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Losing the global dating game

By Rachel Marsden

The U.S. won over the hearts and minds of other nations in the Cold War era because they looked America up and down and decided they wanted a piece of what was on offer — namely, its wallet, er, “values.” But now, as the U.S. resorts to threatening allies to maintain the status quo in its relationships, it should ask why it lost its mojo to the benefit of a new cash-flashing suitor, China, and how it might get back to winning hearts and minds in the geopolitical dating game.

Imagine being a European country straddled between two potential suitors: China and America. You open the door to find U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (who swung through Europe earlier this month on a clear mission) standing there ranting about the other guy (China) and threatening you not to buy his 5G technology or make any big economic commitments to him or to his main wingman, Russia. Pompeo threatens to make you pay for playing economic footsie with Russia, who’s helping you complete the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would serve as your Amazon Prime of gas delivery, making it cheap and accessible.

You’re annoyed that this America guy is pretending to be some kind of white knight, wanting to save you from Chinese spying when you know he’s been tracking your every move for years through his own spying operation. You think that he’s a hypocrite for unapologetically continuing to spy on you under the guise of protecting you, all while warning you about China’s potential to do the same. Then he threatens to stop talking to you — or at least to stop sharing intelligence and information with you — if you insist on diversifying your relationships outside of those he approves.

You ease him out the door and hope that he doesn’t decide to spite you for your lack of subservience by enacting what he calls his “maximum pressure” diplomatic strategy, which involves sanctions or tariffs.

Upon arriving home from what should have been called his European Insecurity Tour, Pompeo was still prattling on about China.

“The kind of engagement we have been pursuing has not brought the kind of change inside of China that President Nixon had hoped to induce,” Pompeo said.

News flash: China is open for business with the entire world — which is exactly what Nixon wanted.

“Taking the long view, we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbors,” Nixon wrote in a 1967 article titled “Asia after Viet Nam.”

Don’t hate the player, hate the game. But of course, the global rules of that game were established by the U.S.

As America’s dominance in the global dating game has waned, it has shifted from seduction to threats. When you have an angry suitor ranting on your lawn about burning down your house, one solution is to befriend a big dude who can tell the nut job in your front yard to take a hike. That’s the role China is now playing for countries on the U.S. hit list, such as Iran and Venezuela, who are only incurring America’s ire because regime-change attempts haven’t as successful as they were just a decade or two ago.

Instead of complaining, the U.S. should be determining what China is doing right and what can be learned from Chinese success in forging new relationships. “What does this guy have that I don’t?” should be the crux of U.S. soul-searching.

A favorite refrain of jilted lovers is, “You’re going to regret leaving me for that guy. It’s going to end in heartbreak.” That has been the U.S. warning to countries getting involved with China. America claims there’s a hidden cost that will eventually come due. Perhaps. But China is fulfilling the role of Mr. Right-for-Right-Now.

The best-case scenario for every nation is the international relationship dynamic favored by former French President General Charles de Gaulle — a geopolitical open relationship that ensures long-term independence from any one suitor. Keep them all competing for your attention. Refuse to shut the door on any one of them, but never commit entirely to any of their agendas. China seems willing to play that game, while the U.S. isn’t.

“My way or the highway,” isn’t going to work in an era where you’re no longer the only playboy. The era of multipolarity is here, and a gal — er, country — has far more options than she did back in the latter part of the 20th century, when it was just America vs. that Soviet guy whose checks kept bouncing.

Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at http://www.rachelmarsden.com.

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