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Hal Brands

Great-Power Rivalry Is Back. The U.S. Is Playing Poorly.

Trump understands the threats that China and Russia pose. But he's shown no interest in doing anything about them.
Praise for a rival.

Praise for a rival.

Photographer: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images

Great-power competition is the pressing topic for the foreign policy community these days. The idea that the world is once again seeing sharp, undisguised rivalry between the major powers -- the U.S., China and Russia -- has been a staple of the Trump administration’s recent National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy and Nuclear Posture Review.

Less often explained, yet equally essential to understand, is why great-power competition has returned, why it is so important, and why the U.S. is struggling to craft an effective response. These issues are all the more urgent now that China’s president, Xi Jinping, seems to be setting himself up to rule for life -- and gearing up for an intensified struggle with Washington at the same time.