In an excerpt from his shocking new book, THE END OF DEMOCRACY?, leading campaign strategist Douglas Schoen exposes the China-Russia Cold War against America — and how it could incite the downfall of the free world.
It seems clear now that Covid-19 will take a place in world history, a seismic event of the twenty-first century whose effects will only be fully understood over many years, even decades. What also seems clear is that the United States-China relationship will change — indeed, must change. The question is how, and along what lines.
Among Americans, anger at China runs high. American voters may, in the short term, choose to blame the Trump administration at the polls in November 2020; in the long term, whomever they vote for, most Americans understand that China is responsible for a global catastrophe that could have been greatly minimized or even averted entirely had Beijing simply told the truth about it from the beginning. No number of missteps, from often-bungling Western governments, can disguise Beijing’s fundamental culpability. Recent polls in the United States suggest that Americans understand this — overwhelming majorities blame China for causing this disaster. Moreover, the coronavirus has darkened Americans’ views of China more broadly. A Pew poll showed two-thirds of American respondents now view China negatively.
American policymakers — regardless of whether they are part of a Trump or Joe Biden administration in 2021 — will have to respond to the American people’s darkening view of China. Even the most devout China apologists — and their numbers are legion in the federal government, in the private sector, and in the American media — will have to recognize that the coronavirus has ripped the curtain down on Beijing’s masquerade as a responsible member of the global community. China’s refusal to take responsibility for the virus has revealed the true character of the Communist regime even for those who had not been willing to acknowledge the obvious before. If U.S. officials, of either party, hope genuinely to serve the American national interest, then we’re going to see changes in the years ahead.
Some of those changes are already afoot. The Trump administration has cut investment ties, for example, between U.S. federal retirement funds and Chinese equities. The move affects about $4 billion in assets.
Meantime, U.S. lawmakers, in tandem with Canadian counterparts and Indian attorneys, are pursuing various legal actions, including reparations, against China for inflicting the coronavirus on the world, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths and hundreds of billions, if not trillions, in economic damage. Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee has sponsored a Senate resolution calling on Beijing to forgive some of its holdings of American debt. Private American citizens have filed lawsuits against China seeking damages, including a $20 trillion class-action suit in Texas. Beijing will pay no heed to Blackburn’s gesture, and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act will almost surely protect it against citizen claims, but these actions indicate the resentment against China felt by large portions of the American public.
Some China observers, such as Gordon Chang, argue that the United States should retaliate by seizing China’s holdings of U.S. Treasury obligations — but only in tandem with our allies and issuers of other major currencies. “If we act alone,” Chang argues, “China is going to say that we repudiated our debt. We’re going to take a reputational hit, which is going to be a big one… they’re going to say that we are an irresponsible member of the global financial system, and that the dollar shouldn’t be the reserve currency of the world.” But if the U.S. acts in concert with allies, then “we can take away that argument from China.”
The anger extends far beyond Washington’s shores. India’s bar association, in tandem with the International Council of Jurists (ICJ), is appealing to the United Nations Human Rights Council for compensation from China for “surreptitiously developing a biological weapon capable of mass destruction.” The ICJ’s president called Covid-19 a “crime against humanity,” caused by China, which has “deliberately concealed crucial information about coronavirus.” He asked the UN to “enquire and direct China and to adequately compensate international community and member states, particularly India, for surreptitiously developing a biological weapon capable of mass destruction of mankind.” He further alleged that China had exploited the virus with the intention of controlling the global economy and taking advantage of countries weakened by the virus and facing economic collapse.
Beijing’s shameful actions in regard to medical equipment and supplies, as well as testing materials — buying up these materials on the global market, thus causing shortages, and then selling everything from defective equipment to bad tests to countries facing virus outbreaks — has caused anger and resentment in capitals around the world. Several countries in Asia and Europe, including Great Britain and Spain, have sent these useless materials back to Beijing.
And more recent steps in Washington reflect a broader awareness developing of the scope and range of the response needed.
In June, President Trump signed legislation imposing sanctions on the Chinese officials responsible for the forced labor camps that Beijing has set up for Uighur Muslims. Trump said that the new law “holds accountable perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses such as the systematic use of indoctrination camps, forced labor, and intrusive surveillance to eradicate the ethnic identity and religious beliefs of Uyghurs and other minorities in China.”
Another hopeful sign: in July, the House of Representatives passed a bill imposing sanctions on banks that do business with Chinese officials involved in Beijing’s ongoing crackdown against the Hong Kong democracy movement — specifically, those officials who helped implement the new national security law, which is designed to suppress dissent. Further, in August, President Trump imposed the first US sanctions against officials from China and Hong Kong over suppression of pro-democracy protests and dissent in the territory, seeking to punish China for its repression in Hong Kong.
We should hope that these steps, which suggest a clear-eyed recognition of the Chinese regime’s systematic and wide-ranging abuses, will mark a new focus and determination on the part of American policymakers — whether in the incumbent administration or a successor one — in dealing with Beijing. We should hope, that is, that such measures reflect a dawning recognition of what we need to do and why we need to do it — and not just in the short term, but as an adaptation of American foreign policy for the foreseeable future.
