by Michael Krieger, Liberty Blitzkrieg:
The defining question about global order for this generation is whether China and the United States can escape Thucydides’s Trap. The Greek historian’s metaphor reminds us of the attendant dangers when a rising power rivals a ruling power—as Athens challenged Sparta in ancient Greece, or as Germany did Britain a century ago. Most such contests have ended badly, often for both nations, a team of mine at the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has concluded after analyzing the historical record. In 12 of 16 cases over the past 500 years, the result was war. When the parties avoided war, it required huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part not just of the challenger but also the challenged.
– From Graham Allison’s article: The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?
For the past two years, my geopolitical assumption has been that the Trump administration would more or less continue along with the reckless, shortsighted, and disastrous neocon/neoliberal interventionist foreign policy of the past two decades focused on undeclared regime change and proxy wars across the world, especially the Middle East. Given his strange obsession with Iran, I figured he’d start a conflict there and that this conflict would end up a bigger disaster than Iraq.
I assumed this mistake would coincide with continued massive deficits, a unwieldy debt load and most likely a recession. In turn, I believed this would lead to an embarrassing and chaotic unraveling of the U.S. empire. At that point, other nations like China would opportunistically take advantage of the huge power vacuum left over. Based on a variety of events over the past few months, I’m no longer convinced this is how it’s going to unfold.
First, the article published by Bloomberg back in October, The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies, really grabbed my attention. If you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest you go do that, as I was immediately blown away by the implications. To summarize, the story purports that 17 sources in both government and the corporate world claim Chinese spies inserted a malicious microchip into Supermicro servers and that this affected nearly 30 companies, including tech behemoths Amazon and Apple. Equally incendiary, the article reported that Amazon and Apple knew about it, but never let the public know. Apple, Amazon and others vehemently denied the Bloomberg story, and we still don’t know the truth. As I noted at the time:
In other words, we've got a seriously fucked up situation on our hands because one of these things must be true. Someone is lying and lying BIG.
— Michael Krieger (@LibertyBlitz) 4 October 2018
Either China really did compromise hardware and U.S. tech giants are actively covering it up, or unnamed sources invented a story to make China look nefarious in order to up the ante in the growing dispute between the two nations. We still can’t be sure which one is true, but the end result is pretty much the same. Greatly increased tensions with China.
While I knew the Bloomberg story had wide-ranging implications, it wasn’t enough to make me seriously consider a distinct geopolitical forecast. Then came the second major event, which was the arrest of Wanzhou Meng, the CFO of China’s telecom giant Huawei earlier this month. Importantly, she’s much more than just an executive at a giant Chinese company, she’s “the daughter of the telecom giant’s founder, Ren Zhengfei. An ex-officer with the People’s Liberation Army, Ren is one of the country’s most revered business figures.”
It’s also worth mentioning that she was arrested while Trump was sitting down to dinner with Chinese President Xi
Moving along, yesterday we learned of a sudden plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria. I want to make it clear we don’t know if this is just talk or will actually happen (for a skeptical take see this), but if it does occur, it will make it increasingly likely that U.S. foreign policy has undergone a massive and monumentally significant shift. A shift away from failed regime change boondoggles in far flung areas of the world Americans don’t care about, to a very major and probably long-lasting confrontation with China itself.
If this is in fact the case, it’s impossible to overstate its significance. In my view, such a shift would signal that the U.S. has acknowledged the unipolar imperial world completely dominated by America is over and unrecoverable, and therefore resources will shift away from the silly dream of full spectrum global dominance into a managed retreat. A managed retreat would be considered preferable since it could be done on U.S. terms as opposed to having the terms forced upon it. In other words, it would be a proactive foreign policy based on reality, rather than a reactive one forced upon it by circumstances.