“Our Cold, Two-front War”

March 23rd, 2021 - by James W. Carden and Patrick Lawrence / The Scrum

We’re Already Losing This One

James W. Carden and Patrick Lawrence / The Scrum

MARCH 21—Last week marked excellent progress for those hoping the Biden administration will lead America into a new Cold War—this one to be waged on two fronts across both oceans. “Ca-ching!” ring the cash registers at the defense contractors, as if they do not already have Americans by their throats. We will now descend further into our Slough of Despond, for the psychological damage this extravagantly stupid new escapade inflicts upon us, the narrowing of the American mind, the maiming of our thinking, will be among its greatest costs. This is already evident. 

President Biden’s juvenile remarks about his Russian counterpart — He is a “killer,” we are to know — and Secretary of State Blinken’s blustery display of hawkery during his encounter with Chinese officials in Anchorage a couple of days later are declarations of this new Cold War, in our read. And they were performances played primarily for the peanut gallery at home, we must not miss. Waging wars of any kind, hot or cold, requires domestic consensus, as our policy cliques learned the hard way during the Vietnam War. You can count the diligence with which they now seek the consent of Americans as a measure of what we are in for. Our fate is grave: It is to be made of debilitating, desiccating hate and fear. 

It is not as if Biden and his national security detail were forced by circumstance into postures of hostility toward Russia and China. No, one of the notable features of last week’s anti-diplomacy is how assiduously they cultivated circumstances of hostility in advance. Moscow has long been on the record as open to more constructive relations with Washington; immediately prior to the Anchorage encounter, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing had this to say:

We require the US to treat China and Sino-US relations in an objective and rational manner, discard the Cold War and zero-sum thinking, and respect China’s sovereignty, security, and development interests. 

In response, Biden and Antony Blinken, with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan the latter’s sidekick in Alaska, may as well have thrown acid in the faces of their Russian and Chinese counterparts. This was President Putin in Biden’s case; Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi, respectively China’s top diplomat and foreign minister, sat across from Blinken and Sullivan in Anchorage. In both cases, the ground was well-laid in advance to make sure any amicable turn in ties was thoroughly precluded.

Shortly before Biden’s crude remarks last Wednesday, the director of national intelligence released another “Intelligence Community Assessment” asserting that Russia, at Putin’s behest, once again conspired to interfere in an American presidential election. The 2021 iteration of the ICA, it must be said, is something of an upgrade over the utterly unprofessional, indeed risible 2016 ICA, which included such howlers as the claim that an RT television program that had been off the air since February 2015 was an integral part of the Russian government’s effort to steal the election for Donald J. Trump a year and some later. 

The new ICA reads, in part:  We assess that Russian President Putin authorized, and a range of Russian government conducted, influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the US.

Unlike the 2016 report, wherein there were differences among the NSA and other intel agencies in the level of confidence in the ICA’s findings, this most recent ICA claims “high confidence” in its assessment.  Last time around, every corporate news outlet  from The New York Times to the absurd Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC assured the American people that every one of the US “intelligence community’s” 17 agencies confirmed Russian interference in the 2016 election; in fact, only the CIA, FBI. and NSA took part in the ICA published January 6, 2017. (The Times, much later, issued a grudging correction to that effect.) This time around, seven of the 17 agencies collaborated to produce the report — but once again our press and broadcasters neglect to point this out.  

The media’s reaction was to be expected: unhinged and hysterical — this in an seamless run of one-source stories, no second sources ever sought.

The reaction by the current president, simply by nature of his office, was even more alarming. Asked about these latest allegations of Russian interference by ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, a longtime clerk in the service of the governing class, Biden said Putin “will pay a price. I, we had a long talk, he and I, when we — I know him relatively well. And I — the conversation started off, I said, “I know you and you know me. If I establish this occurred, then be prepared.”

The exchange continued:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you know Vladimir Putin. You think he’s a killer?

BIDEN: Uh-huh. I do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what price must he pay?

BIDEN: The price he’s gonna pay we’ll—you’ll see shortly. I’m not gonna—there’s—by the way, we oughta be able that ol’—that trite expression “walk and chew gum at the same time,” there’re places where it’s in our mutual interest to work together.

This is stupid even when you make allowances for the source.  The result of Biden’s comments, no surprise here, was a serious diplomatic rupture: Putin recalled his ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, a day after Biden’s comments aired on ABC.

A question that never seems to arise: How does this hard-line policy, a kind of un-virtuous circle of bellicose rhetoric, sanctions, and ham-handed efforts (by both countries) to embarrass the other in the eyes of the world, redound to our benefit? 

One is hard pressed to find any. We must count Biden’s remarks during his televised appearance a first-rank mistake given its already evident consequences.  

Indeed, the series of sanctions the US has levied against the Russian Federation since the signing of the “Magnitsky Act” in 2012 have driven Moscow only further to the East in search of markets and security partners. This is precisely the opposite of the policy America successfully pursued during the Cold War, when the objective was to triangulate between Moscow and Beijing. Today, we have gone from triangulation to combination: Russia and China have been driven together in consequence of our out-of-control sanctions policy https://thescrum.substack.com/p/sanctions-and-drift and our paranoid global posture. 

Nothing demonstrates this more plainly than the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s  announcement Thursday — while Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi were doing their best to manage the petulant Blinken — that Wang has invited Sergei Lavrov to visit Beijing this week. It does not get more pointed than this: The Russian FM is to board his plane Monday. This is one strong sign of how Cold War II is going to go for the Americans: It is going to go badly, a major catalyst in the forging of close ties among non–Western nations. 

Our freedoms! Our human rights! Our ‘rules-based order’! (Ron Przysucha / State Department.)

