The Rise of China (and the Fall of the U.S.?)

By Alfred McCoy, a historian and educator. He is the Fred Harvey Harrington Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and author of To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change. Originally published at TomDispatch.

From the ashes of a world war that killed 80 million people and reduced great cities to smoking rubble, America rose like a Titan of Greek legend, unharmed and armed with extraordinary military and economic power, to govern the globe. During four years of combat against the Axis leaders in Berlin and Tokyo that raged across the planet, America’s wartime commanders — George Marshall in Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower in Europe, and Chester Nimitz in the Pacific — knew that their main strategic objective was to gain control over the vast Eurasian landmass. Whether you’re talking about desert warfare in North Africa, the D-Day landing at Normandy, bloody battles on the Burma-India border, or the island-hopping campaign across the Pacific, the Allied strategy in World War II involved constricting the reach of the Axis powers globally and then wresting that very continent from their grasp.

That past, though seemingly distant, is still shaping the world we live in. Those legendary generals and admirals are, of course, long gone, but the geopolitics they practiced at such a cost still has profound implications. For just as Washington encircled Eurasia to win a great war and global hegemony, so Beijing is now involved in a far less militarized reprise of that reach for global power.

And to be blunt, these days, China’s gain is America’s loss. Every step Beijing takes to consolidate its control over Eurasia simultaneously weakens Washington’s presence on that strategic continent and so erodes its once formidable global power.

A Cold War Strategy

After four embattled years imbibing lessons about geopolitics with their morning coffee and bourbon nightcaps, America’s wartime generation of generals and admirals understood, intuitively, how to respond to the future alliance of the two great communist powers in Moscow and Beijing.

In 1948, following his move from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, Secretary of State George Marshall launched the $13 billion Marshall Plan to rebuild a war-torn Western Europe, laying the economic foundations for the formation of the NATO alliance just a year later. After a similar move from the wartime Allied headquarters in London to the White House in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower helped complete a chain of military bastions along Eurasia’s Pacific littoral by signing a series of mutual-security pacts — with South Korea in 1953, Taiwan in 1954, and Japan in 1960. For the next 70 years, that island chain would serve as the strategic hinge on Washington’s global power, critical for both the defense of North America and dominance over Eurasia.

After fighting to conquer much of that vast continent during World War II, America’s postwar leaders certainly knew how to defend their gains. For more than 40 years, their unrelenting efforts to dominate Eurasia assured Washington of an upper hand and, in the end, victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. To constrain the communist powers inside that continent, the U.S. ringed its 6,000 miles with 800 military bases, thousands of jet fighters, and three massive naval armadas — the 6th Fleet in the Atlantic, the 7th Fleet in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, and, somewhat later, the 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf.

Thanks to diplomat George Kennan, that strategy gained the name “containment” and, with it, Washington could, in effect, sit back and wait while the Sino-Soviet bloc imploded through diplomatic blunder and military misadventure. After the Beijing-Moscow split of 1962 and China’s subsequent collapse into the chaos of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, the Soviet Union tried repeatedly, if unsuccessfully, to break out of its geopolitical isolation — in the Congo, Cuba, Laos, Egypt, Ethiopia, Angola, and Afghanistan. In the last and most disastrous of those interventions, which Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to term “the bleeding wound,” the Red Army deployed 110,000 soldiers for nine years of brutal Afghan combat, hemorrhaging money and manpower in ways that would contribute to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In that heady moment of seeming victory as the sole superpower left on planet Earth, a younger generation of Washington foreign-policy leaders, trained not on battlefields but in think tanks, took little more than a decade to let that unprecedented global power start to slip away. Toward the close of the Cold War era in 1989, Francis Fukuyama, an academic working in the State Department’s policy planning unit, won instant fame among Washington insiders with his seductive phrase “the end of history.” He argued that America’s liberal world order would soon sweep up all of humanity on an endless tide of capitalist democracy. As he put it in a much-cited essay: “The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident… in the total exhaustion of viable systemic alternatives to Western liberalism… seen also in the ineluctable spread of consumerist Western culture.”

The Invisible Power of Geopolitics

Amid such triumphalist rhetoric, Zbigniew Brzezinski, another academic sobered by more worldly experience, reflected on what he had learned about geopolitics during the Cold War as an adviser to two presidents, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. In his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard, Brzezinski offered the first serious American study of geopolitics in more than half a century. In the process, he warned that the depth of U.S. global hegemony, even at this peak of unipolar power, was inherently “shallow.”

For the United States and, he added, every major power of the past 500 years, Eurasia, home to 75% of the world’s population and productivity, was always “the chief geopolitical prize.” To perpetuate its “preponderance on the Eurasian continent” and so preserve its global power, Washington would, he warned, have to counter three threats: “the expulsion of America from its offshore bases” along the Pacific littoral; ejection from its “perch on the western periphery” of the continent provided by NATO; and finally, the formation of “an assertive single entity” in the sprawling center of Eurasia.

Arguing for Eurasia’s continued post-Cold War centrality, Brzezinski drew heavily on the work of a long-forgotten British academic, Sir Halford Mackinder. In a 1904 essay that sparked the modern study of geopolitics, Mackinder observed that, for the past 500 years, European imperial powers had dominated Eurasia from the sea, but the construction of trans-continental railroads was shifting the locus of control to its vast interior “heartland.” In 1919, in the wake of World War I, he also argued that Eurasia, along with Africa, formed a massive “world island” and offered this bold geopolitical formula: “Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World.” Clearly, Mackinder was about 100 years premature in his predictions.

