One thing missing from the movie “Vice” is the Cheney China obsession.
Not just Dick Cheney. Lynne Cheney.
In the movie Lynne Cheney is portrayed as the hard-driving, gender-disadvantaged powerseeker who upgraded Dick Cheney from underperforming smalltime Wyoming sociopath to, well, successful nation-destroying sociopath.
Well, Lynne Cheney was obsessed about the China threat.
In 2007, James Fallows told his readers about a conversation he had with Gary Hart concerning Hart’s stewardship of the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century. The Commission told incoming president George W. Bush the biggest threat was terrorism, a conclusion that was seen as rather prescient at the time. But, Fallows wrote:
At the first meeting, one Republican woman on the commission said that the overwhelming threat was from China. Sooner or later the U.S. would end up in a military showdown with the Chinese Communists. There was no avoiding it, and we would only make ourselves weaker by waiting. No one else spoke up in support.
The same thing happened at the second meeting -- discussion from other commissioners about terrorism, nuclear proliferation, anarchy of failed states, etc, and then this one woman warning about the looming Chinese menace. And the third meeting too. Perhaps more.
Finally, in frustration, this woman left the commission.
"Her name was Lynne Cheney," Hart said. "I am convinced that if it had not been for 9/11, we would be in a military showdown with China today." Not because of what China was doing, threatening, or intending, he made clear, but because of the assumptions the Administration brought with it when taking office. (My impression is that Chinese leaders know this too, which is why there are relatively few complaints from China about the Iraq war. They know that it got the U.S. off China's back!)
Well, concerning Fallows casual assumption that the Chinese welcomed the Iraq war, not so fast.
Because Plan Cheney for the Middle East was founded in the perception of the China threat, and the need to put a chokehold on China’s energy imports.
Robert Dreyfuss wrote an article for The American Prospect back in 2006 (remember when there was actually critical objective reporting on US China policy? Good times!) titled Vice Squad, in which he detailed the Cheney Middle East energy/China fixation:
For the Cheneyites, Middle East policy is tied to China, and in their view China's appetite for oil makes it a strategic competitor to the United States in the Persian Gulf region. Thus, they regard the control of the Gulf as a zero-sum game. They believe that the invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. military buildup in Central Asia, the invasion of Iraq, and the expansion of the U.S. military presence in the Gulf states have combined to check China's role in the region. In particular, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the creation of a pro-American regime in Baghdad was, for at least 10 years before 2003, a top neoconservative goal, one that united both the anti-China crowd and far-right supporters of Israel's Likud. Both saw the invasion of Iraq as the prelude to an assault on neighboring Iran.
In passing it’s interesting to see some current names pop up in Dreyfuss’s account of Cheney’s shadow government. Like Victoria Nuland, who was Cheney’s national security adviser and was supposed to be Secretary of State in the Hillary Clinton presidency. Holy horseshoes! And Aaron Friedberg, who was Dick Cheney’s director of policy planning, is currently a big noise on the China hawk side of things today.
Of Cheney’s two Asianists identified by Dreyfuss, Stephen Yates (ex-NSA, fluent in Chinese because he did the Mormon missionary thing in Taiwan) is out of government and runs a consulting service coyly titled DCIA Advisory and is apparently doing pro-Taiwan stuff interfacing with the Trump administration; and Samantha Ravicher is a senior advisor to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and was appointed by Trump as Deputy Director of the Intelligence Advisory Board.
I’d say that current US China war fixation is built in part on Dick Cheney’s legacy.
What I think is interesting is how this history gets buried in an effort to paint the Chinese leadership as paranoids when it comes to US intentions, or that suspicion about US intentions is a cynical totalitarian ploy to gin up an external threat to justify internal repression.
And you don't have to lean on James Fallows' casual take on Cheney's determination to strangle the Chinese pandadragon in its cradle a.k.a. My impression is that Chinese leaders know this too
Around about 2003, I remember reading in a highly confidential Chinese publication—a CAAC in-flight magazine fer Chrissakes—about PRC anxieties over the “Malacca dilemma”. That’s the fear that the Malacca Straits could serve as a choke point to cut off Chinese energy imports.
This anxiety has informed billions of dollars of Chinese strategic diplomacy and investments from the natural gas pipeline deal with Russia, the crude and product pipelines from Burma to southwest China (avoiding the Malacca Strait, naturally) and the first, quixotic iteration of the CPEC: the idea of either pumping or raillifting Middle Eastern crude from Pakistan’s Gwadar Port over the Himalayas to Xinjiang.
It is one of the great exercises in geopolitical hucksterism abetted by the big media outlets that sold the US injecting itself into the South China Sea disputes and conducting provocative Freedom of Navigation operations (FONOPS) as driven by the desire to protect a vital global commons and US allies from Chinese predation.
Here's my dismantling of Team China War's talking point: Good News World! You Can Stop Worrying About the South China Sea
The South China Sea is vital only as an essential waterway for transport of Middle East energy to southern Chinese refineries. Full stop.
And the main impact of a conflict in the South China Sea would be to discombobulate PRC seaborne energy imports, which is why the PRC is keen to avoid a war in the SCS while the US Navy is keen to incite one.
As to how could a conflict get started? I go there in this episode of China Watch, and note the interesting and sinister parallels between a provocation packaged as a US Navy FONOP adjacent to the South China Sea in 1964 and the current campaign to make the SCS FONOPS more provocative and more likely to spark an incident.
The true story of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, only declassified in 2010 (46 years after the fact!) provides some guidelines on US intentions and tactics when the US Navy is tasked with inciting a war in Asia.
Here’s the link to the Youtube trailer for my China Watch episode 5000 Ways to Die: America Tightens the Noose Around China’s Neck. You can either navigate to newsbud.com to subscribe and view the full episode and the entire China Watch archive, or you can go into the Youtube page description and find a link to rent the current episode on Vimeo.