Book Review: Showdown: Why China Wants War with the United States


by Jed Babbin and Edward Timperlake

Washington: Regnery, 2006. Pp. 226. Maps, append., notes, index. 27.95. ISBN:1-59698-005-2

China looks big and menacing, and has been engaged in an arms buildup since 1990. As such, we have been treated to a lot of discussions about the “China threat” that has been posed. The latest offering is Showdown, by Jed Babbin, a former deputy undersecretary of defense and Edward Timperlake, a former Marine officer who has held some Congressional positions in the past.

Showdown is really a series of six short stories (Chapters Two through Seven), each discussing a potential war with China covering the entire globe (including the Middle East and Latin America). These scenarios are painted in a worst-case light – and most of them rely upon the portrayal of a President that seems to be more of a caricature than a real person.

These short stories do their job, which is to paint China as an aggressive threat. And to be honest, there are reasons to believe it, including two Chinese generals who made noises about using nuclear weapons against the United States. That said, there is the mistake of taking Chinese claims at face-value. China has its problems, too, which have included a relatively high percentage of non-performing loans issued by its state-owned banks (Chinese claims have said the figure is $133 billion, but some experts have claimed the figure is as high as $600 billion – a figure higher than entire United States defense budget, counting supplemental funding for Iraq and Afghanistan).

The authors present their case in several chapters that surround the six short stories. They take a pessimistic view, and present evidence to back it up. But by failing to also point out China’s problems, there is a distorted picture. Still, despite this flaw, the Babbin-Timperlake collaboration has created a good book precisely because of the worst-case scenarios they paint. One must always keep a worst-case scenario in mind, and failure to do so has bitten the United States in the rear. That said, the worst-case scenario is something that should not rule one’s thinking. As long as one can keep in mind that Babbin and Timperlake are presenting a worst-case scenario, and that the Chinese are not a full-scale superpower, this book is well worth reading.

Reviewer: Harold C. Hutchison    

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