With a sort-of withdrawal from Iraq in progress, and a scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan approaching, Washington needs a fresh adversary. How about China?
China is big and getting bigger. Its wealth and power is increasing. It’s inscrutable, whatever that means. (Just try understanding the United States.) And according to super-secret intelligence reports, China is pursuing national interest. This can’t be allowed — we’ve got to confront them!
Of course it is a standby of politics for governments to create international adversaries, in order to deflect criticism away from themselves. There’s a theory – best expressed in the great spoof Report From Iron Mountain — that while dictatorships can issue orders, democracies need enemies in order to prevent free men and women from saying, “To heck with central government.”
Polls suggest many Americans right now are contemplating the phrase “to heck with central government,” so perhaps Barack Obama’s White House thinks voters will be distracted if China is converted into an adversary. The idea is not new — the George W. Bush White House attempted the same.
When the younger Bush took office, the international scene was fairly tranquil, and at that point, people were tired of hearing Saddam Hussein blamed for everything. So Bush started talking tough about Beijing. This culminated in the Hainan Island incident, which raised international tensions. Cable news was abuzz with confronting China; Dick Cheney darkly hinted of war. The Council on Foreign Relations went to red alert.