SocraticGadfly: Coronavirus and a likely new Cold War (longer read)

April 06, 2020

Coronavirus and a likely new Cold War (longer read)

Atlantic Monthly had a good speculative piece on likely fallouts from COVID. Neocons and many centrists wanted a new Cold War after 1989. Thanks to the toxic mix of the Brer Rabbit and Tar Baby of Xi Jinping Thought (a good read is here from the Beeb) and Donald Trump Mouth (evident to any non-MAGA American), they likely have gotten it. This is not to exonorate China in general or Xi in particular for technology theft far beyond the old USSR or modern Russia (or democracies like France, or like the US, for that matter) nor its forcing companies to surrender trade and business secrets (which they always could have resisted).

Some specific factors in both Xi's and Trump's makeups, while not making a new Cold War inevitable, at least made it more likely. Hubris, a certain amount of which is necessary to becoming a leader, is one that is toxic in too high of amounts, per the biblical statement that "pride goes before a fall." It's one that both of them have in excess. The photo at left underscores how much disdain they have for each other at bottom line, though Xi better masks his.

Let's start with Xi.

I'm not such a close China-watcher that I know that he had an excess of hubris early in his his first term. But, asking for, and being granted, the possibility of being president for life rather than being restricted to the two terms that had been on the books since Deng Xiaping's time, put it on full display. It's clear, by the CCP's rubber-stamping of the idea, that Xi had been wanting this for what, a a full year in advance? (He publicly broached the idea six months before his second-term election by not providing an apparent successor. And clearly, that also had been planned.)

That said, whether directly connected to imperial hubris or not, Xi's actions during his first term had helped grease the skids. His anti-corruption campaign surely not only eliminated actual corruption, but per Franz Joseph's old bon mot, "Is he a patriot for ME?" eliminated people who refused to be corrupt directly for and to Xi and Xi alone.

And then, just 18 months later, Xi became the first of two people to learn that you can't bully a pandemic.

And, it's "interesting," or "ironic," while ultimately tragic and worse that his mindset and Trump's on the coronavirus appeared to mirror each other. Both essentially, in their own ways, tried to pretend it away.

Xi had the advantage, or disadvantage, of being able to use brute force. Telling government agencies to destroy records, for example. Oh, wait, Trump told the CDC to scrub its website. Actual records are still available, but trying to hide stuff from the public? That said, the good side of American federalism meant that Trump couldn't get state health departments to outrightly lie, like we know Xi did with Chinese national stats and continues to do so. See here for more.

Pre-coronavirus, Trump wasn't totally wrong about China. It was all of the above, and given the growth of its economy, also arguably a currency manipulator and more.

But, he was totally wrong on how he handled this.

First, while globalization is not all good, it's not all bad, either.

Second, his America Firsterism cut out potential allies in battling China, namely Canada and the EU.

Third, his record of semi-failures in the business world, with something that looks like long-term success being achieved only through six US bankruptcy filings, a likely infusion or three of Mafia money (beyond what we know of his willingness to do business with mob-controlled companies in his early days), some known infusions of Russian money (but no, Putin didn't collude to elect him president, and doubly no, he hasn't been a Russian asset since the 1980s), and the Deutsche Bank ongoing lending to him that has raised eyebrows as to possible ultimate reasons, fueled an already high level of hubris. Well, international affairs isn't like one-off business deals, first. Second, the only ultimate results to bailing out a country are the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and given that both are ultimately based on the dollar, that would have meant harikiri for them.

Fourth, per my post on how Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational" has insight for human reactions to the coronavirus, Trump is a poster child for human nature's general willingness to throw good money after bad, plus the human, and definitely not-Asia specific, worry about losing face.

So, in international affairs, he had a history of wreckage, carnage and more before this. Specific to Xi, he had a history of insults, some of them at least marginally racist in nature long before his description of the coronavirus, and a refusal to really negotiate with Xi on any terms other than at least a partial surrender in advance by Xi.

Then this. We know Trump had some national-intelligence knowledge of the severity of COVID even while Xi was trying to cover it up, before that failed. And Trump? Like the stereotypical Nero fiddling while Rome burned, Denialism Don entered his usual mode when there's bad news he can't fully control.

The US will have more total cases and deaths than China by the time this is done, even with the most liberal allowance for Xi's lies. For US, and global by country, deaths and cases, click those links. (With notes that China's, especially is of course inaccurate.)

The fallout of all of this will be, as Atlantic notes, an increase in lack of cooperation between the US and China. Whether China's supply of help to EU nations can buy off knowledge of its lies remains to be seen. So, too, does the issue of other EU countries largely leaving Italy adrift in its early days.

Given that the EU doesn't border China, or Chinese satellites, and neither does NATO, of course, assuming we're already in the start of a new Cold War, this one will be different from the last. If COVID drives more austerity, it's likely that more European nations that are NATO members will look at further military budget-cutting.

As for the EU? Union-wide bonds for its short-term post-COVID future sound great. Germany continuing to keep a budget surplus sounds great to Chancellor Angela Merkel, I'm sure. It probably sounds even better to the AfD. The next six months are going to determine if she'll go down in history as the first leader of 21st-century Europe or "just" as a great chancellor of Germany.

Odds? 50-50, in my opinion.  Yes, as head of a parliamentary-based government, she has more restrictions than a President Macron. But, she's not running for re-election, and she still has some wiggle room outside the Bundestag. The 50-50 includes a guess on how much she'll try to use that wiggle room, or not.

Some of the Cold War 2.0 picture will depend on the US presidential election.

If Trump does get re-elected (shut up, Dems, it's a real possibility, and your claiming it isn't just makes it more real) of course, Trump's personality and everything driving the Cold War from his side just gets worse, and per my "Tar Baby," it just gets worse on Xi's side as well.

If Biden is elected (shut up, Berners, he's not getting the nomination, and that's in part due to him being a bad candidate, not your conspiracy theories), he'll do his best to undo the worst of Trump's damage. Unfortunately, it will be on the path of pursuing the bipartisan foreign policy establishment's idea of "engagement" with Beijing, which Xi will see as weakness.

Xi will also have no problem smiling when the allegedly outside the box stenos, the cadre within leftist American journalists who think America is almost always wrong on foreign policy, keep that up, as well as folks like the People's Republic of Humboldt Bay.

 Russia's own president for life, Vladimir Putin, remains a wild card. The median age of the Russian population as a whole isn't much higher than the US, and is well below, say Italy (and Germany). BUT? The median age of ethnic Russians, plus Belorussians and Ukrainians inside its borders, is higher than the various minorities, like those at the edge of Russia's Central Asian neighbors or those in the Caucuses. On the other hand, it's relatively non-dense, even in the European side; Moscow and Petersburg are the only metro areas of more than 5 million in Russia.

On the other hand, Putin's already treating this just like Xi did, to the point of arresting one doctor. And, Dr. Anastasia Vasilieva had been challenging Putin's official numbers.

So, it could survive COVID fairly well. It could survive the oil price wars fairly well. Climate change could improve its agricultural situation. If farm mechanization increases, Russia could be the next US.


Update, April 28: For purely domestic political reasons, Mitch McDonnell's senatorial campaign committee wants to push a new Cold War.

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