Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 15, 2008

The Final Word on the Democratic Debate

Dud.

Dud.

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This Just In

Hillary Clinton is “against illegal guns.” Unlike most people, who are for illegal guns.

Hillary Clinton is “against illegal guns.” Unlike most people, who are for illegal guns.

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Re: A Democratic Theme Emerges

Daniel, here’s what I don’t get: For decades, following FDR’s lead, Democrats mostly focused their anti-business fire on banks. Evil banks. Terrible banks. Here we are in 2008, there is a financial crisis, and the crisis is largely due to the behavior of banks. So why aren’t Democrats attacking banks? One theory about Mrs. Clinton: Hillary can’t because Citigroup is the home of her chief economic adviser, Robert Rubin, who was her husband’s Treasury Secretary.

Daniel, here’s what I don’t get: For decades, following FDR’s lead, Democrats mostly focused their anti-business fire on banks. Evil banks. Terrible banks. Here we are in 2008, there is a financial crisis, and the crisis is largely due to the behavior of banks. So why aren’t Democrats attacking banks? One theory about Mrs. Clinton: Hillary can’t because Citigroup is the home of her chief economic adviser, Robert Rubin, who was her husband’s Treasury Secretary.

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A Democratic Theme Emerges

After apparently burying the hatchet on race and gender by talking about race and gender for the first 15 minutes of the debate, the Democratic party seemed to warm to a common theme: corporate bashing.

This is an old theme, explored by Al Gore and occasionally deployed by John Kerry, but in the interest of unity, it may become the strongest message of the campaign. Pharmaceutical companies, mortgage companies, big banks, oil companies, and insurance companies have all come in for some sort of bashing tonight. All this will become more palatable if the economy continues to drift south, of course. The challenge for Republicans will be to be pro-business in difficult times, rather than just retreating to standard GOP chatter about entrepreneurs and small businesses. The theme Republicans ought to embrace is the need for American businesses to be the most competitive in the world.

Oddly, the Michigan GOP primary, supposedly focused on the economy, didn’t create any debate on this subject. Instead, from Romney we got auto industry pandering and from McCain, a lot of talk about job retraining.

After apparently burying the hatchet on race and gender by talking about race and gender for the first 15 minutes of the debate, the Democratic party seemed to warm to a common theme: corporate bashing.

This is an old theme, explored by Al Gore and occasionally deployed by John Kerry, but in the interest of unity, it may become the strongest message of the campaign. Pharmaceutical companies, mortgage companies, big banks, oil companies, and insurance companies have all come in for some sort of bashing tonight. All this will become more palatable if the economy continues to drift south, of course. The challenge for Republicans will be to be pro-business in difficult times, rather than just retreating to standard GOP chatter about entrepreneurs and small businesses. The theme Republicans ought to embrace is the need for American businesses to be the most competitive in the world.

Oddly, the Michigan GOP primary, supposedly focused on the economy, didn’t create any debate on this subject. Instead, from Romney we got auto industry pandering and from McCain, a lot of talk about job retraining.

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Obama’s Energy Nonsense

Barack Obama spent a few minutes condemning the Bush administration for failing to have an energy policy. An hour later, he turns around and announces opposition to the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste storage facility — which is key if we are to come up with an energy policy to replace national dependence on foreign oil through the deployment of nuclear power. All the Democrats oppose Yucca Mountain, and why? Because it’s in Nevada, they’re in Nevada, Nevada Democrats don’t like it, and the liberal stance on nuclear power remains wildly irresponsible.

Barack Obama spent a few minutes condemning the Bush administration for failing to have an energy policy. An hour later, he turns around and announces opposition to the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste storage facility — which is key if we are to come up with an energy policy to replace national dependence on foreign oil through the deployment of nuclear power. All the Democrats oppose Yucca Mountain, and why? Because it’s in Nevada, they’re in Nevada, Nevada Democrats don’t like it, and the liberal stance on nuclear power remains wildly irresponsible.

