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A Prophet In Dark Sunglasses

Tom Clancy hasn't written a new novel in a few years, content to license his name out as a franchise and co-author books with those who really have "been there and done that," but for quite a few years the man was golden. His books were guaranteed best-sellers, and -- say what you want about the man -- he knew how to spin a yarn.

One thing that stuck with me as I went through all his novels, though, was his gift for seeing the future -- but not quite perfectly. He was sort of a modern-day Cassandra, foretelling the future guised as fiction, but never quite "on" enough to make anyone wonder.

In 1991's "Sum Of All Fears," he introduces a minor character -- an FBI agent stationed in Colorado. The fellow's name? Bill Clinton.

In 1994's "Debt Of Honor," shoddy consumer goods from an Asian nation kill several Americans, and lead to a trade war that eventually becomes a full-blown shooting war, with the threat of nuclear weapons hanging overhead. The nation is Japan, however, not China.

That novel ends with an airliner being deliberately crashed into the Capitol Building during a joint session, wiping out most of the US government.

In 1996's "Executive Orders" a theologically-driven, expansionist Iran takes over Iraq after Saddam's death and launches a war against the US, using weapons of mass destruction. It's not nuclear weapons, but weaponized Ebola virus.

A subplot features a couple of nutjob militia men who build a big truck bomb and plan to kill the president.

1998's "Rainbow Six" features a wave of terrorist attacks across the US and Europe, but it's not Muslim extremists. Instead, it's a bunch of true environmental whackoes winding up and turning loose a bunch of non-Muslim whackjob terrorists to stir up trouble around the world.

And in 2000's "The Bear And The Dragon," Western consumer backlash against Communist China triggers a massive economic crisis -- that eventually leads them to invading a weakened Russia with the goal of exploiting the massive untapped resources in Siberia.

All these little details, never quite dead on, but they can be taken apart into their component elements and reassembled into a fairly decent facsimile of the real world.

For all his other flaws, Clancy does his homework. I've heard military personnel grit their teeth and wonder how the hell he gets so many details right about stuff he has no business knowing.

Clancy spent several novels building up the notion of Communist China as a threat to the US, and not just economically. He laid out his reasoning from Debt Of Honor, expanded on it in Executive Orders, and brought it to a climax in The Bear And The Dragon.

I think it's the influence of those novels -- and several others -- that have made me so conscious of Communist China's role in our economy -- and politics. (Paging Bill Clinton...)

There's an old saying that "truth is stranger than fiction," and I once heard an explanation for that -- because fiction has to be believable, while truth is under no such constraints. In that spirit, I find myself often looking at fiction for signs of what may be coming -- because fiction writers have to make their stuff plausible and believable, and the best of them know that they can best do so by basing it on reality.

The signs all point to a coming conflict between the US and the west and Communist China. It might be a trade war. It might be a quiet revolution or a bloodless coup. It might be major change in the status quo, where the United States' role as the globe's sole hyperpower might be diminished and Communist China will be recognized as a true superpower in every way. It might be the first cyberwar or space war -- Communist China is making great strides in both environments. It might be an old-fashioned shooting war, or even a full-blown nuclear war.

Similar situations exist with Japan and India, but they don't worry me as much. Those countries are functioning democracies, and while it's not a perfect law, the principle that "democracies don't go to war with democracies" is one of the best rules of thumb around today. They are also far more integrated with the rest of the world, while Communist China remains largely isolated.

I don't like bringing up problems without clear solutions. I like even less bringing up situations where I don't know a hell of a lot, and have to admit it. But the situation with Communist China is too damned big to ignore for the sake of my own ego. If all I can do is start people talking -- quite likely people who do know a hell of a lot more about it than I do -- then I'll do that.


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Comments (35)

Colonel Shaw was the prophe... (Below threshold)
kim:

Colonel Shaw was the prophet.
================

From the perspective of spo... (Below threshold)
Robert the Original:

From the perspective of sports, I know a little about the place.

The first thing to say is that the control of the Communist Party regime is absolute and not much different that that of Stalin or Mao in their day. In all the jockeying for a piece of their market, this is often forgotten.

As with other Communist totalitarian States, China seeks to gain status for the glory of the State. This is as true in sports as with the military and the Olympics will probably be the grandest display ever.

In China, they say that the Twentieth Century was the American Century and the Twenty First is the China Century. This is their plan.

