A New Cold War, or Will it be Hot?

In response to 9/11, the US invaded two sovereign countries – Afghanistan and Iraq. Neither caused the attacks, but they were proximate enough to became targets for a rampant American militarist fervour. At the moment, Coronavirus is killing as many people as 9/11 every two days in the US. The White House’s modelling suggests this will continue to increase as lockdowns are relaxed. What will this do to the American psyche, always so eager to reach for the rifle?

After 9/11, the US attacked Afghanistan and Iraq. After 30 or 60 9/11s, would they be traumatised enough to lash out again, perhaps against a proportionately bigger target? Both Democrats and Republicans have started to shift blame away from their neoliberal failures and towards China. Global anti-China sentiment, driven by the US, is at the highest levels since 1989. Australia, as always, has remained a willing American lapdog.

Faced with escalating death tolls, American leaders are already playing an escalating blame game. The media, both in the US and Australia, has joined in the recriminations. In the coming months, as more die or find themselves destitute, will the public find China a suitable scapegoat?

Let us look again towards the last comparable situation. In March 2003, eighteen months after 9/11, 72% of Americans supported the Iraq War. A unilateral war against a country which had no involvement in the attacks and no Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Donald Trump has asserted without evidence that CoViD-19 was engineered in a Chinese laboratory and deliberately released. His opponent in November’s election, Joe Biden, has sought to paint Trump as ‘rolling over to the Chinese’. A presidential election held between these two hawks amidst tens of thousands of deaths and skyrocketing unemployment will channel American rage and anxiety towards the only proximate target.

I hope that the US state’s impulse towards aggression can be curtailed, to be satisfied with mere sanctions and bellicose chest thumping. To become a meme, like the revanchist Clintonite fear of Russia. But last time an invisible enemy hit the US, they struck out hard against anybody they could lay their hands on.

The chance of a war between the US and China is greater than it has ever been. Amidst the pandemic and the climate crisis, let’s remember the lessons of history. We do not need to add World War Three to our list of problems.