Commentary Magazine


Topic: Beijing

Obama’s New Anti-Satellite Weapons Push to Cede Space to the Chinese?

In 2006, the Chinese reportedly used an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) to blind one of our satellites. In 2007, they definitely used an ASAT to shoot down one of their own satellites. Incidents like these led the Pentagon in 2008 and Secretary Gates in 2010 to assert that China’s ASAT program was meant, respectively, to enhance their power projection and to curtail ours.

So naturally — per Eli Lake’s extensive report this morning — the Obama administration is pushing for a U.S./EU agreement that would severely restrict our ASAT capabilities. Experts who back the administration describe it as a “not exactly binding” minor move, the upshot being that Obama wouldn’t have to secure Senate approval for the measure. But experts and congressional staffers both insist that it would significantly curb what we can do in space and would endanger our ability to develop and deploy both offensive and defensive assets:

[A] congressional staff member said: “There is a suspicion that this is a slippery slope to arms control for space-based weapons, anti-satellite weapons and a back door to potentially limiting missile defense.”… “Because it appears that they are talking about limiting operations … it could be that this is as much an agreement on the law of war as it is on arms control,” Mr. Spring [a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation] said. “If it is something more like a law-of-war agreement, then you are creating a situation of legal jeopardy for a military commander who is responsible for operating systems in space.”

Presumably, the argument is that if we give up ours, they’ll give up theirs. The muddy, cascading norms argument is always trotted out when people push for unilateral disarmament, which is what opposing space militarization means in an age of Chinese ascendancy. In a full-blown movement, you’ll find the argument buttressed by everything from “at least our side won’t be complicit” moral preening to “it’ll snowball into a global movement, then there won’t be any more sides” activist nonsense. But it’s always there, in part because we have a surplus of foreign-policy experts churning out implausible advantages for their pet policies — and then selling those fanciful pretexts as objective evaluations.

If stopping Israeli construction in a particular Jerusalem neighborhood can placate Afghanis who’ve never seen a map of Israel, is it too much to suggest that unilateral Western gestures on space militarization will cause Beijing to abandon its ASAT program?

Turns out, there’s an answer to that:

The State Department has exchanged language with the EU on the code of conduct. The U.S. and Russia also have begun talks about creating confidence-building measures regarding space-based activities. The U.S. has reached out to China on space issues, but Beijing has declined offers to discuss the issue, according to a senior State Department official. [emphasis added]

Disappointing to be sure, but I’m sure there’s still something else we can give up that would swing them.

In 2006, the Chinese reportedly used an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) to blind one of our satellites. In 2007, they definitely used an ASAT to shoot down one of their own satellites. Incidents like these led the Pentagon in 2008 and Secretary Gates in 2010 to assert that China’s ASAT program was meant, respectively, to enhance their power projection and to curtail ours.

So naturally — per Eli Lake’s extensive report this morning — the Obama administration is pushing for a U.S./EU agreement that would severely restrict our ASAT capabilities. Experts who back the administration describe it as a “not exactly binding” minor move, the upshot being that Obama wouldn’t have to secure Senate approval for the measure. But experts and congressional staffers both insist that it would significantly curb what we can do in space and would endanger our ability to develop and deploy both offensive and defensive assets:

[A] congressional staff member said: “There is a suspicion that this is a slippery slope to arms control for space-based weapons, anti-satellite weapons and a back door to potentially limiting missile defense.”… “Because it appears that they are talking about limiting operations … it could be that this is as much an agreement on the law of war as it is on arms control,” Mr. Spring [a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation] said. “If it is something more like a law-of-war agreement, then you are creating a situation of legal jeopardy for a military commander who is responsible for operating systems in space.”

Presumably, the argument is that if we give up ours, they’ll give up theirs. The muddy, cascading norms argument is always trotted out when people push for unilateral disarmament, which is what opposing space militarization means in an age of Chinese ascendancy. In a full-blown movement, you’ll find the argument buttressed by everything from “at least our side won’t be complicit” moral preening to “it’ll snowball into a global movement, then there won’t be any more sides” activist nonsense. But it’s always there, in part because we have a surplus of foreign-policy experts churning out implausible advantages for their pet policies — and then selling those fanciful pretexts as objective evaluations.

If stopping Israeli construction in a particular Jerusalem neighborhood can placate Afghanis who’ve never seen a map of Israel, is it too much to suggest that unilateral Western gestures on space militarization will cause Beijing to abandon its ASAT program?

Turns out, there’s an answer to that:

The State Department has exchanged language with the EU on the code of conduct. The U.S. and Russia also have begun talks about creating confidence-building measures regarding space-based activities. The U.S. has reached out to China on space issues, but Beijing has declined offers to discuss the issue, according to a senior State Department official. [emphasis added]

Disappointing to be sure, but I’m sure there’s still something else we can give up that would swing them.

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China and Those Tensions that Remain

Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has been accompanied by the usual swooning. The New York Times, for instance, finds “Subtle Signs of Progress in U.S.-China Relations.” Very subtle indeed:

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the Chinese for the first time expressed public concern over North Korea’s recent disclosure of a modern uranium-enrichment plant, a small but ardently sought step in American efforts to press Kim Jong-il to roll back his nuclear weapons program.

More surprisingly, perhaps, Mr. Hu said at a White House news conference that China “recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights,” a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate.

But even Times reporter Michael Wines is forced to admit that “words, of course, are easier than deeds.” He went on to concede (a concession that undercuts the entire thrust of the article):

Neither side made any significant progress, much less any breakthrough, on the larger problems that have bedeviled relations ever since Mr. Obama made his state visit to Beijing in November 2009. On the American side, that includes revaluing China’s currency, leveling the playing field for American investors in China and establishing a serious discourse between the nations’ militaries.

That tensions remain even after the two presidents broke bread together should hardly be a surprise. Keep in mind the larger picture. Numerous countries have ascended to great power status in the past 1,000 years, as China now aspires to do. Not a single one managed to make the transition peacefully. Not the Ottomans, not the Habsburgs, not the French, not the British, not the Germans, not the Russians. Not even the Americans. We like to think of ourselves as a peace-loving nation, but that’s not how our neighbors see us — and with good cause. Remember, as soon as we were strong enough, we went to war with Mexico to wrestle away the Southwest, and then, for good measure, we went to war with Spain to wrestle away Cuba and the Philippines. These were the actions, recall, of a liberal democracy. Autocratic regimes like the one in Beijing tend to be much more belligerent.

And indeed, China has been acting aggressively recently in trying to establish its hegemony in the region. As part of this process, it has undertaken a rapid military buildup that, as Dan Blumenthal and Mike Mazza note in the Weekly Standard, includes acquiring the means to strike distant American bases.

Does this mean that war with China is inevitable? Of course not. But we should be wary of the happy talk that normally accompanies summits. China may indeed see a “peaceful rise,” the slogan it adopted a few years ago. But based on history, that’s not the way to bet.

Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has been accompanied by the usual swooning. The New York Times, for instance, finds “Subtle Signs of Progress in U.S.-China Relations.” Very subtle indeed:

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the Chinese for the first time expressed public concern over North Korea’s recent disclosure of a modern uranium-enrichment plant, a small but ardently sought step in American efforts to press Kim Jong-il to roll back his nuclear weapons program.

More surprisingly, perhaps, Mr. Hu said at a White House news conference that China “recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights,” a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate.

But even Times reporter Michael Wines is forced to admit that “words, of course, are easier than deeds.” He went on to concede (a concession that undercuts the entire thrust of the article):

Neither side made any significant progress, much less any breakthrough, on the larger problems that have bedeviled relations ever since Mr. Obama made his state visit to Beijing in November 2009. On the American side, that includes revaluing China’s currency, leveling the playing field for American investors in China and establishing a serious discourse between the nations’ militaries.

That tensions remain even after the two presidents broke bread together should hardly be a surprise. Keep in mind the larger picture. Numerous countries have ascended to great power status in the past 1,000 years, as China now aspires to do. Not a single one managed to make the transition peacefully. Not the Ottomans, not the Habsburgs, not the French, not the British, not the Germans, not the Russians. Not even the Americans. We like to think of ourselves as a peace-loving nation, but that’s not how our neighbors see us — and with good cause. Remember, as soon as we were strong enough, we went to war with Mexico to wrestle away the Southwest, and then, for good measure, we went to war with Spain to wrestle away Cuba and the Philippines. These were the actions, recall, of a liberal democracy. Autocratic regimes like the one in Beijing tend to be much more belligerent.

And indeed, China has been acting aggressively recently in trying to establish its hegemony in the region. As part of this process, it has undertaken a rapid military buildup that, as Dan Blumenthal and Mike Mazza note in the Weekly Standard, includes acquiring the means to strike distant American bases.

Does this mean that war with China is inevitable? Of course not. But we should be wary of the happy talk that normally accompanies summits. China may indeed see a “peaceful rise,” the slogan it adopted a few years ago. But based on history, that’s not the way to bet.

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The China Show

According to the New York Times, Barack Obama is about to get tough on China. Helene Cooper quotes Clinton administration national-security expert David Rothkopf, who says, “There’s been this well-orchestrated and clearly well thought-out campaign, over the past two weeks, involving the secretary of state, Treasury, defense and commerce making strong statements regarding currency, the trade imbalance, human rights and China’s military stance.” Cooper notes: “The more assertive strategy comes after Mr. Obama was criticized as appearing to kowtow to China in his visit there in 2009, and then again for allowing Beijing to get the upper hand against the United States at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Seoul late last year.”

A genuine policy shift is certainly welcome, but this is not it. The administration’s new approach on China will likely fail because it is compartmentalized. Without a bold change in America’s larger foreign policy, these feints amount to no more than fleeting imitations of power. Why would Hu Jintao concern himself with a one-day human-rights condemnation from an administration that has spent two straight years softening its human-rights rhetoric? Why would Hu fear the retaliation of a president who is so mild on international trade that now, as the Times puts it, “corporate leaders are pressing” him to “take a tougher stance”? Why would Beijing be concerned with a narrow and localized military investment boost pledged by a White House that has sworn to shrink America’s military posture around the globe?

America cannot simultaneously apologize and intimidate. So long as there remains no connection between this week’s slapdash simulation of American confidence and long-term American policy, we are negotiating without credibility. Which will prove no more effective than asking nicely.

