US needs big strategic thinkers to rescue it from wrong course with China
Published: Jul 20, 2022 09:34 PM
Henry Kissinger Photo: VCG

Henry Kissinger Photo: VCG

In an interview Tuesday with Bloomberg News, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said today's geopolitics requires "Nixonian flexibility" to help defuse conflicts between the US and China and between Russia and the rest of Europe. He also warned that US President Joe Biden should be wary of letting domestic politics interfere with "the importance of understanding the permanence of China."

From Henry Kissinger to former president Richard Nixon, what they have in common is that they truly understand the theory of the balance of power and how to implement it in great power relations. 

Yet, these capabilities can hardly be found in today's Western politicians. For example, the Biden administration, lacking the ability to make decisions and judge the situation rationally, cannot correctly estimate its strengths and those of its so-called rivals. It then makes diplomatic decisions without logic, leading to unprecedented chaos in US foreign policies now that can be regarded as even worse than the very worst - the Trump era.

To solve problems regarding major powers, such as the US-Russia, or China-US relations, a big vision and a sense of the bigger picture are needed. But it seems US politicians now have decided to handle great power relations the same as they deal with smaller countries, which usually involves a lot of wheeling and dealing. Such incorrect understandings may make the situation escalate beyond the control of these politicians.

US domestic politics, to a large extent, has kidnapped its foreign policy. There is a possibility that US politicians are likely to stir up more troubles in foreign affairs for distracting voters' attention to the domestic predicaments. It is known that a country's system cannot be maintained unless there is some kind of consensus. But since now there is almost no consensus reached in US politics, contingent events may play a bigger role in US politics and even trigger more dangerous conflicts.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's potential visit to the island of Taiwan, for instance, is likely to be a way to prove that Democrats dare to take risks for the sake of the midterm elections, and it could end up with an 82-year-old veteran politician provoking a serious conflict between China and the US.

Washington needs great minds like Nixon and Kissinger to correct the yaw of its politics and put the country's diplomacy back on the pragmatic and rational course. The lack of strategic thinkers with big geopolitical minds in the US was also noted by Singaporean political scientist Kishore Mahbubani in an interview with the Global Times last year. He then argued that "intellectual laziness" is prevalent among US politicians today.

I find his comment quite interesting. The two recent US presidents have shared a similar way of thinking, with former president Donald Trump believing that he would win the 2020 presidential election if it had not been "rigged," and Biden said the US can defeat China if the competition is "open and fair." Both presidents are following the same logic: It's the rules to blame if they lose.  

Such blind self-confidence has left no room for these US politicians to judge the situation at home and abroad seriously. The current White House decision-makers have no vision of the overall situation. In the chess game these politicians are playing, they are only thinking about their next moves without considering how their opponents will play. They believe that they are always making all the excellent moves. 

Mahbubani has described them with the word "laziness," which is, in my opinion, quite a euphemism. Laziness means unwillingness to use their intelligence, but I'm wondering whether there is intelligence inside the White House.

A generational change in political power is necessary to overcome the pervasive political inertia in the US. Four of the last five US presidents from 1992 to the present were born in the 1940s. It can be said that the political resources in the US are now concentrated in these old male politicians, while the younger generation has not risen at all.

However, the politicians born between the 1950s and 1960s, who are supposed to be the next generation of today's most powerful politicians, grew up under the guidance of "political correctness" against the backdrop of high ideological confrontation, which has led to their rigid thinking and narrow vision.

Kissinger and Nixon grew up in a time when there was also so-called Western political correctness, but society was much more open back then. The US is now an open society run by closed minds. Washington will find it extremely difficult to have another political figure with great visions like Kissinger or Nixon.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Xia Wenxin based on an interview with Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn