War?

Franklin Roosevelt's Democrats needed WWII to bolster their failed depression program; Barack Obama's Democrats are in a comparable place. Most know that troubled, frightened rulers may turn to war to shore up their positions. Should we expect that?

WWII roared up from the never-quenched embers of WWI in the desperation of a world depression. It was the completion of something never properly finished. Hitler's economic cure, militarization, couldn't be sustained in isolation; the European Allies' depressed economies were weak, tempting Hitler's needs. The U.S. was both weak and isolationist. We know the result.

Today we're looking again at world economic weakness and fear, with another newly strengthened and militarized country resentful of the generations of subservience imposed upon it by those same Allies. That country would be China. It's much stronger now than in 1950, when it bloodied the U.S. military in Korea. The U.S., on the other hand, has dissipated in Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, with a Pyrrhic success in Kuwait but no sustainable gain clearly worth its price since WWII. China has industrialized and acquired Tibet, and the nation is extending its influence economically and militarily.

China sees no choice; its Communist ideology failed, and its government is preserving the mandate of Heaven in the face of poverty and broken promises piled on generations of atrocities and suffering. Millions have discarded poverty, and hundreds of millions watching want their turn. The ex-Communist hierarchy must visibly deliver -- or else.

Slowing delivery threatens the government, and a threatened government can't afford to look weak. Taiwan's independence; Japanese, Russian and Indian boundary claims; and U.S. naval suzerainty in nearby waters are all perceived as imposed, intolerable weaknesses. Another is the existence of South Korea, a flaunted weakness rendered insulting by today's contrast with the North, which exists only because China poured soldiers into North Korea's failing attempt to take the South, forcing a stalemate.

China tries to offset its perceived weakness by lining up publicly against those imposing weakness upon it and, where it can, encouraging their enemies. In addition to supporting such as Iran, from whom it gets both oil and the thwarting of its opponents, China uses its North Korean client for behavior China can't afford to engage in openly. China continues to develop its military toward the point that will allow it to act directly against those it sees as interfering.

China has industrialized, like everywhere else, on the backs of its people, but its government has largely held off the liberalizing societal changes seen elsewhere in order to speed up the process. That process has relied on rich world customers who have now spent themselves broke, threatening the program, and therefore the government.

Threatened governments rattle sabers and bully the weak to look stronger, a pattern we have seen from China before. Calculating governments take advantage of both perceived weaknesses and momentary distractions to accomplish things that seem too risky at other times; we have seen this from China as well.

From China today, one might see the U.S. and Europe as declining markets becoming unable to finance future hegemonic activities and, specifically, becoming unable to offer southeast Asia military protection, opening the way to Chinese influence. One might even see Japan added to that. 

Then, consider Korea from China. The Korean War was not an independent action by North Korea. It was an attempt by China, with some Soviet help, to expel the West and augment China, using Koreans to do the work. When the Koreans failed, the Chinese themselves tried. The state of suspended warfare remains in place; there has never been a peace. To China, Korea is unfinished business.

China has been steadily adding missiles on its coast aimed at Taiwan and has at times heavily shelled some of its surrounding islands. Its intent to take the island is clear and on record. It is replacing indigenous peoples with Han in Tibet and Xinjiang, the old Chinese Turkestan. It has taken Macau and Hong Kong, is about to complete its first aircraft carrier, and is investing in missiles, drones, satellites and computers. It's sitting on a Mount Everest of U.S. dollars.

North Korea has fired missiles over Japan; it recently torpedoed an unwarned South Korean warship and then shelled an offshore island, creating numerous casualties. It has announced an intention to do more. China (with Russia) has dropped the dollar and will settle its debts in its own currency. There's a major media video alleged to show a mystery missile launched off southern California, followed by a very late and technically unsupported government denial. There seem to be no clear and public U.S. actions pointing to a cost that will be imposed upon a China/Korea progression, leaving much for them to gain.

A similar situation led to Saddam Hussein's miscalculation invading Kuwait, but the cautious Chinese are not so rash. They misread the first Korean War and have avoided such mistakes since, but they haven't failed to pursue real opportunities. The rich world's financial collapse is clearly such an opportunity; the open question is timing.

China would like its goals to fall into its hands at the lowest cost; at some point, as economic weakness proceeds, war won't be necessary. The once-rich world will have to let it happen. But China can't wait too long, as that same weakness threatens its own stability. And maybe Obama will decide to follow the Rooseveltian script. These are spooky times!