According to the New York Times, Barack Obama is about to get tough on China. Helene Cooper quotes Clinton administration national-security expert David Rothkopf, who says, “There’s been this well-orchestrated and clearly well thought-out campaign, over the past two weeks, involving the secretary of state, Treasury, defense and commerce making strong statements regarding currency, the trade imbalance, human rights and China’s military stance.” Cooper notes: “The more assertive strategy comes after Mr. Obama was criticized as appearing to kowtow to China in his visit there in 2009, and then again for allowing Beijing to get the upper hand against the United States at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Seoul late last year.”

A genuine policy shift is certainly welcome, but this is not it. The administration’s new approach on China will likely fail because it is compartmentalized. Without a bold change in America’s larger foreign policy, these feints amount to no more than fleeting imitations of power. Why would Hu Jintao concern himself with a one-day human-rights condemnation from an administration that has spent two straight years softening its human-rights rhetoric? Why would Hu fear the retaliation of a president who is so mild on international trade that now, as the Times puts it, “corporate leaders are pressing” him to “take a tougher stance”? Why would Beijing be concerned with a narrow and localized military investment boost pledged by a White House that has sworn to shrink America’s military posture around the globe?

America cannot simultaneously apologize and intimidate. So long as there remains no connection between this week’s slapdash simulation of American confidence and long-term American policy, we are negotiating without credibility. Which will prove no more effective than asking nicely.

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Morning Commentary

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

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We Get It — They’re Just Like Us

Why do apologists for authoritarian regimes always cite the diversity of the impacted people as evidence of the regime’s moderate governance and of the reader’s ignorance?   “[I]n China as a whole, discrete zones of freedom exist alongside governmental repression, and the view of a homogenized, blinkered populace is highly misleading,” writes Iain Mills  in World Politics Review. “Rather, Chinese society is diverse and dynamic, and so is the distribution of freedom and repression within it.” To whom is Mills ascribing this view of China’s people as a “blinkered populace”? Those of us who want to see Beijing release its Nobel Prize–winning thinkers from jail? Those of us who believe the Chinese should have unfettered Internet access and a right to redress their leaders without fear of punishment?

To Mills, somehow pointing out government oppression is synonymous with assuming the existence of a zombie public. As inexplicable as this intellectual shell game is, it is not uncommon. This is exactly what we heard from Tehran apologists in 2009, during the run-up to the fraudulent June 12 presidential election and the deadly crackdown that followed it. “Iranians are property-buying, car-mad, entrepreneurial consumers with a taste for the latest brands,” wrote the New York Times’s Roger Cohen in February of that year. “Forget about nukes. Think Nikes,” he urged, before closing on this recommendation: “America, think again about Iran.” I hope the Iranians had their Nikes on four months later when they had to run from Revolutionary Guard clubs and bullets.

It is precisely because Americans do not assume the people in authoritarian countries to be thoughtless automatons that we recognize the tragedy of their lot. The fact of individualism and the recognition that people in other countries harbor the same hopes and dreams of all human beings are the most elemental aspects of support for political freedoms. A defense of a country’s population is not a defense of its authoritarian leaders; it is an indictment of them.

Why do apologists for authoritarian regimes always cite the diversity of the impacted people as evidence of the regime’s moderate governance and of the reader’s ignorance?   “[I]n China as a whole, discrete zones of freedom exist alongside governmental repression, and the view of a homogenized, blinkered populace is highly misleading,” writes Iain Mills  in World Politics Review. “Rather, Chinese society is diverse and dynamic, and so is the distribution of freedom and repression within it.” To whom is Mills ascribing this view of China’s people as a “blinkered populace”? Those of us who want to see Beijing release its Nobel Prize–winning thinkers from jail? Those of us who believe the Chinese should have unfettered Internet access and a right to redress their leaders without fear of punishment?

To Mills, somehow pointing out government oppression is synonymous with assuming the existence of a zombie public. As inexplicable as this intellectual shell game is, it is not uncommon. This is exactly what we heard from Tehran apologists in 2009, during the run-up to the fraudulent June 12 presidential election and the deadly crackdown that followed it. “Iranians are property-buying, car-mad, entrepreneurial consumers with a taste for the latest brands,” wrote the New York Times’s Roger Cohen in February of that year. “Forget about nukes. Think Nikes,” he urged, before closing on this recommendation: “America, think again about Iran.” I hope the Iranians had their Nikes on four months later when they had to run from Revolutionary Guard clubs and bullets.

It is precisely because Americans do not assume the people in authoritarian countries to be thoughtless automatons that we recognize the tragedy of their lot. The fact of individualism and the recognition that people in other countries harbor the same hopes and dreams of all human beings are the most elemental aspects of support for political freedoms. A defense of a country’s population is not a defense of its authoritarian leaders; it is an indictment of them.

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Obama Congratulates China on Human Rights

Did Barack Obama flaunt the famous presidential ego again? Some are criticizing the opening of his written statement congratulating jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama begins by saying, “One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize — an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice.”

Let’s be fair. Within the context of the Obama oeuvre, this line is generosity itself. He even went on to write, “Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.” Offense expunged.

However, his true misstep comes later in the statement. “We respect China’s extraordinary accomplishment in lifting millions out of poverty,” Obama writes, “and believe that human rights include the dignity that comes with freedom from want.” He did go on to suggest Liu Xiaobo be released from prison (as if it were a one-off case having nothing to do with the larger question of human rights in China), but the damage was already done. There was no more conclusive way to erase the significance of the Nobel committee’s choice than for the American president to contort himself into praising the human-rights accomplishments of the regime that imprisoned the absentee winner. It’s bad enough that Obama is scared to lead the world in the promotion of human rights and liberty. It’s worse that he won’t even capitalize on decisions like the one made in Norway and take an unapologetically pro–human rights stand alongside international bodies that are willing to lead.

If he thinks playing nice with autocrats will give the U.S. leverage, he’s wrong. Perhaps he hasn’t read the leaked diplomatic cable noting that Beijing was “scared to death” that Nancy Pelosi would raise the issue of human rights during a 2009 visit to China. Therein lies the power of American ideals. Now go back and look at the twisted, content-free gibberish Obama offered as flattery for China today. Who sounds scared to death to you?

Did Barack Obama flaunt the famous presidential ego again? Some are criticizing the opening of his written statement congratulating jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama begins by saying, “One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize — an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice.”

Let’s be fair. Within the context of the Obama oeuvre, this line is generosity itself. He even went on to write, “Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.” Offense expunged.

However, his true misstep comes later in the statement. “We respect China’s extraordinary accomplishment in lifting millions out of poverty,” Obama writes, “and believe that human rights include the dignity that comes with freedom from want.” He did go on to suggest Liu Xiaobo be released from prison (as if it were a one-off case having nothing to do with the larger question of human rights in China), but the damage was already done. There was no more conclusive way to erase the significance of the Nobel committee’s choice than for the American president to contort himself into praising the human-rights accomplishments of the regime that imprisoned the absentee winner. It’s bad enough that Obama is scared to lead the world in the promotion of human rights and liberty. It’s worse that he won’t even capitalize on decisions like the one made in Norway and take an unapologetically pro–human rights stand alongside international bodies that are willing to lead.

If he thinks playing nice with autocrats will give the U.S. leverage, he’s wrong. Perhaps he hasn’t read the leaked diplomatic cable noting that Beijing was “scared to death” that Nancy Pelosi would raise the issue of human rights during a 2009 visit to China. Therein lies the power of American ideals. Now go back and look at the twisted, content-free gibberish Obama offered as flattery for China today. Who sounds scared to death to you?

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Morning Commentary

Assange arrested in London, but extradition to Sweden “could take months,” reports the BBC. Despite the development, a WikiLeaks spokesman says the site will continue to release cables.

During nuclear talks this week, Iran showed a willingness to further discuss its program with P5+1 officials, reports the Los Angeles Times: “Though Iran’s position was a sign of progress, it was about the minimum the six powers could accept after a 14-month stalemate. Pressed by Washington, the U.N. Security Council tightened economic sanctions against Iran in June. The U.S. and European Union added their own tougher sanctions the following month. The U.S. and its allies have threatened further action if Iran does not commit to serious negotiations.”

Nineteen governments have joined a boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that will give the award to jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, indicating increased pressure from Beijing. Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for “subversion.” China’s foreign minister claimed that Nobel officials “are orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves. …We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path.”

In the December issue of COMMENTARY (behind our pay wall), Ron Radosh dissected Walter Schneir’s attempt to backtrack from his bid to exonerate Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He now does the same (with co-author Steven Usdin) for another Rosenberg apologist: “Now, so many years later, when the intellectual community largely acknowledges the Rosenbergs’ guilt—a 2008 public confession by former Soviet spy Morton Sobell, who was tried along with the Rosenbergs, made continued denial impossible—[Victor] Navasky has written what is possibly the last-ditch attempt to redeem the Rosenbergs.”

The New York Times claims that a letter from lawmakers indicates “bipartisan” support for Obama’s nuclear strategy. Reality seems to disagree.

Looks like President Obama’s counter-attack against the U.S. Chamber of Conference is paying dividends. Dozens of local chapters of the Chamber have distanced themselves from or quit their associations with the national body due to its support of Republican candidates during the 2010 midterms. “Looking ahead to the 2012 elections, if more local chambers publicly declare their independence, it could undermine the power and credibility of attacks launched from the Washington office,” reports Politico.

Obama cut a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years, but has this move alienated his liberal base? New York Times analyst Peter Baker writes: “For President Obama, this is what bipartisanship looks like in the new era: messy, combustible and painful, brought on under the threat of even more unpalatable consequences and yet still deferring the ultimate resolution for another day.”

Assange arrested in London, but extradition to Sweden “could take months,” reports the BBC. Despite the development, a WikiLeaks spokesman says the site will continue to release cables.

During nuclear talks this week, Iran showed a willingness to further discuss its program with P5+1 officials, reports the Los Angeles Times: “Though Iran’s position was a sign of progress, it was about the minimum the six powers could accept after a 14-month stalemate. Pressed by Washington, the U.N. Security Council tightened economic sanctions against Iran in June. The U.S. and European Union added their own tougher sanctions the following month. The U.S. and its allies have threatened further action if Iran does not commit to serious negotiations.”

