Sorry, But It’s No Longer Boxer Rebellion Time

It was all reminiscent of that historic American milestone in 2004 when President George W. Bush, wearing an Air Force suit that made him resemble a genuine combat veteran, stood proudly on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln under a banner triumphantly heralding another "Mission Accomplished" for the world’s "indispensable" nation.

So too in November 2015 when Ashton (Ash) Carter, our Defense Secretary, was on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt warning the Chinese that the US means business if they dare interfere with freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and our domination of the region now and into the future.

The US had recently dispatched a guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese islet in the Spratly Archipelago, some of whose barren and rocky islets are claimed by the Chinese but also by other Southeastern Asian nations who expect the US military and its "boots on the ground" to fight and if necessary die on their behalf in the event of war.

"Teddy Roosevelt’s presence there and our visit is a symbol of our commitment to our rebalance [to Asia] and the importance of the Asia-Pacific to the United States," Carter declared, somehow overlooking that the real Teddy loved war, I mean he LOVED it, that is until his son died in WWI.

Still, given the oil and natural gas reserves in the area plus the extensive presence of commercial shipping and fishing, President Obama added, "The United States will continue to sail, fly and operate anywhere that international law involves." Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen didn’t question Obama’s judgment, but he wisely advised prudence. "It does no good for the region if there are incidents."

Certainly, the defense of freedom of navigation is vital but sending in well-armed warships repeatedly, as the US says it will do, while relying on Obama’s "Pivot to Asia" is ominous since an increasingly muscular China is doing what others did to it when they were smitten by dreams of empire. Sorry, but it’s no longer Boxer Rebellion time.

But there’s more. What if the Chinese lobbed a few shells at the next warship they spy inside their claimed 12-mile zone? 0r if Chinese hardliners (they have them too) violate Alaska’s territorial limits as they did in 2012 or even one day risk an improbable challenge to our sainted if tainted Monroe Doctrine by sending a few warships for a Gulf of Mexico cruise defying US domination of South and Central America? Other than our fuming legion of pugnacious homebound patriots who demand action ("War hath no fury like a noncombatant" presciently observed the British journalist and WWI combat officer Charles Edward Montague) what could the US do?

China now has plenty of nukes as do its putative Russian and North Korean allies, so who is fooling whom? Would the US actually go to war over Spratly’s islets and freedom of navigation in a distant sea? (Would China, close by?) If not, why is the United States making idle threats? The truth is the powerlessness of nuclear powers to fight one another and win, let alone survive. Before he became President, Ronald Reagan said the US could fight and win a limited nuclear war, a notion that was and remains insane. In Asia (as with Putin’s Russia and Ukraine), the war business has changed drastically and a new game plan is desperately needed before things get out of control.

There are no easy answers to complex situations compounded by extreme nationalism and widespread ignorance. Standing on warships and talking tough while invoking Teddy’s Big Stick mantra will no longer wash. So how about a little quiet diplomacy? If it appears to be working between Washington and Tehran why not also Washington and Beijing (and Moscow too)?

Murray Polner wroteNo Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Disarmed & Dangerous, a dual biography of Daniel & Philip Berrigan (with Jim’O’Grady), andWe Who Dared Say No To War(with Thomas Woods Jr.).

4 thoughts on “Sorry, But It’s No Longer Boxer Rebellion Time”

  1. No reason to think sane people have any purchase on the gubbmnt… Has been, once was, only thinks of past glory and 2B seen as too wrong & strong to challenge.. while up and comers wait….. This seems our lot……

  2. It's called the South CHINA Sea not the South AMERICA Sea. Ash Carter and his lot should just f**k off. You don't sea Beijing taking a stance on Puerto Rican independence. This is classic American gunboat imperialism, plain and simple.

  3. Good thoughts, but even the admirable Polner slips into China bashing when he suggests China seeks to dominate the region militarily.
    Where's the evidence, Murray?
    China's policy is win-win between nations, and most of the nation's of the region accept that, with the notable exceptions of Philippines and Japan, both US puppets.
    Because Western nations have been imperial for the last 500 years does not mean China must be also. In fact 100 years before Columbus when China had the world's most powerful navy and visited East Africa regularly, it did not subjugate the nations it visited nor did it establish colonies nor did it enslave the peoples there. Even Kissinger in his book On China has to concede that China has a markedly different way of interacting with the world compared to the West.
    And besides what does the US need to negotiate with China? China has not interfered with navigation in the South China Sea nor does the US have any claims there.
    Remember that the name of the northwest corner of the South China Sea is the Gulf of Tonkin.
    The US should come home and stay out of the waters it has troubled for so long.
    No negotiations, just get the hell out.

  4. with the "nine-dash line" beijing claims 90% of the south china sea,
    leaving neighboring nations – phillipines, indonesia, vietnam, and
    brunei – with barely enough maritime territory to hold a surfing

    this is about precedent. if the us (as other nations are too weak)
    must ask "permission", agreeing with beijing's claim of ownership,
    that implies beijing can one day refuse permission.

    and remember these are NOT islands, nor islets, nor rocky
    shoals. they are submerged rocks, with airstrips capable
    of landing military aircraft build above them. they are NOT
    located within china's exclusive economic zone, but rather
    hundreds, many hundreds, of kilometers away.

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