At this point, there should be nothing else to say, given that a discussion concerning the perennial debate over freedom and control – which is the oldest debate in the history of humankind – should bring everything to a close. But one should perhaps try to end this train of thought with a focus on priorities and tradeoffs. And if the train of thought continues, one can always come back and post another essay.
In general, some things have to be prioritized over other things, and often times we have to choose one thing over the other in order to manage a situation properly because energy, resources, and time are limited, not abundant. Everything is about managing the world properly, and managing the world comes with limitations on energy, resources, and time. America’s focus as a major power in the international system is global in scope. But recently, the focus has come down mainly to two issues: China and domestic order and stability.
The question from a government perspective is which of these two issues deserve more energy, money, and time? For one, it depends on which government agency you represent. Bureaucratic politics is a real issue in the United States, if not the most important issue. I would assume that the Pentagon would argue that it deserves more money and resources, because China is such a huge threat to America’s standing in the international system. On the other hand, if you’re in the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), you would assume that you should be top of the list when it comes to priorities, given the threat of political violence on a domestic level and right-wing extremism. But after draining itself over Afghanistan and the Middle East, the whole-of-government is perhaps running on fumes when it comes to dealing with both the domestic situation and China.
Economics – according to certain folks – is defined as the study of scarce resources and the most effective management and use of scarce resources. In my personal view – and this comes without any bias against or in favor of any particular government agency – the domestic threat is perhaps greater than the threat of China. We have to assess China’s objectives in order to understand what it is that they are doing on both a regional and global level. China has two specific objectives which trump everything else: territorial sovereignty (Taiwan) and Southeast Asia. The days of global empires are over. America was the last global empire, and the empire is now lost because of Afghanistan and the Middle East. China’s ambitions geopolitically – if there are any – are regional at best because they understand better than anyone else that the days of global empires are over. China wants Southeast Asia the way the United States wanted the Western Hemisphere when the United States was a rising power in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Thus, if we accommodate China’s two most basic national interests – namely, territorial sovereignty and influence over Southeast Asia – we won’t have any problems with China, and the Pentagon won’t need to drain our country’s resources again by engaging in an arms race with China. We were bogged down in Afghanistan and the Middle East for two decades. It would be foolish to get bogged down in an arms race with China when it isn’t even necessary. Thus, the domestic threat emanating from what could be a right-wing extremist insurgency deserves the most focus out of the two issues that are most concerning for the American government at this moment, namely, China and domestic order. Although an American presence in Northeast Asia is worthwhile to a certain extent, you should not crumble from within because of an external focus. This is called “internal balancing” as opposed to “external balancing.” Thus, America is in a time of “internal balancing” as opposed to “external balancing” if we are going to use international relations parlance. Tradeoffs, tradeoffs, tradeoffs.