The Pentagon Says China and Russia are Bigger Problems for U.S. than Terrorists. American Voters May Not Agree.

The Pentagon Says China and Russia are Bigger Problems for U.S. than Terrorists. American Voters May Not Agree. by Adam Taylor – Washington Post

A newly released Pentagon strategy document proposes a new vision of America’s national security priorities — one in which competition with China and Russia is more important to the United States than the fight against international terrorism.

After almost two decades of a “war on terror” that came at huge expense but often had few tangible benefits, such a strategy would mark a noteworthy change in the way the United States conducts its foreign policy. However, the new strategy also raises a question: Do American voters agree?

Perhaps not. A number of polls conducted over the past year show that Americans remain deeply concerned about the threat posed by international terrorism, while they appear to be underwhelmed by the risks posed by a rising China or a belligerent Russia. That disconnect between U.S. voters and the U.S. national security apparatus may become an issue down the road.

The National Defense Strategy was unveiled Friday morning at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Speaking to reporters, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis explained that the document, which calls for a sustained financial investment in the military to overcome “a period of strategic atrophy,” reflects the real priorities for the United States at this moment in time…

Read on.

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We have to understand the world as it really is and not as we would wish it to be. Determining the real threats is not something that you vote on. It is the result of thorough assessment and understanding and application of intense intellectual rigor.

How we address the threats and what resources we are willing to expend to defend against those threats are subject to the will of the people as expressed through their elected representatives who are responsible for raising an army and sustaining a navy. And if Congress wants to prioritize resources to counter terrorism that is its (and the people's) choice but that does not reduce the threat from China or Russia). And while we like to say the enemy has a vote in combat - we do not have a vote on who is really a threat to us. Even if we chose to ignore a threat that does not mean the threat does not exist

The world as it is:

a. Unless we are willing to back off from our efforts to transform other states, societies and civilizations more along modern western political, economic, social -- and especially our "value" -- lines. Unless we are willing to do this:

b. Then many of the state and non-state actors -- of many of the other states, societies and civilizations of the world -- thus threatened -- are going to make us, in one way or another, "pay." This, (a) much as the Rest of the World made the expansionist Soviets/communists "pay" during the Old Cold War and (b) by using many of our exact same strategies (think: containment and roll back) and many of our such strategies' related and supporting techniques (updated for today).

Note: This was a costly, extremely dangerous and, ultimately, a losing battle for the Soviets/the communists during Cold War 1.0. Thus, something that we should seriously reflect on today -- before embarking further along Cold War 2.0?

This, especially since such things as "universal western values," "the overwhelming appeal of our way of life" and the western version of "the end of history;" these have not emerged significantly, as we expected, post-the Old Cold War? (To wit: another way of saying/another way of understanding "the world as it really is -- rather than how we would wish it to be?")


Unlike their Cold War forebears, neither group (Russia and/or China's rulers) sees itself as the standard-bearer for a transnational creed that it seeks to spread to every corner of the earth. To the contrary, eager to rally domestic support, bolster legitimacy, and secure their grip on political power, both regimes have crafted nationalist narratives that highlight the uniqueness, superior virtue, historical grievances, and glorious destiny of their respective peoples. Notwithstanding their efforts in this regard, both regimes believe themselves to be threatened, perhaps mortally, by the crusading ideological evangelism of the Western liberal democratic powers, led by the United States, and by certain key features of the order that those powers put into place at the end of the Second World War. It is this perceived threat, and the response of the authoritarian powers to it, that drives their growing challenge to the contemporary international system.


(Item in parenthesis is mine.)

Given the clear "threatened by the U.S./the West" problem identified above -- and the use (by both non-state actors like AQ and ISIS, and now also by state actors like Russia and China) of such things as "identity" and "information" as a solution to this problem (see the quoted item above) -- given these such aspects of our current "conflict paradigm," maybe I should place this item over at our current "Shaping of Cold War 2.0: The Role of Information and Identity" thread? Consider it done.

