Opinion / Chen Weihua

US haunted by persistent paranoia

By Chen Weihua (China Daily) Updated: 2013-03-01 07:15

US haunted by persistent paranoia

The United States boasts the world's strongest military. Its defense spending is more than the next 10 biggest nations combined. The US Navy even has the world's second-most powerful air force - behind the US Air Force.

It's ironic then, that every day you hear US claims that their country is being threatened by others. It's like Mike Tyson worrying about being punched in the face by teenagers on the street.

US President Barack Obama and the congressional Republicans he has been fighting with over budget cuts have both stressed the cuts are a grave threat to the US military, despite the fact that education and medical research will also be affected in a major way.

On Tuesday, Obama chose a shipyard in Virginia, owned by defense and aerospace giant Northrop Grumman, to expound on how scary the budget cuts would be.

"The threat of these cuts has already forced the Navy to cancel the deployment, or delay the repair of certain aircraft carriers. One that's currently being built might not get finished," said Obama.

Such claims suggest the unrivaled military might of the US is fighting a world war or about to enter one, instead of fighting guerilla forces in Afghanistan. They also make people wonder if they should be feeling vulnerable and threatened if the country with such formidable forces is panicking in this way.

Such paranoia is actually nothing new. To those who can recall how Americans felt threatened by a fast-growing Japan in the 1980s and 1990s, it will have come as no surprise that a rapidly rising China, which is expected to supersede the US as the largest economy in the next two decades or even earlier, has caused many Americans to panic.

For US politicians and interest groups, it seems the best way to scare their fellow citizens into following their lead is the manufacture of a China threat. From currency and trade to ideology and military spending, both Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney deployed this tactic during last year's presidential election.

Such paranoia is also reflected in the Rhodium Group report released last weekend, which revealed that the US worries far more about the national security threat from Chinese foreign direct investment than European Union nations, which have attracted twice as much Chinese FDI than the US in the past two years.

The US media's scaremongering that the US has been under cyberattacks from China in the past few weeks is just another example of this tactic. It seems to suggest that the cybertroops in the Pentagon, which has many of the world's top hackers, are less competent than their Chinese counterparts, and that their job at the Pentagon is just playing video games.

It is no secret that the US was behind the cyberattack on Iran's nuclear facilities. But in the US you rarely hear this, you only hear that countries like China and Russia are the culprits for any cyberattacks, despite the fact that China itself has been a victim of numerous vicious cyberattacks, including many that originated in the US.

Richard Hofstadter, an American historian, wrote in his article The Paranoid Style of American Politics,published in Harper's magazine in 1964, that American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.

He described this as "an old and recurrent phenomenon in our public life which has been frequently linked with movements of suspicious discontent", whether in politicians' suspicions of immigrants or McCarthyist panicking about communist infiltration.

In fact, China is not the only victim of such paranoia. American politicians themselves have also fallen prey to it. Just look at the hats Obama's opponents try to put on his head: Maoist, Socialist and Islamist.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. E-mail:

(China Daily 03/01/2013 page8)

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