bitter hatred of China. The "national greatness" conservatives of the Weekly Standard, who hailed the prosecution of Microsoft and have always disdained the "anti-government" rhetoric of alleged right-wing "extremists," have much more in common with their newfound liberal friends than a reflexively belligerent foreign policy stance. Radical or even significant tax cuts are out of the question if we have to rearm in the face of the alleged Chinese threat. Trade issues, too, are going to be dominated by the rhetoric of the new left-right cold warrior coalition, with Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi, the quintessential "San Francisco Democrats" (the first metaphorical, and second actual), lining up with Henry Hyde and Bob Barr – with the labor unions and the arms industry cheering in the popcorn gallery.


In any coalition the various factions make concessions in a tradeoff that is to their mutual benefit. If the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the "hate China" lobby on the right is in the nature of a concession, then the Left, too, will be giving ground on other issues – immigration policies and civil liberties, to start with. On the right, we are already hearing the crude racist jokes, and talk of Chinese-Americans as a potential "fifth column" in the US: how long before their fellow warmongers on the left follow suit? If, during the first cold war, as many Russians were working in high technology sectors as Chinese-Americans are now, how long before both conservative and liberal "anti-Communists" would have put a stop to it?


What happens, in any coalition in which the constituent elements are tied together by a single overriding foreign policy issue – whether it be "anti-fascism," "anti-Communism," or anti-whatever – is that eventually these disparate elements merge and blend together into a single united movement. This is what happened to both the "anti-fascists" and the "isolationists" of yesteryear: the radical leftists who allied with Anglophile aristocrats and others to forge the "anti-fascist" interventionist coalition of the 1930s eventually moved rightward, from Marxism to Rooseveltism to neoconservatism. On the other hand, the old-style liberals such as John T. Flynn who joined the American First Committee – an organization made up primarily of conservatives opposed to entering the European war – eventually became conservatives, that is, opponents of the Roosevelt regime and its centralizing, anti-capitalist tendencies.


A new cold war would be an absolute disaster for the cause of economic freedom and individual liberty. With the left and the right drawing ever closer together on domestic as well as foreign policy issues, there would, in effect, be only one party in this great "democracy" of ours: the War Party. Such a party, encompassing both ends of the political spectrum, would be united in its enthusiasm not only for foreign wars, but also for the high taxes required to pay for them. It would be united on the need to spy on its own citizens, as well as other countries, and united on the need to preserve Big Government, in all its bloated glory: after all, could a constitutional and strictly limited US government reliably project its power into the South China Sea? Could it defend Taiwan? Could it safeguard Israel? Would it have the sheer bulk and imperial magnificence to face down a resurgent Russia? Clearly, the answer to all these questions is no – which is why the War Party must always and forever be the party of Big Government.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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