“Clear thinkers take feedback from reality, not society.” -Naval Ravikant
Jacob Helberg is a senior advisor at the Stanford University program on geopolitics and technology. From 2016 to 2020, Helberg led Google’s global internal product policy efforts to combat disinformation and foreign interference. He is the author of “The Wires of War: Technology and the Global Struggle for Power” a fine book that looks at our technology vulnerabilities.
On June 1, 2022, he authored an article entitled “The United States Can’t Afford to Stay Entangled With China” for Foreign Policy. “The Jewish grandson of Holocaust survivors and the Muslim son of a Turkish political prisoner, we know cost-free societies pay when well-intentioned policies repeatedly culminate in inaction and reaction in the face of successive warning signs by autocrats with global ambitions.”
A “syndrome” is defined as “a set of concurrent things (such as emotions or actions) that usually form an identifiable pattern” In bold type above Helberg is pointing at a prevailing syndrome involving autocrats. In this case, the Red Chinese government, not necessarily people of Chinese heritage. Please make the distinction.
Specifically, Helberg writes, “A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would prompt the same existential questions about the United States’ reliance on Chinese supply chains as Europe’s reliance on Russian energy. The economic chaos would be tremendous; the solutions would be excruciatingly hard to implement in the compressed time frame a crisis would create. The United States could find itself cut off from access to semiconductors, vital pharmaceuticals, and countless other goods that play a critical role in Americans’ everyday lives.”
Jacob Helberg’s words need to be amplified through the dense pile of money the CCP is throwing at US politicians and industry. One more takeaway from his article in FP. ” The United States and China today are not at war, but neither are they at peace. China is challenging the United States through a tech-enabled “gray war” that is murkier than the proxy conflicts of the 20th century.”
Hal Brands echoed Helberg’s sentiment in his 2022 book “The Twilight Struggle: What the Cold War Teaches Us about Great-Power Rivalry Today” with this line, “although U.S. officials long hoped that Washington could avoid competing with China, the Communist government has been pursuing its “Chinese Dream” at America’s expense.”
Let me add to the chorus from my piece “New Past” (April 22, 2022), “Allow me to reorient the collective thoughts around the notion of the Cold War “End of the History” narrative. I was there, in West Germany, Italy, and Berlin from 1980 through the end, so to speak. The End of History premise was flawed from the outset. The internal institutions supporting the autocracies masquerading as communism in Russia and China were largely intact after 1992. In disarray but functioning. There were many of us tasked with watching over eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Russia, who were stunned at the feverish race for a “peace dividend” from the Soviet Union’s collapse. We argued without defanging the internal institutions in Russia and containing China, that Cold War 2.0 was highly likely. Some argued pre-destined.
Our warnings were shouted down. Please note in the graphic below the rise of China fueled by our policies against the recommendations of your servants in the intelligence communities.
Instead, after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the United States politicians, diplomats, and academics fell head over heels in love with the “End of History” narrative. I get it. After the brutal blackeye received in Vietnam, we needed a win. Plus, at the time the beancounters in DOD armed with the Graham-Rudman balanced budget narrative were set to dismantle a bloated US military, one base at a time. The “End of History” narrative worked for the beltway crowd at cocktail parties and on capital hill plus we had a much-needed win.
Seeing the handwriting on the wall, many of us left our various services. The 1990s were going to be a period of hibernation for the old Soviet state and mark the dynamic rise of the Communist Chinese masquerading as red-blooded capitalists. I scratched my head at the contradictions and bit my tongue, I was a policy implementor, not a policymaker.
In closing, I am going back to Professor Brands and Jacob Helberg for their learned advice.
Professor Brands’ final takeaway in “The Twilight Struggle”, we “need to see competition as a way of life”. The reality of human history suggests we will never all agree nor get along. Competition is here to stay, as Brands so wisely points out.
Jacob Helberg’s conclusion to his Foreign Policy article offers a very precise prescription. “The United States can start decoupling deliberately, intelligently, and strategically from China while it still has time to do so—or it can do so reactively, hurriedly, and chaotically once disaster strikes.”
Painful as the decoupling might be, our national security requires tough measures. The longer we tarry from breaking with the Communist state the greater the cost to us in blood and treasure.
Again, please read Jacob Helberg’s “The United States Can’t Afford to Stay Entangled With China” in Foreign Policy and Professor Hal Brands’ book “The Twilight Struggle: What the Cold War Teaches Us about Great-Power Rivalry Today” to fully grasp our great power struggle with China.
Until next time. Travel safe.
2 thoughts on “China Syndrome.”
I learned many things in this article but will admit that some of it went over my head. However, the trend I’m seeing even here in Canada is that logic or strategic planning is often undervalued. The politicians on both sides of the border appear to continuously run from fire to fire, as you stated. “The United States can start decoupling deliberately, intelligently, and strategically from China while it still has time to do so—or it can do so reactively, hurriedly, and chaotically once disaster strikes.”
Thank you for your comments. Sadly, you’re very correct. Election cycles determine the strategic horizon for most of our politicians. Also money talks and our leaders listen and obey. By illustration, Russia controls parts of western Europe by energy’s necessity. Bad move depending on competitor to keep your lights on. Climbing into bed with a communist country bent on regional domination, China was a poor choice from the outset. But now we are a codependent and dysfunctional married couple seeking a divorce without the hope of mediation. Stay tuned.
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