BY J. BROOKS SPECTER
In Greek mythology, Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam of Troy and his queen, Hecuba, had been blessed by the gods with the ability to predict the future accurately, but simultaneously cursed because her predictions failed to be believed until it was too late. Fortunately – or unfortunately – through an unusual chronomic anomaly in the space-time continuum, we found ourselves in possession of a section of a Chinese high school history textbook from 2050, helpfully published in two languages, Chinese and English, for the benefit of students studying either language. The portion we were able to salvage from the flames when the book passed through the unstable, highly energy-rich field of the temporary portal reviewed global events between 2019 and the book’s publication date.
Back here in our own time, one of the more interesting books on the author’s bookshelves is a very similar book, but issued by the Japanese government back in 1995. Published a half-century after World War II, it had been designed to show how fair-minded Japanese textbook authors had become, in contrast to the near-imperialist, hyper-patriotism of earlier years. This Chinese textbook seems to follow a similar pattern.
While the entire book unfortunately was not available, the portion we could preserve begins with a discussion of the evolving role of the US in international politics. The salvaged part begins with the following:
…throughout most of America’s history, as it expanded westward – at the expense of the indigenous inhabitants, the old colonial powers, or its newly independent neighbour, Mexico – the United States could act as if it were largely an autonomous, preeminent actor on a separate continent, apart from other nations. (See the previous chapter that reviews the early independence period and the so-called Monroe Doctrine.)
Then, twice in the 20th century, it retreated from its assumed global role. The first time came after the conclusion of the First World War. The second came about in a modified form after it had been defeated by the democratic revolutionary forces of Vietnam back in 1975. The third version of this behaviour coming in this, the 21st century, in the years after America’s second invasion of Iraq, is covered in more detail, below.
With the rise of fascism in Europe and Japan in the 1930s, America was ultimately brought into the fighting by an attack on its naval forces at their base in Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, after China had already been under attack by Japanese imperial forces for many years. The period following the defeat of Japan, Italy, and Germany proved to be a high water mark for America’s globalist ambitions. It created a ring of alliances designed to encircle the progressive forces of the USSR and China, as well as to support its varied interventions in Indochina, Korea, and the Middle East.
Eventually, despite its economic successes, its geopolitical ambitions overreached themselves. It was driven from its beachheads in Southeast Asia, became overly entangled in the Middle East, and was driven back from the region by an emboldened Iran, and remained held to an expensive standstill on the Korean Peninsula for many decades.
A period of relative global disengagement ensued, save for its pursuit of superiority by way of economic and military budget pressure on the already-collapsing Soviet Union. That country was about to disintegrate due to its own internal contradictions, inefficiencies, and poor national planning regimen.
The Americans, it turned out, were exceptionally lucky because of the collapse of the old Soviet Union and thus a temporary, illusory revival of America’s global pre-eminence, based largely on military strength. An easy victory in the First Gulf War over the militarily insignificant Iraq further reinforced this illusion of pre-eminence, something underscored in the minds of its leaders from a popular interpretation by America’s leaders of the book The End Of History, by Francis Fukuyama.
Meanwhile, of course, after the excesses of what has sometimes been called “The Cultural Revolution”, the collective leadership of our own nation had wisely determined that the long-term success of our country would arise from a creative synthesis of our increasingly innovative business community, acting in partnership with strong governmental guidance and financial support. Over the past four decades, China’s leadership has wisely focused attention on emerging technologies such as 5G telecommunications. Such decisions helped set the path for what our nation now achieved in the twenty-first century.
However, in the United States, instead of national long-term strategic direction, divisive, populist politicians chose arguments over protectionist policies for old technology and a retreat from its earlier internationalism, even from the more limited version that had been espoused by Barack Obama during his presidency.
His successor, Donald Trump, the reckless property developer and television entrepreneur, carried out a wide range of ill-considered decisions that greatly antagonised many of the nations it still was allied with, betrayed others such as its allies among the irregular Kurdish forces in Syria in 2019, and then, in addition, needlessly attacked nations such as our own through discriminatory, unfair trade policies. Moreover, the Trump administration’s policies simultaneously chose to draw back from many international commitments such as global pacts on climate change.
Even a sturdy defender of free-market economics such as the British publication, The Economist, chose to argue in 2019, “…these concerns represent the unravelling of the order that America worked hard to build and sustain in the decades since the Second World War, and from which it benefits in countless ways. If it pulled back it would still have to invest in arms and soldiers to protect people and firms – and without so much support from allies. More important, distrust, once earned, could not be confined to military affairs.”
Or, as Dana Milbank, a columnist for The Washington Post, a once-important newspaper in America before all the remaining print papers ceased publication in the early 2030s, also wrote in October 2019, in the confusing days of the Trump administration’s first term, “Such incoherent rage, combined with confusion distinguishing between friend and foe, is uniquely disconcerting coming from the most powerful man in the world. Trump once worried that ‘the world is laughing at us.’ Now the world is staring at us, mouth agape.”