Nineteen governments have joined a boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that will give the award to jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, indicating increased pressure from Beijing. Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for “subversion.” China’s foreign minister claimed that Nobel officials “are orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves. …We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path.”

In the December issue of COMMENTARY (behind our pay wall), Ron Radosh dissected Walter Schneir’s attempt to backtrack from his bid to exonerate Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He now does the same (with co-author Steven Usdin) for another Rosenberg apologist: “Now, so many years later, when the intellectual community largely acknowledges the Rosenbergs’ guilt—a 2008 public confession by former Soviet spy Morton Sobell, who was tried along with the Rosenbergs, made continued denial impossible—[Victor] Navasky has written what is possibly the last-ditch attempt to redeem the Rosenbergs.”

The New York Times claims that a letter from lawmakers indicates “bipartisan” support for Obama’s nuclear strategy. Reality seems to disagree.

Looks like President Obama’s counter-attack against the U.S. Chamber of Conference is paying dividends. Dozens of local chapters of the Chamber have distanced themselves from or quit their associations with the national body due to its support of Republican candidates during the 2010 midterms. “Looking ahead to the 2012 elections, if more local chambers publicly declare their independence, it could undermine the power and credibility of attacks launched from the Washington office,” reports Politico.

Obama cut a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years, but has this move alienated his liberal base? New York Times analyst Peter Baker writes: “For President Obama, this is what bipartisanship looks like in the new era: messy, combustible and painful, brought on under the threat of even more unpalatable consequences and yet still deferring the ultimate resolution for another day.”

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America Is Powerful, After All

The headlines claim that China was “scared to death of Nancy Pelosi,” but the real story is far more important:

China was “scared to death” over a visit by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is outspoken on human rights, and rejected her request to visit Tibet, according to files leaked Monday.

A top diplomat at the US embassy in Beijing said he asked Chin to consider letting Pelosi go to Tibet during her May 2009 visit to China, according to a cable obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei responded that China could not arrange the trip due to Pelosi’s “tight schedule,” according to the cable reprinted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The Chinese ambassador in Kazakhstan was blunter, telling his US counterpart over an expansive dinner that Beijing was “fearful” over Pelosi’s visit.

The Chinese were not, in fact, fearful of Pelosi. They were fearful of American ideals. This speaks to the enduring power of American condemnation. Onlookers are quick to dismiss the official naming and shaming of human rights abusers as a toothless substitute for “real” policy. That’s because they’ve come to underestimate the damage a little truth and justice can wreak on an abusive, secretive regime. This is why dissidents always push American leaders to talk about human rights abroad. They’ve lived under these regimes and have a feel for their fears and weaknesses. It’s only in free countries that we view public criticism of leaders as a form of impotence.

It’s no small thing to note that in an age when both threats and conciliations get us nowhere, a public embrace of our foundational ideals still sends a potent message. We talk about extending an outstretched hand to theocrats and the theocrats laugh. We talk about crippling sanctions and they laugh harder. To others, we offer aid in exchange for promises of an anti-terrorism crackdown; they collect and then ignore us. For others, we strain our alliances and make demands on our friends; we end up stymied. Still, to others we offer obsequious compromises and fresh starts; they smile kindly and make their own plans.  But we now know the one time in recent memory we had a regime “scared to death” was when it thought we’d mention the sanctity of human rights. Doubtless, this lesson in the fusion of ideals and interests will be lost on the great non-ideological, pragmatic leaders of our time.

The headlines claim that China was “scared to death of Nancy Pelosi,” but the real story is far more important:

China was “scared to death” over a visit by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is outspoken on human rights, and rejected her request to visit Tibet, according to files leaked Monday.

A top diplomat at the US embassy in Beijing said he asked Chin to consider letting Pelosi go to Tibet during her May 2009 visit to China, according to a cable obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei responded that China could not arrange the trip due to Pelosi’s “tight schedule,” according to the cable reprinted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The Chinese ambassador in Kazakhstan was blunter, telling his US counterpart over an expansive dinner that Beijing was “fearful” over Pelosi’s visit.

The Chinese were not, in fact, fearful of Pelosi. They were fearful of American ideals. This speaks to the enduring power of American condemnation. Onlookers are quick to dismiss the official naming and shaming of human rights abusers as a toothless substitute for “real” policy. That’s because they’ve come to underestimate the damage a little truth and justice can wreak on an abusive, secretive regime. This is why dissidents always push American leaders to talk about human rights abroad. They’ve lived under these regimes and have a feel for their fears and weaknesses. It’s only in free countries that we view public criticism of leaders as a form of impotence.

It’s no small thing to note that in an age when both threats and conciliations get us nowhere, a public embrace of our foundational ideals still sends a potent message. We talk about extending an outstretched hand to theocrats and the theocrats laugh. We talk about crippling sanctions and they laugh harder. To others, we offer aid in exchange for promises of an anti-terrorism crackdown; they collect and then ignore us. For others, we strain our alliances and make demands on our friends; we end up stymied. Still, to others we offer obsequious compromises and fresh starts; they smile kindly and make their own plans.  But we now know the one time in recent memory we had a regime “scared to death” was when it thought we’d mention the sanctity of human rights. Doubtless, this lesson in the fusion of ideals and interests will be lost on the great non-ideological, pragmatic leaders of our time.

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NOW, We’re (Not) Talking

Perhaps the Obama administration has finally lost its infatuation with engagement. This marks a step in the right direction and a departure from the Bush administration and the first two years of this one:

The United States, South Korea and Japan are all balking at China’s request for emergency talks with North Korea over the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, as high-profile military exercises between South Korea and the United States in the Yellow Sea continued on Monday in a show of force.

Obama administration officials said that a return to the table with North Korea, as China sought this weekend, would be rewarding the North for provocative behavior over the past week, including its deadly artillery attack on a South Korean island and its disclosure of a uranium enrichment plant. Beijing called for emergency talks with North Korea, the United States, Japan, South Korea and Russia, participants in the six-party nuclear talks, which have been suspended indefinitely.

Finally. Now — what’s the rationale for talks with the mullahs? I substitute “Iran” for “North Korea” and you see the point:

“The United States and a host of others, I don’t think, are not interested in stabilizing the region through a series of P.R. activities,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman.

He said that the talks “without an understanding and agreement from the [Iranians] to both end their behavior … but also to come to the table with a seriousness of purpose on the denuclearization issue — without that seriousness of purpose, they’re just a P.R. activity.”

But back to North Korea. Step one is to stop doing unhelpful things — rewarding bad behavior by the North Koreans and indulging in the fantasy that if we are polite enough (and reticent enough when it comes to human rights), China will come to our aid. The good news is that there is, albeit quite belatedly, a recognition that China is of no help here. (“Rejecting the emergency talks amounts to a pointed rebuke to China. The United States wanted China to signal clearly that North Korea’s aggressive behavior would not be tolerated. Instead, Beijing remained neutral about who was responsible for the recent flare-up, and offered only to provide a venue for all sides to air their differences.”) The bad news is that the administration has yet to come up with an alternative.

It’s not only the WikiLeaks documents that are revealing the flawed assumptions of the Obama foreign policy approach. Every day, reality intrudes and tells us that the world is not as the administration imagines it to be.

Perhaps the Obama administration has finally lost its infatuation with engagement. This marks a step in the right direction and a departure from the Bush administration and the first two years of this one:

The United States, South Korea and Japan are all balking at China’s request for emergency talks with North Korea over the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, as high-profile military exercises between South Korea and the United States in the Yellow Sea continued on Monday in a show of force.

Obama administration officials said that a return to the table with North Korea, as China sought this weekend, would be rewarding the North for provocative behavior over the past week, including its deadly artillery attack on a South Korean island and its disclosure of a uranium enrichment plant. Beijing called for emergency talks with North Korea, the United States, Japan, South Korea and Russia, participants in the six-party nuclear talks, which have been suspended indefinitely.

Finally. Now — what’s the rationale for talks with the mullahs? I substitute “Iran” for “North Korea” and you see the point:

“The United States and a host of others, I don’t think, are not interested in stabilizing the region through a series of P.R. activities,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman.

He said that the talks “without an understanding and agreement from the [Iranians] to both end their behavior … but also to come to the table with a seriousness of purpose on the denuclearization issue — without that seriousness of purpose, they’re just a P.R. activity.”

But back to North Korea. Step one is to stop doing unhelpful things — rewarding bad behavior by the North Koreans and indulging in the fantasy that if we are polite enough (and reticent enough when it comes to human rights), China will come to our aid. The good news is that there is, albeit quite belatedly, a recognition that China is of no help here. (“Rejecting the emergency talks amounts to a pointed rebuke to China. The United States wanted China to signal clearly that North Korea’s aggressive behavior would not be tolerated. Instead, Beijing remained neutral about who was responsible for the recent flare-up, and offered only to provide a venue for all sides to air their differences.”) The bad news is that the administration has yet to come up with an alternative.

It’s not only the WikiLeaks documents that are revealing the flawed assumptions of the Obama foreign policy approach. Every day, reality intrudes and tells us that the world is not as the administration imagines it to be.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

More European nations in trouble. “The debt crisis in Europe escalated sharply Friday as investors dumped Spanish and Portuguese bonds in panicked selling, substantially heightening the prospect that one or both countries may need to join troubled Ireland and Greece in soliciting international bailouts.”

More evidence that the IRS is targeting the hawkish pro-Israel group Z Street. Wouldn’t it be front-page news if J Street were asked if it supported Iran sanctions?

More reason to doubt that the Obami have a clue about what to do about North Korea. The State Department’s PJ Crowley tweets “SecClinton talked with Chinese FM Yang today and encouraged Beijing to make clear that North Korea’s behavior is unacceptable.” Is “unacceptable” really the strongest they can do? Or is “unacceptable” (as in “A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable”) just diplomat-speak for “We’re sorry to see X happen.”

More criticism of Obama’s approach to Egypt. “The president and his secretary of state have brought up democracy and human rights in private conversations with Egyptian leaders but shied away from them in public. They have failed to make any connection between Mr. Mubarak’s domestic repression and the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid Egypt receives every year, much of it directed to the military. They have not supported efforts in Congress to pass legislation or even nonbinding resolutions linking bilateral relations to political reform.”

