Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitted on Wednesday that he was on the phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensy in July, in which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's son. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitted on Wednesday that he was on the phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensy in July, in which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's son. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Beware Biblical Literalists Like Pompeo Seeking War With China

On America's unholy crusade against Beijing

Jeffrey D. Sachs

 by Project Syndicate

Many white Christian evangelicals in the United States have long believed that America has a God-given mission to save the world. Under the influence of this crusading mentality, US foreign policy has often swerved from diplomacy to war. It is in danger of doing so again.

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched yet another evangelical crusade, this time against China. His speech was extremist, simplistic, and dangerous – and may well put the US on a path to conflict with China.

According to Pompeo, Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China (CPC) harbor a “decades-long desire for global hegemony.” This is ironic. Only one country – the US – has a defense strategy calling for it to be the “preeminent military power in the world,” with “favorable regional balances of power in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere.” China’s defense white paper, by contrast, states that “China will never follow the beaten track of big powers in seeking hegemony,” and that, “As economic globalization, the information society, and cultural diversification develop in an increasingly multi-polar world, peace, development, and win-win cooperation remain the irreversible trends of the times.”

One is reminded of Jesus’s own admonition: “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). US military spending totaled $732 billion in 2019, nearly three times the $261 billion China spent.

The US, moreover, has around 800 overseas military bases, while China has just one (a small naval base in Djibouti). The US has many military bases close to China, which has none anywhere near the US. The US has 5,800 nuclear warheads; China has roughly 320. The US has 11 aircraft carriers; China has one. The US has launched many overseas wars in the past 40 years; China has launched none (though it has been criticized for border skirmishes, most recently with India, that stop short of war).

The US has repeatedly rejected or withdrawn from United Nations treaties and UN organizations in recent years, including UNESCO, the Paris climate agreement, and, most recently, the World Health Organization, while China supports UN processes and agencies. US President Donald Trump recently threatened the staff of the International Criminal Court with sanctions. Pompeo rails against China’s clampdown on its mainly Muslim Uighur population, but Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, claims that Trump privately gave China’s actions a pass, or even encouraged them.

The world took relatively little notice of Pompeo’s speech, which offered no evidence to back up his claims of China’s hegemonic ambition. China’s rejection of US hegemony does not mean that China itself seeks hegemony. Indeed, outside of the US, there is little belief that China aims for global dominance. China’s explicitly stated national goals are to be a “moderately prosperous society” by 2021 (the centenary of the CPC), and a “fully developed country” by 2049 (the centennial of the People’s Republic).

Moreover, at an estimated $10,098 in 2019, China’s GDP per capita was less than one-sixth that of the US ($65,112) – hardly the basis for global supremacy. China still has a lot of catching up to do to achieve even its basic economic development goals.

Assuming that Trump loses in November’s presidential election, Pompeo’s speech will likely receive no further notice. The Democrats will surely criticize China, but without Pompeo’s brazen exaggerations. Yet, if Trump wins, Pompeo’s speech could be a harbinger of chaos. Pompeo’s evangelism is real, and white evangelicals are the political base of today’s Republican Party.

Pompeo’s zealous excesses have deep roots in American history. As I recounted in my recent book A New Foreign Policy, English protestant settlers believed that they were founding a New Israel in the new promised land, with God’s providential blessings. In 1845, John O’Sullivan coined the phrase “Manifest Destiny” to justify and celebrate America’s violent annexation of North America. “All this will be our future history,” he wrote in 1839, “to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man – the immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth, has America been chosen...”

On the basis of such exalted views of its own beneficence, the US engaged in mass enslavement until the Civil War and mass apartheid thereafter; slaughtered Native Americans throughout the nineteenth century and subjugated them thereafter; and, with the closure of the Western frontier, extended Manifest Destiny overseas. Later, with the onset of the Cold War, anti-communist fervor led the US to fight disastrous wars in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) in the 1960s and 1970s, and brutal wars in Central America in the 1980s.

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the evangelical ardor was directed against “radical Islam” or “Islamic fascism,” with four US wars of choice – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya – all of which remain debacles to this day. Suddenly, the supposed existential threat of radical Islam has been forgotten, and the new crusade targets the CPC.

Pompeo himself is a biblical literalist who believes that the end time, the apocalyptic battle between good and evil, is imminent. Pompeo described his beliefs in a 2015 speech while a Congressman from Kansas: America is a Judeo-Christian nation, the greatest in history, whose task is to fight God’s battles until the Rapture, when Christ’s born-again followers, like Pompeo, will be swept to heaven at the Last Judgment.

White evangelicals represent only around 17% of the US adult population, but comprise around 26% of voters. They vote overwhelmingly Republican (an estimated 81% in 2016), making them the party’s single most important voting bloc. That gives them powerful influence on Republican policy, and in particular on foreign policy when Republicans control the White House and Senate (with its treaty-ratifying powers). Fully 99% of Republican congressmen are Christian, of whom around 70% are Protestant, including a significant though unknown proportion of evangelicals. 

Of course, the Democrats also harbor some politicians who proclaim American exceptionalism and launch crusading wars (for example, President Barack Obama’s interventions in Syria and Libya). On the whole, however, the Democratic Party is less wedded to claims of US hegemony than is the Republican Party’s evangelical base.

Pompeo’s inflammatory anti-China rhetoric could become even more apocalyptic in the coming weeks, if only to fire up the Republican base ahead of the election. If Trump is defeated, as seems likely, the risk of a US confrontation with China will recede. But if he remains in power, whether by a true electoral victory, vote fraud, or even a coup (anything is possible), Pompeo’s crusade would probably proceed, and could well bring the world to the brink of a war that he expects and perhaps even seeks.


© 2021 Project Syndicate
Jeffrey D. Sachs

Jeffrey D. Sachs

Jeffrey D. Sachs is a University Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he directed The Earth Institute from 2002 until 2016. He is also President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a commissioner of the UN Broadband Commission for Development. He has been advisor to three United Nations Secretaries-General, and currently serves as an SDG Advocate under Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Sachs is the author, most recently, of "A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism" (2020). Other books include: "Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable" (2017) and The Age of Sustainable Development," (2015) with Ban Ki-moon.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

World Leaders Must Commit to End Covid-19 Patents: Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus

Decrying the "brutally unequal global rollout of Covid-19 vaccines," Yunus wrote that "there is still time for world leaders to say never again."

Andrea Germanos ·


Addressing Crisis 'Existentially Imperiling' Its People, Vanuatu Declares Climate Emergency

"We are in danger now, not just in the future," said Prime Minister Bob Loughman.

Andrea Germanos ·


'Grotesque': Disgust as Trump Reads Names of Uvalde Victims at NRA Convention

Former President Donald Trump and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas were among those pushing a "good guys with guns" theory that "utterly failed" the latest victims of a mass shooting.

Andrea Germanos ·


Wall Street-Funded Democrat PAC to Spend $1 Million in Bid to Unseat Tlaib: Report

"Imagine spending $1 million to oust Rashida Tlaib instead of organizing in Detroit to make sure Michigan goes blue," quipped one progressive group.

Brett Wilkins ·


Parents Demand Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty 'For the Sake of the Children'

"We cannot remain silent as the fossil fuel industry and world leaders rob our children of a livable future," parents from 32 nations wrote in an open letter.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo