“A leader takes his people to a different place that is better.”
– Col. Ken Robertson
BY CARL RAKER
I will begin by stating that this column is a response to Iredell County Commissioner Ken Robertson’s three-part discussion of “Chesterton’s Fence” and our unhealthy relationship with China. Let me be clear, it is a response, not a refutation. I have nothing but respect for the commissioner, who was one of my scoutmasters in BSA Troop 171. He is the very image of a modern pillar of the community, and a great example of what every American should strive to be. Not only that, but his “Chesterton’s Fence” columns are must-reads that define the biggest national security threat of our time, the erosion of American dominance by Chinese actions.
So it is clear that China is America’s primary threat on the world stage, but how can we combat it? If America is a stabilizing force, how should it oppose the destabilizing force of China? Frankly, I have no solid answer to these questions, nor does anyone I have spoken with on the topic. Clearly, wise trade decisions are in order, along with measured diplomatic and military efforts, but no sound strategy to oppose China has been articulated. Almost every decision that the United States government has made in my lifetime in regards to China has been reactive rather than proactive. As it stands now, we are playing catch-up with China, and COVID-19 has kneecapped America’s efforts to remain paramount in the global order.
Commissioner Robertson has often drills a saying into his scouts at Troop 171: “A leader takes his people to a different place that is better.” Right now, America is crying out for someone to lead her to a safer, more stable place. But how do we find this leader? Who might this leader be? How do we know this individual can defeat this pandemic and beat back China? These are the questions we must answer if we want to secure a bright future.
This year is an important election year. We set aside this time to pick our leaders. Has the Democratic primary rendered a leader who can uplift our weary nation? Joe Biden does not inspire confidence in me. I know him as the father of NATO’s botched intervention in Bosnia and as a chief proponent of the disastrous Iraq War. When I look to the White House, I see a commander-In-chief who acts impulsively, abandoning our allies in Northern Syria and bungling a Bay of Pigs-style operation in Venezuela. Since one of these two men will be the president of our country for the next four years, I predict that we will be eating China’s dust for at least four more years.
On the other hand, how has China been able to call U.S. supremacy into question? The answer partially lies in how they choose their leaders. Of course, this is not an extremely democratic process. But once someone becomes a leader in the upper echelons of China’s government, they will remain in power until they fail. So long as cash and political capital are flowing, their leadership will remain unquestioned.
That is not the only reason why China has eclipsed the U.S. on the world stage. In this country we operate under many delusions. Two of these delusions stand tall above the others: that America’s supremacy is unlimited and eternal, and that China is an opaque, monolithic, communist state. On the first of these delusions, I agree with Commissioner Robertson’s argument that we have not safeguarded American industry, and we have suffered because of it. I disagree with his assertions on the character of the People’s Republic of China. The first mistake is thinking that China is communist. They have not been communist since the reign of Deng Xiaoping. They might have all the aesthetic trappings of a communist country, but they are capitalist in practice. The only meaningful difference between our country and China is that America is what wonks call a “liberal capitalist” state and China is a “state capitalist” nation.
Once this is understood, it is clear that China has beat America at its own game — at least economically speaking. We must dispel any misconceptions about our adversary, so that we might “know our enemy” and beat them at their own game. Commissioner Robertson used the principle of “Chesterton’s Fence” to describe this process.
The major question we now face is how can we choose competent leadership? We can look to the great leaders of the past like President Eisenhower, who secured America’s dominance during the dawn of the Cold War. I find it strange that Commissioner Robertson ended his column lamenting the reduction of military spending. While military deterrence is important in the Sino-American relationship, it has not been very effective. Consider our failure to prevent China’s expansion into the South China Sea and our failure to keep the Philippines out of China’s fold. It is clear that the answer to Chinese provocations is a matter of economic, not of military might. Eisenhower, who lamented his reliance on the military-industrial complex to empower America, demonstrated that good leaders should be wary of any attempts to inflate military spending. This lavish spending is especially questionable considering the defense industry regularly pumps out stealth aircraft that can be shot down with 50-year-old systems (the F-117) and ejector seats that snap pilot’s necks (the F-35).
The problem facing our generation is clear. We must answer it by choosing effective leadership. How can we do that? I have asked state representatives how they will bring medical supply lines back to the United States, and have received a resounding “I don’t know.” Is that the best we can do? We must critically understand the strengths and faults of our leadership, and find a way to reliably choose effective leadership who will bring American industry back home and create a more stable world order.
Carl Raker is a student at Appalachian State University.