Lind: Trump’s biggest blunder might be war with China

Summary: Trump’s major accomplishment might be starting a trade war with China. Or worse, starting a real war with China. Both would be acts of monumental stupidity.

Burning Yin Yang: shutterstock 315038204
Shutterstock 315038204.

 

A Major Policy Blunder

By William S. Lind at Traditional Right.
9 December 2018.
Posted with his generous permission.

A frequent sin of conservative governments is throwing away what they have achieved domestically by making major foreign policy blunders. That danger now looms over President Trump’s government. His domestic agenda is successful. The economy is booming, new conservative judges are sitting on important benches and Left-wing regulations are being rolled back. In the recent elections, a blue wave was met by an equal red wave. The result was a normal off-year election for the party holding the White House, except the Republicans gained seats in the Senate. There was no repudiation of President Trump or his agenda.

All this is now being put at risk because of the administration’s China policy. President Trump has been right to challenge China on trade issues. Free trade on our part has allowed a mercantilist China to hollow out our industry, depriving Americans of millions of good paying jobs. China regularly steals intellectual property and forces American companies to turn over trade secrets if they wish to do business with China. All this should have been challenged by previous presidents, Republican and Democrat. Their failures to act left President Trump to deal with the whole mess. To his credit, he is doing so.

But that does not mean we want a generally hostile relationship with China. On the contrary, friendship between China, Russia, and the United States is of central importance in confronting the Fourth Generation threat, the danger of state failure and collapse that will define the 21st century. At stake is the state system itself, and a new Triple Alliance of the three Great Powers is essential to maintaining a world of states. The alternative is anarchy.

American policy should seek to separate trade from other issues, confronting China on the former while stressing cooperation in all other fields. Regrettably, that does not appear to be where the administration is headed. As the New York Times reported on November 19, “From Mr. Trump’s tweets to defense position papers and a major speech by Mr. Pence on Oct. 4, the United States has made clear that it sees China as a strategic threat.” That is a blunder of the first order.

The worst of it, so far at least, is that the U.S. is raising the old Taiwan issue. The administration cut off aid to several central American countries that withdrew diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China (Taiwan) and established relations with the People’s Republic of China (Beijing). The White House has been making noises indicating we could strengthen our relationship with Taiwan, including militarily. This is playing with fire.

China can compromise on other matters, even her claims to the South China Sea. But she cannot compromise on Taiwan. I fear Washington does not understand why that is the case.

Throughout Chinese history, the greatest threat to China has always been internal disunion, break-up into warring states. This happened over and over again, most recently in the 1920s and 1930s. Every time it occurs, millions of Chinese die, civil war plunges China into renewed poverty and foreigners take advantage of China’s weakness to invade. Every Chinese person knows this history, and any Chinese government that hopes to have legitimacy must make it clear that preventing such disunion is its top priority.

The danger Taiwan poses is that it is a Chinese province. Both the Communist Party and the Kuomintang agree on that. If one province, Taiwan, can gain independence from China, so can others. Beijing cannot allow that precedent to be established. It is an existential threat, and China must and will go to the wall to prevent it. If that means war with the United States, China has to fight that war.

The Pentagon may think that a naval and air war with China will be an easy win. China is highly vulnerable to a distant naval blockade. But if the U.S. Navy were to intervene directly in an attempt to prevent a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, our losses could be severe. China has developed long-range ballistic missiles that can hit aircraft carriers, or at least come close enough to them, with nuclear warheads, they can either sink them or, with EMP blasts, fry all their electronics and render them floating scrap metal. Such losses would mark the end of American naval dominance. Worse yet, because Taiwanese independence is an existential threat to China, if China were losing at sea and in the air, she would feel immense pressure to escalate to the strategic nuclear level.

It is not too late for the administration to separate trade from other issues, continue to confront China on the former while acting to restore good relations in other areas. Even the trade problem has an obvious solution: managed trade, where the U.S. and China agree on what each is to buy from the other so that the balance of payments is roughly even. China has made some offers along these lines. We can and should encourage them to do so until we can agree on the specifics.

Throughout the 20th century, conservative governments around the world overreached in foreign policy, got into wars that did not go well and ended up in disasters that put the Left in power at home. I hope President Trump is aware of that history.

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About the author

William S. Lind’s director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation. He has a Master’s Degree in History from Princeton University in 1971. He worked as a legislative aide for armed services for Senator Robert Taft, Jr., of Ohio from 1973 to 1976 and held a similar position with Senator Gary Hart of Colorado from 1977 to 1986. See his bio at Wikipedia.

William Lind

Mr. Lind is author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook (1985), co-author with Gary Hart of America Can Win: The Case for Military Reform (1986), and co-author with William H. Marshner of Cultural Conservatism: Toward a New National Agenda (1987).

He’s perhaps best known for his articles about the long war, now published as On War: The Collected Columns of William S. Lind 2003-2009. See his other articles about a broad range of subjects…

  1. His posts at TraditionalRight.
  2. His articles about geopolitics at The American Conservative.
  3. His articles about transportation at The American Conservative.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See my posts about China, about William Lind’s work, and especially these…

  1. Will China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank begin a new world order? It’s more important than the skeptics believe, less threatening than the doomsters say.
  2. The real reason for America’s hostility to China.
  3. Stratfor: China builds a new Silk Road for the 21st century.
  4. Stratfor: Trump risks a trade war with China that cannot be won.
  5. China builds a new world in which *it* is the great power — About their Belt and Road program.
  6. Stratfor explains how China’s Belt and Roads Initiative might reshape Europe.

See one reason why US leaders fear China

China's Asian Dream: Empire Building along the New Silk Road
Available at Amazon.

China’s Asian Dream:
Empire Building along the New Silk Road
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By Tom Miller.

From the publisher …

“Under Xi, China is pursuing an increasingly ambitious foreign policy with the aim of restoring its historical status as the dominant power in Asia. From the Mekong Basin to the Central Asian steppe, the country is wooing its neighbors with promises of new roads, railways, dams, and power grids. Chinese trade and investment presents huge opportunities for China’s neighbors, and its ability to build much-needed infrastructure could assist in the development of some of the world’s poorest countries.

“Yet China’s rise also threatens to reduce its neighbours to the status of exploited vassals. In Vietnam and Myanmar, resentment of Chinese encroachment has already incited anti-Chinese protests, and many countries in the region are seeking to counterbalance its influence by turning to the US and Japan. Combining a concise overview of the situation with on-the-ground reportage from over seven countries, China’s Asian Dream offers a fresh perspective on one of the most important questions of our time: what does China’s rise mean for the future of Asia and of the world?”

23 thoughts on “Lind: Trump’s biggest blunder might be war with China

  1. Boy, what an intro paragraph. At least he doesn’t seem to accept the “wag the dog” popular idea, or else he’d be recommending a better place to start a war…

    I thought this line was interesting: “China has developed long-range ballistic missiles that can hit aircraft carriers, or at least come close enough to them, with nuclear warheads, they can either sink them or, with EMP blasts, fry all their electronics and render them floating scrap metal. Such losses would mark the end of American naval dominance.” Leaving aside the question of whether EMPs work as he describes, I’ve often felt that this is the calculus behind most nations seeking nuclear weapons now: They’re like the house atomics in “Dune,” you can be confident that you will inflict sufficiently expensive losses on the Americans coming in to institute Regime Change that they would be deterred.

    When I realized that I sat back and thought about what it meant for America’s role in the world.

    1. SF,

      “or else he’d be recommending a better place to start a war…”

      That has zero basis in anything Lind said in his opening paragraph. Try to take off the blinders and see something other than tribal bias.

      “Leaving aside the question of whether EMPs work as he describes,”

      That nuclear based EMPs (as Lind describes) work has been proven. Research has shown that intense solar flares can have similar effects. The existence of powerful non-nuke EMPs are speculative.