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

Thus, our job today becomes explaining to the American people:

a. How our expansionist/evangelistic efforts, outlined above, have now come to scare the crap out of -- not just non-state and minor state actors -- but also some of the world's most powerful nation states.

b. How all of these have, now accordingly, come to react to this threat in some adverse manner (exs respectively: terrorism, and nationalism and political and hybrid warfare?). And, finally,

c. How we will need to act now; this, in order to:

(1) Overcome these such Russian, Chinese, Iranian (with the new NDS, now at the front of the enemy/the "resisting transformation" line?), AQ, ISIS, etc., "barriers" -- and their other "containment" and/or "roll back" efforts -- these, employed to thwart/undermine/spoil our attempts to "transform" all these folks more along modern western political, economic, social -- and especially our "value" -- lines? And to, in spite of these such "resistance" efforts,

(2) "Convert" all these folks anyway?

(Thus, the entity that "sees itself as the standard-bearer for a transnational creed that it seeks to spread to every corner of the earth;" that would seem to credibly be only the U.S./the West today? Both our non-state actor, and indeed now our state actor reactions/problems also; all of these to be understood significantly in this context?)

No doubt Russia, China, Iran, etc. feel threatened -- or more likely, oppressed -- by the U.S. led international order set up after WWII, since, even as participants, they have prospered less than the U.S. or Europe. But there's nothing "evangelical" about that order, and there's no mandate to change the rest of the world. Both the Russians and Chinese have enthusiastically transformed their economies into state-owned, quasi-capitalist ventures, without relinquishing control of their populations, substantially changing their way and form of government, or endorsing western values. Iran, for all their bleating about the corrosive effects of these values, suffers more from inability to diversify her economy, and a surplus of the young, educated, and unemployed who have realized the promise of the revolution hasn't delivered. Most of the Middle East and Africa suffer from the same economic and demographic problems, coupled with clan/tribal infighting. They're not "resisting Western transformation so much as they are trying to keep their own folks from finding out that corrupt leaders and cronies have drained the national treasuries.

Well put, the U.S. has rarely sought to impose democracy and its values on others, rather the U.S. has a policy to promote these values. There is a huge difference between impose and promote. There is also a difference between maintaining a rules based international order and promoting our values, but in some respects there is overlap.

In fact we have supported dictators throughout our history when it supported our interests. As Kagan points out the rise of democratic based orders have been reversed in the past. This happened long before the U.S. was the world's superpower attempting to maintain or shape the current rules based international order. Countries currently challenging the international order that supports the security and prosperity of most countries would challenge the order whether the U.S. existed or not. Like autocratic powers throughout history, they represent the interests of their elite, not their people. They are attempting to impose regional hegemony, which is not the wishes of the people they're attempting to impose their will upon. Bill C. can't seem to grasp this obvious fact.

An emerging democratic order was reversed in Europe in the 19th Century when it threatened the interests of the Monarchs. Another democratic order in Europe and Latin America was reversed by populist movements in the 1920s and 30s, and again in the 70s. We're not seeing anything new now. Bill C. keeps referring to the people opposing the U.S. led order, which is nonsense, it is self-interested autocrats who seek more power for themselves that seek to revise the order. Their people don't desire to be Americans, but they do want more economic opportunity.

The other part that Bill C. misses, is when international orders are threatened the risk of war increases exponentially, and war in the 21st Century could be extremely costly in ways we probably can't even fathom. You have to pay for defense, failure to do so has it consequences. I think the majority of Americans are intelligent enough to grasp this, but determining how we're going to pay for it remains a question.

Warlock and Bill M.:


Never in human history have so many states spent as much money and energy trying to “promote democracy” in foreign lands as the United States and the European Union have spent since 2001. Never have so many conferences on the topic been held; never have so many NGOs held so many training sessions, commissioned so many papers and hired so many staffers. National leaders make speeches about it, newspapers write editorials about it, foundations commit large sums of money to it, and religious leaders unite with secular intellectuals to praise it. This all adds up to a deeply inspiring spectacle, or it would if democracy promotion were having much impact on the ground. ...

