was going to be the American Century. When President George
W. Bush entered the Oval Office in 2001, he brought with him
an inner circle of advisors drawn from the ultra-conservative
Project for the New American Century. It was an exhilarating,
heady time. The United States had the largest, most vigorous
economy in the world and the mightiest military machine in
We also had “soft” power: the ability to attract nations to
our side, to persuade their leaders and to influence their
populations. As long as we were prudent and restrained in
the use of our power we had far more allies than enemies.
We were popular!
Our charisma and persuasiveness are gone now. We’re essentially
alone in Iraq, facing an insurrection that grows more lethal
every month. The few foreign leaders who allied themselves
with us paid for it later at the polls. All that administration
talk about how European nations would have to help
us stabilize “postwar” Iraq, because it would be in their
best interest, turned out to be hot air. No government is
coming to our aid, and the United Nations packed up and left
long ago. The president has spent 1,700 American lives and
13,000 wounded in a war with no end in sight.
Lured by fantasy into Iraq, the president now faces the real
and growing threat of the other two nations in his “axis of
evil,” Iran and North Korea. Iran is making headway toward
producing nuclear weapons. Furthermore, Iran—unlike the Iraq
that Bush invaded—is a sponsor of terrorist organizations,
such as Hizbollah, and much more likely to share nuclear weapons
with terrorists than Saddam Hussein ever was.
President Bush made it clear he wanted Iran to change or he
would change it by force. The people of Iran had experience
with that sort of thing. The United States overthrew Iran’s
democratically elected government 52 years ago and reinstalled
an oppressive monarch. Americans tend to forget it, but Iranians
never do. So when Bush gave his speech and followed it by
invading Iraq, the government in Iran decided to speed the
development of nuclear weapons.
Because the United States and Iran have no diplomatic relations,
Bush can do very little. The foreign ministers of Britain,
France and Germany, on behalf of the European Union, are the
ones trying to persuade Tehran to put its uranium-enrichment
program on hold. All the United States can do is threaten
to bring the matter up before the United Nations Security
Council, an institution that Bush’s policies have relentlessly
North Korea poses similar problems for President Bush. After
Bush made his menacing “axis of evil” declaration, North Korea
responded by saying—surprise!—it had been secretly enriching
uranium and was on its way to developing a nuclear arsenal.
The Bush administration, ever in love with an Armageddon fantasy,
says North Korea already possesses nuclear bombs. Sometimes
that nation is said to have three bombs, sometimes two, sometimes
half a dozen.
In December 2002, the somewhat reliable CIA said North Korea
likely could produce two or more atomic bombs annually through
uranium enrichment after 2004. But there’s a big difference
between enriching uranium, building an atomic bomb, and setting
it off to see if it works. If the Bush administration has
credible evidence that North Korea has a workable nuclear
bomb, it hasn’t shared that evidence with us citizens.
Bush’s policy is to deal with North Korea only in a setting
that includes China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia. Russia
has no reason to be particularly helpful to the United States,
and Japan has little influence in North Korea. South Korea
has its own agenda and is far too friendly to North Korea
to be a wholly reliable partner in these negotiations. That
leaves China as our greatest ally.
According to the White House, China doesn’t want North Korea
to develop an atomic bomb because that would mean Japan and
South Korea would, in self-defense, acquire nuclear weapons
too. Therefore, China will help us by leaning on North Korea.
But China isn’t following the script.
During the Bush administration, the United States has been
in continual trade disputes with China, has criticized its
human-rights abuses and recently has been hammering China
to revalue its currency. These are worthy objectives, but
none encourage Beijing to help Washington. In Singapore last
weekend, Rumsfeld upbraided China, saying it was pouring huge
resources into its military and buying large amounts of sophisticated
weapons despite facing no threat from any other country. China
was unmoved, and pointed out that the United States was spending
far more than China on defense. Indeed, the United States
spends far, far more on its military than any other nation
on Earth, and by some measures it outspends the top 15 added
Looming over President Bush’s disastrous foreign policy is
China. China, with its rapidly expanding economic power and
growing global influence, benefits when the United States
is distracted and weakened by ongoing problems with Iraq,
Iran and North Korea. Inebriated by the military might at
his disposal and enraptured by revenge fantasies, Bush seems
not to have noticed China. Yet it’s hard to miss. China’s
population is somewhere between 1.3 and 1.6 billion people.
That plus or minus error is equal to the entire population
of the United States. China devours so much energy producing
so many goods that its use of oil is beginning to affect the
price of gasoline at pumps in the United States. China produces
80 percent of what Wal-Mart sells. China produces at the low
end of the economic scale and at the high end. China holds
huge reserves of U.S. currency and U.S. debt obligations.
President Bush is spending more than a billion dollars a week
in Iraq, pushing us deeper and deeper in debt.
Increasingly, it looks as if the century belongs not to the
United States, but to China.