      “They’re like the house atomics in “Dune,” you can be confident that you will inflict sufficiently expensive losses on the Americans coming in to institute Regime Change that they would be deterred.”

      Many have said that, such as Martin van Creveld. Lind’s point is that once you push a nation into an existential war, use of nukes becomes more likely. He says that because war “games” since the 1960s have consistently had that result. Which is why nuclear power have tip-toed around each other since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

      “When I realized that I sat back and thought about what it meant for America’s role in the world.”

      You hardly need to think. Just look, since the world has had 2 nuke powers for 70 years and multiple nuclear powers for 50 years. That nuclear “wall” is what makes America so powerful now.

    2. @Larry: Fair on all points, though I hadn’t seen a Creveld article on the matter directly. Thanks for the feedback.

      It probably says something about both me and online discussion that I saw EMPs and went to “the theoretical continent-ravaging high altitude burst” vs. “oh, yes, the near proximity.”

  2. “Free trade on our part has allowed a mercantilist China to hollow out our industry, depriving Americans of millions of good paying jobs. China regularly steals intellectual property and forces American companies to turn over trade secrets if they wish to do business with China”.

    Twaddle. After having imposed the most vicious embargo on food, medicine, technology, finance and UN membership for 25 years we admitted China to the WTO (after 12 years of negotiations) under the most humiliating conditions–all of which it has honored in full/

    There is zero evidence that China stole any significant IP and abundant evidence that, during the Clinton years, we transferred sensitive technologies to them for cash after rewriting our own mercantilist laws. China is now ahead of us in the STEM sciences and in almost every technology because, instead of cutting its R&D budget like us, they increased it 1200% after 1980.

    And nobody can or does force our companies to turn over anything. They do it to make a profit. That this short-term tactic has led to bad outcomes for our workforce has nothing to do with China and everything to do with our lack of foresight and self-discipline.

    1. Godfree,

      “There is zero evidence that China stole any significant IP”

      Wow. I guess you’re not paying attention.

      “China is now ahead of us in the STEM sciences and in almost every technology”

      Wow. That’s the biggest exaggeration I’ve seen in a while.

      “And nobody can or does force our companies to turn over anything.”

      Trading access to China’s market for turning over – or allowing theft – of IP is an interesting way to play the trade game. But America responding harshly to that is also a legitimate tactic. Tit for tat is the basis for all international relations.

    2. There is zero evidence that China stole any significant IP and abundant evidence that, during the Clinton years, we transferred sensitive technologies to them for cash after rewriting our own mercantilist laws. China is now ahead of us in the STEM sciences and in almost every technology because, instead of cutting its R&D budget like us, they increased it 1200% after 1980.

      They steal IP all the time. It’s their national policy. I have first hand experience with this. I agree that the Clintons traded weapons technologies for cash, if that’s what you mean.

      And nobody can or does force our companies to turn over anything. They do it to make a profit. That this short-term tactic has led to bad outcomes for our workforce has nothing to do with China and everything to do with our lack of foresight and self-discipline.

      Totally agree.

  3. ” The White House has been making noises indicating we could strengthen our relationship with Taiwan, including militarily. This is playing with fire.”

    We Were Soldiers Deleted Scene – A Letter From Behind the Lines.

  4. I agree with Lind that war with China is something we should be at pains to avoid provoking. That having been said, there’s a report in the Washington Post that Trump did not know ahead of time about the arrest of Meng Wanzhou that took place in Canada during his talks with Xi in Buenos Ares until after the fact, and David Goldman, aka Spengler has speculated that this may have been timed to embarrass Trump during the talks. I don’t know, but I’m willing to entertain the possibility that Trump may not be in de facto control of his own national security apparatus. But regardless of who, if anyone is in control, I agree with Lind that we should seek to avoid war with China.