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Sovereign Wealth Funds

Brian Williams of NBC asked the Democrats a substantive and a provocative question about sovereign wealth funds — giant pools of money controlled and managed by foreign governments like China, Singapore, and Gulf oil states — investing in American companies like Merrill Lynch and Citigroup. This issue will be a rallying point for the protectionist left and right this campaign season. John Edwards and Hillary Clinton gave a lot of boiler point about more transparency and the need to do something. Barack Obama, clearly knowing nothing about the topic, talked about alternative energy.

But the U.S. attitude toward sovereign wealth funds is going to be the most important test of American acceptance of globalization. By this fall, there will be many more companies that get their funding from government investment funds from the Gulf State, Singapore, and China. Irwin Stelzer has made the best case for being wary about having a foreign government holding the purse strings of American businesses. But the fact is, these funds are going to be the most important engine of finance and growth capital in a global economy whether we like it or not. As a political matter, this is probably a losing issue for free traders. Yet all those politicians who want to deter foreign financial investment in American companies have to tell us what Citi, and Merrill, and all the other cash-strapped companies should do when they need to find new sources of capital if they can’t get access to these pools of wealth.

Brian Williams of NBC asked the Democrats a substantive and a provocative question about sovereign wealth funds — giant pools of money controlled and managed by foreign governments like China, Singapore, and Gulf oil states — investing in American companies like Merrill Lynch and Citigroup. This issue will be a rallying point for the protectionist left and right this campaign season. John Edwards and Hillary Clinton gave a lot of boiler point about more transparency and the need to do something. Barack Obama, clearly knowing nothing about the topic, talked about alternative energy.

But the U.S. attitude toward sovereign wealth funds is going to be the most important test of American acceptance of globalization. By this fall, there will be many more companies that get their funding from government investment funds from the Gulf State, Singapore, and China. Irwin Stelzer has made the best case for being wary about having a foreign government holding the purse strings of American businesses. But the fact is, these funds are going to be the most important engine of finance and growth capital in a global economy whether we like it or not. As a political matter, this is probably a losing issue for free traders. Yet all those politicians who want to deter foreign financial investment in American companies have to tell us what Citi, and Merrill, and all the other cash-strapped companies should do when they need to find new sources of capital if they can’t get access to these pools of wealth.

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Freezing Interest Rates

An interesting question from an e-mailer to the Democratic debate: What are the potential consequences of freezing interest rates on mortgages? Hillary Clinton refuses to answer the question, and for good reason. She knows, I believe, that this represents an extraordinary and unprecedented effort on the part of the government to interpose itself in a private contractual arrangement entered into by adults of their own free will.

An interesting question from an e-mailer to the Democratic debate: What are the potential consequences of freezing interest rates on mortgages? Hillary Clinton refuses to answer the question, and for good reason. She knows, I believe, that this represents an extraordinary and unprecedented effort on the part of the government to interpose itself in a private contractual arrangement entered into by adults of their own free will.

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This Is An Extremely Friendly, Positive Debate…

…and it’s perhaps the most boring political spectacle of the past six months.

…and it’s perhaps the most boring political spectacle of the past six months.

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Regrets, They’ve Had a Few

John Edwards and Hillary Clinton both say they regret having voted for a bankruptcy law in 2002. At this rate, they will join Obama in weeping and begging voter forgiveness for everything they have ever done.

John Edwards and Hillary Clinton both say they regret having voted for a bankruptcy law in 2002. At this rate, they will join Obama in weeping and begging voter forgiveness for everything they have ever done.

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The Quadrennial Religious-Right Bust

It appears Mike Huckabee will finish a dismal third in Michigan. One can blame his showing on an absence of funds, but he has been enjoying a remarkable free media ride since mid-December, and if he had any strength left, we would have seen evidence of it tonight.

