China’s Game

The US and NATO used Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized a “no fly zone to protect civilians” in Libya, to launch the Libyan war. The war was also a war against China. They had to evacuate 30,000 of their citizens who were fulfilling contracts to develop Libya’s resources. Chinese contracts will probably not be honored when the dust settles, and the Europeans hope to get those deals as their reward for installing the new government. Since it is now clear that the US will use any Security Council Resolution as a call to war, it is surprising that China does not veto all Security Council Resolutions, even ones only recommending that people brush their teeth twice a day. Since they don’t, they must think that there is some language the US will not twist to justify war, and that they can judge the limits of American language twisting? But is this the reason China does not veto any and all Security Council Resolutions?

Maybe somewhere in that murmur that passes for “diplomacy,” China reminded the US that it holds over a trillion dollars in American securities they could wipe their asses with and drop in the toilet if the US ever does anything like that again. That would curb Security Council shenanigans. But that doesn’t sound very Chinese. If they unloaded dollars the dollar would crash and they too would be left holding the bag, or at any rate holding American money, money that the Chinese, like the rest of us, know is worthless but pretend isn’t. Then they wouldn’t be able to pretend any more and they would be stuck with a bundle of shredded paper. With so much American money in their coffers, they have to do their part in the dollar-is-money charade while trying to kite the paper on the down-low. As long as Saudi Arabia takes dollars for oil, China’s stash of dollars will be almost as good as real money. They can’t really afford to just toss it, so any threat they make to dump dollars would not be taken seriously.

So maybe China doesn’t veto Security Council Resolutions because the US is behaving so irrationally that they are treating it as a three-year old with a tantrum who has gotten hold of a gun. It’s doing a lot of damage thrashing around, but if we try to stop it it will shoot the place up. You know, atomic bombs they threaten from time to time to use? So talk gently, promise anything, sign SCR resolutions that are obviously harmless, and above all, stay calm. We have to humor it for awhile longer until its mother gets home.

Or does China do things, like the United States, for many reasons. It seems to be an axiom these days that the US never acts for just one reason, but always for more than one. Just about anything, except to exploit natural resources, can be a reason for the US to go to war. We go to war for anything — except oil. But whatever American reasons for war are, they are not worth talking about because there are so many of them, and they are all so honorable, and it is so complicated, and the fog of war is just so, you know, confusing, and anyway all that is in the past.

But no: China is not vetoing Security Council Resolutions in spite of American linguistic hooliganism for a real reason. Maybe the reason the Chinese don’t veto Security Council Resolutions when the US spins their meanings is that the wars hurt the US far more than China. China lost out in Libya, but the US and NATO are reeling. The war expenses are sucking them dry. I suspect they are going to have a hard time exploiting Libya’s oil. Nobody in Libya is going to believe in European and American benevolence and the Libyan middle class is not going to accept the rabble NATO potentates want to foist on them as a government. Installing puppets ain’t the piece of cake it used to be. Look at the bum’s rush being given to Ayad Alawi, our man in Iraq. How about Hamid Karzai, the mayor of Kabul, who still has the gall to announce he will support Pakistan in a war with the US. Where are the puppets of yesteryear? Libya’s tribalism may cause it to split up, but my guess is it will foment a formidable resistance à la Iraq. NATO can’t afford to hang on. These days countries sometimes resist imperialism better without a central government than with one.

Wars, as they have developed in the last few years, have proved imperialism is now impossible in any decent sized country. The guerrillas will always win because of their technological superiority. With all the new western whiz-bang gadgets, none of it comes close to the effectiveness of the IED, the Improvised Explosive Devise that might better be called the smart land mine. This bomb in the road that a young child at a safe distance can detonate with a cell phone is decisive. For the Imperialist, after winning the first battle, must occupy and patrol the country. Guerrillas with IEDs attacks troops on patrol. Usually there is just that one heavily-armored patrolling vehicle, a lumbering fort to protect against IEDs. With all that armor. it’s not too swift. A pick up truck can easily outdistance it. If the attack upon it misses, the soldiers within are not going to jump out of the vehicle, fan out, and look for a little boy or girl with a cell phone. Who knows what trap is prepared for them? Maybe later, when the guerrillas are gone, they will stomp all over the town, killing and humiliating civilians and making more people eager to kill them. But they will still have to go back on patrol.

