Is US China Policy a Danger to Itself and Others?
A question you can’t deflect with whataboutism
In a conversation with Current Affairs magazine earlier this year, the founder of the zine, Nathan Robinson, said this to me as a prompt:
Something that makes the United States an incredibly dangerous actor is the lack of self awareness…to see through the eyes of anyone on the receiving end of our policy. It’s an arrogance that says that we would never act in a purely self-interested way because we’re America. There’s a fundamental assumption of idealism and goodness. I don’t think it’s widely realized that everyone in the world thinks they’re good, and you don’t know if you’re actually good and idealistic until you check how you look to other people.
This line—that America’s lack of self-awareness makes it a dangerous actor on the world stage—is worth contemplating seriously. Although not my focus, it’s perhaps been a subtext in a lot of my writing the last few years. How can it not? I haven’t memory-holed the Trump years, and it’s very clear the kind of MAGA nightmare that lay just beyond the Biden administration.
But I don’t think I’d ever put it so pointedly as Nathan did, and now I hear Nathan’s voice on loop as I track world events. Why? Because Washington keeps doing “stupid shit.”
Competence was literally the promise of a Biden presidency, like Obama before him. But competently pursuing unreasonable goals based on an unrealistic diagnosis of a situation can only lead to strategic choices that wind up being rather un-strategic. One might even say such choices exude incompetence.
We fail to see both how we needlessly securitize everything China does, and how we erase our own responsibility for anything that happens in the world that we don’t like. The problem is not that America’s to blame for everything—it’s that US officials believe America shouldn’t have to be accountable for anything.
From China’s nuclear and naval expansion to the doublespeak that allows us to call China’s recent Micron ban “economic coercion” while it’s “de-risking” when we do it, this has become an insane and dangerous new normal.
Let me explain.