It is as though Edward Snowden’s disclosures had never been made, or the US practices in themselves perpetrated. Yet AG Holder with all the majesty of office declares China engaged in criminal economic espionage against America, even DOJ issuing “wanted” posters, pictures and names, of five army officers to stand trial in Pennsylvania for cyberattacks on US corporations and the Steelworkers’ Union. More like it would be, the International Criminal Court issuing an Obama “wanted” poster for war crimes that include intervention, regime change, and assassination, and the World Trade Organization (if it were not dominated already by the US) for the exact kind of espionage Holder charges against China. If we are to be symmetrical, how about a Beijing court issuing subpoenas, accompanied by “wanted” posters for five members of OTNS (Obama Team National Security), say, Clapper, Rice, Comey, Brennan, and Dempsey? The chance of US honoring the request for the extradition of its five, is about as slim as China honoring the request for extraditing, though at a lower functional level in policy making and execution, its five—perhaps selected at random, unless the US has hacked into the computers of, or placed informants in (or both)–the People’s Liberation Army (PLA Unit61398).
But that’s just the point. AG Holder, in announcing, as Spencer Ackerman and Jonathan Kaiman report in The Guardian (May 20), that “the US for the first time would seek to bring officials of a foreign government to the US to face charges of infiltrating American computer networks to steal data beneficial to US trade competitors,” can’t be serious about China’s compliance with his order. Nor printing up and distributing “wanted” posters, a la the Wild West, with the faces of each and banner headline trumpeting charges—both steps calculated to antagonize the Chinese government and advance the administration’s plan of confrontation, bordering, with Obama’s Pacific-first strategy, on military engagement still at this point short of all-out war.
The cyberwarfare issue, as Holder and DOJ have presented it, is a farce. He and the Justice Department are carrying water for the military, edging ever closer to limited armed conflict, with the growing risk of going nuclear. Obama, on his Pacific Rim tour, offered support to Japan over some rocky islands and encouraged its rearmament; he also, among other activities, arranged for joint maneuvers with the Philippines. Like the “wanted” posters, these steps were designedly provocative to draw China into the US power orbit, similar to the way the US has drawn Russia into the combined power orbit of the US, NATO, and the EU over Ukraine. Hence Obama is using cyber espionage, which is broadly construed to include governmental, military, and economic targets, and of which America’s military and intelligence communities are clear masters, as a stalking horse for armed intervention or at least the opportunity for facing down China. The problem is, the US is playing with the wrong party—a foolhardy, disastrous, every-which-way dumb, ploy.
Holder’s charge of cyberwarfare against China, “The range of trade secrets…stolen…is significant and demands an aggressive response,” can only be understood in the context of America’s geopolitical framework on a global basis, in which China replaces Russia as the enemy of the first magnitude, i.e., that which calls for a total response, synthesizing military and economic elements in the containment, isolation, and drastic reduction of power of China. Obama’s “pivot,” perhaps the only transparent thing left in American government, is a multipronged strategy, calculated to antagonize China and otherwise readjust global structural arrangements to ensure the America’s resumption of uncontested world supremacy. The military alliances firmed up in the recent trip, encouragement of Japanese rearmament, the endeavor to stir up further friction between South and North Korea, all appear ongoing–yet with it we have the other prong, the TransPacific Partnership (TPP), not merely market penetration, but the militarization of trade because it is so closely identified with the military dimension of policy.
Despite the Holder accusations, the Chinese leadership appears to be keeping its cool, like Putin also has with respect to Ukraine, a response which suggests the more long-term unification of interests of the two nations (confirmed by Putin’s two-day visit to Shanghai, where he and Xi completed a contract for Gazprom’s supply of natural gas to China for thirty years). US antagonism toward China has facilitated blowback on a grand scale, primarily here, bringing together Russia and China after decades of political-ideological conflict between Stalin and Mao, making possible what America strongly fears, a Eurasian trading bloc which helps to create an independent power center both challenging US unilateral global dominance and thereby laying the groundwork for what I have been terming a multipolar world power system. No, five “wanted” posters did not achieve this result; the dynamics of confrontation were long in coming given the realities of shifting political economies’ strengths and performance, and more, the changing global architecture of economic development, an industrializing Third World and more difficult to characterize emergences to significant power in their own right (Brazil, India, etc.). A hubristic US was, by its own actions, set for a come-uppance. How else, e.g., has China succeeded so well in Africa and Latin America in natural-resources investment and extraction, as well as trade itself? The “wanted” posters merely symbolize the unreality of America’s perception of the world, which is slowly and surely passing it by.
