A new ‘cold war’ with China as an election stunt?

For those alive at the time, one of the very curious aspects of the Cold War was an ideological fixation on “Moscow” as the source of all evil—so-called “communism,”[1] but really authoritarian socialism—in the world. This rhetoric ignored differences between, for examples, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union, and, at least in later years, China and Vietnam.

The “communist” world was not, by any means, monolithic, but the polarized “good” versus “evil” hierarchically invidious monistic rhetoric seemingly required a unified enemy, even where such unity did not exist.

Now, when Russia apparently meddles in elections,[2] the Trump administration nonetheless focuses on China,[3] saying, “If the free world doesn’t change Communist China, Communist China will change us.”[4] This, too, should ring a bell: The idea of the “domino theory,” the rationale for the U.S. war in southeast Asia—not just Vietnam—was the notion that just as China had fallen to “communism,” then Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, if “communism” was not contained, so too would Thailand and the Philippines, so too would, ultimately, the world.

Donald Trump has previously sought to emphasize the possibility of a trade deal with China and ignored human rights concerns in doing so.[5]

The Cold War did not end in war, although the world lived with the possibility of war between the superpowers for decades and there were plenty of proxy wars around the world between Soviet- and U.S.-backed forces. The Cold War justified a hugely expensive arms race and there are still some folks alive who remember “duck and cover” drills in schools that were mocked by antiwar activists who appended a directive to “kiss your ass goodbye.” Insanely huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons are a legacy of the Cold War and we need to be clear that the U.S. was not sane—some rabid anticommunists even advocated a first strike—a nuclear strike—against the Soviet Union, not on any assurance, but rather on the mere, desperate hope that enough of us would survive to preserve the U.S. system.[6]

These anticommunists were not yet neoconservatives, as neoconservatism arose in reaction to the antiwar, counterculture, and various liberation movements, notably including the Black liberation movement, of the 1960s and 1970s[7] but there is an apparent intellectual legacy as neoconservatives, too, stress preservation of the U.S. political and economic system even through aggression against other nations.[8] And it is hard for me to miss that the administration’s recent “law and order” rhetoric and actions taken against the Black Lives Matter protests would appeal to neoconservatives.[9]

I distrust polls on methodological grounds: The response rate should be more like ninety percent, not six or seven percent.[10] But a number of polls—even if they were reliable, this is much too early to put much stock in them—recently have shown Trump is losing badly to Joe Biden, some neoconservatives have formed the Lincoln Project to oppose Trump,[11] and many have accused Trump of deploying federal forces to U.S. cities in violent opposition to Black Lives Matter protests as a campaign stunt.[12]

The weird part about this for me is that I don’t think neoconservatives amount to much outside the Washington, D.C. beltway. None of this, a new “cold war” with China nor the crackdown on protests, will move many votes. But all of it is certainly eye-catching and a lot of pieces seem to fit together. I can’t overemphasize how hugely dangerous it is if I am right, but it looks to me like this might well be meant as part of an effort to split neoconservatives in the delusional raging narcissist-in-chief’s re-election effort.

