Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 8, 2007

Where is Our True Policy?

Is it any wonder the world has difficulty making sense of Washington’s loudly proclaimed support for democracy and freedom? Consider the following: the headline, in the Financial Times of September 8-9, reads “Bush’s fury at [a certain Asian] regime.” Now try to guess which country is the object of his indignation.

According to the report, “President George W. Bush, who is in Sydney, called for the regime to ‘stop arresting, harassing, and assaulting pro-democracy activists for organizing or participating in peaceful demonstrations.’”

The regime in question, meanwhile, has alleged that “external, anti-government groups” were trying to foment uprising and warned that: “The people will not accept any acts to destabilize the nation and harm their interests and are willing to prevent such destructive acts.”

Read More

Is it any wonder the world has difficulty making sense of Washington’s loudly proclaimed support for democracy and freedom? Consider the following: the headline, in the Financial Times of September 8-9, reads “Bush’s fury at [a certain Asian] regime.” Now try to guess which country is the object of his indignation.

According to the report, “President George W. Bush, who is in Sydney, called for the regime to ‘stop arresting, harassing, and assaulting pro-democracy activists for organizing or participating in peaceful demonstrations.’”

The regime in question, meanwhile, has alleged that “external, anti-government groups” were trying to foment uprising and warned that: “The people will not accept any acts to destabilize the nation and harm their interests and are willing to prevent such destructive acts.”

The article could easily be about China. The authorities in Beijing constantly “arrest, harass, and assault” pro-democracy activists and many others, and back up their intent to prevent “acts to destabilize the nation” with massive censorship, internet and cell-phone monitoring, and the deployment of tens of thousands of secret police and paramilitary People’s Armed Police. And they regularly blame “foreign forces” for what are actually indigenous Chinese demands for freedom.

But of course the country in question is not China. It is Burma, which has an ugly military regime that China supports. Yet in spite of the fact that the behaviors of the regimes in Burma and China are nearly identical, the United States regularly scolds and sanctions the Burmese regime, while embracing and engaging the government in China.

So angry is Bush with Burma that he has “excluded its military leader from a planned summit between the U.S. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Texas.” Yet a day before announcing this, the same President Bush had a cordial talk with (unelected) Chinese President Hu Jintao. Unlike Burmese pariah Than Shwe, Hu was welcomed warmly in Washington last April. In Sydney two days ago, Mr. Bush accepted Hu’s invitation to attend the Olympics next year—in drum-tight Beijing, from which city many dissidents and activists have already been expelled, a year ahead of the games.

To confuse things even further, on August 27, evidently facing not-so-veiled military threats from China, top Bush administration officials administered unprecedented public scoldings to the elected government of Taiwan for planning a referendum about applying to the United Nations. But then last Thursday Bush seemed to reverse that position in a speech that called Taiwan’s evolution to democracy “one of the great stories of our time.”

Where is our true policy in this muddle? If we genuinely value democracy, why are we so ambivalent and self-contradictory about its practice in Taiwan? If dictatorships are best treated by engagement and dialogue, as with China, then why doesn’t the administration reach out to Burma to break its diplomatic isolation? But if pressure and quarantine are the right approach to autocracies, as our Burma policy suggests, then why doesn’t Mr. Bush rethink his plan to visit Beijing? The administration should strive for more consistency in its policies.

Read Less

Chinese Corruption and its “Cure”

On Thursday, China’s State Council announced the appointment of the first head and deputy head of the National Corruption Prevention Bureau. People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship publication, called the bureau “a brand new and first ever anti-corruption agency.” Once it establishes its headquarters, the organization will set up units around the nation.

The Party already maintains the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and a multitude of local anti-corruption units at its lower levels. Furthermore, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate also has prosecutorial offices around the country. It’s not clear how the new bureau will relate to these other nationwide organizations.

China is infested with venal officials not because it lacks ministries, departments, or bureaus. Corruption has reached new levels in China because of the Communist Party’s insistence on political monopoly. Such rampant corruption nearly guarantees that problems will not be dealt with effectively.

Read More

On Thursday, China’s State Council announced the appointment of the first head and deputy head of the National Corruption Prevention Bureau. People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship publication, called the bureau “a brand new and first ever anti-corruption agency.” Once it establishes its headquarters, the organization will set up units around the nation.

The Party already maintains the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and a multitude of local anti-corruption units at its lower levels. Furthermore, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate also has prosecutorial offices around the country. It’s not clear how the new bureau will relate to these other nationwide organizations.

China is infested with venal officials not because it lacks ministries, departments, or bureaus. Corruption has reached new levels in China because of the Communist Party’s insistence on political monopoly. Such rampant corruption nearly guarantees that problems will not be dealt with effectively.

Take lead-coated toys and antifreeze-laced toothpaste, for example. Almost everyone thinks China should enact tougher laws and tighten its regulatory system. Yes, these technical fixes will help, but they’re no real answer, especially in the long term. It is no coincidence that the Soviet Union, too, was known for its shoddy products. The one thing the two regimes share is Communism. Communism makes it impossible to maintain the rule of law or democracy. And without the supervision of courts and the people, it is not possible, over the long run, to stop corruption, which is the root cause of the food and product safety problem. Moreover, many Party cadres personally profit from protecting offending factories; such officials often own parts of the factories. These officials in turn buy protection for themselves from higher-ups in the Party’s vast patronage system. The Communist Party, in reality, is like Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall.

Beijing is now reduced to imposing death sentences on corrupt officials and announcing four-month campaigns to stop bad products. But we know that corruption makes all these efforts meaningless. And adding another sprawling bureaucracy won’t help. After all, the most corrupt organization in China—the Communist Party—cannot discipline itself.