Instead, what we are seeing is yet more evidence that the Republican Party is not in the grip of the Religious Right. That has been a myth organized political evangelicals have been eager to promote and Democratic and Republican elites have, in gullibility, accepted.

Yet here we have Huckabee — the most attractive and least divisive Christian political leader we have ever seen — failing to make a mark in Michigan, where some 40 percent of GOP voters describe themselves as evangelical. It turns out that evangelicals, like Michigan union members, don’t vote as a bloc.

Christian activists are estimated to be around 20 percent of the GOP base. As a result, national party leaders have to pay attention to them. Going to war against the Republican evangelicals, as Northeastern liberal Republican governors Bill Weld and Christie Todd Whitman once did, has always been a vain and and unnecessary gesture. Vain, because standing up to the Religious Right always wins applause at GOP high-dollar fundraisers, and unnecessary, because the Religious Right doesn’t exercise a veto over GOP policy.

Huckabee will catch a final breeze in South Carolina, but the “Christian” phase of the GOP primary really comes to an end tonight. But don’t worry. Experts at the Aspen Institute and other centers of the good and great will talk all summer about how the GOP has to free itself from the influence of
the Religious Right.

It appears Mike Huckabee will finish a dismal third in Michigan. One can blame his showing on an absence of funds, but he has been enjoying a remarkable free media ride since mid-December, and if he had any strength left, we would have seen evidence of it tonight.

Instead, what we are seeing is yet more evidence that the Republican Party is not in the grip of the Religious Right. That has been a myth organized political evangelicals have been eager to promote and Democratic and Republican elites have, in gullibility, accepted.

Yet here we have Huckabee — the most attractive and least divisive Christian political leader we have ever seen — failing to make a mark in Michigan, where some 40 percent of GOP voters describe themselves as evangelical. It turns out that evangelicals, like Michigan union members, don’t vote as a bloc.

Christian activists are estimated to be around 20 percent of the GOP base. As a result, national party leaders have to pay attention to them. Going to war against the Republican evangelicals, as Northeastern liberal Republican governors Bill Weld and Christie Todd Whitman once did, has always been a vain and and unnecessary gesture. Vain, because standing up to the Religious Right always wins applause at GOP high-dollar fundraisers, and unnecessary, because the Religious Right doesn’t exercise a veto over GOP policy.

Huckabee will catch a final breeze in South Carolina, but the “Christian” phase of the GOP primary really comes to an end tonight. But don’t worry. Experts at the Aspen Institute and other centers of the good and great will talk all summer about how the GOP has to free itself from the influence of
the Religious Right.

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My Weakness Is That I Care Too Much

John Edwards just said his weakness was that he cares too much for people. This is not a joke. Hillary Clinton said her weakness is that she sometimes pushes “further and faster than people would like to go.” That was not a joke. At least Barack Obama said, asked about his weakness, that he loses papers and has asked his staff not to give him things until a few minutes before he needs them.

John Edwards just said his weakness was that he cares too much for people. This is not a joke. Hillary Clinton said her weakness is that she sometimes pushes “further and faster than people would like to go.” That was not a joke. At least Barack Obama said, asked about his weakness, that he loses papers and has asked his staff not to give him things until a few minutes before he needs them.

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Mr. Obama Regrets

Twice in the first half hour of the Democratic debate in Nevada, Barack Obama has used the word “regret” about controversial incidents in the past couple of weeks — first, regretting his campaign suggested remarks by the Clinton camp were racist, and second, regretting he said Hillary Clinton was only likable enough. Kind of nice. Ever notice politicians never apologize? Maybe they should.

Twice in the first half hour of the Democratic debate in Nevada, Barack Obama has used the word “regret” about controversial incidents in the past couple of weeks — first, regretting his campaign suggested remarks by the Clinton camp were racist, and second, regretting he said Hillary Clinton was only likable enough. Kind of nice. Ever notice politicians never apologize? Maybe they should.