More defensiveness from Sarah Palin. Not helpful for a presidential contender. Dead-on for a conservative community organizer.

More nonsense from Tom Friedman. No, Tom, too much texting by American kids is not a bigger problem than North Korean nukes. Another example of not-very-smart liberal punditry.

More problems for Rahm Emanuel. “Through an odd chain of events, Mr. Halpin, a 59-year-old industrial real-estate developer here, has become the face of a movement to force Mr. Emanuel out of the race to become Chicago’s next mayor. A lawsuit filed with the Chicago Board of Election Commissions Friday by a Chicago attorney on behalf of two city residents charges that Mr. Emanuel, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, is ineligible to run because he lost his Chicago residency when he rented his home to Mr. Halpin in 2009.” Really, wasn’t the entire race an excuse to get off the sinking White House ship?

More evidence that the GM bailout was no success for the taxpayers. The union? Well, that’s another story. “General Motors Co.’s recent stock offering was staged to start paying back the government for its $50 billion bailout, but one group made out much better than the taxpayers or other investors: the company’s union. Thanks to a generous share of GM stock obtained in the company’s 2009 bankruptcy settlement, the United Auto Workers is well on its way to recouping the billions of dollars GM owed it — putting it far ahead of taxpayers who have recouped only about 30 percent of their investment and further still ahead of investors in the old GM who have received nothing.”

More European nations in trouble. “The debt crisis in Europe escalated sharply Friday as investors dumped Spanish and Portuguese bonds in panicked selling, substantially heightening the prospect that one or both countries may need to join troubled Ireland and Greece in soliciting international bailouts.”

More evidence that the IRS is targeting the hawkish pro-Israel group Z Street. Wouldn’t it be front-page news if J Street were asked if it supported Iran sanctions?

More reason to doubt that the Obami have a clue about what to do about North Korea. The State Department’s PJ Crowley tweets “SecClinton talked with Chinese FM Yang today and encouraged Beijing to make clear that North Korea’s behavior is unacceptable.” Is “unacceptable” really the strongest they can do? Or is “unacceptable” (as in “A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable”) just diplomat-speak for “We’re sorry to see X happen.”

More criticism of Obama’s approach to Egypt. “The president and his secretary of state have brought up democracy and human rights in private conversations with Egyptian leaders but shied away from them in public. They have failed to make any connection between Mr. Mubarak’s domestic repression and the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid Egypt receives every year, much of it directed to the military. They have not supported efforts in Congress to pass legislation or even nonbinding resolutions linking bilateral relations to political reform.”

More defensiveness from Sarah Palin. Not helpful for a presidential contender. Dead-on for a conservative community organizer.

More nonsense from Tom Friedman. No, Tom, too much texting by American kids is not a bigger problem than North Korean nukes. Another example of not-very-smart liberal punditry.

More problems for Rahm Emanuel. “Through an odd chain of events, Mr. Halpin, a 59-year-old industrial real-estate developer here, has become the face of a movement to force Mr. Emanuel out of the race to become Chicago’s next mayor. A lawsuit filed with the Chicago Board of Election Commissions Friday by a Chicago attorney on behalf of two city residents charges that Mr. Emanuel, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, is ineligible to run because he lost his Chicago residency when he rented his home to Mr. Halpin in 2009.” Really, wasn’t the entire race an excuse to get off the sinking White House ship?

More evidence that the GM bailout was no success for the taxpayers. The union? Well, that’s another story. “General Motors Co.’s recent stock offering was staged to start paying back the government for its $50 billion bailout, but one group made out much better than the taxpayers or other investors: the company’s union. Thanks to a generous share of GM stock obtained in the company’s 2009 bankruptcy settlement, the United Auto Workers is well on its way to recouping the billions of dollars GM owed it — putting it far ahead of taxpayers who have recouped only about 30 percent of their investment and further still ahead of investors in the old GM who have received nothing.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

This isn’t going to win over the critics who say she lacks political judgment. “Sarah Palin dismissed Barbara Bush’s recent criticism as a matter of class privilege. … ‘I don’t want to concede that we have to get used to this kind of thing, because i don’t think the majority of Americans want to put up with the blue-bloods — and i want to say it with all due respect because I love the Bushes — the blue bloods who want to pick and chose their winners instead of allowing competition’ … Palin also suggested that the Bushes upper-class status had contributed to ‘the economic policies that were in place that got us into these economic woeful times.’” Whatever you think of Bush 41, this isn’t what a presidential candidate should sound like.

This is going to give “strategic patience” (otherwise known as paralysis) a bad name. “North Korea’s latest round of saber rattling leaves a politically weakened President Obama with several unpalatable options for dealing with the unstable nuclear power. The North Korean shelling of a South Korean island follows the revelation of a new centrifuge plant that could eventually allow the North to add to its nuclear stockpile. Both developments suggest the Obama administration’s policy of’ ‘strategic patience’ with North Korea is having little impact on the regime, which is focused on the transition of power from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un.”

This isn’t going to help the White House scare the Senate into a ratification vote: Jamie Fly writes: “New START is a rather meaningless arms-control agreement notable more for what it fails to do than what it achieves. … There remains serious criticism of New START’s merits on the right, and it is troubling that the administration is attempting to argue that Republicans such as Sen. Jon Kyl are interested only in killing the treaty. Kyl and a majority of his colleagues are just asking for more time to explore their concerns about the treaty and continue discussions with administration officials about funding levels for modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. From the rhetoric of the administration and its surrogates, one would believe that if New START is not ratified by the end of the year, nuclear weapons will suddenly fall into the hands of terrorists.”

This is a sign that no one is going to bat for Joe Miller. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit.”

This verdict isn’t going to provoke much sympathy from conservatives. Tom DeLay is the type of pol the Tea Party despises, and his politics is the sort Republican lawmakers need to repudiate.

This wasn’t going to happen with Obama’s “smart diplomacy”: “When North Korea tested a nuclear device last year, China issued bland criticism and urged Pyongyang to resume diplomacy. After a South Korean navy ship was sunk, most likely by a North Korean torpedo, Beijing sent its sympathies but called the evidence inconclusive. Now that North Korea has unleashed an artillery barrage on a South Korean island that killed four people — including two civilians — and raised tensions in the heavily armed region, Beijing again appears unwilling to rein in its neighbor.”

This lame duck session isn’t going to be what the Dems had hoped. “Not so long ago, the great fear was that the Democratic Party would return from its midterm drubbing to jam all manner of odious legislation through a lame duck session of Congress. We may need to put that in the ‘wasted worry’ category.”

This isn’t going to win over the critics who say she lacks political judgment. “Sarah Palin dismissed Barbara Bush’s recent criticism as a matter of class privilege. … ‘I don’t want to concede that we have to get used to this kind of thing, because i don’t think the majority of Americans want to put up with the blue-bloods — and i want to say it with all due respect because I love the Bushes — the blue bloods who want to pick and chose their winners instead of allowing competition’ … Palin also suggested that the Bushes upper-class status had contributed to ‘the economic policies that were in place that got us into these economic woeful times.’” Whatever you think of Bush 41, this isn’t what a presidential candidate should sound like.

This is going to give “strategic patience” (otherwise known as paralysis) a bad name. “North Korea’s latest round of saber rattling leaves a politically weakened President Obama with several unpalatable options for dealing with the unstable nuclear power. The North Korean shelling of a South Korean island follows the revelation of a new centrifuge plant that could eventually allow the North to add to its nuclear stockpile. Both developments suggest the Obama administration’s policy of’ ‘strategic patience’ with North Korea is having little impact on the regime, which is focused on the transition of power from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un.”

This isn’t going to help the White House scare the Senate into a ratification vote: Jamie Fly writes: “New START is a rather meaningless arms-control agreement notable more for what it fails to do than what it achieves. … There remains serious criticism of New START’s merits on the right, and it is troubling that the administration is attempting to argue that Republicans such as Sen. Jon Kyl are interested only in killing the treaty. Kyl and a majority of his colleagues are just asking for more time to explore their concerns about the treaty and continue discussions with administration officials about funding levels for modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. From the rhetoric of the administration and its surrogates, one would believe that if New START is not ratified by the end of the year, nuclear weapons will suddenly fall into the hands of terrorists.”

This is a sign that no one is going to bat for Joe Miller. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit.”

This verdict isn’t going to provoke much sympathy from conservatives. Tom DeLay is the type of pol the Tea Party despises, and his politics is the sort Republican lawmakers need to repudiate.

This wasn’t going to happen with Obama’s “smart diplomacy”: “When North Korea tested a nuclear device last year, China issued bland criticism and urged Pyongyang to resume diplomacy. After a South Korean navy ship was sunk, most likely by a North Korean torpedo, Beijing sent its sympathies but called the evidence inconclusive. Now that North Korea has unleashed an artillery barrage on a South Korean island that killed four people — including two civilians — and raised tensions in the heavily armed region, Beijing again appears unwilling to rein in its neighbor.”

This lame duck session isn’t going to be what the Dems had hoped. “Not so long ago, the great fear was that the Democratic Party would return from its midterm drubbing to jam all manner of odious legislation through a lame duck session of Congress. We may need to put that in the ‘wasted worry’ category.”

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Google’s Moral Triumph — Part II

Google continued its moral stand against censorship this week, releasing a white paper linking free speech and free exchange of information to free trade and economic growth. This isn’t the first time Google has challenged authoritarian dictates; it has been most vocal regarding Web access in China but also points out that “more than forty governments now engage in broad-scale restriction of online information.” Instead, this white paper is notable because it signals a smart shift in argumentative tactics, an attempt to reach even the most ruthlessly realpolitik foreign-policy advocates.

Google’s white paper is not addressed to authoritarian governments; it is addressed to lawmakers in the United States and Europe; it is also policy-prescriptive. Bob Boorstin, Google’s director of public policy, outlined the company’s argument in a blog post:

The premise [of this white paper] is simple. In addition to infringing human rights, governments that block the free flow of information on the Internet are also blocking trade and economic growth. …

Over the last two decades, the Internet has delivered tremendous economic and trade benefits. It has driven record increases in productivity, spurred innovation, created new economies, and fueled international trade. In part this is because the Internet makes geographically distant markets easy to reach.