But today, by combining Mackinder’s geopolitical theory with Brzezinski’s gloss on global politics, it’s possible to discern, in the confusion of this moment, some potential long-term trends. Imagine Mackinder-style geopolitics as a deep substrate that shapes more ephemeral political events, much the way the slow grinding of the planet’s tectonic plates becomes visible when volcanic eruptions break through the earth’s surface. Now, let’s try to imagine what all this means in terms of international geopolitics today.

China’s Geopolitical Gambit

In the decades since the Cold War’s close, China’s increasing control over Eurasia clearly represents a fundamental change in that continent’s geopolitics. Convinced that Beijing would play the global game by U.S. rules, Washington’s foreign policy establishment made a major strategic miscalculation in 2001 by admitting it to the World Trade Organization (WTO). “Across the ideological spectrum, we in the U.S. foreign policy community,” confessed two former members of the Obama administration, “shared the underlying belief that U.S. power and hegemony could readily mold China to the United States’ liking… All sides of the policy debate erred.” In little more than a decade after it joined the WTO, Beijing’s annual exports to the U.S. grew nearly five-fold and its foreign currency reserves soared from just $200 billion to an unprecedented $4 trillion by 2013.

In 2013, drawing on those vast cash reserves, China’s new president, Xi Jinping, launched a trillion-dollar infrastructure initiative to transform Eurasia into a unified market. As a steel grid of rails and petroleum pipelines began crisscrossing the continent, China ringed the tri-continental world island with a chain of 40 commercial ports — from Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, around Africa’s coast, to Europe from Piraeus, Greece, to Hamburg, Germany. In launching what soon became history’s largest development project, 10 times the size of the Marshall Plan, Xi is consolidating Beijing’s geopolitical dominance over Eurasia, while fulfilling Brzezinski’s fear of the rise of “an assertive single entity” in Central Asia.

Unlike the U.S., China hasn’t spent significant effort establishing military bases. While Washington still maintains some 750 of them in 80 nations, Beijing has just one military base in Djibouti on the east African coast, a signals intercept post on Myanmar’s Coco Islands in the Bay of Bengal, a compact installation in eastern Tajikistan, and half a dozen small outposts in the South China Sea.

Moreover, while Beijing was focused on building Eurasian infrastructure, Washington was fighting two disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in a strategically inept bid to dominate the Middle East and its oil reserves (just as the world was beginning to transition away from petroleum to renewable energy). In contrast, Beijing has concentrated on the slow, stealthy accretion of investments and influence across Eurasia from the South China Sea to the North Sea. By changing the continent’s underlying geopolitics through this commercial integration, it’s winning a level of control not seen in the last thousand years, while unleashing powerful forces for political change.

Tectonic Shifts Shake U.S. Power

After a decade of Beijing’s relentless economic expansion across Eurasia, the tectonic shifts in that continent’s geopolitical substrate have begun to manifest themselves in a series of diplomatic eruptions, each erasing another aspect of U.S. influence. Four of the more recent ones might seem, at first glance, unrelated but are all driven by the relentless force of geopolitical change.

First came the sudden, unexpected collapse of the U.S. position in Afghanistan, forcing Washington to end its 20-year occupation in August 2021 with a humiliating withdrawal. In a slow, stealthy geopolitical squeeze play, Beijing had signed massive development deals with all the surrounding Central Asian nations, leaving American troops isolated there. To provide critical air support for its infantry, U.S. jet fighters were often forced to fly 2,000 miles from their nearest base in the Persian Gulf — an unsustainable long-term situation and unsafe for troops on the ground. As the U.S.-trained Afghan Army collapsed and Taliban guerrillas drove into Kabul atop captured Humvees, the chaotic U.S. retreat in defeat became unavoidable.

Just six months later in February 2022, President Vladimir Putin massed an armada of armored vehicles loaded with 200,000 troops on Ukraine’s border. If Putin is to be believed, his “special military operation” was to be a bid to undermine NATO’s influence and weaken the Western alliance — one of Brzezinski’s conditions for the U.S. eviction from Eurasia.

But first Putin visited Beijing to court President Xi’s support, a seemingly tall order given China’s decades of lucrative trade with the United States, worth a mind-boggling $500 billion in 2021. Yet Putin scored a joint declaration that the two nations’ relations were “superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era” and a denunciation of “the further expansion of NATO.”

As it happened, Putin did so at a perilous price. Instead of attacking Ukraine in frozen February when his tanks could have maneuvered off-road on their way to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, he had to wait out Beijing’s Winter Olympics. So, Russian troops invaded instead in muddy March, leaving his armored vehicles stuck in a 40-mile traffic jam on a single highway where the Ukrainians readily destroyed more than 1,000 tanks. Facing diplomatic isolation and European trade embargos as his defeated invasion degenerated into a set of vengeful massacres, Moscow shifted much of its exports to China. That quickly raised bilateral trade by 30% to an all-time high, while reducing Russia to but another piece on Beijing’s geopolitical chessboard.