Franklin Roosevelt's Democrats needed WWII to bolster their failed depression program; Barack Obama's Democrats are in a comparable place. Most know that troubled, frightened rulers may turn to war to shore up their positions. Should we expect that?

WWII roared up from the never-quenched embers of WWI in the desperation of a world depression. It was the completion of something never properly finished. Hitler's economic cure, militarization, couldn't be sustained in isolation; the European Allies' depressed economies were weak, tempting Hitler's needs. The U.S. was both weak and isolationist. We know the result.

Today we're looking again at world economic weakness and fear, with another newly strengthened and militarized country resentful of the generations of subservience imposed upon it by those same Allies. That country would be China. It's much stronger now than in 1950, when it bloodied the U.S. military in Korea. The U.S., on the other hand, has dissipated in Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, with a Pyrrhic success in Kuwait but no sustainable gain clearly worth its price since WWII. China has industrialized and acquired Tibet, and the nation is extending its influence economically and militarily.

China sees no choice; its Communist ideology failed, and its government is preserving the mandate of Heaven in the face of poverty and broken promises piled on generations of atrocities and suffering. Millions have discarded poverty, and hundreds of millions watching want their turn. The ex-Communist hierarchy must visibly deliver -- or else.

Slowing delivery threatens the government, and a threatened government can't afford to look weak. Taiwan's independence; Japanese, Russian and Indian boundary claims; and U.S. naval suzerainty in nearby waters are all perceived as imposed, intolerable weaknesses. Another is the existence of South Korea, a flaunted weakness rendered insulting by today's contrast with the North, which exists only because China poured soldiers into North Korea's failing attempt to take the South, forcing a stalemate.

China tries to offset its perceived weakness by lining up publicly against those imposing weakness upon it and, where it can, encouraging their enemies. In addition to supporting such as Iran, from whom it gets both oil and the thwarting of its opponents, China uses its North Korean client for behavior China can't afford to engage in openly. China continues to develop its military toward the point that will allow it to act directly against those it sees as interfering.

China has industrialized, like everywhere else, on the backs of its people, but its government has largely held off the liberalizing societal changes seen elsewhere in order to speed up the process. That process has relied on rich world customers who have now spent themselves broke, threatening the program, and therefore the government.

Threatened governments rattle sabers and bully the weak to look stronger, a pattern we have seen from China before. Calculating governments take advantage of both perceived weaknesses and momentary distractions to accomplish things that seem too risky at other times; we have seen this from China as well.

From China today, one might see the U.S. and Europe as declining markets becoming unable to finance future hegemonic activities and, specifically, becoming unable to offer southeast Asia military protection, opening the way to Chinese influence. One might even see Japan added to that. 

Then, consider Korea from China. The Korean War was not an independent action by North Korea. It was an attempt by China, with some Soviet help, to expel the West and augment China, using Koreans to do the work. When the Koreans failed, the Chinese themselves tried. The state of suspended warfare remains in place; there has never been a peace. To China, Korea is unfinished business.

China has been steadily adding missiles on its coast aimed at Taiwan and has at times heavily shelled some of its surrounding islands. Its intent to take the island is clear and on record. It is replacing indigenous peoples with Han in Tibet and Xinjiang, the old Chinese Turkestan. It has taken Macau and Hong Kong, is about to complete its first aircraft carrier, and is investing in missiles, drones, satellites and computers. It's sitting on a Mount Everest of U.S. dollars.

North Korea has fired missiles over Japan; it recently torpedoed an unwarned South Korean warship and then shelled an offshore island, creating numerous casualties. It has announced an intention to do more. China (with Russia) has dropped the dollar and will settle its debts in its own currency. There's a major media video alleged to show a mystery missile launched off southern California, followed by a very late and technically unsupported government denial. There seem to be no clear and public U.S. actions pointing to a cost that will be imposed upon a China/Korea progression, leaving much for them to gain.

A similar situation led to Saddam Hussein's miscalculation invading Kuwait, but the cautious Chinese are not so rash. They misread the first Korean War and have avoided such mistakes since, but they haven't failed to pursue real opportunities. The rich world's financial collapse is clearly such an opportunity; the open question is timing.

China would like its goals to fall into its hands at the lowest cost; at some point, as economic weakness proceeds, war won't be necessary. The once-rich world will have to let it happen. But China can't wait too long, as that same weakness threatens its own stability. And maybe Obama will decide to follow the Rooseveltian script. These are spooky times!