The IED is dirt cheap and wrecks vehicles costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. It leaves soldiers with horrible permanent brain damage that requires lifelong expensive medical treatment. The occupying army bleeds expensive blood from a thousand little cuts. Almost anybody can learn to make IEDs, and one can teach many others fast. Day after day patrols go out, wait to be attacked by an invisible enemy, and accomplish nothing. The enemy could be anyone on the street. The soldiers must fear little girls. I tell you, it wears on you. Reporters have chronicled “search and avoid” missions where soldiers negotiated a private peace. Going on patrol through IEDs is offering yourself up for slaughter or vegetable-ism for no obvious reason.

When Orwell killed an elephant in Burma he walked out alone in shorts and a loose shirt with an obsolete rifle into the midst of an angry mob. Then he killed an elephant, destroying a man’s livelihood, even though everyone knew the danger from the elephant was past. His sheer Englishness awed the crowd. Because of IEDs Americans burdened with clanking equipment move fearfully through empty streets and cower behind cover at the sight of a little boy or girl with a cell phone. A conquerer awes, he does not disgust.

As in Iraq, and more and more in Afghanistan, the occupying army is driven into its military bases and loses all control of the country. Soldiers sit by the pool. When they do go on patrol, the pointlessness of their lives slaps them in the face. For what do these hazardous patrols accomplish? Are the patrols just out looking for people who attack patrols?

The moral of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I would bet Libya, is that armies can no longer occupy countries and set up puppet governments there. But the United States refuses to admit that the wars are lost. They continue fighting to convince the folks back home that they are winning. Back in W’s day W’s father’s men told W the war was lost. These were serious Republicans. But no one would listen. The country is bankrupting itself to support a self-delusional mirage. As reality seeps through the tattered curtain, the “leaders” grow hysterical. They plunge into further war, hoping to bully the world into accepting their delusion even as their influence wanes in every country they attack. Is it not obvious that they don’t know what they are doing? America is like a patient who, unable to find or even look for a sensible cure for his malaise, bleeds himself to death. To be sure the cure, though obvious, is hard to swallow. The US must relinquish its empire and with it its control of foreign oil. Denial of this truth has sent the entire ruling class around the bend.

So why should China veto Resolutions to prevent war? Are they concerned with Libya’s fate? Our wars only improve China’s position. Every time we send our armies anywhere, Chinese influence grows. They are ready to build, trade, develop. We only threaten and destroy. In Iraq, Iran won, and China has a large part in developing Iran’s gas reserves. In Iraq we have no influence and a lot of bad will. The dollar is losing value fast and, everyone knows, could flop completely if anyone ever peered to the bottom of the American debt pit. When we pursued reconstruction projects in Iraq, we did so, at best, half-heartedly, and we failed miserably. From day one the occupation was clumsy, stupid, and brutal. China builds successfully. They can easily match our price for Iraq’s oil. They have done nothing to inflame hostility. Why would Iraq do business with us rather than China? Why would Libya?

The supply route through Pakistan to the Khyber pass is long and vulnerable. Already now it is amazing that it remains open at all. Many fuel trucks blow up in Pakistan before they get to the Khyber Pass, but some get through. That must take a lot of payoff. This supply route is the lifeline for the troops in Afghanistan, but virtually everything the US does in Pakistan turns the population against us and threatens these routes. Drone strikes, violation of sovereignty, threats against the nuclear arsenal, and insults to their military and CIA spawned ISI do not make friends. With India’s influence in Afghanistan growing, Pakistan, fearing encirclement, can only turn to China. China has already warned the US that it will consider any attack on Pakistan an attack on China. That is a military alliance. Given Pakistan’s eternal war with India, it makes a lot of sense anyway. All we can do for Pakistan is prop up their army and the ISI with whom we have deep connections. But The US wants Pakistan to attack the Taliban, in Baluchistan, a province Pakistan retains with difficulty. For Pakistan to send troops into Baluchistan is to incite civil war with the Baluchis and Pashtuns. So it is not just the man in the street who is finding American friendship onerous, but also the elites who want to hold the country together. Since Pakistan’s weapons are American, they do depend upon us, but there are other sources of weapons they could gradually incorporate into their military. We are pushing Pakistan right into China’s arms.

