The United States, writes Max Boot in the Washington Post, has “exaggerated fears about Chinese power.” Boot compares U.S. Air Force Gen. Michael A. Minihan — whose memo revealed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s October 2022 “war council” and who has expressed fear that China may invade Taiwan by 2025 — to the “unhinged generals” in the movie Dr. Strangelove. Minihan and others, Boot says, are suffering from an “anti-Chinese paranoia” that reminds Boot of the early Cold War years when, apparently, we suffered from anti-Soviet paranoia. That anti-Soviet mindset, writes Boot, led to “anti-Red witch hunts at home and to ill-fated, costly military inventions such as the one in Vietnam” and “almost led, during the Cuban missile crisis, to nuclear Armageddon.” Who is calling whom “unhinged”?
Boot’s early Cold War “history” suffers from revisionism plus. The Soviets, he writes, were “never as strong or as reckless as so many imagined.” So, Harry Truman, Dean Acheson, James Forrestal, George F. Kennan, Paul Nitze, John J. McCloy, W. Averell Harriman, John Foster Dulles, and James Burnham were all wrong about the Soviets and Stalin. The Soviet attempts to take over northern Iran, to starve West Berlin into submission by a land blockade, to supply the Chinese Communists in their civil war, and to fund communist parties throughout Western Europe and in the United States were, apparently, not as great of a threat as those “wise men” believed. And what Boot calls “anti-Red witch hunts” revealed extensive communist infiltration of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. Has Boot ever read the Venona intercepts?
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And, according to Boot, it was American anti-Soviet hysteria that almost led to nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis — not the reckless covert installation of nuclear missiles in Cuba by the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev. Who knew? And when the Soviet Union achieved nuclear parity with the United States and then kept on building more and more nuclear weapons and delivery systems, we really had nothing to worry about because the Soviets were never as strong as we imagined. Perhaps Boot is unaware of the Team B revelations in the mid-to-late 1970s, which revealed a Soviet bid to achieve nuclear superiority.
But enough with Cold War history. Boot in his latest column rewrites that history for the purpose of downplaying the current Chinese threat. The China surveillance balloon posed no threat to the United States, Boot says. Boot is less worried about the implications of the balloon than he is about what he calls “the hysterical overreaction” to it. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Boot writes, should not have canceled his trip to China because we “need to establish better lines of communication with Beijing.” Boot doesn’t mention Xi’s “war council.” He doesn’t mention the Pentagon report that says China has more nuclear missile silos than the United States. He doesn’t mention China’s ramped-up military exercises around Taiwan, or China’s openly expressed determination to retake Taiwan by force if necessary. Boot claims that the current balance of power in Asia favors the United States in measures of hard and soft power. And China’s power, Boot contends, “might have already peaked.” Any suggestion that Boot might be wrong here is, apparently, a result of “anti-Chinese paranoia” and “alarmism.”
Before anyone accepts Boot’s appeasement of China, it would be wise to remember how wrong — how disastrously wrong — Boot was about the Iraq and Afghan wars. Boot was a proponent of “state-building” in Afghanistan and Iraq — and many other places. He signed on early — at least intellectually — to President George W. Bush’s crusade for democracy in the Muslim world. He revived talk of a new “Atlantic Charter” for the Middle East and beyond. He wrote about bombing Iran, intervening in Syria, and removing Muammar al-Qaddafi from power in Libya. And he kept supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan even after they became twin foreign-policy debacles. Only quite a bit later — after more American soldiers died in these futile efforts at “American Empire” — did Boot grudgingly admit that it was “all a big mistake.”
The mistakes Boot supported in Afghanistan and Iraq were costly. However, if he is wrong again about the nature of the Chinese threat, the cost will be much greater.