As the commentaries, retrospectives and meditations pile up ten years after 9/11, expect quite a few in their closing paragraphs to look toward the next grand geo-political challenge facing the U.S. A decade of costly adventurism in the Middle East and Afghanistan, many will argue, distracted U.S. policy making from the new realities of Asia, where some of the world’s main economies and rising powers are shaping the future decades of the 21st century.
The bogeyman here is not an ideology or some shadowy terrorist threat, but, to be blunt, China. Beijing’s rise as an economic and military power raises understandable concerns. The modernization of its navy and army seem calculated to directly challenge the preeminence of American power. As an authoritarian state, China has shown a penchant for a cold-blooded foreign policy, happy to support troublesome regimes from Khartoum to Pyongyang. A raft of pundits have already issued grim warnings about the future of the global liberal, democratic order — one which emerged during the 20th century’s Pax Americana — as it gets pressured by the new imperatives of a Chinese hegemon.
Tapping into this sense of alarm, an essay published last week in the National Review by Michael Auslin, the resident East Asia scholar at the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute, offers up a vision for American strategy in the Pacific. Though Auslin claims his proposal is more “pro-Asia” than it is “anti-China,” it’s hard to see how the two in his formulation are all that different.