Despite loud Chinese protests, the US is sending one of its top officials to Taiwan. Nancy Pelosi will be the highest-ranking American visitor to the island in 25 years. China’s response has not been confined to the realm of words. Roll-on/roll-off ferries have suddenly deviated from their normal schedules, air-defense assets are being moved around, and the Chinese army is now conducting sudden snap exercises in provinces bordering the straits.
It is hard to avoid the impression that Pelosi—an unpopular, doddering octogenarian—is auditioning for the role of America’s Franz Ferdinand. Meanwhile, America, like Austria-Hungary before it, seems to have entered a period of decadence as it lurches toward a war it does not want to fight and has no guarantee of winning.
“It would be foolish to assume that China is bluffing.”
It would be foolish to assume that China is bluffing, or that the US—with its military in crisis, its social fabric fraying, and its economy in crisis—is ready to fight a two-front conflict against China and Russia.
Afghanistan was a disaster; Ukraine is currently turning into a quagmire not for Russia, but for the entire Western alliance system. Other than cheap bromides about not wearing a tie to work to save energy or taking colder showers, the politicians of America’s European NATO allies have absolutely no plan, no recourse, no means of extracting themselves from the looming social and political crisis that will hit them this winter because of the loss of Russian energy supplies.
And yet the US is walking into a completely predictable conflict with China while having no real plans for what it will do once the shooting starts. This already happened with Russia—nobody seemed to give any thought to how energy sanctions would impact the west—but it promises to be even worse in the Chinese case.
To take but one example, China currently dominates the global market on inputs necessary to make generic antibiotics. The US is thus almost entirely reliant on China for the basic medical innovation that separates us from the middle ages, when mere cuts could turn lethal due to bacterial infection. Were America in 2022 a serious imperial power, plans would already have been in place to build up massive stocks of medical supplies and to shift production home.
This is not being done. In fact, pretty much nothing of the sort is being done, despite the US’s extensive reliance on China. Instead, America’s loyal mandarins are editing the definition of “recession” on Wikipedia, in order to pretend the US isn’t currently in one. In case US antibiotics supplies are cut off, Americans will almost certainly be asked to take special measures to avoid getting sick, because at no point did the current American elites bother to ensure that easily treatable sickness would still be easily treatable in 2024, rather than a possible death sentence.
Neither the American military nor the American economy is in any way ready for what happens if the proverbial Black Hand decides to strike. Those preparations could be made, but the empire is too sclerotic, to corrupt, too dysfunctional to plan ahead. Like their counterparts in Europe, America’s elites will simply hope that things work out, or that when they go catastrophically wrong, that people nevertheless won't get angry enough to start wrecking the political system.
I am no pacifist, and this column is not intended as some sort of call for people to take another hit of the bong while imagining the lyrics of that John Lennon song. A conflict between China and the West is likely inevitable. But competent empires plan ahead and prepare for contingencies. They ask very natural questions in advance, questions like: “What will happen to the US civilian population if we can no longer obtain antibiotics or insulin?” And then they answer those questions—with material preparation—beforehand. America used to ask these questions, it used to make these preparations, it used to be an effective power. But it no longer does, or is. Everyone can see that now; if there was any doubt left after Ukraine, Taiwan is likely to dispel them.
It’s a shame, but perhaps Joe Biden is the perfect president for the current moment. Just as Biden the man is visibly sundowning, the America that he leads now seems to be in the throes of advanced senility. The Empire no longer has any idea what its core interests are, so everything is. Protecting women's football teams in Kabul is just as important as Ukraine NATO accession, which is just as important as Taiwanese independence. And because everything is equally important, nothing really is, because nothing actually gets done right. American leaders today think the nation’s credibility is at risk whenever it fails to “take a stand.” In fact, that credibility has been shredded above all by their repeated failures when they do.