Commentary Magazine


Topic: Asia

S-300: Political Football

Americans looking for coherence in Russia’s on-again, off-again policy on the S-300 sale to Iran should focus on the overall thrust of Russian policy in the Putin era. Putin’s emphasis — with interstitial refinements from Dmitry Medvedev — is on supplanting American leadership with a set of multilateral bodies and rivalries in which Russia can wield increasing influence.

As with many of Putin’s foreign-policy moves, the S-300 sale is a tool for putting Russia at the center of a major decision point about international security. The prospect of the sale has given Europe, Asia, and the U.S. a reason to seek Russian cooperation. It has also given Russia an influence over Iran that no other nation has had in the past half-decade. This is related, in turn, to the trigger the sale has put in Russia’s hands: from any objective military analysis, the delivery of the S-300 to Iran would set the clock ticking on Israel’s window of feasibility for attacking the Iranian nuclear sites.

Russia wouldn’t let this valuable bargaining chip go for light and transient reasons. Everything in his history must tell us that Putin is letting go of this uniquely privileged position because he has what he wants: he doesn’t feel he needs the power of that particular position for the time being. If he wants it back, he can probably get it (unless China steps into the breach and sells its version of the S-300 to Iran instead). Meanwhile, cancelling the sale is a signal that Putin is satisfied with the benefits his policies have realized, to date, from Russian influence with Iran.

What benefits has he realized? In brief, he has succeeded in getting America’s closest allies to seek accommodation with Russia as a means of improving their position vis-à-vis Iran. I’ve written here and here, for example, about the Netanyahu government’s pragmatic outreach to Moscow, which recently produced a defense-cooperation agreement that would have been unthinkable even two years ago.

Equally significant is the September announcement by NATO’s political chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that NATO’s future lies in structured cooperation with Russia on security issues, including missile defense. In the wake of that proclamation, France and Germany will hold a summit with Russia in October in preparation for the next G-20 conference. Their main topic will reportedly be “joint security issues.”

It cannot be reiterated too often that incorporating Russia in Europe’s missile defenses will give Russia an effective veto over anything it doesn’t like about those defenses. It will also give Moscow a means of dividing Europe from North America over the nature and purpose of our common defense arrangements. Assuming these incipient efforts move forward as proposed — all while Russia keeps missiles trained on Eastern Europe — it’s not too much to say that we will be witnessing the death throes of the NATO alliance.

These are heady achievements for Putin’s policies, but they’re not the only ones. Russia has succeeded in ingratiating itself with India to a much greater extent in the last 18 months, increasing arms cooperation dramatically and establishing itself as a partner in containing the Taliban. In all of these cases, a narrowly-focused and expedient passivity on the part of the U.S has smoothed Russia’s path. President Obama himself created the conditions for Russia to act as a spoiler in NATO missile defenses, by abandoning the installations planned for Eastern Europe and rushing into the ill-considered New START treaty. And his dilatory approach to Iran has been a key factor in driving the nations of the Eastern hemisphere to look to Russia for help, rather than counting on the U.S. to avert the security catastrophe of a nuclear-armed Iran.

It would actually be a better sign, at this point, if Putin still thought the S-300 sale was an indispensable bargaining chip. It would mean he still considered it necessary to leverage such a chip against U.S. power. But he no longer does — and that doesn’t mean he has changed. It means we have.

Americans looking for coherence in Russia’s on-again, off-again policy on the S-300 sale to Iran should focus on the overall thrust of Russian policy in the Putin era. Putin’s emphasis — with interstitial refinements from Dmitry Medvedev — is on supplanting American leadership with a set of multilateral bodies and rivalries in which Russia can wield increasing influence.

As with many of Putin’s foreign-policy moves, the S-300 sale is a tool for putting Russia at the center of a major decision point about international security. The prospect of the sale has given Europe, Asia, and the U.S. a reason to seek Russian cooperation. It has also given Russia an influence over Iran that no other nation has had in the past half-decade. This is related, in turn, to the trigger the sale has put in Russia’s hands: from any objective military analysis, the delivery of the S-300 to Iran would set the clock ticking on Israel’s window of feasibility for attacking the Iranian nuclear sites.

Russia wouldn’t let this valuable bargaining chip go for light and transient reasons. Everything in his history must tell us that Putin is letting go of this uniquely privileged position because he has what he wants: he doesn’t feel he needs the power of that particular position for the time being. If he wants it back, he can probably get it (unless China steps into the breach and sells its version of the S-300 to Iran instead). Meanwhile, cancelling the sale is a signal that Putin is satisfied with the benefits his policies have realized, to date, from Russian influence with Iran.

What benefits has he realized? In brief, he has succeeded in getting America’s closest allies to seek accommodation with Russia as a means of improving their position vis-à-vis Iran. I’ve written here and here, for example, about the Netanyahu government’s pragmatic outreach to Moscow, which recently produced a defense-cooperation agreement that would have been unthinkable even two years ago.

Equally significant is the September announcement by NATO’s political chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that NATO’s future lies in structured cooperation with Russia on security issues, including missile defense. In the wake of that proclamation, France and Germany will hold a summit with Russia in October in preparation for the next G-20 conference. Their main topic will reportedly be “joint security issues.”

It cannot be reiterated too often that incorporating Russia in Europe’s missile defenses will give Russia an effective veto over anything it doesn’t like about those defenses. It will also give Moscow a means of dividing Europe from North America over the nature and purpose of our common defense arrangements. Assuming these incipient efforts move forward as proposed — all while Russia keeps missiles trained on Eastern Europe — it’s not too much to say that we will be witnessing the death throes of the NATO alliance.

These are heady achievements for Putin’s policies, but they’re not the only ones. Russia has succeeded in ingratiating itself with India to a much greater extent in the last 18 months, increasing arms cooperation dramatically and establishing itself as a partner in containing the Taliban. In all of these cases, a narrowly-focused and expedient passivity on the part of the U.S has smoothed Russia’s path. President Obama himself created the conditions for Russia to act as a spoiler in NATO missile defenses, by abandoning the installations planned for Eastern Europe and rushing into the ill-considered New START treaty. And his dilatory approach to Iran has been a key factor in driving the nations of the Eastern hemisphere to look to Russia for help, rather than counting on the U.S. to avert the security catastrophe of a nuclear-armed Iran.

It would actually be a better sign, at this point, if Putin still thought the S-300 sale was an indispensable bargaining chip. It would mean he still considered it necessary to leverage such a chip against U.S. power. But he no longer does — and that doesn’t mean he has changed. It means we have.

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Dems Paralyzed

You do sense that the left is not only in the process of losing its congressional majorities but also its bearings. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors comment:

Only a week ago, President Obama and his media supporters were asserting that they had Republicans caught in their class-war pincers: They’d lure the GOP into opposing an extension of lower tax rates for the middle class in order to defend lower tax rates for those making more than $200,000 a year. … [But] the Democrats have cut and run, lest they get blamed for voting for a tax increase in a slow-growth economy. This is how legislative majorities behave when they’ve lost the political argument and can sense their days are numbered. They lose their ideological nerve and try to save their own individual careers.

So for fear of losing their base or losing a floor vote, the Democrats in the midst of a recession decide to flee and allow the Bush tax cuts to expire. It makes inviting Stephen Colbert to the Hill look downright responsible.

The Democrats are at an intellectual dead end:

The policies of spend, tax and regulate have undermined the recovery, causing capital to flee to Asia or the sideline and employers to forswear or delay new hiring. The American public has listened and watched and is slowly concluding that the hope they placed in these “progressive” policies was mistaken. This political reality is slowly dawning on Democrats, which is why so many of them are now denying paternity for the policies of the last four years.

What Democrats believe in doesn’t work, and what they could do instead isn’t supported by their left-wing base. So they do nothing, like a deer in the headlights. And like that proverbial deer, the Dems are headed for a smash-up.

You do sense that the left is not only in the process of losing its congressional majorities but also its bearings. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors comment:

Only a week ago, President Obama and his media supporters were asserting that they had Republicans caught in their class-war pincers: They’d lure the GOP into opposing an extension of lower tax rates for the middle class in order to defend lower tax rates for those making more than $200,000 a year. … [But] the Democrats have cut and run, lest they get blamed for voting for a tax increase in a slow-growth economy. This is how legislative majorities behave when they’ve lost the political argument and can sense their days are numbered. They lose their ideological nerve and try to save their own individual careers.

So for fear of losing their base or losing a floor vote, the Democrats in the midst of a recession decide to flee and allow the Bush tax cuts to expire. It makes inviting Stephen Colbert to the Hill look downright responsible.

The Democrats are at an intellectual dead end:

The policies of spend, tax and regulate have undermined the recovery, causing capital to flee to Asia or the sideline and employers to forswear or delay new hiring. The American public has listened and watched and is slowly concluding that the hope they placed in these “progressive” policies was mistaken. This political reality is slowly dawning on Democrats, which is why so many of them are now denying paternity for the policies of the last four years.

What Democrats believe in doesn’t work, and what they could do instead isn’t supported by their left-wing base. So they do nothing, like a deer in the headlights. And like that proverbial deer, the Dems are headed for a smash-up.

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New Report on China Leaves Out the Good Stuff

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

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RE: JFCOM to Be Shut Down?

Max raises important issues with Secretary Gates’s new proposal to shutter Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) in southeastern Virginia. I’m not convinced that Gates thinks JFCOM’s job can be done without JFCOM. I suspect he may think it’s not important enough to justify the organization and expenses of a major combatant command.

Gates’s budgetary de-emphasis on force transformation and future weapon systems has stood in contrast to the Rumsfeld-era environment in which JFCOM flourished. Gates was also the secretary of defense in the summer of 2008, when General Mattis, then the new JFCOM commander, took the unusual but necessary step — all but invisible outside military circles — of repudiating the course on which JFCOM had set the once-pervasive, cutting-edge warfare concept of “effects-based operations” (EBO). EBO had become tied, in the minds of many, to our operational failures in Iraq. A widely read U.S. Army War College paper further implicated EBO in the IDF’s failures in the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. EBO has been a drag on the image of what JFCOM was created to do: look toward the future of joint warfare.

Rumsfeld went too far in the direction of transformation, at the expense of current operations. But Gates may well be going too far in the opposite direction. With Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia all arming up, and Russia and China accelerating their weapons-development programs, now is not a good time to preserve our defense-planning assumptions in amber. I’m not as concerned about the disestablishment of JFCOM as I am about the potential for ignoring the joint-warfighting implications of emerging trends abroad. JFCOM’s utility in that regard has been unique: unlike the Joint Staff in Washington, its principal orientation is theory, application, and the lessons from combat — not on the Defense Department budget or the programming cycle.

One feature of JFCOM is likely to slow down efforts to eliminate it. I don’t see any acknowledgment in the Gates proposal that JFCOM plays a key role with the NATO command in Norfolk, Allied Command Transformation (ACT). In the NATO reorganization of 2002, ACT was assigned a mission of training and doctrine development parallel to that of JFCOM. In fact, until 2009, when a French officer assumed command of ACT, the JFCOM commander headed it as well.

NATO’s latest round of strategic thinking produced a report, issued in May 2010, which highlights ACT’s role and calls for “a bolder mandate, greater authorities [sic], and more resources” for the command, identifying it as the key to an overdue transformation of NATO force organization and doctrine. Disestablishing JFCOM, the U.S. counterpart to ACT — in fact, the model on which ACT was designed — would put us noticeably out of step with the direction currently proposed for the NATO alliance. That’s worth a pause for reflection. There are ways to cut contractor positions and slice fat without pulling the plug on a core nexus with our NATO allies.

