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Blinken Speaks Loudly and Carries a Small Stick

Posted on Friday, June 30, 2023
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by AMAC Newsline
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AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman

Blinken

“Speak softly and carry a big stick.” That was the famous advice of Theodore Roosevelt, who, more than any preceding president, sought to make America a world power. It is advice that the Biden administration seems to be increasingly ignoring, especially when it comes to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s recent trip to Beijing.

Teddy Roosevelt’s line implies two principles.

First, the United States should be restrained in its objectives – speak softly – recognizing that actually running the world was a burden America neither desired nor needed. Leaders should define core interests, but beyond those it is not America’s place to determine the outcome of domestic power struggles or policy disputes. In the modern context, it is not America’s job to impose western idealism or liberal conceptions of sexual rights and identity on foreign nations like Afghanistan.

When it came to core interests, however, the U.S. should always speak from a position of strength. Impotence and appeals to moral authority without anything to back it up would invite contempt. The “big stick” should come in the form of overwhelming military and economic power. Critically, the stick only worked if the U.S. was prepared to use that power.

Roosevelt’s advice was solid, and most of the major failures of U.S. foreign policy have come from an inability to follow at least one of his precepts. U.S. protests against the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe were not backed by the credible prospect of force, meaning they were dismissed out of hand. Worse, they encouraged Stalin to believe he could ignore other U.S. warnings, such as those regarding the status of South Korea, triggering a war.

In turn, failure to “speak softly,” in other words, to define reasonable objectives, doomed the U.S. interventionism of the 2000s.

The U.S. probably could have secured an Iraq free of Iranian influence or Saddam Hussein, or an Afghanistan free of Al-Qaeda, if those objectives were the sole purpose of its intervention. What the U.S. could not do nearly as easily as leaders assumed was secure an Iraq that was democratic, anti-Iranian, pro-American, and liberal – much less an Afghanistan which was run neither by the Taliban, nor any other indigenous Afghan faction, but rather by academics and NGO workers plucked from Western exile.

The U.S. laid out a laundry list of disparate objectives and then threw enormous resources at the problem, with the result that the resources were wasted and none of the objectives accomplished.

Over the last three decades, U.S. policy toward China has combined all of the worst aspects of historical American failure. The opening to China by Kissinger and Nixon had a clear strategic objective: to bring China in on the American side against the Soviet Union and shift the balance of power in the Cold War. This served both American and Chinese interests and required a minimal investment of resources. Any additional benefits, including the growth of China as an economic partner or China moving toward democracy, would be bonuses. Neither Kissinger nor Nixon were naïve enough to count on those outcomes, much less expend endless resources to achieve them.

With hindsight, 1989 marked the end of that policy rationale. The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the necessity for a Cold War alliance of Beijing and Washington, something both recognized by aggressively wooing Gorbachev before the Soviet collapse rendered such efforts beside the point. At the same time, the fall of Zhao Ziyang as Chinese Communist Party Secretary marked the eclipse of the CCP leaders who might have pursued a genuine program of liberalization.

American policy required a reappraisal, but such a reappraisal required an investment of intellectual resources that seemed unneeded at the time. There is general agreement among almost everyone involved in U.S. policy during the 1990s that the “bet” on globalization producing a China which would be an asset rather than a rival to American power failed.

What is less reflected upon is that the bet had already failed before it was attempted, and yet U.S. leaders doubled down on it anyway because it provided a cover for the path of least resistance. Corporate executives became rich by outsourcing labor to China, while U.S. policymakers told themselves that China gaining economic strength would make it more, not less deferential to the US.

U.S. policy first turned harsher to China gradually. There were human rights issues, but here the U.S. wielded no stick at all. Beijing knew that the U.S. government would never prioritize human rights over economic interests, and therefore it was free to ignore criticism.

Then followed economic charges that China was not complying with World Trade Organization rules on trading, currency manipulation, subsidies, and dumping. Here, American presidents made a strategic decision that they could not afford to economically decouple from China when they wished to pursue overly broad interests in the Middle East and bribe voters with cheap goods at home.

