White put these thoughts to paper and pixel with a much-debated essay in the Australian publication Quarterly Essay. “Without America” envisions a Situation Room scene where a fictitious U.S. president decides that, even with America’s superior conventional military, the risk of a confrontation with China just isn’t worth it. Even if the U.S. prevailed, all China would need to do would be to inflict a couple of glancing blows and it would, politically, have triumphed.
For context, White is no raging left-wing academic. He has worked for Bob Hawke, a former Australian prime minister, and Kim Beazley, Hawke’s defense minister. Both politicians were among the most pro-American figures in the Australian Labor Party. Beazley subsequently served as Australian ambassador to Washington from 2010 to 2016.
White’s opinions have not gone unchallenged — among others, frequent Bloomberg View contributor Hal Brands took a few shots. To give him a chance to clarify his predictions and present them to a broader global audience, we spent a few days recently interviewing him over email. Here is a lightly edited transcript: