- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 10, 2006

SHOWDOWN: WHY CHINA WANTS WAR WITH THE UNITED STATES

By Jed Babbin and Edward Timperlake

Regnery, $27.95, 226 pages

REVIEWED BY LARRY THORNBERRY

“Showdown” is a warning. An international wake-up call. Jed Babbin and Edward Timperlake, Washington hands with extensive military and international relations backgrounds, have built a strong case that war or very serious conflict between the United States and China — sooner rather than later — is somewhere between damned likely and inevitable.

The second Cold War, this one with China, is already underway, though it often takes those in Washington years to realize someone is waging war against us (see Islamo-jihadists in the nineties). Mr. Babbin and Mr. Timperlake argue that this new Cold War stands a much better chance of turning hot than the late but not lamented Cold War between that World War II odd couple, the United States and the Soviet Union.

After going a couple of fairly intense rounds with China in Korea in 1950, Americans have gotten used to not worrying much about Communist China (in fact, in polite circles it’s considered less than polite to refer to the Chinese as communists, which they are). China, after all, is a poor, technologically backward country with a huge population that couldn’t threaten anyone. Right?

Not any more. This is not your father’s China, and ignoring China is rapidly moving from merely out-of-date to downright perilous.

Mr. Babbin was an Air Forge JAG officer and was deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H. W. Bush administration. He writes a regular column on military matters — “Loose Canons” — for the American Spectator. His books include a New York Times bestseller on the shortcomings of the U.N. and Old Europe, “Inside the Asylum,” and the previously mentioned novel.

Mr. Timperlake is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a former Marine fighter pilot. He’s held national security positions in Congress and at the Pentagon. His previous books include an astringent treatment of Bill Clinton’s approach to American security, “Year of the Rat,” and Red Dragon Rising,” on Communist China’s military buildup.

The authors describe how China under Hu Jintao is undergoing a huge Great Leap Forward militarily and technologically. The leap comes with the help of Western countries — including the U.S. during the Clinton years — which have shown themselves willing, often eager, to sell the Chinese anything they want, including sensitive military technology. China’s very competent spies steal most of what else they need.

China is industrializing rapidly and finds itself in competition with the West for resources, particularly oil. It’s hard to miss the parallels between the American and Chinese relationship now, and that between the United States and Japan in the 1930s. Another industrial country and police state badly needs the resources that are going to the West in order to feed its large population, meet its industrial needs and satisfy it huge ego.

Along with its technological base, China is engaging in a military buildup that is larger, more intense, and is taking place more rapidly than anything the world has seen since Germany under Corp. Schicklgruber in the 1930s. As the Chinese have no regional enemies they need to defend themselves against, the only reasonable conclusion is that this military buildup is for strategic and offensive purposes (though count on the U.S. State Department to ignore this conclusion as long as possible, then switch to appeasement).

The current Chinese military is large, modern, and formidable. (“Showdown” has the facts and figures on what they have.) You’d have to say they’re playing triple-A ball right now. China’s military will only become more formidable as time goes by.

The authors make the case that as China becomes stronger militarily, it will be a more confident and persuasive player in the Middle East and other resource-rich and strategic choke points. How difficult will it be to convince already anti-American oil despots like Hugo Chaves in Venezuela to sell oil to China rather than to the United States? If we try to interfere with this resource grab, China is prepared and willing to take us on.

Of course, the mainland Chinese remain very scratchy about Taiwan. Mr. Babbin and Mr. Timperlake suggest China will soon be strong enough to have its way in the Formosa Strait.

As a book, “Showdown” takes an unusual form. Fore and aft it’s fairly straight-forward analysis and polemic. Sandwiched in the middle are fictional accounts of how war between China and the West might break out and what courses it might take. (In these accounts are some of the characters from Mr. Babbin’s previous political novel “Legacy of Valor.”) These accounts are of no particular literary value, but they do give readers a different kind of look and feel for the potential dangers. A look that is beyond the scope of straight analysis.

Mr. Babbin and Mr. Timperlake have military backgrounds, so their warriors come off much better than the politicians and diplomats in the fictional accounts. These latter two categories spend most of their time denying the problem, dithering when they can no longer deny it, finding ways to appease rather than confront threats, or parsing polls to the third decimal place. (Sound familiar?)

There’s some dark humor in the fictional accounts surrounding a woman president named Dorothy Clutterbuck. Any similarity between this fictional president and any real politician who wants (really badly) to be president is, well, purely intentional.

For those who feel their plate is full enough worrying about a deadly and almost certainly long-running conflict with Islamo-jihadists, the message of “Showdown” will hardly be comforting. But the authors’ arguments are compelling and their book is worth reading.

Larry Thornberry is a writer living in Tampa.

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