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Opening Question

John Edwards is a full a news cycle behind, and the lapse makes him a bit laughable. Hillary and Obama are both wisely attuned to the fact that the American public has had enough of the identity fixation, but somehow Edwards is now hungry for civil rights credibility. This brings back the images of Edwards’ choreographed consolation of Katrina victims–just days before he was revealed as a sub-prime investor.

John Edwards is a full a news cycle behind, and the lapse makes him a bit laughable. Hillary and Obama are both wisely attuned to the fact that the American public has had enough of the identity fixation, but somehow Edwards is now hungry for civil rights credibility. This brings back the images of Edwards’ choreographed consolation of Katrina victims–just days before he was revealed as a sub-prime investor.

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McCain’s Failure in Michigan

Mitt Romney’s victory in Michigan is a testament to his remarkable elasticity. Having spent two years running as a social conservative, which he is not, he decided a week ago to run as a businessman reformer. It didn’t carry him over the threshold there, but it evidently has in Michigan — where, among other things, the Republican candidate seems to have made wildly un-Republican promises to use the powers of the federal government to restore, through some mystical spell, automotive-industry jobs to the suffering state.

Romney may not have won in Michigan so much as McCain lost it. And he lost it because of a characteristic tendency that makes him Romney’s opposite — political rigidity based on a sense of his own personal rectitude. Having said jobs in Michigan were not coming back, he went to Michigan and praised efforts to mandate an increase in fuel-mileage standards, which auto executives claim will raise the price of a car fully $6,000 — a job killer, in other words. And he spoke against drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, which is the only realistic way for the United States to increase its own domestic oil supply.

McCain’s line is that he is a straight talker. But there are moments he seems to make a fetish of his own honesty, and asks others to support him solely because of it.

Mitt Romney’s victory in Michigan is a testament to his remarkable elasticity. Having spent two years running as a social conservative, which he is not, he decided a week ago to run as a businessman reformer. It didn’t carry him over the threshold there, but it evidently has in Michigan — where, among other things, the Republican candidate seems to have made wildly un-Republican promises to use the powers of the federal government to restore, through some mystical spell, automotive-industry jobs to the suffering state.

Romney may not have won in Michigan so much as McCain lost it. And he lost it because of a characteristic tendency that makes him Romney’s opposite — political rigidity based on a sense of his own personal rectitude. Having said jobs in Michigan were not coming back, he went to Michigan and praised efforts to mandate an increase in fuel-mileage standards, which auto executives claim will raise the price of a car fully $6,000 — a job killer, in other words. And he spoke against drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, which is the only realistic way for the United States to increase its own domestic oil supply.

McCain’s line is that he is a straight talker. But there are moments he seems to make a fetish of his own honesty, and asks others to support him solely because of it.

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The Michigan Primary and the Nevada Debate

We will be live-blogging the results in the Michigan Republican primary tonight, and simultaneously writing about the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Nevada, starting at 9 pm eastern time. Two quick thoughts.

1) If the exit polls hold up and Mitt Romney wins, that will mean three different Republicans have won the first genuinely contested state contests — Huckabee in Iowa, McCain in New Hampshire, Romney in Michigan. It is possible Fred Thompson will win South Carolina next week. And all these results make it even more plausible that Rudy Giuliani will hold on to win Florida two weeks from now, because there will be no frontrunner and therefore no one will benefit from momentum in the effort to prevail in Florida.

Five contests. Five different winners. All going into Super Tuesday. It sounds like chaos, but maybe it’s the best thing for the GOP, because the party is going to have to generate some kind of news excitement if its candidate is to have a chance in November.

2) Expect a ridiculous amount of discussion in Nevada tonight about strange issues that seem to be about nothing — maybe like the taxation of gratuities. The main voting bloc in the Democratic party in the state consists of people who work in hotels, and Hillary needs to peel part of it away from Obama, who secured the endorsement of its union.

