West-East: comments on global tensions

Here are a series of recent articles by reliable observers of global politics that agree that American and Western imperial belligerence is losing and the Chinese worldview is gaining ground rapidly by policies and actions that are not overtly belligerent.

Regretfully, Americans haven't seemed to have made much progress in understanding the Chinese worldview despite Richard Wilhelm's translation of the I Ching (1950) and the many important translations (including translations of four I Chings) by Thomas Clary in later years. Also, there is not nearly enough cross cultural work done along the lines of Longxi Zhang's The Tao and the Logos: Literary Hermeneutics East and West (1992) with its wry comments by Qian Zhongshu on literature, for example that it might take 500 years for a poem to find its perfect reader.

It is ridiculous to continue to regard the China as some sort of mindless, weak Marxist parvenu that will dissolve like the USSR dissolved.and a real businessman like Donald Trump gets his hands on our trade agreements with China. In fact, long ago they made their Marxism Chinese, adapting the German view of the dialectic of history, whether of the Right (Hegel), or of the Left (Marx) to the Chinese age-old metaphysics of change expressed in the concepts of the Tao and the  Yinyang.

The West is not doing well trying to punch its way out of the bag it's in.

It is going to be really interesting to see how Russia, despite Moscow's pretentions at any given time, owing its identity to East as well as West, will navigate the near future. -- wmh


One of Beijing's key foreign policies is no interference in other nations' internal affairs. In parallel, the historical record since the end of WWII shows that the US has never refrained from interfering in other nations' internal affairs. -- Pepe Escobar, Opednews.com, 1-23-19


Fast forward to Venezuela this week when the US, along with the UK, Canada and a bevy of South American states, declared that the opposition leader Juan Guaido is the country’s legitimate ruler, replacing President Maduro.

The UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said the hitherto little known Guaido was the right person to take the country forward, though there is no obvious reason to think so. On the contrary, we are seeing the same sort of crude imperial overreach producing failed states and chaos that brought calamity to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. The terrible lesson of the rise and fall of Isis has taught leaders in Washington and London very little. -- Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, 1-26-19.




Consortium News

Mike Pompeo’s Deranged Foreign Policy

Lawrence Davidson


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo started out the new year—the date was January 10—preaching “the truth” about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and for reasons we will get to below, he chose to do so at the American University in Cairo, Egypt (AUC). He implied that he was particularly capable of discerning the truth because he is “an evangelical Christian” who keeps a “Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and His Word, and The Truth.” This confession indicates that Mr. Pompeo is wearing ideological glasses through which he cannot possibly see the world, much less the Middle East, in an objective fashion. We can assume that the decidedly unthinking and amoral president he serves has no problem with this prophet in the State Department because Pompeo is one of the few cabinet ministers whom President Trump has not fired.

So what are Mr. Pompeo’s versions of foreign policy truth? In terms of his Cairo pronouncements, they are twofold. First, as is to be expected of a man of Mr. Pompeo’s temperament (he declared: “I am a military man” who learned his “basic code of integrity” at West Point), he has identified the true enemy of the civilized world. And, again not unexpectedly given his Christian zealotry, the enemy is of Muslim origin. It is the “tenacious and vicious” cabal of “radical Islamism, a debauched strain of the faith that seeks to upend every other form of worship or governance.”

This initial “truth” is noteworthy for what it does not take into consideration, such as traditional U.S. alliances with brutal and corrupt military or monarchical dictatorships. Any move to reduce support for such regimes in the Middle East is, in Mr. Pompeo’s view, a “misjudgment” that must have “dire results.” As long as these dictatorships oppose what Mr. Pompeo opposes, their brutality and corrupt nature can be judged acceptable. For example, Pompeo praised his host, the military dictator of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil El-Sisi, who is an archetypical example of this murderous breed of ruler. He praised El-Sisi exactly because he has joined the U.S. in the suppression of “Islamists.” The Egyptian dictator, in Pompeo’s words, is “a man of courage.”

Mr. Pompeo’s second “truth” is the self-evident fact of American exceptionalism. He told his listeners that “America is a force for good in the Middle East.” Pompeo does not articulate the reference, but his claim taps into the Christian image of the U.S. as “a shining city on the hill”—a God-blessed light unto the nations. This was one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite themes.