There are some who think that, given so many disappointing results, democracy promotion has no place in American policy. Self-described “realists” are eager to make this point and long for the day when American foreign policy will be liberated from the messy, ideological baggage that it currently carries. But that is an unrealistic aspiration. The promotion of values has always been an important part of American foreign policy. There have certainly been ups and downs in political fashion, but there simply are no long periods in American history during which values-promotion was not an integral part of the U.S. foreign policy template. Successful and politically sustainable American foreign policy must address the moral convictions and aspirations of the American people. The question isn’t whether we must carry this burden; the question is how we can carry it well.


Thus, American "democracy promotion" in our Cold War 2.0; this is seen by other state and non-state actors today in much the same way that the Rest of the World might have viewed "communism promotion" during Cold War 1.0? To wit:

a. As being subversive in nature and regime change-oriented? And, thus,

b. As being a major threat/a clear and present danger?

Thus, it to not so much the "imposing" (by invasion and occupation -- although this happened, then as now) of communism or democracy that scares/scared the crap out of various state and non-state actors -- during Cold War 1.0 back then and/or in our Cold War 2.0 today -- but rather the "promotion" of same? (A quote from my earlier comment above: "Notwithstanding their efforts in this regard, both regimes believe themselves to be threatened, perhaps mortally, by the crusading ideological evangelism of the Western liberal democratic powers...")

Given my comparison to the threat posed by communism above, let us look at NSC-68; this, to see if the threat from communism -- in Cold War 1.0 -- this was viewed, by the U.S. in that case, in similar "promotion" (rather than in only "imposing") terms:


The Kremlin is able to select whatever means are expedient in seeking to carry out its fundamental design. Thus it can make the best of several possible worlds, conducting the struggle on those levels where it considers it profitable and enjoying the benefits of a pseudo-peace on those levels where it is not ready for a contest. At the ideological or psychological level, in the struggle for men's minds, the conflict is worldwide.

END QUOTE (See the 4th paragraph under the heading "Means.")

Thus to suggest that -- much as was the case with Cold War 1.0 and the threat posed by the "promotion of communism" back then -- likewise in the case of Cold War 2.0 and the threat posed by the "promotion of market democracy" today -- this "struggle for men's minds:"

a. Can be properly viewed as a "threat"/a clear, present and compelling danger? And can (quite logically it would seem):

b. Cause these threatened folks to take defensive actions, such as, "containment" and/or "roll back" measures? (Which we used against our enemies in Cold War 1.0, and which are now being used by our enemies against us in Cold War 2.0?)

Yes, promoting democracy (and free-market capitalism) has been part of American foreign policy since there was American foreign policy. But as the article you quoted implies, the results aren't exactly inspiring. And there was plenty of "communism promotion" from the '20s through the end of the Cold War, even in the United States. The Communist Party USA has been legally active in one form or another since the '20s, and fielded presidential candidates in the '30s and the '70s. Communists got themselves elected to quite a few European legislatures before and after WWII...IIRC, they're still a substantial minority party in Italy. The threat NSC-68 speaks to was not so much promotion of communist ideology as more active measures to subvert and replace existing governments with ones more pliant to Soviet Union (communism notwithstanding) direction.

But going back to the original discussion. The Chinese aren't building airstrips on patches of coral throughout the South China Sea to protect their way of life. The Russians didn't invade Crimea to "contain the spread of democracy". And it's very difficult to see how these are responses to any "clear, present, and compelling danger".

This is surprising, most Americans get their security news in sound bytes my media that excessively hypes the threat of terrorism, while failing to take the time to educate the American people on the strategic and longer term threats that China and Russia pose to our interests that are much more significant than terrorism. We will always do counterterrorism, this isn't a conflict you when, it is one you manage. The strategy is interesting, and there are a couple of keys to its success. First and perhaps the most obvious is getting Congress to fund it. Second, the underlying assumptions must be close to right. If a key strategic black swan emerges that the strategy doesn't address, then it fails. However, as the Secretary said, all strategy has risks.

From COL Maxwell's 28 DEC post.

"36 Black Swans, Gray Swans, and Pink Flamingoes to Watch in 2018"