“A leader takes his people to a different place that is better.”
                                                                        – Col. Ken Robertson


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.

1 thought on “Viewpoint: Fixing our unhealthy relationship with China will require dynamic leadership

  1. Kenneth Robertson says:

    If anyone is concerned about America’s youth, Carl Raker should give you confidence there are smart and insightful young leaders who will fill our shoes and do a better job. I hope when Carl graduates, one day he comes back to Iredell County, and will run for public office. When he does, I’m voting for him.

    I would like to clear up or explain two points Carl mentioned. As I have said before, it is most difficult to fully explain with a limited number of words afforded to column writers.

    How we label China’s government could fill an entire column. I said Communist. Pick another word; I don’t care. Let’s simply agree they have an authoritarian form of government that censors news and sends dissidents to re-education camps, prisons, or to be on the receiving end of a firing squad if they really piss off the wrong member of the Communist Party.

    The paragraph in my previous column, relative to military spending, was not about the amount of spending. Rather it was used to demonstrate an effective method a Republican administration used to pass a very difficult solution through Congress. Peter Grace was a strong conservative, yet Reagan and Grace could not get a solution through Congress due to the political climate. We face similar challenges today. Maybe we need to use methods that worked in the past.

    From my previous column :
    “In the 1980’s, our military was directed to reduce their spending from Cold War levels to protracted peacetime levels. In 1983 the Grace Commission reported to President Reagan that there were reasonable cost control measures that could be achieved with closing some military installations no longer vital to our national defense. Every time the military attempted to close redundant military facilities, the congressional delegations from those affected states howled in protest. The impacted Congressmen joined together and defeated the cost cutting proposals every time, although they were the same Congressmen who demanded the military reduce their budgets. The solution was the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Act of 1990. A BRAC commission made a recommendation identifying which bases were to be closed. Congress could not amend the list. They had to accept or reject the list in an up or down vote. It was painful, but it worked.”

    Americans have already shown they will buy the cheaper widget regardless of who made it, the wages they earned (or failed to earn) to make it, or the pollution they caused to make it. Much like the difficult decision to close redundant military bases, we need to do what is necessary to make right long term decisions. Therefore it may take a BRAC like solution that will force our medical supply system to source from American manufacturing.

    Written in stone, on the campus of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, are these words from the Cadet Prayer: “Make us choose the harder right over the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won.” Americans must begin to choose the harder right over the easier wrong.

    Great discussion, Carl!

    There is no one magic silver bullet, but there are solutions. They won’t be easy, and they won’t be painless to somebody. Decisions need to be made before next winter.

    It is time to write a column on difficult decision making. Stay tuned.

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