But this engine of economic growth is increasingly coming under attack. … Governments are blocking online services, imposing non-transparent regulation, and seeking to incorporate surveillance tools into their Internet infrastructure. These are the trade barriers of the 21st century economy. …

We urge policymakers in the United States, European Union and elsewhere to take steps to break down barriers to free trade and Internet commerce. These issues present challenges, but also an opportunity for governments to align 21st century trade policy with the 21st century economy.

This argument is an effective reminder to Barack Obama’s administration. Especially regarding China, the administration has implied with its actions that human rights cannot be allowed to interfere with bigger priorities – economic priorities, most of all. But if human rights and economic development are as closely related as Google suggests – something for an intelligent reader to consider – then the Obama administration has little excuse for its reticence. Part of Google’s corporate philosophy is, you can make money without doing evil. This argument poses the question: will the United States lose money by not standing up to evil?

Moreover, Google’s argument is important because it challenges Beijing’s assertion that any statement about human rights is an encroachment into Chinese domestic affairs. If Chinese censorship obstructs the legal flow of world trade, then censorship becomes by default an international issue.

Google’s new argument suggests that, in addition to having a justification to speak out about human-rights violations, Western governments have an interest in doing so.

Google continued its moral stand against censorship this week, releasing a white paper linking free speech and free exchange of information to free trade and economic growth. This isn’t the first time Google has challenged authoritarian dictates; it has been most vocal regarding Web access in China but also points out that “more than forty governments now engage in broad-scale restriction of online information.” Instead, this white paper is notable because it signals a smart shift in argumentative tactics, an attempt to reach even the most ruthlessly realpolitik foreign-policy advocates.

Google’s white paper is not addressed to authoritarian governments; it is addressed to lawmakers in the United States and Europe; it is also policy-prescriptive. Bob Boorstin, Google’s director of public policy, outlined the company’s argument in a blog post:

The premise [of this white paper] is simple. In addition to infringing human rights, governments that block the free flow of information on the Internet are also blocking trade and economic growth. …

Over the last two decades, the Internet has delivered tremendous economic and trade benefits. It has driven record increases in productivity, spurred innovation, created new economies, and fueled international trade. In part this is because the Internet makes geographically distant markets easy to reach.

But this engine of economic growth is increasingly coming under attack. … Governments are blocking online services, imposing non-transparent regulation, and seeking to incorporate surveillance tools into their Internet infrastructure. These are the trade barriers of the 21st century economy. …

We urge policymakers in the United States, European Union and elsewhere to take steps to break down barriers to free trade and Internet commerce. These issues present challenges, but also an opportunity for governments to align 21st century trade policy with the 21st century economy.

This argument is an effective reminder to Barack Obama’s administration. Especially regarding China, the administration has implied with its actions that human rights cannot be allowed to interfere with bigger priorities – economic priorities, most of all. But if human rights and economic development are as closely related as Google suggests – something for an intelligent reader to consider – then the Obama administration has little excuse for its reticence. Part of Google’s corporate philosophy is, you can make money without doing evil. This argument poses the question: will the United States lose money by not standing up to evil?

Moreover, Google’s argument is important because it challenges Beijing’s assertion that any statement about human rights is an encroachment into Chinese domestic affairs. If Chinese censorship obstructs the legal flow of world trade, then censorship becomes by default an international issue.

Google’s new argument suggests that, in addition to having a justification to speak out about human-rights violations, Western governments have an interest in doing so.

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A Human-Rights Forum Gone Awry

As the third Forum on Human Rights in Beijing wraps up today, other news shows just how serious the Chinese Communist Party is about protecting the rights of its citizens.

The Associated Press reports on a Chinese woman who was “detained, beaten, and forced to have an abortion just a month before her due date because the baby would have violated the country’s one-child limit.”

Strangely, this article doesn’t seem to merit a mention on the official website for the Forum on Human Rights, which is sponsored by the China Society for Human Rights Studies, an NGO that is a member of the United Nations Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations and that, according to its website, “enjoys a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.” Judge the content of the website for yourself — does this sort of laudatory content pressure Beijing to improve its treatment of its own citizens? Or does it enable the Chinese Communist Party to continue to hide its offenses, whitewashing its record with the excuses of “progress” and “development”?

What is revealing is Beijing’s official line, as voiced at the Forum’s opening ceremony:

[Wang Chen, director of the Information Office of the State Council] said promoting modernization and progress in human rights has always been, and always will be, a pursuit of the Chinese people and government.

“We will strive to promote scientific development and social harmony, implement the principles of respecting and safeguarding human rights, and strengthen international cooperation in human rights, to promote China’s progress in modernization and human rights,” he said.

One article about the Forum on Human Rights is unintentionally funny, albeit in a dark way. The headline? “Forum invites rethink of human rights.” The article concludes that:

After two days of heated discussion and candid exchange, participants have gained a better understanding of each other’s approach to human rights. But that doesn’t mean they have sorted out their differences.

The two day forum has officially ended. But it seems more efforts are needed, both official and unofficial, for people in the east and the west to truly see eye to eye when it comes to human rights.

But human rights are, by definition, universal. To suggest that human rights means one thing in the East and another in the West is to miss the point altogether. Holding a forum that applauds China’s presumed human-rights advances is not only ineffective and in poor taste; it’s willfully misleading, the human-rights equivalent of the Potemkin Village.

As the third Forum on Human Rights in Beijing wraps up today, other news shows just how serious the Chinese Communist Party is about protecting the rights of its citizens.

The Associated Press reports on a Chinese woman who was “detained, beaten, and forced to have an abortion just a month before her due date because the baby would have violated the country’s one-child limit.”

Strangely, this article doesn’t seem to merit a mention on the official website for the Forum on Human Rights, which is sponsored by the China Society for Human Rights Studies, an NGO that is a member of the United Nations Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations and that, according to its website, “enjoys a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.” Judge the content of the website for yourself — does this sort of laudatory content pressure Beijing to improve its treatment of its own citizens? Or does it enable the Chinese Communist Party to continue to hide its offenses, whitewashing its record with the excuses of “progress” and “development”?

What is revealing is Beijing’s official line, as voiced at the Forum’s opening ceremony:

[Wang Chen, director of the Information Office of the State Council] said promoting modernization and progress in human rights has always been, and always will be, a pursuit of the Chinese people and government.

“We will strive to promote scientific development and social harmony, implement the principles of respecting and safeguarding human rights, and strengthen international cooperation in human rights, to promote China’s progress in modernization and human rights,” he said.

One article about the Forum on Human Rights is unintentionally funny, albeit in a dark way. The headline? “Forum invites rethink of human rights.” The article concludes that:

After two days of heated discussion and candid exchange, participants have gained a better understanding of each other’s approach to human rights. But that doesn’t mean they have sorted out their differences.

The two day forum has officially ended. But it seems more efforts are needed, both official and unofficial, for people in the east and the west to truly see eye to eye when it comes to human rights.

But human rights are, by definition, universal. To suggest that human rights means one thing in the East and another in the West is to miss the point altogether. Holding a forum that applauds China’s presumed human-rights advances is not only ineffective and in poor taste; it’s willfully misleading, the human-rights equivalent of the Potemkin Village.

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A Better Choice for the Peace Prize

Aside from giving it to Richard Goldstone (you think I jest, but he was on the short list), the Nobelians could hardly have done worse than last year’s choice for the Peace Prize. In fact, they did a whole lot better, honoring someone who is actually doing something for the cause of human rights, justice, and democracy:

Jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for decades of non-violent struggle for human rights, infuriating China, which called the award “an obscenity.”

The prize puts China’s human rights record in the spotlight at a time when it is starting to play a bigger role on the global stage as a result of its growing economic might.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Liu for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China” and reiterated its belief in a “close connection between human rights and peace.”

Liu is serving an 11-year jail term for helping to draw up a manifesto calling for free speech and multi-party elections.

Whenever a totalitarian regime calls something an “obscenity,” you know you’re on the right track. But the irony is great here. During his 2009 visit to China, Obama drew howls of protest from activists because of his lack of focus on human rights. In February of this year, Kelly Currie wrote:

On Christmas Day 2009, the Chinese regime sentenced writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison for “incitement to subvert state power.” His crime was co-authoring and circulating on-line a manifesto for democratic change in China called Charter 08, an intentional homage to the Czech dissident movement’s Charter 77. Charter 08 got Mr. Liu into trouble because it challenged the legitimacy of one-party rule by the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr. Liu’s trial was the usual Kafkaesque totalitarian exercise: brief, closed, and one-sided, with a pre-determined outcome cleared at the highest level of the Chinese regime. The official U.S. response to this outrageous detention was a mild December 24 statement from the Acting Press Spokesman at the State Department. There has been nothing further from either Secretary Clinton or President Obama, despite Liu being among the most prominent dissidents in China and having received one of the harshest sentences in recent memory for a non-violent political crime.

And just yesterday, U.S. lawmakers were pressing Obama to speak out on Chinese human rights abuses:

US lawmakers have urged President Barack Obama to speak up to China to ensure the safety of two prominent dissidents, one of whom is a favorite to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thirty lawmakers asked Obama to raise the cases of writer Liu Xiaobo, thought to be in contention when the Nobel is announced Friday, and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, when he meets next month with Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.

“We write to ask that you urge President Hu to release two emblematic Chinese prisoners of conscience, Liu Xiaobo and Gao Zhisheng,” 29 of the House members across party lines wrote in a letter released Wednesday. …

Obama has sought to broaden relations with a growing China on issues ranging from climate change to the global economy. His administration has claimed success, with China last week agreeing to resume military ties with Washington.

But human rights activists have accused the administration of downplaying human rights. In a break with past practice, China did not release any dissidents when Obama paid his maiden visit to Beijing last year.

Could it be that the 2009 Peace Prize winner has done nothing to advance the causes for which the 2010 winner is sacrificing so much?

Aside from giving it to Richard Goldstone (you think I jest, but he was on the short list), the Nobelians could hardly have done worse than last year’s choice for the Peace Prize. In fact, they did a whole lot better, honoring someone who is actually doing something for the cause of human rights, justice, and democracy:

Jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for decades of non-violent struggle for human rights, infuriating China, which called the award “an obscenity.”

