What about ideological and religious challenge, such as that posed by the very rapid growth of Christianity in China? This is about raw power. How many army divisions do the Christians have? This is not one of Xi’s major concerns.
Why, then, is repression and persecution of Christians getting worse? Why not? Xi has a general policy to suppress anything that even remotely could threaten the regime.
What’s the biggest tension now between the United States and China? The Chinese are terrified the United States will set up a blockade in the South China Sea and cripple the Chinese economy. Americans have a legitimate concern that the Chinese will push into the Pacific. It comes down to naval power. For 10 years the Chinese have been talking about doing something about the South China Sea. For 10 years they have failed. I have great confidence in the U.S. Navy, and I would be very surprised if it could not cope with anything China has.
Isn’t China’s naval power growing? Two forces want to overestimate China’s power: the Chinese and the U.S. Navy. China wants to appear stronger than it is. The U.S. Navy does it to increase its budget—and I have no trouble with the Navy getting more money.
And space power? China is trying to land on the moon. Well, we did that 50 years ago. So they’re way behind. I don’t see any chance of war anytime soon. We can’t possibly land on the Chinese mainland: It would be a disaster. They can’t possibly challenge us. Basically, we will make faces at each other and stick out our tongues.
Will China open its markets for exports from the United States? The Chinese have all sorts of informal ways to block American goods. One way: Tell their citizens, “Don’t buy this stuff.” That works very well.
So, any real cause for alarm in South Asia or East Asia? At the moment it is stable, not because it is inherently stable but because various powers don’t have the military force to do anything. The Chinese have two aircraft carriers, neither truly finished. The Japanese are thinking about what to do. The North Koreans can’t hit the United States. But this is an area that could in 15 to 20 years become very dangerous.
One question about the Western Hemisphere: What do you expect will happen in Venezuela? Venezuela should be one of the most prosperous countries of Latin America, given its oil. It’s a wonderful place destroyed by a regime that bought support from the poor. Now there’s no more money and the party’s over. It should be a message to everyone about what happens when people are too generous with public funds. I don’t think the regime meant to destroy the country, but it has.
‘Venezuela should be one of the most prosperous countries of Latin America, given its oil. It’s a wonderful place destroyed by a regime that bought support from the poor. Now there’s no more money and the party’s over.’
Neighboring countries are putting on the pressure? The Brazilians want to make speeches. The Colombians are allowing transports to come through, but Venezuela will have to solve its own problems internally at some point. The military will have to act to remove Maduro, whereupon it will then be attacked as a stooge of the United States.
And books will be written about how Americans planned the coup? In Venezuela you can’t plan anything, not even a bus trip. In due course the army will get rid of Maduro, but then the rebuilding starts. That will take a very long time, and the army has a problem: It has to deal with the Cubans that are guarding the regime. Remember, Maduro is not guarding himself. Cuban intelligence security people are. At a certain point the Cubans will withdraw, and that will be the endgame—but after that comes rebuilding.
Final set of questions: Since 2001 we’ve made fighting terrorism our top national security issue. Is that changing? The United States in Afghanistan disrupted al-Qaeda, but didn’t solve the problem. Going into Iraq or Libya didn’t solve the problem. Some problems of violence are not solvable by military means. So terrorism remains a high priority, but it’s shifting away from a military solution.
If someone goes into a building and starts randomly shooting people … He will be able to do so. But look at 9/11. That was strategic terrorism, a massive attack on not just two important buildings in New York, but the Pentagon as well. It was a highly orchestrated operation. We had a massive military response to it. We were able to disrupt the command structure of al-Qaeda, but then ISIS emerged.
Are you saying we just have to live with apparently random terrorist acts? We’ve lived with them for a long time. I remember when Croatian nationalists blew up a building in New York City. An incident like that is not a strategic threat to the United States. It is murderous, and tragic for those who are there, but it does not undermine the country unless we allow it to.
When we make terrorism a major military question, are we fighting the last war? It’s how we fight a military action, but this is not a military problem. It’s an intelligence problem finding out who’s doing it. It’s a police problem arresting them.
Why haven’t we had another 9/11? 9/11 was a very sophisticated operation by people who knew how to evade surveillance by the FBI and the CIA while they gained training in learning how to fly.
So they all died. It was asset-wasting. Few people can carry out those operations. But it’s almost impossible to stop a lone individual who drives a car into a crowd of people. It’s an act by a person who’s come to believe something, and he’s prepared to give his life for it.
We can build barriers. He’ll strike somewhere else. This is a form of terrorism that’s indistinguishable from a psychotic killer. Some people have motivations that don’t fit into the political or religious mode. Why in the world does a 16-year-old decide to kill children in a school? There is such a thing as madness. In a country the size of the United States there are many maniacs.