America’s War Trajectory: Time to Get Serious

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” says Charles Freeman, the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the man who served as Richard Nixon’s interpreter in the 1972 China opening. “The armed forces of the United States and China are now very far along in planning and practicing how to go to war with each other.”

Freeman’s analysis of foreign policy issues is always keen and, in a world clearly headed to a nasty and probable nuclear conflagration, it should drown out the imbecility offered endlessly by know-nothing panelists on cable TV. Maybe the gods have changed their method in the media age and those they would destroy they now simply subject to hours of commentary by 25 year old Democrat and Republican “strategists.”

In a recent talk at Brown University, Freeman described the inevitable hazards of the U.S. seeking to perpetuate the unsustainable post-WWII order.  Our political and military elite have nuclear “amnesia,” he says.  “Americans have ceased to consider what a nuclear exchange with Russia, China, or another foreign foe would do to the United States.”

It must not slip down the memory hole that Trump repeatedly pressed during the presidential campaign for someone to explain to him why the U.S. shouldn’t be able to use its nuclear weapons. “If we have them, why can’t we use them?” Trump asked, according to an account by Joe Scarborough.  A campaign spokesman denied the report a few days later, but as president, Trump has clearly been given to nuclear bluster.

Freeman concludes that “it is time to get serious” about where we are headed:

While Washington persists in proceeding on the assumption that the United States can forever dominate China’s periphery, this notion has steadily diminishing credibility in Asia. America’s power is visibly declining, not just in relation to China but also to the increasingly self-reliant allies and friends of the United States in the region. These trends give every sign of accelerating. They reflect underlying realities that increased U.S. defense spending cannot alter or reverse.

Sino-American rivalry — political, economic, and military — seems destined to intensify. China can and will easily match defense budget plus-ups by the United States. Despite much shadowboxing by the U.S. armed forces, American military primacy in the Western Pacific will gradually waste away. Both the costs of U.S. trans-Pacific engagement and the risks of armed conflict will rise. The states of the region will hedge. They will either draw closer to Beijing, cleave to Washington, or — more likely — try to get out of the middle between Chinese and Americans. For the most part, they will not repudiate their alliances with America. Why give up something for nothing? But they will rely less on the United States and act more independently of it.

So the central question in whether the United States can avoid war with China comes down to this: How much damage to our homeland are we prepared to risk to pursue specific foreign policy objectives that antagonize China? In the Twenty-first Century, when Americans kill faraway foreigners, we must expect that they will retaliate and that, one way or another, we will pay a price in civilian deaths here at home.


2:24 pm on June 2, 2017