Thinking About the Unthinkable

At The National Interest Harry White considers the circumstances would lead us to go to war with China:

The administration has hoped that Beijing will think that everything in Asia is important to America—from overlapping maritime claims with Vietnam to Japanese sovereignty. But from Beijing, it looks possible that nothing in Asia is that important to America, or at least not important enough to go to war with China over. Whether that’s accurate or not, it’s a thought that is slowly creeping into the minds of some of America’s allies too—and it has them worried.

There is a danger that this thinking at cross-purposes could precipitate a crisis, and that crisis could turn into a war. China might cross an actual American redline, which ironically, the White House won’t have articulated clearly enough to avoid antagonizing Beijing.

I strongly suspect that the Chinese believe that there are no circumstances under which we’d go to war with them. That is, perhaps, the most dangerous situation imaginable. Have a nice day!

22 comments… add one
  • CStanley

    Isn’t this the dilemma of reducing our military commitment? The projection of military power creates the leverage for diplomacy to work.

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    I don’t think war with China is unthinkable at all. INVADING China* is pretty much out under any and all circumstances. But a maritime and aerial war seems well within the realm of possibilities, and fighting on the land of allies seems credible.

    It’s not like we’re talking the Soviet Union looking to invade Western Europe with the goal of imposing communist world domination, and with the attendant possibility of a large scale nuclear exchange.

    * By which I mean a large scale operation meant to gain and hold a large amount of territory. Invading a port city or two, or moving into border regions for tactical reasons I could envision.

  • ...

    Isn’t this the dilemma of reducing our military commitment?

    Depends on which commitments you reduce and on which time frame. I’m all for reducing our commitment to Europe – there’s no reason at this point that they can’t fund their own defense against Russia.

    As for the Far East? I’m in favor of reducing that too, over time. Let the Japanese re-arm. I’d imagine they’ve already got some nuclear warheads ready to assemble, and some missiles upon which to put them. S. Korea is fairly well armed, IIRC. What we need to do is let the Chinese know that we’re keeping up our air force and especially navy, and will act with those pieces in concert to defend allies.

    However, that requires will, and the current group in power have none, save for crushing the US middle class and helping the financiers (and themselves) to rape the country.

  • PD Shaw

    It would be interesting to know what the current Chinese leadership’s view on U.S. motivations for aiding China against Japan prior to Pearl Harbor. It seems that the U.S. has a long history of supporting territorial independence in East Asia (including China’s) and open trade, though not getting involved in policing conflicts over atolls, islets and reefs.

  • michael reynolds

    US popularity in Japan is way up since Obama took over.

    Again, the numbers come from Pew, which has been asking people in key countries every year whether they have “confidence” in America’s president to “do the right thing in world affairs.” Obama’s popularity is down since 2009. Still, in Mexico and Argentina, the president’s 2013 numbers (the most recent we have) are 33 percentage points higher than Bush’s in 2008. In South Korea, the margin is 47 points. In Japan, it’s 45 points. In Brazil, it’s 52 points. In Britain, it’s 56 points. In France, it’s 70 points. In Germany, it’s 74 points.

    So if the Japanese are worried they have an interesting way of showing it. Ditto the Europeans.

    So, poof! goes the right-wing narrative that we’ve weakened our standing in the world. In fact it’s strengthened dramatically. 45 points in Japan, 47 points in SK, the two countries most directly challenged by a rising China.

    But of course the narrative must continue, so let’s all agree to ignore the actual facts and focus instead on the fact that an elegant black man cannot possibly stand up to, say, a shirtless white man who knows judo.

  • Ken Hoop

    The American political class elite will never abandon occupational domination of Europe in favor of protecting the Western flank of European civilization from Oriental imperialism.

    Simply because the American political elite is not European-American, has not been since 1933 at the latest. Frankly a dominant Eurasianist Russia represent something healthier and more in line with Traditional European civilization.

  • PD Shaw

    Elipses, have you seen the new Godzilla movie yet?

    Tyler Cowen says the movie is a “plea for an extended and revitalized Japanese-American alliance.”

