[I'm reading and doing some metacommentary on Mitt Romney's book. Enjoy, or skip over it: it's a free country.]
We’re now at Chapter 3 of Mitt Romney’s book, and if you’ve read the title of this post, you already know it’s called “The Pursuit of Power.” Today we’ll learn about Romney’s general thoughts on nations getting power and China a case study. Next time* Russia and Jihad. He starts the chapter:
The best ally peace has ever known is a strong America.
I agree that a strong America is better than a strong his other examples in this chapter. But when Romney wrote this, we were at no-end-in-sight wars with Iraq and Afghanistan. I think we’re stronger and better as a nation because we got out of Iraq and are slowly, slowly, too damn slowly figuring out how to get ourselves out of Afghanistan. I doubt that’s what Romney meant.
After this statement, he spends several paragraphs saying that America is good. He talks in general about how America promotes human rights and peace but always in generalities. The only specific thing he mentions is after the 2004 Tsunami, the relief efforts. And, of course, we all support keeping America strong when it does those things. But the section doesn’t mention when America doesn’t live up to those things. It doesn’t talk about how we’re often selective in what human rights we enforce. Additionally, he admits that countries that are good may stop being good, but he doesn’t say how he’ll make sure America stays on the right path.
Then he starts the section “The Middle Kingdom Flexes its Muscles.” There’s a Cliff Notes version of China’s history in the 20th century. Mostly losing ground to the Japanese** but also the British make an appearance. And then Mao and the Korean war. After that war ended:
Mao never really took to modernity and technology, and his military continued to reflect that prejudice, maintaining a massive four-million solder army as only a weak compensation for the nation’s obsolete or nonexistent weapons systems and logistical support. It wasn’t until approximately twenty years ago that China decided to build a modern world-class military. Since the mid 1980s, the People’s Liberation Army has been reduced by two million soldiers, cutting its size in half even as military spending was doubled time and again. The new funds went to programs designed to professionalize and train Chinese soldiers as well as toward the purchase of modern arms from Russia: fighter aircraft, helicopters, destroyers, submarines, and antiship missiles.
Then he talks about China’s submarines and their cyber war capabilities. And he draws two conclusions from this. “First, China is catching up” to America. “Second, they have not yet built their military to challenge us heat-to-head around the globe. Instead, they have shaped it to deter us, to match us, or even to defeat us in the specific theaters that are most important to them.” Look, if you’re going to characterize China’s cyber war as mostly deterrent, then that makes it seem reasonable.***
“China has very little interest today in constructing a military capable of fighting us in Africa, Europe, the Americas of the Middle East.” God, I hope we don’t fight their military anywhere. That would be terrible. He gets into some specifics of America’s capabilities, and then, “they build submarines capable of checkmating our battle groups and they invest in cyber- and space-warefare that can blind or at least blinker our navy and air force. And if they become capable of declawing America’s military in Asia, they will gain freedom of action to do whatever they choose in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.” Look, they make a lot of aggressive moves in the South China Sea, and that’s pretty terrible. But I’m not sure it follows that they’ve stopped America (and our allies (?)) from responding in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Or that the other players in the region are just going to let China do anything they want without responding.
Also, other than the we’re good thing earlier, there’s no real reason why Romney thinks America should be the major player in that part of the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. I mean China is there and we aren’t. And it’s not that difficult of a thing to come up with something: stability of commerce around the world yada, yada, commitments to our allies, blah blah blah. The point isn’t that there isn’t an argument to be made about why America has a role in the region, especially over China, but it would be nice if Romeny would actually make the argument.
Then there’s a discussion of Taiwan that will (if the Chinese take this book seriously) probably give him headaches.
Taiwan is not China. It is an independent democratic country of 23 million people–more than Australia and more than four times the population of Israel. Taiwan holds free and fair elections, guards its citizens’ civil rights and political liberties, and is also a model of free enterprise, having the twentieth largest economy in the world. If the people of Taiwan were to unite with China, that would be their right, but that has never been the choice of a modern, free Taiwan.
To be clear, I think that’s largely true (except for the fact that Taiwan still largely sees itself as representative of all of China). But it’s always been the sort of thing that Americans with diplomatic power tend to finesse.
Anyway, then Romney is worried that if China takes over Taiwan (as if anyone is saying they should do that) then the next step is maybe Korea and Japan. Then the section ends with Romney saying we still have a lot of influence, and we should keep a strong military presence in the region and support our allies.
* I’m not sure what next time is. I suspect these posts will be somewhat sparse until it gets chilly. My only goal is to finish the book before the election, because after that, it’ll be either useless or super depressing.
** And to Romney’s credit he mentions comfort women. I’m sure that won’t make anyone from Japan who reads his book happy, but it’s the right thing to do. Less to his credit, he uses the phrase “women were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers.” I mean, that’s about the most polite way you can describe that particular horror.
*** I don’t actually think it’s reasonable. Just Romney’s description of it in the military context.