Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 24, 2008

China Proposes a Three-Way Forum

Yesterday, Nikkei, the Japanese business news organization, reported that Beijing had proposed that China, Japan, and the United States hold regular high-level talks on matters of common interest, such as North Korea.  Is this a good idea?

We start with the general proposition that, given Beijing’s worldview, anything the Chinese propose cannot be advantageous for either the Japanese or us.  As an initial matter, the establishment of a permanent structure including the Chinese enhances their role in Asia.

The Bush administration has done much to bolster Beijing’s diplomacy by putting China at the center of multilateral attempts to disarm North Korea.  The Chinese used the six-party talks to promote dialogue but not a solution.  As a result, they have given the North Koreans the time to build nuclear devices and improve their long-range missiles.  When there has been progress in this forum—started in 2003—it has almost always been because American diplomats have informally sat down with their North Korean counterparts without the Chinese present.  China supplies 90 percent of the North’s oil, 80 percent of its consumer goods, and 45 percent of its food.  They are each other’s only military ally.  No other nation provides more diplomatic support to Pyongyang.  The Chinese cannot obtain the North Koreans’ cooperation or they do not want to.  Either conclusion shows that China is not a helpful diplomatic partner.  Consequently, it would be unwise to repeat our strategic mistakes by giving Beijing more clout than it deserves.

Moreover, the establishment of China’s three-way forum would exclude South Korea, a crucial American ally.  In Asia, the United States has strong alliances with Tokyo and Seoul.  The Japanese and South Koreans, however, have not established good ties between themselves.  South Korea’s outgoing president, Roh Moo-hyun, unfortunately, has stirred up lingering anti-Japanese resentment in an apparent attempt to strengthen his failing administration.  Tomorrow’s inauguration of his successor, Lee Myung-bak, will probably result in better ties between his government and Tokyo: earlier this month the pragmatic Lee signaled his desire to repair the damage Roh has caused.  So America should encourage this welcome trend and not accept Beijing’s plan, which can only drive wedges among Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul.  If the Bush administration promotes three-way discussions, it should encourage dialogue involving the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

So let’s stop promoting potential adversaries and start helping our friends.  Isn’t that what diplomacy is all about?

Yesterday, Nikkei, the Japanese business news organization, reported that Beijing had proposed that China, Japan, and the United States hold regular high-level talks on matters of common interest, such as North Korea.  Is this a good idea?

We start with the general proposition that, given Beijing’s worldview, anything the Chinese propose cannot be advantageous for either the Japanese or us.  As an initial matter, the establishment of a permanent structure including the Chinese enhances their role in Asia.

The Bush administration has done much to bolster Beijing’s diplomacy by putting China at the center of multilateral attempts to disarm North Korea.  The Chinese used the six-party talks to promote dialogue but not a solution.  As a result, they have given the North Koreans the time to build nuclear devices and improve their long-range missiles.  When there has been progress in this forum—started in 2003—it has almost always been because American diplomats have informally sat down with their North Korean counterparts without the Chinese present.  China supplies 90 percent of the North’s oil, 80 percent of its consumer goods, and 45 percent of its food.  They are each other’s only military ally.  No other nation provides more diplomatic support to Pyongyang.  The Chinese cannot obtain the North Koreans’ cooperation or they do not want to.  Either conclusion shows that China is not a helpful diplomatic partner.  Consequently, it would be unwise to repeat our strategic mistakes by giving Beijing more clout than it deserves.

Moreover, the establishment of China’s three-way forum would exclude South Korea, a crucial American ally.  In Asia, the United States has strong alliances with Tokyo and Seoul.  The Japanese and South Koreans, however, have not established good ties between themselves.  South Korea’s outgoing president, Roh Moo-hyun, unfortunately, has stirred up lingering anti-Japanese resentment in an apparent attempt to strengthen his failing administration.  Tomorrow’s inauguration of his successor, Lee Myung-bak, will probably result in better ties between his government and Tokyo: earlier this month the pragmatic Lee signaled his desire to repair the damage Roh has caused.  So America should encourage this welcome trend and not accept Beijing’s plan, which can only drive wedges among Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul.  If the Bush administration promotes three-way discussions, it should encourage dialogue involving the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

So let’s stop promoting potential adversaries and start helping our friends.  Isn’t that what diplomacy is all about?