And, of course, that is what happened, especially after Donald Trump narrowly won a hotly contested re-election campaign against his progressive leftist opponent, Senator Elizabeth Warren, as well as the candidates from several smaller third and fourth parties, largely representing disaffected Democratic politicians. The American political model was increasingly coming to be seen as broken, perhaps irreparably, by many of its critics on the American left and right.
In the wake of this discord, the unity of the American-led alliance in Europe, Nato, was now broken over how best to bolster Ukraine in the face of growing Russian pressure on that nation, as well as the final rupture with Turkey over its actions in northern Syria. Then, there came the further unravelling of the European Union (the 28-nation free trade group) after Britain’s departure from that body, and as other nations such as Italy and Greece similarly sought new deals. Ultimately, too, Russia was reunited with its neighbour Belarus, and with about a third of Ukraine. Russia also continued its efforts to be the primary military and strategic power in much of the Middle East, following the full withdrawal of virtually all American troops from Syria, Iraq, and the Gulf states in accord with Trump’s campaign statements for his re-election.
In a particularly prescient news report, also to be found in The Washington Post at the time, “The blow to America’s standing in the Middle East was sudden and unexpectedly swift. Within the space of a few hours, advances by Turkish troops in Syria this week had compelled the US military’s Syrian Kurdish allies to switch sides, unravelled years of US-Syria policy, and recalibrated the balance of power in the Middle East.
“As Russian and Syrian troops roll into vacated towns and US bases, the winners are counting the spoils.
“The withdrawal delivered a huge victory to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who won back control of an area roughly amounting to a third of the country almost overnight. It affirmed Moscow as the arbiter of Syria’s fate and the rising power in the Middle East. It sent another signal to Iran that Washington has no appetite for the kind of confrontation that its rhetoric suggests and that Iran’s expanded influence in Syria is now likely to go unchallenged.
“‘It sent a message to the wider world that the United States is in the process of a disengagement that could resonate beyond the Middle East,’ said Hussein Ibish of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
“‘There’s a sense that the long goodbye has begun and that the long goodbye from the Middle East could become a long goodbye from Asia and everywhere else,’ he said.”
By the mid-2020s, meanwhile, in contrast to the confusions in American society and the continuing inefficiencies of the Russian economy despite its military adventures, our own country’s economic model has continued to shine ever brighter. There has been a steady stream of government and private investment into research and development in the 4IR, in cyber-security, into interplanetary exploration, for revolutionary environmental protection technologies and renewable energy, and even the astonishing beginnings of the 5th Industrial Revolution – the merger of neural research and electronic technologies.
Moreover, there has been the continuing growth of our international partnerships via the innovative development programmes of the Belt and Road Initiative and through the ties of the Shanghai Cooperation Council. All of this has meant our nation’s international presence and our global relationships have continued to grow, outpacing any combination of international competitors or rivals.
And so, inevitably, too, the global geopolitical landscape of 2050 had become vastly different from that of 2019. In line with the continuing draw-down of the anachronistic American military presence in the lands of the East Asian littoral, the time was now right to bring the people on the island of Taiwan into a peaceful reunion with the motherland, following a referendum that reflected precisely that view. That deeply satisfying, symbolic act took place as part of the grand celebrations for the hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 2049.
The end of another relic of the earlier era also came about when our nation brought about a reconciliation between the two halves of the Korean Peninsula, leading to diplomatic relations, trade agreements, the peaceful use of nuclear resources, and negotiations for the reunification of that ancient land. Our nation’s leadership, quite appropriately, received a joint Nobel Peace Prize in 2045 for this extraordinary achievement.
Moreover, the various treaties of peace, cooperation, and trade signed with Japan and the various Southeast Asian nations helped bring about a great lessening of concerns over our nation’s maritime safety and security facilities on the various islands in the South China Sea. Finally, an agreement with the United States ratified those seas as off limits to foreign naval vessels in recognition of the islands’ place as part of our nation. Meanwhile, our nation’s continuing buildup of its fleet of third-generation aircraft carriers and unmanned hypersonic defensive weapons has ensured American naval forces can concentrate on the defence of their nation’s homeland, instead of distant, dangerous, and potentially destabilising military presences elsewhere.
Of course, the continuing instability in the Middle East, and especially the development of nuclear weaponry by a number of nations remains troublesome. These events have, unfortunately, continued despite the increasing presence of Russian influence, paired together with a slowly rebuilding Syria and an economically revived Iran.
In sum, our nation has become a crucial guarantor of international peace and stability, even as it has resumed its place at the forefront of global power, influence, technology, and economic wealth. This is at a level not seen since the days of Admiral Zheng He’s legendary voyages with his vast fleets as far as East Africa, back in the early days of the Ming Dynasty in the fifteenth century. Notwithstanding the obvious truth of these important developments, The Economist had still warned its readers darkly, “If China and Russia had their way, might would be right. For the West, that would be a profoundly hostile world.”
The next chapter speaks of the continuing economic challenges facing our nation in this new, dynamic, and challenging era…
Unfortunately, the pages after that sentence had been burned beyond recognition by their passage through the temporary chronomic anomaly. But we can guess their contents, now can’t we…?
SOURCE: DAILY MAVERICK