|Mahjong tiles revealing that China has words for "north", "east", "south", and "west".|
Monsignor Ross Douthat, apostolic nuncio to 42nd Street, takes his Grand Strategy chops out for a spin ("The Chinese Decade"):
One of those naïve American centrists, he means, Joe Biden, and of course sneaking in the reference to the familiar smear for the cognoscenti, because that's how Ross rolls—Biden's "family connections" meaning the bogus story from Peter Schweitzer's fabrication factory according to which Hunter Biden took some kind of illicit profit from associations with the Chinese government (I dealt with it briefly here in the form of a Radio Yerevan joke).
Also in yesterday's Times, coincidentally, a report demonstrating with some clarity why Ross is wrong:
And most notably after President Obama took office in 2009 and began working to drag China into a global partnership on things like the Iran nuclear issue:
Obama's Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in which Iran committed to not attempting to build a nuclear weapon for the next 10-15 years, could have been invented just in order to forestall such an outcome. It wasn't; it had a lot of purposes. It really was meant, in the first place, to ensure that Iran wouldn't build a nuclear weapon. Because although, as I kept saying, Ayatollah Khamenei was telling the truth when he said Iran's leadership had no intention of building a nuclear weapon, Iran's government by competing power centers is subject to strange changes, and an ascendant Revolutionary Guard might decide to try, perhaps in the wake of Khamenei's inevitable death (he's 81 and had prostate cancer surgery in 2014). It was also meant to start bringing Iran into the family of nations just because it's a very major country and a needed part of the region, a counterbalance to the equally ill-behaved Saudi Arabia, and to do something to assure the future of Iran as the old 1979 revolutionaries die off and the huge young generation for whom the Shah and Savak are ancient history and America is the most attractive country on earth begins to come into its own—they need the opportunity to visit and study in the US and find out what's wrong with it as well as what's right, and young Americans need the opportunity to learn about Iran. But finally yes, there was a geopolitical angle, and it involved China's ability to turn Iran into a dependent (Russia, with a similar interest, is now a bogus great power, since it doesn't have the financial or military clout).
And Trump's trashing of the deal has indeed effectively forced Iran into this deal instead of the multilateral relationships it was hoping for from the JCPOA, as was pretty much predictable at the time, after the withdrawal in May 2018:
But contrary to Douthat's view, not all "naïve centrists" are alike. John McCain was another, in the 2008 campaign, writing,
China and the United States are not destined to be adversaries. We have numerous overlapping interests and hope to see our relationship evolve in a manner that benefits both countries and, in turn, the Asia-Pacific region and the world. But until China moves toward political liberalization, our relationship will be based on periodically shared interests rather than the bedrock of shared values.
—but had diametrically different views on Iran, which McCain thought it could be reduced to the refrain of a Beach Boys song, with no ability to see it in the wider perspective, as related to other issues (Saudi Arabia or China, for instance) that we need to attend to. And obviously Ross doesn't have it either.
The thought reminded me of another case where Obama had a project that annoyed a lot of people blind to its geopolitical importance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, also meant to constrain Chinese and Russian bad behavior by forming a unified bloc of Pacific countries capable of resisting it. I even started thinking, as some readers may remember, that Russia might have started its collaboration with WikiLeaks over the TPP, back in 2013, stealing the drafts of the agreement and giving them to WikiLeaks to publish as evidence of an evil conspiracy of corporations who were somehow able to bend 12 nations to their will, as if it were the corporations that were inviting the nations to the talks rather than the other way around.
Interestingly enough, a post by Emptywheel pointed me to a New York Times hint at the same hypothesis, from September 2016.
A hacker group like Fancy Bear or the team calling itself Guccifer 2.0?
One of the "progressive" fears, not exactly unjustified, was over possible abuses in the intellectual property provisions, especially in maintaining drug monopolies and the accompanying extortionate prices; I argued back in June 2015 that what the early WikiLeaks draft showed was the US pressuring the other 11 countries on the issue, and the other countries successfully resisting (or in a subtler interpretation, Obama "leading from behind" to get the other countries to do it for him).
So the other thing I learned is that I was right; in November 2017 the new 11-member TPP suspended all the intellectual property provisions of the agreement. Obama did a good job, for them.
Meanwhile, for the goal of containing China in trade terms, we've just failed completely, as is getting to be widely recognized:
President Trump may have committed his biggest strategic blunder vis a vis China during his first full week in office, when, with a quick signature, hetrade deal, says top China expert Christopher Johnson.
While the rival trade agreement pushed by China, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) bringing together all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, is likely to be signed this year. Without, obviously, the US (or India, which has pulled out).
Douthat suggests with some justification that China won't be able to carry out its broadest ambitions, thanks to the aging population, the greater prosperity of the neighbors, the stinginess and selfishness with which it carries out its "soft power" objectives (e.g. in the One Belt One Road projects), and the falling behind of its military "hard power"—that the Chinese Century may turn out to be a Chinese Decade, if we can ride it out. But the means he suggest for doing it are all about the bilateral relationship in which the US tries to tell China what to do:
That's pretty scary, and as long as Republicans are exercising power in Washington, Trumpy or (like the Monsignor) anti-Trumpy, the essential multilateral relationships are going to continue to be ignored, as they have been since the days of Caspar Weinberger and Donald Rumsfeld; it's not actually Trump's fault.
While Joe Biden, however radicalized he may be under the tutelage of Warren and Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, continued to regard the TPP as an essential goal through 2019
“I would not rejoin the TPP as it was initially put forward. I would insist that we renegotiate,” Biden said during the Democratic debate in Detroit. “Either China’s going to write the rules of the road for the 21st century on trade or we are. We have to join with the 40 percent of the world that we had with us and this time make sure that there’s no one sitting at that table doing the deal unless environmentalists are there and labor is there.”
and still seems committed to it now
US presidential candidate Joe Biden said that he would consider US participation in the TPP if the terms were revised. In fact, some of the issues that the Democrats objected to, and that led the Obama administration to delay bringing the deal to Congress, have been expunged from the revised CPTPP, including investor-state dispute settlement and data exclusivity for biologic drugs. CPTPP members may warmly welcome the return of the United States and likely would accept further changes, for example, on digital trade and labor and climate issues, to make the deal attractive to a Biden administration.
Another area where we could do a lot worse.