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Posts For: August 17, 2007

Book Review: In the Ruins of Empire

More than six decades after the end of World War II, Asia continues to grapple with the legacy of war. Unlike in Europe, where countries have attempted to create a new set of norms and institutions designed to link them ever more closely together, Asia in many ways seems stuck in history, revisiting old wounds and squabbling over the same territory. In his compelling new history of the aftermath of war in the Pacific, In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia (Random House, $27.95), Ronald Spector argues that the region’s future was largely determined in the year after the Japanese surrender, and was doomed primarily by the misguided and unrealistic attempts of the victorious Western allies to impose order on the chaos unleashed by Japan’s surrender and abandonment of its occupied territories. Washington spent much of the cold war dealing with the resulting instability.

Certainly in comparison to Europe, postwar Asia seemed almost incomprehensibly complex. Moreover, as Washington grappled with creating a pax Americana, Asia appeared less strategically important than Europe, in part because nothing like the specter of all-out conflagration hung over the region, and in part due to the absence of ethnic connection to the Atlantic world. And yet at the same time, while the cold war certainly affected Asia, causing extensive destruction in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the region’s nations were spared Europe’s draining twilight struggle.

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More than six decades after the end of World War II, Asia continues to grapple with the legacy of war. Unlike in Europe, where countries have attempted to create a new set of norms and institutions designed to link them ever more closely together, Asia in many ways seems stuck in history, revisiting old wounds and squabbling over the same territory. In his compelling new history of the aftermath of war in the Pacific, In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia (Random House, $27.95), Ronald Spector argues that the region’s future was largely determined in the year after the Japanese surrender, and was doomed primarily by the misguided and unrealistic attempts of the victorious Western allies to impose order on the chaos unleashed by Japan’s surrender and abandonment of its occupied territories. Washington spent much of the cold war dealing with the resulting instability.

Certainly in comparison to Europe, postwar Asia seemed almost incomprehensibly complex. Moreover, as Washington grappled with creating a pax Americana, Asia appeared less strategically important than Europe, in part because nothing like the specter of all-out conflagration hung over the region, and in part due to the absence of ethnic connection to the Atlantic world. And yet at the same time, while the cold war certainly affected Asia, causing extensive destruction in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the region’s nations were spared Europe’s draining twilight struggle.

American and European policymakers found themselves at odds over what to do with Asia almost as soon as the Japanese surrendered. For Americans, the basic template they applied to Europe—liberalism versus Communism—quickly dominated their thinking. The potential loss of China was contrasted with the success of a democratizing Japan, while naked aggression by North Korea against the South in 1950 would be repulsed as the front line in the struggle against Communism in Asia. The British, French, and Dutch tenuously sought to recreate their prewar spheres of influence and control. Both the Americans and Europeans, however, found themselves enmeshed in the quicksand of the numerous liberation movements, revived ethnic conflicts, and simple power struggles that erupted throughout the region, from Indonesia to the Korean peninsula.

Best known for his classic one-volume history of the Pacific War, Eagle Against the Sun, Spector here turns his gaze on the confused conditions prevailing immediately after Tokyo’s surrender in August 1945. Noting that the traditional historical narrative assumes that the end of war meant the end of fighting and the spontaneous regeneration of order, Spector argues that the post-World War II “peace” in Asia was the continuation of war under another name (with, in some cases, fiercer fighting than during the war). His book, inasmuch as it tells this story, neatly complements John Dower’s Embracing Defeat, which tells a similarly revisionist tale of the U.S. occupation of Japan. Both works give primary importance to the mistakes, failures, and naiveté of the so-called victorious powers; both assert that domestic players and local conditions truly created postwar Asia.

