The subheading of the Economist’s new “Facing up to China” article reads, “Making room for a new superpower should not be confused with giving way to it.” Darn right! About time someone said … wait, what?
Making room? A new superpower? If you’re taking those for granted, then you can hardly remove “giving way” from the discussion. In recent years, Westerners have adopted a habit of labeling potential challenges “inevitable” and then shading their self-imposed impotence as partnership or diplomacy or, heaven help us, smart power.
The rise of China is certainly the most glaring example, but think of the other distasteful “inevitabilities” we invoked as causes for recent paralysis. In 2007, Time magazine coronated Vladimir Putin, making him Man of the Year for turning Russia into a “critical linchpin of the 21st century.” Meanwhile, Russia was and is in a demographic death spiral and its fragile economy was not rocked, but decimated, by the global recession. No matter, a year after the Time honor, the Man of the Year invaded sovereign Georgia. A year after that, he’s still there. The U.S. has been sitting on its hands the whole time. Now Putin is playing games with us on the Iran nuclear question. This isn’t to say that Time gave us our Russia problem. It’s just that in the age of post-everything interconnectedness, America should remember it’s still allowed to push back against an ugly world. We need not help the bad guys ascend.
Speaking of which, consider how Barack Obama’s unstoppable Iran engagement came to the tragic rescue of the regime in Tehran. He famously “bore witness” to Ahmadinejad’s crimes because regime change seemed unthinkable. Now, however, even the realists are on board to topple the mullahs.
There are more examples, of course. Iraq was “inevitably” lost, a conviction that has locked the U.S. into a dangerously defeatist stance even as we achieve near-silent victory there.
In these we see a striking failure of imagination. One hesitates to throw the “hope and change” noise back in the faces of the Obama administration and its fans yet again, but the truth is that those two words have come to stand as markers for bottomless chasms in the Left’s disposition. Chinese superpower is as inevitable as we allow it to be. Google certainly seems less than resigned to it. After all, what seems more likely: that the U.S. can happily make room for a China that will, in the Economist’s words, “take up its share of the burden of global governance” or that the U.S. and its traditional allies can knock China significantly off course? The latter is certainly made more difficult by an unfounded faith in the former.