Read Less

Responding to Jonathan Rauch

Jonathan Rauch of the National Journal writes in his most recent column that I am the early architect of an “ugly” (The American Heritage definition is “morally reprehensible;” “repulsive;” and “offensive”) narrative. As you might imagine, I dispute that charge. Mr. Rauch is normally a careful and civil writer and thinker; in this case, he fell short of his usual standards—both in his substantive analysis and in his reckless use of an adjective.

There is a deeper issue wrapped up in all of this: Mr. Rauch, who is something of a centrist, is attempting to set ground rules in the Iraq debate that make it virtually impossible for antiwar critics to draw reasonable conclusions from the policies antiwar advocates are championing. Assume for a moment that the policies a person is advocating would lead to genocide and embolden an enemy. If that were in fact the case—and surely in some instances it is the case—is that something that cannot now be said as part of public discourse? That is unfortunately what Mr. Rauch is arguing. His appeal to civic comity would actually short-circuit what should be an honest and rigorous debate.

What Jon Rauch is attempting won’t work, and it shouldn’t be tried.

Jonathan Rauch of the National Journal writes in his most recent column that I am the early architect of an “ugly” (The American Heritage definition is “morally reprehensible;” “repulsive;” and “offensive”) narrative. As you might imagine, I dispute that charge. Mr. Rauch is normally a careful and civil writer and thinker; in this case, he fell short of his usual standards—both in his substantive analysis and in his reckless use of an adjective.

There is a deeper issue wrapped up in all of this: Mr. Rauch, who is something of a centrist, is attempting to set ground rules in the Iraq debate that make it virtually impossible for antiwar critics to draw reasonable conclusions from the policies antiwar advocates are championing. Assume for a moment that the policies a person is advocating would lead to genocide and embolden an enemy. If that were in fact the case—and surely in some instances it is the case—is that something that cannot now be said as part of public discourse? That is unfortunately what Mr. Rauch is arguing. His appeal to civic comity would actually short-circuit what should be an honest and rigorous debate.

What Jon Rauch is attempting won’t work, and it shouldn’t be tried.

Read Less

Michael Scheuer Watch #2: Osama bin Laden’s Favorite Pundit

Osama bin Laden’s latest video is very peculiar, and not only because he is sporting a fake beard.

One of the oddest moments comes when he recommends that Americans read the works of two authors, Noam Chomsky and Michael Scheuer. Scheuer, who ran the CIA’s al-Qaeda unit from 1996 to 1999, has been making a great name for himself as a counterterrorism expert since leaving the agency in 2004. Among other high-visibility perches, he serves as a “consultant” to both CBS and ABC News and is cited frequently by leading journalists.

The question is: is bin Laden’s endorsement of Scheuer’s books good for this pundit’s career? Although one should never underestimate the media’s lack of curiosity, my own guess is that it is going to hurt, and hurt badly.

Bin Laden’s endorsement is not the direct reason. Rather, the increasing attention it will bring him will also bring him increasing scrutiny. And scrutiny is not something Scheuer will easily withstand.

Read More

Osama bin Laden’s latest video is very peculiar, and not only because he is sporting a fake beard.

One of the oddest moments comes when he recommends that Americans read the works of two authors, Noam Chomsky and Michael Scheuer. Scheuer, who ran the CIA’s al-Qaeda unit from 1996 to 1999, has been making a great name for himself as a counterterrorism expert since leaving the agency in 2004. Among other high-visibility perches, he serves as a “consultant” to both CBS and ABC News and is cited frequently by leading journalists.

The question is: is bin Laden’s endorsement of Scheuer’s books good for this pundit’s career? Although one should never underestimate the media’s lack of curiosity, my own guess is that it is going to hurt, and hurt badly.

Bin Laden’s endorsement is not the direct reason. Rather, the increasing attention it will bring him will also bring him increasing scrutiny. And scrutiny is not something Scheuer will easily withstand.

Along with a number of others, Scheuer has endorsed the findings of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt about the extraordinary influence wielded in the United States by the “Israel Lobby.” But Scheuer, explicating his views on a show called Antiwar Radio, goes much further than even they do. He believes that the machinations of the Israel Lobby are supplemented by the efforts of Israeli intelligence, which is “very active in the United States.” In fact, Israeli spies are “popping up all over” and they “do whatever they want inside of America and no one carries them to task for it.” Indeed, because both the Democratic and Republican parties are “owned by AIPAC,” the U.S. government “consistently tries to suppress any kind of publication” of information pertaining to the Israeli espionage.

This is already lunatic-asylum territory, but there is more. According to Scheuer, there is an ongoing “Israeli covert-action program” under way to silence defenders* of the Mearsheimer-Walt book. The results, says Scheuer, have been “stupendous.” In public, the Israelis didn’t have to raise a word—that’s the way covert action works, he helpfully explains—but the result of their behind-the-scenes manipulation is clear: in the attacks on Mearsheimer and Walt, “Americans are savaging other Americans in defense of a foreign country.”

I have previously written about Scheuer’s bizarre ideas and behavior in the pages of COMMENTARY. In the latest Weekly Standard, I examine how the CIA’s own Inspector General has evaluated Scheuer’s work as a counterterrorism operative. It turns out that as the CIA officer charged with the principal responsibility for countering Osama bin Laden, Scheuer was a walking calamity.

Osama bin Laden has a collection of excellent reasons, it would seem, for praising this American spy turned pundit.

*Corrected.

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.