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Does a New Book on the China Threat Preview a Second Trump Presidency?

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Does a New Book on the China Threat Preview a Second Trump Presidency?

A new book by James Fanell and Bradley Thayer, with a foreword by Steve Bannon, could foreshadow how Trump administration “super hawks” would approach China policy.

Does a New Book on the China Threat Preview a Second Trump Presidency?
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A new book that characterizes engagement with China as the greatest strategic mistake in U.S. history may preview the policy approach of a second Trump presidency. Authored by James Fanell, a retired naval intelligence officer, and Bradley Thayer, a founding member of the Committee on the Present Danger: China, “Embracing Communist China: America’s Greatest Strategic Failure” is published by War Room Books and its foreword is written by Steve Bannon, a Trump strategist who hosts the popular daily podcast “War Room.”

Bannon was described as one of the “super hawks” of the Trump national security team by the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin in his book about the Trump administration’s policy toward China between 2017 and 2020, “Chaos Under Heaven.” The super hawks promoted an offensive grand strategy to undermine the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), similar to the hawks in the Reagan administration who advocated turning from containment to liberation during the last decade of the Cold War. 

Fanell and Thayer are frequent guests on Bannon’s “War Room,” and the strategy they lay out in their book is geared to winning what they describe as Cold War II with China. 

The authors contend that the United States’ embrace of China during the last two decades of the Cold War against the Soviet Union made sense, but that once the Soviet Union collapsed engagement with China became strategic folly. In essence, the United States facilitated the rise of its next peer competitor, partly out of greed (a lot of Americans got rich doing business with the CCP), partly out of an erroneous belief that China’s leaders had abandoned communism and wanted to become a responsible stakeholder in the U.S.-led liberal world order, and partly due to distractions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Global War on Terror. 

Fanell and Thayer also credit Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping for deceiving American political leaders, policymakers, businessmen, and scholars into believing that China’s rise would be peaceful and pose no threat to U.S. hegemony. After the Soviet collapse, some scholars believed that we were at the “end of history” with all civilizations trending toward democracy. Deng and his chosen successors promoted what the authors call “threat deflation,” and many American and Western elites bought it.

The authors are highly critical of the U.S. intelligence community, the leadership of the U.S. armed services, and U.S. political leaders for their failure to understand that China’s economic rise would translate into a growing military and geopolitical threat – first in the western Pacific, and then globally. 

Most of the authors’ policy recommendations are non-controversial. They recommend a U.S. military buildup, especially in the naval and nuclear domains. They urge the intelligence community to focus on Chinese strategic doctrine the way it focused on Soviet strategic doctrine during the Cold War. They promote economic and political warfare against the CCP. 

Where the authors depart from standard hawkish views is their recommendation that the United States provide nuclear weapons to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Fanell and Thayer contend that such a dramatic move would enhance deterrence in the region. They call their approach to China a “new Truman Doctrine,” which would provide assistance to any country or group fighting the CCP. It would be a “whole of government” approach to waging political-subversive warfare against China’s communist leadership.

The tone of the book is set in Bannon’s foreword, where he laments the “evil partnership between the PRC, Wall Street, and national security elites” in America, and calls for new leadership to “sound the death knell of the Chinese Communist Party.” 

Rogin in “Chaos Under Heaven” showed that in the last years of the Trump presidency, the super hawks were ascendant. Trump’s policies toward China in 2019 and 2020 turned more confrontational. Should Trump regain the White House in 2025, Fanell and Thayer’s book may serve as a blueprint for future U.S. policy in the Indo-Pacific.