The prize puts China’s human rights record in the spotlight at a time when it is starting to play a bigger role on the global stage as a result of its growing economic might.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Liu for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China” and reiterated its belief in a “close connection between human rights and peace.”

Liu is serving an 11-year jail term for helping to draw up a manifesto calling for free speech and multi-party elections.

Whenever a totalitarian regime calls something an “obscenity,” you know you’re on the right track. But the irony is great here. During his 2009 visit to China, Obama drew howls of protest from activists because of his lack of focus on human rights. In February of this year, Kelly Currie wrote:

On Christmas Day 2009, the Chinese regime sentenced writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison for “incitement to subvert state power.” His crime was co-authoring and circulating on-line a manifesto for democratic change in China called Charter 08, an intentional homage to the Czech dissident movement’s Charter 77. Charter 08 got Mr. Liu into trouble because it challenged the legitimacy of one-party rule by the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr. Liu’s trial was the usual Kafkaesque totalitarian exercise: brief, closed, and one-sided, with a pre-determined outcome cleared at the highest level of the Chinese regime. The official U.S. response to this outrageous detention was a mild December 24 statement from the Acting Press Spokesman at the State Department. There has been nothing further from either Secretary Clinton or President Obama, despite Liu being among the most prominent dissidents in China and having received one of the harshest sentences in recent memory for a non-violent political crime.

And just yesterday, U.S. lawmakers were pressing Obama to speak out on Chinese human rights abuses:

US lawmakers have urged President Barack Obama to speak up to China to ensure the safety of two prominent dissidents, one of whom is a favorite to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thirty lawmakers asked Obama to raise the cases of writer Liu Xiaobo, thought to be in contention when the Nobel is announced Friday, and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, when he meets next month with Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.

“We write to ask that you urge President Hu to release two emblematic Chinese prisoners of conscience, Liu Xiaobo and Gao Zhisheng,” 29 of the House members across party lines wrote in a letter released Wednesday. …

Obama has sought to broaden relations with a growing China on issues ranging from climate change to the global economy. His administration has claimed success, with China last week agreeing to resume military ties with Washington.

But human rights activists have accused the administration of downplaying human rights. In a break with past practice, China did not release any dissidents when Obama paid his maiden visit to Beijing last year.

Could it be that the 2009 Peace Prize winner has done nothing to advance the causes for which the 2010 winner is sacrificing so much?

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Japan: Russia Piling On

As Americans turn their attention inward, China and Russia are beginning to make geopolitical moves that evoke nothing so much as the environment of the 1930s. I have written elsewhere about China’s dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and Beijing’s resort to a direct confrontation over them in September. Russia added to Japan’s troubles last week, when Dmitry Medvedev planned to make an unprecedented visit to the Kuril Islands in the north, which have been disputed by Japan and Russia since the end of World War II.

Medvedev’s trip was curtailed by bad weather on this occasion (a verifiable excuse, incidentally). But his government has affirmed that he will visit the islands in the near future. In fact, it has doubled down by calling Japan’s claims to the Kurils a “dead end” and flatly warning Japan against complaining about the visit.

Seen as a signal, this uncompromising Russian attitude is very different from the attitude shown by the same government almost exactly a year ago. In late September 2009, Medvedev was shaking hands with then-Prime Minister Hatoyama and vowing solemnly to “work together” to resolve the question of the Kuril Islands. Indeed, there was speculation at the time that Russia was wooing Japan, hoping to weaken Tokyo’s ties with the U.S. As with the Senkakus dispute, the one over the Kurils involves economic claims. But Russia and Japan have set a standard for cooperative development in exploiting the natural gas of Russia’s nearby Sakhalin Island. The ugly face shown by Russia in the past few days is a new one, at least where Japan is concerned.

Its significance cannot be overemphasized. In approaching this confrontation, Russia is effectively treating Japan — a G-8 nation, economic powerhouse, and U.S. ally — the way it treated Georgia in the months leading up to the 2008 invasion. The dispute is over tangible territory, and Russia is pressing its claims coincident with China’s confrontational campaign to the south. Unless the U.S. steps in to prevent the extortion of Japan, the Kan government in Tokyo is faced with a choice between evils. To gain the support of either Moscow or Beijing, Japan would — at the very least — have to cede effective control of the islands in question. In all likelihood, Japan might see both island chains occupied by the other claimants.

Japan’s other option is to assert its claims with military force. This is not infeasible if the Japanese choose their tactics carefully, but it would infuriate and galvanize Russia and China. Only one outcome can avert an onset of instability in the Far East: America enforcing Japan’s position that the disputes over the islands must be resolved peacefully and not through extortion. Uttering sympathetic bromides will not suffice in this case. China and Russia have already proved that they are prepared to breach the conditions of good-faith resolutions. Direct assertion of a U.S. security interest is the only thing that will work — and the U.S posture must not be subverted by Russia or China turning this issue into a perpetual bargaining chip in larger, unrelated negotiations.

This is a bad trend that will not right itself. Either Obama stops it before it gets started, or all our security problems are about to get much harder.

As Americans turn their attention inward, China and Russia are beginning to make geopolitical moves that evoke nothing so much as the environment of the 1930s. I have written elsewhere about China’s dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and Beijing’s resort to a direct confrontation over them in September. Russia added to Japan’s troubles last week, when Dmitry Medvedev planned to make an unprecedented visit to the Kuril Islands in the north, which have been disputed by Japan and Russia since the end of World War II.

Medvedev’s trip was curtailed by bad weather on this occasion (a verifiable excuse, incidentally). But his government has affirmed that he will visit the islands in the near future. In fact, it has doubled down by calling Japan’s claims to the Kurils a “dead end” and flatly warning Japan against complaining about the visit.

Seen as a signal, this uncompromising Russian attitude is very different from the attitude shown by the same government almost exactly a year ago. In late September 2009, Medvedev was shaking hands with then-Prime Minister Hatoyama and vowing solemnly to “work together” to resolve the question of the Kuril Islands. Indeed, there was speculation at the time that Russia was wooing Japan, hoping to weaken Tokyo’s ties with the U.S. As with the Senkakus dispute, the one over the Kurils involves economic claims. But Russia and Japan have set a standard for cooperative development in exploiting the natural gas of Russia’s nearby Sakhalin Island. The ugly face shown by Russia in the past few days is a new one, at least where Japan is concerned.

Its significance cannot be overemphasized. In approaching this confrontation, Russia is effectively treating Japan — a G-8 nation, economic powerhouse, and U.S. ally — the way it treated Georgia in the months leading up to the 2008 invasion. The dispute is over tangible territory, and Russia is pressing its claims coincident with China’s confrontational campaign to the south. Unless the U.S. steps in to prevent the extortion of Japan, the Kan government in Tokyo is faced with a choice between evils. To gain the support of either Moscow or Beijing, Japan would — at the very least — have to cede effective control of the islands in question. In all likelihood, Japan might see both island chains occupied by the other claimants.

Japan’s other option is to assert its claims with military force. This is not infeasible if the Japanese choose their tactics carefully, but it would infuriate and galvanize Russia and China. Only one outcome can avert an onset of instability in the Far East: America enforcing Japan’s position that the disputes over the islands must be resolved peacefully and not through extortion. Uttering sympathetic bromides will not suffice in this case. China and Russia have already proved that they are prepared to breach the conditions of good-faith resolutions. Direct assertion of a U.S. security interest is the only thing that will work — and the U.S posture must not be subverted by Russia or China turning this issue into a perpetual bargaining chip in larger, unrelated negotiations.

This is a bad trend that will not right itself. Either Obama stops it before it gets started, or all our security problems are about to get much harder.

Read Less

Flashpoint Senkakus

There is reason to be concerned about the spat between China and Japan, which erupted over a Chinese fishing trawler that entered the disputed waters of the Senkaku Island chain on September 7 and then proceeded to collide with two Japanese coastguard ships. The Japanese arrested the trawler’s master, releasing him finally on Friday after a mounting series of threats from China. Beijing cut off shipments of rare earth minerals to Japan — a blow to the Japanese auto and high-tech industries — and is now reportedly subjecting 90 percent of Japan-bound commercial shipments to bureaucratic inspections.

China is apparently doubling down on its confrontational posture, in ways that make it harder for both sides to revert to the status quo ante. This weekend the Chinese demanded an apology and monetary restitution from Japan. On Monday the Naoto Kan government in Tokyo, stung by editorial opposition to its release of the Chinese fishing captain last week, countered with a demand for compensation from China for the damage to its coastguard ships.

Difficult as such positions can be for Asian nations to draw back from, it’s China’s prosecution of a material stake in the disputed economic zone off the Senkaku Islands that may keep both sides in confrontation. Japan has reportedly identified Chinese drilling equipment in the disputed area and suspects that Beijing is preparing to drill for natural gas there. Oil and gas exploration by both nations goes back to 2004; Japan has already stated concerns that drilling performed within China’s acknowledged economic zone could tap gas reserves in the area claimed by Tokyo. Taiwan is another claimant to economic rights in the area, a factor that serves to complicate relations among the parties.

China has assumed a position it cannot back off from gracefully — and one involving its most important economic interests. The outcome of this confrontation will be a point of no return in one way or another. Neither China nor Japan will rest if it loses this face-off. More than economic assets are at stake; this is about power relations and the future of Asia. Of greatest concern in all of this is the basic fact that China was emboldened to pick this fight. Beijing apparently calculates that the U.S. will acquiesce in whatever de facto diplomatic triumph China’s leaders can achieve over Japan.

Japan is unlikely to back down, however. The outcome of this incident matters too greatly to its national future. It’s trite to talk about being at a crossroads, but that’s because the metaphor usually fits. Americans are faced with a choice of our own in this situation: either we are relevant to its resolution — a resolution involving one of our closest allies — or we are not. If we’re not, the status quo of the “Pax Americana” will not last much longer.

There is reason to be concerned about the spat between China and Japan, which erupted over a Chinese fishing trawler that entered the disputed waters of the Senkaku Island chain on September 7 and then proceeded to collide with two Japanese coastguard ships. The Japanese arrested the trawler’s master, releasing him finally on Friday after a mounting series of threats from China. Beijing cut off shipments of rare earth minerals to Japan — a blow to the Japanese auto and high-tech industries — and is now reportedly subjecting 90 percent of Japan-bound commercial shipments to bureaucratic inspections.