We will be live-blogging the results in the Michigan Republican primary tonight, and simultaneously writing about the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Nevada, starting at 9 pm eastern time. Two quick thoughts.

1) If the exit polls hold up and Mitt Romney wins, that will mean three different Republicans have won the first genuinely contested state contests — Huckabee in Iowa, McCain in New Hampshire, Romney in Michigan. It is possible Fred Thompson will win South Carolina next week. And all these results make it even more plausible that Rudy Giuliani will hold on to win Florida two weeks from now, because there will be no frontrunner and therefore no one will benefit from momentum in the effort to prevail in Florida.

Five contests. Five different winners. All going into Super Tuesday. It sounds like chaos, but maybe it’s the best thing for the GOP, because the party is going to have to generate some kind of news excitement if its candidate is to have a chance in November.

2) Expect a ridiculous amount of discussion in Nevada tonight about strange issues that seem to be about nothing — maybe like the taxation of gratuities. The main voting bloc in the Democratic party in the state consists of people who work in hotels, and Hillary needs to peel part of it away from Obama, who secured the endorsement of its union.

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Does Hollywood Hate Arabs?

Steve Clemons has posted a video on his blog he says was sent to him by an Al Jazeera anchor. The video, called “Reel Bad Arabs,” purports to show what the American Prospect‘s Matthew Duss says is “Hollywood’s villification of Arabs.” Clemons says the video is “worth learning from” but doesn’t bother to tell us what (if anything) he learned from it.

Bypassing the obvious questions raised about the validity of anything forwarded along by an Al Jazeera journalist, Ross Douthat nevertheless very smartly writes that nearly all of the movies depicted in the documentary are at least fifteen years old. He also points out that “America’s most deadly and dedicated enemies tend to be, well, Arabic,” a fact which no doubt offends the tender sensibilities of Clemons and Duss. I imagine both of them would prefer that Hollywood change the scripts of movies so that, for instance, Arab terrorists become European neo-Nazis hell-bent on world domination. Everyone knows, after all, that the latter are a grave threat to humanity and the former are mere holograms created by the neocon war machine.

Steve Clemons has posted a video on his blog he says was sent to him by an Al Jazeera anchor. The video, called “Reel Bad Arabs,” purports to show what the American Prospect‘s Matthew Duss says is “Hollywood’s villification of Arabs.” Clemons says the video is “worth learning from” but doesn’t bother to tell us what (if anything) he learned from it.

Bypassing the obvious questions raised about the validity of anything forwarded along by an Al Jazeera journalist, Ross Douthat nevertheless very smartly writes that nearly all of the movies depicted in the documentary are at least fifteen years old. He also points out that “America’s most deadly and dedicated enemies tend to be, well, Arabic,” a fact which no doubt offends the tender sensibilities of Clemons and Duss. I imagine both of them would prefer that Hollywood change the scripts of movies so that, for instance, Arab terrorists become European neo-Nazis hell-bent on world domination. Everyone knows, after all, that the latter are a grave threat to humanity and the former are mere holograms created by the neocon war machine.

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Thompson Squares off Against McCain

At Hotair, Allahpundit can’t decide whether Fred Thompson’s latest shot at John McCain is a “good straight jab” or an uppercut, but in any case the punch landed flush. Glenn Reynolds asked Thompson about McCain’s support amongst conservative voters. Thompson struck where McCain’s guard will always be down: taxes, immigration, and global warming. Thompson wraps up:

You know, he has his strong suits and his weak suits. But I think that the direction that he and Huckabee and others really, I think Giuliani and where Romney has been in the past all are going in a so-called moderate direction, which is going to lead to, you know, so-called big government conservativism or bigger government conservativism anyway.

There’s no question that a Reagan coalition conservative can compile a quick and tidy anti-McCain checklist. But as David Brooks put it in his much praised, but not at all heeded, January 1 piece on Mitt Romney, “If any Republican candidate is going to win this year, he will have to offer a new brand of Republicanism.” Which kind of takes the sting out of Thompson’s shot.

