Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Does Coronavirus Prove Trump Right?

Nadia Schadlow used to work for the Trump National Security Council. Today, she works at a think tank. Two days ago she wrote an article for The Atlantic, suggesting that President Trump was right about China. And that Trump was right to place the national interest ahead of impotent international governing bodies, like the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

Better yet, Schadlow asserts, Trump has understood that China is competing against America and the West. We have occasionally tried to clarify this point by saying that being a competitor in the clash of civilizations is not the same as being an enemy. A competitor will try to beat you at your game. It will take every advantage you allow. But it will not, as would an enemy, attempt to destroy what you built. While China is a competitor, radical Islam, from the 9/11 terrorists, to al Qaeda, to ISIS, to the Iranian theocracy constitutes an enemy threat.

One does well to distinguish the two. And our political leaders would do well to tone down the rhetoric about punishing China-- assuming that we had the power to do so-- because they have failed to understand that China counterpunches. You would have thought that watching President Trump would have taught people the logic of counterpunching, but apparently, it has not. 

By the by, Trump has consistently touted his good relationship with Chinese President Xi, and has pointed out that China has more respect for him than it did for his feckless predecessors… because they, from Clinton to Bush to Obama, failed to defend American national interest.

Schadlow explains cogently that the Trump-hating left has failed to understand that Trump was right about his foreign policy priorities, and that the coronavirus proves the point.

Consumed by hatred of Trump, these thinkers have had only one priority: to blame Trump for the virus. Since they have been saying the same thing about Trump from the onset, their words ring hollow. They have long since compromised their credibility. I would say that they have compromised it fatally.

In the years since, Trump has been criticized for supposedly overturning the post–World War II order and rejecting the role the United States has long played in the world. Amid a global pandemic, he’s being accused—on this site and elsewhere—of alienating allies, undercutting multinational cooperation, and causing America to fight the coronavirus alone.

In what ways has Trump been right? Schadlow lists them:

And yet even as the current emergency has proved him right in fundamental ways—about China specifically and foreign policy more generally—many respectable people in the United States are letting their disdain for the president blind them to what is really going on in the world. Far from discrediting Trump’s point of view, the COVID-19 crisis reveals what his strategy asserted: that the world is a competitive arena in which great power rivals like China seek advantage, that the state remains the irreplaceable agent of international power and effective action, that international institutions have limited capacity to transform the behavior and preferences of states.

Note well, the world is a “competitive arena.” While the West has gone all goo goo eyes on the power of international institutions, China has played them for competitive advantage:

Instead of becoming a “responsible stakeholder”—a term George W. Bush’s administration used to describe the role it hoped Beijing would play following China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001—the Chinese Communist Party used the advantages of WTO membership to advance a political and economic system at odds with America’s free and open society. Previous National Security Strategy documents had tiptoed around China’s adversarial conduct, as if calling out that country as a competitor—as the 2017 document unequivocally did—was somehow impolite.

In truth, one might take exception to Schadlow’s attempt to tar the Chinese Communist Party for not creating a free and open society. Ask yourself this: who has been America’s leading proponent of an open society? The answer is: George Soros.

If you do not believe that China is practicing a form of capitalism you will need to explain how China’s spectacular economic progress over the past four decades was produced by Communism. As for our own love of democracy-- bless our idealistic souls-- it is worth pointing out, if only in passing, that the American military is not run like a democracy. Nor are America’s great corporations. Nor is the medical profession or the average classroom. 

And of course, no less than James Madison wrote that the American Constitution did not mandate democracy, in the sense of government by referendum, but instituted checks and balances, among the branches of government. And American governance also involves a distribution of power among federal, state and local branches.

And when one of our two political parties has been in gross breach of democratic decorum for three years now, by refusing to accept the results of a fair election, it is somewhat rich to call out other nations for not being democratic.

Prior to Trump,American leaders effectively failed to compete against China, to call it out for stretching the rules.

For the decade and a half prior to 2017, Republican and Democratic leaders publicly worried about China’s unwillingness to play by the rules, but were reluctant to deal head on with China’s authoritarian government and statist economy. The bipartisan U.S.-China Economic Security Commission has consistently called out China’s unfair practices. In 2010, President Barack Obama lambasted China before the G-20 for its currency manipulation. The need to compete effectively with the policies of the Chinese Communist Party is one of the few points of agreement between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Even as he seeks to find ways to conclude reciprocal trade agreements, his administration has not lost sight of China’s aggressive rise.

Refusing to trust in global institutions, President Trump has chosen to emphasize the national interest and the importance of nation states. Now, as we are seeing another grandiose attempt at globalism, in the European Union, appear to be disintegrating, it is worth emphasizing Trump’s argument:

At least as controversial as Trump’s critique of China is his emphasis on the importance of sovereignty and his insistence that strong sovereign states are the main agents of change. But states are the foundation of democratic governance and, fundamentally, of security. It is the citizens of states who vote and hold leaders accountable. And it is states that are the foundation of military, political, and economic power in alliances such as NATO, or organizations like the United Nations.

But, the coronavirus has also exposed the fact that we depend almost entirely on China for medication and medical equipment. This makes it all the more important to develop domestic supplies, but it also tells us that threatening to punish your supplier-dealer is not the smartest thing you can do. As you know, what with our enhanced awareness of supply chains, China does not just produce drugs.

Dependence on China for crucial medical equipment throughout the pandemic has illuminated the dangers of a hyper-globalized economy. Experts had warned of American dependence on key drug ingredients from China. The Wall Street Journal has reported that China is the only maker of key ingredients for certain classes of drugs, including established antibiotics that treat a range of bacterial infections such as pneumonia. American reliance on Chinese suppliers for other pharmaceuticals and medical supplies is also worrisome. Americans should not depend on an authoritarian rival state for its citizens’ health—any more than the United States and other free and open societies should give Chinese companies, and by extension the Chinese Communist Party, control over communications infrastructure and sensitive personal data.

Schadlow concludes that international multilateral organizations have been powerless to deal with China.

Many of President Trump’s critics in the foreign-policy community put great stock in the ability of multilateral and international organizations to constrain the misbehavior of China and other states. These organizations, at their best, promote concerted action against commonly recognized problems. But Trump’s critics tend to view them mainly in their idealized form and as the central instruments to solve global problems and advance values shared by all. In practice, though, how international organizations perform is profoundly influenced by power relationships among member states.

In effect, it does not matter whether these organizations had good intentions. They have no real power to do anything. 

The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy challenged the assumption that international organizations are always driven by a common global good. 


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

YES! Finally — a lonely voice in the intellectual wilderness. Someone gets the big picture.

Excellent post, Stuart. Particularly the the Constitutional point and the tie to George Sonos.

UbuMaccabee said...


Stu said...

One of my favorite high school teachers said the following on the first day of civics: We are going to study democracy but this class will be run as a dictatorship.