Even the American stalwart, Saudi Arabia, must be wondering just what they get from their American alliance. Of course for many years the US ran a protection racket in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia sold oil for dollars and then used to dollars to buy American arms. It was ein gutes Geschäft for the US. And if the Saudis didn’t like it the US could shake up the kingdom, and put a more compliant Prince on the throne. The Saudis even bought fighter planes costing hundreds of millions. Fighter planes are useless in war, fun to fly, and expensive to purchase. But the US can not now risk such a game in Saudi Arabia. US force in the Middle East can no longer keep the vassals in line. If the US did bump the king, the successor government would not be a pro-American puppet.

The protection racket is over. Since it seems that the Saudis are now thinking of improving conditions for their seething and burgeoning population rather than trying to continue to repress them, they would rather not buy more war toys. They probably would also rather not take inflating dollars for their oil. Saudi Arabia slipping out from under dollar hegemony would put the dollar in the crapper for real. To be sure, they fear Iran (actually their own Shi’ite and disgruntled Sunni populations), but fighter planes won’t help there. Their best bet is to improve social conditions. And if they really want to improve social conditions they too might look to the Chinese who have at this time an unbeatable deal on national infrastructure. They really can build. In short, American foreign policy is so astonishingly irrational that China benefits from just about everything we do.

But I think China does care about Libya’s fate. China bills itself as a can-do country bursting with energy, the new United States. So they are supposed to be the good guys. They don’t do themselves any favors by having voted for what happened in Sirte. On the other hand, what salesman can walk into your office and say, “ I just saved your life, let’s do business?” So, again, why don’t they veto all Security Council Resolutions?

Here is a paragraph from SCR 1974, the Security Council Resolution just after SCR 1973 on Libya.

The Security Council,

35.   Calls for full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and international humanitarian law throughout Afghanistan, welcomes the growth in Afghan free media, but notes with concern the continued restrictions on freedom of media, and attacks against journalists, commends the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) for its courageous efforts to monitor respect for human rights in Afghanistan as well as to foster and protect these rights and to promote the emergence of a pluralistic civil society, and stresses the importance of full cooperation with the AIHRC by all relevant actors; and supports broad engagement across government agencies and civil society for the realization of the mutual commitments made, including the commitment to provide sufficient government financing for the AIHRC;

This paragraph 35 follows 34 similar paragraphs, and is followed by 9 more. Dear reader, listen to the voice! When I try to imagine a human being saying these words all I come up with is an aging Caesar who carries out his duties by lifting a chubby finger or frowning slightly. But when he, unlike the Security Council members, crooks a digit, the world jumps. Nothing happens when the Security Council “commends” something. Do those praised feel all warm and cuddly inside? The Security Council actions—“calling for,” “welcoming,” “noting with concern,” “commending,” all one after the other, are the actions of a barely mobile slug that no one pays any attention to. Do the Council members themselves “deplore” or “stress” things at the meeting? The language of the Council from an earlier time was much more robust. Their resolutions actually had real purposes. But I invite the reader to examine all the most recent SC Resolutions here to see if they are not all like this tub of lard.

China does not veto these Security Council Resolutions because the Security Council is no longer an institution capable of action. The US government can twist words into pretzels, but the flaccid Security Council can barely lift a finger. It is a hollowed out nothing, extinguished, finally, in the total mistrust following SCR 1973. The US knows better than to try to use this dead institution again to legalize wars. Libya was the last hurrah for Security Council operations even of that limited size. As the Security Council goes so goes the UN and international law, what is left of it. But we will probably continue to pretend, continue to make flaccid Resolutions, continue to debate international law, continue to slouch towards Armageddon, and continue to look on as the world burns.

MICHAEL DOLINER  can be reached at

Michael Doliner studied with Hannah Arendt at the University of Chicago and has taught at Valparaiso University and Ithaca College. He can be reached at: