Cold War Nostalgia Fuels a Dangerous New Anti-China Consensus

While American political culture continues to polarize on most issues, Washington’s elite from both parties is finding a common ground that dwarfs China as the number one foreign enemy. In late February, William J. Burns, President Biden’s candidate to head the CIA, enjoyed a friendly Senate hearing when he warned that China could pose a greater threat than the Soviet Union during the Cold War. “We have to buckle up in the long run, I think, competing with China,” he said said. “This cannot be compared with the competition with the Soviet Union in the Cold War, which was primarily security and ideological. This is an adversary who is extraordinarily ambitious with technology and also economically capable. ”

The invocation of the Cold War is no accident, as memories of that conflict are the prism through which Chinese politics is increasingly viewed. Live action role-playing games (or LARPing as it is popularly known) are a common hobby among middle-aged men. Usually it takes the benign form of civil war or WWII reenactments – or maybe it mocks medieval tournaments. However, Washington policymakers are grappling with a more sinister form of LARPing during the Cold War, in which they are actively trying to rebuild a tough, bipartisan consensus that could spark untold misery.

In 1946, under the pseudonym Mr. X, diplomat George Kennan wrote one of the fundamental texts of the Cold War, the long telegram he sent from Moscow to Washington calling for a policy of containment. Earlier this year, another anonymous diplomat confidently followed in Kennan’s footsteps, problematic One lengthy telegram – which was not a real telegram, but undoubtedly verbose – argues: “The most important challenge facing the United States in the 21st century is the rise of an increasingly authoritarian China under President and Secretary-General Xi Jinping. ”

Cold War nostalgia is a strange phenomenon considering all the horrors that competition with the Soviet Union has inflicted on many countries: bloody war and division in both Korea and Vietnam; the division of Germany and the establishment of Soviet-backed dictatorships in half of Europe; brutal American-backed dictatorships in Chile, Guatemala and Indonesia – without even mentioning that the world has come close to nuclear annihilation several times.

But the Cold War has much to recommend to the American political elite. It was the time when the United States enjoyed the privileged place as the leader of the free world, an ally sought after by many nations. Domestically, too, the Cold War is being recalled somewhat selectively as a time of high, non-partisan consensus.

liberal Washington Post Columnist E.J. Dionne conjured up remembering Sputnik to argue that a new hard consensus on China could help garner bipartisan support for education and science. “Fear of falling behind an opponent has long been a powerful vehicle for national renewal,” argues Dionne. “Even in a non-partisan era, that could still be true.” Dionne also argues that “the threat China poses could fundamentally transform US attitudes towards the role of government in domestic economic growth, research and development in ways that make the United States stronger.”


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