Max raises important issues with Secretary Gates’s new proposal to shutter Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) in southeastern Virginia. I’m not convinced that Gates thinks JFCOM’s job can be done without JFCOM. I suspect he may think it’s not important enough to justify the organization and expenses of a major combatant command.

Gates’s budgetary de-emphasis on force transformation and future weapon systems has stood in contrast to the Rumsfeld-era environment in which JFCOM flourished. Gates was also the secretary of defense in the summer of 2008, when General Mattis, then the new JFCOM commander, took the unusual but necessary step — all but invisible outside military circles — of repudiating the course on which JFCOM had set the once-pervasive, cutting-edge warfare concept of “effects-based operations” (EBO). EBO had become tied, in the minds of many, to our operational failures in Iraq. A widely read U.S. Army War College paper further implicated EBO in the IDF’s failures in the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. EBO has been a drag on the image of what JFCOM was created to do: look toward the future of joint warfare.

Rumsfeld went too far in the direction of transformation, at the expense of current operations. But Gates may well be going too far in the opposite direction. With Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia all arming up, and Russia and China accelerating their weapons-development programs, now is not a good time to preserve our defense-planning assumptions in amber. I’m not as concerned about the disestablishment of JFCOM as I am about the potential for ignoring the joint-warfighting implications of emerging trends abroad. JFCOM’s utility in that regard has been unique: unlike the Joint Staff in Washington, its principal orientation is theory, application, and the lessons from combat — not on the Defense Department budget or the programming cycle.

One feature of JFCOM is likely to slow down efforts to eliminate it. I don’t see any acknowledgment in the Gates proposal that JFCOM plays a key role with the NATO command in Norfolk, Allied Command Transformation (ACT). In the NATO reorganization of 2002, ACT was assigned a mission of training and doctrine development parallel to that of JFCOM. In fact, until 2009, when a French officer assumed command of ACT, the JFCOM commander headed it as well.

NATO’s latest round of strategic thinking produced a report, issued in May 2010, which highlights ACT’s role and calls for “a bolder mandate, greater authorities [sic], and more resources” for the command, identifying it as the key to an overdue transformation of NATO force organization and doctrine. Disestablishing JFCOM, the U.S. counterpart to ACT — in fact, the model on which ACT was designed — would put us noticeably out of step with the direction currently proposed for the NATO alliance. That’s worth a pause for reflection. There are ways to cut contractor positions and slice fat without pulling the plug on a core nexus with our NATO allies.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Hiroshima, Obama, and Truman

Today’s ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima had something new: the presence of the U.S. ambassador to Japan. Never before had America sent an official participant in the annual memorial to those killed in the world’s first atomic attack. That this should occur during the administration of Barack Obama is no surprise. No previous American president has been at such pains to apologize for what he thinks are America’s sins. So while, thankfully, Ambassador John Roos did not speak at the Hiroshima event, the import of his presence there was undeniable.

In theory, there ought to be nothing wrong with an American representative appearing in Hiroshima. Mourning the loss of so many lives in the bombing is both understandable and appropriate. But the problem lies in the way Japan remembers World War II. One of the reasons why it would have been appropriate for the United States to avoid its official presence at this ceremony is that the Japanese have never taken full responsibility for their own conduct during the war that the Hiroshima bombing helped end. Indeed, to listen to the Japanese, their involvement in the war sounds limited to the incineration of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the fire bombings of many other urban centers in the country, followed by a humiliating American occupation. The horror of the two nuclear bombs didn’t just wipe out two cities and force Japan’s government to finally bow to the inevitable and surrender. For 65 years it has served as a magic event that has erased from the collective memory of the Japanese people the vicious aggression and countless war crimes committed against not only the Allied powers but also the peoples of Asia who fell under their cruel rule in the 1930s and 1940s. The bombing of Hiroshima was horrible, but it ought not, as it has for all these years, to serve as an excuse for the Japanese people to forget the crimes their government and armed forces committed throughout their empire during the years that preceded the dropping of the first nuclear bomb.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive.

Today’s ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima had something new: the presence of the U.S. ambassador to Japan. Never before had America sent an official participant in the annual memorial to those killed in the world’s first atomic attack. That this should occur during the administration of Barack Obama is no surprise. No previous American president has been at such pains to apologize for what he thinks are America’s sins. So while, thankfully, Ambassador John Roos did not speak at the Hiroshima event, the import of his presence there was undeniable.

In theory, there ought to be nothing wrong with an American representative appearing in Hiroshima. Mourning the loss of so many lives in the bombing is both understandable and appropriate. But the problem lies in the way Japan remembers World War II. One of the reasons why it would have been appropriate for the United States to avoid its official presence at this ceremony is that the Japanese have never taken full responsibility for their own conduct during the war that the Hiroshima bombing helped end. Indeed, to listen to the Japanese, their involvement in the war sounds limited to the incineration of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the fire bombings of many other urban centers in the country, followed by a humiliating American occupation. The horror of the two nuclear bombs didn’t just wipe out two cities and force Japan’s government to finally bow to the inevitable and surrender. For 65 years it has served as a magic event that has erased from the collective memory of the Japanese people the vicious aggression and countless war crimes committed against not only the Allied powers but also the peoples of Asia who fell under their cruel rule in the 1930s and 1940s. The bombing of Hiroshima was horrible, but it ought not, as it has for all these years, to serve as an excuse for the Japanese people to forget the crimes their government and armed forces committed throughout their empire during the years that preceded the dropping of the first nuclear bomb.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The markets don’t have faith in Obama’s economic policies: “Stocks fell sharply Tuesday as a steep decline in consumer confidence aggravated growing concern about the global economy and sent the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index to a new low for the year. Stocks fell from the start, continuing a trend that had begun overnight in Asia and spread to Europe, driving major indexes in the United States down about 3 percent.”

Allan Meltzer doesn’t think the markets are behaving irrationally to Obamanomics: “Two overarching reasons explain the failure of Obamanomics. First, administration economists and their outside supporters neglected the longer-term costs and consequences of their actions. Second, the administration and Congress have through their deeds and words heightened uncertainty about the economic future. High uncertainty is the enemy of investment and growth.”

Bill Clinton doesn’t follow Obama’s political judgment: “Former President Bill Clinton broke with the White House Tuesday and endorsed Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D-Colo.) primary challenger.”

Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor doesn’t pull any punches on Obama’s response to the BP oil spill. He says, “I haven’t seen this much incompetence since Michael Brown was running FEMA.’

The voters don’t like Obama’s Guantanamo decision: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 36% of voters agree with the president’s decision to close the Guantanamo facility, Obama’s first major act upon taking office. Fifty-four percent (54%) disagree with that decision.”

Israel doesn’t want to knuckle under to Obama on a  Middle East peace deal: “U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is frustrated by the conduct of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the proximity talks with the Palestinians. … A senior Israeli source updated on some of the content of the proximity talks said that the American frustration stems from the fact that Netanyahu has so far not given any clear answers on the borders of the future Palestinian state.”

Turkey doesn’t  appear impressed with Obama’s straddling on the flotilla incident: “Israel must apologize for its blockade of the Gaza Strip, as well as compensate the people of Gaza, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview to American television Monday, adding that such an apology would be a condition to continued Turkish mediation in any future peace talks between Israel and Syria.” Yes, the Turks want Israel to capitulate, and Obama’s half-measures have only whetted their appetite for more Israel-bashing.

Californians don’t like the Obama economy: “Californians’ concerns about their state economy mirrors similar worries in other states. ‘There’s a high level of discontentment,’ said poll analyst [Clifford] Young. ‘They’re mad. However, in California is not clear who they’re going to be mad at. It will be incumbent upon the different candidates to frame that to their advantage.’” Right now, they are mad at Barbara Boxer, who is under 50 percent in the poll — a bad sign for an incumbent.

Liberals don’t like Obama at all, says Fareed Zakaria: “Liberals are dismayed. They’re angry. They’re abandoning him.”

The markets don’t have faith in Obama’s economic policies: “Stocks fell sharply Tuesday as a steep decline in consumer confidence aggravated growing concern about the global economy and sent the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index to a new low for the year. Stocks fell from the start, continuing a trend that had begun overnight in Asia and spread to Europe, driving major indexes in the United States down about 3 percent.”

Allan Meltzer doesn’t think the markets are behaving irrationally to Obamanomics: “Two overarching reasons explain the failure of Obamanomics. First, administration economists and their outside supporters neglected the longer-term costs and consequences of their actions. Second, the administration and Congress have through their deeds and words heightened uncertainty about the economic future. High uncertainty is the enemy of investment and growth.”

Bill Clinton doesn’t follow Obama’s political judgment: “Former President Bill Clinton broke with the White House Tuesday and endorsed Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D-Colo.) primary challenger.”

Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor doesn’t pull any punches on Obama’s response to the BP oil spill. He says, “I haven’t seen this much incompetence since Michael Brown was running FEMA.’

The voters don’t like Obama’s Guantanamo decision: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 36% of voters agree with the president’s decision to close the Guantanamo facility, Obama’s first major act upon taking office. Fifty-four percent (54%) disagree with that decision.”

Israel doesn’t want to knuckle under to Obama on a  Middle East peace deal: “U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is frustrated by the conduct of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the proximity talks with the Palestinians. … A senior Israeli source updated on some of the content of the proximity talks said that the American frustration stems from the fact that Netanyahu has so far not given any clear answers on the borders of the future Palestinian state.”

Turkey doesn’t  appear impressed with Obama’s straddling on the flotilla incident: “Israel must apologize for its blockade of the Gaza Strip, as well as compensate the people of Gaza, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview to American television Monday, adding that such an apology would be a condition to continued Turkish mediation in any future peace talks between Israel and Syria.” Yes, the Turks want Israel to capitulate, and Obama’s half-measures have only whetted their appetite for more Israel-bashing.

Californians don’t like the Obama economy: “Californians’ concerns about their state economy mirrors similar worries in other states. ‘There’s a high level of discontentment,’ said poll analyst [Clifford] Young. ‘They’re mad. However, in California is not clear who they’re going to be mad at. It will be incumbent upon the different candidates to frame that to their advantage.’” Right now, they are mad at Barbara Boxer, who is under 50 percent in the poll — a bad sign for an incumbent.

Liberals don’t like Obama at all, says Fareed Zakaria: “Liberals are dismayed. They’re angry. They’re abandoning him.”

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Success Without Victory

Developments with the war in Afghanistan are causing us to question our methods of warfare as we have not since Vietnam. Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam are mushrooming, of course; Fouad Ajami has a useful one today, in which he considers the effect of withdrawal deadlines on the American people’s expectations as well as the enemy’s. But on Friday, Caroline Glick took a broader view of contemporary Western methods, comparing the U.S. operating profile in Afghanistan to that of the IDF in Lebanon in the 1990s.

As I have done here, she invoked the White House guidance report in December, according to which “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” Such guidance, she says, “when executed … brings not victory nor even stability.” She is right; Fouad Ajami is right; and both are focusing where our attention should be right now, which is on the conduct of the war at the political level.

There’s a good reason why comparisons with Vietnam are gathering steam. It’s not the geography, the campaign plan, or the details of the historical context, alliances, or political purposes: it’s the behavior of the American leadership. As Senator McCain points out, President Obama has steadfastly refused to affirm that the July 2011 deadline is conditions-based. But I was particularly struck by the recent words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for the “AfPak” problem, because they evoke a whole political doctrine of “limited war,” which dates back to the Vietnam era.

