Nearly 19 years to the day that Max Boot published “The Case for American Empire” in the pages of The Weekly Standard, he spent his allotted space in the Washington Post gushing over the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As goes the quality of the outlets he’s written for, so goes his sense of perspective. Entitled “China is beating the coronavirus while Trump leads America to defeat,” Boot’s latest is just a rehash of his last column, and the one before that, and even the 30 or so before that. Check for yourself, every single one of his columns is a screed about the defects of Donald Trump or the GOP writ large. Some (“Ginsburg’s passing may worsen the crisis of our democracy”) are more cleverly disguised than others (“How can 42 percent of Americans still support the worst president in our history?”) but don’t be fooled: They all share the same thesis.
It is when Boot, who never much concerned himself with the plight of the unborn or pro-growth economic policies sheds his identity as a third-wave neoconservative — the one that made him relevant — that he is at his most pathetic, however. The Boot who championed an assertive American foreign policy — not only because he believed it to be practical, but because he believed it to be just — is gone, replaced by one who devotes all of his moral energy toward opposing a singular political figure. His most recent article is one of the more embarrassing examples.
“China is winning and America is losing” their respective battles with the coronavirus because the former is “following the science” while the latter is “fighting it” per Boot. And Boot has the numbers to back it up! America has had over 8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 219,000 Americans have died from the novel disease — sobering statistics to be sure. Meanwhile, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the very first country to be hit by COVID-19, reports only 91,000 total cases and, get this, 4,700 deaths, numbers that Boot is pleased to be able to parrot. That the PRC is notoriously opaque about what happens inside of it (if the Chinese told Boot no one died at Tiananmen, would he believe them?) and is presently committing a genocide against its Uyghur population is of little interest to Boot, who concedes that the numbers may not be “entirely accurate.” “But then, neither are ours” shrugs Boot, transforming into a disciple of Trump-esque “our country does plenty of killing also” moral equivalence (for an idea of just how skewed China’s self-reported numbers are, take a look at this report from Derek Scissors at the American Enterprise Institute.)
Boot quickly glosses over the PRC’s active effort to suppress news of COVID-19’s spread in such a manner that allowed it to travel worldwide, devoting only a half sentence to this before lauding it for “using tools such as lockdowns, social distancing, contact tracing, mask-wearing and isolation of patients.” I doubt that Boot would be at all pleased if Trump had adopted the more stringent practices of the CCP, such as arresting those who broke 40-day mandatory quarantines. No, in fact I’m quite sure that he would be shrieking that fascism had arrived in America.
That Boot cannot find it within himself to expand upon his criticism of an authoritarian state that has unleashed a pandemic responsible for over a million global deaths and untold social and economic damage other than to say it “deserves censure” is remarkable enough. That he believes the PRC is unique in using lockdowns, social distancing, contract tracing, and mask-wearing to combat the virus is even more so. That he included the following passage is enough to render a reader speechless:
Some of the things that China has done would be considered too heavy-handed for the United States. In China, even children who test positive are temporarily separated from their parents. (The Trump administration only separates children if they are undocumented immigrants.)
“Too heavy-handed for the United States” seems to me a misnomer for the PRC’s treatment of Uyghur prisoners as human lab rats. From Dake Kang at the Associated Press:
Furthermore, in what experts call a breach of medical ethics, some residents are being coerced into swallowing traditional Chinese medicine despite a lack of rigorous clinical data proving it works, according to government notices, social media posts, and interviews with three people in quarantine in Xinjiang. One middle-aged Uighur woman told the AP that when she was detained at the height of China’s coronavirus outbreak, she was forced to drink a medicine that made her feel weak and nauseous. She and others in her cell had to strip naked once a week as guards hosed them and their cells down with disinfectant, she said. “It was scalding,” recounted the woman by phone from Xinjiang, declining to be named out of fear of retribution. “My hands were ruined, my skin was peeling.”
Nevertheless, Boot persists, insisting that “China’s success is mainly due to the application of science in a country where people are taught to respect science.” You might be wondering if the AP report on the Uyghurs is merely the “application of science” or if it is particularly “respectful” of science to hijack international organizations to promote unproven treatment methods. It may occur to you that it’s not “science,” but the absolute authority of the CCP that citizens of the PRC are taught to respect, but not to Boot.
Boot goes on to critique Trump for his overall response and rhetoric, and not without reason. But he flies his partisan flag by only limiting that criticism to the president and members of his party, making no mention of the abject failure of figures such as New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer who “followed and respected” science in that they were not Republicans — which is Boot’s primary concern — and not in that they limited the spread, isolated the infected, or even followed their own rules.
In closing, Boot claims that “if the virus were a human enemy, Trump would have long ago run up the white flag, while China would be accepting its unconditional surrender.” That is indistinguishable from CCP propaganda, and that’s why Boot’s column is not merely moronic, but also deeply damaging — not to Trump’s presidency (I assure you no one was persuaded by this one) but to the United States’ position in its geopolitical and ideological struggle with the PRC. If the U.S. is to triumph in that struggle, it will need the moral clarity to pursue the interests and proselytize the wonders of the free world. One such wonder of the free world is Taiwan’s coronavirus response. It was guided by the Taiwanese people’s deep mistrust of the mainland Chinese regime (something that came in handy early on when that regime was lying in such a way that allowed coronavirus to spread worldwide!), and was carried out without the excesses of the PRC’s.
When supposedly credentialed “experts” such as Max Boot sow the seeds of doubt about our own system while singing the praises of the PRC and depicting it as a fantastical science-driven utopia — perhaps that’s a tad too harsh, he does after all include the line: “look at the terrible crimes against the Uighurs” in the column — it undermines the causes of human flourishing and self-determination everywhere. Boot fancies himself a believer in those causes, but it turns out that when push comes to shove, the most important issues to him are whether the trains are running on time, and whether or not Donald Trump is lying on the tracks. Donald Trump may have caused Max Boot to stop believing that America can be a force for good in the world. But those of us whose faith in America is deeper than who happens to hold the office of president don’t have to join Boot in making the case for Chinese Empire.