As proof of American’s alleged beneficence, Pompeo makes a series of dubious claims about the behavior of the United States government. Here are a few of them.The comments within brackets are those of this author:

“For those who fret about the use of American power, remember this: (1) America has always been, and always will be, a liberating force.” [Since World War II we have been liberating dictators from their own rebelling people] “We assembled a coalition to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein.” [The subsequent two Gulf Wars plus the U.S. imposed sanctions regime killed at least half-a-million Iraqis]; (3) “And when the mission is over, when the job is complete, America leaves.” [Unless the “liberated” countries’ government wants Washington to establish bases which, it seems, they almost always do. The U.S. now has some 800 military bases in 70 countries around the world.] (4) The U.S. and its allies helped destroy most of ISIS, and in the process “saved thousands of lives.” [There is no official number for the civilians killed in the so-called war on terror, of which the campaign against ISIS is but a part. However, there is no doubt that, to date, it is at least in the high hundreds of thousands. ] “Life is returning to normal for millions of Iraqis and Syrians.”
[Unless you have a really perverse definition of “normal,” this is a total fantasy.]

Part II—Rescuing Foreign Policy

According to Mr. Pompeo, achievements 4 and 5 are due to the “fact” that President Donald Trump rescued U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Rescued? Rescued from what? From the foreign policy of Barack Obama, of course. “America, your long-time friend, was absent too much. Why? Because our leaders gravely misread our history, and your historical moment. These fundamental misunderstandings, were set forth in this city in 2009.” That claim was a direct reference to President Obama’s speech calling for a “new relationship with the Muslim world” delivered on 4 June 2009, at nearby Cairo University. That is why Pompeo came to Egypt to make his speech, which is in essence, an indictment of Obama’s foreign policy.

In brief, in 2009 President Obama, who also claimed in his Cairo talk to be speaking the truth, had referenced the negative impact of Western imperial and colonial history toward the Middle East, and then took a pro-democracy stance that, if carried into policy, would have weakened support for traditional dictatorships in places like Egypt. Obama saw a connection between the brutality of such dictatorships and the spread of religious fanaticism—a connection that was stronger than “radical Islamist” ideology alone. Obama also implied that President George W. Bush’s post 9/11 policy, which led not only to the unnecessary invasion of Iraq, but also to a policy of official torture, resulted in the United States “acting contrary to our ideals.” In addition, Obama was ready to negotiate with those seen as enemies by Pompeo, as symbolized by his willingness to make a deal with Iran.

Pompeo, the Christian zealot who sees the U.S. as incapable of doing ill, cannot objectively consider or perhaps even understand Obama’s positions. He dismisses them as a “misreading” of history. Obama’s brief and, in truth, largely ineffective, wavering from traditional Middle East foreign policy had, in Pompeo’s view, introduced “the age of self-inflicted American shame.” If Mr. Pompeo is short on historical understanding, he is long on hyperbole.

Part III—Retreat And Chaos

One of Pompeo’s more disquieting propositions is that “when America retreats, chaos often follows.” Alas, at least in the Middle East, the exact opposite is true—chaos comes from invasion. This can be demonstrated by the consequences of the actions of President George W. Bush. It was Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the results of which were predictable, that opened the region to chaos, including the growth of ISIS. The Iraq invasion also opened the flood gates of an ongoing refugee crisis (which the Syrian civil war—arguably prolonged by U.S. involvement—made even worse). Subsequent intervention in Libya, under President Obama’s watch, only intensified the turmoil. However, none of these actions, or the misery they inflicted, seems have bothered the Christian sensibilities of Mr. Pompeo.

Part IV—Conclusion

Examining the history of events can give us guides, albeit imperfect ones, for present policies and behaviors. A necessary precondition to making the most of this examination is the ability to do so as objectively as possible. Otherwise, to use Pompeo’s phrasing, we end up “making bad mistakes.” Part of the process is to be able to recognize the actual causes of events and to know when to discard traditional practices that no longer take you where you want to go.

