Commentary Magazine


Topic: Cambodia

Why Do Academics Downplay Repression?

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)—the NGO of the Society of Friends or Quakers—won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, largely for its work with refugees, children, and prisoners of war during both World Wars I and II. The AFSC stayed neutral—a principle which it embraced strictly at the time—but by the 1970s, the AFSC had allowed leftism to trump pacifism. Perhaps nothing symbolizes the politicization of the AFSC and its moral unbearing than how it shilled for Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge—an episode discussed at length in Guenter Lewy’s Peace and Revolution, until evidence of that group’s murder of a million citizens became insurmountable. Why politics blinded AFSC officials to the brutality of the Khmer Rouge up until that group’s public exposure, however, is something that the Society of Friends has never adequately explained.

Another episode—albeit one not involving genocide—involves the many American foreign policy thinkers who were willing to give the Islamic Republic of Iran if not a pass on human rights prior to the 2009 post-election unrest than at least a blind eye. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen—who traveled to Iran and wrote many columns more critical of American policy than that of the Islamic Republic—only had his epiphany about the true rottenness of the Islamic Republic after he witnessed the 2009 unrest. Likewise, prior to 2009, anti-Iran sanctions activist Trita Parsi hardly even paid lip service to Iranians’ human rights and only after the elections did he decide he would no longer dine with Iran’s Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In reality, however, there has been no substantive difference between the Islamic Republic pre-2009 and post-2009. Evin Prison might be full now, but it was not empty in the 1980s, 1990s, or 2000s. While many liberals and progressives mark 2009 as the turning point in their assessment of Iran, there has been little introspection as to why they were willing until then to give such a repressive government the benefit of the doubt.

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The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)—the NGO of the Society of Friends or Quakers—won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, largely for its work with refugees, children, and prisoners of war during both World Wars I and II. The AFSC stayed neutral—a principle which it embraced strictly at the time—but by the 1970s, the AFSC had allowed leftism to trump pacifism. Perhaps nothing symbolizes the politicization of the AFSC and its moral unbearing than how it shilled for Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge—an episode discussed at length in Guenter Lewy’s Peace and Revolution, until evidence of that group’s murder of a million citizens became insurmountable. Why politics blinded AFSC officials to the brutality of the Khmer Rouge up until that group’s public exposure, however, is something that the Society of Friends has never adequately explained.

Another episode—albeit one not involving genocide—involves the many American foreign policy thinkers who were willing to give the Islamic Republic of Iran if not a pass on human rights prior to the 2009 post-election unrest than at least a blind eye. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen—who traveled to Iran and wrote many columns more critical of American policy than that of the Islamic Republic—only had his epiphany about the true rottenness of the Islamic Republic after he witnessed the 2009 unrest. Likewise, prior to 2009, anti-Iran sanctions activist Trita Parsi hardly even paid lip service to Iranians’ human rights and only after the elections did he decide he would no longer dine with Iran’s Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In reality, however, there has been no substantive difference between the Islamic Republic pre-2009 and post-2009. Evin Prison might be full now, but it was not empty in the 1980s, 1990s, or 2000s. While many liberals and progressives mark 2009 as the turning point in their assessment of Iran, there has been little introspection as to why they were willing until then to give such a repressive government the benefit of the doubt.

The current unrest in Turkey continues the pattern. The protests which have now spread to dozens of Turkish towns and cities have deeper roots than the destruction of a small urban park. Perhaps it’s understandable that so many former U.S. ambassadors to Turkey pooh-poohed the erosion of basic freedoms in Turkey; after all, so many used their Turkish connections as golden parachutes after their retirement from the Foreign Service or, perhaps they feel more nobly, as sources to fundraise for various think tanks or academic programs in which they now sit. Others say quite openly—in private—that the need for access or worries about family remaining in Turkey leads them to temper criticism of the AKP. Some Turks self-censor out of fear for their jobs, while others cravenly act as propagandists, providing cover for the Turkish government’s war on the press in exchange for privilege and access.

When political Islamism is added to the mix, too many are willing to dismiss the erosion of liberty in order to stay on the correct side of political correctness. Here, for example, are two Turkey analysts a week before the nationwide protests began lamenting how analysts—with special snark reserved for yours truly—might utilize news of Erdoğan’s war on beer to promote the narrative (which they believed false) that Erdoğan might be trying to impose his social will and Islamize secular Turkey. Since the protests erupted, there has not been subsequent introspection about why they were so anxious to dismiss a repression which so many Turks so clearly felt and which so many now protest against.

It is a tragedy that so many American officials and analysts equate acquiescence to the erosion of liberty with sophistication and prioritize heeling to conventional wisdom with open and honest analysis of data. Too many countries—Iran, Turkey, China, Iraqi Kurdistan and Russia—use access as leverage to temper the criticism of analysts and academics.

When it comes to Iran and Turkey, there is also the bubble factor: Many of those traveling to Tehran remain in relatively cosmopolitan northern Tehran rather than Islamshahr or the Western neighborhoods in which so many Revolutionary Guardsmen live. And when it comes to Turkey, there is nothing more corrosive to good analysis than those congressional delegations or tourists that might visit central Istanbul or Ankara, but never visit Sultanbeyli or Kayseri where few tourists venture but Islamism is on full display.

Let us hope that after Cambodia, Iran, and Turkey, those enjoying Western freedoms will understand how tenuous such freedoms are. Whether motivated by some perverse form of Communism as in Cambodia or by political Islam as in Iran or Turkey, or by some other ideology, it does not take much for politicians to grow impatient with resistance to their ideology or agenda. The Khmer Rouge made no secret of their disdain for democracy, but both Ayatollah Khomeini—in the months before his return to Iran—and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan understood how powerful the rhetoric of democracy could be when trying to achieve the opposite aim and so cultivated a coterie of useful idiots along the way.

Perhaps if there’s any lesson, therefore, the default position for analysts should be skepticism: Analysts of Turkey, Iran, Egypt, or anywhere else should always assume liberty to be under threat unless the governments’ actions prove the opposite. Nor should analysts ever acquiesce to constraints against individual freedoms in the name of religion.

Iran and, alas, Egypt may now be too far gone, but the Turkish Spring provides hope that liberals will fight for their rights. Let us hope that they will have as much support for the cause of liberty as their opponents did when they sought to roll back freedoms.

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Does the U.S. Owe Cambodia an Apology?

Kudos to President Obama for not using his recent trip to Cambodia as an opportunity to apologize for supposed American sins of the past. His failure to do so must come as a grave disappointment to New York Times White House reporter Peter Baker (an excellent reporter, by the way), who writes an entire article lamenting the lack of an Obama apology.

His piece begins thus: “Four decades after American warplanes carpet-bombed this impoverished country, an American president came to visit for the first time. He came not to defend the past, nor to apologize for it. In fact, he made no public mention of it whatsoever.” He then quotes approvingly from the president of a group known as the Khmer Rouge Victims in Cambodia who claims that Obama “should offer a public apology to the Cambodian people for the illegal U.S. bombings, which took the lives of half a million Cambodians and created the conditions for the Khmer Rouge genocide.” He also quotes Gary Bass, a historian at Princeton who has written an excellent history of humanitarian interventions, who says, “It’s a missed opportunity for Obama.”

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Kudos to President Obama for not using his recent trip to Cambodia as an opportunity to apologize for supposed American sins of the past. His failure to do so must come as a grave disappointment to New York Times White House reporter Peter Baker (an excellent reporter, by the way), who writes an entire article lamenting the lack of an Obama apology.