  • Guarneri

    Let’s all give a hat tip to the elegant black man’s economic stewardship:

    “Unexpectedly,” of course.

  • michael reynolds


    Yes, having had one of your favorite hobby horses (he’s weak and everybody hates us!) hobbled and put down, change the subject.

    We are not seen as weak, we are not despised, in fact we are far more admired and trusted than under the previous administration – which anyone who has traveled outside the country could have told you.

  • Ken Hoop

    Obama’s ratings in the Muslim world are lower than Ws.
    Drone bombed a few more weddings, could be the difference.

    The business class in Germany could care less, Obama or Bush.
    It prefers Putin. Just a question of how to ease out of occupation.

  • Guarneri


    You’ve become a boring Obama stooge. I change the subject because your commentary is inane.

  • ...

    Guarneri, you’re just wrong. This is totally a B+ economy. So there!

  • ...

    I must confess, though, that I keep expecting Reynolds to tell us what a wonderful painter Obama is.

  • michael reynolds


    I’ll pay a thousand dollars to the charity of your choice for every instance you find where I said the economy was B+.

  • ...

    You’ve stated repeatedly that Obama has done a great job on the economy, and that any and all criticism of his job on the economy is purely partisan. Does that mean the great job of the President is less than a B+?

    And in the only way that matters, you supported this as the economy you wanted more of. Are you saying you wanted a bad economy?

  • ...

    I’m interested if you can cite an example where you have criticized the President on his handling of the economy. I recall nothing but lavish praise, and the desire to have more of this economy by reelecting the bastard. That’s all that really matters, whether or not you want more of this or not. You want more of this.

  • michael reynolds

    No, Ice, what I’ve said is that I give Obama a B or B+ for his presidency overall. I’ve always said – as does the president – that the economy is disappointing. You assume I’m referring to the economy because that’s your singular obsession. I’ve said repeatedly that I don’t vote on economic issues but on foreign policy and social issues.

    The offer stands. Find a place where I’ve said the economy is B+.

    You won’t because it ain’t there because I didn’t say it because I don’t believe it. What I believe (and have said ad nauseam) is that presidents play around the edges of the economy, that it’s absurd to think that the POTUS somehow controls an economy that is global and affected by factors over which the US has only some control, and over which the POTUS has only a fraction of that fraction of control.

    Mr. Obama gets his B+ from me because I was not hatched from the egg 6 years ago but have been watching presidents since LBJ. I judge standing within historical context, and I lived through the bad parts of LBJ (as well as the good) and Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.

    In that context, B or B+.

  • ...

    PD, missed your comment earlier. Yes, I have seen it. It’s good to very good, but not great. And it’s mostly a plea for seeing Godzilla fight other giant monsters in some of the World’s more visually impressive cities. I’m thinking Abu Dhabi and the new areas of Shanghai!

    It’s got all the elements required of a Godzilla film. It’s kind of like a supped up version of the better movies in the series from the last thirty years.

    It breaks down like you’ve probably seen elsewhere- the stuff with the humans is okay (and included one twist I didn’t expect), the stuff with Godzilla is awesome. There was one moment when the audience broke out into spontaneous applause.

    But reading anything more into than what is standard for a Godzilla movie is a reach.

  • PD Shaw

    Godzilla cannot ever be just about Godzilla, he’s the inscrutable terror at the heart of our (or Japan’s) national security or environmental anxieties. This is the article I was referring to:

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    PD, that’s why I said it has all the elements a Godzilla film requires, because it did cover the nuclear/environmental angles. Even if it did mangle the history of the US nuclear weapons program.

  • ...

    Okay, read the article, and I think he’s overthinking it. And if the filmmakers meant all that stuff, then they were overthinking it!

    Further, nothing in the article explains why Vegas getting thrashed was necessary fir a US+Japan alliance against China.

  • ...

    The one element it was missing as a trip to Tokyo Bay. I guess the creative team wanted the emphasis on bridge destruction to be on the Golden Gate, and we all know that Godzilla hate hate HATES the Rainbow Bridge over Tokyo Bay, and since its completion in 1993 has gone out of his way to destroy it. So no trip to Tokyo proper – this time!

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