Yet here is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisting, on the one hand, on maintaining outworn policies that support dictators. These policies have not produced the stability he thinks they have, but have rather helped bring about the very chaos he attributes to President Obama. On the other hand, his Christian fundamentalism has blinded him to any objective understanding of Middle East history and America’s role in that region. That is why he ends up stating contradictions. For instance, toward the end of his talk he tells us (1) “the Trump administration will also continue to press for a real and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians” and (2) “we’ve adhered to our word. President Trump campaigned on the promise to recognize Jerusalem—the seat of Israel’s government—as the nation’s capital. In May, we moved our embassy there.” Those two statements are in direct contradiction to each other. However, Pompeo misses this fact entirely. This is a product of ideology compounded by ignorance.

This being the case, Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump make for strange bedfellows. Of course, both are ignorant. But, the nearest thing Trump has to an ideology is his egotism and that infamous “gut” of his that ostensibly tells him what is right and wrong. He certainly is not a believing Christian nor even an American chauvinist, but rather he is a personal chauvinist who thinks of himself as a personification of the U.S.

If Pompeo and Trump share anything (besides ignorance), it seems to be a firm dislike for everything connected to Barack Obama. We know that Trump may well be obsessed with Obama, perhaps for racist reasons. As one Democratic Party adviser has noted, “His [Trump’s] only guiding principle seems to be to undo what Obama did. His driving motivation seems to be his animosity towards Obama.” Mike Pompeo seems in lockstep with his boss in this regard. After all, Pompeo went out of the way to indict Obama, blaming him for the death of thousands, and doing so in the same city where Obama gave his most promising Middle East initiative. Pompeo’s actions in this regard were personal and spiteful.

So here we have it. What motivates Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: (1) Christian zealotry (2) American exceptionalism and (3) a personal dislike of the first Black president of the United States. In terms of the position he holds in the government, this is a losing combination for the rest of us. Personally, I would not trust this man to guide the ongoing relationships between me and my neighbors, so you can imagine my horror at having to put up with him as Secretary of State.


About Lawrence Davidson

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 


Westphalian state system



Term used in international relations, supposedly arising from the Treaties of Westphalia in 1648 which ended the Thirty Years War. It is generally held to mean a system of states or international society comprising sovereign state entities possessing the monopoly of force within their mutually recognized territories. Relations between states are conducted by means of formal diplomatic ties between heads of state and governments, and international law consists of treaties made (and broken) by those sovereign entities. The term implies a separation of the domestic and international spheres, such that states may not legitimately intervene in the domestic affairs of another, whether in the pursuit of self‐interest or by appeal to a higher notion of sovereignty, be it religion, ideology, or other supranational ideal. In this sense the term differentiates the ‘modern’ state system from earlier models, such as the Holy Roman Empire or the Ottoman Empire.

Richard Coggins




All under Heaven, China's challenge to the Westphalian system

Pepe Escobar              



Beijing is tweaking the rules of the Western order to reflect its revitalized geopolitical and economic power, but some Americans see this as a threat to their way of life

Embedded in the now dominant US narrative of "Chinese aggression," Sinophobes claim that China is not only a threat to the American way of life, but also an existential threat to the American republic.

It's worth noting, of course, that the American way of life has long ceased to be a model to be emulated all across the Global South and that the US walks and talks increasingly like an oligarchy.

Underneath it all is a huge divide, in outlook and cultural beliefs, between the two great powers, as some leaders and writers have attempted to explain.

President Xi Jinping's speech last week does make it clear that Beijing is engaged in tweaking the rules of the current Westphalian system to truly reflect its reconquered geopolitical and economic power.

Yet it's hardly a matter of "overthrowing" the system established by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. As much as trade blocks are ruling the new geoeconomic game, nation-states are bound to remain the backbone of the international system.

One of Beijing's key foreign policies is no interference in other nations' internal affairs. In parallel, the historical record since the end of WWII shows that the US has never refrained from interfering in other nations' internal affairs.

What Beijing is really aiming at is what Professor Xiang Lanxin, director of the Center of One Belt and One Road Studies at the China National Institute for SCO International Exchange and Judicial Cooperation, referred to at a crucial intervention during the June 2016 Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore.

Lanxin defined the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as being an avenue to a "post-Westphalian world," in a sense of a true 21st century geoeconomic integration of Eurasia acted out by Asian nations. That's the key reason why Washington, which set the current international rules in 1945, fears BRI and now demonizes it 24/7.

