Roger Cohen has a piece in the Times the other day that is hopelessly confused from beginning to end, starting with the assertion that “China is a status quo power.” The basis of this claim is “It [China] preaches dialogue, noninterference and the sanctity of national sovereignty because it does not want major global disruptions to its pursuit of the economic growth essential to political stability and full development by midcentury.” That argument flies in the face of reality – China is investing in a blue water navy it has never had before (its first aircraft carrier is beginning to undergo evaluation testing), it is fighting with Japan about the Senkaku Islands and it has invested heavily in “anti-access’ weapons (mines and cruise missiles) that are designed to prevent U.S. dominance in the region. Cohen misunderstands what China means when it calls for “noninterference.” What China is saying (and it is not at all veiled) is that the United States should not interfere in Asia (recently with respect to the Senkaku dispute), not that all powers in the region and the world should refrain from wielding influence over others.
Later, in an attempt to paint Romney as backwards, Cohen states that “Russia is also a status quo power — the status quo of 30 years ago” and “[a]s for Mitt Romney, he belongs to Putin’s school of foreign policy.” Here Cohen, in a truly stunning misuse of language, has conflated antonyms. Status quo implies continuation of the present, but here Cohen has misconstrued it to mean a return to a past strategic relationship. Moreover, not only does Cohen misuse the language, he does so in a way which reveals he, not Romney, is the one mired in the past. If we are to take Cohen’s logic to its conclusion, it would mean that anytime a new strategic relationship between two parties emerges where those parties previously had a relationship of a similar nature – no matter how long ago and what the circumstances – that they are returning to the “status quo.” Under Cohen’s logic, when England and France were at war in World War II it was a return to the status quo of World War I, which in turn was a return to the status quo of the Napoleonic wars. Clearly that is false – different actors, circumstances and motives were at play in each of the disputes. In the extant example, the criticism of Russia under Putin and its possible strategic threat to the United States is grounded in an entirely different analysis than that of the Cold War. It is only someone who superficially looks at the surface of the issue (and the names of the participants) who could conclude that the present dynamic is analogous to the Cold War.