Holbrooke has been keeping a low profile. But he’s a crucial actor in this drama, and in early June he made these observations:

Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war. …

It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al-Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders. …

What do [critics] mean by win? We don’t use the word win, we use the word succeed.

As an aside, I would have thought the Dayton process did, in fact, have relevance for the “peace jirga” process now underway with the Afghan factions, and that we might expect an outcome with some similarities to the Dayton Accords. But my central concern here is the virtually exact overlap of Holbrooke’s conceptual language with that of the Johnson-era prosecution of the Vietnam War.

That we had to seek a “settlement” with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was received wisdom under Lyndon Johnson; in this memo from a key reevaluation of the war effort in 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara leads off with it. His reference to “creating conditions for a favorable settlement” by demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that “the odds are against their winning” is a near-perfect statement of the limited-war proposition encapsulated by Henry Kissinger in his influential 1958 book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (quotations are from the W. W. Norton & Co. edition of 1969). Said Kissinger:

The goal of war can no longer be military victory, strictly speaking, but the attainment of certain specific political conditions, which are fully understood by the opponent. … Our purpose is to affect the will of the enemy, not to destroy him. … War can be limited only by presenting the enemy with an unfavorable calculus of risks. (p. 189)

Kissinger’s title reminds us that it was the emerging nuclear threat that galvanized limited-war thinking in the period leading up to Vietnam. But that was only one of the factors in our selection of limited objectives for that conflict. Another was an attribution to the enemy of aspirations that mirrored ours, with the persistent characterization of the North Vietnamese Communists – much like Richard Holbrooke’s of the Taliban – as potential partners in negotiation. A seminal example of that occurred in Johnson’s celebrated “Peace without Conquest” speech of April 7, 1965:

For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle.

It was not, of course, what the people of North Vietnam wanted that mattered; this political factor was sadly miscast. The LBJ speech was beautifully crafted and full of poignant and powerful rhetoric. But the rhetoric could not ultimately hide the bald facts, which were that Johnson wanted a settlement in Vietnam, that he had no concept of victory to outline, and that his main desire was to get out.

The speech was recognized at the time as “defensive” in character. And we must not deceive ourselves that Holbrooke’s words from earlier this month are being interpreted abroad in any other way. I’ve seen no reference to his comments in a leading American publication, but media outlets across Asia, Europe, and Africa have quoted him. It’s interesting that in 2010, he feels no need to cloak his blunt observations – so consonant with Kissinger’s dryly precise limited-war formulation – in the elliptical, emotive language favored by the Johnson administration in its public utterances. In the 1960s, the limited-war concept of disclaiming all desire to “win” was still suspect. But, as much as we have criticized it in the decades since, we have internalized and mainstreamed it as well. Holbrooke apparently feels empowered to speak clearly in these terms, without euphemism or caveat.

There is no good record to invoke for pursuing the strategy of “peace without conquest.” It took almost exactly 10 years after the LBJ speech for the strategy to produce the total collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam; a wealthy superpower can keep “not-winning” for a long time. All but 400 of the 58,000 American lives given to Vietnam were lost in that 10-year period, along with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives taken in the fighting and the Communist victory.

But there was a lot of success in that period too. U.S. troops won every tactical engagement, including the defeat of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Under Nixon, North Vietnam was isolated and driven to the bargaining table. Under General Creighton Abrams, the defense of the South had, with the exception of air support, been successfully “Vietnamized” when the U.S. pulled out our last ground forces in 1972. But these successes could not establish a sustainable status quo.

Vietnam is our example of what “success without victory” looks like. We should be alarmed that the current administration seeks that defensive objective in Afghanistan. Such a pursuit is, itself, one of the main conditions for producing failure – and failure that is compounded by being protracted and bloody. As for the reason why that should be, Dr. Kissinger, with his clinical precision, must have the last word:

In any conflict the side which is animated by faith in victory has a decided advantage over an opponent who wishes above all to preserve the status quo. It will be prepared to run greater risks because its purpose will be stronger. (p. 246)

Kissinger acknowledged when he wrote these words – having both Vietnam and the larger Soviet threat in mind – that this was a limiting factor the Western powers had not devised a means of overcoming. In Afghanistan today, meanwhile, by Team Obama’s affirmation, we are the side not animated by faith in victory.

Developments with the war in Afghanistan are causing us to question our methods of warfare as we have not since Vietnam. Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam are mushrooming, of course; Fouad Ajami has a useful one today, in which he considers the effect of withdrawal deadlines on the American people’s expectations as well as the enemy’s. But on Friday, Caroline Glick took a broader view of contemporary Western methods, comparing the U.S. operating profile in Afghanistan to that of the IDF in Lebanon in the 1990s.

As I have done here, she invoked the White House guidance report in December, according to which “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” Such guidance, she says, “when executed … brings not victory nor even stability.” She is right; Fouad Ajami is right; and both are focusing where our attention should be right now, which is on the conduct of the war at the political level.

There’s a good reason why comparisons with Vietnam are gathering steam. It’s not the geography, the campaign plan, or the details of the historical context, alliances, or political purposes: it’s the behavior of the American leadership. As Senator McCain points out, President Obama has steadfastly refused to affirm that the July 2011 deadline is conditions-based. But I was particularly struck by the recent words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for the “AfPak” problem, because they evoke a whole political doctrine of “limited war,” which dates back to the Vietnam era.

Holbrooke has been keeping a low profile. But he’s a crucial actor in this drama, and in early June he made these observations:

Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war. …

It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al-Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders. …

What do [critics] mean by win? We don’t use the word win, we use the word succeed.

As an aside, I would have thought the Dayton process did, in fact, have relevance for the “peace jirga” process now underway with the Afghan factions, and that we might expect an outcome with some similarities to the Dayton Accords. But my central concern here is the virtually exact overlap of Holbrooke’s conceptual language with that of the Johnson-era prosecution of the Vietnam War.

That we had to seek a “settlement” with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was received wisdom under Lyndon Johnson; in this memo from a key reevaluation of the war effort in 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara leads off with it. His reference to “creating conditions for a favorable settlement” by demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that “the odds are against their winning” is a near-perfect statement of the limited-war proposition encapsulated by Henry Kissinger in his influential 1958 book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (quotations are from the W. W. Norton & Co. edition of 1969). Said Kissinger:

The goal of war can no longer be military victory, strictly speaking, but the attainment of certain specific political conditions, which are fully understood by the opponent. … Our purpose is to affect the will of the enemy, not to destroy him. … War can be limited only by presenting the enemy with an unfavorable calculus of risks. (p. 189)

Kissinger’s title reminds us that it was the emerging nuclear threat that galvanized limited-war thinking in the period leading up to Vietnam. But that was only one of the factors in our selection of limited objectives for that conflict. Another was an attribution to the enemy of aspirations that mirrored ours, with the persistent characterization of the North Vietnamese Communists – much like Richard Holbrooke’s of the Taliban – as potential partners in negotiation. A seminal example of that occurred in Johnson’s celebrated “Peace without Conquest” speech of April 7, 1965:

For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle.

It was not, of course, what the people of North Vietnam wanted that mattered; this political factor was sadly miscast. The LBJ speech was beautifully crafted and full of poignant and powerful rhetoric. But the rhetoric could not ultimately hide the bald facts, which were that Johnson wanted a settlement in Vietnam, that he had no concept of victory to outline, and that his main desire was to get out.

The speech was recognized at the time as “defensive” in character. And we must not deceive ourselves that Holbrooke’s words from earlier this month are being interpreted abroad in any other way. I’ve seen no reference to his comments in a leading American publication, but media outlets across Asia, Europe, and Africa have quoted him. It’s interesting that in 2010, he feels no need to cloak his blunt observations – so consonant with Kissinger’s dryly precise limited-war formulation – in the elliptical, emotive language favored by the Johnson administration in its public utterances. In the 1960s, the limited-war concept of disclaiming all desire to “win” was still suspect. But, as much as we have criticized it in the decades since, we have internalized and mainstreamed it as well. Holbrooke apparently feels empowered to speak clearly in these terms, without euphemism or caveat.

There is no good record to invoke for pursuing the strategy of “peace without conquest.” It took almost exactly 10 years after the LBJ speech for the strategy to produce the total collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam; a wealthy superpower can keep “not-winning” for a long time. All but 400 of the 58,000 American lives given to Vietnam were lost in that 10-year period, along with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives taken in the fighting and the Communist victory.

But there was a lot of success in that period too. U.S. troops won every tactical engagement, including the defeat of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Under Nixon, North Vietnam was isolated and driven to the bargaining table. Under General Creighton Abrams, the defense of the South had, with the exception of air support, been successfully “Vietnamized” when the U.S. pulled out our last ground forces in 1972. But these successes could not establish a sustainable status quo.

Vietnam is our example of what “success without victory” looks like. We should be alarmed that the current administration seeks that defensive objective in Afghanistan. Such a pursuit is, itself, one of the main conditions for producing failure – and failure that is compounded by being protracted and bloody. As for the reason why that should be, Dr. Kissinger, with his clinical precision, must have the last word:

In any conflict the side which is animated by faith in victory has a decided advantage over an opponent who wishes above all to preserve the status quo. It will be prepared to run greater risks because its purpose will be stronger. (p. 246)

Kissinger acknowledged when he wrote these words – having both Vietnam and the larger Soviet threat in mind – that this was a limiting factor the Western powers had not devised a means of overcoming. In Afghanistan today, meanwhile, by Team Obama’s affirmation, we are the side not animated by faith in victory.

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Helen Thomas Should Go, Says Lanny Davis

Lanny Davis, Clinton adviser and stalwart Democrat, joins Ari Fleischer in calling for Helen Thomas to be booted. He has released a statement, which reads:

Helen Thomas, who I used to consider a close friend and who I used to respect, has showed herself to be an anti-Semitic bigot. This not about her disagreement about her criticisms of Israel. She has a right to criticize Israel and that is not the same as being an anti-Semite.

However, her statement that  Jews in Israel should leave Israel and go back to Poland or Germany is an ancient and well-known anti-Semitic  stereotype of the Alien Jew not belonging in the “land of Israel” — one that began  2,600 years with the first tragic and violent diaspora of the Jews at the hands of the Romans.

If she had asked all Blacks to go back to Africa, what would White House Correspondents Association position be as to whether she deserved White House press room credentials — much less a privileged honorary seat?

Does anyone doubt that my friends Ann Compton, head of the WHCA,  and Joe Lockhart, who believe in the First Amendment right of free expression as much as I do, would be as tolerant and protective of Helen’s privileges and honors in the White House press room as they appear to be if she had been asking Blacks to return to Africa? Or Native Americans to Asia and South America, from which they came 8,000 or more years ago? I doubt it.

Of course Helen has the right as a private citizen under the First Amendment to speak her mind, even as an anti-Jewish bigot — but not as a member, much less privileged member with a reserved seat, in the WH press corps.

See, that wasn’t so hard. Where is the rest of the media, the White House Correspondents Association, and the White House? As to the latter, no response to my inquiry has been forthcoming. Perhaps, the White House is hoping — you know, like with the BP spill — that it can dodge responsibility for this one. But it is their credentials Helen Thomas uses and their briefing room in which she sits. What say you, Mr. President?

UPDATE: Helen Thomas gets dumped by her agent.

Lanny Davis, Clinton adviser and stalwart Democrat, joins Ari Fleischer in calling for Helen Thomas to be booted. He has released a statement, which reads:

Helen Thomas, who I used to consider a close friend and who I used to respect, has showed herself to be an anti-Semitic bigot. This not about her disagreement about her criticisms of Israel. She has a right to criticize Israel and that is not the same as being an anti-Semite.

However, her statement that  Jews in Israel should leave Israel and go back to Poland or Germany is an ancient and well-known anti-Semitic  stereotype of the Alien Jew not belonging in the “land of Israel” — one that began  2,600 years with the first tragic and violent diaspora of the Jews at the hands of the Romans.

If she had asked all Blacks to go back to Africa, what would White House Correspondents Association position be as to whether she deserved White House press room credentials — much less a privileged honorary seat?

Does anyone doubt that my friends Ann Compton, head of the WHCA,  and Joe Lockhart, who believe in the First Amendment right of free expression as much as I do, would be as tolerant and protective of Helen’s privileges and honors in the White House press room as they appear to be if she had been asking Blacks to return to Africa? Or Native Americans to Asia and South America, from which they came 8,000 or more years ago? I doubt it.

Of course Helen has the right as a private citizen under the First Amendment to speak her mind, even as an anti-Jewish bigot — but not as a member, much less privileged member with a reserved seat, in the WH press corps.

See, that wasn’t so hard. Where is the rest of the media, the White House Correspondents Association, and the White House? As to the latter, no response to my inquiry has been forthcoming. Perhaps, the White House is hoping — you know, like with the BP spill — that it can dodge responsibility for this one. But it is their credentials Helen Thomas uses and their briefing room in which she sits. What say you, Mr. President?

UPDATE: Helen Thomas gets dumped by her agent.

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The Newspaper Column of the Day Award…

…goes to A. Barton Hinkle of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Read it. Here are some excerpts:

What’s the real problem with Israel’s assault on the Gaza flotilla? It’s not the loss of life. Almost nobody cares about that. It’s not the suffering of Palestinians. When Palestinians suffer, the world shrugs.

Remember the worldwide condemnations, the protests across Europe and Asia, the stern rebukes from the world’s high councils in January of last year — when Hamas militants executed 54 members of the Fatah party and tortured 175 more for (allegedly) collaborating with Israel? You don’t? That’s because the killing and torture went on with almost no notice or comment.

How about the world’s outrage in November 2007, when Hamas gunmen killed seven civilians and wounded 80 more during a rally memorializing Yasser Arafat in Gaza? If you don’t remember the outrage, the marches in the street, the scathing U.N. resolutions, that’s because there weren’t any.

Nor did the world weep when the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) suspended operations in Gaza after two staff members were caught in a Hamas-Fatah crossfire and killed. When Palestinian factional violence impedes humanitarian aid, well, tsk-tsk.

Last February, Amnesty International reported that numerous prisoners injured by an Israeli bombing of a prison were “shot dead in the hospitals where they were receiving treatment.” But they weren’t shot by Israelis, so nobody objected.

According to a report by Reuters, “An estimated 616 Palestinians have been killed in factional fighting since Hamas defeated Fatah” in January 2006.

World reaction? Shrug.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and none of the above is meant to excuse Israel’s clumsy, ill-orchestrated boarding of the Mavi Marmara. Nor is it meant to offer an unequivocal defense of the blockade, a legitimate point of contention….

The point is simply that those professing to be so broken up about the blockade and Israel’s enforcement of it have been remarkably subdued whenever suffering is inflicted by someone other than Jews….

…goes to A. Barton Hinkle of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Read it. Here are some excerpts:

What’s the real problem with Israel’s assault on the Gaza flotilla? It’s not the loss of life. Almost nobody cares about that. It’s not the suffering of Palestinians. When Palestinians suffer, the world shrugs.

Remember the worldwide condemnations, the protests across Europe and Asia, the stern rebukes from the world’s high councils in January of last year — when Hamas militants executed 54 members of the Fatah party and tortured 175 more for (allegedly) collaborating with Israel? You don’t? That’s because the killing and torture went on with almost no notice or comment.

How about the world’s outrage in November 2007, when Hamas gunmen killed seven civilians and wounded 80 more during a rally memorializing Yasser Arafat in Gaza? If you don’t remember the outrage, the marches in the street, the scathing U.N. resolutions, that’s because there weren’t any.

Nor did the world weep when the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) suspended operations in Gaza after two staff members were caught in a Hamas-Fatah crossfire and killed. When Palestinian factional violence impedes humanitarian aid, well, tsk-tsk.

Last February, Amnesty International reported that numerous prisoners injured by an Israeli bombing of a prison were “shot dead in the hospitals where they were receiving treatment.” But they weren’t shot by Israelis, so nobody objected.

According to a report by Reuters, “An estimated 616 Palestinians have been killed in factional fighting since Hamas defeated Fatah” in January 2006.

World reaction? Shrug.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and none of the above is meant to excuse Israel’s clumsy, ill-orchestrated boarding of the Mavi Marmara. Nor is it meant to offer an unequivocal defense of the blockade, a legitimate point of contention….

The point is simply that those professing to be so broken up about the blockade and Israel’s enforcement of it have been remarkably subdued whenever suffering is inflicted by someone other than Jews….

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RE: Meaningless Sanctions

As least one candidate has her eye on the ball. Carly Fiorina has figured out that the UN sanctions deal is toothless. So she is calling on Congress to step it up:

Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and it continues its efforts to export its revolution. The regime’s acquisition of nuclear weapons capability would pose a grave and direct threat to the national security of the United States and our allies in the Middle East, Europe and Asia, destroy the fabric of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime and deeply undermine global stability. …

We can no longer afford to bypass the opportunity to implement crippling sanctions against Iran, including against its oil-export business. The United States must demonstrate its willingness to act swiftly and decisively — even if it would mean initially acting alone — to persuade the regime to suspend its nuclear program. … I again call on our leaders in Congress to act swiftly to reconcile the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act and present the bill to the president for his signature.

Whether we bury our heads in the sand or demand tougher action from the administration should be a defining issue in the election. Which candidates are going to shuffle their feet and which are going to step up to the plate to take on the administration’s timid efforts? Especially for the Democrats, it would be a good idea to put into practice the lesson of this week’s primary: if you want to survive, take on Obama.

As least one candidate has her eye on the ball. Carly Fiorina has figured out that the UN sanctions deal is toothless. So she is calling on Congress to step it up:

Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and it continues its efforts to export its revolution. The regime’s acquisition of nuclear weapons capability would pose a grave and direct threat to the national security of the United States and our allies in the Middle East, Europe and Asia, destroy the fabric of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime and deeply undermine global stability. …

We can no longer afford to bypass the opportunity to implement crippling sanctions against Iran, including against its oil-export business. The United States must demonstrate its willingness to act swiftly and decisively — even if it would mean initially acting alone — to persuade the regime to suspend its nuclear program. … I again call on our leaders in Congress to act swiftly to reconcile the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act and present the bill to the president for his signature.

Whether we bury our heads in the sand or demand tougher action from the administration should be a defining issue in the election. Which candidates are going to shuffle their feet and which are going to step up to the plate to take on the administration’s timid efforts? Especially for the Democrats, it would be a good idea to put into practice the lesson of this week’s primary: if you want to survive, take on Obama.

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Bullets Over Bangkok

As with most such outbreaks, there are legitimate grievances behind the protests being mounted by the “Red Shirts” of Thailand. That truth renders the events there even more strongly reminiscent than they might otherwise be of similar incidents around the globe during the Cold War. Thailand’s precarious situation could spiral out of control very easily. It is not at present being driven by outside forces or even apparently being exploited by them. But U.S. influence in the region is at stake along with Thai democracy. If a consensual stability is not restored in favor of the status quo long presided over by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, there will be no lack of interested outsiders seeking to shape Thailand’s future.

Most readers are familiar with the basic narrative about populist politician Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted from power in a military coup in 2006 and convicted of corruption charges in 2008. A February 2010 court decision ordering him to return $1.4 billion to the state was ostensibly the precipitating event for this spring’s prolonged protests by his Red Shirt supporters.

But fewer may be aware that Thaksin’s search for quarters in exile landed him this spring in Montenegro, the autonomous coastal province of Serbia that has become famous for its special relationship with Russia. Thaksin now holds a Montenegrin passport and has reportedly visited Russia during this year’s period of Thai unrest. The sitting prime minister of Thailand, for his part, is not leaving Russia uncourted. The Bangkok Post noted last week that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva plans to visit Moscow himself in early June, in spite of having canceled trips to the U.S., Vietnam, and Australia because of the unrest at home.

Russia’s interest is as much in drawing Thailand away from China as it is in cooling the traditional warmth between Bangkok and Washington. The year 2009 saw an unprecedented agreement between China and the Abhisit government to hold a joint military exercise billed as a rival to the “Cobra Gold” series with the U.S., the recurring Thai-hosted war game that draws up to 15,000 troops from the U.S. and East Asian nations. Growing military cooperation between Thailand and China is a continuation of policy inaugurated under Thaksin Shinawatra; efforts to cultivate or preempt such cooperation are in prospect regardless of who comes out on top in Thailand. Meanwhile, Russia’s re-energized ties with Vietnam, which now include a major arms deal and ongoing improvements to the naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, position the Russians next door to Thailand — as well as athwart China’s strategic vista to the south.

Adding to the prospect of instability is the Malay Muslim minority in southern Thailand. The Malay Muslims have taken a back seat to the Red Shirts this year, but their restiveness has by no means subsided. They will seek to take advantage of any evidence of weakness in the regime. The likelihood that they will have outside help is strong if the fate of Thailand is in doubt.

Regional observers think King Bhumibol will have to step in as he did in 1992 and demand that the opposing factions settle their differences. But this very critical view of that option, from Australia’s center-left Sydney Morning Herald, implies a reason (other than his ill health) why he hasn’t done that yet: it might not work. An ineffective royal appeal would be the signal for political chaos.

On the other hand, the status quo in Thailand cannot continue for much longer anyway. Bhumibol is 82, and his oldest son is unpopular. Although this situation is rife with difficult issues, the Obama administration should surely be doing more than closing the U.S. embassy in Bangkok to business, evacuating American personnel, and being “deeply concerned,” as State Department spokesmen have reported in daily briefings for the last six weeks.

It’s worth noting that Russia is not evacuating any diplomatic personnel from Bangkok. Moscow and Beijing are more determined than Obama is to play a major role in restoring stability to Thailand. That will not work in our favor. American influence in Asia is heading the same direction as our influence in the Middle East.

As with most such outbreaks, there are legitimate grievances behind the protests being mounted by the “Red Shirts” of Thailand. That truth renders the events there even more strongly reminiscent than they might otherwise be of similar incidents around the globe during the Cold War. Thailand’s precarious situation could spiral out of control very easily. It is not at present being driven by outside forces or even apparently being exploited by them. But U.S. influence in the region is at stake along with Thai democracy. If a consensual stability is not restored in favor of the status quo long presided over by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, there will be no lack of interested outsiders seeking to shape Thailand’s future.

Most readers are familiar with the basic narrative about populist politician Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted from power in a military coup in 2006 and convicted of corruption charges in 2008. A February 2010 court decision ordering him to return $1.4 billion to the state was ostensibly the precipitating event for this spring’s prolonged protests by his Red Shirt supporters.