By way of the trans-Pacific choreography, it was as plain prior to the Anchorage encounter as it was in the Russian case as just described. A few days before the two-day exchange in Alaska, the Biden administration saw fit to announce sanctions against 24 more Chinese officials, including one member of the Politburo, for their alleged roles in the Hong Kong political crisis. 

Do we wonder that things then went badly across those long tables in an Anchorage hotel (the Captain Cook, no less)? We do not. They were meant to.

The unconventionally nasty clash in Anchorage has been reported extensively. Here is some of Blinken’s opening statement:

We’ll also discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyberattacks on the United States, and economic coercion toward our allies. Each of these actions threatens the rules-based order that maintains global stability.

To be noted: The first three of these questions are the internal affairs of the People’s Republic. Allegations of cyberattacks are two-a-penny, while evidence of same is nowhere to be found. One hears the economic coercion theme constantly among the China hawks, but one is never given a single example of any. The two nations Blinken invoked in this regard, Japan and South Korea, are China’s first– and third-ranked trading partners. 

Yang Jiechi in reply: I think we thought too well of the United States. We thought the US side will follow the necessary diplomatic protocols. For China it is necessity that we make our position clear. Let me say from the Chinese side that the United States does not have the qualification to speak to China from a position of strength.

This translation — Yang spoke in Mandarin, of course — seems to us faulty. He appears to have meant the US has no ground to lecture others on such questions as the treatment of minorities, political dissent, or human rights. 

A fair enough thought, we would say. Blinken’s rejoinder:  Our administration is committed to leading with diplomacy to advance the interests of the United States and to strengthen the rules-based international order.… The alternative to a rules-based order is a world in which might makes right and winners take all. And that would be a violent and far more unstable word for all of us.

This is what we mean when we say Blinken’s rhetoric is intended primarily for domestic consumption. The bombing, intervening, illegally sanctioning flouter of international law, norms — rules, indeed —wants to assure China we will not live in a world wherein might makes right? What statesman representing even one of the “allies and partners” Blinken is always on about could take such rubbish seriously? None we can think of. 

We read the Anchorage episode, the first between senior American and Chinese officials, as significant beyond the fracas that has captured the headlines. The Chinese have now told the Biden administration: China does not, indeed, take you seriously and shall no longer pretend to do so. We would be rich were we to have a dime for every “turning point” columnists and correspondents have declared over the years, but this may prove to be one. 

There are other truths to derive from last week’s declarations of continued American acrimony toward Russia and China. 

One, this is now rather baldly about keeping our defense contractors in steady work and profits. Last week Army News reported on a general named John Murray as he warned of the potential for waging a land war against China. Even the hawkiest of Washington’s drum-beaters know this is a patently ridiculous idea, but no matter: Keep all ridiculous ideas before the American public, because the Pentagon’s budget requests are about to get very preposterous — our prediction for coming years — and must not arouse questioning of any serious kind. 

Two, a more assertive China now appears to be a reality, not merely some kind of trite talking point, and if you follow the bouncing ball the empire that finds itself on its back foot has left it no choice. In our read, China has chosen this moment to assert — non-negotiably — its  parity with the US and the West altogether. 

Why now? Like Russia, China appears to be deeply disappointed to discover the retrograde character of the Biden administration’s foreign policies. Reread Yang’s remark as quoted above: “We thought too well of the United States.” They had hopes for Biden, in other words. Given his fading competence, we ought to add, we think these policies will be shaped and directed in large measure by Blinken and Sullivan, with an adjunct role for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. This will prove another competence problem.  

Three, Washington has just declared war of a cold kind with most of the Eurasian landmass. Those allies and partners Blinken purports to be gathering behind us are not behind us — not in this endeavor: Blinken is straight-out lying on this point. With them or without them, America cannot possibly win any such contest. But winning is not the point, we had better recognize. The point is to wage and prolong another Cold War as long as possible in the interests of arms makers, military bureaucracies, and all the ancillary interests that benefit from wars that threaten to turn hot but never do. 

Four, Antony Blinken has a gold-plated education and is a man of formidable experience. But he is not a very intelligent man. Considering he will be running American foreign policy while his boss is left to stumble on staircases, avoid public appearances, and sleep long daylight hours, this bodes very ill for the next four years.

Five and finally, these years are to be wasteful, destructive, and profoundly deleterious to our way of life and our consciousness. Americans are once again to be stupefied, rendered blind and ignorant. However bad off Americans are now in these respects, and we count Americans very bad off at present, they stand to be worse off by 2024. At that point, the Cold War II just announced is likely to turn what remains of our world order into something close to chaos. And Americans will not understand who is responsible for such a state, just as they did not last time around. 

We are now in for another sour course of the propaganda pabulum that turned responsibility for the first Cold War upside down in most — thankfully not all — American minds. A page one headline in the print editions of this morning’s New York Times reads, “Defying US, China and Russia Set the Tone for a Cold, New Era.” The piece beneath is a specimen of the twist-in-a-pretzel logic The Times long ago mastered. It is enough to cause one truly to stumble on the stairs, but this is how it worked last time and this is how it is to work now.  

The danger, indeed insanity, of pursuing a two-front cold war is obvious to a small minority of us here in the US, and it is fast becoming conventional wisdom among policy makers in Europe. A number of European nations, including traditional allies such as France and more recent “partners” such as Hungary, now reject the reflexive Atlanticism that characterized US-European relations in the 1990s and 2000s.

Today, they are awakening from their post-Cold War slumber and coming quickly to the realization that hostile relations with their giant, restive, energy-rich eastern neighbor, and with the vast emergent nation further east, holds no benefit for them. Indeed, Germany, France, Italy, Hungary and many others besides are coming to the conclusion that Washington’s compulsive, hysterical Russophobia and Sinophobia are as outdated as they are dangerous.

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