Autocracy vs. Democracy or China vs. America?
"I've known Xi Jinping for a long time. ... He doesn't have a democratic -- with a small 'd' -- bone in his body," said Joe Biden in his first press conference as president, and then he ambled on:
"He's one of the guys, like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, who thinks that autocracy is the wave of the future -- democracy can't function in an ever-complex world.
"It is clear, absolutely clear ... that this is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies. ... We have to prove democracy works."
Thus did Biden frame the conflict between America and China in almost purely ideological terms.
"Look ... your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded: autocracy or democracy? Because that is what is at stake, not just with China."
But is this really what the conflict between America and China for economic, military and strategic supremacy is about -- a contest between two political systems? And does Xi Jinping see it that way?
Does Xi see himself as the global champion of "autocracy" or as the nationalist leader of the Chinese people and Mao's successor as The Great Helmsman who heads the party that decides the destiny of the nation?
And are we Americans really the champions of the democracy camp in a great twilight struggle with "autocracy"?
How, then, do we embrace as a NATO ally of 70 years the Republic of Turkey, which is ruled by the autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan?
Our Arab allies and partners include President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt, who came to power through a military coup that ousted an elected government. Also aligned with us are the king and crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf who might fairly be called not only monarchists but autocrats.