Joe Biden's Strategies

Image: Tom Fisk


China's rise has revealed an American conflict with laissez-faire globalist nostalgia.

There has been a lively debate on the American left over the Biden administration's industrial strategy. The discussion centered on the perspectives opened by the massive stimulus, which totaled around US$ 4 trillion. In this amount, the resources destined to the American Rescue Plan (American Rescue Plan), the Infrastructure Law (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law), the CHIPS and science law (CHIPS and Science Act), the Inflation Reduction Act (Inflation Reduction Act - WILL). This strategy ranges from training “progressive technocrats” to reform (retrofit) of buildings, as well as a capitalist state-led “decarbonization” in conditions of global overcapacity and declining economic growth.

So far, the assessments have varied, oscillating between the qualifiers of “good, bad and ugly”, although there is an emphasis on the first option. The boost to employment and the good “green” works promised by the Inflation Reduction Law cannot be disregarded; there are, however, several shortcomings: lack of funding for housing and public transport, better regulatory standards in the electricity sector, lease agreements that give oil and gas producers access to public lands. “The Inflation Reduction Law” – evaluated a commentator in the magazine Jacobin – “is at the same time a huge drag on the fossil fuel industry, a historic but somewhat inadequate investment in clean energy, that is, a contribution to our best hope in order to avoid a planetary catastrophe”.

In other words, if the criticism from the left went beyond “good”, it claimed that “it wasn't big enough” – but perhaps not too far from what would be appropriate. Almost totally absent from these discussions is the geostrategic logic that fuels this national investment campaign, which repositions the production of certain goods on the American continent, seeks access to lithium mines and sponsors the construction of microchip factories, in a militarized attempt to outflank the China.

Viewed from the corridors of power, the anti-China orientation of US industrial policy is not so much an unfortunate by-product of the “green transition” as its motivating purpose. For its creators, the logic that governs the new era of spending on infrastructure is fundamentally geopolitical; its precedent must be sought not in the New Deal, but in Cold War military Keynesianism. This was seen by the “wise men” who implemented it as a condition for victory in the US struggle against the Soviet Union.

Today, as after 1945, policymakers find themselves at a “tipping point”. “History” – wrote future National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, still during the 2020 presidential campaign – “is again knocking on our door”: “The growing competition with China and the changes in the international political and economic order should provoke a similar motivation in the establishment that produces contemporary foreign policy. Today's national security experts need to move beyond the prevailing neoliberal economic philosophy of the last forty years... The US national security community is just beginning to insist on the investments in infrastructure, technology, innovation and education that will determine the long-term competitiveness of our countries. United States in relation to China”.

Detailed in a report for the Carnegie Foundation, signed by Sullivan and a clique of other Biden advisers, the “supposedly middle-class foreign policy” seeks, in effect, to tear down factitious distinctions between national security and the economic planning. The hopes that thesweet trade” globalized could permanently induce other powers to accept US hegemony were misleading.  

Another approach was needed. “There should no longer be a sharp line between foreign policy and domestic policy,” declared Biden in his inaugural address on foreign policy. "In all actions we take abroad, we must always keep working American families in mind." Donald Trump's victory, forged in America's deindustrialized heartland, the opioid crisis and "American carnage," has shaken the Democratic establishment. What's good for Goldman Sachs is no longer, it seems, necessarily good for the United States.

The overall motivation for this break with orthodoxy is not much of a mystery. China, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken put it in May 2022, “is the only country in the world with the capacity to reshape the international order and, therefore, is increasingly building economic, diplomatic, and military power. and technology to do it”. Worse yet, "Beijing's vision will distance us from the universal values ​​that have underpinned much of the world's progress over the last seventy-five years." Fortunately, however, the guarantor of said values ​​was prepared to react.

“The Biden administration is making far-reaching investments in our key sources of national power – starting with a modern industrial strategy to sustain and expand our economic and technological influence, make our economy and supply chains more resilient, enhance our competitive advantage.” Competition, added Blinken, need not imply conflict. But the White House, having identified China as its “constant challenge”, would not back down from the possibility of war, starting by “shifting our military investments from platforms that were designed for XNUMXth century conflicts to asymmetric systems that are far-reaching”. , harder to locate, easier to move”.

