Barack Obama made headlines yesterday with tough talk about terrorism. Andrew Sullivan called his speech a “JFK Strategy,” alluding to the 1960 charge—the infamous “missile gap”—by the Kennedy campaign that Richard Nixon was not sufficiently hawkish. (The “gap” turned out to be complete fiction.) Sullivan, who thought Obama’s speech was “the speech of a potential president,” concluded that Obama “will not be Dukakized.” As it turns out, he won’t need to be—today he did it himself.
Obama told the Associated Press earlier today: “I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance.” This statement should immediately disqualify Barack Obama as a serious candidate for President of the United States. It displays, in addition to a frightening naiveté, a complete lack of knowledge of our history and our defense posture. Nuclear deterrence has been for six decades (and is to this day) a key component of the Western alliance’s security doctrine. This includes, importantly, the first-use option (we do not rule out using nuclear weapons even if we are not attacked by nuclear weapons). Obama’s tough talk yesterday was just that, it seems—talk.
This post was written with the help of research assistant Daniel Halper.
Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the founding of the world’s largest private army: China’s. The biggest misconception about China’s military is that it belongs to China. Yes, the Chinese state pays for the People’s Liberation Army, but the PLA reports to—and pledges to defend—the Communist Party. On this Army Day, Beijing’s propaganda saluted (as it always does) the army’s 2.3 million members in their capacity as employees and defenders of China’s leading political organization.
This year’s ritualistic expressions of mutual party-army appreciation seem more numerous and passionate than on past anniversaries. President Hu Jintao mentioned the party’s total control over the military at least 15 times in his Army Day speech. Some foreign observers speculate that the excessive declarations are meant to cover up rifts in the military’s leadership or the failure of Hu—who is also the party’s general secretary—to consolidate control over his generals and admirals. (Others say that he is already in charge.)
Here’s a shortcut for those who do not want to devote their lives to studying this impenetrable issue: Beijing operates an abnormal political system and maintains an abnormal relationship with its armed forces. And here’s something else: because the party controls the army (or at least tries to do so), our attempts to establish military-to-military ties are bound to end in failure. It is not just that the Chinese generally believe in secrecy as a powerful military tool (though they do): secrecy lies at the heart of China’s political system, and of its peculiar government-military relationship.
The Bush White House should know this by now. It has done all it can to try to build functional military-to-military relations with China, but has not succeeded. The Chinese continue to ask for assistance—their more recent requests included the arresting gear of aircraft carriers and the training of carrier crews—but they are not willing to reciprocate. We let them tour our navy’s most important base—in Norfolk, VA—in April of this year, but they were not willing to let our Chief of Naval Operations, Mike Mullen, make a visit to a comparable Chinese naval facility. (In response, Mullen, departing from the Bush administration’s renewed emphasis on military ties with China, canceled his planned trip to Beijing.)
On this anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army let’s send the Chinese our birthday greetings—but let’s stop making gifts of our know-how and technology.
Thomas X. Hammes is a retired Marine colonel and the author of a well-regarded work on modern war: The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century. He is also a fellow participant in an online discussion forum on military affairs called the Warlord Loop. I was so taken with one of his recent postings on how to battle jihadists on the Internet (a major venue for Islamist organizing and proselytizing) that I asked him if he would adapt it for contentions readers. He kindly agreed. Here it is:
The last I heard of Lawrence Summers, he was performing somersaults as president of Harvard, trying to ingratiate himself with the faculty he had offended by, among other things, frankly discussing some ideas–taboo in academia–about the linkages between sex and success.
The somersaults were to no avail. Summers’s tenure as president came to an abrupt end last year and he returned to his post teaching economics as the Charles W. Eliot university professor. This was Harvard’s loss and our gain, for whatever one made of his ridiculous efforts to back away from his own thoughtful if provocative words, he is back in the public eye not as an administrator of an impossible faculty but as an economist with his finger on a number of vital issues.
One such issue is the accumulation of capital reserves and sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) in the developing world. Governments ruling industrializing countries are sitting on huge and growing piles of cash. They need to park this money somewhere. Increasingly, as Summers is not alone in pointing out, they are shopping abroad and “are now accumulating various kinds of stakes in what were once purely private companies.”
Interviewed in the Sunday Telegraph, Daniel Levy—a former Israeli government staffer and policy analyst—was quoted as saying that Tony Blair, in his new capacity as special envoy to the Middle East, should negotiate with Hamas. Otherwise, Levy bluntly claimed, “he’ll fail.” Levy has now rectified the quote on his blog, claiming he meant something else:
My argument is that the policy of isolating and excluding Hamas cannot work. The important thing is to open meaningful channels of dialogue to Hamas. Whether that is initiated by Blair or others is secondary. In fact, it would be unlikely (and understandably so) for Blair to take the lead role in this respect.
While you’re busy parsing his equivocation, one thing should be said about Daniel Levy: his career as a peacemaker uniquely qualifies him to know what failure is. He served in the Barak government as head of Jerusalem affairs when Barak proposed to divide Jerusalem. He served with Yossi Beilin at the Ministry of Justice, and was part of the Israeli delegation at the Taba talks in 2001, when the most dovish delegation Israel could produce failed to charm its Palestinian counterparts. He’s been an analyst at the International Crisis Group and was a party to the Geneva accords. Given his past accomplishments and his recipe for peacemaking, it would be arrogant to doubt his wisdom. Then again, given what Levy views as success, Blair’s “failure”, in this case, might not be so bad.
A commentator on my recent post about Philip Johnson’s Glass House asks: “Can we enjoy the art and ignore the politics?” This contentions reader compares Johnson’s support of Nazism with the political leanings of folksinger Pete Seeger, who, during the early 1940′s, was called “Stalin’s songbird” by critics of his politics (his political views have raised the ire of some recent commentators, too).