China is one of the few places that screen out potential sports stars at a very young age. Many (millions) are taken from their families and put in special sports schools often far from home.

The sports programs are well-financed government programs helped by strict government control over players. Some of this can be seen with the few released to the NBA. Competing against them is becoming more and more like that against the old Soviet Union. Indeed, most of our amateur Olympic players are self-financed and helped only in part by our US Olympic Committee.

Make no mistake; China is positioning itself to overtake the US in sports as in other things. To do this, it is not above alliances, secret and otherwise, to gang up on the US.

Hard-core capitalists also ... (Below threshold)
gattsuru:

Hard-core capitalists also have problems starting wars against each other or even anyone they're economically tied, if only for the simple reason that it'd get in the way of putting fingers in the pie.

I expect a lot of economic competition, and military spying is pretty well-known at this point, but there's just no reason to bomb people who want to give you money.

Robert mentioning the Olymp... (Below threshold)
DSkinner:

Robert mentioning the Olympics reminds me of an interesting point. I think it was John Derbyshire or Victor Davis Hanson, but someone noticed that within 9 years of hosting an Olympic Games, totalitarian governments fold. Sure it is only two data points, but interesting. The two points are 1936 Berlin Games--1945 Germany falls and 1980 Moscow Games--1989 USSR falls. Will the ChiComs be no more by 2021?

Robert uses the Chinese pro... (Below threshold)
Mark L:

Robert uses the Chinese program of sorting out athletic talent in youth as an example of how China plans to make the 21st century the Chinese Century.

I can think of two Twentieth-Century nations that had such strict regimentation of sports -- and for much the same reasons -- to enhance the prestige of their governments. Those two nations were the Soviet Union and East Germany.

Look where it got them. You cannot find either on a map younger than the youngest voters in next year's Presidential election.

Mark L.True - one ... (Below threshold)
Robert the Original:

Mark L.

True - one can only hope.

While China has to face massive shortages as their boom continues, bad loans, consumer backlash at shody stuff and a currency exchange issue - they do not face anything like the ecomonic collapse of the Soviet sphere...yet.

Hopes of an economic crash, or internal overthrow, are long odds at this point. Best we prepare for the worst.

I think Bush has done a fair job, under the radar, of closing up the alliances with India, Pakistan, Japan, Korea and the Phillipines.

China meanwhile will do business with Chavez or Iran, and spur the third world to mess with us at the UN and elsewhere.

Maybe we should ask Clancy?

I've been saying for a long... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

I've been saying for a long time that China is the greatest threat to the US. Yeah, the Islamic radicals get the ink because their attacks are more messy, but the PRC is slowly and effectively squeezing the economic life out of this country. And between the greed of big corporations and the sometimes-necessity of Americans to buy commodities at the lowest price possible, we're playing right into their hands. If China would ever call in our debt, the economy would collapse.

That is something that terrorists could never accomplish, and China doesn't have to fire a single weapon.

We'd better wake up and build our OWN economy back up rather than sending jobs and cash overseas as fast as we can.

That's an interesting point... (Below threshold)

That's an interesting point, DSkinner... and I find myself wondering how the 1984 Summer Games in Sarajevo fit into that, considering Yugoslavia formally dissolved in 1992.

I say scrap the existing plans. Next Summer Games in Tehran, Winter Games in Pyongyang!

J.

It's always a good a idea t... (Below threshold)
JohnSal:

It's always a good a idea to take a look back at history. The first two WWs were fought against Germany. At that time they had the most educated population in the world, a strong industrial base which could be easily converted to war making, a society steeped in a military ethos, and science and engineering capacity second to none. I admire the rapid advance of China in the world economy but, let's face it, 70 percent of its industry is technically bankrupt, the financial system is drowning in bad debt, the life of most Chinese is still "nasty, brutish and short." Since the Chinese economy depends almost entirely on access to the world market, which brings foreign investment and technology, it is hard to believe that they would, for the foreseeable future, take the risk of jeopardizing that for military adventures with an uncertain outcome. However, a strengthening Red Army and a corresponding weakening of the CP (which may be underway now) is the wild card in the deck.

Paul H.: "the PRC is slo... (Below threshold)
Justrand:

Paul H.: "the PRC is slowly and effectively squeezing the economic life out of this country"

Yup...that is EXACTLY what I thought when the Dow hit 14,000 this week! I immediately started humming "Brother can you Spare a Dime?"