Then, just last month, Washington found itself diplomatically marginalized by an utterly unexpected resolution of the sectarian divide that had long defined the politics of the Middle East. After signing a $400-billion infrastructure deal with Iran and making Saudi Arabia its top oil supplier, Beijing was well positioned to broker a major diplomatic rapprochement between those bitter regional rivals, Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. Within weeks, the foreign ministers of the two nations sealed the deal with a deeply symbolic voyage to Beijing — a bittersweet reminder of the days not long ago when Arab diplomats paid court in Washington.

Finally, the Biden administration was stunned this month when Europe’s preeminent leader, Emmanuel Macron of France, visited Beijing for a series of intimate tête-à-tête chats with China’s President Xi. At the close of that extraordinary journey, which won French companies billions in lucrative contracts, Macron announced “a global strategic partnership with China” and promised he would not “take our cue from the U.S. agenda” over Taiwan. A spokesman for the Élysée Palace quickly released a pro forma clarification that “the United States is our ally, with shared values.” Even so, Macron’s Beijing declaration reflected both his own long-term vision of the European Union as an independent strategic player and that bloc’s ever-closer economic ties to China

The Future of Geopolitical Power

Projecting such political trends a decade into the future, Taiwan’s fate would seem, at best, uncertain. Instead of the “shock and awe” of aerial bombardments, Washington’s default mode of diplomatic discourse in this century, Beijing prefers stealthy, sedulous geopolitical pressure. In building its island bases in the South China Sea, for example, it inched forward incrementally — first dredging, then building structures, next runways, and finally emplacing anti-aircraft missiles — in the process avoiding any confrontation over its functional capture of an entire sea.

Lest we forget, Beijing has built its formidable economic-political-military power in little more than a decade. If its strength continues to increase inside Eurasia’s geopolitical substrate at even a fraction of that head-spinning pace for another decade, it may be able to execute a deft geopolitical squeeze-play on Taiwan like the one that drove the U.S. out of Afghanistan. Whether from a customs embargo, incessant naval patrols, or some other form of pressure, Taiwan might just fall quietly into Beijing’s grasp.

Should such a geopolitical gambit prevail, the U.S. strategic frontier along the Pacific littoral would be broken, possibly pushing its Navy back to a “second island chain” from Japan to Guam — the last of Brzezinski’s criteria for the true waning of U.S. global power. In that event, Washington’s leaders could once again find themselves sitting on the proverbial diplomatic and economic sidelines, wondering how it all happened.

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  1. Susan the other

    This is a nice story but it’s just more story telling about where we are and how we got here. We got here riding the wave of human population growth, itself a force of nature. And we paralyzed ourselves by not evolving into a new and functional financial paradigm. It’s like we kept trying to keep the rules of finance linear when they were blowing up exponentially. Funny that it did not occur to the very chauvinistic Brzyzensky that we were actually isolating ourselves. But it’s not like we did not achieve some very good things. We most certainly did. We led a post war world back to prosperity and we have anticipated the downside, which is environmental destruction. We are focused like a laser on creating a balance between human civilization and a sustainable environment. And it just looks crazy and confusing because for all of human history money has represented value until now. Now it simply represents a means to an end, which is sustainability. Imo.

  2. The Rev Kev

    This Alfred McCoy may be a historian and educator but he does not get it. He never thinks about looking at it from the other side and trying to link cause to effect. Acts as if the Russian invasion just kinda happened without the context that NATO wanted to surround Russia with bases and nuclear missiles. And he is upset that the US Navy may be pushed back to a “second island chain” from Japan to Guam. How would he feel if the Chinese had a string of bases in the Caribbean? Or there were Russian or Chinese bases in Mexico. Maybe he should spend some time trying to work out how the US go to where it is right now. Too much of what he says is just descriptive without the contextual facts.

    1. digi_owl

      Probably borderline apoplectic, same as DC went when Russia openly mused about asking Mexico if they would house Russian troops.

      Not as if we have not already been through this once already, with the Cuban missile crisis. That should rather be called the Turkish missile crisis, given what got the soviets to contemplate Cuba in the first place.

      USA have been acting like a spoiled brat from the day gained independence, and then kicked it up to 11 after WW2.

      1. JonnyJames

        Exactly, they turned it up to 11 after WW2 as the largest economy and the only major economy not bombed into the Stone Age. A unique historical period that is coming to an end.

    2. pjay

      Was there a “lesson for US policymakers” in here somewhere, because if there was I missed it. You hit the nail on the head by stating that he “never thinks about looking at it from the other side and trying to link cause to effect.” He is oblivious. Instead, the esteemed Professor McCoy:

      1. Describes China’s “stealthy and sedulous” *non-military* advancement as some sort of evil plan for world conquest. But why? By what criteria? What *should* they have done instead? Play by *our* “rules”? And again, what should *we* have done to counter this effort that was different than what we did do? Is our global predatory capitalism superior?

      2. Praises our policy of postwar “containment” of Communism and also, apparently, Brzezinski’s “Heartland” warnings, but seems oblivious to the fact that our later disastrous polices of global “full spectrum dominance” are direct extensions of the policies and ideology of this period.

      3. Demonstrates complete ignorance and/or dependence on Western propaganda for his views on Russia and Ukraine.

      Much more to say, but that’s enough. Alfred McCoy is a very well respected academic. He’s written some fine books over the years, several of which I have read. But once again, we see the limitations of “critical thought” when it is encased in cognitive boundaries beyond which “respected” thinkers cannot venture.