His piece begins thus: “Four decades after American warplanes carpet-bombed this impoverished country, an American president came to visit for the first time. He came not to defend the past, nor to apologize for it. In fact, he made no public mention of it whatsoever.” He then quotes approvingly from the president of a group known as the Khmer Rouge Victims in Cambodia who claims that Obama “should offer a public apology to the Cambodian people for the illegal U.S. bombings, which took the lives of half a million Cambodians and created the conditions for the Khmer Rouge genocide.” He also quotes Gary Bass, a historian at Princeton who has written an excellent history of humanitarian interventions, who says, “It’s a missed opportunity for Obama.”

Actually, Obama was right not to apologize because it’s not clear what America has to apologize for in this instance. It is grossly misleading to suggest that the U.S. “carpet-bombed” Cambodia, which evokes images of B-52s pummeling Phnom Penh. What actually happened was that during Operation Menu in 1969-1970, the U.S. bombed North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong base camps in eastern Cambodia with the tacit acquiescence of Cambodia’s ruler, Prince Sihanouk, who was deeply unhappy with the uninvited presence of tens of thousands of Communist Vietnamese troops in his country. Along with the bombing there were several “secret” incursions by South Vietnamese and U.S. troops in 1970 to try to clear out Communist base camps.

The notion that the American bombing somehow made the takeover of the genocidal Khmer Rouge inevitable–in some account by supposedly driving them insane–is farfetched. The Khmer Rouge had been fighting to take over the country since the early 1950s with the active support of the Communist regimes in Hanoi, Beijing and Moscow. The massive incursion of Vietnamese troops into Cambodia in the 1960s, which they used as a staging area for attacks into South Vietnam, further destabilized the country. But what really made the Communist triumph inevitable was the fact that the U.S. Congress cut off aid to the anticommunist regime led by Lon Nol (who overthrew Sihanouk in 1970) as part of the general backlash against the Vietnam War.

The rise of the Khmer Rouge was not a reaction to the American bombing, and the bombing did not remotely inflict anywhere close to 500,000 fatalities. (Most casualty estimates are a fraction of that, and many of the dead were Vietnamese troops, not Cambodian civilians.) It is hard to see why the U.S. did anything wrong: If a country allows its soil to be used for military forays into a neighboring country, that neighboring country and its allies have every right to strike back.

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Obama’s Gift to Cambodia’s Thuggish Leader

President Obama has taken a good deal of flack over the past few years over his cozy relationships with some undesirable heads of state. There’s the famous picture of him smiling and shaking hands with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, bowing to the the Saudi King, whispering on a hot mic to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about needing more “flexibility” on missile defense until his election. Unfortunately for Americans and our foreign policy, the mistakes don’t end there. In his first trip abroad since his reelection, the president is, unfortunately, continuing that tradition.

During Obama’s trip through Asia, the president touched down in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a one-day visit in order to attend an ASEAN summit. While he was there, the president entered closed-door meetings with the Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen. The meeting was reportedly quite tense, and the president chided Hun Sen for his abysmal record on human rights and press freedom. The meeting was private, but given the Cambodian government’s bluster before the meeting, it’s doubtful the story from the Obama White House will jive with the anything from Cambodian sources.

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President Obama has taken a good deal of flack over the past few years over his cozy relationships with some undesirable heads of state. There’s the famous picture of him smiling and shaking hands with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, bowing to the the Saudi King, whispering on a hot mic to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about needing more “flexibility” on missile defense until his election. Unfortunately for Americans and our foreign policy, the mistakes don’t end there. In his first trip abroad since his reelection, the president is, unfortunately, continuing that tradition.

During Obama’s trip through Asia, the president touched down in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a one-day visit in order to attend an ASEAN summit. While he was there, the president entered closed-door meetings with the Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen. The meeting was reportedly quite tense, and the president chided Hun Sen for his abysmal record on human rights and press freedom. The meeting was private, but given the Cambodian government’s bluster before the meeting, it’s doubtful the story from the Obama White House will jive with the anything from Cambodian sources.

While Western-owned and operated publications in Cambodia are reporting on the president’s tough talk in English, it’s unlikely that the average Cambodian will ever know the American side of what took place between their prime minister and the American president. The only reports of the meeting that Cambodians are likely to be exposed to are the images of the rest of the visit, where Obama is seen shaking hands with Hun Sen while wearing Western attire or bowing in greeting to the prime minister’s wife while he looks on jovially. In Hun Sen’s (almost certain to be rigged) run for reelection next year, these images will certainly be put on billboards throughout the largely agrarian nation where poverty is prevalent and press freedom is becoming practically non-existent.

Obama’s efforts to pressure Hun Sen came with the promise of a closer relationship in an effort to draw the nation away from its large and powerful benefactor, China. Thus far it’s clear those efforts have failed and will continue to fail, with Cambodia siding with China in a dispute over access to the South China Sea, an increasingly problematic issue in the region. While Cambodia has never before held much power on the world stage (with the exception of the Vietnam War), thanks to its role in ASEAN that is quickly changing, as the New York Times reported today:

It was the second time in four months that China appears to have influenced Cambodia, a beneficiary of Chinese development and military aid, to put forward its case. In July, the association failed to issue a communiqué at the end of its conference of foreign ministers after Cambodia refused to allow any mention of the South China Sea.

The only thing that President Obama seems to have accomplished in Cambodia vis-a-vis his meeting with Hun Sen is giving the authoritarian leader an even stronger stranglehold on an office that he’s held longer than any other leader on the entire continent of Asia. 

After the fall of another long-ruling tyrant, Moammar Gaddafi of Libya, Hun Sen was asked if he was nervous about being overthrown himself. He responded, “I not only weaken the opposition, I’m going to make them dead … and if anyone is strong enough to try to hold a demonstration, I will beat all those dogs and put them in a cage.” This is the kind of ruler Hun Sen is, and this is who President Obama just lent even more legitimacy to. 

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History Made Visible

Humans are visual animals. Just as a dog, suddenly aware of the unexpected, turns his nose toward it and starts sniffing, we humans turn our eyes toward things to try to figure them out. Of course, many things are invisible because of distance, size, lack of light, or obstruction. Much of the history of technology has been about overcoming these problems, with telescopes, microscopes, infrared sensors, radar, television, etc.  Once we can see something clearly, we can usually figure it out.

But some things are just inherently not visible. Epidemics, for instance. So we humans, clever creatures that we are, have devised ways to make even them visible. When cholera broke out in London in 1854, no one had a clue as to why or how the disease was spreading. A physician named John Snow stuck a pin in a map of London to indicate the residence of everyone who had developed cholera. It was quickly evident that the cases were clustered tightly around a particular public well from which people were drawing water for household use. Close the well, said Snow, and the epidemic will end. Snow, widely considered the father of epidemiology, was right, and the epidemic quickly abated when authorities closed the well.

Statistics, too, are a way of making the inherently invisible visible because they can be converted into graphs and charts.  Add the power of computers and you can produce charts that border on the magical. Consider this one published in Business Insider. It charts the fertility rate (the number of babies born per woman) against life expectancy over the past 50 years for a large number of countries. Each country is represented by a circle, its size a function of that country’s population.

The first thing you notice is that the fertility rate has been dropping sharply in most countries, while life expectancy has been rising equally sharply. The circles migrate toward the lower right of the chart over time to show this. But one of the large circles suddenly drops off a cliff beginning about 1970 as its fertility rate drops precipitously. How come? Click on the bubble and its name comes up: China and its one-child-per-family policy. And some countries suddenly reverse course, and their life expectancy collapses, moving their circles rapidly back toward the left of the chart. What is causing that? Click on the circles and the names of the countries come up: Rwanda, Cambodia, etc.

In other words, this chart makes history itself visible. Is that cool, or what?

Humans are visual animals. Just as a dog, suddenly aware of the unexpected, turns his nose toward it and starts sniffing, we humans turn our eyes toward things to try to figure them out. Of course, many things are invisible because of distance, size, lack of light, or obstruction. Much of the history of technology has been about overcoming these problems, with telescopes, microscopes, infrared sensors, radar, television, etc.  Once we can see something clearly, we can usually figure it out.