    A lot has been written about Chinese ASBMs. (Anti Ship Ballistic Missiles) These have never been combat tested, and its not uncommon for missile threats to be exaggerated. Having said that, the air and submarine threat alone would make it quite hazardous to commit carriers in close proximity to China, even if their ASBMs are ineffective. (Which it would take a rasher an than I to claim) Defense against Chinese submarines with air independent propulsion might prove far more difficult than defense against ASBMs, but the basic idea is correct. Don’t start trouble.

    I would not press China on the issue of Taiwan, but I am far from confident that China is willing or able to compromise on the South China sea territorial claims.

    1. The Man,

      “Trump did not know ahead of time about the arrest of Meng Wanzhou”

      I suggest caution when reading about such events, and ignoring Spengler’s wild guessing. The leaks are just positioning for invisible battles in DC.

      The first story was by Reuters: “Trump did not know about Huawei extradition request before Xi dinner: source.Unnamed source.

      Here is an analysis at the WaPo’s excellent “Monkey Cage” by two pol sci professors: “The Huawei arrest made the stock market tank. Trump may not even have known about it.

      Larry Kudlow, Director of the National Economic Council, was on Fox News Sunday. He discussed this. See the transcript.

      Wild guessing won’t tell you anything more than is in these.

      “I am far from confident that China is willing or able to compromise on the South China sea territorial claims.”

      I doubt Trump cares about those, except as bargaining chips for important US trade issues. America First.

  5. Of course Trump is not in control of the national security apparatus. The Deep State has that honor, and has been using that deep state control against Trump since before the inauguration.

    China is a hollow dragon that still has fangs and fire. It is not as much in the position to follow through on a war as most outsiders imagine. Even against Taiwan, China would struggle, and there is no guarantee that the China would have the same leaders after such a war as before. That instability is built into China and is vastly underestimated by outside observers.

    Godfree, BTW, is a well-known China troll who pops up widely across the net on any China threads that take his fancy. He has several sock-puppets. To deal with him it is best to either avoid China topics or to refute him point by point. Other commenters will come to know him very quickly.

    1. Naidia,

      “Trump is not in control of the national security apparatus.”

      Of course he is. Orders he gives will be obeyed. He just lacks the will necessary to exercise that control.

      “China is a hollow dragon that still has fangs and fire.”

      Dragon? In what way is China like a dragon?

      “Godfree, BTW, is a well-known China troll”

      Thanks for the background info. Trolls are common as dirt here. I used to be more tolerant of them, but after 57 thousand comments I let them have a few rounds and toss them out.

  6. “Wild guessing won’t tell you anything more than is in these.”

    I had seen the Post story, which Spengler linked to. I wouldn’t call Spengler’s piece wild guessing. Trump knew or he didn’t. From what’s been reported it looks like he didn’t. Two years into this Presidency the question isn’t whether someone is wild guessing but whether the guesses are wild enough.

    Trump certainly seems to have little, if any control over the Justice Department. Saying that he doesn’t have effective control over other parts of the government doesn’t seem like wild guessing. The permanent government has more or less been in a state of open mutiny for two years. The battles in DC aren’t so invisible these days, unless maybe you just prefer not to look.

  7. What’s have puzzled China most since the Trump administration is that China did not know whom to reach to influence Trump’s China policies. The prior administrations’ China policies were influence by those who got vested benefits from China’s invisible briberies including big companies and members of Washionton’s think thank.

    1. Joe,

      Why do you believe anything is different with Trump’s administration? His senior levels are staffed with corporate executives. His policies have been standard GOP, implementing the corporate agenda.

  8. William S. Lind is not a China hand. His misapplication of 4GW to a hypothetical war with China is embarrassing. Furthermore, his legal theories about the Constitution (in other places) are absurd.

    Fabius Maximus does the world no favors by giving nonsense a voice.

    1. Anthony,

      Why is that a rational rebuttal? Waving your hands and saying Lind is wrong is self-expression, and tells us nothing.

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