The central dynamic in Spector’s story is the disintegration of empire—that of wartime Japan, and the feeble attempts at reconstituting the empires of prewar Europe. The Japanese had erected an ideological scaffolding of colonial liberation over their wartime occupation of most of Asia. They justified their brutal control over China and Korea with the goal of creating a new Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The conditions the Japanese had faced quickly transferred to the victors. In some areas of Japanese control, such as in China, occupation overlay an existing condition of civil war. In Indochina, Japanese troops fought rebels, like Ho Chi Minh, who were experienced in combating European powers. The pre-1937 dynamics continued into the postwar period, and were realized fully in China: stabilizing Chiang Kai-shek became Washington’s primary Asian policy. Spector’s first three chapters cover well-trodden ground, emphasizing the incompatibility of America’s attempt to act as an honest broker between the Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists with its effort to secure Chiang’s victory. (Not even the great George Marshall could square that circle.)

That, indeed, is the leitmotif of Spector’s book: the basic inability of the Allied powers to adjust to the realities on the ground. Wishful thinking and good intentions proved no match for unleashed nationalist passions, as Spector’s subsequent chapters show. In Malaya, for example, the British attempt to reassert control lasted less than a year, until April 1946. The ineffective British Military Administration proved helpless in the face of intense ethnic strife between Chinese and Malays, in which Communists and mystical Islamic movements all contributed to chaos and bloodletting. Nor were the Allies above using their erstwhile enemies, the Japanese, thousands of whom were enrolled to fight rebels and Communists; for these soldiers, too, the end of war did not bring about the end of fighting. Spector condemns in particular the French and Dutch (as well as the rapacious Soviets), whose violent and stubborn attempts to reconstitute prewar empires in Indochina and Indonesia, respectively, led to widespread atrocities and scuttled any possibility of reaching some type of negotiated settlements among the parties. The particular tragedy of Vietnam, where the anti-colonial animus of the Americans was subordinated to supporting a European ally, underscores Spector’s analysis of the irreconcilable tensions in U.S. Asian policy.

What also emerges with crystal clarity from Spector’s account is the importance of personalities. Bucking the trend among professional academics, Spector shows that individuals count, and in some cases were the deciding elements in the paths their countries took. Not only well-known figures such as Mao and Ho, but equally important leaders in Indonesia and Korea, who frustrated European and American plans, and labored to realize their own visions.

Given the rich history of post-1947 Asia, one might be dissatisfied with the limited chronological scope of Spector’s book. The pivotal events in the region all happened after 1947, and none of them was foreordained. In that respect, it is impossible to judge whether Spector’s assertion—that the vacuum of the immediate postwar months set the path for the following decades—is accurate or overstated. Moreover, strained comparisons between postwar Asia and postwar Iraq, which read like afterthoughts, fail as attempts to make the book somehow more timely or relevant. As his fluid prose and thorough archival research show, telling the story of the battle for postwar Asia needs no justification.

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Israel and the U.N.

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, plans to turn itself into the U.N. General Assembly for a few moments next November, when it will reenact the fateful November 29, 1947 U.N. General Assembly vote. Israeli officials hope to have the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, preside over the ceremonial reenactment, alongside the representatives of the original 33 nations who supported the vote.

In two weeks, the European Parliament is also going to play host to U.N.-sponsored, Israel-related activities—this time of a different sort. Then, the EP’s gates will open to welcome, for two days, a “conference” organized by the so-called “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” or CEI. Lest there be any confusion, the CEI is a relic of the cold war; it was established by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3376 in 1975, alongside the infamous Resolution 3379, which stipulated “Zionism is a form of racism.” 3379 was repealed, but CEI lives on, in its own parallel universe of hatred.

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Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, plans to turn itself into the U.N. General Assembly for a few moments next November, when it will reenact the fateful November 29, 1947 U.N. General Assembly vote. Israeli officials hope to have the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, preside over the ceremonial reenactment, alongside the representatives of the original 33 nations who supported the vote.

In two weeks, the European Parliament is also going to play host to U.N.-sponsored, Israel-related activities—this time of a different sort. Then, the EP’s gates will open to welcome, for two days, a “conference” organized by the so-called “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” or CEI. Lest there be any confusion, the CEI is a relic of the cold war; it was established by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3376 in 1975, alongside the infamous Resolution 3379, which stipulated “Zionism is a form of racism.” 3379 was repealed, but CEI lives on, in its own parallel universe of hatred.

The upcoming conference in Brussels reflects this highly partisan, biased, anti-Israel spirit, as well as the organizational hypocrisy of such international forums, where onesidedness is coated in neutral language. Thus, the conference title is “United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace” and the theme is “Civil society and parliamentarians working together for Middle East peace.” Rest assured, though—its participants will whistle a very different tune.

The speakers are vetted to prevent anyone from airing anything but the party line. Among the Israelis apparently invited to attend (the highly secretive program does not list names yet) are, for example, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Michel Warschawski, and Amira Hass.

Nurit Peled-Elhanan is a peace activist and one of the founders of the Bereaved Families for Peace. After Elhanan’s thirteen-year-old daughter died in 1997, Elhanan became an outspoken critic of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; she has said that in Israel, “People are either Jews or non-Jews, and it doesn’t matter what they are if they are non-us.” Michel Warschawski is a journalist who writes frequently for extreme left-wing European magazines. Amira Hass writes for the daily newspaper Ha’aretz, and is known for reporting from the Palestinian perspective.

These are interesting speakers, no doubt, but they do not accurately represent Israeli civil society or Israel’s parliament. They speak for themselves and the Palestinian viewpoint, which they have all preached heartily.

All of this and more will take place in less than two weeks, courtesy of the European Parliament and Europe’s taxpayers, who bear the burden of its running costs. So far, only Polish parliamentary members have spoken against the event, announcing they will boycott it for its slanted nature and the harm it will do to the cause of peace. Kudos to the Polish delegation, then, for standing up against the CEI’s abuse of the prestigious platform. It is unfortunate, though, that so far only one of 27 members has spoken against the event, and that an official representative of the Parliament is listed among the speakers for the opening session (alongside a representative from “Palestine,” but not one from Israel).

It is perhaps too much to expect the European Parliament to withdraw its sponsorship of this partisan event, whose aim is everything but the goal its title describes. As for the U.N., let’s just hope there is no scheduling conflict, and that on November 29, U.N. Secretary General Ban, who was already at the opening annual session of CEI last February, will be in Jerusalem, and not at one of the many Israel-bashing events CEI no doubt plans to hold on that day in New York, Geneva, or Vienna.

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Giuliani’s Weak Spot?

It’s not easy for a thrice-divorced Catholic mayor with a penchant for drag and a pro-choice, pro-immigration, and pro-gun control record to become the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Then again, it’s not easy to attack that candidate as your typical, sinister, white guy in a suit, either.

For months, the liberal press has stood back, expecting either that Rudy Giuliani would self-destruct—as he did in his aborted 2000 senate campaign, when he entered into a nasty, high-profile divorce, crashed on the couch of gay friends, and publicly discussed the effects of his cancer treatments on his sex life—or that Republicans would disavow him once they learned more about his personal life and political views. When it comes to his 9/11 performance, though, Giuliani’s foes have barely touched on what just may be the most vulnerable part of his record.

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It’s not easy for a thrice-divorced Catholic mayor with a penchant for drag and a pro-choice, pro-immigration, and pro-gun control record to become the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Then again, it’s not easy to attack that candidate as your typical, sinister, white guy in a suit, either.

For months, the liberal press has stood back, expecting either that Rudy Giuliani would self-destruct—as he did in his aborted 2000 senate campaign, when he entered into a nasty, high-profile divorce, crashed on the couch of gay friends, and publicly discussed the effects of his cancer treatments on his sex life—or that Republicans would disavow him once they learned more about his personal life and political views. When it comes to his 9/11 performance, though, Giuliani’s foes have barely touched on what just may be the most vulnerable part of his record.

When Giuliani announced his candidacy last November, the DNC responded with a press release attacking Giuliani for being…too left-wing—he was once a registered Democrat, he opposed the partial-birth abortion ban and some of Bush’s tax cuts, and he supported gay rights. In an editorial, the New York Sun remarked, “Mr. Giuliani may want to keep this press release on file for use in a general election campaign…. ‘Even the Democratic National Committee says I am pro-choice,’ Mr. Giuliani is going to be able to tell Democrats and independent voters.”