Additionally, McCain has a unique ability to instill trust in those who disagree with him. As the most pro-Iraq War politician in the country polls show he swept up New Hampshire’s anti-war voters. No one should be shocked if he finds support amongst those who resent his “big government conservativism,” too. Call this mysterious trait character.

At Hotair, Allahpundit can’t decide whether Fred Thompson’s latest shot at John McCain is a “good straight jab” or an uppercut, but in any case the punch landed flush. Glenn Reynolds asked Thompson about McCain’s support amongst conservative voters. Thompson struck where McCain’s guard will always be down: taxes, immigration, and global warming. Thompson wraps up:

You know, he has his strong suits and his weak suits. But I think that the direction that he and Huckabee and others really, I think Giuliani and where Romney has been in the past all are going in a so-called moderate direction, which is going to lead to, you know, so-called big government conservativism or bigger government conservativism anyway.

There’s no question that a Reagan coalition conservative can compile a quick and tidy anti-McCain checklist. But as David Brooks put it in his much praised, but not at all heeded, January 1 piece on Mitt Romney, “If any Republican candidate is going to win this year, he will have to offer a new brand of Republicanism.” Which kind of takes the sting out of Thompson’s shot.

Additionally, McCain has a unique ability to instill trust in those who disagree with him. As the most pro-Iraq War politician in the country polls show he swept up New Hampshire’s anti-war voters. No one should be shocked if he finds support amongst those who resent his “big government conservativism,” too. Call this mysterious trait character.

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Mona Lisa

The subject of Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait, after centuries, been conclusively identified: she is Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, long considered the most likely candidate and now proven to be the one beyond a doubt. German academics have dug up a letter from one of da Vinci’s friends attesting to this. But her incomparable gaze remains as secretive as ever.

The subject of Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait, after centuries, been conclusively identified: she is Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, long considered the most likely candidate and now proven to be the one beyond a doubt. German academics have dug up a letter from one of da Vinci’s friends attesting to this. But her incomparable gaze remains as secretive as ever.

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Obama Smear–The Hebrew Version

The Democratic race has fallen off the curb and into the gutter. Ynet News reports that an email making its way through the U.S. and Israel asserts that Barack Obama is a stealthy al Qaeda operative poised to topple the American government. Here’s perhaps the most distasteful aspect of this latest development: “One of the target audiences in the campaign is clearly the American Jewish community because the e-mail has also been sent out in Hebrew.”

In fact, this new smear is merely a Hebrew translation of the email that went around a month ago – the email that was actually penned by a (since jettisoned) Hillary Clinton Iowa county chair. With the non-stop identity carnival that is now the Obama and Clinton campaigns, this update on last month’s mini-scandal takes on the larger grotesqueness of the day.

This isn’t the first time the Obama-Muslim connection has come up. About a year ago, Daniel Pipes merely raised the question of Obama’s historical relationship to Islam, and the left-wing blogosphere went apoplectic. Where’s the outrage now that a Hillary supporter’s vulgar slander finds a second life through Jew-baiting?

The Democratic race has fallen off the curb and into the gutter. Ynet News reports that an email making its way through the U.S. and Israel asserts that Barack Obama is a stealthy al Qaeda operative poised to topple the American government. Here’s perhaps the most distasteful aspect of this latest development: “One of the target audiences in the campaign is clearly the American Jewish community because the e-mail has also been sent out in Hebrew.”

In fact, this new smear is merely a Hebrew translation of the email that went around a month ago – the email that was actually penned by a (since jettisoned) Hillary Clinton Iowa county chair. With the non-stop identity carnival that is now the Obama and Clinton campaigns, this update on last month’s mini-scandal takes on the larger grotesqueness of the day.

This isn’t the first time the Obama-Muslim connection has come up. About a year ago, Daniel Pipes merely raised the question of Obama’s historical relationship to Islam, and the left-wing blogosphere went apoplectic. Where’s the outrage now that a Hillary supporter’s vulgar slander finds a second life through Jew-baiting?