China is apparently doubling down on its confrontational posture, in ways that make it harder for both sides to revert to the status quo ante. This weekend the Chinese demanded an apology and monetary restitution from Japan. On Monday the Naoto Kan government in Tokyo, stung by editorial opposition to its release of the Chinese fishing captain last week, countered with a demand for compensation from China for the damage to its coastguard ships.

Difficult as such positions can be for Asian nations to draw back from, it’s China’s prosecution of a material stake in the disputed economic zone off the Senkaku Islands that may keep both sides in confrontation. Japan has reportedly identified Chinese drilling equipment in the disputed area and suspects that Beijing is preparing to drill for natural gas there. Oil and gas exploration by both nations goes back to 2004; Japan has already stated concerns that drilling performed within China’s acknowledged economic zone could tap gas reserves in the area claimed by Tokyo. Taiwan is another claimant to economic rights in the area, a factor that serves to complicate relations among the parties.

China has assumed a position it cannot back off from gracefully — and one involving its most important economic interests. The outcome of this confrontation will be a point of no return in one way or another. Neither China nor Japan will rest if it loses this face-off. More than economic assets are at stake; this is about power relations and the future of Asia. Of greatest concern in all of this is the basic fact that China was emboldened to pick this fight. Beijing apparently calculates that the U.S. will acquiesce in whatever de facto diplomatic triumph China’s leaders can achieve over Japan.

Japan is unlikely to back down, however. The outcome of this incident matters too greatly to its national future. It’s trite to talk about being at a crossroads, but that’s because the metaphor usually fits. Americans are faced with a choice of our own in this situation: either we are relevant to its resolution — a resolution involving one of our closest allies — or we are not. If we’re not, the status quo of the “Pax Americana” will not last much longer.

Read Less

Double-Talk from Moscow on Iran

The White House has been crowing that Russia’s decision last week not to sell advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran represents a big triumph of its attempt to “reset” relationships with Moscow. The reality is somewhat more complicated — and less to our liking.

The fact is that Russia has flirted with selling the S-300 to Iran for years without ever actually going through with the deal, thus suggesting that the Russians were not truly planning to transfer the technology after all — they were simply hoping to get a good payoff from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and other countries alarmed by rising Iranian power. It’s impossible to know exactly what the Russians have gotten in return (such deals tend to be secret), but at a very minimum they managed to convince the Obama administration to scrap plans to put missile interceptors into Poland and the Czech Republic — a move that alarmed those stalwart allies. How much more can we expect from the Russians? Not that much, as indicated by this L.A. Times article:

Even as the White House praised Russia for declining to sell antiaircraft missiles to Iran in violation of U.N. sanctions, Russian diplomats were quietly recruiting other countries this week to undercut tougher penalties imposed on the Islamic Republic.

Russia supported weak United Nations sanctions approved in June to pressure Iran over its nuclear program. But it has strongly objected to tougher sanctions added individually by the United States, the European Union and four other countries. It fears those sanctions may end up hurting Russian companies that do business in Iran.

In other words, the Russians are up to their old tricks — paying lip service to stopping the Iranian nuclear program while sabotaging efforts to really get tough with Tehran. Beijing is pursuing a similar policy. Their intransigence means that the odds of really cracking down on Iran with international sanctions — the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s policy — are minimal. Other means, such as computer worms, can and should be used to sabotage and delay the Iranian nuclear program, but in the end the U.S. and Israel cannot avoid the toughest of choices: either act militarily or watch Iran go nuclear.

The White House has been crowing that Russia’s decision last week not to sell advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran represents a big triumph of its attempt to “reset” relationships with Moscow. The reality is somewhat more complicated — and less to our liking.

The fact is that Russia has flirted with selling the S-300 to Iran for years without ever actually going through with the deal, thus suggesting that the Russians were not truly planning to transfer the technology after all — they were simply hoping to get a good payoff from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and other countries alarmed by rising Iranian power. It’s impossible to know exactly what the Russians have gotten in return (such deals tend to be secret), but at a very minimum they managed to convince the Obama administration to scrap plans to put missile interceptors into Poland and the Czech Republic — a move that alarmed those stalwart allies. How much more can we expect from the Russians? Not that much, as indicated by this L.A. Times article:

Even as the White House praised Russia for declining to sell antiaircraft missiles to Iran in violation of U.N. sanctions, Russian diplomats were quietly recruiting other countries this week to undercut tougher penalties imposed on the Islamic Republic.

Russia supported weak United Nations sanctions approved in June to pressure Iran over its nuclear program. But it has strongly objected to tougher sanctions added individually by the United States, the European Union and four other countries. It fears those sanctions may end up hurting Russian companies that do business in Iran.

In other words, the Russians are up to their old tricks — paying lip service to stopping the Iranian nuclear program while sabotaging efforts to really get tough with Tehran. Beijing is pursuing a similar policy. Their intransigence means that the odds of really cracking down on Iran with international sanctions — the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s policy — are minimal. Other means, such as computer worms, can and should be used to sabotage and delay the Iranian nuclear program, but in the end the U.S. and Israel cannot avoid the toughest of choices: either act militarily or watch Iran go nuclear.

Read Less

The Rising Dragon and “Smart” Diplomacy

For years we have been hearing about how effective Chinese diplomacy is — a supposed contrast with a ham-handed, distracted Uncle Sam who was letting the rising dragon take over East Asia while we weren’t paying attention. No one should underestimate the rising military challenge posed by China. As Robert Kaplan notes in this Washington Post op-ed:

China has the world’s second-largest naval service, after only the United States. Rather than purchase warships across the board, it is developing niche capacities in sub-surface warfare and missile technology designed to hit moving targets at sea. At some point, the U.S. Navy is likely to be denied unimpeded access to the waters off East Asia. China’s 66 submarines constitute roughly twice as many warships as the entire British Royal Navy.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Chinese hegemony: its rise has alarmed pretty much all its neighbors, ranging from India and Australia to Japan and South Korea. The latest sign of how Chinese hectoring and bullying is souring other countries is the flap over a Chinese fishing trawler that collided with Japanese coast-guard vessels near a disputed island in the East China Sea that is claimed by both countries. The Japanese agreed to release the fishing captain on Friday after what the New York Times described as “a furious diplomatic assault from China,” which included the cut-off of “ministerial-level talks on issues like joint energy development, and curtailed visits to Japan by Chinese tourists.” In the short term, this is a victory for China. But for the long term, it leaves hard feelings behind and convinces many more Japanese — and other Asians — that China’s rise poses a threat to them.

Keep in mind that the Democrats, the current Japanese ruling party, came to power talking about weakening the U.S.-Japanese alliance and strengthening ties with China. If China were better behaved, that might have come to pass. But Chinese assertiveness is rubbing the Japanese the wrong way. The same is true with South Koreans, Australians, and other key Chinese trade partners. In those countries, too, hopes of a closer relationship with China have been frustrated; instead, they are drawing closer to the U.S.

The fundamental problem is that China’s ruling oligarchy has no Marxist legitimacy left; its only claim to power is to foster an aggressive Chinese nationalism. That may do wonders for support on the home front, but it is doomed to antagonize its neighbors and possibly bring into being a de facto coalition to contain Beijing. That, at least, should be the goal of American policy. Even as we continue to trade with China, we should make sure to curb its geo-political ambitions. That is a goal in which we should be able to get the cooperation of many of China’s neighbors — if we actually practice the sort of “smart power” diplomacy that the Obama-ites came into office promising.

For years we have been hearing about how effective Chinese diplomacy is — a supposed contrast with a ham-handed, distracted Uncle Sam who was letting the rising dragon take over East Asia while we weren’t paying attention. No one should underestimate the rising military challenge posed by China. As Robert Kaplan notes in this Washington Post op-ed:

China has the world’s second-largest naval service, after only the United States. Rather than purchase warships across the board, it is developing niche capacities in sub-surface warfare and missile technology designed to hit moving targets at sea. At some point, the U.S. Navy is likely to be denied unimpeded access to the waters off East Asia. China’s 66 submarines constitute roughly twice as many warships as the entire British Royal Navy.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Chinese hegemony: its rise has alarmed pretty much all its neighbors, ranging from India and Australia to Japan and South Korea. The latest sign of how Chinese hectoring and bullying is souring other countries is the flap over a Chinese fishing trawler that collided with Japanese coast-guard vessels near a disputed island in the East China Sea that is claimed by both countries. The Japanese agreed to release the fishing captain on Friday after what the New York Times described as “a furious diplomatic assault from China,” which included the cut-off of “ministerial-level talks on issues like joint energy development, and curtailed visits to Japan by Chinese tourists.” In the short term, this is a victory for China. But for the long term, it leaves hard feelings behind and convinces many more Japanese — and other Asians — that China’s rise poses a threat to them.

Keep in mind that the Democrats, the current Japanese ruling party, came to power talking about weakening the U.S.-Japanese alliance and strengthening ties with China. If China were better behaved, that might have come to pass. But Chinese assertiveness is rubbing the Japanese the wrong way. The same is true with South Koreans, Australians, and other key Chinese trade partners. In those countries, too, hopes of a closer relationship with China have been frustrated; instead, they are drawing closer to the U.S.

The fundamental problem is that China’s ruling oligarchy has no Marxist legitimacy left; its only claim to power is to foster an aggressive Chinese nationalism. That may do wonders for support on the home front, but it is doomed to antagonize its neighbors and possibly bring into being a de facto coalition to contain Beijing. That, at least, should be the goal of American policy. Even as we continue to trade with China, we should make sure to curb its geo-political ambitions. That is a goal in which we should be able to get the cooperation of many of China’s neighbors — if we actually practice the sort of “smart power” diplomacy that the Obama-ites came into office promising.

Read Less

What Real Diplomacy Looks Like

Americans seldom think of Israel in the conventional terms of “alliance,” but Israelis must, perforce, think of America that way. In the most fundamental sense, alliances are formed for security benefits. We don’t have allies because we need them; we have allies because they need us. This works both ways. The benefit is inherently mutual in any alliance that two or more parties take the trouble to form.