Look...the PRC is in fact a very real threat, in all ways including economically. But our economy IS strong, and all the glooming and dooming isn't going to change that fact.

China is no more a threat t... (Below threshold)
Patrick H:

China is no more a threat than the USSR was. They are a backwards nation that gives us all kinds of cheap stuff for unsecured, worthless paper. How do we get into a trade war with them? Where will they sell their stuff if not to the USA? Also, the old adage applies. Borrow $1,000 from the band and the bank owns you. Borrow $1,000,000 and you own the bank.

Their military means nothing. First, ours is better, second, mutually assured destruction is still in place. If they declared war the US could also void all the debt we owe them and the US is out nothing.

Already their labor is getting more expensive and they're facing competition from other countries.

Finally, their own ethnic divisions will destroy them in the long run.

We've always got to have a boogeyman out there it seems, but it's a new one every couple of decades. Each no more successful or legitimate than the last.

Justrand, the stock market ... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

Justrand, the stock market reflects the economic health of the corporations, not individuals. Obviously there's a lot of profit to be made by importing cheap crap even if it does mean sacrificing both quality and American jobs.

"...we will be at war with ... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

"...we will be at war with the red peoples."

First, China is not backward. In missle and rocket technology, they are right up there with all developed nations with weapons.

Second, they are in the current loop of computer technology. Both technologies supplied by US firms with permission from Clinton. That will come back to bite us.

I remember in the 60's saying "made in Japan" meant it was junk. What does it mean now?

This is a country to be watched closely. They want to be THE superpower. ww

Forget all that........ (Below threshold)
civil behavior:


Forget all that........It's time to go shopping!! China needs the money and it will take all our minds off the war on terror.

I bet the Chinese make a dandy set of new legs!! Complete with futuristic slide walks and flashing lights.......

Hey, think we can pick up a pair or two for that good man GW pointed out yesterday?

While we're at it, drinks for everyone in the house.

One other thing should be n... (Below threshold)
wolfwalker:

One other thing should be noted about Clancy's early novels: he understood the intelligence game better than any other fiction author I can think of. I learned more about the mind-set of the intel agent from Patriot Games than from all the WW2 codebreaking books I ever read.

I'm not sure that any western observer can understand China. Including me. China is the most ancient nation on earth, with a cultural heritage well over two thousand years old. Many rulers have conquered and controlled it. Some ruled it for many generations. Others fell within a century or less. Few have made a lasting change in its culture. One can argue that the ChiComs are something new in its experience; one can equally well argue that the ChiComs are just another dynasty that will fall without having any lasting effects. One can argue that China will follow through on its expansionist threats; one can equally well argue that it will remain insular and react only when others attack it.

PaulJustrand, ... (Below threshold)

Paul
Justrand, the stock market reflects the economic health of the corporations, not individuals.

That is ludicrous...who do you think owns these corporations?

Forget all that........... (Below threshold)

Forget all that........It's time to go shopping!! China needs the money and it will take all our minds off the war on terror.

The left has done a fine job of getting minds off the WOT.

I bet the Chinese make a dandy set of new legs!! Complete with futuristic slide walks and flashing lights.......

What in the world is this gobbledygook?

Here is today's best exampl... (Below threshold)

Here is today's best example of the useful idiot remark; I was going to use Paul's ignorance of diverse ownership of US corporations, but civil behavior snatched the honor right from Paul's hands:

Forget all that........It's time to go shopping!! China needs the money and it will take all our minds off the war on terror.

I bet the Chinese make a dandy set of new legs!! Complete with futuristic slide walks and flashing lights.......

Hey, think we can pick up a pair or two for that good man GW pointed out yesterday?

While we're at it, drinks for everyone in the house.

14. Posted by civil behavior | July 21, 2007 4:21 PM

cb
You truly are worthy of some sensitivity training...I'm thinking your trainers should be the neighbors, friends and care givers of our heros who have been seriously wounded in the War. You disgustingly use their horrible injuries as a prop for your sorry ass joke. And, no, you won't get a " a dandy set of new legs!! " from a Chinese company. However, the very priveleged Chinese can buy what they want from these companies...


http://www.wand.com/core/searchCompanies.aspx?sType=3178377&sInfo=Prostheses+and+Implants

But you support the troops, right?