But some things are just inherently not visible. Epidemics, for instance. So we humans, clever creatures that we are, have devised ways to make even them visible. When cholera broke out in London in 1854, no one had a clue as to why or how the disease was spreading. A physician named John Snow stuck a pin in a map of London to indicate the residence of everyone who had developed cholera. It was quickly evident that the cases were clustered tightly around a particular public well from which people were drawing water for household use. Close the well, said Snow, and the epidemic will end. Snow, widely considered the father of epidemiology, was right, and the epidemic quickly abated when authorities closed the well.

Statistics, too, are a way of making the inherently invisible visible because they can be converted into graphs and charts.  Add the power of computers and you can produce charts that border on the magical. Consider this one published in Business Insider. It charts the fertility rate (the number of babies born per woman) against life expectancy over the past 50 years for a large number of countries. Each country is represented by a circle, its size a function of that country’s population.

The first thing you notice is that the fertility rate has been dropping sharply in most countries, while life expectancy has been rising equally sharply. The circles migrate toward the lower right of the chart over time to show this. But one of the large circles suddenly drops off a cliff beginning about 1970 as its fertility rate drops precipitously. How come? Click on the bubble and its name comes up: China and its one-child-per-family policy. And some countries suddenly reverse course, and their life expectancy collapses, moving their circles rapidly back toward the left of the chart. What is causing that? Click on the circles and the names of the countries come up: Rwanda, Cambodia, etc.

In other words, this chart makes history itself visible. Is that cool, or what?

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The Real Middle East Linkage

Barack Obama’s administration is a big fan of “linkage” — the theory that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would, in his words, “change the strategic landscape of the Middle East” and “help us deal with terrorist organizations in the region.” And actually, he’s half right: America’s handling of this conflict does affect the Middle East’s strategic landscape. But the link, as newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War make clear, isn’t what Obama thinks it is. And therefore, his policies are making war more likely, not less.

Obama believes Palestinian suffering is a top Muslim concern that contributes greatly to radicalizing Muslim extremists. Thus, if America forced Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands, not only would Muslims like America better, but all the Muslim world’s other problems would be easier to solve, because a key source of radicalization would be gone.

That version of linkage is clearly delusional. Just consider last month’s deadly bombing by Sunni extremists of a Shiite march in Pakistan. The march was one of several nationwide to “observe Al Quds Day, an annual protest to express solidarity with Palestinians and condemn Israel.” Yet solidarity with the Palestinians evidently ranks so low on the Muslim agenda that Sunnis and Shiites couldn’t suspend their mutual bloodletting for one day to unite around this issue. So how would a Palestinian state ease this Sunni-Shiite divide?

But as the Vietnam documents show, linkage does exist. When the 1973 Yom Kippur War erupted, forcing then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger to spend months brokering cease-fire agreements between Israel, Syria, and Egypt, the Vietnam War still raged. So after one of Kissinger’s trips to the region, then-ambassador to Saigon Graham Martin asked him “about the connection between what was happening in the Middle East and Vietnam.” Kissinger replied:

It hurt us with the Arabs. [Syrian President Hafez] Assad said in his talks with me, “You look what you’ve done to Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Portugal, etc.” … Assad said, “Therefore if you look at this, you will give up Israel, and so [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat should simply not give in.”

In short, it wasn’t American support for Israel that hurt America with the Arabs, but the Arabs’ conviction that this support would prove ephemeral, as it had with other American allies. The more convinced the Arabs were that America would ultimately abandon its allies, the less reason they saw to compromise, the more inflexible their positions became, and the more they preferred alliances with America’s enemies instead (in this case, the Soviet Union).

The same dynamic is evident today. Obama’s avowed goal of putting “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, coupled with his downgrading of other traditional American allies in favor of longtime enemies, has convinced Palestinians that if they hold out, America will eventually abandon Israel, too. And why compromise now if they could have it all later? Hence the flurry of new demands, like no negotiations without a settlement freeze, that they never posed before.

It seems some things never change. Today, too, the real link between Israel and the broader Middle Eastern strategic landscape remains America’s credibility as an ally.

Barack Obama’s administration is a big fan of “linkage” — the theory that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would, in his words, “change the strategic landscape of the Middle East” and “help us deal with terrorist organizations in the region.” And actually, he’s half right: America’s handling of this conflict does affect the Middle East’s strategic landscape. But the link, as newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War make clear, isn’t what Obama thinks it is. And therefore, his policies are making war more likely, not less.

Obama believes Palestinian suffering is a top Muslim concern that contributes greatly to radicalizing Muslim extremists. Thus, if America forced Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands, not only would Muslims like America better, but all the Muslim world’s other problems would be easier to solve, because a key source of radicalization would be gone.

That version of linkage is clearly delusional. Just consider last month’s deadly bombing by Sunni extremists of a Shiite march in Pakistan. The march was one of several nationwide to “observe Al Quds Day, an annual protest to express solidarity with Palestinians and condemn Israel.” Yet solidarity with the Palestinians evidently ranks so low on the Muslim agenda that Sunnis and Shiites couldn’t suspend their mutual bloodletting for one day to unite around this issue. So how would a Palestinian state ease this Sunni-Shiite divide?

But as the Vietnam documents show, linkage does exist. When the 1973 Yom Kippur War erupted, forcing then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger to spend months brokering cease-fire agreements between Israel, Syria, and Egypt, the Vietnam War still raged. So after one of Kissinger’s trips to the region, then-ambassador to Saigon Graham Martin asked him “about the connection between what was happening in the Middle East and Vietnam.” Kissinger replied:

It hurt us with the Arabs. [Syrian President Hafez] Assad said in his talks with me, “You look what you’ve done to Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Portugal, etc.” … Assad said, “Therefore if you look at this, you will give up Israel, and so [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat should simply not give in.”

In short, it wasn’t American support for Israel that hurt America with the Arabs, but the Arabs’ conviction that this support would prove ephemeral, as it had with other American allies. The more convinced the Arabs were that America would ultimately abandon its allies, the less reason they saw to compromise, the more inflexible their positions became, and the more they preferred alliances with America’s enemies instead (in this case, the Soviet Union).

The same dynamic is evident today. Obama’s avowed goal of putting “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, coupled with his downgrading of other traditional American allies in favor of longtime enemies, has convinced Palestinians that if they hold out, America will eventually abandon Israel, too. And why compromise now if they could have it all later? Hence the flurry of new demands, like no negotiations without a settlement freeze, that they never posed before.

It seems some things never change. Today, too, the real link between Israel and the broader Middle Eastern strategic landscape remains America’s credibility as an ally.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Now anti-Israel venom is even featured on sports talk. ESPN’s Kevin Blackistone (with an assist from Israel-hater Desmond Tutu) calls for a sports boycott of Israel: “In the wake of widespread international condemnation of Israel’s botched commando raid last week that killed nine people on a humanitarian aid flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip — where Palestinians live under what Nobel-prize winning South African Bishop Desmond Tutu … once said is Israel’s apartheid-like thumb — could it not be time for sport to illuminate Israel’s deadly occupation of Palestinians?” (h/t New Ledger)

Now, as Cliff May reminds us, Jew-hatred is quite fashionable elsewhere: “The fever of anti-Israelism seems to be rising too fast to be reduced by the cold compress of truth. Jew-hatred is increasingly acceptable, even fashionable, not just in the Middle East but in Europe and in some of America’s finer salons — and journals and blogs. And now, apparently, interest in a ‘final solution’ — to borrow Hitler’s apt phrase — is emerging as well. Helen Thomas’s sudden retirement is unlikely to significantly slow that trend. The quaint idea that, having learned the lessons of the Holocaust, civilized people would ‘never again’ tolerate genocide has become a cruel joke — one repeated in Cambodia, Kurdistan, Rwanda, the Balkans, Darfur, and beyond. Radical anti-Semites of the 20th century had a goal: the extermination of Europe’s Jews. Radical anti-Semites of the 21st century also have a goal: the extermination of the Middle East’s Jewish state.”