When allies begin shopping for defense-cooperation agreements elsewhere, moreover, it always means something. Our pursuit of abstract multilateralism over the last two decades has blinded us to that reality. American diplomacy has tended to behave as if all bilateral developments were benign — a mere natural outgrowth of upbeat nations getting in touch with each other. But in the case of Israel in 2010, the meaning is specific and conventional.

Israel signed a framework agreement for defense cooperation with Russia on September 6 — the first ever between these two nations — and has been at work this year resurrecting its defense-cooperation agreement with China. The rapprochement with China is informative because Israel agreed in 2005, at the behest of the Bush administration, to back off from its military-related projects with Beijing. The U.S. concern at the time was technology proliferation, which is what the news and opinion media tend to focus on, particularly in America. (The new agreement with Russia is being discussed, in its turn, as a means for Russia to obtain cutting-edge UAVs from Israeli manufacturers.)

But Israel has bigger concerns than markets for military hardware. “Defense cooperation” portends more than military sales; it can mean conferences, intelligence and personnel exchanges, joint training, and shared weapons development. It’s a field of agreement with inherent implications for regional relations and security. And Israel’s defense-cooperation outreach this year is hardly random. Binyamin Netanyahu typically handles national security like a statesman in the Western classical mold, and it appears he is doing so here. Warming up ties with Russia and China is a way to gain leverage with the major outside powers that are putting down stakes in the Middle East as Obama’s America loses energy and presence.

The Netanyahu leadership has no illusions about the character of either Russia or China. But courting Russia gives Israel an entrée with a member of the Quartet other than the U.S. Rejuvenating cooperation with China creates the potential for leverage with one of Iran’s chief patrons; the link with Russia offers a similar benefit regarding not only Iran but also Syria, Turkey, Libya, and Algeria as well.

The impetus for Israel to do this now comes from the persistent inertia of the Obama administration. As painful as it is to say it, the potential is obvious for Obama’s role in the Quartet to produce disadvantages for Israel. There is no rational basis for assuming Obama will take effective action against Iran or revise his approach to Syria. Exclusive alignment with the policy trend of Obama’s America promises nothing but disaster for Israel. In the absence of American strength — across the whole Middle Eastern region — Israel’s security situation will change. Although it means inviting Russia further into the Middle East, Netanyahu must work with reality in 2010: he must look for support — for a balancing agent with the region’s radical regimes — where he can find it.

Americans seldom think of Israel in the conventional terms of “alliance,” but Israelis must, perforce, think of America that way. In the most fundamental sense, alliances are formed for security benefits. We don’t have allies because we need them; we have allies because they need us. This works both ways. The benefit is inherently mutual in any alliance that two or more parties take the trouble to form.

When allies begin shopping for defense-cooperation agreements elsewhere, moreover, it always means something. Our pursuit of abstract multilateralism over the last two decades has blinded us to that reality. American diplomacy has tended to behave as if all bilateral developments were benign — a mere natural outgrowth of upbeat nations getting in touch with each other. But in the case of Israel in 2010, the meaning is specific and conventional.

Israel signed a framework agreement for defense cooperation with Russia on September 6 — the first ever between these two nations — and has been at work this year resurrecting its defense-cooperation agreement with China. The rapprochement with China is informative because Israel agreed in 2005, at the behest of the Bush administration, to back off from its military-related projects with Beijing. The U.S. concern at the time was technology proliferation, which is what the news and opinion media tend to focus on, particularly in America. (The new agreement with Russia is being discussed, in its turn, as a means for Russia to obtain cutting-edge UAVs from Israeli manufacturers.)

But Israel has bigger concerns than markets for military hardware. “Defense cooperation” portends more than military sales; it can mean conferences, intelligence and personnel exchanges, joint training, and shared weapons development. It’s a field of agreement with inherent implications for regional relations and security. And Israel’s defense-cooperation outreach this year is hardly random. Binyamin Netanyahu typically handles national security like a statesman in the Western classical mold, and it appears he is doing so here. Warming up ties with Russia and China is a way to gain leverage with the major outside powers that are putting down stakes in the Middle East as Obama’s America loses energy and presence.

The Netanyahu leadership has no illusions about the character of either Russia or China. But courting Russia gives Israel an entrée with a member of the Quartet other than the U.S. Rejuvenating cooperation with China creates the potential for leverage with one of Iran’s chief patrons; the link with Russia offers a similar benefit regarding not only Iran but also Syria, Turkey, Libya, and Algeria as well.

The impetus for Israel to do this now comes from the persistent inertia of the Obama administration. As painful as it is to say it, the potential is obvious for Obama’s role in the Quartet to produce disadvantages for Israel. There is no rational basis for assuming Obama will take effective action against Iran or revise his approach to Syria. Exclusive alignment with the policy trend of Obama’s America promises nothing but disaster for Israel. In the absence of American strength — across the whole Middle Eastern region — Israel’s security situation will change. Although it means inviting Russia further into the Middle East, Netanyahu must work with reality in 2010: he must look for support — for a balancing agent with the region’s radical regimes — where he can find it.

Read Less

Challenge at Sea

At the end of August, the Royal Navy gave the UK Telegraph a rare glimpse of what’s going on today in the arcane world of the submariner, under the Northern Atlantic’s restless surface. The report includes the nugget that “British submariners … are experiencing the highest number of ‘contacts’ with Russian submarines since 1987.”

It’s no surprise that Russian attack submarines are trying to trail British ballistic-missile submarines, as the Telegraph reports. But the reference to 1987 is informative. In the annals of the Cold War, 1987 was the last year the Soviet Navy maintained the very active global profile it assumed in the early 1970s. The Royal Navy’s disclosures last month indicate that the reversal of a two-decade trend is gathering steam — and more so than was evident when Russian submarines were reported off the U.S. east coast a year ago.

The Royal Navy had 38 submarines in 1987, compared with its 12 today. The U.S. force of attack submarines — “hunter-killer” submarines — has declined in the same period, from 98 to 53, with a target number of 48 being argued by budget cutters. But numbers are only one aspect of the issue. Equally important, as suggested by the Royal Navy’s recent encounters with Russian submarines, is how our would-be rivals are behaving on the seas.

In that regard, China’s profile constitutes a steadily expanding challenge, particularly to regional stability in the Far East. Tuesday morning, a Chinese fishing vessel was challenged by the Japanese coast guard in the waters of the Senkaku Islands, a chain disputed by Beijing and Tokyo. The Chinese vessel proceeded to collide with not one but two Japanese patrol ships — something that, given the Japanese military’s exemplary tradition of seamanship, had to be deliberate and was probably sanctioned by authorities in China.

China has operated through maritime provocation and bullying in recent years, but usually with smaller nations like Vietnam and the Philippines; very rarely in confrontations with Japan. In the wake of China’s most aggressive naval exercise ever, which penetrated the Japanese islands this past spring, as well as Beijing’s securing of rights to use a North Korean port on the Sea of Japan, the latest incident looks more like part of a trend than an isolated, strategically meaningless event.

This is how maritime dominance is lost: incrementally and off the public’s radar. The U.S. Navy, as an oceangoing sea-control force, has shrunk from 568 ships and submarines in 1987 to 285 today. Our NATO allies’ navies have shrunk significantly as well, some of them by greater percentages. Among our key allies, only Japan and Australia are investing in larger and more diverse naval forces. The U.S. military, under Defense Secretary Gates, is looking at reducing further the inventory of warships — aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines — that perform sea-control missions and maintain maritime dominance. Equally troubling, DoD proposes to eliminate entirely the two major U.S. commands most closely linked with NATO and maritime power in the Atlantic: Joint Forces Command and the U.S. Second Fleet. Events, on the other hand, continue to warn us against this irresponsible course. We can expect more of them.

At the end of August, the Royal Navy gave the UK Telegraph a rare glimpse of what’s going on today in the arcane world of the submariner, under the Northern Atlantic’s restless surface. The report includes the nugget that “British submariners … are experiencing the highest number of ‘contacts’ with Russian submarines since 1987.”

It’s no surprise that Russian attack submarines are trying to trail British ballistic-missile submarines, as the Telegraph reports. But the reference to 1987 is informative. In the annals of the Cold War, 1987 was the last year the Soviet Navy maintained the very active global profile it assumed in the early 1970s. The Royal Navy’s disclosures last month indicate that the reversal of a two-decade trend is gathering steam — and more so than was evident when Russian submarines were reported off the U.S. east coast a year ago.

The Royal Navy had 38 submarines in 1987, compared with its 12 today. The U.S. force of attack submarines — “hunter-killer” submarines — has declined in the same period, from 98 to 53, with a target number of 48 being argued by budget cutters. But numbers are only one aspect of the issue. Equally important, as suggested by the Royal Navy’s recent encounters with Russian submarines, is how our would-be rivals are behaving on the seas.

In that regard, China’s profile constitutes a steadily expanding challenge, particularly to regional stability in the Far East. Tuesday morning, a Chinese fishing vessel was challenged by the Japanese coast guard in the waters of the Senkaku Islands, a chain disputed by Beijing and Tokyo. The Chinese vessel proceeded to collide with not one but two Japanese patrol ships — something that, given the Japanese military’s exemplary tradition of seamanship, had to be deliberate and was probably sanctioned by authorities in China.

China has operated through maritime provocation and bullying in recent years, but usually with smaller nations like Vietnam and the Philippines; very rarely in confrontations with Japan. In the wake of China’s most aggressive naval exercise ever, which penetrated the Japanese islands this past spring, as well as Beijing’s securing of rights to use a North Korean port on the Sea of Japan, the latest incident looks more like part of a trend than an isolated, strategically meaningless event.

This is how maritime dominance is lost: incrementally and off the public’s radar. The U.S. Navy, as an oceangoing sea-control force, has shrunk from 568 ships and submarines in 1987 to 285 today. Our NATO allies’ navies have shrunk significantly as well, some of them by greater percentages. Among our key allies, only Japan and Australia are investing in larger and more diverse naval forces. The U.S. military, under Defense Secretary Gates, is looking at reducing further the inventory of warships — aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines — that perform sea-control missions and maintain maritime dominance. Equally troubling, DoD proposes to eliminate entirely the two major U.S. commands most closely linked with NATO and maritime power in the Atlantic: Joint Forces Command and the U.S. Second Fleet. Events, on the other hand, continue to warn us against this irresponsible course. We can expect more of them.

Read Less




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