Raising the stakes further, our foreign policy as it relates to China must confront the threat they pose in other parts of the world, particularly the Middle East, where there are American intelligence reports in August that China is helping Saudi Arabia build up its ability to produce and refine the nuclear fuel necessary to the development of nuclear weapons.
The bottom line is this: the American relationship with China is about to change, just as the world’s relationship with China is about to change. All the momentum must point to reduced dependency on China, and to a more realistic definition of our relationship with Beijing. Going forward, the U.S. must seek a workable but tough-minded relationship, one that recognizes China as an explicit adversary, yet one too large and consequential in the world today to avoid dealings with altogether. We must reject both an unrealistic “decoupling” and the gullible, uncritical, and self-dealing relationship that American elites fostered with China over the last several decades. Politically, economically, militarily, the United States is challenged today to define its approach to China — a more formidable nation-state adversary than any we have faced since the Cold War with the Soviet Union. We face a new Cold War.
But not just with China.
The new Cold War is also with the former Soviet Union — with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. That’s a sobering reality that the pandemic has tended to obscure, though even amid the ongoing struggle against Covid-19, the Russian presence can be seen. In June 2020, for example, came the stunning news that Russian operatives had offered “bounties” to Taliban militants to kill American troops in Afghanistan. It appears that at least some of these attacks did result in American deaths. The news dramatized again how willingly Putin’s Russia violates norms of international relations to achieve its goals, and it was all made worse by President Trump’s appalling refusal to acknowledge the veracity of the reports, much less take any retaliatory action. The Taliban bounty story served as another harrowing reminder that the United States has more than one determined authoritarian adversary on the global stage — and no reliable leadership, at present, with which to confront them.
Further, as David Sanger and Eric Schmitt reported in the New York Times, “it doesn’t require a top-secret clearance and access to the government’s most classified information” to understand that the alleged bounties to the Taliban were only one facet of Russian aggression against the United States in the first half of 2020. Indeed, Americans working from home have experienced cyberattacks against their private US companies’ computer systems, Russian internet trolls continue to exploit American voters on social media, and Russian jets have been testing US and allies’ air defenses from the Mediterranean Sea to the Alaskan coast. Without question, these latest aggressions, particularly in the era of COVID-19, represent some of the most brazen actions directly against the United States since I first began analyzing Putin’s authoritarian ascendency in-depth in my 2014 book, The Russia-China Axis: The New Cold War and America’s Crisis of Leadership. And these are to say nothing of other Russian incursions, these into nations where America once held strong influence, such as Syria and Venezuela, which have occurred without any real American response, much less pushback.
Before the coronavirus crisis, I had written about the twin challenge that these two nations posed to the United States and to Western democracies, especially as they deepened a strategic, military, and economic partnership — becoming, as I called them in a previous book, a “new Axis.” I was engaged in writing this new book, which I intended both as a summary of how closely my warnings have been borne out by events over the past decade and as a warning of what’s to come, when Covid-19 broke out.
Covid-19 and the reconfigured world only make the message of this book more pressing and urgent — and my past warnings more prescient, if I may say so. Few would dispute now that the United States faces grim challenges ahead, in everything from economic recovery to economic reorganization — we need to get back our pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity, for example — to our military posture to our capabilities in cyber-intelligence.
During the worst of the infection period, some were heard to say that viruses don’t play favorites: they strike down the wealthy and the poor, the prominent and the anonymous, in this country or in that one. Indeed: illness and disease have always had a kind of ruthless honesty. They afflict wherever they can. It is this same kind of ruthless honesty that the United States now needs to apply to itself and its relations with China — and with China’s partner, Russia.
The coronavirus blew up an unsustainable world order. The damage it has done should not be minimized or denied. But it may yet prove a grim blessing, if it serves, at last, as a wake-up call to the United States — a deadly but valuable reminder of truths both timeless and specific.
The timeless truth: the world is ever dangerous, and no great nation has ever existed that did not face persistent opposition from mortal foes.
The specific truth: those mortal foes, today, are in Beijing and in Moscow.
The virus can be cured with a vaccine when one is available. Decades of American self-destructiveness and self-delusion can be cured, too — but only by a painful recognition of the daunting realities we face and a determined resolve to address them.
Douglas Schoen has been one of the most influential Democratic campaign consultants for over forty years. A founding partner and former principal strategist for the internationally known polling and consulting firm Penn, Schoen and Berland, he is also a founding partner of Schoen Cooperman Research, and he is widely recognized as one of the innovators of the modern polling and research business. His political clients include former President Bill Clinton as well as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He has worked for a number of United States senators and governors, in particular former Indiana Senator and Governor Evan Bayh, and a number of leading American corporations including Time Warner, Procter & Gamble, and AT&T. Internationally, he has worked for the heads of states of over 15 countries, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. He is the author of multiple books including Putin on the March: The Russian President’s Unchecked Global Advance, Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence, and The Nixon Effect: How Richard Nixon’s Presidency Fundamentally Changed American Politics. Schoen is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and various other newspapers and online publications. He was a Fox News contributor for over 15 years. Schoen is a graduate of Harvard College, he has a Doctorate of Philosophy in Politics from the University of Oxford, and he is a graduate of Harvard Law School.
Copyright © 2020 by Douglas Schoen. Excerpted from the forthcoming book The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise, America in Retreat, by Douglas Schoen, to be published by Regan Arts. Printed by permission.