Understanding Tianxia

The notion that imperial China, over the centuries, obtained a Mandate of Heaven over Tianxia, or "All under Heaven," and that Tianxia is a "dictatorial system" is absolute nonsense. Once again that reflects the profound ignorance by professional Sinophobes about the deepest strands of classical Chinese culture.

They could do worse than learn about Tianxia from someone like Zhao Tingyang, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and author of an essential book first published by China CITIC Press in 2016, then translated into French last year under the title Tianxia: Tous sous un meme ciel.

Tingyang teaches us that the Tianxia system of the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BC) is essentially a theory -- a concept born in Ancient China but not specific to China that goes way beyond the country to tackle universal problems in a "process of dynamic formation that refers to globalization."

This introduces us to a fascinating conceptual bridge linking ancient China to 21st-century globalization, arguing that political concepts defined by nation-states, imperialisms and rivalries for hegemony are losing meaning when faced with globalization. The future is symbolized by the new power of all-inclusive global networks which is at the center of the BRI concept.

Tingyang shows that the Tianxia concept refers to a world system where the true political subject is the world. Under the Western imperialist vision, the world was always an object of conquest, domination and exploitation, and never a political subject per se.

So we need a higher and more comprehensive unifying vision than that of the nation-state under a Lao Tzu framework: "To see the world from the point of view of the world."

You are not my enemy

Plunging into the deepest roots of Chinese culture, Tingyang shows the idea that there's nothing beyond Tianxia is, in fact, a metaphysical principle, because Tian (heaven) exists globally. So, Tianxia (all under Heaven), as Confucius said, must be the same, in order to be in accordance with heaven.

Thus the Tianxia system is inclusive and not exclusive; it suppresses the idea of enemy and foreigner; no country or culture would be designated as an enemy, and be non-incorporable to the system.

Tingyang's sharpest deconstruction of the Western system is when he shows how the theory of progress, as we know it, clings to the narrative logic of Christianity; then "that becomes a modern superstition. The me'lange is neither scientific or theological it's an ideological superstition."

From the point of view of Chinese intellectual and cultural traditions, Tingyang shows that since Christianity won over pagan Greek civilization, the West has been driven by a logic of combat. The world appears as a bellicose entity, with groups or tribes opposing one another. The (Western) "mission of conquering the world destroyed the a priori integrity of the concept of 'world'. The world lost its sacred character to become a battlefield devoted to the universal accomplishment of Christianity. The word became an object."

So we came to a point where a hegemonic system of knowledge, via its mode of diffusion and monopoly of the rules of language, propagates a "monotheist narrative on everything, societies, history, life, values."

This system "interrupted knowledge and the historical thread of other cultures." It dissolved other spiritual worlds into debris without meaning, so they would lose their integrity and sacredness. It debased "the historicity of all other histories in the name of faith in progressivism (a secular version of monotheism)." And it divided the world into center and periphery; an "evolved" world which has a history contraposed to a stagnated world deprived of history.

This hardly differs from other major strands of criticism of Western colonialism to be found all across the Global South.

Yin and yang

Tingyang finally reverts to a Lao Tzu formula. "According to the Way of Heaven, excess is diminished and insufficiencies compensated." And that ties in with Yin and Yang, as referred to in the Book of Mutations of Zhou; "Yin and Yang is a functional metaphor of equilibrium, meaning that the vitality of every existence resides in dynamic equilibrium."

What irks the Sinophobes is that Tianxia, as explained by Tingyang and adopted by the current Beijing leadership, striving towards a real "dynamic equilibrium" in international relations, poses a serious challenge to American leadership in both hard power and soft power.

It's under this framework that Foreign Minister Wang Yi's crucial, wide-ranging commentary on Xi Jinping's diplomatic strategy must be interpreted. Wang stressed how Xi "has made innovations on and transcended the traditional Western theories of international relations for the past 300 years."

The Chinese challenge is unprecedented and no wonder Washington, in tandem with other Western elites, is stunned. In the end, it's a matter of positioning Tianxia as a superior promoter of "dynamic equilibrium" in international relations in comparison with the Westphalian system.

As a result, immense political and cultural repercussions may be lost in translation, and China needs some serious soft power to get its point across.

Yet instead of producing reductionist diatribes, this process should galvanize a serious global debate in the years to come.