Commentary

Time for China Hawks to Chill Out

With his latest comic novel, They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, Christopher Buckley has done the truly improbable: He’s made neoconservative war-mongering funny. And, er,… sexy:

“Tall, blond, buff, leggy, miniskirted: Angel Templeton was hardly your typical Washington think-tank policy wonk. For the cover of her most recent book, The Case for Preemptive War: Taking the ‘Re-’ Out of Retaliation, she posed in a red, white, and blue latex dominatrix outfit. With riding crop.”

This formidable Foxbot, the “directrix” of the “Institute for Continuing Conflict,” forms a conspiracy of two with defense lobbyist Walter “Bird” McIntyre in order to gin up a pretext for a new Cold War with China. The CEO of defense contractor “Groepping-Sprunt” puts it plainly: “Bird, we need to educate the American people as to the true nature of the threat we face. If we can do that, then those limp [appendages] and fainting hearts and imbeciles in the United States Congress — God love them — will follow.”

[A] Cold War with China is a silly idea.”

This novel could hardly be more timely. Republican nominee Mitt Romney has adopted a distinctly hawkish posture toward China, and the Obama administration announced Saturday that its “pivot toward Asia” will have 60 percent of the U.S. fleet stationed in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020.

Angel and Bird’s scheme involves planting a story that China is trying to poison the Dalai Lama — a plot device that seems almost pedestrian next the Buck-Rogers-style scenarios that addle the neoconservative imagination in real life.

Indeed, in D.C., reality outruns satire. Uber-hawk Max Boot once warned in the LA Times that China may be looking into “creating man-made earthquakes” as a way of fighting an asymmetric war against the United States: “Once you know what to look for,” he wrote, “the pieces fall into place with disturbing ease.”

The Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney worries that China might fry our circuits with an electromagnetic pulse weapon, bringing the U.S. economy to a halt — an odd move, you’d think, for the country that holds the largest share of our national debt. But who knows? The Heritage Foundation recently hosted a book forum for Kevin D. Freeman’s “Secret Weapon: How Economic Terrorism Brought Down the U.S. Stock Market,” which identifies China as one of the suspects behind the 2008 financial collapse. (And you thought it was Fannie Mae).

Bird’s motive for stoking war fever is financial — his free-spending trophy wife has put him deep into debt. The leggy Angel, like her less glamorous real-life counterparts, is driven by ideological passion.

Her maxim might be, “War is Swell.” It’s a bracing tonic for the national spirit and an indispensable spur to national greatness.

“Winning the Cold War was the worst thing we could have done,” Angel grouses at one point.

But a Cold War with China is a silly idea. The PRC has ramped up military spending in recent years, but it started work on its first aircraft carrier only last year. It lags far behind the United States, which spends 5 percent of its GDP on the military, 47 percent of the global total. The nations with the greatest interest in, and ability to check a rising China — Japan, South Korea and Taiwan — spend 1 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent of their GDP on defense, respectively.

If China needs to be contained, there’s no reason the long-suffering U.S. taxpayer should have to bear the burden or the front-line risk of such a conflict.

“Not for them, dwelling on disasters,” Buckley writes of the neocons: “No. Pass the ammo, pass the hors d’oeuvres, and on to the next calamity!” Still, Buckley’s novel has a happy ending: Cooler heads prevail, and calamity is averted. Here’s hoping we do the same.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power.