Now Obama’s ineffectiveness is so apparent that Joe Biden has become the administration’s principal spokesman.

Now the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers come with a warning label. A small publishing company slaps this on a volume of the documents: “This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.” Any such parent needs a warning label.

Now Rand Paul is annoying libertarians. But good to know he thinks “there are times when we have to go in and prevent, at times, people that are organizing to attack us.”

Now we have the quintessential un-Obama : “[Chris]Christie has already put the state on a tough new fiscal regimen and set it on course toward being solvent once again. Refusing to raise taxes, he’s challenged the entrenched, vested interests and has dared to take on the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s powerful teachers union. And now he’s out to enact a constitutional amendment creating a 2.5 percent cap on property tax increases. Through it all, he seems remarkably willing to take the flak that’s inevitably come his way. At town meetings across the state he tells crowds: ‘I think I know why you elected me. I know you didn’t elect me for my matinee idol looks or my charm. So, I’m trying to do what you elected me to do.’”

Now all those “Harry Reid bounces back” headlines will have to be rewritten: “Sharron Angle, following her come-from-behind Republican Primary win Tuesday, has bounced to an 11-point lead over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada’s closely-watched U.S. Senate race.”

Now, if we only had a president who believed this: “It’s not just that the Israelis are being held to a different — and immeasurably higher — standard than the rest of humanity. Israel is now being judged in the absence of any objective standard whatsoever. As Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week, it seems that Israel is now ‘guilty until proven guilty.’ Sadly, it is no surprise to see angry mobs on the streets of Tehran or London calling for Jewish blood. It seems that we now must accustom ourselves to similar scenes playing out in Istanbul as well. Yet what is far more troubling is that we are now hearing these critiques being echoed right here in the United States.”

Now anti-Israel venom is even featured on sports talk. ESPN’s Kevin Blackistone (with an assist from Israel-hater Desmond Tutu) calls for a sports boycott of Israel: “In the wake of widespread international condemnation of Israel’s botched commando raid last week that killed nine people on a humanitarian aid flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip — where Palestinians live under what Nobel-prize winning South African Bishop Desmond Tutu … once said is Israel’s apartheid-like thumb — could it not be time for sport to illuminate Israel’s deadly occupation of Palestinians?” (h/t New Ledger)

Now, as Cliff May reminds us, Jew-hatred is quite fashionable elsewhere: “The fever of anti-Israelism seems to be rising too fast to be reduced by the cold compress of truth. Jew-hatred is increasingly acceptable, even fashionable, not just in the Middle East but in Europe and in some of America’s finer salons — and journals and blogs. And now, apparently, interest in a ‘final solution’ — to borrow Hitler’s apt phrase — is emerging as well. Helen Thomas’s sudden retirement is unlikely to significantly slow that trend. The quaint idea that, having learned the lessons of the Holocaust, civilized people would ‘never again’ tolerate genocide has become a cruel joke — one repeated in Cambodia, Kurdistan, Rwanda, the Balkans, Darfur, and beyond. Radical anti-Semites of the 20th century had a goal: the extermination of Europe’s Jews. Radical anti-Semites of the 21st century also have a goal: the extermination of the Middle East’s Jewish state.”

Now Obama’s ineffectiveness is so apparent that Joe Biden has become the administration’s principal spokesman.

Now the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers come with a warning label. A small publishing company slaps this on a volume of the documents: “This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.” Any such parent needs a warning label.

Now Rand Paul is annoying libertarians. But good to know he thinks “there are times when we have to go in and prevent, at times, people that are organizing to attack us.”

Now we have the quintessential un-Obama : “[Chris]Christie has already put the state on a tough new fiscal regimen and set it on course toward being solvent once again. Refusing to raise taxes, he’s challenged the entrenched, vested interests and has dared to take on the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s powerful teachers union. And now he’s out to enact a constitutional amendment creating a 2.5 percent cap on property tax increases. Through it all, he seems remarkably willing to take the flak that’s inevitably come his way. At town meetings across the state he tells crowds: ‘I think I know why you elected me. I know you didn’t elect me for my matinee idol looks or my charm. So, I’m trying to do what you elected me to do.’”

Now all those “Harry Reid bounces back” headlines will have to be rewritten: “Sharron Angle, following her come-from-behind Republican Primary win Tuesday, has bounced to an 11-point lead over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada’s closely-watched U.S. Senate race.”

Now, if we only had a president who believed this: “It’s not just that the Israelis are being held to a different — and immeasurably higher — standard than the rest of humanity. Israel is now being judged in the absence of any objective standard whatsoever. As Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week, it seems that Israel is now ‘guilty until proven guilty.’ Sadly, it is no surprise to see angry mobs on the streets of Tehran or London calling for Jewish blood. It seems that we now must accustom ourselves to similar scenes playing out in Istanbul as well. Yet what is far more troubling is that we are now hearing these critiques being echoed right here in the United States.”

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The UN Human Rights Circus Plays On

Foreign Policy (honest, it’s not the Onion) reports:

Last week just as a senior Iranian cleric declared that women’s un-Islamic garb — meaning a wisp of hair showing — is the root of men’s immorality and the cause of earthquakes, the regime moved to secure a seat on the UN’s Commission for the Status of Women (CSW). The CSW, comprising 45 countries, voted in by regional blocks, is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to the advancement of women. Its mandate is “to evaluate progress, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide.”

Hmm. We haven’t heard much about Iran’s atrocities against women from the Obami. But then we don’t hear very much about Yemen, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey or any other misogynistic haven in the “Muslim World.” The Obami don’t spend too much time “bearing witness” to the regime’s assault on its girls and women:

In the past year, it has arrested and jailed mothers of peaceful civil rights protesters. It has charged women who were seeking equality in the social sphere — as wives, daughters and mothers — with threatening national security, subjecting many to hours of harrowing interrogation. Its prison guards have beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and raped female and male civil rights protesters.

The Ahmadinejad government has also initiated systematic discriminatory action against women in every other sphere. In universities where women have represented over 60 percent of the student body, the government is now banning women from key areas of study. Childcare centers are being shut down to hamper women’s ability to work outside their homes. Healthcare and reproductive care services provided to men and women, that had turned Iran into a global success story for family planning, are being withdrawn. Women’s publications that addressed gender equality have been shut down. The regime is attempting to erase decades of struggle and progress.

But really, why not put Iran on the CSW? It already includes such human rights models as Cambodia, China, and Cuba. And this is the international community whose approval the Obami covet. The victims of these regimes? Not so much. Hillary Clinton should put it on her to-do list: stop being mute about the atrocities against women by despotic regimes.

Foreign Policy (honest, it’s not the Onion) reports:

Last week just as a senior Iranian cleric declared that women’s un-Islamic garb — meaning a wisp of hair showing — is the root of men’s immorality and the cause of earthquakes, the regime moved to secure a seat on the UN’s Commission for the Status of Women (CSW). The CSW, comprising 45 countries, voted in by regional blocks, is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to the advancement of women. Its mandate is “to evaluate progress, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide.”

Hmm. We haven’t heard much about Iran’s atrocities against women from the Obami. But then we don’t hear very much about Yemen, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey or any other misogynistic haven in the “Muslim World.” The Obami don’t spend too much time “bearing witness” to the regime’s assault on its girls and women:

In the past year, it has arrested and jailed mothers of peaceful civil rights protesters. It has charged women who were seeking equality in the social sphere — as wives, daughters and mothers — with threatening national security, subjecting many to hours of harrowing interrogation. Its prison guards have beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and raped female and male civil rights protesters.

