I. The propaganda war escalates
The propaganda war between the U.S. and China has been heating up. Beijing has been engaging in flights of nuclear bombers and fighter jets into Taiwanese airspace and in naval exercises in the Taiwan Straits and has purportedly begun to deploy DF-17 hypersonic missiles on China's southeast coast "in preparation for an escalation in the cross-Straits situation."
For its part, the Biden administration has begun to press NATO and EU members, as well as Japan, Australia, and India, into a new coalition that is intended to counter a burgeoning Russia-China Axis potentially aligned with Iran, Venezuela and North Korea. In addition, the newly minted military alliance of the U.S., UK and Australia (AUKUS) seeks to tighten the ring of “encirclement” around Beijing.
In effect, the US has been training Taiwanese forces with a small contingent of experts, while engaging in provocative Freedom of Navigation Operations to threaten China’s defenses and test its responses. And in what must remind Beijing of the mid-19th century Opium Wars, Britain has just displayed its new HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier loaded with stealthy F-35 fighter jets, in naval exercises in the Indo-Pacific, along with the U.S. and other Allies. In the meantime, the Pentagon has been demonstrating its commitment to Taiwan by the deployment of “unprecedented numbers” of stealthy F-22 Raptor fighter jets on Guam… among other threats.
Beijing’s news media has claimed that if U.S. spy planes fly over Taiwan, then that would represent a step over a “red line”— as if the US were violating mainland Chinese territory itself. And if the U.S. dares to cross this red line, then Beijing will engage in a series of measures designed to punish the Taiwanese leadership—such as flying PLA fighter jets and nuclear-capable bombers directly over Taipei itself. The goal is to pressure Taipei into submission without war, if possible—but war could still be the result…U.S. military and Taiwanese officials have consequently warned of war in 5- to 6- years.
II. The insecurity-security dialectic
This is not really a Huntington “clash of civilizations” scenario, nor is it an End of History clash between Democracy and Authoritarianism—even if such a violent clash could truly put an end to history as we know it—if it goes radioactive. It is instead a clash between the most obese global empire on the planet, the USA, versus the leanest and meanest continental empire in the world, the People’s Republic of China.
A hungry and overly ambitious China subject to the financial crisis is now challenging the distended American empire by attempting to establish a Chinese version of the U.S. Monroe Doctrine in its littoral region—in what ultimately appears to be the goal of reaching the same rank of hegemonic obesity as that obtained by the U.S. after World War II. While the U.S. has the 12th highest obesity rate in the world at 36.2% (after Kuwait and 10 poor island states), China is presently ranked much lower, at roughly 169th place in the world. So, it still has a long way to go!
In essence, Communist elites are seeking sustentative revenge for the 100 years of humiliation placed on their nutritional development in the aftermath of the “unequal treaties” imposed upon China after the Opium Wars with democratic Great Britain, after Russian and German land grabs, and after the horrific wars with Japan—while overlooking the repression of the Mao period.
And while the expanding overseas U.S. empire did not colonize China, nor seize Chinese territory, it did support Chiang Kai-shek after he took over Taiwan. Washington also forged an alliance with China’s arch-enemy Japan, which had engaged in genocide versus the Chinese during World War II. After that war, the U.S. General Douglas MacArthur secretly pardoned Japan’s most heinous war criminals of Unit 731. So much for the U.S. commitment to “human rights” from the Chinese perspective!
After the Cold War, in addition to strongly backing Japan as an ally (one of the healthiest and least obese countries in the world), Washington gradually augmented its support for Taiwanese independence in an effort to prevent China from dominating the Asian-Pacific Sea Lines of Communication. Ironically, both Beijing and Taipei appeared to be happier when the two sides under Mao and Chiang claimed that they wanted to unify all of China, than now when one side, Taiwan, wants a divorce!
In many ways, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) legitimacy has been built upon its claims to unify all of China, while the Party also seeks to prevent other regions, such as Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, if not inner Mongolia, on the mainland from demanding independence and multiparty democracy that could overturn Communist (mis)rule.
The danger is that as tensions spiral—in what I have called the insecurity-security dialectic—that the Chinese leadership could feel compelled to engage in some form of forceful action, such as a blockade, in order to sustain the credibility of Communist Party as well as the authority of Xi Jinping. An unexpected militant reaction on the part of Beijing in backing “red lines” could take place—even if the People’s Liberation Army is not fully prepared for full-scale war with Taiwan backed by the U.S. and its Allies—because Beijing will not want to be seen as the “paper tiger.”
In this scenario, just as Imperial Germany commanders rolled their ‘iron dice’ in betting (falsely) that neither Great Britain nor the US would enter the war in support of France against Germany in 19141, so could the People’s Liberation Army toss their I-Ching dice in the gamble that the US and its Allies would stay out of a war between Beijing and Taipei.
III. The US and Allied Military build-up
After its hasty retreat from Afghanistan—after accomplishing nothing significant in 20 years at the cost of an estimated $2.3 trillion, much of which went to military contractors—Washington, like Beijing, does not want to be branded as a “paper tiger” either. So, the U.S. Congress of Vultures has been upping the ante to counter China’s perceived advantage in hypersonic weapons—in what has been dubbed a war-mongering “Sputnik moment.”
And instead of lowering defense spending, as many may have expected, Congress is increasing it. Instead of voting for a 10% cut in defense spending (one such amendment lost by a margin of 86-332), the House of Representatives actually raised defense spending by roughly $25 billion, while the Senate will probably follow suit.
The fiscal 2022 NDAA now stands at $778 billion after a bipartisan 316-113 vote in the House—where only 38 House Democrats and 75 Republicans voted against the NDAA. This amount is far more than the Trump administration had proposed in its last defense bill!
And now the Senate has to vote on whether it will agree with House proposals in the “conference committee”—a part of the system of excessive checks and balances that could be eliminated if the House and Senate were merged into one body whose members would possess single 6-year terms. The President would also be elected for a single 6-year term as well. This would help to reduce some of the power and influence of the military-industrial complex by making Congress and the President less concerned with re-election2. I liked to believe I wasn’t dreaming!
IV. Obesity and recruitment
And if the US is going to eventually, at great expense, expand the US navy to counter China’s efforts to reach naval parity with the U.S., as some American officials have been proposed, while modernizing the U.S. nuclear triad and developing hypersonic weaponry, the Pentagon will need to augment the number of sailors, pilots, missile launchers, engineers, computer technicians, etc.
So, with the apparition of major power war in sight, Congress is suddenly concerned that U.S. needs to implement policies that will expand recruitment for the jaws of the Pentagon. Yet obesity just happens to be one of the main disqualifiers that has prevented young men and women from voluntarily joining the U.S. military service in recent years.
As the recent Congressional Research Report (December 22, 2020) stated:
…the percentage of military-age adults ineligible for enlistment because of excessive body fat more than doubled for men and tripled for women during 1959-2008. Since 2008, the percentage of obese youth has continued to increase. The increasing proportion of obese American youth reduces the pool of eligible military recruits. This trend may pose particular challenges with recruiting highly-qualified individuals to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Obesity is now becoming an issue that will actually draw the Congress of Vultures to pay attention to at least some health concerns of American citizens—but only because obesity could impact national security! This is true even if very few of those in power have, at least in the past, been truly concerned with the health of the G.I.’s after they returned from Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other ‘forever wars’—wars of strategic choice, not a necessity.
Even after bravely serving the country, a large number of American veterans still do not receive any treatment following diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, from drug use, or from depression. Many of these veterans are in dire need of a full range of health care services—including prevention, diagnostics, treatment, rehabilitation, education, counseling, and community support…
But the veterans of the past wars are not really the concern of the Pentagon or Congress. What is important for the Congress of Vultures today is the health of the veterans of future wars—in other words, future recruits. And what appears really problematic, at least for Republican Hawks, is that the young men and women from Republican Red states in the Midwest and South generally tend to be more obese and less fit for military service than those from Democratic Blue states… even though many Democrats are now Talkin’ World War III China Blues as well…
As the CRS report states:
The majority of military recruits are from the South, followed by the West, North Central and Northeast regions… The Midwest and the South are currently the areas of the United States with the highest prevalence of obesity… Currently, 19% of U.S. adults ages 18-24 would not meet standards for accession to the U.S. military due to obesity.
Almost 20% of all adults ages 18-24 are obese! The American Dream comes true: You are free to eat all you want to eat—no matter whether it is healthy or not! Obesity has become a major issue for military recruitment even if “those who do not meet body fat standards can join the armed forces if they reduce their body fat through diet and exercise.” This is, of course, assuming that potential recruits can reduce their weight! And even if they are able to do so, there can still be considerable health risks and costs for the military once they begin to serve.
Then again, what is needed now in the new “remote” video wars that are to replace the “nation-building” of the Global War on Terrorism is not so much muscular General Issue (GI) grunts to engage in “peace-keeping” and “peace-making” on land. What is needed is high-tech geeks of a digital corps who can manipulate the push buttons and joy sticks for aiming precision-strike drones at enemies in sitting on their rears before computer screens inside command centers… So perhaps a recruit’s size and weight are not so much of a military health concern as was the case during GWOT?
On the other hand, being obese now represents a better way to escape the draft than was taking drugs or shooting oneself in the foot—as was done in the days of the Vietnam era draft. After all, a person can no longer escape by moving to Canada as was true during the Vietnam War.
V. Setting the stage for the draft including women
Not only is the U.S. Congress of Vultures force-feeding the guts of the military-industrial-congressional complex to ostensibly counter Russia, China, North Korea and Iran—it is concurrently setting the grounds for women in addition to men to be drafted into the US armed forces.
The 2022 NDAA that was passed by the House includes a provision that had been approved as an amendment by the House Armed Services Committee, that would require women to register for the draft. At present, men, but not women, must register with the Selective Service System or else face consequences such as losing access to federal financial aid for college. If passed, this law would force women to sign up for a potential draft as well.
Even if 38 states needed to change the Constitution have not yet passed the Equal Rights Amendment in due time since it was proposed in 1972—that will not be a problem. The Pentagon will be happy to sponsor the equal rights of women by inducting both sexes—even if there are many other ways to institute equal rights!
In other words, the first draft since the Vietnam War is stealthily being put into place step-by-step…
VI. War is not inevitable
It is not entirely ironic that the distended American empire, which is also afflicted with an obese population, is now being challenged by a leaner and meaner China in the Indo-Pacific. In 2021, the U.S. is the 12th most obese country in the world out of 192, while China’s obesity rate is about 6.2% of its population and roughly 169th place in the world.
Certainly, the Chinese diet has changed considerably since China’s post-Tiananmen Square resurgence, when gas guzzling cars began to overtake bicycles. And most Chinese are considerably less hungry and healthier than they were in pre-revolutionary times. Yet the country is not fully developed. The Chinese coastal areas tend to be extremely affluent, almost as rich as the “developed” U.S. and European countries. And the People’s Republic now possesses the second largest number of millionaires after the USA. But the Chinese of the interior remain dirt poor.
War with China is not inevitable, but to prevent it, the U.S. and its Allies must use their brains and not just their oversized brawn—and begin to articulate an alternative global strategy. Otherwise, China will have no fear in countering a U.S. military build-up against oversized recruits.
There is a real danger is that a new American draft that would induct both men and women will be interpreted by Beijing (and by Moscow) as a preparation for a major power war. And the majority of Chinese are leaner and meaner and can be mobilized by the Party to risk their lives in the struggle for “national unity” against Taiwan and the U.S. in a spirit of self-sacrifice.
Without a more refined diet of diplomacy, America will continue to throw its bulging military weight around—but with only counter-productive results. To prevent major power war, the U.S., and particularly its European and ASEAN Allies—and, if possible, Moscow as well—will need to convince Beijing that a war with Taiwan is not in the interests of China or the world—that war would destroy opportunities for China and the region to develop to its fullest potential. At the same time, the U.S., Europeans and ASEAN Allies—and Moscow if possible, will need to convince Taiwan to reach compromises with Beijing that do not totally undermine Taiwanese autonomy.
What is needed is the implementation of an Indo-Pacific Peace and Sustainable Development Community, backed by the UN-Security Council, that is aimed at the protection of Taiwan and regional states through multilateral confidence and security building measures—coupled with joint efforts to achieve the sustainable development of the East and South China seas—for the health and prosperity of all.3
Let us hope saner minds can prevail.
1 Hall Gardner, The Failure to Prevent World War I: The Unexpected Armageddon, Routledge.
2 Hall Gardner, World War Trump, Prometheus Books, 2018.