William Pfaff casts a cold eye on the Peace Laureate’s latest tinpot strutting in Australia:
One might think that a bitter Central Asian war in Afghanistan, spilling into Pakistan, with no sign of ending, and an as yet ambiguous military commitment to a defeated and incompletely reconstituted Iraq, now overshadowed by Iran and the Arab Awakening across the Middle East, would be enough for President Barack Obama to cope with.
Why then does he now want a war with China? No one seems to have made much of this in American press reports and comment, but others have noticed, most of all in China. His journey to Asia this month proclaimed a Pax Americana for Asia — which as such is absurd. The effort is likely to become just the opposite: a steadily deepening and costly engagement in suppressing China’s attempt to reclaim the Asian preeminence it held for more than a thousand years.
This is the sort of thing that starts world wars. Think of Hohenzollern, Germany, challenging British sea power before 1914. Think of Japan’s long and bloody effort to make itself Asia’s imperial power. Think of what it took for Napoleon to conquer Europe and much of the Mediterranean, and then what it took Britain, Russia, Spanish guerrilla-peasants, and assorted others to wear down and defeat Napoleon. The lesson is: Don’t start wars with powers being driven by revolutionary enthusiasm or nationalism to claim — or reclaim — a place in the sun.
What is at stake between China and the United States? We are on the opposite sides of the world with next to nothing to fight about, except raw materials — of which there still is a good deal available for all. Industrial domination of the world? What does that actually mean, and what is it worth? Bragging rights about who is top nation? That’s what Washington seems to care about. If American leaders push that too far, they could end in a war that eliminates both from the competition ….
The president then went on to Canberra and signed an agreement with Australia to station 2,500 U.S. Marines in Australia’s Northern Territory (closest to mainland Asia). He said to the Australian Parliament that the United States is shifting its military weight from the Middle East to the Pacific, declaring in one of those “Let there be no doubt” phrases habitual to American presidents that “in the Asia Pacific in the 21st century, the United States of America is all in.”
Are we Americans really sure that we want to be “all in”? All in what? A war over China’s claims on Taiwan and the South China Sea? Or over access to “rare earths”? Or over — as just might happen — a China reduced to ruins by revolutionary upheaval? Or, are Mr. Obama and the Washington elite looking for distraction from our own revolutionary unrest?
Pfaff’s question is apt indeed: What is at stake between China and the United States? This could be asked about any aspect of America’s aggressive and — in Pfaff’s apt phrase — absurd foreign policy. And the answer would be the same: bragging rights and an utterly meaningless sense of “domination” — a frantic, compulsive gnawing on tattered, bloodsoaked rags.
This is the squalid little madness that sits — like a lonely, naked, fear-crazed imp — at the hollow center of the vast machinery of empire. And the same imp squats in the souls of all our blustering, strutting elites. See through them; see through the bristling machinery, see through the self-regarding bluster, and see the crippled imp inside them, cringing and stupid, gnawing on rags.
The machinery is indeed formidable, murderous, and will yet inflict untold harm in many directions. But keep looking at the weak, curdled, blinded wretchedness in its center: that’s the only thing holding the machinery together. That’s the thing we have to overcome — in the machine, in others, and in ourselves.
NOTE: How are these curdled wretches created? Arthur Silber has some insights: see this recent piece — and follow the links! You might learn something.