According to a quote attributed to Otto von Bismarck, fools learn from experience while wise men learn from the experience of others. This adage likely served Bismarck well navigating the highly fractious and hypercompetitive world order in continental Europe of the late 19th century. It also, apparently, influences China’s ambitions to displace and supplant U.S. influence in the Middle East.
Commensurate with its continued ascendancy as a global superpower, China, through quasi-official statements, leaked international agreements, and contemporary analysis, appears no longer content with a passive role in the Middle East shaped by U.S. policy. Instead, through the twin concepts of “peace through development” and “negative peace,” China is poised to offer an alternative model for investment and influence in the Middle East that displaces American regional influence.
As a Chinese concept, “peace through development” supposes to offer “bottom-up” development as opposed to U.S. “top-down” efforts that ignore local conditions. Similarly, “negative peace” reflects the Chinese intent to offer unconditional aid without either a requirement for political reform or security commitments to the region (both of which, according to the Chinese narrative, represent criticized hallmarks of the U.S. model). But if China, as the wise man from Bismark’s quote, seeks to learn from the “foolish” U.S. experience in the Middle East, then it must have an accurate understanding of the U.S. experience to draw and apply correct lessons that might offer success.