Will Trump go to war with California
The US Democrats have gone to war more often than the Republicans: Could the friendly Mr Biden end up becoming a war president too?
Joe Biden, Democratic candidate for the office of American President, delivered a rhetorically brilliant speech to unite the nation. However, he has elegantly hidden the simmering conflict with China. That should be suspicious, as a look at history shows.
Successful Democratic candidates for the US presidency consistently campaign with promises of generosity and moral uplifting from within. It almost always ended up leading their country to war. If Joe Biden beats Donald Trump on November 3, 2020 and is elected the next American President, can Joe Biden become a rare exception to this rule?
That won't depend solely on how well he and his national security team conduct US foreign policy. It will also depend on how stable the world is around them. The bad news is that post-pandemic peace has historically been a rarity.
Progressive election campaign, war in office
First, there is the astonishing record of the Democratic Party over more than a century - it campaigns with progressive politics and then goes to war. Take Woodrow Wilson, who is vilified as a racist by today's progressives, but was nominated and elected as a progressive in 1912.
Wilson's inaugural address at the Baltimore Democratic Convention was a classic in the American uprising genre. “We don't have to talk to catch votes,” he told delegates, “but to satisfy the thinking and conscience of a people deeply moved by the conviction that they have reached a critical turning point in their moral and political development . We are facing an awakening nation that is reluctant to look at partisan deception. . . The country has never been more receptive to selfless appeals to the lofty arguments of sincere justice. "
And Wilson continues: "The nation was unnecessarily and against all reason at war with itself." But now “the forces of the nation oppose any form of special privilege and private control, and they are striving for greater things than they have ever achieved. They sweep away what is unjust in order to reassert the essential rights of human life. "
In office, Wilson also offered progressive politics. His New Freedom agenda lowered protectionist tariffs, introduced the first nationwide income tax, launched the Clayton Antitrust Act, and set up the Federal Trade Commission, not to mention the Federal Reserve. When he was re-elected, in part because of a promise to keep the United States out of World War I, he did exactly the opposite in April 1917.
Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy
The pattern repeated itself over the next hundred years. Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to power in the middle of the Great Depression with the promise of a New Deal. At their meeting in Chicago in 1932, Roosevelt told his friends in the Democratic Party: “Let us resolve here and now that we resume the country's interrupted march to real progress and true justice and equality for all our citizens, big and small take up." The call was followed by a corresponding bundle of laws aimed at reducing poverty and inequality by strengthening the power of the federal government. Despite an even stronger antiwar sentiment than Wilson's, Roosevelt led the United States into World War II in 1941.
Harry Truman continued the tradition with his inaugural address in Philadelphia in July 1948: “The Democratic Party is the party of the people and the Republican Party is the party of special interests - it always was and always will be. . . In 1932 we attacked the Citadel of Special Privileges and Greed. We fought to drive the money changers out of the temple. Today, in 1948, we are now the defenders of the stronghold of democracy and equal opportunities, the safe haven of the normal people of this country and not of the privileged classes or the few powerful. "
After Truman had achieved his famous, surprising victory over the moderate Republican Thomas E. Dewey, he presented his domestic "fair deal" in 1949. Barely 18 months later, North Korea invaded South Korea, and America was at war again.
John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson jointly set new standards for rhetorical edification (Kennedy) and for progressive legislation (Johnson). But Johnson's presidency in 1968 could not be saved from the shipwreck of the Vietnam War either by his civil rights laws or by his "Great Society".
No peace for Carter, Clinton and Obama
The following Democratic presidents went to great lengths to avoid Johnson's fate. But the world did not give Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama the peace to pursue their domestic political plans. Carter's presidency suffered disastrous blows - the taking of American diplomats hostage by Iranian students after the Iranian Revolution in February 1979 and the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan ten months later.
Clinton tried for years to avoid foreign entanglements in Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia until the latter forced him to intervene in the military. Obama may still be convinced that his decision not to intervene in the Syrian civil war was one of his best, but the red line against the use of chemical warfare agents - which turned out to be the dashed pink line - was in fact the most shameful chapter of his presidency .
Joe Biden's speech on August 21, 2020 was the continuation of a very long tradition of grandiose democratic rhetoric. “If you entrust me with the presidency,” Biden said, “I'll use the best of us, not the worst. I will be an ally of light, not darkness. It is time for us, the people, to come together. Do not be fooled. United we can and will overcome this time of darkness in America. We will choose hope instead of fear, facts instead of fiction, fairness instead of privilege. "
Whoever wrote this speech - they did their homework. Sometimes I have wondered if it was an algorithm that put them together based on all of the previous inaugural speeches at the Democrats.
Always domestic politics
With one exception, all of the Democrats' inaugural speeches since 1912 have one thing in common - they devote only a tiny part to foreign policy. That exception is John F. Kennedy's 1960 New Frontier speech in Los Angeles, half of which consisted of Cold War rhetoric and was intended to outdo Richard Nixon in the field of national security.
Biden did not agree to that. Less than 3 percent of his inaugural address was foreign policy, and that was as banal as it was brief. Biden promised to “stand by allies and friends”, refrain from “cuddling with dictators” (without naming them), and not ignore “Russian rewards on the heads of American soldiers” or “foreign interference” in American elections. That's all it was. China was mentioned solely in connection with America becoming less dependent on medical equipment and protective clothing made in China. Biden's speech did not mention that the United States was up to its neck in the Second Cold War.
No doubt a majority of those who have followed Biden's speech live share his unspoken wish that this second Cold War will simply go away as soon as he takes the oath of office. It was Biden who began his Democratic nomination by saying the Chinese were "not bad people" and "no competition for us," and it was Biden who appeared ready earlier this month to end the US - Promise tariffs on Chinese imports.
