Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 9, 2007

A Closer Look at China’s Port Closures

There is word from Washington that, together with the Chinese, the American government has agreed “to put behind them” the dispute that erupted when China abruptly closed Hong Kong to a number of American ships and aircraft.

The most important turn-away was the USS Kitty Hawk carrier battle group, which had been granted permission to spend the Thanksgiving holiday in Hong Kong. The U.S. government had flown the families of the crew to the former British dependent territory for the festivities. Then, without explanation, on November 22 that permission was withdrawn, along with permission for the frigate Reuben James to spend New Year’s in Hong Kong.

Faced with great U.S. unhappiness, China reversed herself again, saying the Kitty Hawk could come—but carrier battle groups cannot turn on a dime. By then the Kitty Hawk was well under way for Japan—via the Taiwan Strait.

It is all very well and good for the Chinese ambassador to tell President Bush that it was a “misunderstanding”—indeed, a lot of talk has been coming out of our capital that would make you think sudden port closures on the eve of long-planned visits were routine. But they are not. Closing Hong Kong is not an oversight; it is serious business.

A few questions must be answered before the United States can close the file on this case. Who is in charge of access to Hong Kong? Do people in Hong Kong decide? Does the Chinese Navy decide? Does the standing committee of the politburo of the Communist Party decide? To make the point absolutely clear: does the Party rule the gun—or, as looks increasingly to be the case, does the gun rule the Party?

If the military made the decision against civilian wishes, that would be important news, for the Chinese military recently has been showing more “assertiveness” (to put it delicately). If, on the other hand, the civilians initiated the action, then clearly we have to reconsider what exactly the Chinese authorities are envisioning as a future.

What worries me most in this whole situation is that we seem not to want to know what really happened. If we look too closely, we might find that the benign assumptions upon which our China policy rests do not fit with the facts.

There is word from Washington that, together with the Chinese, the American government has agreed “to put behind them” the dispute that erupted when China abruptly closed Hong Kong to a number of American ships and aircraft.

The most important turn-away was the USS Kitty Hawk carrier battle group, which had been granted permission to spend the Thanksgiving holiday in Hong Kong. The U.S. government had flown the families of the crew to the former British dependent territory for the festivities. Then, without explanation, on November 22 that permission was withdrawn, along with permission for the frigate Reuben James to spend New Year’s in Hong Kong.

Faced with great U.S. unhappiness, China reversed herself again, saying the Kitty Hawk could come—but carrier battle groups cannot turn on a dime. By then the Kitty Hawk was well under way for Japan—via the Taiwan Strait.

It is all very well and good for the Chinese ambassador to tell President Bush that it was a “misunderstanding”—indeed, a lot of talk has been coming out of our capital that would make you think sudden port closures on the eve of long-planned visits were routine. But they are not. Closing Hong Kong is not an oversight; it is serious business.

A few questions must be answered before the United States can close the file on this case. Who is in charge of access to Hong Kong? Do people in Hong Kong decide? Does the Chinese Navy decide? Does the standing committee of the politburo of the Communist Party decide? To make the point absolutely clear: does the Party rule the gun—or, as looks increasingly to be the case, does the gun rule the Party?

If the military made the decision against civilian wishes, that would be important news, for the Chinese military recently has been showing more “assertiveness” (to put it delicately). If, on the other hand, the civilians initiated the action, then clearly we have to reconsider what exactly the Chinese authorities are envisioning as a future.

What worries me most in this whole situation is that we seem not to want to know what really happened. If we look too closely, we might find that the benign assumptions upon which our China policy rests do not fit with the facts.

Read Less

The Media’s War

Has anyone noticed what’s been happening with the media coverage of Iraq? It’s not, just, that it’s become more positive: it’s that there’s simply a lot less of it. The title of the Media Research Center’s December 4 report sums it up: “Good News = Less News on Iraq War.” In September, the big three networks aired 178 Iraq stories; by November, that had declined to 68 stories. Iraq’s air time is falling as fast as U.S. and Iraq casualties. Iraq today looks too much like Vietnam for comfort-not on the ground, where the parallels are encouraging, but in the media.

In Vietnam, the South Vietnamese population turned against the Viet Cong in 1968-69, in response to the Tet Offensive. That was three years after the large-scale deployment of U.S. troops, who in mid-1968 had come under the effective leadership of General Creighton Abrams. In Iraq, the popular turn came in 2006-07, three years after the start of the war, in response to the wave of violence unleashed by al Qaeda’s bombing of the Golden Mosque in February 2006, and as General Petraeus was taking command of the Multi-National Force—Iraq.

