Niall Ferguson is horrified at the prospect that total Chinese GDP will catch the US in 2017. Let us leave aside for a second the fact that if China's total GDP matches the US', its people will still be less than 1/4 as affluent, or the fact that maybe it would be a good thing if the most populous country in the world had living standards comparable to ours. So far as I can tell, his 2017 projection comes from assuming growth in China will continue over the next several years at the same pace it has experienced since 1989. Such projections are always problematic.
Ferguson is implicitly making two points with this graphic and it's difficult to know which of them is more absurd—the idea that Obama is responsible for rapid economic growth in China or the idea that if he were responsible that would be blameworthy.
The only reason to include this seems to me an echo of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when Europe and America were gripped by a largely imaginary "yellow peril." (see the fantastic 1895 German sketch below, captioned, "People of Europe, Guard Your Dearest Goods!")
Obama, we are led to believe, is standing pat while the yellow peril advances. Cartman would approve. You've gotta love the image of a militaristic Buddah throwing lightning around.
But the premises of the argument are that economic growth is zero-sum and that China is a global military threat. We all know that's not true – and in so far as it may be, Obama's Pacific pivot, and a new military base in Australia, is designed to gently push back. So what we really have smuggled in here is a classic neocon argument for world hegemony … not because we are truly threatened by any force equivalent to the old Soviet Union, Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, but because ruling the world is what empire is all about. And what's the point of wealth if you can't have empire and global power?
I think this is where our disagreement now lies. I've always been leery of foreign intervention that is not meticulously planned, strictly limited in scope and executed swiftly. I let go of that caution after 9/11 for a couple of years and have come to regret it. But to have lived through the Iraq and Afghanistan nightmares and still conclude that we should have stayed in both countries for decades – while lamenting that the US has no imperial talent and has an unsustainable debt – baffles me as an argument. Because it isn't an argument. It's an agglomeration of feelings.