Trump didn't start
I have bad news. It wasn't Donald Trump who started the Second Cold War - it was Xi Jinping. And his vision of a resurgent China that challenges the US not only economically, but also ideologically and geopolitically, is widely shared by Chinese intellectuals and (even if you can hardly be sure) by many ordinary people in China. It should also be noted that anti-Chinese resentment in the United States has risen almost as much among Democrats as it has among Republicans in recent years.
How likely is it that the world will be a peaceful place from 2021 to 2024 - Biden's possible first and likely only term in office? Not without reason, Biden's speech last Thursday focused on the harmful effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the United States. But the crucial question for an upcoming Biden administration will not be what to do about the pandemic; I suspect - of course you can't be sure - that it will largely be over by January next year.
The key question, though many Democrats believe, will not be how best to spend all of the money the US can possibly borrow, now that all fiscal and monetary constraints are removed. The crucial questions will be how unstable the world will be in general after the pandemic and how toxic the Sino-US relations in particular will be.
Therefore, the story offers little reason for optimism. Quite often - as in 1918 and 1919 - times of war were followed by epidemic times, but the causal relationship was also reversed. The great epidemics of the ancient world - the smallpox in the Athens of Pericles (429–426 BC) or the plague epidemics under Antonius and Justinian that ravaged the Roman Empire - did not lead to times of peace.
Just one example: shortly after the plague swept through his empire, Emperor Justinian began a successful campaign to win Italy back from the Ostrogoths; he also resumed his war with the Sassanid Empire (Persia).
Plague - and war
The Black Death in the 1340s was among the most catastrophic pandemics in history - it killed between a third and three fifths of Europe's population. But the plague could not prevent one of the longest-running conflicts from arising. The Hundred Years War between England and France began on June 24, 1340 with the destruction of the French fleet in the Battle of Sluis by the expedition fleet of Edward III.
Six years later, despite the ravages of the plague, Edward invaded the Canal, conquered Caen and marched into Flanders; he added to the army of Philip VI. a heavy defeat at Crécy and prepared to conquer Calais. David II of Scotland, allied with the French king, then invaded England, where he was defeated. In 1355 the son of Edward III, the "Black Prince", led another armed force to France and achieved an important victory at Poitiers. A third English invasion did not go as well and resulted in a temporary peace in 1360, but the war flared up again in 1369 and continued intermittently until 1453.
Nobody knew at the time that the two were starting the Hundred Years War. This term was not coined by historians until 1823. But that's the way it is with history. Most people still do not understand that the Second Cold War has begun. The first Cold War was a forty year affair. But who can say whether the conflict between the US and China will not turn into another Hundred Years War?
One catastrophe begets the next. A pandemic creates a cascade of economic, social and political problems, which in turn can often lead to cross-border conflicts. We can just observe how the collapse in food production caused by Covid-19 in the entire world of developing countries, but especially in Africa, not only leads to hunger, but also to population shifts and political friction.
For that matter, just look around to see what is already happening. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, Russia and Turkey have effectively divided Libya, Chinese and Indian soldiers have fought at the border, the port of Beirut has blown up, which has led to the overthrow of the Lebanese government, which is in Belarus a revolution has broken out and a military coup has taken place in Mali.
At its core, it's about Taiwan
Is peace within reach anywhere? Well, in the Middle East, with the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, there has been an unexpected breakthrough (for this deal, Jared Kushner can credit himself more than he gets). But anyone who thinks Iran is about to stop its shameful activities in the region just because Joe Biden is in the White House does not understand the regime in Tehran.
The main issue between the US and China is not about Trump's tariffs, nor about his attempt to get a US tech company to take over Tiktok. But it's not about Xi's suppression of the pro-democratic movement in Hong Kong or his genocidal policy against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang - not even about the extent of the Chinese responsibility for the Covid-19 pandemic.
The central issue is Taiwan, and if the new US rules come into effect, cutting Huawei off from all imported semiconductors made with American technology or software, the conflict should escalate within a few weeks. As my fellow commentator at Bloomberg recently put it, this is truly the "nuclear option" because it "carries the risk of killing the company, which invites retaliation from Beijing."
Have you ever wondered why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941? As Graham Allison recently reminded us at Harvard, it was due to unacceptable economic sanctions imposed by the United States. Yep, that's right: It happened under the very Democratic president Joe Biden most wants to be associated with.
Last week's virtual convention was a great opportunity for hatred of Republicans, and Donald Trump in particular. Yet despite all of his many mistakes, Trump upheld a great republican tradition - not to start wars abroad. The exception to the rule of the Republican dove ideology during the last century was, of course, George W. Bush, who embroiled America in two wars - Afghanistan and Iraq. Everyone else - Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan - were notable for the small number of young Americans they sent into battle: far fewer than their Democratic counterparts.
"Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" is a line from Virgil that is usually translated as "I fear the Danaans, even if they bring presents". This is how I feel with the Democrats when they make edifying speeches full of promises about the billions (sorry, make it trillions) to be spent on public health, education, health care and infrastructure.
If there is one who I can easily imagine - unintentionally, of course, and with the best of intentions and edifying rhetoric - turning the Second Cold War into World War III, it is the self-anointed heir of Roosevelt, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.
Niall Ferguson is a Senior Fellow at the Center for European Studies at Harvard and is currently a Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, California. The above essay was written for Bloomberg Opinion - it appears here exclusively in the German-speaking area. We thank Bloomberg for giving us the opportunity to reprint. - Translated from English by Helmut Reuter.
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