Therefore, the bellicosity. That Putin and Xi are going about their business (a bad pun, but, as the gas deal shows, highly accurate), this positively infuriates Obama, Congress, and the Military, a troika of smart aleck-ness grounded in the use of commercial-financial pressures, intervention, bullying, and always in reserve an overwhelming intimidating military presence in the world. That, however, is no longer sufficient in paving the way for and ensuring the success of unilateralism. Putin and Xi’s calmness in response to US geopolitical assertions of power seems to be meeting with wider approval of the world community, a condition America is loathe to accept, and perhaps cannot even see. Instead, it banks on an unstated psychological principle of its own making: make US unilateralism obvious, flaunt it so that domination takes on the character of a self-fulfilling prophesy; the tougher the posture and its appearance of toughness, presumably the more respect it engenders.
But this armchair psychology sits on a nuclear stockpile, which helps to make understandable the arrogance of charging China with cyberspying when America has set the gold standard—NSA surveillance which practically requires a new arithmetic of scale and scope, the main stem for reaching out to sabotage, eavesdrop, transmit viruses, all in the name of national security and counterterrorism. Apropos of the boldness of Holder’s move, the Guardian reporters write, “While suspicions about government sponsorship of corporate data theft have swirled around China for years, never before has the US formally accused officials from China, or any other government, of involvement.” Why, now? I surmise, because the perhaps still unconscious realization of America’s decline (not only globally, in terms of power, but internally, with the diminished manufacturing base, crumbling infrastructure, paralysis in solving all manner of problems, from policies contrived to create and maintain an underclass to urban decay to alienation and fragmentation defining social relations and the national mood) is forcing the imperialist-military hand mobilized in now-or-never mode. In the case of China, displacing Russia as Main Adversary in a re-charged Cold War, the Washington mentality is that of, strike while the iron is hot, the iron in this case being aircraft carrier groups and long-range bombers in position, along with troop movements, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, perhaps Malaysia, elsewhere, wherever encirclement can be made to take hold.
Modesty, let alone even-handed justice, has no place in calculations about cyberwarfare, the US itself not above conducting economic espionage. For as Ackerman and Kaiman write: “Documents leaked by Edward Snowden showed the NSA targeted the Brazilian oil firm Petrobras, even as the NSA insisted that its Defense Department parent ‘does not engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber,’ in a statement to the Washington Post.” Important here is not the Pentagon and NSA’s obvious fabrication, a denial contradicted by its own documents, but the emphasis on economic espionage as somehow different, and thus excusable and legitimate for that reason, from military and intelligence espionage. US cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities, FBI infiltration of hackers’ groups seeking recruits for a wide range of illegal activities, even though, and especially though, having the Bureau’s support, in which criminal prosecutions are threatened to group members in order to “turn” them as spies, these are drops in the larger ocean of massive surveillance of the American people, signifying the wholesale repudiation and implicit condemnation of civil liberties hardly bespeaking clean hands in the indictment of China’s practices. In his press conference last Monday (May 12) Holder falls back on the platitude, “all nations are engaged in intelligence gathering,” this to then isolate economic espionage as a species of a different order, thereby “mak[ing] this case different.”
Here Keith Bradsher’s article in the New York Times, “For U.S. Companies That Challenge China, the Risk of Digital Reprisal,” (May 20), indicates what America is up against, not reciprocal foul play, so much as a demand for recantation (the US record of cyber spying) and backing down. Thus, responding to DOJ’s indictment the Chinese government—here the defense ministry, in a news release–threw the charges back in America’s face, Tuesday (May 13): “China demands that the U.S. give it a clear explanation of its cybertheft, bugging and monitoring activities, and immediately stop such activity.” Other nations are not so blunt. Sino-American relations, as evidenced, are moving down a slippery slope. (America’s hurt feelings? Unlikely, for the US is impervious to insult, let alone pleas to cease activities, whether carpet-bombing in jungle areas or “shock-and-awe” demonstrations in urban ones.) Putin’s visit to China in the last two days, by serving to ease long-standing tensions between the two powers, applies the grease to make that slope even more slippery—and US military behavior potentially more dangerous.
Jane Perlez’s NYT article, “China and Russia Reach 30-Year Gas Deal,” (May 21), in an opening sentence, captures the changing world political landscape (for The Times, a perhaps unfortunate development, for the rest of the world, outside the US power orbit, at the very least a breath of fresh air): “China and Russia signed a $400 billion gas deal on Wednesday, giving Moscow a megamarket for its leading export and linking two major powers that, despite a rocky history of alliances and rivalries, have drawn closer to counter the clout of the United States and Europe.” What should be said beyond the obvious consequences of a rapprochement, both for strengthening China’s industrial capacity and partially satisfying its energy needs, as well as putting a solid floor underneath a Eurasian trading bloc, is that Russia itself is no longer dependent on Europe as the market for its leading product. Win-win for the multipolar global power configuration. Perlez correctly notes that Ukraine brought China and Russia together: “The impetus to complete the gas deal, which has been talked about as a game-changing accord for more than a decade, finally came together after the Ukrainian crisis forced Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, to urgently seek an alternative to Europe, Moscow’s main energy market, which slapped sanctions on Russia and sought ways to reduce its dependence on Russian energy.” Game-changer, too, just in the sheer size and economic stimulus of the project, calling “for the construction of pipelines and other infrastructure that will require tens of billions of dollars in investment.”
I can hear US policy elites/wonks gnashing their teeth, as Strobe Talbott, president of Brookings and chair of Kerry’s Foreign Policy Advisory Board, said: “The Sino-Soviet rift that brought the two countries to the brink of nuclear war in the ‘60s has been healed rather dramatically.” Both sides deplored US military actions in Iraq, etc., and its unilateralism in general, and Xi, fully cognizant of Obama’s Pacific-First strategy, including the “pivot” sending military “assets” to the region, a context for China’s viewing Japanese rearmament and now, as Perlez writes, “the hard line on cybertheft,” together make their coming together plausible and actual. Blowback, certainly, when intervention signals hegemony, and divide-and-conquer no longer works, leaving American unilateralism stripped bare to mean what it says, one party, here, in the business of domination. Alone. Increasingly resented. Set in its ways, as though a deterministic logic takes hold defining the mentalset—and the bipartisan foreign as well as domestic policy.
Washington’s “wanted” posters, deeply humiliating to China, and done for that reason, is one more straw ready to ignite in a possible global conflagration. Trade actually is front and center, though not for its own sake, as it is for power considerations having strategic and political import. Bradsher again, on US fears of retaliation for its own attacks: “If China has begun retaliating against companies that seek the enforcement of free trade rules, [writes a think-tank advocate for American business, in Hong Kong] as the indictment suggests, that could allow Beijing to begin creating an international trading system in which China has more latitude to pursue its own policies.” Strictly verboten in the American paradigm of global power. Thus we see a stand-off in the making, cyberwarfare itself the plaything of larger forces at work. How, then, does America respond to a nation, fast overtaking it in industrial production and, as in Africa and Latin America, in foreign investment? Under Obama, and thus far the leading candidates of both major parties, the prognosis is not good—for the earth, for humanity, and for Americans ourselves.
My New York Times Comment on Keith Bradsher’s article follows, same date:
Too ludicrous for words. The US engages in massive surveillance at home, eavesdropping on foreign leaders, and, as NYT recently revealed, employs the FBI to gather informers in order to launch cyberattacks. Whoa, more than the pot calling the kettle black, the US stands as hypocrite #1 on this issue of cyberspying. Then to have the chutzpah to offer a fatuous distinction in justifying its own activities–the US “takes the position that it has been spying to gather military, political and economic intelligence…fundamentally different from and less of an intrusion on civil liberties than spying to gain a commercial advantage”–takes the cake.
Spying is spying. Period. Only in the US is “commercial advantage” seen as a more heinous crime than “gather[ing] military, political and economic intelligence.” What this tells me is that the US perceives all too clearly its own DECLINE as a political-economic-ideological power, and hence, is turning to increased MILITARY action to maintain–a losing cause in a now multipolar world–its unilateral global hegemony. Why can’t it live gracefully as a global citizen, rather than engaging in war, intervention, regime change (Ukraine), etc.?
Is it because of an historical tendency–inscribed in the nation’s DNA–toward conquest, xenophobia, racism–combined with the fetishism of/for technology? Snowden deserves a place on Mt. Rushmore, Obama, Holder, Clapper, Brennan, not even the base camp.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.