      I guess Professor McCoy should stick to writing about torture or the global drug trade.

      1. Judith

        I used to associate Alfred McCoy with his book of the politics of heroin in southeast Asia. The CIA tried to prevent its publication and McCoy got in touch with Seymour Hersh, who was instrumental in making sure the book was published.

        To his credit, Canfield refused Meyer’s request to suppress the book. But he did allow the agency a chance to review the manuscript prior to publication. Instead of waiting quietly for the CIA’s critique, I contacted Seymour Hersh, then an investigative reporter for the New York Times. The same day the CIA courier arrived from Langley to collect my manuscript, Hersh swept through Harper & Row’s offices like a tropical storm, pelting hapless executives with incessant, unsettling questions. The next day, his exposé of the CIA’s attempt at censorship appeared on the paper’s front page. Other national media organizations followed his lead. Faced with a barrage of negative coverage, the CIA gave Harper & Row a critique full of unconvincing denials. The book was published unaltered.

        What happened to McCoy?

        1. Adam

          You could also ask, what happened to the New York Times? Or the Washington Post. Or most other media outlets.

    3. JonnyJames

      While I don’t agree with everything he writes or says, prof. John Mearsheimer (among academics) has more expertise than McCoy on many of these issues. McCoy makes some points, but gets some things factually wrong, or, as you point out, omits some key issues.

      Also, prof. Michael Hudson, is always a good source for the “big picture”

  3. upstater

    So, Russian troops invaded instead in muddy March, leaving his armored vehicles stuck in a 40-mile traffic jam on a single highway where the Ukrainians readily destroyed more than 1,000 tanks.

    The motorized column strung out north of Kiev was largely unmolested. How can we take much else from Prof McCoy seriously if he gets this part so wrong? I agree Russia has lost hundreds of tanks, but getting such basic facts right matters.

    1. digi_owl

      Yep. While MSM was busy presenting it as Russia being out of gas, the uniforms at Pentagon etc likely recognized that it was a demonstration of how Russia owned the Ukraine skies. Otherwise that column would have been turned into a recreation of the highway of death from the gulf war.

    2. Detroit Dan

      Yes. The U.S. intelligentsia seems to continue to underestimate Russia. It’s not China that is taking on NATO militarily and winning. China is not the only country which has been playing a shrewd economic and diplomatic game.

      Still the author is right to point out that Russia cleared its Ukraine war with China. The obvious point he misses is that this was worth the cost.

      1. tevhatch

        cleared or informed? It’s possible China had some input on the start date, but frankly I think the Russians would have been clued in enough to have set the start date to after Winter Games long before giving the ‘final’ heads up to Beijing. The idea that Putin would have given China a veto, well, he’d have lasted about a week in office if that was ever confirmed. The Kremlin is a lot more than Putin.

  4. Boomheist

    I continue to think that everyone underestimates Russia in all this. Yes, China is growing and wealthy and organized, but China lacks oil, many natural resources, has a huge and aging population, and depends on the US and Europe for way too many of its jobs and success. It is true that the Chinese believe they are on another Long March, this one economic, but they need oil and gas, minerals, and acreage to grow food, all of which Russia has in abundance. I think the Ukrainian SMO was and is of itself exactly as Putin described it – protect Donbass, demilitarize Ukraine, push back NATO – but this was also the first step on a chessboard to remove the dollar as the main currency and realign the Global South with a Russian-Chinese bloc. It may be that in the end it is Russia, not China, that rules the roost in the 21st century, although China’s ancient history and large population, and new industrial plant, argues China will lead unless its ageing population and natural disasters cause crises. But first Russia must succeed in its SMO, and this has not happened (yet) and the longer this goes on the better things will be for China, not Russia. In the end, though, it seems we are moving to a bloc-like world: there will be a Eurasian Bloc with Russia and China leading, perhaps an India-Middle East bloc as well, even an African grouping, but as for America it looks like the logical bloc will be the US, Canada and Mexico, and in fact this bloc could survive just fine for reasons of energy, food, educated population, industrial base, etc. However, for the time being, our neocon leaders are bent on world control, and we’re seeing how that is working out…

    1. jsn

      How COVID plays forward in the three distinct systems at play, US/Western Neoliberalism, Russian Neoliberalism and Chinese State Capitalism, will likely end up having a dominant effect.

      We can see the US/Western controlled flight into I terrain taking shape. As Russia sets the chess pieces for NATO destruction in Europe, what’s happening there with Long COVID? And in China, due to density and wholesale adoption of “let er rip!” I’m bracing for exponential disruptions wherever the failure points COVID will identify turn out to be.

      There is a universal existential threat overlaid on an existential imperial competition that none of the main agents are acknowledging. Denial is already amplifying effects, it will only get worse until it is again accepted as a real issue, which it will force in due time at some toll of death and disability.

    2. IECG

      I am a Mexican and I cannot see good reasons for a Canada-USA-Mexico block. Mexico is better out of it. The United States is the only country that existentially threatens Mexico. Drugs, bad diet, bad urbanism, hiperindividualism, aculturation, desindustrialization… the list of mexican problems caused or worsened by the USA-Mexico relations Is very long.

      1. b

        I totally get your point, but from a resources and materials perspective I expect that it would be smarter for all if the North American countries (ideally aligned with South American) to work as a bloc if and when a great Eurasian bloc emerges, rather than going to war all the time to protect remote resource supplies….Of course the US would have to change some things greatly…..Of course alternatively the US southwest might vote to rejoin Mexico from which it was stolen….

      2. Cat Burglar

        McCoy relies on Brzezinski (and behind him, Mackinder) for his idea that US primacy depends on control of Eurasia — but Brzezinski’s The Grand Chessboard contains exactly zero consideration of US relations with Latin America! Does it have no significance at all?

        Perhaps Brzezinski just thought Mexico, Central, and South America are always going to remain safely in hand — but when other bidders come to the Americas, what can the US do? The Regime Change fix has not held well in Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, while Chile, Colombia, and Peru are looking like shaky vassals. Overthrow was easier to manage with the slow information circulation of the Cold War. When China comes to Mexico and Bolivia with an attractive deal for Lithium mining, will the US try to top it, or call out the old Bay Of Pigs veterans?

        When the masters of discourse focus all attention in one direction, it is the method of every thinking person to always turn in the opposite direction and examine what they are not talking about — in this case, the Americas — and you often find the most important facts there. How long could US strength hold out when Latin America begins to deal with other powers?

  5. Laura

    Strange article. McCoy contradicts himself multiple times. The most glaring:

    In 2013, drawing on those vast cash reserves, China’s new president, Xi Jinping, launched a trillion-dollar infrastructure initiative to transform Eurasia into a unified market. As a steel grid of rails and petroleum pipelines began crisscrossing the continent, China ringed the tri-continental world island with a chain of 40 commercial ports — from Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, around Africa’s coast, to Europe from Piraeus, Greece, to Hamburg, Germany. In launching what soon became history’s largest development project, 10 times the size of the Marshall Plan

    But he then goes on to say:

    while Beijing was focused on building Eurasian infrastructure, Washington was fighting two disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in a strategically inept bid to dominate the Middle East and its oil reserves (just as the world was beginning to transition away from petroleum to renewable energy)

    The wars weren’t disastrous for the international investor class. As Assange and others have made clear, the endless “wars” were intended to extract “wealth” from the western nations.

    Remember, it was the financiers themselves who intentionally caused China’s “collapse into the chaos of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.” The daughter of the founder of Goldman Sachs was instrumental. So was Sidney Rittenberg.

    Fast forward a bit, and Henry Kissinger et al then began the process of turning China into a more market-based, consumerist “capitalist” entity.

    Today China is investing in oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Iran. And it was a mere decade ago that “steel grid of rails and petroleum pipelines began crisscrossing the continent.” Yet we’re also supposed to believe that the world is “beginning to transition away from petroleum to renewable energy.”

    China sure isn’t.

    In fact, “the world” isn’t moving away from oil. A portion of the world is being told that so that they will buy stuff being produced with oil in another part of the world. The financial masters bled the US dry and are now operating primarily through China.

    Propaganda works. See Sidney Rittenberg.

  6. The Phoenix

    When he got to “[Putin] .. as his defeated invasion degenerated into a set of vengeful massacres … ” I knew the rest of it was crap

  7. Mikel

    “The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident… in the total exhaustion of viable systemic alternatives to Western liberalism… seen also in the ineluctable spread of consumerist Western culture.”

    China would have a lot of work to do in the Asian sphere – if indeed there is to be much difference at all in the developing different spheres of influence.

    Time will tell whether the world just gets a choice between neoliberalism and neoliberalism-lite.

  8. Freethinker

    Of all their advantages, the Sino-Russian alliance has the arrogance of the US guaranteed in under-estimating them at every possible step in this contest. The Russian strategy in Ukraine isn’t stupid as is lazily assumed, it is planned in a way that best suits their interests, not what their enemies think would be a smart move. (ironically based on their decades of actual military failures; that somehow doesn’t affect their confidence) The Chinese strategy, perfectly complimenting their allies’ one, is not ‘stealthy’, it is similarly to Russia’s, playing to their strengths, patient and above all intelligent, which is precisely why the US doesn’t understand it.

    All empires come to an end and often exactly in this way, bled out by their own corruption, hubris, incompetence, entitlement and refusal to learn from their mistakes. And in the end, as now, their nominal allies will be as relieved as their enemies, because as the flailing empire dies, unable to achieve victories over it’s enemies, it cannibalises its allies in an attempt to maintain it’s power. (As Europe is currently being sacrificed) This has the effect though of making those remaining think they have nothing to lose in abandoning the sinking ship for neutrality at least.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      usually, when i interject at the Wilderness Bar, that ‘we’re a declining empire, and should take that into account…”
      my interlocutors to a person say “something something…Rome”
      then i get to talk about Toynbee’s life cycle of civilisation(we’re in the dominant(ie:decadent) minority part, right now), which remains my preferred lens when viewing all of this from my tar paper shack on the moon.
      doesn’t track 1:1, of course…i mean we’ve(USA) had a number of flipovers of this nature(like a lake,lol) in our 200+ years , where a dominant elite(and their blindnesses) were overtaken by a new bunch with new ideas for new problems.
      but i reckon the schema still holds broadly.

      1. skippy

        Aye Amfortas … Toynbee and all these nations and constructs, of them, whilst America is just a kid on the block that got silly ideas from being so far flung for a wee bit …

        Now that others [non western] have had some time to sort themselves out its an entire new game. A game that has a history and some did not take well to it considering things back in the day and how that really never changed. I mean its bad enough it all happened in the first place, but then having to contend with their media dominance on the planet and then cop it again via the cortex injections is just petrol on a open wound.

        So all has took is a better option, not say its utopia, but its better and that is all it has took to get some to make a break.

        So the next question is how this plays out for those in the West that just go along with the old narrative out of habit and the ever present social network dynamics. This is why I am not very keen on all the talking heads like Carlson et al because they are just a brand like Branson et al are. Its not about truth, but money for them, just reference the last few years lmmao … influancers of distinction …

        You got your place and stuff and I have my work/doggies to past the time and watch it all unfold …

  9. RobertC

    I too found McCoy’s reading of the historical record inconsistent but wasn’t much interested in yet another version so jumped to the “The Future…” conclusion which I found broadly likely:

    Whether from a customs embargo, incessant naval patrols, or some other form of pressure, Taiwan might just fall quietly into Beijing’s grasp.

    I believe China (together with Russia) is carefully avoiding the gift of a casus belli to the US Navy, which is stalled in defining, funding and building a path to its future. I also believe the Chinese-Russia relationship is pretty much as described by their leadership. They’ve described their path to the future and the Western perspective is having difficulty comprehending that.

    Thanks for posting McCoy’s article.

  10. Pelham

    Re the “mistake” of admitting China to the WTO: I never thought the justification about China eventually becoming more like the US was anything more than a hand wave. Wasn’t the real motivation the megabucks available to corporate America through offshoring and tapping into a ballooning market of 1 billion-plus? If so, the WTO admittance was certainly no mistake — for those globalists reaping the rewards over the past couple of decades.

    1. some guy

      And McCoy has nothing to say about that, or NAFTA, or the creation of WTO at all to begin with, or any of the other Free Trade Agreements and organizations designed to destroy America’s internal economy and make money for the anti-national elites on their deliberately-engineered way down for America.

      Does McCoy know about this and deliberately puts the spotlight on whatever his article is putting the spotlight on in order to keed the cameras off of Forcey Free-Trade? Or does McCoy actually believe what he wrote?

      Lambert Strether has written at times that the Owning Class Elite view America as a tear-down. I myself think the Owning Classes view America as a burn-down. Their plan is to burn America down, grab the insurance money and run.

      And they will keep working their plan until they succeed or until they are deleted from physical existence.

    2. Cat Burglar

      I took the WTO move as an example of geopolitical short-termism — the powers did not want to consider any long-term policy; they wanted the dough, now. I always wondered how they would contend with China when it became a power, and now we know: force and a relentless domestic propaganda mobilization. In other words, more short-termism. A nation with an elite that won’t think ahead might not have much of a future.

      1. some guy

        That doesn’t matter to the elite themselves, as long as they feel confident they can take their money and move to various Tropical Resorts and Tax Havens. They just regard America as a burn-down anyway, as in . . . Burn America down, get the insurance money and move on to greener pastures.

          1. some guy

            Well . . . Paraguay, for one. Think I’m joking? Some smart money shows that I’m serious.

            For example . . .



            And that’s just one greener pasture which we of the Great Unwashed are even permitted to read about after the fact.

  11. Aurelien

    Is it this easy to become a Professor of History? If I’d known, I’d have become one myself. I started making a list of factual historical errors which would have doomed an undergraduate paper, but I gave up.

    1. hk

      There are several books written on the changes (decline really) of the historical academia, through transition from focus on analyzing past events to using the past events as prop for present day advocacy. Can’t remember the titles off the top, but it gave a fascinating complement to the firsthand experience I’ve had. Will add the titles when I track them down.

  12. Felix_47

    The US could do fine without any world hegemony. I have always felt that since we have to support Mexico and we need its labor force that we should just integrate Mexico into the US. We could adopt their healthcare system and they could adopt our legal system regarding property. We could adopt loser pays in litigation. The prosperity would be spectacular. Imagine the development of Baja if the 5 freeway was extended to Cabo San Lucas. The Chinese would be clamoring to move here. Our problem is internal. Without campaign finance reform our political class cannot serve the nation and they do not. The western hemisphere has plenty of land labor and capital to compete. What is missing is political will.

    1. some guy

      We could adopt their crime cartels, too. Sounds like a good idea to me. Even more extortion, kidnapping for ransom, murder of native-rights activists, environmental activists, etc. than what we have now sounds like a good idea to me.

      1. some guy

        Oh, and . . . . we could legalize our Corporate Cancer-Juice GMO corn throughout Mexico. That sounds like a good idea, too, as I am sure all Mexicans would agree.

      2. Kurtismayfield

        The crime cartels would not exist without the US, especially the US illegal drug market.

        1. some guy

          That may have been true at one point. But it is now irrelevant. The crime cartels are not emotionally wedded to the US drug market. They are expanding into the European illegal drug market.

          Also, they have entered other activities than just drugs. Here is an article about the Mexican crime cartels organizing the sale of illegal logs, illegal endangered-species-based products, etc. to China. (And no doubt to any other willing buyer).

          And here’s another.

          Not to mention, once again, the kidnapping-for-ransom rackets inside Mexico itself. And rising extortion against every level of the avocado-growing industry in Mexico. ( We could stop that by banning Mexican avocadoes from entering America and restoring the grown-in-US avocado industry).

          So those are some examples of what a “merger with Mexico” would spread througout the 3 million square miles of USA. And in return for that, USA would spread Cancer-Juice GMO corn throughout Mexico and genetically pollute every corn variety in Mexico beyond redemption or even existence.

          But I am sure the “merge with Mexico” supporters will try to make their same old arguments all over again in a fresh new way.

          We could even extend the merger to Canada. L’ Etats Unidos de Mexamericanada. What a wonderful idea.

      3. Eclair

        Aw, come on! We have our own ‘crime cartels.’ Except we call them ‘corporations:’ Purdue Pharma, Bayer/Monsanto, ExxonMobil, Amazon, BASF, Cargill, Tyson and on and on. And, they have captured federal and state legislative bodies, insuring that their activities are never ‘illegal.’ Brilliant!

        1. some guy

          That doesn’t make the Mexicartels any less cartel-ish. And bringing the Mexicartels into all-over-America won’t replace the Criminal Corporation Cartels. It will merely add to them. So why do it?

  13. TomW

    The US policy toward China could be considered mostly successful. A country of impoverished Maoist Chinese Communists became a modern economy. They are capitalists, drink Starbucks, supply Walmart, and make and use (and buy) iPhones. They don’t need to adopt every single aspect of western culture to be considered friendly.
    We needed to adapt to China as an economic competitor, without irresponsibly arming for a land war in Asia. This was settled by Nixon/Kissenger half a century ago. We agreed to a ‘one China’ policy, giving p Taiwanese independence.
    I haven seen any comments regarding China’s changes in trade policy regarding exports of both steel and nitrogen fertilizer. They became the worlds largest producer of both, and essentially dumping massive amounts into world markets. Using coal as the primary energy source. Over the last couple of years, they seem to have realized it wasn’t very profitable, and their domestic markets needed it. And implemented export duties.
    The US adventures in the Middle East protected China’s oil supply. North America no longer needs oil imports, so there is one less reason to bother with an unrealistic global footprint.
    Was our presence in Afghanistan in order to defend China’s belt and road development? Neocons were thrilled with the idea of a Central Asian base. But why? Because. They can’t contain themselves.

  14. Rob

    Admitting China to the WTO may have been a strategic mistake in a geopolitical sense, but it was an enormous win for western businesses that could now have their products manufactured by China’s ultra-cheap workforce. American workers suffered, but that was of little concern to the business and investor class, who became obscenely wealthy.

  15. RobertC

    China’s amazing and historic economic growth almost didn’t happen as documented in How China Escaped Shock Therapy: The Market Reform Debate by Isabella M. Weber in the Routledge Studies on the Chinese Economy. Surprisingly it’s an exciting page-turner with excellent end-notes and bibliography. The author conducted interviews with the Chinese reform economists and others involved in the process. Highly recommended.

  16. A guy in Washington DC

    There are various versions of this “heartland vs rimland” theory. The most famous is MacKinder’s. All seem to be derived from British 19th Century “Navalist” thinking. The core theory is that the Eurasian heartland of Russia, China and the neighbors is in conflict with the peripheral powers and that the winner will be the group that controls the zone in-between. There is a good map at:

    However this article contains an obviously incorrect reading of US WWII strategy. The author says: “During four years of combat against the Axis leaders in Berlin and Tokyo that raged across the planet, America’s wartime commanders — George Marshall in Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower in Europe, and Chester Nimitz in the Pacific — knew that their main strategic objective was to gain control over the vast Eurasian landmass.”

    In the war against Hitler the “vast Eurasian landmass” power was the USSR, which bore the brunt of the fighting. The US and Great Britain only argued over what was the best road to Germany, should we go straight across the English Channel or through “the back door” via North Africa, Italy, southern France and possibly the Balkans? An attack based on gaining control of the heartland (Eastern Europe and Russia) and attacking from there was never even considered.

    The same was true in the Pacific. Early-on the US hoped to use airbases in China to get at Japan. It quickly became obvious that the logistical problems of supplying an air force in China combined with the Nationalist Chinese inability to protect airbases made that a non-starter. So the campaign choices became “MacArthur and the Army from Australia via the Philippines or Nimitz and the Navy through the central Pacific?” We did both but it was the Nimitz thrust across the central Pacific which gave us the war-winning bomber bases. The idea that either MacArthur or Nimitz’s “main strategic objective was to gain control over the vast Eurasian landmass” is simply incorrect. They and most American planners avoided plans to land on the Asian mainland like the plague.

    However in the present situation the MacKinder thinking makes uncomfortably good sense. Does the US government think that driving the two great Eurasian powers, Russia and China, together in a military alliance is a good idea?

    1. some guy

      The US government wants to create a new “credible threat” for a new “cold war” to use to impose greater social discipline and government control against the citizen-inhabitants of America itself. So from the standpoint of gaining greater government oppressionary power against the American people, it is a good idea.

  17. NoFreeWill

    “And to be blunt, these days, China’s gain is America’s loss. Every step Beijing takes to consolidate its control over Eurasia simultaneously weakens Washington’s presence on that strategic continent and so erodes its once formidable global power.”

