The Toxic Effects of Great Power ‘Competition’

Great power rivalry will take the political divisions in this country and make them even worse in an atmosphere of supercharged nationalism and suspicion.

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Spencer Ackerman identifies the most absurd part of Robert Kagan’s latest essay on rivalry with China:

But those are the trees. This line is the forest: "If ever there could be a cure for American political polarization, a conflict with China would be it."

Of all the terrible arguments for the coalescing China Cold War, this one is perhaps the worst. U.S. policymakers must never be allowed to believe this, since if they do, they’ll pursue confrontation with China as a means of political power. I can tell you from writing REIGN OF TERROR that many politicians, journalists and intellectuals convinced themselves after 9/11 that the War on Terror would be a force through which a history-chastened America would put away childish disputes and reclaim its destiny. We know thoroughly how false this is. It’s measured in an unknown number of lives ruined, freedom stolen, demagogues empowered and anti-democratic forces mobilized. The China Cold War wouldn’t redress that. It would scale it all up. "The Cure for American Political Polarization" will not include your Asian-American neighbors any more than the post-9/11 "national unity" included your Muslim neighbors.

Every time that the US embarks on some major struggle against an enemy, the loudest supporters trot out this conceit that it will have a great unifying effect on the country. To the extent that there is briefly a period of unity, it is imposed through smashing dissent, vilifying and abusing whichever minorities are perceived as being too sympathetic to the other side, and a culture defined by fear and conformity. The truth is that such conflicts exacerbate existing divisions and create new ones within the country, especially when they involve sending US forces off to fight in some distant country that has nothing to do with American security.

It takes a propagandist to look back at the history of the Cold War and pretend that it was a period of profound American political unity that we should want to emulate. If there were a direct conflict with China, that would probably have even more toxic political effects because the costs of such a war would be high. If the US were to lose the war or fight to a stalemate, the recriminations at home would never end. The global disruptions that a U.S.-Chinese war would cause would impose significant economic pain on the US and the world, which would likely trigger a sharp political backlash.

Supposing that the rivalry remains a cold one, the picture is still an ugly one. In prolonged rivalries, wartime hysteria and paranoia become near-permanent features of the political landscape. Partisan sniping and demagoguery predictably get worse during periods of intensified rivalry with another major power, and hawks routinely accuse their domestic opponents of disloyalty, appeasement, and defeatism. As Ackerman says, all of this should be obvious from the experience of the last two decades when all of this happened as part of the “war on terror,” but it is important for an ideologue like Kagan to bury the memory of the last disastrous war so that he can sell the new one.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

18 thoughts on “The Toxic Effects of Great Power ‘Competition’”

      1. The mainstream/corporate/establishment media want people to be scared all the time, and they’re very good at accomplishing that. People need to realize that these companies don’t provide news, and instead are just propagandizing them.

      2. And notice the use of “spy” was immediate and unquestioned. I didn’t even see “weather” even mentioned other than to chide China.

    1. If the American people just decided to stop buying “Made in China” there would be no need for a war. Consumer Power?

      1. You nailed it! Refraining from buying needless crap is the key to making all necessary changes, starting with reversing human destruction of the natural environment and killing all the life there. If we don’t buy their products or services, these huge companies go out of business and their ruling class owners lose their power. But as long as people drool over the next i-Phone or whatever, we’ll be stuck with the current awful situation. People need to evolve mentally and spiritually and stop obsessing on materialism!

      2. The problem is that they make stuff that we DO want, including whatever electronic device you are reading this on. World trade has proven beneficial for everyone, while imperialistic geopolitics proven a detriment everywhere.

        1. World trade is very bad for everyone except some humans. Massive consumption and burning of oil, so much noise in the oceans that whales can’t hear each other anymore, etc. Everything should be made and bought locally.

      3. I remember back around 25 years ago when I was looking for a pair of Tennis shoes made in America. I went to every store in my town and couldn’t find a one. So, it’s one thing to not want to buy “Made in China” products but I didn’t feel like going barefoot.

        1. Depends on how you define “enemy.”

          Presumably they would include a Taiwanese regime that doesn’t pretend very hard to be “part of China,” the regime-in-exile and internal resistance in occupied Tibet, et al.

    2. But those are the trees. This line is the forest: “If ever there could be a cure for American political polarization, a conflict with China would be it.”

      I just now finally watched the Winter Soldier movie. This line could have come straight out of the Hydra handbook. Though in the reality Hollywood bosses will never show, it’s actually from the Israel/neocon handbook.

      Just like in the movie the Black Widow says she was on a mission to “smuggle an Iranian nuclear scientist out of Iran,” when the Winter Soldier wounded her and killed the scientist. In reality anyone can leave Iran at any time, and the U.S. side, or rather Israel, murders the nuclear scientists, in Iran and Iraq alike. Not agents who speak Russian. They’re on the scientists’ side. So the movie turns reality upside down. But here we have the neocon Kagan showing which side it is that causes global war for its benefit.

      Robert Kagan is married to Victoria Nuland, Biden’s henchwoman financing the groups in the 2014 coup in Ukraine, and okaying her buddy Zelensky’s planned invasion of Donbass in February 2022.

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