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Tomgram: Pepe Escobar, The New Great Game Between China and the U.S.

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In Washington, voices are rising fast and furiously. "Freedom fries" are a thing of the past and everyone agrees on the need to support France (and on more or less nothing else). Now, disagreements are sharpening over whether to only incrementally "intensify" the use of U.S. military power in Syria and Iraq or go to "war" big time and send in the troops. The editor of the right-wing Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol, is already calling for 50,000 American troops to take the Islamic State's "capital," Raqqa. Republican presidential candidate Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been urging that another 20,000 troops be dispatched to the region for months, offers this illuminating analogy to sports: "I'm looking for an away game when it comes to ISIL, not a home game. I want to fight them in their backyard."

And don't forget that increasingly angry sideline discussion about the Obama administration's plan to let 10,000 Syrian refugees, carefully vetted for up to two years, trickle into the country. Alternatives proposed include setting up even harsher, more time-consuming vetting processes to insure that few of them can make it, allowing only certified, God-fearing Christian Syrians in while -- give a rousing cheer for the "clash of civilizations" -- leaving Muslims to rot in hell, or just blocking the whole damn lot of them.

In such an atmosphere of rancor and pure war-hawkishness, it's increasingly hard to remember what a more peaceable world looked and sounded like. That's why TomDispatch's peripatetic reporter Pepe Escobar, who roams Eurasia, especially the region he long ago dubbed Pipelineistan, is like a breath of fresh air. He reminds us that there are still places where people are talking about -- gasp! -- building up infrastructure in a big way, not defunding it and letting it crumble into dust; places where leaders are intent on thinking about how to unify worlds through commerce and trade, not smash them to smithereens via air power and drones. Maybe that's just what it means to live in the heartland of a rising power, rather than a declining one.

His focus is China and don't get me wrong, that country's no bowl of cherries. Even if not at American levels, it's pouring money into its military and elbowing its neighbors in nearby waters, as you might expect of a bulking-up regional power. Still, it's got a dream that its leaders are actually happy to promote and it's not a warlike one that highlights an ever-more heavily militarized world either. That in itself should count for something. But let Pepe Escobar fill in the details on a Chinese dream of full-time construction across Eurasia that, transposed to this continent, would once have sounded American indeed. Tom

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Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Silk Roads, Night Trains, and the Third Industrial Revolution in China
By Pepe Escobar

The U.S. is transfixed by its multibillion-dollar electoral circus. The European Union is paralyzed by austerity, fear of refugees, and now all-out jihad in the streets of Paris. So the West might be excused if it's barely caught the echoes of a Chinese version of Roy Orbison's "All I Have to Do Is Dream." And that new Chinese dream even comes with a road map.

The crooner is President Xi Jinping and that road map is the ambitious, recently unveiled 13th Five-Year-Plan, or in the pop-video version, the Shisanwu. After years of explosive economic expansion, it sanctifies the country's lower "new normal" gross domestic product growth rate of 6.5% a year through at least 2020.

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It also sanctifies an updated economic formula for the country: out with a model based on low-wage manufacturing of export goods and in with the shock of the new, namely, a Chinese version of the third industrial revolution. And while China's leadership is focused on creating a middle-class future powered by a consumer economy, its president is telling whoever is willing to listen that, despite the fears of the Obama administration and of some of the country's neighbors, there's no reason for war ever to be on the agenda for the U.S. and China.

Given the alarm in Washington about what is touted as a Beijing quietly pursuing expansionism in the South China Sea, Xi has been remarkably blunt on the subject of late. Neither Beijing nor Washington, he insists, should be caught in the Thucydides trap, the belief that a rising power and the ruling imperial power of the planet are condemned to go to war with each other sooner or later.

It was only two months ago in Seattle that Xi told a group of digital economy heavyweights, "There is no such thing as the so-called Thucydides trap in the world. But should major countries time and again make the mistakes of strategic miscalculation, they might create such traps for themselves."

A case can be made -- and Xi's ready to make it -- that Washington, which, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Libya to Syria, has gained something of a reputation for "strategic miscalculation" in the twenty-first century, might be doing it again. After all, U.S. military strategy documents and top Pentagon figures have quite publicly started to label China (like Russia) as an official "threat."

To grasp why Washington is starting to think of China that way, however, you need to take your eyes off the South China Sea for a moment, turn off Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and the rest of the posse, and consider the real game-changer -- or "threat" -- that's rattling Beltway nerves in Washington when it comes to the new Great Game in Eurasia.

Xi's Bedside Reading

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Swarms of Chinese tourists iPhoning away and buying everything in sight in major Western capitals already prefigure a Eurasian future closely tied to and anchored by a Chinese economy turbo-charging toward that third industrial revolution. If all goes according to plan, it will harness everything from total connectivity and efficient high-tech infrastructure to the expansion of green, clean energy hubs. Solar plants in the Gobi desert, anyone?

Yes, Xi is a reader of economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin, who first conceived of a possible third industrial revolution powered by both the Internet and renewable energy sources.

It turns out that the Chinese leadership has no problem with the idea of harnessing cutting-edge Western soft power for its own purposes. In fact, they seem convinced that no possible tool should be overlooked when it comes to moving the country on to the next stage in the process that China's Little Helmsman, former leader Deng Xiaoping, decades ago designated as the era in which "to get rich is glorious."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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