  1. [1]Emma Goldman, “There Is No Communism in Russia,” in Red Emma Speaks: An Emma Goldman Reader, ed. Alix Kates Shulman, 3rd ed. (Amherst, NY: Humanity, 1998), 405-420.
  2. [2]Morgan Chalfant and Olivia Beavers, “Five things to know about the Russian indictments,” Hill, February 16, 2018, http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/374305-five-things-to-know-about-the-russian-indictments; David A. Graham, “What Mueller’s Indictment Reveals,” Atlantic, February 16, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/mueller-roadmap/553604/; Hill, “Mueller indicts 13 Russians for interfering in US election,” February 16, 2018, http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/374233-russians-charged-with-interfering-in-us-elections; David Remnick, “Mueller’s Indictment Ends Trump’s Myth of the Russia ‘Hoax,’” New Yorker, February 16, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/sections/news/muellers-indictments-end-trumps-myth-of-the-russia-hoax; Todd Ruger, “Revealing Tales from the Election Interference Indictment,”Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, February 17, 2018, https://www.rollcall.com/news/politics/revealing-tales-election-interference-indictment; Del Quentin Wilber and Aruna Viswanatha, “Russians Charged With Interfering in U.S. Election,” Wall Street Journal, February 16, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russians-charged-with-interfering-in-u-s-election-1518804495
  3. [3]Guardian, “Mike Pompeo says free world must change China or ‘China will change us,’” July 23, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/24/mike-pompeo-says-free-world-must-change-china-or-china-will-change-us
  4. [4]Mike Pompeo, quoted in Guardian, “Mike Pompeo says free world must change China or ‘China will change us,’” July 23, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/24/mike-pompeo-says-free-world-must-change-china-or-china-will-change-us
  5. [5]David J. Lynch, “Trump says he might veto legislation that aims to protect human rights in Hong Kong because bill could affect China trade talks,” Washington Post, November 22, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/11/22/trump-says-he-might-veto-legislation-that-aims-protect-human-rights-hong-kong-because-bill-would-impact-china-trade-talks/; Jonathan Swan, “Exclusive: Trump held off on Xinjiang sanctions for China trade deal,” Axios, June 21, 2020, https://www.axios.com/trump-uighur-muslims-sanctions-d4dc86fc-17f4-42bd-bdbd-c30f4d2ffa21.html; Joseph Zeballos-Roig, “Trump says he opted against punishing China for its internment of 1 million Muslims to avoid jeopardizing a trade deal he long sought,” Business Insider, June 22, 2020, https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-china-internment-muslims-uighur-punishing-jeopardizing-trade-deal-sanctions-2020-6
  6. [6]George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).
  7. [7]George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).
  8. [8]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  9. [9]David Benfell, “The authoritarian populist president embraces neoconservatism–to advance his own tyranny,” Not Housebroken, July 22, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/07/21/the-authoritarian-populist-president-embraces-neoconservatism-to-advance-his-own-tyranny/
  10. [10]Courtney Kennedy and Hannah Hartig, “Response rates in telephone surveys have resumed their decline,” Pew Research Center, February 27, 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/02/27/response-rates-in-telephone-surveys-have-resumed-their-decline/
  11. [11]Dan Pfeiffer, “The Lincoln Project: Friend, Foe, or Fraud?” Crooked, July 16, 2020, https://crooked.com/articles/lincoln-project-friend-fraud/
  12. [12]Hamed Aleaziz, “‘Disturbing And Demoralizing’: DHS Employees Are Worried The Portland Protest Response Is Destroying Their Agency’s Reputation,” Buzzfeed, July 21, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/22/us/portland-protests-mayors-withdraw-federal-forces/index.html; Julian Borger, “Trump consults Bush torture lawyer on how to skirt law and rule by decree,” Guardian, July 20, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/20/trump-john-yoo-lawyer-torture-waterboarding; Bill Chappell, “Federal Agents Will Be ‘Clearly Identified’ In Kansas City, Mo., U.S. Attorney Says,” National Public Radio, July 21, 2020, https://www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-protests-for-racial-justice/2020/07/21/893936041/federal-agents-will-be-clearly-identified-in-kansas-city-u-s-attorney-says; Jeet Heer, “Trump Unleashes His Secret Police in Portland,” Nation, July 17, 2020, https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/trump-secret-police-portland/; Madeline Holcombe, “More than a dozen mayors join Portland in asking Trump administration to withdraw federal forces,” CNN, July 22, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/22/us/portland-protests-mayors-withdraw-federal-forces/index.html; Dan Lamothe, Missy Ryan, and Paul Sonne, “Pentagon chief balks at Trump’s call for active-duty military force on U.S. citizens, and Mattis rips president,” Washington Post, June 3, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/despite-suggestions-from-trump-pentagon-chief-says-he-does-not-support-invoking-insurrection-act/2020/06/03/8e8dad2e-a59e-11ea-8681-7d471bf20207_story.html; Marissa J. Lang, “‘MomBloc’ and protest first-timers march into Portland streets, moved by the aggressive tactics of federal agents,” Washington Post, July 21, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/07/21/mombloc-protest-first-timers-march-into-portland-streets-moved-by-aggressive-tactics-federal-troops/; Sarah McCammon, “DHS Official On Reports Of Federal Officers Detaining Protesters In Portland, Ore.,” National Public Radio, July 17, 2020, https://www.npr.org/2020/07/17/892393079/dhs-official-on-reports-of-federal-officers-detaining-protesters-in-portland-ore; Nick Miroff and Mark Berman, “Trump threatens to deploy federal agents to Chicago and other U.S. cities led by Democrats,” Washington Post, July 20, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/defending-portland-crackdown-trump-pledges-to-deploys-feds-to-chicago-and-other-us-cities-led-by-democrats/2020/07/20/fda42b8a-caaa-11ea-89ce-ac7d5e4a5a38_story.html; Katie Shepherd, “‘It was like being preyed upon’: Portland protesters say federal officers in unmarked vans are detaining them,” Washington Post, July 17, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/07/17/portland-protests-federal-arrests/; Chris Walker, “Philadelphia DA Says Trump’s Police Will Be Arrested If They Assault Protesters,” Truthout, July 22, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/philadelphia-da-says-trumps-police-will-be-arrested-if-they-assault-protesters/; Matt Zapotosky, “Trump threatens military action to quell protests, and the law would let him do it,” Washington Post, June 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/can-trump-use-military-to-stop-protests-insurrection-act/2020/06/01/c3724380-a46b-11ea-b473-04905b1af82b_story.html

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