Three months later, the approval of the aforementioned laws (IRA and CHIPS) made tangible the “deep integration of domestic policy and foreign policy”. Restrictions on the export of crucial artificial intelligence (AI) components and semiconductors to China, announced in September and certified the following month, confirmed the push to monopolize technologies marked by a “choke point”, a veritable declaration of economic war. .

“These actions” – concluded a CSIS analysis – “demonstrate an unprecedented degree of intervention by the US government to not only preserve control of the ability to intervene, but also to initiate a new policy of actively strangling large segments of the tech industry. Chinese woman – with the evident intent to kill her.”

Ominously, Sullivan then invoked the Manhattan Project. If, for a long time, this project supported the search for only a “relative” advantage for the US in sensitive high-tech fields, from now on “it will maintain an advantage as great as possible”. The technological restrictions against Moscow imposed after the invasion of Ukraine demonstrated that “export controls can be more than just a preventive tool”. Supply chain interdiction, in defense parlance, is a key example of the fungibility of economic and strategic assets.

In Washington, the music played is military marches. Weeks before Congress voted on the IRA, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taipei aboard an Air Force jet, escorted by a dozen F-15s, as well as a carrier strike group (something which was deemed "utterly reckless, dangerous and irresponsible" by Thomas Friedman of The New York Times; "a major political provocation", according to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs). But the rise of the US military threat began early on in the Biden administration — which, far from curbing Trump's bluster, built on it, pausing only to resold disaffected NATO and SEATO allies to the project.

Since the revival of the QUAD alliance (between the US, Japan, Australia and India), in early 2021, soon reinforced by the AUKUS pact (security between Australia, Great Britain and the US, announced on September 15, 2021), the United States United expanded its already vast archipelago of bases by investing in rapidly deployable mobile forces, deep strike capabilities, and unmanned systems.

The goal, according to Ely Ratner, superintendent of Asian affairs at the Department of Defense, is to establish “a more resilient, mobile and lethal presence in the Indo-Pacific region”. The intensification of US-Japan joint naval exercises in the fall of 2022 signaled an important shift in Tokyo, outlined through a new National Security Strategy geared towards the “unprecedented” threat posed by China.

In early 2023, panic related to the appearance of unidentified balloons coincided with the leak of a memo from the head of the US Air Mobility Command, whose “gut” had told him that the US would be at war with China by 2025. February, the Pentagon announced plans to quadruple forces deployed to Taiwan, along with an increase in arms sales to that country. Furthermore, authorities are now publicly mulling the idea of ​​blowing up the island's semiconductor manufacturing facilities in the event of a Chinese invasion.

Openly breaking with the long-known diplomatic formula of the expression "one China" (claimed by both Beijing and Taipei, which was formally recognized by Washington in the Shanghai Communiqué in 1972), Joe Biden has repeatedly stated his intention to use force in such an eventuality. The abandonment of the “strategic ambiguity” by the US government was confirmed by the director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, in testimony in the Senate in March of this year. Periodic statements about a possible “thaw” in the Sino-American relationship only underscore an upward trend.

If the American left had any lingering uncertainty about the international implications of the economic policy known as Bidenomics, it should have been dispelled by Sullivan at the end of April, in a speech in which he spoke of the renewal of American economic leadership, which was delivered at Brookings Institution. For those surprised that the aired topic had been entrusted to the National Security Advisor, Sullivan was emphatic: he returned to insisting on the priority of concern for political power over Panglossian market fundamentalism.

China's rise has revealed an American conflict with globalist laissez-faire nostalgia. Chinese “military ambitions”, “non-market economic practices” and lack of “Western values” – not to mention Beijing’s control over lithium, cobalt and other “critical minerals” – now demanded a firm response. of the hegemonic power.

