DO WE REALLY WANT TO GO LOOKING FOR ENEMIES?

This post has been updated.

Ezra recommends this conversation between Matt Yglesias and Peter Beinart, and their speculation about conservative attempts to make China and Russia, like Iraq, out to be foreign enemies, thus giving the Right an excuse to stand in the way of a multipolar world.

What is the left's response to this forthcoming debate? I think thus far we have no coherent strategy for dealing with China and Russia effectively. Both countries feel free to act with impunity, violating human rights and international norms within their countries and protecting their client states when they do the same. Bill Schulz at CAP summarizes the problem nicely:

Formal diplomatic entreaties usually yield shallow results. Trying to isolate the world’s most populous country is not an option. Economic sanctions that worked against apartheid South Africa and maintain at least nominal pressure on countries such as Burma and Zimbabwe would be fruitless against the world’s second-largest economy. Military intervention to stop human rights violations is unthinkable.

Schulz suggests very careful, symbolic diplomatic actions and the creation of extreme no-go zones for the Chinese government. All well and good in the near term, but none of that is an effective incentive to halt the consistent human rights abuses in China -- it merely contains them. Of course, it is not necessarily our responsibility to address those abuses, but if we are at the same time complicit in trading with and supporting the Chinese regime then we adopt some responsibility for its actions. Even the editors of The New Republic think the best stance to take is repeatedly speaking out about Chinese abuses.

But what we're really talking about is a domestic debate about foreign policy. Given the same set of facts, the right can bray on about arms races and demagogue Taiwan and torture. Meanwhile, the left takes a gentler approach that, while it may be the best policy, does not seem like a very attractive one to voters. This is true especially if the perception that foreign trade hurts jobs continues -- it's very easy to make China out to be our enemy if Americans think, rightly or wrongly, that it's taking their jobs.

--Tim Fernholz

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