The Ahmadinejad government has also initiated systematic discriminatory action against women in every other sphere. In universities where women have represented over 60 percent of the student body, the government is now banning women from key areas of study. Childcare centers are being shut down to hamper women’s ability to work outside their homes. Healthcare and reproductive care services provided to men and women, that had turned Iran into a global success story for family planning, are being withdrawn. Women’s publications that addressed gender equality have been shut down. The regime is attempting to erase decades of struggle and progress.

But really, why not put Iran on the CSW? It already includes such human rights models as Cambodia, China, and Cuba. And this is the international community whose approval the Obami covet. The victims of these regimes? Not so much. Hillary Clinton should put it on her to-do list: stop being mute about the atrocities against women by despotic regimes.

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Another “Global Crisis”

Today, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the recent increase in food prices has become a “real global crisis.” His comments come after weeks of food riots in Haiti, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Ethiopia. The Thai and Pakistani governments have had to call out troops to protect crops. Cambodia and Kazakhstan are banning grain exports. Stores in the United States are limiting purchases of rice. North Korea faces famine. Is this a job for the UN?

Perhaps not. On Sunday, Jean Ziegler, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, accused the West of causing starvation in poor countries through, among other things, the promotion of biofuels and the maintenance of farm subsidies. “This is silent mass murder,” he said. Multinationals, for their part, are responsible for “structural violence.”

Ziegler also attacked commodity markets. “And we have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror,” he noted. “We have to put a stop to this.”

What we have to put a stop to is the UN promotion of world government and socialism. The solution to rising global food prices–they have increased 83 percent in the last three years according to the World Bank–is not more UN food aid, which has undermined agriculture in fragile states. The answer is allowing markets to work. Increasing food costs, after all, will encourage further farm production.

And let me add this: there is no right to food. There is, however, a right to live in a free society where people have the ability to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, the UN has yet to appoint a special rapporteur for common sense.

Today, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the recent increase in food prices has become a “real global crisis.” His comments come after weeks of food riots in Haiti, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Ethiopia. The Thai and Pakistani governments have had to call out troops to protect crops. Cambodia and Kazakhstan are banning grain exports. Stores in the United States are limiting purchases of rice. North Korea faces famine. Is this a job for the UN?

Perhaps not. On Sunday, Jean Ziegler, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, accused the West of causing starvation in poor countries through, among other things, the promotion of biofuels and the maintenance of farm subsidies. “This is silent mass murder,” he said. Multinationals, for their part, are responsible for “structural violence.”

Ziegler also attacked commodity markets. “And we have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror,” he noted. “We have to put a stop to this.”

What we have to put a stop to is the UN promotion of world government and socialism. The solution to rising global food prices–they have increased 83 percent in the last three years according to the World Bank–is not more UN food aid, which has undermined agriculture in fragile states. The answer is allowing markets to work. Increasing food costs, after all, will encourage further farm production.

And let me add this: there is no right to food. There is, however, a right to live in a free society where people have the ability to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, the UN has yet to appoint a special rapporteur for common sense.

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Gee Whiz, Superman!

“A Superman Approach to Foreign Policy.” That’s the title of this Ezra Klein essay over at The American Prospect, currently the feature piece on the homepage. (Comic books seem to be a popular analytical framework for the up-and-coming blogger set: Matthew Yglesias writes at length about “The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics” in his new book).

To be fair, TAP is a magazine that that has a former editor of Lyndon LaRouche’s newspaper on its masthead and publishes the work of a denier of the genocide in Cambodia. But Superman? Really? Here’s the core of the piece:

Yet the internationalist vision was more deeply interwoven into our cultural fabric than we often realize. Superman and Captain America were superheroes of an odd sort: tremendously powerful beings whose primary struggle was often to follow the self-imposed rules and strictures that lent their power a moral legitimacy. Neither allowed themselves to kill, and both sought to work within the law. Given their strength, either could have sought world domination, and even if they didn’t, they could have been viewed with deep suspicion and even hatred by those who were convinced that they one day would seek world domination. It was only by following ostentatiously strict moral codes that they could legitimize their power and thus exist cooperatively with a world that had every right to fear them. Indeed, soon enough, both were forming communities of like-minded super beings (The Justice League for Superman, the Avengers for Captain America) and generally operating much like, well, the nation that birthed them. As Spiderman — a later hero who, like so many heroes, bought into the idea that rules and restraint separated the good guys from the bad guys — liked to say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

That strain of foreign-policy thinking was largely abandoned in the rubble of the Twin Towers. As Yglesias puts it, “9/11 marked the beginning of an enormous psychological change on the part of the American people.” With a newfound sense of vulnerability, there was a newfound sense of fear. Restraint was a luxury, a nice ideal when we were primarily dealing with the problems of other people, but less desirable when our own lives were on the line. After 9-11, the country’s foreign-policy debate contracted, and liberal internationalists, who had always been better at pursuing their agenda than selling it politically, were largely left out. Instead, the conversation was dominated by those on the right who believed in unilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, and those on the left who believed in a superficially multilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, with the option to revert back to unilateralism if other countries proved disagreeable. It was Michael O’Hanlon versus Richard Perle, and few even seemed to find that strange.

This, too, saw its expression in a new type of hero: Jack Bauer. If Superman and Captain America were the emblems of the national mood directly after World War II, Bauer expressed the national anxieties uncovered by 9-11. Rather than an invincible superhero, Bauer was but a man, one who could perish like any other, and was aware of not only his own vulnerability, but that of his family, his government, and his country. Though there were laws he was supposed to follow, the enormity of the dangers he faced and the ruthlessness of the enemies he encountered led him to break them almost constantly, and so he tortured, killed, and generally let the ends lay claim to whatever means they could think of. Indeed, he did it so often, and with such abandon, that he’ll start Season 7 on trial for torture.

All very neat, indeed. But it has little to do with reality: America had been engaging in the kind of war-making putatively forbidden by the Superman model since well before the birth of DC and Marvel, and continued doing so in the years between Superman’s heyday and 9/11. Klein’s framework is cute–but very, very reductive.

When you attempt to force the paradigm of comic books onto something as inherently chaotic as global politics, your hopes of making sense are limited. And Klein’s essay doesn’t, in the end, cohere. But it does serve as a useful reminder of the intellectual vagaries of “the kind of whole bloggy progressive thing.” Serious people who want to engage in serious debate about foreign policy have no shortage of publications they can check out, offering any number of wildly conflicting views. Without, I might add, having recourse to infusions of inept popcult references.

“A Superman Approach to Foreign Policy.” That’s the title of this Ezra Klein essay over at The American Prospect, currently the feature piece on the homepage. (Comic books seem to be a popular analytical framework for the up-and-coming blogger set: Matthew Yglesias writes at length about “The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics” in his new book).

To be fair, TAP is a magazine that that has a former editor of Lyndon LaRouche’s newspaper on its masthead and publishes the work of a denier of the genocide in Cambodia. But Superman? Really? Here’s the core of the piece:

Yet the internationalist vision was more deeply interwoven into our cultural fabric than we often realize. Superman and Captain America were superheroes of an odd sort: tremendously powerful beings whose primary struggle was often to follow the self-imposed rules and strictures that lent their power a moral legitimacy. Neither allowed themselves to kill, and both sought to work within the law. Given their strength, either could have sought world domination, and even if they didn’t, they could have been viewed with deep suspicion and even hatred by those who were convinced that they one day would seek world domination. It was only by following ostentatiously strict moral codes that they could legitimize their power and thus exist cooperatively with a world that had every right to fear them. Indeed, soon enough, both were forming communities of like-minded super beings (The Justice League for Superman, the Avengers for Captain America) and generally operating much like, well, the nation that birthed them. As Spiderman — a later hero who, like so many heroes, bought into the idea that rules and restraint separated the good guys from the bad guys — liked to say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

That strain of foreign-policy thinking was largely abandoned in the rubble of the Twin Towers. As Yglesias puts it, “9/11 marked the beginning of an enormous psychological change on the part of the American people.” With a newfound sense of vulnerability, there was a newfound sense of fear. Restraint was a luxury, a nice ideal when we were primarily dealing with the problems of other people, but less desirable when our own lives were on the line. After 9-11, the country’s foreign-policy debate contracted, and liberal internationalists, who had always been better at pursuing their agenda than selling it politically, were largely left out. Instead, the conversation was dominated by those on the right who believed in unilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, and those on the left who believed in a superficially multilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, with the option to revert back to unilateralism if other countries proved disagreeable. It was Michael O’Hanlon versus Richard Perle, and few even seemed to find that strange.