Perhaps if they had focused on one or two issues, such as currency manipulation or trading, they might have been able to make an impact. When Donald Trump targeted specific Chinese practices, while making clear his target was not China itself, it yielded dividends including Chinese concessions. But Trump was the only president to try prioritization. Others instead talked loudly and endlessly about a laundry basket of complaints, allowing China to ignore all of them.

This experience is critical for understanding how we have come to the current point.

The Biden administration, to its credit, has been willing, at least early on, to “talk loudly” and to pursue decoupling in general. It also did act with sticks, including the Chips Act.

However, it repeated the error earlier administrations made by failing to set clear objectives of what it wanted from Beijing, with the result that Biden failed to rally allies behind his policy. Now the U.S. Secretary of State finds himself in Beijing, sheepishly apologizing for the “misunderstanding” of China sending spy balloons over the continental United States and talking about “de-risking” instead.

The Biden administration critically has pursued two mutually exclusive policies. On the one-hand, it has pushed for reducing dependence on the Chinese economy. This involves not just building up U.S. manufacturing capacity, but rather prohibiting U.S. companies and even U.S. allies from allowing high-tech exports to China.

This has extended to pressuring American allies to reject Chinese investment or to prohibit Chinese companies from bidding for projects. While a blockade of exports makes sense for Russia, where Washington is trying to degrade Moscow’s ability to wage war, it only makes sense in China if the U.S. intends to degrade China’s capabilities for an armed conflict. That, at least, is what joint military exercises with Japan and the Philippines imply.

At the same time, however, the Biden administration has requested Chinese cooperation on a host of issues, ranging from climate change, to isolating Russia over the war in Ukraine, to controlling the flow of fentanyl into the United States. China has no reason to cooperate on these things for free. It will only do so if the United States agrees to concessions in return, or if the U.S. is powerful enough to threaten China if it does not.

In practice, China has used the Biden administration’s obsession with global climate change and isolating Russia as a wedge to undermine American efforts to decouple. It is hard to see China’s repeated “peace initiatives” in Ukraine as anything less than efforts to force the U.S. to expand efforts countering them. Beijing is using the Biden administration’s need to be seen to act on climate change to force U.S. officials to trudge to Beijing as Blinken has and pretend that nothing out of the ordinary is going on.

The failure to prioritize has produced a farce. The U.S. Secretary of State is now on the record begging Xi Jinping and his officials for commitments to cooperate on climate change, Ukraine, and fentanyl. Xi is using these photo-ops not just to humiliate Blinken, but to send a message to U.S. allies that even the Biden administration not only needs China, but needs China enough that it will forgive provocations such as rogue spy balloons or supporting Russia in its war against Ukraine.

This has been reinforced by a wider problem. The Biden administration has become obsessed with “de-escalation channels,” in other words, the ability of U.S. military officials to directly contact their Chinese counterparts in order to avoid conflict.

While backchannels are important, they will exist by default. By publicly talking up their importance and the “danger” posed by Chinese officials refusing to answer their phones, the Biden administration has encouraged Beijing to charge for something they would otherwise grant for free. Beijing can instruct CCP officials to ignore inquiries from American counterparts, knowing that if anything truly important comes up Biden will be desperate to talk, and then wait as panicked Americans like Blinken beg for the Chinese officials to talk to them.

The contradiction given between U.S. preparation for a conflict and the desperation of U.S. officials to maintain communications and cooperate on other issues has allowed Beijing to promote doubts about American reliability throughout Asia. If even Washington needs China, then why should South Korea or Indonesia cut their ties at large costs to their own economies? How can the U.S. tell them not to trade with China and to limit ties when the United States declares China a partner?

The worst victim of this mixed signaling is Taiwan, which has elections scheduled for January. There, Biden’s policy has produced the worst of all worlds.

