Rebuild America and Fight China?

In an age of TV politicians, President Joe Biden is a figure from another age.  He is deeply unexciting and suffering from advanced age – a time in life which the great Charles de Gaulle compared to a `shipwreck.’

No mobs of baseball hat-wearing yahoos are about to storm the Capitol for Biden’s sake.   However unexciting he may be, President Biden has acted with courage and foresight to enact what America so badly needed: moving away from a wartime to a peacetime economy.

America’s economy has been on a full wartime footing since the Vietnam War.  The US Navy alone operates 11 big deck attack carriers, and twice that number of small carriers.  A French admiral told me ruefully over a very nice dinner one night that the US Navy’s budget alone was larger than his nation’s entire military budget.  US annual military spending amounts to nearly half the world’s total military outlays.

When invited to the Pentagon to consult on the Mideast and Afghanistan, I have always been amazed by the beehive of activity there.  America’s vast military-industrial complex was in overdrive.  It looked to me like America’s number one activity was war.  Not big ones, like WWII, Korea or Vietnam but many small conflicts all over the globe – what British imperialists used to call ‘little wars.’

As many Americans have noticed, their huge nation has been falling apart.  US infrastructure has been rusting or crumbling since the early 1960’s.  Bridges, railroads, telecommunications, airports, seaports, and highways have not been adequately renovated or restored.  For example, key bridge tunnels in my native city, New York, have become perilous due to lack of maintenance and modernization.  Politicians love to spend billions on glamor projects but hate spending on basics.

No president since Eisenhower has dared to seriously rebuild or repair the United States.  Compared to effectively modernizing Europe, the US often looks thirty years behind and depressingly backwards.

Unfortunately, Biden’s renewal plans, which will cost upwards of 2.5 trillion dollars are to be financed by higher taxes.  The imminence of such increases and printing of billions of newly minted dollars has of course ignited a storm of inflation, now running at over 6.2% in the US alone.  Meanwhile, the Pentagon continues to spend trillions of dollars preparing for more small wars and gearing up for a big-time conflict with China.

It would have made better sense to raise the hundreds of billions needed to finance the anti-Covid campaign and Biden’s national renovation campaign by extracting the money from the terribly bloated military budget.  That would have been the other act of courage needed by the Biden White House.  But Biden has not so far been able to even shut the totalitarian Guantanamo prison due to opposition from southern Republicans and, of course, the military.

Biden and his team realize that the coming head-on competition with China will require a modernized United States. Otherwise, it might look more like an updated version of the creaky old Austro-Hungarian Empire than the champion of the western world.

While the US has been wasting trillions on its little colonial wars (‘war on terror’), China has been investing in infrastructure and a brand-new military.  Having now been defeated in Vietnam and Afghanistan, the US military risks a much bigger shellacking by China.

The balance of military technology is fast turning against the United States as a major Pacific War looms on the horizon.  In that event, the US will be at a serious geostrategic disadvantage by being forced to fight a war thousands of miles from its home bases on the US West Coast while China’s military will operate virtually next door to its home.

This is a war that the US should at all costs avoid.  No one can even adequately explain what winning a war with China entails.  How do you defeat a colossus on the other side of the world’s largest ocean?  Better fix US infrastructure and avoid a fight.  As US founder Ben Franklin said, ‘no good war; no bad peace.’