The Long Run

Posted on May 20, 2020


I’ve heard it say, over the years and at different times, that so and so, or such and such is in it for the long run, and Americans, for whatever reason or cause, will give up eventually, and take the short cut to the end, not invest in the long haul.

“They’re not a long run people, and eventually will throw in the towel,” invoking an old boxing term. You can look it up.

I think there is germ or kernel of truth in the observation, and it is generally because we don’t have much of an historical conscience. By that I mean, we tend to demean the past in favor of the now and what’s coming.

Just recently a possible future Republican presidential candidate and ex-Governor of South Carolina, wrote that “Americans must stop fooling ourselves about China and the threat they pose to our safety and security” and “China tried to lie to the rest of the world where the [Corona[ virus came from,” and other accusations, which  I suspect mostly true and accurate, about modern China and its relationship with the U. S. I think Nikki Haley is a considerable presence in the present and future political scene, perhaps the first woman to be elected President in the next decade or two.

And Fox News very recently ran a piece on “China ups its spy tame on US soil as it bids to control coronavirus narrative,” and major new hitters in the House of Representatives, like Dan Crenshaw from Texas, a former Navy SEAL,  is speaking with candor and accuracy on China’s attacks on the U. S.

What is amazing to me, and I admire both Haley and Crenshaw, is that few commentators are taking on the “long view” on China and the U. S. The competition goes back at least 1949 when Mao Zedong led the Communist Party of China to victory and power in China, and they have governed ever since. That’s over seventy years, the better part of a century, for those of you who like to count.

Even more to the point, they have consistently challenged the U. S. for power and influence, not only in the Pacific, but across the world. My question is: have we forgotten all the major points of contact, controversy, and even war between our nations? Why are we surprised they still oppose freedom, democracy, and capitalism as a way of life that challenges the absolute sovereignty of the Communist Party?

I am not going to go over modern history here, in any detail, obviously. But, for those of you interested, Wikipedia or go to your favorite history source the following: Korean War, Vietnam War, cultural revolution of Mao Zedong, Chinese naval preparations in the far Pacific, especially the South China Sea and to get you up to date, try Hong Kong and Beijing.

Returning to the “long run.” As the Vietnam War warmed up in the early 1960s, the question was, of course, who was going to win this war? General Vo Nguyen Giap, the senior military strategist of North Vietnam, also was curious. The Americans brought the helicopter into the equation of new battle tactics and Giap figured this was the biggest American innovation and biggest threat to the Communists is this long struggle. Giap concluded that “we thought that the Americans must have a strategy. We did. We had a strategy of people’s war. You had tactics, and it takes very decisive tactics to win a strategic victory. If we could defeat your tactics—your helicopters—then we could defeat your strategy. Our goal was to win the war.”

Earlier, in the late 1940s, as the Vietnamese fought to free themselves of their colonial overlords, the French, Giap predicted that “the enemy will pass slowly from the offensive to the defensive. The blitzkrieg will transform itself into a war of long duration. Thus, the enemy will be caught in a dilemma: He has to drag out the war in order to win it and does not possess, on the other hand, the psychological and political means to fight a long-drawn-out war.”

To fight a long-drawn-out war. How successful were we in Vietnam? How successful have we been in Afghanistan in changing and “improving” their political culture to mirror ours? If Americans thought, or think, that we will do a great job of “nation building” and Afghanistan will emerge modeled on the American republic, they are going against at least two thousand years of history. No one has changed the Afghans, not even Alexander the Great even more than two thousand years ago.

On the other hand, when provoked and our national existence is at stake—think World War II—we can get very determined, bold, and build a monster military machine, backed by a massive endorsement and support on the home front, and craft a decisive victory.

But the “long run” wars and conflicts drain us of spontaneity and a sustaining rationale, like destroying the Nazi juggernaut of Germany in the Second World War. We are better sprinters than marathoners.

I think the answer is two-fold: one, to realize this reality and carefully craft our responses to tyranny and absolutism and communism in the world, on a long view sustaining basis; and, two, pick your battles and wars. As someone once told me, not all conflicts and challenges are worth a war or, as individuals, going to the mats for either complete victory, or dismal defeat. Most battles—personal or national—are not cataclysmic challenges to us, or our existence. But when you do determine that one is, then recognize there are no time limits on when one expects victory. Take the long run. It will surprise the Chinese that we are reacting so viscerally to what they may have done to either invent, hide, or otherwise jeopardize the health of the world to suit their own concept of communist invincibility. It will never trump liberty or democracy, in the long run.

Published as “The long run” in the Tuscaloosa News, Sunday May 17, 2020.