    China seems to often opt for win-win “neocolonialism” in Africa… vis-a-vis the US “we win you lose” strategy everywhere… would you rather get a port built up and a bunch of trade, or have US companies steal your minerals and then leave/bomb you if you put up any resistance. So this sentence perfectly reflects the US unipolar idiocy… and why we are the evil empire and they are the benevolent one. China as hegemon would be a great improvement in health and welfare (lack of warfare) for the world, the sooner we collapse the better.

  18. Dida

    Another American academic lamenting the passing of the empire – and heaping venom on China-Russia… Oh well… I wonder what was the point of posting the piece, given its lack of informational value, and if there is something that I’m missing.

    1. Darius

      It read to me like an explanation of China’s rise, not a lamentation. Except possibly of America’s hubris and blundering decadence.

  19. Olde mayte

    I owe a big debt to tomdispatch (where this is from) cause during the halcyon days of the war of terror it was basically the first real site I found that was calling out US militarism. I read two killer books as a result of TD that made a big impact – no good men among the living and kill anything that moves

    But like many here I feel it hasn’t really been able to cope with the Ukraine war and Tom et al defaulted to mass media explanations that often make no sense, which is really jarring. Thank god for nakedcapitalism right. If only I had the time and expertise to figure these things out for myself!

  20. WestCountry

    The “1,000” tanks on the way to Kiev is a silly claim from the author (just to nitpick). Very weak part of the overall anslysis

    MoA and others (I believe the other was either simplicus the thinker or bigserge) have debunked that source

  21. JW

    Agree with almost all the comments about this article.
    It seems too many in the US go with the ‘either you are for us or you are against us’ mentality. Its ultimately destructive. A multi polar world is built on very different concepts.
    As a Brit I almost didn’t read beyond the description of WW2 as ‘four years’. Very difficult to take this article seriously, albeit its always instructive to see how other’s minds work.

    1. Piotr Berman

      I would expand on JW observation, “multi polar world is built on very different concepts.” While countries clearly come in different sizes and wealth, multi polar world is not predicated on some hierarchy in which lesser countries follow meekly larger countries, but all countries make choices, I prefer those suppliers for this, those for that, and similar for destinations of their products. Those products include weapons and training, but this aspect remains marginal (although some examples cause eye popping and headaches in in West).

      The biggest tectonic changes since the start of war in Ukraine are not Chinese mercantile power, which did not change that much, or warm relationship between Russia and China, which did not change that much either. Instead, other countries reacted to brazen economic coercion, reasoning that their vital interest is to make it fail, and collect gains in the process of that failure. India and Gulf monarchies are exhibit 1 and 2. Mind you, Lords (planners?) of the West calculated that those exhibits are firmly in their sphere of influence, Gulfies being munificent benefactors of American think tanks (and buyers of overpriced weapons), India purchasing weapons too and participating in the anti-Chinese Quad.

      India is the best example of the trend that is visible across global South. First, the neutrality brought monetary gains of tens of billions of dollars, enough to bring their inflation rate below EU level. Of course, trade in goods and services (notably, IT) with the West is worth more, but how can the West unleash sanctions on India when the neutrality became a matter of national Indian pride, and placement India on the list of hostile regimes would make utter mockery of Western strategy. With this approach, the most populous non-enemy country could be Nigeria, lauded for democratic and efficient government (well, they do have multi-party elections, quite regular lately). The most practical problem for Western leaders would be explaining the voters why their obvious truths and values found such bad reception.

      But most importantly, while India embraces consumerism, liberal (almost) economy and democracy (almost), it detests being dictated and lectured. Not totally new, but one the time came to choose between being “good players” or to follow national economic interest and pride, they chose the latter.

      But what about their Quad membership and hostility to China? Here we see a strong analogy with hostility to Iran cementing KSA in the Western camp. Hostilities can be negotiated (KSA with Iran), ritualized (Indian and Chinese troops confronting each other with sticks) and mediated by third parties not interested in extending the conflict.

  22. eg

    I think the “unipolar moment” from the fall of the Berlin Wall onwards ate America’s strategic and diplomatic brains, while segments of domestic capital looted it in an orgy of deindustrialization.

    Any of the old guard that might have had the capacity to deal with the current challenges are either dead or in their dotage.

    1. some guy

      What is interesting is that the Old Guard unanimously supported Free Trade which legalized and enshrined the process of “segments of domestic capital looted it in an orgy of deindustrialization.”

      It was the Old Guard itself which pursued that outcome deliberately and with malice aforethought. Clinton was their eager young accolyte and bribee tasked with finally making every last bit of it possible.

  23. Victor Sciamarelli

    Mr. McCoy furnished a good historical review and insight on the threat posed by the China.
    Remarkably, concurrently in NC is, “Plunder: Private Equity’s Plan to Pillage America.” Because, in my opinion, the biggest threat to the US comes from Americans rather than the Chinese.
    The elite view has long been that problems originate outside the US and were it not for Gaddafi, Hussein, terrorists, the axis of evil, commies, or whatever else can be found, Americans would be doing fine; I doubt it.
    Besides private equity, Americans created our grotesque wealth inequality, poverty, immoral healthcare and education systems, rigged economy and, what is now obvious, the corporate takeover of government and the corruption of both political parties by unlimited money, and on; all done by Americans without outside help. China is surpassing the US but, in fact, it doesn’t have to work hard; we are doing most of the heavy lifting for them.

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