State Department Policy Leader Unfairly Criticized as Racist, Supporters Say

Kiron Skinner

Kiron Skinner / Wikimedia Commons

The African-American director of policy planning at the State Department has come under fire from liberal anti-Trump critics for comments at a security forum.

Kiron Skinner, a prominent scholar who runs the small policy think tank supporting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said at a security forum March 29 that China poses the most serious strategic threat to the United States and a new strategy is needed similar to that used in confronting the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

“We’re now looking more deeply and broadly at China and I think State is in the lead in that broader attempt to get something like a Letter X for China that Kennan wrote. You can’t have a policy without an argument underneath it,” Skinner told a security forum hosted by the think tank New America.

Skinner was referring to landmark journal article published in July 1947 titled “Sources of Soviet Conduct” written by George F. Kennan, an American diplomat writing under the pseudonym “Mr. X.” Kennan warned the U.S. government that Soviet Communism was “undoubtedly [the] greatest task our diplomacy has ever faced and probably greatest it will ever have to face.”

The ideological fight with the Soviet Union was a new type of conflict but was “within the Western family,” which allowed for some dialogue and eventually Moscow’s agreement to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. Those accords included human rights provisions that Skinner said “opened the door really to undermine the Soviet Union, the totalitarian state, on human rights principles.”

What set off pro-China academics and pundits were Skinner’s comment that similar dialogue and openings are not possible with China.

“This is a fight with a really different civilization and a different ideology—and the United States hasn’t had that before, nor has it had an economic competitor the way that we have,” she said.

“So in China we have an economic competitor, we have an ideological competitor, one that really does seek a kind of global reach that many of us didn’t expect a couple of decades ago, and I think it’s also striking that it’s the first time that we will have a great power competitor that is not Caucasian.”

Despite being African American, Skinner’s mention of the word Caucasian, a trigger word for many liberals, drew fire from critics who claimed her characterization of the China threat was racist.

Typical of the critics was Michael D. Swaine, a China specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who said if Skinner’s comments were accurate “this is a rather appalling, racist-based assessment of the nature of the Chinese threat.”

“And coming from the State Dept. makes it even worse,” Swaine stated. “Apparently the problem is not CN’s system; it’s Chinese culture? We sink to new lows every day.”

Swaine is widely viewed as among the more pro-appeasement academics in the China field. He did not respond to an email request for comment.

Chen Weihua, the European bureau chief of the Chinese Communist Party newspaper China Daily, was even more blunt, tweeting that Skinner’s comment was a “Nazi type racist comment.”

“It is telling of the troubling current U.S. policy on China,” Chen wrote.

Friends of Skinner acknowledged she was not accurate in stating America’s battle with China is the first against a non-Caucasian power. World War II pitted the United States against Asian Japan.

However, the comments, in context, sought to highlight the difference between the ideological war against Soviet Communism in the Cold War and now the war of ideas against China’s version of communism, called Marxism-Leninism with Chinese characteristics.

An Australian Broadcasting Corp. report said several unidentified Australian government officials were uneasy about Skinner’s remarks.

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