Friday, June 30, 2006

The Incredible Idiocy of "Panda Sluggers"

Do I trust China? Of course not. Do I think they could be dangerous? Yes. Do I think they are that dangerous right now? Not really (except to Taiwan). However, the most irritating thing about China is its ability to keep a certain amount of nutty ideologue, the China hawk, in business. Whenever I go on one of my tirades about how absurd it is that there are weapons systems for everything from new submarines to new fighter planes when we are in budget deficits and fighting an urban war that those things have about zero practical use in, some interlocutor will often start spinning China hawk bullshit. They will begin to say we need to have such absurd weapons in order to counter future threats from China. As we STILL have the number one Air Force and Navy in the world and China is still decades and decades behind, I've always found that sort of argument a bit laughable. Why not make the same argument about the future air power of Venezuala? Or Cuba? Sure they're a little more behind, but what's a few decades here and there? Well these China hawks get a better takedown than I could imagine, and a spiffy new moniker, "Panda Sluggers" (because these people tend to call those who don't want a war with China "Panda Huggers") right here, especially current DoD golden boy and slugger-supreme, Michael Pillsbury.

Pillsbury dwells on the far-hawkish end. Where others view China's intentions as complicated, Pillsbury says that Beijing views the United States as an "inevitable foe." ("He makes simple what is not simple," says Mark Pratt, a former State Department official who has known Pillsbury for over 30 years.) Where others debate the merits of hedging, Pillsbury feels that things haven't gone far enough. "The U.S. can do much more to hedge in the next few years if the Chinese do not end their excessive military secrecy and begin to reassure their neighbors," he recently told The Wall Street Journal. And where nearly everyone agrees that China is far behind the United States in military capacity, Pillsbury has been among the first, and the few, to argue that Beijing is preparing for an asymmetric military conflict with the United States in which it would draw on secret "assassin's mace" weapons. The term "assassin's mace," more commonly translated as "trump card" (shashoujian) is, according to Pillsbury, integral to a Chinese notion of "inferior defeats superior." (The Pentagon's most recent annual report to Congress on China's military from May 2006 includes the term, mentioning Chinese efforts to exploit "perceived vulnerabilities of potential opponents--so-called Assassin's Mace [sha shou jian] programs.") An "assassin's mace" might take the form of a computer application, for instance, that would take over an enemy information system, rendering a foe the victim of his own dependence on technology. In Pillsbury's telling, China intends to leapfrog ahead in battle readiness by using assassin's-mace weapons to find breaches in U.S. armor. Moreover, he implies, they could be ready at any time.

The article goes on to portray the shoddy methods of Pillsbury and his shriller-by-the-minute proclamation of impending war, and basically expose him for the grandstander he is. More commentary from Drum and Yglesias, but I think Yglesias is especially onto something. The reason Pillsbury and his ilk have any credibility can be found in the support this line of argument gives to a booming industry in Cold War-style weapons systems that have already become useless for the most part, and will continue to do so. The fact that there is no counter-lobby basically guarantees their continued existence as well, even though their arguments make little sense and have almost no backup besides paranoid speculation.