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Torture in Ramallah

Among Israelis, Hamas has a reputation for honesty alongside its brutality. Unlike the PA, Hamas doesn’t hide its intentions, nor does it hide its resentment of other Arab groups. So we should take it seriously when Hamas declares that Palestinian Authority prisons are “worse than Israeli occupation prisons with regards to prisoners’ rights.” This, in the wake of the death of a 44-year-old Hamas preacher in a Ramallah prison, just a week after the PA arrested him. According to the report on Ynet,

The Hamas movement received some support from a report by one of the main human rights organizations in the Palestinian Territories, A-Damir – a group that specializes in defending the rights of prisoners. The organization noted that it appears that Barghouti was tortured in a Palestinian intelligence service base and added that the PA group refuse to allow Barghouti to continue medical treatment at a hospital in spite of doctors’ recommendations.

Now, I really do believe that Hamas is an evil organization, and that its preachings of terror and violence are a serious threat. But one has to wonder why we have not heard more about conditions in Palestinian prisons, and whether international human rights organizations, which spill so much ink in addressing American and Israeli prisons, will take a serious look at what happens in places where there is no “occupation.”

Among Israelis, Hamas has a reputation for honesty alongside its brutality. Unlike the PA, Hamas doesn’t hide its intentions, nor does it hide its resentment of other Arab groups. So we should take it seriously when Hamas declares that Palestinian Authority prisons are “worse than Israeli occupation prisons with regards to prisoners’ rights.” This, in the wake of the death of a 44-year-old Hamas preacher in a Ramallah prison, just a week after the PA arrested him. According to the report on Ynet,

The Hamas movement received some support from a report by one of the main human rights organizations in the Palestinian Territories, A-Damir – a group that specializes in defending the rights of prisoners. The organization noted that it appears that Barghouti was tortured in a Palestinian intelligence service base and added that the PA group refuse to allow Barghouti to continue medical treatment at a hospital in spite of doctors’ recommendations.

Now, I really do believe that Hamas is an evil organization, and that its preachings of terror and violence are a serious threat. But one has to wonder why we have not heard more about conditions in Palestinian prisons, and whether international human rights organizations, which spill so much ink in addressing American and Israeli prisons, will take a serious look at what happens in places where there is no “occupation.”

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Nader Can Still Spoil

Many believe Ralph Nader’s joining the presidential race will have little effect on the election, but if one looks at the issues and ideas bolstering Democratic support it seems 2008 may be a particularly Nader-friendly season. The Democrats–particularly Barack Obama–need to worry about votes potentially lost to this strange, old antagonist.

Today’s Democratic climate is in some ways a product of the anti-corporate, pro-outsider zeal that’s defined Nader’s public presence. The Democrats’ change mantra, pacifist imaginings, demand for universal healthcare, anti-lobbyist fervor, environmental hysteria, and young voter turnout all spell good news for Nader. Additionally, the somewhat widespread acceptance of a fringe thinker like Ron Paul is an indication that the 73-year-old election spoiler is entitled to, as Obama might say, his audacity of hope.

Yes, Ralph Nader is old and marginalized. But his organization is packed with bright young dreamers (Obama having been one for a brief time). It’s fair to suspect a coming viral push, followed by some sort of groundswell. If Nader’s 2.7 percent of the national vote was enough to douse Al Gore in 2000, things could get interesting.

Many believe Ralph Nader’s joining the presidential race will have little effect on the election, but if one looks at the issues and ideas bolstering Democratic support it seems 2008 may be a particularly Nader-friendly season. The Democrats–particularly Barack Obama–need to worry about votes potentially lost to this strange, old antagonist.

Today’s Democratic climate is in some ways a product of the anti-corporate, pro-outsider zeal that’s defined Nader’s public presence. The Democrats’ change mantra, pacifist imaginings, demand for universal healthcare, anti-lobbyist fervor, environmental hysteria, and young voter turnout all spell good news for Nader. Additionally, the somewhat widespread acceptance of a fringe thinker like Ron Paul is an indication that the 73-year-old election spoiler is entitled to, as Obama might say, his audacity of hope.

