Another cold war

Published May 2, 2024

WORLD Opinions

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken paid a three-day visit to Beijing. Admittedly, he was charged with an unenviable task. He was to smooth ruffled feathers and send a firm warning. America, Blinken said, wasn’t looking to provoke conflict with China but also wasn’t going to stand by quietly while the CCP aided Russia’s war on Ukraine, dumped fentanyl into American black markets, and menaced Taiwan with gunboats. When it comes to China, the Biden administration is trying to “speak softly but carry a big stick.”

For the Baby Boomers among us, the dynamic must have an air of déjà vu. According to many commentators, America is in the midst of a new cold war, only with Communist China, not Russia. In a cold war, perhaps even more than a hot, decision-making is clouded by the “fog of war”—what is the enemy thinking? Is he planning to attack, or looking to withdraw? Is he more afraid of me than I am of him? If you act too aggressively, you risk provoking a confrontation that might have been avoided; but if you are too cautious, the enemy may seize crucial ground at your expense. In hindsight, Nixon’s “détente” strategy with the USSR in the 1970s looks sadly misguided, while Reagan’s aggressive gamble to risk open war in the 1980s appears as a brilliant strategy. But both were far from obvious at the time.

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Brad Littlejohn, Ph.D., is a Fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping public leaders understand the intellectual and historical foundations of our current breakdown of public trust, social cohesion, and sound governance. His research investigates shifting understandings of the nature of freedom and authority, and how a more full-orbed conception of freedom, rooted in the Christian tradition, can inform policy that respects both the dignity of the individual and the urgency of the common good. He also serves as President of the Davenant Institute.

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