But fewer may be aware that Thaksin’s search for quarters in exile landed him this spring in Montenegro, the autonomous coastal province of Serbia that has become famous for its special relationship with Russia. Thaksin now holds a Montenegrin passport and has reportedly visited Russia during this year’s period of Thai unrest. The sitting prime minister of Thailand, for his part, is not leaving Russia uncourted. The Bangkok Post noted last week that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva plans to visit Moscow himself in early June, in spite of having canceled trips to the U.S., Vietnam, and Australia because of the unrest at home.

Russia’s interest is as much in drawing Thailand away from China as it is in cooling the traditional warmth between Bangkok and Washington. The year 2009 saw an unprecedented agreement between China and the Abhisit government to hold a joint military exercise billed as a rival to the “Cobra Gold” series with the U.S., the recurring Thai-hosted war game that draws up to 15,000 troops from the U.S. and East Asian nations. Growing military cooperation between Thailand and China is a continuation of policy inaugurated under Thaksin Shinawatra; efforts to cultivate or preempt such cooperation are in prospect regardless of who comes out on top in Thailand. Meanwhile, Russia’s re-energized ties with Vietnam, which now include a major arms deal and ongoing improvements to the naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, position the Russians next door to Thailand — as well as athwart China’s strategic vista to the south.

Adding to the prospect of instability is the Malay Muslim minority in southern Thailand. The Malay Muslims have taken a back seat to the Red Shirts this year, but their restiveness has by no means subsided. They will seek to take advantage of any evidence of weakness in the regime. The likelihood that they will have outside help is strong if the fate of Thailand is in doubt.

Regional observers think King Bhumibol will have to step in as he did in 1992 and demand that the opposing factions settle their differences. But this very critical view of that option, from Australia’s center-left Sydney Morning Herald, implies a reason (other than his ill health) why he hasn’t done that yet: it might not work. An ineffective royal appeal would be the signal for political chaos.

On the other hand, the status quo in Thailand cannot continue for much longer anyway. Bhumibol is 82, and his oldest son is unpopular. Although this situation is rife with difficult issues, the Obama administration should surely be doing more than closing the U.S. embassy in Bangkok to business, evacuating American personnel, and being “deeply concerned,” as State Department spokesmen have reported in daily briefings for the last six weeks.

It’s worth noting that Russia is not evacuating any diplomatic personnel from Bangkok. Moscow and Beijing are more determined than Obama is to play a major role in restoring stability to Thailand. That will not work in our favor. American influence in Asia is heading the same direction as our influence in the Middle East.

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Economic Uncertainty in China

The almost universal assumption is that China is a rising dragon that someday — perhaps someday soon — will overtake the United States. But notwithstanding China’s impressive growth rates, there is trouble on the horizon — something that is suggested by this New York Times article — which reports on the growing unease among foreign companies trying to do business in China. As the article notes:

Foreign companies doing business in China are increasingly feeling as if the deck is stacked against them.

China has filed more than a dozen trade cases to limit imports, imposed a series of “buy Chinese” measures and limited exports of some minerals to force multinationals to move factories to China.

That echoes the concern of some American businessmen in Tokyo, to whom I talked last week. They complained about how unpredictable business conditions are in China- – subject to the whims of shortsighted, corrupt cadres, who are intent on lining the pockets of well-connected countrymen even at the expense of cheating major investors. Japan, by contrast, has its own barriers to business but, these executives report, is a much more welcoming, less worrisome place in which to grow a business. Another American investor with whom I talked recently mentioned that he had just invested in a major real-estate project in India — something he would not do in China, because he has no confidence in that country’s future.

None of this is meant to dismiss China’s prospects. Wherever I went in Asia there was talk about growing Chinese power especially as manifested in its ever-more-capable armed forces; its naval ships are acting in increasingly aggressive ways toward Japan, the United States, and other states. But the Chinese quest for economic growth — the underpinning of its military power — will be endangered unless it can develop a genuine rule of law that will assure foreign and domestic investors of its long-term prospects.

The almost universal assumption is that China is a rising dragon that someday — perhaps someday soon — will overtake the United States. But notwithstanding China’s impressive growth rates, there is trouble on the horizon — something that is suggested by this New York Times article — which reports on the growing unease among foreign companies trying to do business in China. As the article notes:

Foreign companies doing business in China are increasingly feeling as if the deck is stacked against them.

China has filed more than a dozen trade cases to limit imports, imposed a series of “buy Chinese” measures and limited exports of some minerals to force multinationals to move factories to China.

That echoes the concern of some American businessmen in Tokyo, to whom I talked last week. They complained about how unpredictable business conditions are in China- – subject to the whims of shortsighted, corrupt cadres, who are intent on lining the pockets of well-connected countrymen even at the expense of cheating major investors. Japan, by contrast, has its own barriers to business but, these executives report, is a much more welcoming, less worrisome place in which to grow a business. Another American investor with whom I talked recently mentioned that he had just invested in a major real-estate project in India — something he would not do in China, because he has no confidence in that country’s future.

None of this is meant to dismiss China’s prospects. Wherever I went in Asia there was talk about growing Chinese power especially as manifested in its ever-more-capable armed forces; its naval ships are acting in increasingly aggressive ways toward Japan, the United States, and other states. But the Chinese quest for economic growth — the underpinning of its military power — will be endangered unless it can develop a genuine rule of law that will assure foreign and domestic investors of its long-term prospects.

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Times Square Bomb: An Israeli Perspective

Like all of us, I am greatly relieved that the Times Square car bomb didn’t go off, that we can talk about fear rather than death, about catching the perps rather than treating the wounded and comforting the bereaved. Judging from news reports, the bomb seems to be the work of amateurs more concerned with not being detected as they bought their supplies than with the actual deadliness of the explosion. Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, has called it a “one-off.” Let’s hope she’s right.

Because if she’s not, what now looks like a policing success will start to look more and more like an intelligence failure. Here in Israel, the security of citizens has been bought after many years of fighting bombers, suicide and otherwise, the success of which battles forced our enemies to resort to lobbing rockets across the southern and northern borders — still a war, but somehow a lot more tolerable. Yes, part of it was good policing and the alert responses of civilians, some of them armed, in tough situations. And part of the credit goes to building a big, long wall between us and the terrorist hornet’s nests in the West Bank and Gaza. But the biggest factor in preventing terror attacks today is undoubtedly the vast intelligence apparatus that has prevented literally thousands of attacks like the Times Square bomb from being launched in the first place. Many of the IDF operations you hear about, and many more that never make the news, are acting on intel about planned terror attacks. Terrorists are arrested, sometimes killed, before they make it to our teeming public squares.

There is little one can do to prevent a determined nutcase, acting alone, from buying stuff that can blow up and parking his car in a public place. But if it turns out that the Taliban really were behind it, or that some other international terror group has determined to wreak havoc on New Yorkers again, the first question to ask will be why intel didn’t know about it in time to prevent it. It may sound unfair to place that kind of a burden on intelligence — after all, they can’t know everything, can they? But it’s been by setting the bar that high, and by allocating the resources to make it realistic, that has made it possible for me today to sit on a train between Tel Aviv and Haifa and write these words to you without feeling like my life is at risk.

Of course, America is much bigger, and its terrorist enemies live across Asia and the Middle East, not just in the relatively small areas of the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other places. Yes, America is much bigger — but then again, so is the federal budget, right?

Like all of us, I am greatly relieved that the Times Square car bomb didn’t go off, that we can talk about fear rather than death, about catching the perps rather than treating the wounded and comforting the bereaved. Judging from news reports, the bomb seems to be the work of amateurs more concerned with not being detected as they bought their supplies than with the actual deadliness of the explosion. Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, has called it a “one-off.” Let’s hope she’s right.

Because if she’s not, what now looks like a policing success will start to look more and more like an intelligence failure. Here in Israel, the security of citizens has been bought after many years of fighting bombers, suicide and otherwise, the success of which battles forced our enemies to resort to lobbing rockets across the southern and northern borders — still a war, but somehow a lot more tolerable. Yes, part of it was good policing and the alert responses of civilians, some of them armed, in tough situations. And part of the credit goes to building a big, long wall between us and the terrorist hornet’s nests in the West Bank and Gaza. But the biggest factor in preventing terror attacks today is undoubtedly the vast intelligence apparatus that has prevented literally thousands of attacks like the Times Square bomb from being launched in the first place. Many of the IDF operations you hear about, and many more that never make the news, are acting on intel about planned terror attacks. Terrorists are arrested, sometimes killed, before they make it to our teeming public squares.

There is little one can do to prevent a determined nutcase, acting alone, from buying stuff that can blow up and parking his car in a public place. But if it turns out that the Taliban really were behind it, or that some other international terror group has determined to wreak havoc on New Yorkers again, the first question to ask will be why intel didn’t know about it in time to prevent it. It may sound unfair to place that kind of a burden on intelligence — after all, they can’t know everything, can they? But it’s been by setting the bar that high, and by allocating the resources to make it realistic, that has made it possible for me today to sit on a train between Tel Aviv and Haifa and write these words to you without feeling like my life is at risk.

Of course, America is much bigger, and its terrorist enemies live across Asia and the Middle East, not just in the relatively small areas of the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other places. Yes, America is much bigger — but then again, so is the federal budget, right?

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RE: Obama’s Lousy Record on Religious Freedom

As I noted yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom released its annual report. Its chairman, Leonard Leo, writes a column highlighting some of its findings. Two in particular stand out, in large part because U.S. policy is so badly out of sync and at odds with those striving to promote religious freedom.

First is Sudan. Critics on the right and left have deplored the administration’s feckless envoy, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, and the administration’s “spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement.” Meanwhile, the religious atrocities continue, as Leo details:

USCIRF has focused since its inception on Sudan because Khartoum’s policies of Islamization and Arabization were a major factor in the Sudanese North-South civil war (1983-2005). During that period, Northern leaders, including Sudan’s current President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, exploited religion to mobilize northern Muslims against non-Muslim Southerners by appealing to Islam and calling for jihad. USCIRF remains concerned about continuing severe human rights violations committed by the Sudanese government against both non-Muslims and Muslims who depart from the government’s interpretation of Islam; the two million Southerners who reside in the North as internally displaced persons (IDPS); and the dramatic need for international support to develop Southern Sudan. … As the USCIRF delegation carried out its work, visiting displaced South Sudanese Christians living in camps outside Khartoum, the ominous sights of barricaded streets, armed military and security personnel around the National Assembly were a sobering reminder of the challenges to peace that lay ahead for Sudan.

Gration and the administration remain mute.

Then there is Egypt. The administration again is apathetic, it seems, to the religious persecution taking place there. Rep. Frank Wolf observed this about the virtual enslavement of Coptic women: “I expect the State Department to do nothing because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.” Leo explains what fails to interest the Obami:

In Egypt, serious problems of discrimination and intolerance against non-Muslim religious minorities and disfavored members of the Muslim majority remain widespread. The Egyptian government’s inadequate prosecution of those responsible and the politically expedient and occasional use of an ineffective reconciliation process, an improper substitute for conviction and punishment, have created a climate of impunity. Although the government has arrested three Muslim men and put them on trial for the Coptic Christmas Eve attack on six Coptic Orthodox Christians and one Muslim, the Coptic community fears reprisals and is skeptical that the government will either follow through with the trial of the three men in question or use its authority to create an environment in which individuals safely exercise their internationally guaranteed rights of religious freedom. However, President Mubarak publicly condemned the violence and acknowledged its sectarian character, and the Egyptian press for the first time called for a national conversation and an investigation on the root causes of this violence. Juxtaposed against these signs are the USCIRF delegation’s visits to the Muslim Koranist, Jehovah Witnesses, and Baha’i communities, each victimized by state-sponsored discrimination and repression. The government also has responded inadequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

The administration’s verbiage provides a clue to its disinterest in elevating this issue to a top priority. This report explains:

[C]ommission chairman Leonard Leo says the shrinking importance of religious freedom can be seen in the Obama administration’s evolving rhetoric on the issue. Whereas Mr. Obama came into office speaking of “freedom of religion,” Mr. Leo says, the president more recently has opted for speaking about “freedom of worship,” which the USCIRF chairman says has a more limited connotation. “Freedom of religion” is more broadly understood as a universal right and more specific in its referral to religions than is the more ephemeral phrase “freedom of worship,” some religious experts say. Critics say Obama’s recent preference for “worship” raises doubts about the administration’s determination to aggressively press for the rights of religious minorities in “friendly” countries such as Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan – all of which receive billions of dollars in US aid. The president referred to “freedom of worship,” for example, during his Asia trip last fall, when he was castigated by rights groups for downplaying the issue of religious freedom in China and the status of the Dalai Lama.