Investment in the production of electric vehicles and microchips was a first step in this direction, together with the Partnership for Infrastructure and Global Investment (Partnership for global infrastructure and investment), an anti-China trade cartel conceived as a response to the Belt and Road Initiative (Belt and road initiative). From this perspective, Sullivan reaffirmed: “we will unapologetically pursue our industrial strategy at home; however, we are also unequivocally committed to not leaving our friends behind.”

To appreciate the extent of this new Washington Consensus, it sufficed to listen the previous week to the speech given by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies). Yellen, supposedly a "dove" to the "hawk" Sullivan, opened her remarks by referring to "China's decision to move away from market reforms towards a more state-oriented policy". According to her, “this will harm its neighbors and other countries around the world”. “This is,” she continued, “because China is taking a more confrontational stance toward the United States and our allies and partners—not just in the Indo-Pacific, but also in Europe and beyond.”

Faced with this tense situation, US economic policy now obeys four objectives: first, it aims to guarantee the “national security interests” of Washington and its allies; second, it seeks to continue “using our tools to disrupt and deter human rights violations wherever they occur around the world”; third, it intends to maintain “healthy competition” with China, conditional on the reversal of its “unfair economic practices”, as well as compliance with the “rules-based global economic order”; fourth, it seeks to “cooperate on issues such as the climate and the debt crisis”. National security, global policing, competition, cooperation: the constant hierarchy in these goals is quite clear.

Rhetorically, the White House has insisted that its objective is not to reach an economic “decoupling” in relation to China, but rather to reduce the risk – that is, to “de-risk” according to a trouvaille spoken by Ursula von der Leyen, the so-called president of the EU, which usually gathers Europeans to march to the sound of Washington. But Biden's policies left room for doubt about the fate reserved for "friends" in his last lines.

Decades of US stalling on meeting climate targets, accompanied by hosannas to the sanctity of free trade, found Germany and France unprepared to accept the return of tariffs, capital controls and national subsidies to industry. The proposal known asNext Generation US”, which forms the core of the “green deal” (Green Deal), which was presented by Von der Leyen in January 2023, offered around 720 billion euros in grants and loans to European governments, an amount comparable to the IRA; however, as Kate Mackenzie and Tim Sahay note, EU countries spent almost as much last year on subsidies to offset the energy crisis resulting from the proxy war in Ukraine.

Even with Scholz and Macron's visits to Beijing, the European Union has shown little more appetite for challenging its NATO protector in Asia than for independent action in Europe. Josep Borrell, von der Leyen's companion in Brussels, was seen urging – for the last time – member states to send warships to patrol the South China Sea.

Technology embargoes, sanctions and alliance policies are now part of a broader strategic perspective, which is classified by Pentagon war planners as a policy of “denial”. Ostensibly, these measures are aimed at defending US positions on China's borders, starting with the “military hedgehog” – the way in which they conceptualize Taiwan. That the US government should prepare to “deny” Chinese ambitions in the region enjoys broad consensus across the establishment, from the Quincy Institute, known for championing “containment,” to the Heritage Foundation and the Center for a New American Security. , despite the disagreements they have on certain details.

Like its predecessor “containment strategy”, the “denial strategy” is a labile concept. While for some it implies an emphasis on opposing mere control, or primacy – the idea that American power must be impressive enough to dispel any thought of challenging it – for others, inspired by deterrence theory, it means drawing a distinction between “punishment”, i.e. a post facto threat to inflict unacceptable harm on the adversary, and an activist military posture, designed to make certain territory unconquerable.

In any case, Washington must reconcile the imperative of preventing any state, other than itself, from dominating the great centers of world power (whether in Asia, Europe or the Persian Gulf) with the likely evident unwillingness of its citizens to support a large international war abroad. After twenty years of endless military adventures, the American people are aware of this possibility. In the thinking of Elbridge Colby, its most influential theorist, a “strategy of denial” answers both criteria: it creates resources while laying the groundwork for mobilizing public opinion.

In this context, the American left's obscure focus on the domestic impact of Bidenomics echoes the “social imperialism” of the belle époque European. So the Webbs and Bernsteins celebrated that a growing share of the pie was destined for the indigenous working class, even as inter-imperial rivalries and colonial depredations accelerated things towards catastrophe.

Ideally, of course, Washington would prefer that the sophistication of US hardware and the strength of its “anti-hegemonic” coalition in Asia dissuade Beijing from pushing ahead with any designs it may have on Taiwan or the Philippines. However, as Rear Admiral Michael Studeman, director of Naval Intelligence, warned, "it could all be too late." If that is the case, the essential thing is that China be compelled to open hostilities. The relevant historical analogy is Imperial Japan in 1941, which, driven by the American oil embargo, launched a calamitous attack on Pearl Harbor, a fact that aroused a population (American) until then that was reluctant in relation to war.

“In circumstances where a mere defense of “denial” would most likely fail” – writes Colby – “the strategic objective of the United States should be to force China to do what Japan voluntarily did: seeking to maintain its territorial ambitions, the China would have to behave in such a way as to encourage and harden the coalition peoples' resolve to intervene; thus those involved would widen and intensify the war to such a degree that they would achieve a victory”. Plans should be made accordingly. “We already missed the chance to adopt a more nuanced defense strategy” – lamented Colby – “and now we're going to have to do things that seem very extreme”.

Denying usually consists of disavowing, withholding, or abjuring. However, Verleugnung, in Freudian language, has another meaning, since it describes the inability or unwillingness to recognize an unpleasant or traumatic reality. The term is also linked to perversion – when that desired is absent, attention may fixate on a present substitute or a fetish. The forty-sixth president cannot be alien to this kind of feeling.

But self-deception is everywhere. When Pelosi staged her jingo show in Taiwan, Democratic apparatchiks downplayed the consequences. For Matt Duss, former foreign policy adviser to Sanders, as well as progressive activist Tobita Chow, the real danger was less Pelosi's tour than those who were alarmed by the fact, as his warnings were an example of what This is called the “inflationary threat”.

More often, denial takes the form of silence. Even slightly more conscious criticisms – as seen in the recent symposium promoted by Dissent magazine, What's Next for the Climate Left? – barely consider the logical relationship between expanding domestic spending and an increasingly aggressive policy in the Pacific. Now, this is something that has been reiterated in speech after speech by authorities associated with Joe Biden.

This criticism also applies to the debate that the New Left Review has done on the “seven theses about American politics”, title of an article by Dylan Riley and Robert Brenner. (Note, however, that the magazine has attacked the social-imperial character of the Bidenomics in other places). This crucial point was captured in a contribution by economist JW Mason, who ventured a qualified endorsement of Joe Biden's spending program, as he acknowledged that "creepy anti-China rhetoric is omnipresent in the public investment proposal" of the Biden administration. “War is different from industrial policy,” observed Mason. Do American radicals, however, see the distinction?

Lately, the financial press has been ahead of the ecosocialist left on this point, as it begins to express discomfort with Biden and Sullivan's aggressive stance. The magazine The Economist, and the Financial Times distanced themselves from the more “charming” flights of the Joe Biden administration; indicated the need to cool down the enthusiastic rhetoric (gung-ho rhetoric) before it actually becomes a reality, as Rumsfeld would say. O Financial Times published a strong op-ed by Adam Tooze calling for a strategy to accommodate China's rise - a proposal likely to be deemed "treacherous or even out of this planet" by the current White House.

When Chinese authorities announced a ban on the use of microchips made by Boise-based Micron Technology, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo declared that the US "will not tolerate" such a decision. "We see in this a pure and simple action of economic coercion". Is this coercion or prudence? What is it about when you use expressions like “preserve our advantage in science and technology” or “modernize our deadly current”, “oppose market distorting practices” or even when you talk about supporting the “American worker”, in preserving “environmental justice” or still preparing for “atomic confrontation in the Taiwan Strait? The critical reviews of Bidenomics they should make sure better what it represents after all.

*Grey Anderson He holds a PhD in history from Yale University. author of La Guerre civile en France, 1958-62: Du coup d'état gaulliste à la fin de l'OAS (Factory).

Translation: Eleutério FS Prado.

Originally posted on the blog Sidecar da New Left Review.

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