Yes, Ralph Nader is old and marginalized. But his organization is packed with bright young dreamers (Obama having been one for a brief time). It’s fair to suspect a coming viral push, followed by some sort of groundswell. If Nader’s 2.7 percent of the national vote was enough to douse Al Gore in 2000, things could get interesting.

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Counting Down

McCain snagged 18 delegates in victories on Saturday in American Samoa and the Northern Marianas. With a win in Puerto Rico on Sunday he gained 20 more delegates to reach 996. The race very well could end on March 4 when 265 delegates are at stake. Mike Huckabee, after a Saturday Night Live performance that revealed he knows the jig is up, will presumably stick to his word and formally leave the race once McCain’s delegate count hits 1191. His continued presence has proven only the most minor annoyance to McCain and gave McCain the pretext to get on the air after primary wins over the last few weeks. Huckabee’s future job prospects remain bright. If nothing else, he represents a new style of leadership for Christian conservatives.

McCain snagged 18 delegates in victories on Saturday in American Samoa and the Northern Marianas. With a win in Puerto Rico on Sunday he gained 20 more delegates to reach 996. The race very well could end on March 4 when 265 delegates are at stake. Mike Huckabee, after a Saturday Night Live performance that revealed he knows the jig is up, will presumably stick to his word and formally leave the race once McCain’s delegate count hits 1191. His continued presence has proven only the most minor annoyance to McCain and gave McCain the pretext to get on the air after primary wins over the last few weeks. Huckabee’s future job prospects remain bright. If nothing else, he represents a new style of leadership for Christian conservatives.

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The Final Act

Hillary Clinton does not do whining and outrage very well, as demonstrated here. The resentment seeps through: “Enough with the speeches and the big rallies and then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove’s playbook.” (Yes, it really is terrible that Barack Obama doesn’t have the good graces to stick to puny crowds like she does.) Although she is getting very sympathetic coverage portraying her as brave and resolute, it is bravery and resolution resulting from the prospect of a final defeat. These and other tales of semi-resignation (as well as Clinton’s own words) suggest that maybe she will not fight to the bitter end if she loses one or more of her must-win states on March 4.

Will she follow the example of Mitt Romney who went out at the right time and with great dignity? Granted, they are not similarly situated. He is newer on the national stage, and a Romney re-run in 2012 or 2016 would not raise the “not again” refrain. Unlike Romney, this is by far her best shot at the White House. So why not roll the dice and hold out for a fight at the Convention, hoping for an intervening scandal or a gaffe that might turn the tide? But Clinton is nothing if not steely-eyed. Blowing up the Democratic Party when the odds are stacked against her seems a poor way to set up the next stage in her career (whether she ends up as Senate Majority Leader or takes one future, final shot at the White House). On balance, I think the odds favor her going out with a smile and not a snarl.

Hillary Clinton does not do whining and outrage very well, as demonstrated here. The resentment seeps through: “Enough with the speeches and the big rallies and then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove’s playbook.” (Yes, it really is terrible that Barack Obama doesn’t have the good graces to stick to puny crowds like she does.) Although she is getting very sympathetic coverage portraying her as brave and resolute, it is bravery and resolution resulting from the prospect of a final defeat. These and other tales of semi-resignation (as well as Clinton’s own words) suggest that maybe she will not fight to the bitter end if she loses one or more of her must-win states on March 4.

Will she follow the example of Mitt Romney who went out at the right time and with great dignity? Granted, they are not similarly situated. He is newer on the national stage, and a Romney re-run in 2012 or 2016 would not raise the “not again” refrain. Unlike Romney, this is by far her best shot at the White House. So why not roll the dice and hold out for a fight at the Convention, hoping for an intervening scandal or a gaffe that might turn the tide? But Clinton is nothing if not steely-eyed. Blowing up the Democratic Party when the odds are stacked against her seems a poor way to set up the next stage in her career (whether she ends up as Senate Majority Leader or takes one future, final shot at the White House). On balance, I think the odds favor her going out with a smile and not a snarl.

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