The incoherence of the DNC press release (which also attacked Giuliani for being too right-wing!) helped the candidate survive a choppy, ill-prepared launch, in which he stumbled badly while answering easy questions about abortion, the Terri Schiavo affair, and the various ethics and corruption scandals involving his former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, which came out after President Bush nominated Kerik for Secretary of Homeland Security. Before these mistakes could crystallize into a defining moment, though, Giuliani righted the ship. That said, his critics on the Left continue to miss the mark in their hunt to bring down the Republican with the most appeal to Democratic and independent voters.

Consider three recent critiques of the candidate. In the New Yorker, a remarkably long—sixteen pages and nearly 15,000 words—and meandering profile by Peter J. Boyer offers a too-cute-by-half inversion of the newly outdated conventional wisdom that the South will bring down Giuliani as it did McCain in 2000. After a thinly-sourced accounting of how Giuliani’s contentious style rubbed many New Yorkers the wrong way, the article reaches the conclusion that, as one second-tier critic of the mayor puts it, “All the things that a lot of New Yorkers, myself included, hate about this guy are the things that are actually fuelling his campaign.” Thousands of words into what’s effectively a sanctioned hit focused on how Giuliani alienated New Yorkers, Boyer correctly concludes that this alienation may be a political asset, and certainly does no harm.

Still less effective is the cover story of the August issue of Harper’s, “A Fate Worse Than Bush,” by the superb historical novelist Kevin Smith. It’s a nine-page complaint about how in the “new politics, the candidate is everything” (how this differs from the old politics escapes me). Smith claims that Giuliani governed through “regular authoritarian gestures” and “achieved almost nothing of significance.” As in the New Yorker piece, there’s plenty at which the self-satisfied can nod knowingly, but nothing of worth for those still considering their decision, let alone the writers and operatives looking to craft a compelling critique of Giuliani.

The one attack with some teeth comes from Village Voice political reporter Wayne Barrett, the legendary digger who’s long played Ahab to the mayor’s white whale. In “Rudy Giuliani’s Five Big Lies About 9/11,” the cover story of last week’s Voice, Barrett launches a lengthy, and at points compelling, attack on the mayor’s 9/11 record. Most resonant is Barrett’s well-documented claim that Giuliani did little to protect the health and safety of first responders, who, at an alarming rate, are being diagnosed with cancer and various rare illness.

As previously noted in these pages, Giuliani’s decision to focus on 9/11 and neglect the rest of his accomplishments as mayor leaves him highly vulnerable to an effective assault on his record in the days and months following the terrorist attack. It’s a danger from which he attempted to insulate himself with his claim earlier this week that “I was at Ground Zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers…. I was there working with them. I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to.” First responders and political foes pounced on the statement, for which Giuliani quickly apologized.

It was a rare misstep from his increasingly disciplined campaign, but it was a dangerous one—there’s little doubt that the health issues swirling around first responders will become a national story before the campaign is over. While this story will also hurt Clinton and Bloomberg to some extent, it’s Giuliani who has the most to lose should his image as a heroic responder be tarnished.

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Giuliani vs. Edwards

Rudolph Giuliani has acquired a reputation as a tough terrorist-fighter, but he hasn’t sketched out a comprehensive vision of his foreign policy—until now. The new issue of Foreign Affairs features an essay, “Toward a Realistic Peace,” which lays out his agenda.

(Before proceeding further, a couple of disclosures are in order: First, Foreign Affairs is published by the Council on Foreign Relations, where I work, though I have no say in its content. Second, I’ve offered foreign policy advice to Giuliani. But assuming you’re not bothered by those incestuous relationships, read on.)