The very neatness of the comparison raises the suspicion that history cannot possibly repeat so precisely. Undoubtedly, it cannot. But the New Republic‘s quasi-apology for Pvt. Scott Beauchamp’s horror stories reveals that at least one kind of history—the kind that, among its other sins, lies about the conduct of U.S. troops—can indeed repeat itself exactly. It was Vietnam that made the media we know today: eager to win fame by uncovering atrocity stories, anti-establishment, and anti-war. A quieter Iraq is, for them, a less interesting Iraq.

And it was that media, in turn, that invented the Vietnam War we think we know. As Arthur Herman observed in the December issue of COMMENTARY, recent work on Vietnam demonstrates that “the old account is a myth, and no longer stands up to scrutiny.” But the journalistic—and hence the popular—narrative of that war continues to be deeply distorted, and this narrative drives what is emphasized and what is left uncovered in Iraq. B.G. Burkett’s Stolen Honor, for example, exposed hundred of pages worth of fake veterans and their fables in 1998. A decade later, the New Republic fell for precisely the same slanders. It was as if Burkett has never written.

Today, military progress in Iraq is undeniable. But relax: we can still lose. As Alissa Rubin wrote in the New York Times on December 5, “A Calmer Iraq: Fragile, and Possibly Fleeting.” Well—promises, promises. Not even victory in Iraq—and that is not something it would be wise to crow about now—is likely to destroy the media’s narrative: it has become a matter of generational and professional pride. If victory does come, the Media Research Center’s report foreshadows how the press will respond: by ignoring it. No response could be more revealing of how deeply invested they are in the narrative of failure that they created for Vietnam, or how little they genuinely care about what is going on Iraq.

Has anyone noticed what’s been happening with the media coverage of Iraq? It’s not, just, that it’s become more positive: it’s that there’s simply a lot less of it. The title of the Media Research Center’s December 4 report sums it up: “Good News = Less News on Iraq War.” In September, the big three networks aired 178 Iraq stories; by November, that had declined to 68 stories. Iraq’s air time is falling as fast as U.S. and Iraq casualties. Iraq today looks too much like Vietnam for comfort-not on the ground, where the parallels are encouraging, but in the media.

In Vietnam, the South Vietnamese population turned against the Viet Cong in 1968-69, in response to the Tet Offensive. That was three years after the large-scale deployment of U.S. troops, who in mid-1968 had come under the effective leadership of General Creighton Abrams. In Iraq, the popular turn came in 2006-07, three years after the start of the war, in response to the wave of violence unleashed by al Qaeda’s bombing of the Golden Mosque in February 2006, and as General Petraeus was taking command of the Multi-National Force—Iraq.

The very neatness of the comparison raises the suspicion that history cannot possibly repeat so precisely. Undoubtedly, it cannot. But the New Republic‘s quasi-apology for Pvt. Scott Beauchamp’s horror stories reveals that at least one kind of history—the kind that, among its other sins, lies about the conduct of U.S. troops—can indeed repeat itself exactly. It was Vietnam that made the media we know today: eager to win fame by uncovering atrocity stories, anti-establishment, and anti-war. A quieter Iraq is, for them, a less interesting Iraq.

And it was that media, in turn, that invented the Vietnam War we think we know. As Arthur Herman observed in the December issue of COMMENTARY, recent work on Vietnam demonstrates that “the old account is a myth, and no longer stands up to scrutiny.” But the journalistic—and hence the popular—narrative of that war continues to be deeply distorted, and this narrative drives what is emphasized and what is left uncovered in Iraq. B.G. Burkett’s Stolen Honor, for example, exposed hundred of pages worth of fake veterans and their fables in 1998. A decade later, the New Republic fell for precisely the same slanders. It was as if Burkett has never written.

Today, military progress in Iraq is undeniable. But relax: we can still lose. As Alissa Rubin wrote in the New York Times on December 5, “A Calmer Iraq: Fragile, and Possibly Fleeting.” Well—promises, promises. Not even victory in Iraq—and that is not something it would be wise to crow about now—is likely to destroy the media’s narrative: it has become a matter of generational and professional pride. If victory does come, the Media Research Center’s report foreshadows how the press will respond: by ignoring it. No response could be more revealing of how deeply invested they are in the narrative of failure that they created for Vietnam, or how little they genuinely care about what is going on Iraq.