This, too, saw its expression in a new type of hero: Jack Bauer. If Superman and Captain America were the emblems of the national mood directly after World War II, Bauer expressed the national anxieties uncovered by 9-11. Rather than an invincible superhero, Bauer was but a man, one who could perish like any other, and was aware of not only his own vulnerability, but that of his family, his government, and his country. Though there were laws he was supposed to follow, the enormity of the dangers he faced and the ruthlessness of the enemies he encountered led him to break them almost constantly, and so he tortured, killed, and generally let the ends lay claim to whatever means they could think of. Indeed, he did it so often, and with such abandon, that he’ll start Season 7 on trial for torture.

All very neat, indeed. But it has little to do with reality: America had been engaging in the kind of war-making putatively forbidden by the Superman model since well before the birth of DC and Marvel, and continued doing so in the years between Superman’s heyday and 9/11. Klein’s framework is cute–but very, very reductive.

When you attempt to force the paradigm of comic books onto something as inherently chaotic as global politics, your hopes of making sense are limited. And Klein’s essay doesn’t, in the end, cohere. But it does serve as a useful reminder of the intellectual vagaries of “the kind of whole bloggy progressive thing.” Serious people who want to engage in serious debate about foreign policy have no shortage of publications they can check out, offering any number of wildly conflicting views. Without, I might add, having recourse to infusions of inept popcult references.

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Is the CIA a “Fifth Column”?

Why was the declassified summary of the latest Iran NIE drafted, as I believe it was, in such a way as to subvert U.S. policy toward Iran? Why do officials at the CIA regularly leak information that undermines the Bush administration? Why do left-wing journalists like Seymour Hersh and James Risen enjoy so much access to closely held intelligence information? Do the personnel who staff this vital intelligence bureaucracy see themselves as dispassionate civil servants dedicated to the craft of intelligence or something else?

It is of course difficult to generalize about the men and women of an institution as large and diverse as the CIA. But it is worth recalling something written by our current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, in his memoir, From the Shadows.

In 1969, when Gates was twenty-five, he found himself a junior analyst in the agency, working on Soviet policy toward Africa and the Middle East. The Vietnam war was raging, the country was bitterly divided, and attitudes inside the agency had already strongly tilted in one direction: “I and virtually all of my friends and acquaintances in CIA,” writes Gates,

were opposed to the war and to any prolonged strategy for extracting us. Feelings among my colleagues –  and nearly all of the men in those days were military veterans — were strong. Many from the CIA marched in antiwar demonstrations on the Mall and at the Pentagon. My one and only was the May 9, 1970 demonstration  after the U.S. military offensive in Cambodia.

Popular impressions then and now about CIA — especially as a conservative, cold-war bureaucratic monolith — have always been wrong. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s not only was antiwar sentiment strong at the Agency, we were also influenced by the counterculture. There is not a doubt in my mind that some of my older colleagues and supervisors, presumably influenced in some measure by their college-age children, experimented with marijuana and perhaps even other drugs. Antiwar and anti-Nixon posters and bumper stickers festooned CIA office walls.

Gates subsequently grew up and went on to a distinguished career, including a stint as director of the CIA and many other top-level jobs. Whatever he now thinks of Vietnam, he has clearly had a change of mind about the behavior of his colleagues in those years. Indeed, he goes so far as to speak of the agency of his youth as “a not inconsiderable Fifth Column” within the Nixon administration.

Today, like then, the country is deeply polarized by a controversial war. And today, like then, government bureaucracies, like so many sponges, absorb the attitudes and ideas circulating in the broader society. The CIA is no exception. Is it possible that our premier intelligence agency has become, once again, “a not inconsiderable Fifth Column”?

Connecting the Dots would welcome sightings from inside Langley. Are anti-Bush posters and bumper stickers festooning CIA office walls today? Are some CIA officers smoking marijuana in classified documents vaults, or are they just acting like it?

Why was the declassified summary of the latest Iran NIE drafted, as I believe it was, in such a way as to subvert U.S. policy toward Iran? Why do officials at the CIA regularly leak information that undermines the Bush administration? Why do left-wing journalists like Seymour Hersh and James Risen enjoy so much access to closely held intelligence information? Do the personnel who staff this vital intelligence bureaucracy see themselves as dispassionate civil servants dedicated to the craft of intelligence or something else?

It is of course difficult to generalize about the men and women of an institution as large and diverse as the CIA. But it is worth recalling something written by our current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, in his memoir, From the Shadows.

In 1969, when Gates was twenty-five, he found himself a junior analyst in the agency, working on Soviet policy toward Africa and the Middle East. The Vietnam war was raging, the country was bitterly divided, and attitudes inside the agency had already strongly tilted in one direction: “I and virtually all of my friends and acquaintances in CIA,” writes Gates,

were opposed to the war and to any prolonged strategy for extracting us. Feelings among my colleagues –  and nearly all of the men in those days were military veterans — were strong. Many from the CIA marched in antiwar demonstrations on the Mall and at the Pentagon. My one and only was the May 9, 1970 demonstration  after the U.S. military offensive in Cambodia.

Popular impressions then and now about CIA — especially as a conservative, cold-war bureaucratic monolith — have always been wrong. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s not only was antiwar sentiment strong at the Agency, we were also influenced by the counterculture. There is not a doubt in my mind that some of my older colleagues and supervisors, presumably influenced in some measure by their college-age children, experimented with marijuana and perhaps even other drugs. Antiwar and anti-Nixon posters and bumper stickers festooned CIA office walls.

Gates subsequently grew up and went on to a distinguished career, including a stint as director of the CIA and many other top-level jobs. Whatever he now thinks of Vietnam, he has clearly had a change of mind about the behavior of his colleagues in those years. Indeed, he goes so far as to speak of the agency of his youth as “a not inconsiderable Fifth Column” within the Nixon administration.

Today, like then, the country is deeply polarized by a controversial war. And today, like then, government bureaucracies, like so many sponges, absorb the attitudes and ideas circulating in the broader society. The CIA is no exception. Is it possible that our premier intelligence agency has become, once again, “a not inconsiderable Fifth Column”?

Connecting the Dots would welcome sightings from inside Langley. Are anti-Bush posters and bumper stickers festooning CIA office walls today? Are some CIA officers smoking marijuana in classified documents vaults, or are they just acting like it?

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No More Vietnams (or Cambodias)

In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday, President Bush reminded us of the agony and genocide that followed the American retreat in Vietnam:

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea. Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. . . . Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps,” and “killing fields.”

These words summon to mind a powerful passage from the third volume of Henry Kissinger’s memoirs, Years of Renewal, about the horror that befell Cambodia in the wake of Congress’s decision to cut off funding to the governments of Cambodia and South Vietnam.

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In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday, President Bush reminded us of the agony and genocide that followed the American retreat in Vietnam:

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea. Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. . . . Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps,” and “killing fields.”

These words summon to mind a powerful passage from the third volume of Henry Kissinger’s memoirs, Years of Renewal, about the horror that befell Cambodia in the wake of Congress’s decision to cut off funding to the governments of Cambodia and South Vietnam.