The title, with its invocation of “realism,” which is used by so many to bludgeon President Bush’s policies, might raise hackles among some contentions readers. But never fear. Giuliani is most definitely not making a plea for realpolitik of the kind that Brent Scowcroft might endorse. In fact, he says: “A realistic peace is not a peace to be achieved by embracing the ‘realist’ school of foreign-policy thought. That doctrine defines America’s interests too narrowly and avoids attempts to reform the international system according to our values.” Instead of eschewing idealism, Giuliani pledges to pursue it, well, realistically: “Idealism should define our ultimate goals; realism must help us recognize the road we must travel to achieve them.”

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Rudolph Giuliani has acquired a reputation as a tough terrorist-fighter, but he hasn’t sketched out a comprehensive vision of his foreign policy—until now. The new issue of Foreign Affairs features an essay, “Toward a Realistic Peace,” which lays out his agenda.

(Before proceeding further, a couple of disclosures are in order: First, Foreign Affairs is published by the Council on Foreign Relations, where I work, though I have no say in its content. Second, I’ve offered foreign policy advice to Giuliani. But assuming you’re not bothered by those incestuous relationships, read on.)

The title, with its invocation of “realism,” which is used by so many to bludgeon President Bush’s policies, might raise hackles among some contentions readers. But never fear. Giuliani is most definitely not making a plea for realpolitik of the kind that Brent Scowcroft might endorse. In fact, he says: “A realistic peace is not a peace to be achieved by embracing the ‘realist’ school of foreign-policy thought. That doctrine defines America’s interests too narrowly and avoids attempts to reform the international system according to our values.” Instead of eschewing idealism, Giuliani pledges to pursue it, well, realistically: “Idealism should define our ultimate goals; realism must help us recognize the road we must travel to achieve them.”

What does that mean in practice? Giuliani calls for an unapologetic war on “radical Islamic fascism,” which means, first of all, victory in Afghanistan and Iraq (“the emergence of stable governments and societies”), but also much more. Among other proposals, Giuliani suggests: increasing the size of the army (by “a minimum of ten new combat brigades,” or about 40,000 troops, beyond the increase of 40,000 or so troops already in the pipeline); deploying a national missile defense; expanding counterproliferation programs; and increasing support for public diplomacy and foreign broadcasting. Giuliani also offers a proposal near and dear to my heart—creating a new nation-building agency, a Stabilization and Reconstruction Corps, which would be “staffed by specially trained military and civilian reservists.”

Giuliani professes himself ready to negotiate with Iran, but also to walk away from talks if they don’t produce results. He also warns: “The theocrats ruling Iran need to understand that we can wield the stick as well as the carrot, by undermining popular support for their regime, damaging the Iranian economy, weakening Iran’s military, and, should all else fail, destroying its nuclear infrastructure.”

Perhaps the most newsworthy aspect of the article is Giuliani’s call for expanding NATO membership far beyond Europe: “We should open the organization’s membership to any state that meets basic standards of good governance, military readiness, and global responsibility, regardless of its location. The new NATO should dedicate itself to confronting significant threats to the international system, from territorial aggression to terrorism.” This proposal heads in the same direction as John McCain’s call for a League of Democracies. I’m agnostic about which is the better path, but the imperative to create alternative multilateral structures outside the U.N. is clear, and Giuliani’s endorsement of a global NATO is an interesting development.

By contrast, John Edwards’s article in the same issue of Foreign Affairs is filled with pure pablum that will be familiar to anyone who recalls the Kerry campaign. He calls for a “strategy of reengagement” with the world, and even advocates greater military intervention in Darfur, at the same time that he advocates disengagement from Iraq, the central front in the war on terrorism. He even calls the “war on terror” “a bumper sticker, not a plan.” Actually, Edwards favors bumper stickers himself, writing, at one point, “we need substance, not slogans.”The only part of Edwards’s essay that struck a chord with me was his endorsement of an expanded nation-building capacity similar to that outlined by Giuliani. Edwards calls his version the “Marshall Corps” (a good name), and says it “will consist of at least 10,000 civilian experts who could be deployed abroad to serve in reconstruction, stabilization, and humanitarian missions.” At least that’s one area where there seems to be some bipartisan consensus.

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