Read Less

Not Quite the Falun Gong

Haaretz today reports the emergence of a new political force among the Palestinians, one which espouses non-violent protest rather than terror attacks. Although the Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) has been around since 1952 and is active in 45 countries, only recently has it begun to attract significant adherents among Palestinians—including a demonstration of 10,000 people last August in the city of El-Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah.

This is not the first movement advancing the Palestinian cause through the tactical renunciation of violence. I remember back in 1987 hearing a speech by Mubarak Awad, a self-styled Palestinian Ghandi Gandhi, who called for opposing Israel through strictly non-violent protest. Yet when asked what he would advocate if non-violent means fail, the Palestinian Martin Luther King responded that “of course, we would go back to violence.” (So much for Ghandi Gandhi.)

It is with the same feeling of “oops” that one reads about Hizb ut-Tahrir. According to Haaretz:

The party’s goal is the reestablishment of an Islamic caliphate to govern the whole Muslim world under Islamic law—and eventually to bring the entire world under Islamic rule. . . . The intention is to leave violent action—such as the destruction of Israel, which the party supports—to the conventional armed forces of the restored caliphate.

Our sense that Hizb ut-Tahrir’s renunciation of violence is a question of tactics rather than conviction grows stronger as we discover their uncanny ability to inspire their members to undertake violent acts. Haaretz continues:

Even if Hizb ut-Tahrir itself does not maintain an insurgent wing, recent experience in Europe shows that it has acted as an exemplary hothouse for the nurturing and education of future terrorists, who then go on to ply their trade in different frameworks. Omar Khan Sharif and Asif Muhammad Hanif, for example—the two British-Pakistanis who bombed the Tel Aviv bar Mike’s Place in 2003—had been associated with a Hizb ut-Tahrir splinter group in Britain, as had the “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid. This is why the party is outlawed in a number of European countries.

I do not know why Palestinians have failed to generate a single political movement of any strength that renounces terror and violence in principle. But so long as violence remains an overwhelming consensus among Palestinians, and its principled renunciation a public anathema, the prospects for a sustained reconciliation between Jew and Arab seem pretty grim.

Haaretz today reports the emergence of a new political force among the Palestinians, one which espouses non-violent protest rather than terror attacks. Although the Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) has been around since 1952 and is active in 45 countries, only recently has it begun to attract significant adherents among Palestinians—including a demonstration of 10,000 people last August in the city of El-Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah.

This is not the first movement advancing the Palestinian cause through the tactical renunciation of violence. I remember back in 1987 hearing a speech by Mubarak Awad, a self-styled Palestinian Ghandi Gandhi, who called for opposing Israel through strictly non-violent protest. Yet when asked what he would advocate if non-violent means fail, the Palestinian Martin Luther King responded that “of course, we would go back to violence.” (So much for Ghandi Gandhi.)

It is with the same feeling of “oops” that one reads about Hizb ut-Tahrir. According to Haaretz:

The party’s goal is the reestablishment of an Islamic caliphate to govern the whole Muslim world under Islamic law—and eventually to bring the entire world under Islamic rule. . . . The intention is to leave violent action—such as the destruction of Israel, which the party supports—to the conventional armed forces of the restored caliphate.

Our sense that Hizb ut-Tahrir’s renunciation of violence is a question of tactics rather than conviction grows stronger as we discover their uncanny ability to inspire their members to undertake violent acts. Haaretz continues:

Even if Hizb ut-Tahrir itself does not maintain an insurgent wing, recent experience in Europe shows that it has acted as an exemplary hothouse for the nurturing and education of future terrorists, who then go on to ply their trade in different frameworks. Omar Khan Sharif and Asif Muhammad Hanif, for example—the two British-Pakistanis who bombed the Tel Aviv bar Mike’s Place in 2003—had been associated with a Hizb ut-Tahrir splinter group in Britain, as had the “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid. This is why the party is outlawed in a number of European countries.

I do not know why Palestinians have failed to generate a single political movement of any strength that renounces terror and violence in principle. But so long as violence remains an overwhelming consensus among Palestinians, and its principled renunciation a public anathema, the prospects for a sustained reconciliation between Jew and Arab seem pretty grim.

Read Less




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