Kissinger writes that messages were sent to top-level Cambodians offering to evacuate them, but to the astonishment and shame of Americans, the vast majority refused. Responding to one such offer, the former Prime Minister Sirik Matak sent a handwritten note to John Gunther Dean, the U.S. Ambassador, while the evacuation was in progress:

Dear Excellency and Friend:

I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it.

You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we all are born and must die. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you [the Americans].

Please accept, Excellency and dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments.

S/Sirik Matak

Kissinger continues:

On April 13th, the New York Times correspondent [Sydney Schanberg] reported the American departure under the headline, “Indochina Without Americans: For Most, a Better Life.” The Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh on April 17th . . . . The 2 million citizens of Phnom Penh were ordered to evacuate the city for the countryside ravaged by war and incapable of supporting urban dwellers unused to fending for themselves. Between 1 and 2 million Khmer were murdered by the Khmer Rouge until Hanoi occupied the country at the end of 1978, after which a civil war raged for another decade. Sirik Matak was shot in the stomach and left without medical help. It took him three days to die.

This is a sober reminder that there are enormous human, as well as geopolitical, consequences when nations that fight for human rights and liberty grow weary and give way to barbaric and bloodthirsty enemies.

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Book Review: In the Ruins of Empire

More than six decades after the end of World War II, Asia continues to grapple with the legacy of war. Unlike in Europe, where countries have attempted to create a new set of norms and institutions designed to link them ever more closely together, Asia in many ways seems stuck in history, revisiting old wounds and squabbling over the same territory. In his compelling new history of the aftermath of war in the Pacific, In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia (Random House, $27.95), Ronald Spector argues that the region’s future was largely determined in the year after the Japanese surrender, and was doomed primarily by the misguided and unrealistic attempts of the victorious Western allies to impose order on the chaos unleashed by Japan’s surrender and abandonment of its occupied territories. Washington spent much of the cold war dealing with the resulting instability.

Certainly in comparison to Europe, postwar Asia seemed almost incomprehensibly complex. Moreover, as Washington grappled with creating a pax Americana, Asia appeared less strategically important than Europe, in part because nothing like the specter of all-out conflagration hung over the region, and in part due to the absence of ethnic connection to the Atlantic world. And yet at the same time, while the cold war certainly affected Asia, causing extensive destruction in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the region’s nations were spared Europe’s draining twilight struggle.

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More than six decades after the end of World War II, Asia continues to grapple with the legacy of war. Unlike in Europe, where countries have attempted to create a new set of norms and institutions designed to link them ever more closely together, Asia in many ways seems stuck in history, revisiting old wounds and squabbling over the same territory. In his compelling new history of the aftermath of war in the Pacific, In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia (Random House, $27.95), Ronald Spector argues that the region’s future was largely determined in the year after the Japanese surrender, and was doomed primarily by the misguided and unrealistic attempts of the victorious Western allies to impose order on the chaos unleashed by Japan’s surrender and abandonment of its occupied territories. Washington spent much of the cold war dealing with the resulting instability.

Certainly in comparison to Europe, postwar Asia seemed almost incomprehensibly complex. Moreover, as Washington grappled with creating a pax Americana, Asia appeared less strategically important than Europe, in part because nothing like the specter of all-out conflagration hung over the region, and in part due to the absence of ethnic connection to the Atlantic world. And yet at the same time, while the cold war certainly affected Asia, causing extensive destruction in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the region’s nations were spared Europe’s draining twilight struggle.

American and European policymakers found themselves at odds over what to do with Asia almost as soon as the Japanese surrendered. For Americans, the basic template they applied to Europe—liberalism versus Communism—quickly dominated their thinking. The potential loss of China was contrasted with the success of a democratizing Japan, while naked aggression by North Korea against the South in 1950 would be repulsed as the front line in the struggle against Communism in Asia. The British, French, and Dutch tenuously sought to recreate their prewar spheres of influence and control. Both the Americans and Europeans, however, found themselves enmeshed in the quicksand of the numerous liberation movements, revived ethnic conflicts, and simple power struggles that erupted throughout the region, from Indonesia to the Korean peninsula.

Best known for his classic one-volume history of the Pacific War, Eagle Against the Sun, Spector here turns his gaze on the confused conditions prevailing immediately after Tokyo’s surrender in August 1945. Noting that the traditional historical narrative assumes that the end of war meant the end of fighting and the spontaneous regeneration of order, Spector argues that the post-World War II “peace” in Asia was the continuation of war under another name (with, in some cases, fiercer fighting than during the war). His book, inasmuch as it tells this story, neatly complements John Dower’s Embracing Defeat, which tells a similarly revisionist tale of the U.S. occupation of Japan. Both works give primary importance to the mistakes, failures, and naiveté of the so-called victorious powers; both assert that domestic players and local conditions truly created postwar Asia.

The central dynamic in Spector’s story is the disintegration of empire—that of wartime Japan, and the feeble attempts at reconstituting the empires of prewar Europe. The Japanese had erected an ideological scaffolding of colonial liberation over their wartime occupation of most of Asia. They justified their brutal control over China and Korea with the goal of creating a new Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The conditions the Japanese had faced quickly transferred to the victors. In some areas of Japanese control, such as in China, occupation overlay an existing condition of civil war. In Indochina, Japanese troops fought rebels, like Ho Chi Minh, who were experienced in combating European powers. The pre-1937 dynamics continued into the postwar period, and were realized fully in China: stabilizing Chiang Kai-shek became Washington’s primary Asian policy. Spector’s first three chapters cover well-trodden ground, emphasizing the incompatibility of America’s attempt to act as an honest broker between the Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists with its effort to secure Chiang’s victory. (Not even the great George Marshall could square that circle.)

That, indeed, is the leitmotif of Spector’s book: the basic inability of the Allied powers to adjust to the realities on the ground. Wishful thinking and good intentions proved no match for unleashed nationalist passions, as Spector’s subsequent chapters show. In Malaya, for example, the British attempt to reassert control lasted less than a year, until April 1946. The ineffective British Military Administration proved helpless in the face of intense ethnic strife between Chinese and Malays, in which Communists and mystical Islamic movements all contributed to chaos and bloodletting. Nor were the Allies above using their erstwhile enemies, the Japanese, thousands of whom were enrolled to fight rebels and Communists; for these soldiers, too, the end of war did not bring about the end of fighting. Spector condemns in particular the French and Dutch (as well as the rapacious Soviets), whose violent and stubborn attempts to reconstitute prewar empires in Indochina and Indonesia, respectively, led to widespread atrocities and scuttled any possibility of reaching some type of negotiated settlements among the parties. The particular tragedy of Vietnam, where the anti-colonial animus of the Americans was subordinated to supporting a European ally, underscores Spector’s analysis of the irreconcilable tensions in U.S. Asian policy.

What also emerges with crystal clarity from Spector’s account is the importance of personalities. Bucking the trend among professional academics, Spector shows that individuals count, and in some cases were the deciding elements in the paths their countries took. Not only well-known figures such as Mao and Ho, but equally important leaders in Indonesia and Korea, who frustrated European and American plans, and labored to realize their own visions.

Given the rich history of post-1947 Asia, one might be dissatisfied with the limited chronological scope of Spector’s book. The pivotal events in the region all happened after 1947, and none of them was foreordained. In that respect, it is impossible to judge whether Spector’s assertion—that the vacuum of the immediate postwar months set the path for the following decades—is accurate or overstated. Moreover, strained comparisons between postwar Asia and postwar Iraq, which read like afterthoughts, fail as attempts to make the book somehow more timely or relevant. As his fluid prose and thorough archival research show, telling the story of the battle for postwar Asia needs no justification.

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Charm Offensive, by Joshua Kurlantzick

Joshua Kurlantzick
Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World
Yale. 320 pp. $26.00.

