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11.10.13

Machiavelli Versus Sun Tzu

In the 50-year history of the Star Trek franchise, one of the most memorable and poignant lines, packed with metaphor and subtext, was Spock's observation that 'only Nixon could go to China' (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country if you're keeping track).

Indeed, 41 years ago, when Nixon went to China to 'open' the nation to global economic participation, he likely had no idea the can of worms into which he was prying.  To the Western mind, it was a vast supply of cheap labor and a billion potential consumers.

China has always been inscrutable and mysterious to Westerners, not unlike a tiger.  The West was ill-prepared for wrestling tigers, especially the US, which was a mere babe in arms when it came to global hegemony.  The Chinese had conquered the world many times before Nixon boarded Air Force One.  His nation had only shown up yesterday in Chinese history books.

In the 40 short years since Nixon's visit, China has gone from a closed, intensely self-absorbed nation to an economic dynamo sitting squarely atop the globe and directly threatening the century-long plans of the 'exceptional' Americans for world domination.

America's weakness has always been its hubris.  From the days of religious refugees spilling out of Europe to seek peace in North America, there has been an underlying current of 'exceptionalism' in American culture.  When America looked in the mirror, it saw a Shining City Upon The Hill, a civilizing force among nations, a power to reshape the world in its own image.  Balancing precariously on this fragile pedestal, the US has applied its resources and ingenuity to casting a New World Order, with itself as Greek god enthroned on Olympus.  More literally, a new Rome stretching forth its hand to own all it touches.

However, as anyone who has played King of the Hill knows, having the high ground is not enough when you occupy the most desirable position.  Being a leader is a fun place to be, with the perks of power and dominance, but there is always someone waiting in the wings to topple you from your throne, and China has three millennia of experience at doing just that.

China, for better or worse, has sat ensconced on the Eastern hemisphere for centuries.  It has been the center of power, learning and economics on this half of the globe since long before the US ever thought to lead the world.  In fact, it is highly likely that Admiral Zheng He was traipsing around present-day California before Christopher Columbus was even born.

Suffice it to say that China has watched empires rise and fall.  Its own ambitions have touched every continent.  Genghis Khan's Mongol empire, seated in Beijing, knocked at the door of Europe and so scared folks that even today, the expression 'Mongol hordes' still infects the English language.

When it comes to business, the Americans have found themselves outmatched.  Unless you have sat across from Chinese at the negotiating table, you will not understand and fully appreciate the word "ruthless".  When it comes to business, the Chinese will slit your throat while bowing politely and offering soft words of praise on your business acumen.  They are able to scale this technique from one-on-one to nation-on-nation.  Where the US bombs its way into hearts and minds, the Chinese buy and trade, and one can infer which method engenders more loyalty.

When Nixon entered China, he saw himself as liberator.  He was going to undermine the Communist system by showing the Chinese the glory of democracy and capitalism.  Forty years later, the US dangles from a rope and China is tying the other end to the tree.  Welcome to Chinese business dealings.  One can be reasonably sure that when Nixon sat down with Deng Xiaoping, he likely wasn't thinking that the culture behind Deng had invented gunpowder, paper money, state lotteries, and even spaghetti and meatballs - all the tools of US hegemony were, in fact, made in China.  'Opening' China to democracy and capitalism was actually throwing Br'er Rabbit into the briar patch.

One of the US's main strengths, being the new kid on the global block, is also its primary Achilles Heel.  Being new to the list of empires gave the US a certain amount of deference and laissez faire on the part of the world, since it had no operating history, no track record, and folks were willing to offer the benefit of the doubt.  However, this advantage was turned to the dark side and was taken over by greed and lust for power.  Blinded by pride, Nixon marched into China to unwittingly unleash the tiger that would turn to maul the supposed trainer.

Empires are like Super Bowl champions, every year there's a new one, and history is no different.  America got its ring, the trip to Disneyland and enjoyed some endorsement contracts, but this season has seen many injuries and the loss of some key players, so another team has risen to dominate the game.

The US team is a new franchise and has only held championship status once in its history.  The new champion China has been around for a while and has won many Super Bowls before.  Within the culture of the franchise, they recognize that you only sit at the top for a short time before being toppled by the next champion.  While you're at the top, you make a little money, store up some wealth, get a few things done, and then wait for the inevitable losing season.

The US has squandered its position because it has no history.  It forgot its Reformation roots of humility and work, and instead of storing wealth for the eventual fall, it went all-in, like a cocky poker player in a Vegas tournament.  When the deal went south, it could do little else but watch as the pile of chips moved to the wrong side of the table.

The mentalities and strategies of the two sides are vastly different.  The US makes blind bounding leaps throwing caution to the wind and over-extending itself in the quest for glory.  The Chinese advance in increments.  They extend a little, secure and shore up, then extend a little more.  The Americans are brash nouveau riche - spoiled and profligate - while the Chinese are ancient dynasties of wealth and privilege.  The former throws money and caution to the wind, while the latter quietly amasses wealth and fortifies position and influence, yielding when the occasion requires it.

The two sides are like yin and yang.  They are the perfect compliment to each other.  They can not defeat each other, nor can they dominate each other.  They will always return to equilibrium because they can not exist without each other.  In the Chinese view, they are happy to have the flamboyant Americans to hide behind, like a courtier to Louis XIV.  Let the gaudy sun king take all the glory...and the blame.  Meantime, sit quietly behind the throne directing the action and save every scrap that falls from the royal table.  It is the tortoise and the hare writ large.

Indeed, the Chinese and Western banksters are equals, and on the stage of history, it is not the rise and fall of the American empire that is the real drama of our times.  Kings come and go.  Rather, it is the clash of these two hidden powers - the Eastern and Western dynasties - that will be the true action of the play.  Even now, the Eastern bloc is establishing its own system of alliances and finance to compete head-to-head with the mere apprentices in the West.  To add insult to injury, the Eastern dynasties are using the tools of the West against them, like Xiao Lin adepts turning force against itself.  The hapless West keeps throwing empty punches and spends a lot of time on its back staring up at the sky, not quite sure how it got in that position.

For those with eyes to see, it is an epic death match between two fundamentally equal sides - in one corner sits Niccolo Bernardo Machiavelli and in the other Sun Tzu.  Those of us with front row seats will get spattered with blood and body parts, like an audience at a macabre Gallagher concert.  The rock has met the hard spot, the tiger and the bull, and we the world are caught between.  It is not the first time, and won't be the last, but it is the latest event of the season.

It's Rotschildt versus Li in the classic rivalry that has entertained the world for centuries.  Both sides are master manipulators, and both know that empire is just a show to distract from their real plays.  They are adept at avoiding the spotlight.  One side uses the blunt weapons of Machiavelli: the ax, the hammer and the sword.  The other uses the refined weapons of Sun Tzu: deception, stealth and redirection.

Nothing much to do now, but buy some snacks and settle in for a real show.  In the game of empire, these are Princes skilled in the Art of War.