U.S. efforts at decoupling have had a mixed impact on the economies of both the U.S. and mainland China, but have been a disaster for Taiwan’s economy. U.S. policy involves trying to undermine and steal Taiwan’s semiconductor industry though government subsidies, while at the same time cutting Taiwanese firms off from mainland China, which accounts for 43 percent of the island’s trade. The United States wants Taiwan to arm itself and prepare for war, yet the United States says that China is a vital partner when it comes to fighting climate change, which the Biden team says is the defining issue of our time.

The result has been predictable. Confused, the Taiwanese electorate is increasingly turning to candidates who will promise to balance relations with the mainland while “defending” Taiwan Semiconductor Co. from the United States. Ko-Wen-Je, the third-party candidate who has rocketed to the lead, has openly called for Taiwan to play for time.

Secretary of State Blinken’s Beijing trip is not a failed policy. It is the product of a failed policy, the product of decades in which the United States has failed to define clear objectives or commit the resources needed to achieve them.

The U.S. has the resources to pursue one policy, not two. Biden is committing half the resources necessary for one while trying to pursue two. It is going poorly.

Daniel Berman is a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He also writes as Daniel Roman.

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Roy
Roy
9 months ago

Why is somebody trying to lump this brain dead in with Teddy? This clown can’t even find the stick between his legs to pee. Also, this is been another full week of mental mast***ation by the Republicans. Nobody has been indicted, impeached sent to Facebook jail, nothing. I would really like to know in all honesty.(which is impossible from any politician.) when something is going to be done I also get tired of reading to say blah blah this site, Huckabee, and other similar sites. It seems the only one who comes up with anything new is a Babylon Bee.

Marc Ziegler
Marc Ziegler
9 months ago

There is no such thing as “Walking Tall” in Blinken’s world, other than walking around with a white flag in hand. Nothing Biden has done has benefited anybody except China and the Biden family. Talk is cheap, but corruption can reap great rewards!

DMM
DMM
9 months ago

You can’t fix stupid!

mikem
mikem
9 months ago

the guy’s a pu***, which just look at all of the weak men in the biden administration. they’re all weak and impotent.

Jackson5
Jackson5
9 months ago

Winken, Blinken, and Nod. Biden compromised, what do you expect? Pathetic, and with press leading the way to destruction.

Rick
Rick
9 months ago

He’s got a stick? I figured he had transitioned a long time ago!

GI RETIRED
GI RETIRED
9 months ago

BLINKEN IS ALOSER AND A LIAR> Also, a piece of SH*T

Sharon Ormsby
Sharon Ormsby
9 months ago

He carries no stick at all. That’s the problem.

anna hubert
anna hubert
9 months ago

Only weak and ineffective need apply Started with Obama

Jim
Jim
9 months ago

Obama’s useful Idiot sure picked a winner, Obama knew he was an Idiot and Biden’s Administration is worse than Obiden’s, If he only continued with Trump’s policies we’d be fine, ,but he blew it and ruined the country. the border’s wide open and the Cartels ake the Mexican Mafia and Afghanistan was a complete debacle, leaving our men behind not to mention billions of dollars in Military equipment and all Biden has to show for it is 13 dead soldiers, Iran, Commie China and Russia were watching and the Chaos began!! as for Blinken,, he’s weak, always was, even McCain didn’t like him,..Biden just handed everything over to China, China stole our Intellectual property, yep our technology, including rare earth that makes nearly everything, the US has rare earth but the EPA doesn’t allow US to dig due to Climate Change, I can’t stand democrats, all they do is tax and spend thinking that’s the cure and everything stays the same, now we have a bunch of Gangsters and Racketeers, running the country and all the Rats do is blame Trump! The Idiot in office thinks Bidenomics works!! Sad! I feel sorry for the children and public Education sucks and the FBI ignores it!!, Radical Saul Alinsky is laughing in his Grave!..i’m finding myself Ranting and there’s so much more to say!

Dee
Dee
9 months ago

AMAC, What the heck is this message you are putting out that “You are not allowed to vote on this comment?” Why? It seems to me that you are becoming woke.You are a #@!$%

James Lewis
James Lewis
9 months ago

That’s not all that is small Ask his boyfriend!

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