In the short run, the Chico... (Below threshold)
LenS:

In the short run, the Chicoms could be a threat. But in the long run? Not with their demographic trends. They have a total fertility rate well below replacement levels. They are aging rapidly as a nation. Already, China has an elderly percentage equal to the US and are on a pace to actually start shrinking in population soon after 2025. So they'll soon have the European problem of too many elderly and too few youngsters to support them without the greater wealth that Europe already possesses. The One Child policy has destroyed them and they still haven't decided to end it. Imagine the Chinese govt. going to war when every boy fighting is the sole heir of two parents, four granparents, eight great grandparents..... In a nation where ancestor worship is still a basic cultural belief? Add in the stupidity of selling their girl babies and you get a nation going nowhere fast. The only nations that will soon matter demographically are the US, India, the Islamic world, possibly Africa and tiny Israel.

PaulAfter thinking... (Below threshold)

Paul

After thinking about this for a while...Justrand, the stock market reflects the economic health of the corporations, not individuals..... I was reminded of a WSJ Op/Ed back in the late seventies when Jimmy Earl was pusshing for the windfall profits tax. The Journal Opinion Editors came up with a profound question for Carter, to wit, who actually is Exxon and Texaco and Mobil and SOHIO and Chevron? Who owns these companies and who is the beneficiary of their largess? To the surprise of many on the left and right, guess what the answer was? Labor Union pension funds.

Let's fast forward twenty eight years.Organized labor has shrunk in economic influence since then. Who owns Exxon? Institutions and mutual funds own the company. Who owns these institutions and mutual funds? Individual investors, either directly or by proxy through their agents.

Take a look:

http://moneycentral.msn.com/ownership?Holding=Institutional+Ownership&Symbol=XOM

http://moneycentral.msn.com/ownership?Holding=Mutual+Fund+Ownership&Symbol=XOM

The economic health of individuals is directly tied to, in fact chained to, the the economic health of corporations. What is so troubling about your remark is that you are blind to the reality of corporate ownership and see the corporation as a separate and distinct entity from its owner, the average citizen.


Clarification of above:... (Below threshold)

Clarification of above:

To the surprise of many on the left and right, guess what the answer was? Labor Union pension funds.

The finding was that Labor union pension funds were among the largest owners of said corporations at that time.

Hugh,Funny, you t... (Below threshold)
civil behavior:

Hugh,

Funny, you think I am the one who needs sensitivity training when it was GW's remark to an injured soldier yesterday about how he was going "to get him a new pair of legs" which reminded me of his infamous remark after 9/11 of how we should all"just go shopping".

While I bring forth the obvious absurdities of the latest military social darwinism experiment by quoting the Decider in Chief, it sounds to me like you think those are leadership qualities while mine are base and crass. Hmm, and you think I use them as "a prop for my sorry ass joke"? What was GW using them for then?

Peope like yourself are increasingly intellectually dishonest and obviously do not want to be bothered by the facts that it is GW Bush that has destroyed everything that was ever great about this country and has no moral certitude or enough intelligence to mask his ineptitude.

So don't hand me any bs about how I win the medals for useful idiots. Not before you take a good long hard look at the filthy gangsters that are running this country into a last place finish well behind China and every other country on earth. Your militaristic government is serving at the pleasure of the corporatocracy and your president and vice president want me to accept all their dirty little secrets. No thanks, I live in a moral universe.

Peope like yoursel... (Below threshold)
Peope like yourself are increasingly intellectually dishonest and obviously do not want to be bothered by the facts that it is GW Bush that has destroyed everything that was ever great about this country and has no moral certitude or enough intelligence to mask his ineptitude.

What's the "great" of this country you believe has been destroyed cb?

CBFunny, you t... (Below threshold)

CB
Funny, you think I am the one who needs sensitivity training

Yes I think you're the one...

Hmm, and you think I use them as "a prop for my sorry ass joke"?

Yes

What was GW using them for then?

I'm not talking to him, I'm talking to you. You said it. You own it.

No thanks, I live in a moral universe

Congratulations...now act like it.

Don't hide behind the straw man of Bush and of the corporatocracy and your president and vice president want me to accept all their dirty little secrets

Just own what you say. You attempted cheap humor using our wounded for your lack of words. You parrott Bush as an excuse? Do better. Apologize.

As for the gangster and millitaristic vernacular,keep stuffing that in the straw man you are building. Man up.

Ahhh civil behavior, been o... (Below threshold)
ODA315:

Ahhh civil behavior, been over at Chomsky's house for tea I see.

Jay,Just to nit pi... (Below threshold)
Robert the Original:

Jay,

Just to nit pick, LA was the home of the Summer Games in 1984. Yugoslavia was the Winter Games.

Otherwise the point holds.

There is another possibilit... (Below threshold)
crosspatch:

There is another possibility. The Taliban and Al Qaida finally piss China off and China enters the war on terror as an ally with us rather than face the possibility of a neighboring country (Pakistan) being taken over by mullahs with access to nuclear weapons.

I would say the prospect of the Taliban owning Pakistan's nukes is much more frightening to China than to us. Particularly since China is already having internal problems with muslim agitators.

As China's business interests expand, their interests and our interests become more in common, not in opposition. We both become better off with a stable middle east. Anything that harms us (their largest single customer), harms them. Islamic extremism becomes a threat to them as well as to us. It seems to me that in the long run, the US and China could be more naturally allies than adversaries.

I would think that what Putin is doing in Russia is more harmful to world peace and it could well be likely that at some point the Russia will be seen as the world's trouble maker with the US and China allied.

CB, you are and mostly alwa... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

CB, you are and mostly always have been a demonstrated hater. You GW hate has clouded your mind so badly that you will even use the troops who have lost legs to make fun of them and GW. So pathetic the left is. NO core motivation at all. I distrust all who are motivated by hate. ww

Those countries ar... (Below threshold)
Sam:
Those countries are functioning democracies, and while it's not a perfect law, the principle that "democracies don't go to war with democracies" is one of the best rules of thumb around today.
Sorry, not true. Hitler was elected to office. Other countries don't have the checks and balances that our three branches of government provide. They can switch from a democracy to a dictatorship overnight.

Different topic

What is so troubling about your remark is that you are blind to the reality of corporate ownership and see the corporation as a separate and distinct entity from its owner, the average citizen.

IIRC, the biggest single owner of stock in the country is the California Public Employees' Retirement System with over 55 billion invested.

IIRC, the biggest sin... (Below threshold)

IIRC, the biggest single owner of stock in the country is the California Public Employees' Retirement System with over 55 billion invested.

Good point. And CALPERS has hundreds of thousands of members.

Left of the end of my sente... (Below threshold)

Left of the end of my sentence:
Should say.....

Good point. And CALPERS has hundreds of thousands of members who are average citizens.

Hitler was elected to of... (Below threshold)
John Irving:

Hitler was elected to office.

Sorry, not true. He was no more democratically elected than Saddam Hussein.

WW,My bringng the ... (Below threshold)
civil behavior:

WW,

My bringng the crass remark forward as another example of GW Bush's totally inept, insensitive and psychopathic behavior doesn't change the fact that HE said it does it? He did say it and it was so out of line, so off the wall that noone in their right mind can condone it.

How horribe it must be to have to constantly try to defend the actions of a criminal just because you cannot admit your fuhrer is out of control.

Why don't you ask yourself why so many former republicans are questioning the legitimacy of a continued occupation of this slime that currently inhabits the WH? Is their reversal in their opinion also hatred? What in god's name could you possibly have to lose by coming clean to the truth?

CBMy bringng... (Below threshold)

CB

My bringng the crass remark forward

Congratulations, good start, bad finish. I'm through arguing this thread with you.

I ask just one thing. Support our troops.
We can debate the mission and politics on another thread. But please support our troops by giving them your direct aid and comfort. Consider this:

1) No jokes about casualties.
2) Support Soldiers Angels...they would appreciate even a $5 gift. Their sole mission is to give comfort to our men and women in uniform. Just one pack of hot chocolate is appreciated.
3) Find a local family that has a son or daughter in uniform and try to do something for them....anything...sweep their driveway once a week, carry out the trash once a week, wash their car...anything. Even if you oppose the war, you will earn their gratitude.

Giving of yourself like this will make whatever position you hold reasonate even more. If you are a Veteran, thank you for your service. A Veteran of Vietnam made these same suggestions to me years ago and they changed my life.

TOM CLANCY wrote a novel a ... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

TOM CLANCY wrote a novel a few years ago called RAINBOW SIX its about radical enviromentalists who want to come up with a virus that will wipeout humailty and then watch the rewilding of the earth froma special encloser YES ITS ABOUT EVIL ENVIROMENTALISTS AND THATS WHY IT WAS NEVER MADE INTO A MOVIE




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