The administration’s slothful indifference to the uptick in religious persecution in the “Muslim World” stands in stark contrast to its obsession with the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Months and months of diplomacy, countless speeches and appearances by the president and high-level officials, condemnations for the Jewish state, and a special envoy are all focused on what is largely a fruitless endeavor — getting to the bargaining table (not even the same table at which the Israelis sit) with recalcitrant Palestinians who lack the will and the ability to make a peace deal. Meanwhile, virtually no time or focus and no ambassador is named to deal with a problem that could, if sufficient resources were devoted, be ameliorated by a forceful American policy. It is a vivid display of the misplaced priorities and wasted opportunities that characterize much of the Obama foreign policy.

As I noted yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom released its annual report. Its chairman, Leonard Leo, writes a column highlighting some of its findings. Two in particular stand out, in large part because U.S. policy is so badly out of sync and at odds with those striving to promote religious freedom.

First is Sudan. Critics on the right and left have deplored the administration’s feckless envoy, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, and the administration’s “spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement.” Meanwhile, the religious atrocities continue, as Leo details:

USCIRF has focused since its inception on Sudan because Khartoum’s policies of Islamization and Arabization were a major factor in the Sudanese North-South civil war (1983-2005). During that period, Northern leaders, including Sudan’s current President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, exploited religion to mobilize northern Muslims against non-Muslim Southerners by appealing to Islam and calling for jihad. USCIRF remains concerned about continuing severe human rights violations committed by the Sudanese government against both non-Muslims and Muslims who depart from the government’s interpretation of Islam; the two million Southerners who reside in the North as internally displaced persons (IDPS); and the dramatic need for international support to develop Southern Sudan. … As the USCIRF delegation carried out its work, visiting displaced South Sudanese Christians living in camps outside Khartoum, the ominous sights of barricaded streets, armed military and security personnel around the National Assembly were a sobering reminder of the challenges to peace that lay ahead for Sudan.

Gration and the administration remain mute.

Then there is Egypt. The administration again is apathetic, it seems, to the religious persecution taking place there. Rep. Frank Wolf observed this about the virtual enslavement of Coptic women: “I expect the State Department to do nothing because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.” Leo explains what fails to interest the Obami:

In Egypt, serious problems of discrimination and intolerance against non-Muslim religious minorities and disfavored members of the Muslim majority remain widespread. The Egyptian government’s inadequate prosecution of those responsible and the politically expedient and occasional use of an ineffective reconciliation process, an improper substitute for conviction and punishment, have created a climate of impunity. Although the government has arrested three Muslim men and put them on trial for the Coptic Christmas Eve attack on six Coptic Orthodox Christians and one Muslim, the Coptic community fears reprisals and is skeptical that the government will either follow through with the trial of the three men in question or use its authority to create an environment in which individuals safely exercise their internationally guaranteed rights of religious freedom. However, President Mubarak publicly condemned the violence and acknowledged its sectarian character, and the Egyptian press for the first time called for a national conversation and an investigation on the root causes of this violence. Juxtaposed against these signs are the USCIRF delegation’s visits to the Muslim Koranist, Jehovah Witnesses, and Baha’i communities, each victimized by state-sponsored discrimination and repression. The government also has responded inadequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

The administration’s verbiage provides a clue to its disinterest in elevating this issue to a top priority. This report explains:

[C]ommission chairman Leonard Leo says the shrinking importance of religious freedom can be seen in the Obama administration’s evolving rhetoric on the issue. Whereas Mr. Obama came into office speaking of “freedom of religion,” Mr. Leo says, the president more recently has opted for speaking about “freedom of worship,” which the USCIRF chairman says has a more limited connotation. “Freedom of religion” is more broadly understood as a universal right and more specific in its referral to religions than is the more ephemeral phrase “freedom of worship,” some religious experts say. Critics say Obama’s recent preference for “worship” raises doubts about the administration’s determination to aggressively press for the rights of religious minorities in “friendly” countries such as Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan – all of which receive billions of dollars in US aid. The president referred to “freedom of worship,” for example, during his Asia trip last fall, when he was castigated by rights groups for downplaying the issue of religious freedom in China and the status of the Dalai Lama.

The administration’s slothful indifference to the uptick in religious persecution in the “Muslim World” stands in stark contrast to its obsession with the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Months and months of diplomacy, countless speeches and appearances by the president and high-level officials, condemnations for the Jewish state, and a special envoy are all focused on what is largely a fruitless endeavor — getting to the bargaining table (not even the same table at which the Israelis sit) with recalcitrant Palestinians who lack the will and the ability to make a peace deal. Meanwhile, virtually no time or focus and no ambassador is named to deal with a problem that could, if sufficient resources were devoted, be ameliorated by a forceful American policy. It is a vivid display of the misplaced priorities and wasted opportunities that characterize much of the Obama foreign policy.

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Obama’s Appeal Is Lost on World Leaders

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

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Not Realpolitik

The New York Times and Rahm Emanuel were spinning this week that Obama was a practitioner of “realpolitik” in the style of George H.W. Bush. I suggested this was poppycock, for there is little that is realistic or hardheaded or frankly effective about the Obama foreign policy. Others agree. In a forum at Foreign Policy magazine, Peter Feaver opines:

Emanuel’s quote is puzzling. President Obama may be more “realpolitik” than George W. Bush in the sense that he has downgraded the place of human rights and support for democracy in his foreign policy. But it is certainly not “realpolitik” to slight the personal relationships of presidential diplomacy — and it would be hard to identify something more unlike George H.W. Bush than this feature of the Obama approach to foreign policy. In any case, the rewards for this alleged “realpolitik” turn are still hard to measure. President Obama is significantly more popular with the general publics in the other great powers (except possibly in Asia), but if measured cold-bloodedly by American “self-interest,” the last President Bush had at least as good and probably more effective and cooperative relations with the governments of those great powers (except possibly with Russia). Relations with Britain, China, France, Germany, India, and Japan were more troubled in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Bob Kagan – like Justice Potter Stewart on pornography (“I know it when I see it”) — says he thinks he knows “realpolitik,” and this isn’t it:

It is not a plan to rid the world of nuclear weapons through common agreement by all the world’s powers. And it is not a foreign policy built on the premise that if only the United States reduces its nuclear arsenal, this will somehow persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, or persuade China and other reluctant nations in the world to redouble their pressure on Iran to do so. That is idealism of a high order. It is a 21st-century Wilsonian vision. And it is precisely the kind of idealism that realists in the middle of the 20th century rose up to challenge. Realists would point out that the divergent interests of the great powers, not to mention those of Iran, will not be affected in the slightest by marginal cuts in American and Russian nuclear forces.

The confusion no doubt stems from the fact that President Obama is attempting to work with autocratic governments to achieve his ends. But that does not make him Henry Kissinger. When Kissinger pursued diplomacy with China, it was to gain strategic leverage over the Soviet Union. When he sought détente with the Soviets, it was to gain breathing space for the United States after Vietnam. Right or wrong, that was “realpolitik.” Global nuclear disarmament may or may not be a worthy goal, but it is nothing if not idealistic.

It is interesting that the Obami spinners seek refuge in Kissinger (or Metternich) for a role model for the supposedly high-minded, we-are-the-world president. It does, I think, convey a certain nervousness that the country, not to mention the rest of the world, might find the president, well, not very savvy or hard-headed. After all, he frittered away a year on Iranian engagement, is shrinking our defense budget as a share of federal expenditures, and has let lefty lawyers rewrite anti-terror policies from the ACLU handbook. So perhaps they are a bit worried that the president might get tagged as a run-of-the-mill weak-on-national-security liberal. So they’ve come up with label that is as ill-suited a description of Obama’s foreign policy as “moderate” was to describe his domestic policy predilections. And frankly, they aren’t fooling anyone this time around.

Realpolitik would be using the threat of force to corner the mullahs. Realpolitik would be eschewing time-wasting entreaties to the mullahs and instead promoting regime change in Iran. Realpolitik would be bolstering our missile defenses and enhancing our Eastern European alliances to check the Russian bear. Realpolitik would be enhancing rather than straining our relations with Britain, France, Israel, and India. In short, it’s doing what Obama is not.

The New York Times and Rahm Emanuel were spinning this week that Obama was a practitioner of “realpolitik” in the style of George H.W. Bush. I suggested this was poppycock, for there is little that is realistic or hardheaded or frankly effective about the Obama foreign policy. Others agree. In a forum at Foreign Policy magazine, Peter Feaver opines:

Emanuel’s quote is puzzling. President Obama may be more “realpolitik” than George W. Bush in the sense that he has downgraded the place of human rights and support for democracy in his foreign policy. But it is certainly not “realpolitik” to slight the personal relationships of presidential diplomacy — and it would be hard to identify something more unlike George H.W. Bush than this feature of the Obama approach to foreign policy. In any case, the rewards for this alleged “realpolitik” turn are still hard to measure. President Obama is significantly more popular with the general publics in the other great powers (except possibly in Asia), but if measured cold-bloodedly by American “self-interest,” the last President Bush had at least as good and probably more effective and cooperative relations with the governments of those great powers (except possibly with Russia). Relations with Britain, China, France, Germany, India, and Japan were more troubled in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Bob Kagan – like Justice Potter Stewart on pornography (“I know it when I see it”) — says he thinks he knows “realpolitik,” and this isn’t it:

It is not a plan to rid the world of nuclear weapons through common agreement by all the world’s powers. And it is not a foreign policy built on the premise that if only the United States reduces its nuclear arsenal, this will somehow persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, or persuade China and other reluctant nations in the world to redouble their pressure on Iran to do so. That is idealism of a high order. It is a 21st-century Wilsonian vision. And it is precisely the kind of idealism that realists in the middle of the 20th century rose up to challenge. Realists would point out that the divergent interests of the great powers, not to mention those of Iran, will not be affected in the slightest by marginal cuts in American and Russian nuclear forces.

The confusion no doubt stems from the fact that President Obama is attempting to work with autocratic governments to achieve his ends. But that does not make him Henry Kissinger. When Kissinger pursued diplomacy with China, it was to gain strategic leverage over the Soviet Union. When he sought détente with the Soviets, it was to gain breathing space for the United States after Vietnam. Right or wrong, that was “realpolitik.” Global nuclear disarmament may or may not be a worthy goal, but it is nothing if not idealistic.

It is interesting that the Obami spinners seek refuge in Kissinger (or Metternich) for a role model for the supposedly high-minded, we-are-the-world president. It does, I think, convey a certain nervousness that the country, not to mention the rest of the world, might find the president, well, not very savvy or hard-headed. After all, he frittered away a year on Iranian engagement, is shrinking our defense budget as a share of federal expenditures, and has let lefty lawyers rewrite anti-terror policies from the ACLU handbook. So perhaps they are a bit worried that the president might get tagged as a run-of-the-mill weak-on-national-security liberal. So they’ve come up with label that is as ill-suited a description of Obama’s foreign policy as “moderate” was to describe his domestic policy predilections. And frankly, they aren’t fooling anyone this time around.

Realpolitik would be using the threat of force to corner the mullahs. Realpolitik would be eschewing time-wasting entreaties to the mullahs and instead promoting regime change in Iran. Realpolitik would be bolstering our missile defenses and enhancing our Eastern European alliances to check the Russian bear. Realpolitik would be enhancing rather than straining our relations with Britain, France, Israel, and India. In short, it’s doing what Obama is not.

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RE: The Futile Engagement-Pressure-Containment-Engagement Loop

Rick, you make a keen comparison between North Korea and Iran.

Events of last week offered a chilling hypothetical. Last Friday, news broke that a South Korean naval ship sank near the border uneasily shared with North Korea. Immediately, speculation arose that Pyongyang had intentionally attacked the vessel.

This would be less than surprising, considering that within the last year, among other acts of intransigence and aggression, North Korea has conducted nuclear tests, repeatedly threatened attacks against South Korea and the U.S., and captured South Korean fishermen who had crossed into disputed waters. Yet South Korea has since determined that North Korean involvement in the vessel’s sinking is unlikely.

But suppose for a moment that Pyongyang really had attacked. As a former editor of mine pointed out in a conversation over the weekend, the reaction of the international community would have been limited. Precisely because North Korea possesses nuclear arms, South Korea and the world would have been forced to tread cautiously.

It’s also worth noting that six-party talks — a.k.a. engagement — did not prevent Pyongyang from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In July 2006, just as North Korea was testing its rocket-delivery system, I was traveling in South Korea and Japan, two member-countries of the six-party talks. I remember the uneasiness and frustration expressed by several journalists there as the rocket launched. It was odd and frightening to think that, beyond my sight, a rocket was whizzing past, and with it, the international balance was shifting. By October 2006, just three months later, it was too late for the world to do much. North Korea had become the world’s eighth atomic power.

Since then, North Korea has been a constant problem. It has been hard enough to get Pyongyang to merely participate in six-party talks — much less make substantive concessions. In May 2009, the DPRK went so far as to call talks with the United States “meaningless.” Nuclear-weapon status has only emboldened Kim Jong-il and his followers. They are an armed agent of instability in Asia.

The Obama administration should consider the North Korean precedent as it determines how to deal with Iran. One thing is certain: the United States’s problem-solving flexibility will only decrease as Iran approaches nuclear-power status.

Rick, you make a keen comparison between North Korea and Iran.

Events of last week offered a chilling hypothetical. Last Friday, news broke that a South Korean naval ship sank near the border uneasily shared with North Korea. Immediately, speculation arose that Pyongyang had intentionally attacked the vessel.

This would be less than surprising, considering that within the last year, among other acts of intransigence and aggression, North Korea has conducted nuclear tests, repeatedly threatened attacks against South Korea and the U.S., and captured South Korean fishermen who had crossed into disputed waters. Yet South Korea has since determined that North Korean involvement in the vessel’s sinking is unlikely.

But suppose for a moment that Pyongyang really had attacked. As a former editor of mine pointed out in a conversation over the weekend, the reaction of the international community would have been limited. Precisely because North Korea possesses nuclear arms, South Korea and the world would have been forced to tread cautiously.

It’s also worth noting that six-party talks — a.k.a. engagement — did not prevent Pyongyang from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In July 2006, just as North Korea was testing its rocket-delivery system, I was traveling in South Korea and Japan, two member-countries of the six-party talks. I remember the uneasiness and frustration expressed by several journalists there as the rocket launched. It was odd and frightening to think that, beyond my sight, a rocket was whizzing past, and with it, the international balance was shifting. By October 2006, just three months later, it was too late for the world to do much. North Korea had become the world’s eighth atomic power.

Since then, North Korea has been a constant problem. It has been hard enough to get Pyongyang to merely participate in six-party talks — much less make substantive concessions. In May 2009, the DPRK went so far as to call talks with the United States “meaningless.” Nuclear-weapon status has only emboldened Kim Jong-il and his followers. They are an armed agent of instability in Asia.

The Obama administration should consider the North Korean precedent as it determines how to deal with Iran. One thing is certain: the United States’s problem-solving flexibility will only decrease as Iran approaches nuclear-power status.

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Radical Move for a Radical Bill

Does she have the votes? Can she get them? That’s what everyone is wondering. “She” is Nancy Pelosi, and the votes will decide not only the fate of ObamaCare but also of Obama’s presidency. Michael Barone explores whether the votes are there to pass the Senate version of health care, as that’s what it’s come down to. (Let’s all assume for the sake of argument that reconciliation is a flimflam.) He tells us:

As of today, it’s clear there aren’t. House Democratic leaders have brushed aside White House calls to bring the bill forward by March 18, when President Barack Obama heads to Asia. Nevertheless, analysts close to the Democratic leadership tell me they’re confident the leadership will find some way to squeeze out the 216 votes needed for a majority.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indeed shown mastery at amassing majorities. But it’s hard to see how she’ll do so on this one. The arithmetic as I see it doesn’t add up.

There are Bart Stupak’s pro-life Democrats. There’s the dicey matter of voting for all those sweetheart deals. (“Voting for the Senate bill means voting for the Cornhusker kickback and the Louisiana purchase — the price Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid paid for the votes of Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu. It’s not hard to imagine the ads Republicans could run attacking House members for sending money to Nebraska and Louisiana but not their home states.”) Then there are the House Democrats in especially vulnerable districts:

More than 40 House Democrats represent districts which John McCain carried. Most voted no in November and would presumably be hurt by switching to yes now. Moreover, Mr. Obama’s job approval now hovers around 48%, five points lower than his winning percentage in 2008. His approval on health care is even lower.

Another 32 House Democrats represent districts where Mr. Obama won between 50% and 54% of the vote, and where his approval is likely to be running under 50% now. That leaves just 176 House Democrats from districts where Mr. Obama’s approval rating is not, to borrow a real-estate term, under water. That’s 40 votes less than the 216 needed.

This isn’t to say that Pelosi can’t pull it off. But if she comes up short, she and Obama will suffer a devastating blow. And if she squeaks by, the Republicans have their campaign slogan and a single, overarching issue: Repeal ObamaCare.

Obama is risking his presidency — for what will be left of his political capital and credibility if he fails? — on a monstrous tax-and-spend measure that a significant majority of voters oppose, and vehemently so. Pretty radical stuff for a candidate billed as a moderate.

Does she have the votes? Can she get them? That’s what everyone is wondering. “She” is Nancy Pelosi, and the votes will decide not only the fate of ObamaCare but also of Obama’s presidency. Michael Barone explores whether the votes are there to pass the Senate version of health care, as that’s what it’s come down to. (Let’s all assume for the sake of argument that reconciliation is a flimflam.) He tells us:

As of today, it’s clear there aren’t. House Democratic leaders have brushed aside White House calls to bring the bill forward by March 18, when President Barack Obama heads to Asia. Nevertheless, analysts close to the Democratic leadership tell me they’re confident the leadership will find some way to squeeze out the 216 votes needed for a majority.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indeed shown mastery at amassing majorities. But it’s hard to see how she’ll do so on this one. The arithmetic as I see it doesn’t add up.

There are Bart Stupak’s pro-life Democrats. There’s the dicey matter of voting for all those sweetheart deals. (“Voting for the Senate bill means voting for the Cornhusker kickback and the Louisiana purchase — the price Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid paid for the votes of Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu. It’s not hard to imagine the ads Republicans could run attacking House members for sending money to Nebraska and Louisiana but not their home states.”) Then there are the House Democrats in especially vulnerable districts:

More than 40 House Democrats represent districts which John McCain carried. Most voted no in November and would presumably be hurt by switching to yes now. Moreover, Mr. Obama’s job approval now hovers around 48%, five points lower than his winning percentage in 2008. His approval on health care is even lower.

Another 32 House Democrats represent districts where Mr. Obama won between 50% and 54% of the vote, and where his approval is likely to be running under 50% now. That leaves just 176 House Democrats from districts where Mr. Obama’s approval rating is not, to borrow a real-estate term, under water. That’s 40 votes less than the 216 needed.

This isn’t to say that Pelosi can’t pull it off. But if she comes up short, she and Obama will suffer a devastating blow. And if she squeaks by, the Republicans have their campaign slogan and a single, overarching issue: Repeal ObamaCare.

Obama is risking his presidency — for what will be left of his political capital and credibility if he fails? — on a monstrous tax-and-spend measure that a significant majority of voters oppose, and vehemently so. Pretty radical stuff for a candidate billed as a moderate.

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Hunting Heads

If Christmas Day airline bomber Umar Abdulmutallab had been identified by Special Forces in Yemen, rather than being detained in Detroit, he could well have been summarily killed in a drone strike instead of being read his rights. Such are the features of the Obama approach to the war on terror.

The AP has a story today outlining something that has been apparent for months: that President Obama is relying to a much greater degree than Bush did on standoff drone attacks against terrorists in Asia and the Middle East. The AP piece presents this as a fresh, successful strategy, one applauded by Pakistani officials and made possible by the drawdown in Iraq, which is freeing up drones and intelligence assets for use elsewhere. In the AP analysis, moreover, Obama’s choice to leave behind terms such as “radical Islam” and “Islamo-fascism” is amplifying his effectiveness by abetting a policy of reaching out to Islamic allies.

This is one way of looking at it – but it’s a narrative that omits important context. Obama’s strategy isn’t a matter of increasing our reliance on drone strikes while at the same time maintaining the politically comprehensive Bush approach to combating Islamist terrorism. It involves instead shifting our approach away from Bush’s indispensable political element – fostering liberalization, consensual government, and civil security in the Islamic world – toward an emphasis on simply killing individual terrorists. But Obama has also adopted this strategy in the context of a kid-gloves policy toward foreign terrorists who happen to fall, still alive, into the clutches of the U.S. justice system.

We might certainly call the latter factor an ethical paradox, or perhaps simply a double standard. In neither guise does the Obama policy come off as principled from any universalist ethical sense. A policy of what amounts to assassination overseas, coupled with legalist zealotry for the rights of the accused at home, can’t help looking like a cynical combination tinged with domestic-constituency tending and rank hypocrisy.

Terrible things are done in war, of course; and the terrorists being targeted in standoff attacks are known to be ringleaders, most with ghastly bombings on their rap sheets. But the “big picture” justification for this tactic, the mitigating strategic objective of promoting a “better peace” in the Islamic societies, is something Obama has been at pains to shed. This policy trend must at some point call into question the purpose of our campaign of force. I’ve written here and here about Obama’s turn away from the core Bush tenet of fighting terrorism by means of promoting civil outcomes abroad. Whether by excising the promotion of freedom and democracy from our national objectives, or by envisioning for Afghanistan a “less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence” than in Iraq, the Obama administration has backed off significantly from Bush’s policy of shaping conditions for the better overseas.