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Flash of the Obvious

Gordon Chang’s recent post, with its circumstantial evidence that China played a major role in North Korea’s nuclear program, perhaps even supporting the creation of the secret uranium enrichment program so that the plutonium program could be traded away: this posting set off for me the proverbial blinding flash of the obvious.

If, as I have argued, our strong interest is that both Koreas should draw away from China in the direction of Japan and the free world, then by the same token, it is China’s interest that both Koreas should become her strategic partners. Aligned with the west, Korea denies China access to the Sea of Japan and keeps her far from Vladivostok, while flanking to the north the entire sea passage to Beijing and its port of Tianjin. Aligned with China, Korea puts the People’s Republic close to Russia’s most important eastern military base, gives her multiple bases from which to enter the Sea of Japan, and brings her to within a hundred miles or so of Japan, with only the sixty or so miles of the Korea Strait separating them. So Korea is a potential decisive weight in Asian strategy.

The issue is how to influence Korea. I have argued that our best policy is to support the universal Korean desire for unification, stop badgering the north about the nuclear program, and, without giving them aid, open up direct lines of communication. As for the south we must work closely with them, in particular with respect to their neuralgic relationship about former colonial power Japan.

China’s best strategy is the opposite: to keep Korea divided and play one state off against the other, in order to keep them weak. Nuclear weapons for the north might have been thought of as a way of cementing loyalty. Close ties with the south are designed to draw her away from the United States and Japan. Tactically it is in certain respects an easier strategy. Its potentially fatal flaw is that because it works against unification, it is bound to be rejected sooner or later, with malice, by both Koreas.

We Americans are thoroughly wrapped up in the Middle East these days. In Korea we are pursuing the fantasy of North Korean disarmament through Chinese assistance–in part because we lack the influence or the attention span, owing to Iraq, to want to get seriously involved. But in the long run, East Asia may well prove even more explosive than the Middle East.

.

Gordon Chang’s recent post, with its circumstantial evidence that China played a major role in North Korea’s nuclear program, perhaps even supporting the creation of the secret uranium enrichment program so that the plutonium program could be traded away: this posting set off for me the proverbial blinding flash of the obvious.

If, as I have argued, our strong interest is that both Koreas should draw away from China in the direction of Japan and the free world, then by the same token, it is China’s interest that both Koreas should become her strategic partners. Aligned with the west, Korea denies China access to the Sea of Japan and keeps her far from Vladivostok, while flanking to the north the entire sea passage to Beijing and its port of Tianjin. Aligned with China, Korea puts the People’s Republic close to Russia’s most important eastern military base, gives her multiple bases from which to enter the Sea of Japan, and brings her to within a hundred miles or so of Japan, with only the sixty or so miles of the Korea Strait separating them. So Korea is a potential decisive weight in Asian strategy.

The issue is how to influence Korea. I have argued that our best policy is to support the universal Korean desire for unification, stop badgering the north about the nuclear program, and, without giving them aid, open up direct lines of communication. As for the south we must work closely with them, in particular with respect to their neuralgic relationship about former colonial power Japan.

China’s best strategy is the opposite: to keep Korea divided and play one state off against the other, in order to keep them weak. Nuclear weapons for the north might have been thought of as a way of cementing loyalty. Close ties with the south are designed to draw her away from the United States and Japan. Tactically it is in certain respects an easier strategy. Its potentially fatal flaw is that because it works against unification, it is bound to be rejected sooner or later, with malice, by both Koreas.

We Americans are thoroughly wrapped up in the Middle East these days. In Korea we are pursuing the fantasy of North Korean disarmament through Chinese assistance–in part because we lack the influence or the attention span, owing to Iraq, to want to get seriously involved. But in the long run, East Asia may well prove even more explosive than the Middle East.

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