It bears repeating that Bush chose to go all-in on that policy – with the surge decision in late 2006 – because the lighter-footprint approach favored by Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t working. There is a real risk with the light-footprint strategy that using head-hunting tactics against terrorists will begin to look more and more like taking the worst kind of law-enforcement approach: one that dispenses with the inconvenient constraints of law. Indeed, a diligent UN official has already made this point about our drone strike campaign.

Minimizing our own “skin in the game” may seem like a prudent policy in the short run. But it will not be to our advantage over the long run if Afghans, Pakistanis, or Yemenis come to see us as having arrived not to foster a better future for them, but rather to use their territory as a sniper perch.

If Christmas Day airline bomber Umar Abdulmutallab had been identified by Special Forces in Yemen, rather than being detained in Detroit, he could well have been summarily killed in a drone strike instead of being read his rights. Such are the features of the Obama approach to the war on terror.

The AP has a story today outlining something that has been apparent for months: that President Obama is relying to a much greater degree than Bush did on standoff drone attacks against terrorists in Asia and the Middle East. The AP piece presents this as a fresh, successful strategy, one applauded by Pakistani officials and made possible by the drawdown in Iraq, which is freeing up drones and intelligence assets for use elsewhere. In the AP analysis, moreover, Obama’s choice to leave behind terms such as “radical Islam” and “Islamo-fascism” is amplifying his effectiveness by abetting a policy of reaching out to Islamic allies.

This is one way of looking at it – but it’s a narrative that omits important context. Obama’s strategy isn’t a matter of increasing our reliance on drone strikes while at the same time maintaining the politically comprehensive Bush approach to combating Islamist terrorism. It involves instead shifting our approach away from Bush’s indispensable political element – fostering liberalization, consensual government, and civil security in the Islamic world – toward an emphasis on simply killing individual terrorists. But Obama has also adopted this strategy in the context of a kid-gloves policy toward foreign terrorists who happen to fall, still alive, into the clutches of the U.S. justice system.

We might certainly call the latter factor an ethical paradox, or perhaps simply a double standard. In neither guise does the Obama policy come off as principled from any universalist ethical sense. A policy of what amounts to assassination overseas, coupled with legalist zealotry for the rights of the accused at home, can’t help looking like a cynical combination tinged with domestic-constituency tending and rank hypocrisy.

Terrible things are done in war, of course; and the terrorists being targeted in standoff attacks are known to be ringleaders, most with ghastly bombings on their rap sheets. But the “big picture” justification for this tactic, the mitigating strategic objective of promoting a “better peace” in the Islamic societies, is something Obama has been at pains to shed. This policy trend must at some point call into question the purpose of our campaign of force. I’ve written here and here about Obama’s turn away from the core Bush tenet of fighting terrorism by means of promoting civil outcomes abroad. Whether by excising the promotion of freedom and democracy from our national objectives, or by envisioning for Afghanistan a “less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence” than in Iraq, the Obama administration has backed off significantly from Bush’s policy of shaping conditions for the better overseas.

It bears repeating that Bush chose to go all-in on that policy – with the surge decision in late 2006 – because the lighter-footprint approach favored by Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t working. There is a real risk with the light-footprint strategy that using head-hunting tactics against terrorists will begin to look more and more like taking the worst kind of law-enforcement approach: one that dispenses with the inconvenient constraints of law. Indeed, a diligent UN official has already made this point about our drone strike campaign.

Minimizing our own “skin in the game” may seem like a prudent policy in the short run. But it will not be to our advantage over the long run if Afghans, Pakistanis, or Yemenis come to see us as having arrived not to foster a better future for them, but rather to use their territory as a sniper perch.

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Blame America First — World War II Edition

Today is the 68th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt memorably described December 7, 1941, as a “date that will live in infamy,” but as the number of veterans and the witnesses of that war dwindle, its importance in the American calendar has declined. Though the solemn ceremonies in Honolulu’s harbor continue, as far as the New York Times is concerned, the subject of the Japanese surprise attack is nowadays only dragged out of mothballs to make a political point that reinforces its current view of the United States. Thus, the only mention of Pearl Harbor in the print edition of the paper came a day early in an op-ed that placed the blame for the naval disaster and America’s forced entry in that war on Roosevelt.

But not, as author James Bradley points out, on Franklin but on his cousin Theodore, whose presidential term ended nearly 33 years before the Japanese navy set out to sink our Pacific fleet. Bradley’s claim to fame is that he is the author of Flags of Our Fathers, a book that chronicled the lives of the five Marines and one sailor (Bradley’s father) who raised the American flag over Mount Suribachi during the taking of the island of Iwo Jima from the Japanese in February 1945. Bradley’s main theme was that the famous photograph and the patriotic fervor it generated were, in a fundamental sense, fraudulent. His book was the source of an overpraised and equally cynical film by Clint Eastwood (who followed it with a companion film that treated the Japanese side of the battle without the same sort of cynicism). Bradley followed that up with a subsequent book, Fly Boys, which took on the same mission of viewing the war against Japan with moral relativism, and then another new volume, The Imperial Cruise, which elaborates on his thesis that it was all somehow the fault of TR. The Imperial Cruise earned a favorable review from the Times last month.

This revisionist take on the history of World War II may seem familiar to those who have seen the way some have taken our generation’s Pearl Harbor — the 9/11 attacks — and sought to blame it on American foreign policy or support for Israel rather than on America-hating al-Qaeda terrorists. The sheer wrongheadedness of an argument that seeks to mitigate the guilt of those who actually committed these atrocities and instead blame the victims is insufferable. But while most Americans know enough about the contemporary world to dismiss such garbage out of hand, given the well-documented decline in our knowledge of our own history, Bradley’s assault on the first president Roosevelt deserves at least a brief refutation.

First, contrary to Bradley’s thesis, the Japanese needed no encouragement from TR to set them on an imperialist path. The 1868 Meiji Restoration in Japan launched a long period of military and industrial buildup that aimed to create a modern state that would have the power not only to resist Western pressures but also to make the country a regional power. The roots of Japan’s attempt to extend its empire over the entire Pacific in the 1930s and 1940s can be found in that event and the subsequent development of a political and military culture that saw service to the militarized state as a religious duty for all Japanese.

Bradley also accuses TR of siding with the Japanese in their 1905 war with tsarist Russia and thereby facilitating their imperialist ambitions and their brutal control of Korea. But a full decade earlier, Japan had fought a war with China over that same issue without any assistance or encouragement from Roosevelt. As for the peace treaty that Roosevelt brokered (and that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize), far from it being a case of the president openly siding with Japan, as Bradley alleges, the treaty was criticized by many Japanese because its restrained terms took some of the fruits of their military victory away from them, as most of Manchuria was given back to China. Bradley also omits the fact that it was Britain, not the United States, that was the principal military ally of Japan during this period.

We may well look back on the racist attitudes of Theodore Roosevelt and other Americans toward Asia a century ago with some regret. But the idea that our 26th president was in any way responsible for the creation of a Japanese state that viewed the subjugation of the Eastern Hemisphere as a divinely inspired mission for whom any atrocity or deceit was permissible is utterly devoid of historical truth.

While an earlier generation of historical revisionists blamed Franklin Roosevelt for Pearl Harbor because they thought he welcomed a Japanese attack that would convince Americans to join World War II, today’s revisionists have an even broader agenda. As with interpretations of our current battle with Islamists that seek to blame it all on our own sins, Bradley prefers to spin tales about Teddy Roosevelt rather than to face up to the truth about the Japan that his father fought. It speaks volumes about the state of the New York Times that its editors would choose this crackpot historian’s rant as their only acknowledgement of the anniversary of December 7, 1941.

Today is the 68th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt memorably described December 7, 1941, as a “date that will live in infamy,” but as the number of veterans and the witnesses of that war dwindle, its importance in the American calendar has declined. Though the solemn ceremonies in Honolulu’s harbor continue, as far as the New York Times is concerned, the subject of the Japanese surprise attack is nowadays only dragged out of mothballs to make a political point that reinforces its current view of the United States. Thus, the only mention of Pearl Harbor in the print edition of the paper came a day early in an op-ed that placed the blame for the naval disaster and America’s forced entry in that war on Roosevelt.

But not, as author James Bradley points out, on Franklin but on his cousin Theodore, whose presidential term ended nearly 33 years before the Japanese navy set out to sink our Pacific fleet. Bradley’s claim to fame is that he is the author of Flags of Our Fathers, a book that chronicled the lives of the five Marines and one sailor (Bradley’s father) who raised the American flag over Mount Suribachi during the taking of the island of Iwo Jima from the Japanese in February 1945. Bradley’s main theme was that the famous photograph and the patriotic fervor it generated were, in a fundamental sense, fraudulent. His book was the source of an overpraised and equally cynical film by Clint Eastwood (who followed it with a companion film that treated the Japanese side of the battle without the same sort of cynicism). Bradley followed that up with a subsequent book, Fly Boys, which took on the same mission of viewing the war against Japan with moral relativism, and then another new volume, The Imperial Cruise, which elaborates on his thesis that it was all somehow the fault of TR. The Imperial Cruise earned a favorable review from the Times last month.

This revisionist take on the history of World War II may seem familiar to those who have seen the way some have taken our generation’s Pearl Harbor — the 9/11 attacks — and sought to blame it on American foreign policy or support for Israel rather than on America-hating al-Qaeda terrorists. The sheer wrongheadedness of an argument that seeks to mitigate the guilt of those who actually committed these atrocities and instead blame the victims is insufferable. But while most Americans know enough about the contemporary world to dismiss such garbage out of hand, given the well-documented decline in our knowledge of our own history, Bradley’s assault on the first president Roosevelt deserves at least a brief refutation.

First, contrary to Bradley’s thesis, the Japanese needed no encouragement from TR to set them on an imperialist path. The 1868 Meiji Restoration in Japan launched a long period of military and industrial buildup that aimed to create a modern state that would have the power not only to resist Western pressures but also to make the country a regional power. The roots of Japan’s attempt to extend its empire over the entire Pacific in the 1930s and 1940s can be found in that event and the subsequent development of a political and military culture that saw service to the militarized state as a religious duty for all Japanese.

Bradley also accuses TR of siding with the Japanese in their 1905 war with tsarist Russia and thereby facilitating their imperialist ambitions and their brutal control of Korea. But a full decade earlier, Japan had fought a war with China over that same issue without any assistance or encouragement from Roosevelt. As for the peace treaty that Roosevelt brokered (and that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize), far from it being a case of the president openly siding with Japan, as Bradley alleges, the treaty was criticized by many Japanese because its restrained terms took some of the fruits of their military victory away from them, as most of Manchuria was given back to China. Bradley also omits the fact that it was Britain, not the United States, that was the principal military ally of Japan during this period.

We may well look back on the racist attitudes of Theodore Roosevelt and other Americans toward Asia a century ago with some regret. But the idea that our 26th president was in any way responsible for the creation of a Japanese state that viewed the subjugation of the Eastern Hemisphere as a divinely inspired mission for whom any atrocity or deceit was permissible is utterly devoid of historical truth.

While an earlier generation of historical revisionists blamed Franklin Roosevelt for Pearl Harbor because they thought he welcomed a Japanese attack that would convince Americans to join World War II, today’s revisionists have an even broader agenda. As with interpretations of our current battle with Islamists that seek to blame it all on our own sins, Bradley prefers to spin tales about Teddy Roosevelt rather than to face up to the truth about the Japan that his father fought. It speaks volumes about the state of the New York Times that its editors would choose this crackpot historian’s rant as their only acknowledgement of the anniversary of December 7, 1941.

Read Less