Across the globe, China’s diplomatic presence is growing with astounding speed. In Maputo, Mozambique, the ministry of foreign affairs—built with Chinese money—sports an elaborate pagoda roof. In Songhkla, Thailand, the building formerly housing the American consulate now houses political and economic emissaries from Beijing—a disturbing image of China’s influence waxing as America’s recedes. And in dozens of other nations, China’s power is expanding equally quickly. In Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World, Joshua Kurlantzick explains how the Chinese are increasing their reach and, in the process, helping rogue leaders, causing environmental degradation, and undermining the United States.

Readers of COMMENTARY will be familiar with this narrative. Kurlantzick, a special correspondent for The New Republic, outlined elements of this thesis in COMMENTARY’s October 2006 issue. It is, however, an important story and well worth telling in book form.

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Joshua Kurlantzick
Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World
Yale. 320 pp. $26.00.

Across the globe, China’s diplomatic presence is growing with astounding speed. In Maputo, Mozambique, the ministry of foreign affairs—built with Chinese money—sports an elaborate pagoda roof. In Songhkla, Thailand, the building formerly housing the American consulate now houses political and economic emissaries from Beijing—a disturbing image of China’s influence waxing as America’s recedes. And in dozens of other nations, China’s power is expanding equally quickly. In Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World, Joshua Kurlantzick explains how the Chinese are increasing their reach and, in the process, helping rogue leaders, causing environmental degradation, and undermining the United States.

Readers of COMMENTARY will be familiar with this narrative. Kurlantzick, a special correspondent for The New Republic, outlined elements of this thesis in COMMENTARY’s October 2006 issue. It is, however, an important story and well worth telling in book form.

Kurlantzick begins his analysis, appropriately enough, with Mao Zedong. The first leader of the People’s Republic wanted to export the Chinese revolution around the world. His attempted insurgencies, however, generally failed, poisoning relations with many nations for a generation. Even when Mao backed a winner—such as the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia—the result was disastrous for Beijing’s reputation.

Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s successor, ended many of these counterproductive foreign policies. But he still relied overmuch on the use of force, launching a failed war with Vietnam in 1979, and retained Mao’s deep suspicion of multilateral institutions and treaties. Even after Deng passed from the political scene in 1994, Beijing had trouble making friends due to its constant threats against Taiwan, its seizure of reefs to enforce its ludicrous territorial claims to the entire South China Sea, and other hostile acts.

Then, in 1997, the year of Deng’s death, Beijing began a strategic volte-face. By choosing not to devalue their currency, the Chinese prevented a round of potentially catastrophic competitive devaluations during the Asian financial crisis of the late 90’s. “For the first time in decades,” Kurlantzick writes, “China had taken a stance on a major international issue and had banked credit as a benign force in global affairs.” Shortly thereafter, Beijing officials began to re-conceive of their country as a da guo—a great power. By the beginning of this decade, China, under the stewardship of Jiang Zemin, had turned on the charm and begun to employ “soft power” as its main diplomatic tool.

The Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, who coined the term “soft power,” defined it narrowly as the passive attractive force of a nation’s culture, values, and norms. But Kurlantzick notes that Beijing has expanded the concept to include almost any non-military effort at accumulating power. Charm Offensive, accordingly, looks at soft power through China’s enlarged understanding of the phrase.

Today, Chinese diplomats and officials have dropped their old, aggressive posture. They now talk about “win-win” relations, “Peaceful Rise,” and the “Early Harvest Package.” Beijing maintains publicly that it never interferes in other nations’ internal affairs and seeks prosperity for all. It provides aid for less developed nations and joins any regional and multilateral organization it can find (and, if none exists, creates them). International agreements? Beijing signs treaties, compacts, and covenants by the dozen. China, in short, wants to be everyone’s friend. (How do you say “Kumbaya” in Mandarin?)

Yet, as Kurlantzick notes, “Beijing offers the charm of a lion, not of a mouse.” It still acts high-handedly when it thinks it can get away with it (as when it dams the upstream waters of the Mekong River) and aggressively opposes those against whom it bears a grudge (constantly blocking, for instance, Japan’s attempts to build stronger ties in Asia). Neighbors are not its only targets: all over Asia, China uses its newfound strength to exclude the United States from regional economic and political affiliations (successfully convincing the Uzbeks to end American basing rights in their country, among other policy victories).

Is this behavior, however regrettable, merely the normal rough and tumble of great-power diplomacy? Perhaps. But Kurlantzick raises a far more pertinent question: can an authoritarian state work within the existing framework of a liberal international system? Charm Offensive is loaded with evidence that suggests a potentially disturbing answer.

Kurlantzick observes correctly that China courts and champions authoritarian leaders in the arena of global politics. It sustains hostile and unstable states—like Iran and North Korea—that threaten world order. It directly intervened to keep the contemptible Robert Mugabe in power in Zimbabwe, and it is stands behind the regime in Sudan that sponsors the genocidal janjaweed militia. Name any anti-democratic government in the world today, and you will find a connection to Beijing. China’s support of the world’s autocrats is so pervasive as to be creating, in Kurlantzick’s words, an “alternative pole” to the Western democracies.

Worse, China challenges one of the principles that define the West—free markets—with visible success. By producing spectacular economic growth for almost three decades, China shows that nations do not have to follow the free-market Washington Consensus in order to advance economically. Today, dictators and strongmen of all stripes take comfort in how the Beijing Consensus permits the maintenance of anti-democratic governance in a modernizing world.

Kurlantzick ends his fine book by making suggestions as to how Washington can compete with charmingly offensive China. His prescriptions range from the tactical—stationing at least one China watcher in every American embassy—to the strategic—reconsidering our opposition to multilateral institutions. But this second, broader piece of advice presents a problem. China is now a major player in nearly every regional and international organization, and it has garnered enough power in the international community to be able to block Western initiatives and everything but lowest-common-denominator solutions. Does this not suggest that multilateralism, for the U.S., is by now a dead end, at least where China is concerned?

Kurlantzick, at several points in Charm Offensive, scolds the United States for abandoning strategic interest in the world after the end of the cold war. His book reminds us that this is no time for America to forgo its leadership position or to accept consensus management, especially when that means empowering authoritarian states—like newly, charmingly offensive China.

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Beyond Japan’s “Peace Constitution”

On Monday, Japan’s Diet enacted a law establishing procedures for national referenda on amendments to the country’s constitution. On Tuesday, China publicly complained. This is not really surprising: for many Asians, Japan’s constitutional arrangements have long been a matter of international concern.

Japan’s “peace constitution” was imposed in 1946 by General Douglas MacArthur, the so-called “second emperor.” In article nine of that document the Japanese people “forever” renounced both “war” and “the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” They also promised “never” to maintain “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential.”

But article nine has not been enforced for decades. Tokyo now maintains approximately 240,000 soldiers, sailors, and pilots supported by the world’s fifth-largest military budget. Article nine today is narrowly interpreted as a ban on participation in “collective self-defense,” but even that prohibition has been eroded. Japan sent minesweepers to the Persian Gulf in 1991, an Aegis destroyer to the Indian Ocean in 2002 to support U.S. operations, and, most notably, a contingent of troops to Iraq in 2004. The Iraq deployment was the first time Japan has sent ground troops to a war zone since the end of World War II. And, unlike Japan’s 1992 mission in Cambodia and later peacekeeping efforts, the soldiers sent to Iraq operated outside a UN framework.

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On Monday, Japan’s Diet enacted a law establishing procedures for national referenda on amendments to the country’s constitution. On Tuesday, China publicly complained. This is not really surprising: for many Asians, Japan’s constitutional arrangements have long been a matter of international concern.

Japan’s “peace constitution” was imposed in 1946 by General Douglas MacArthur, the so-called “second emperor.” In article nine of that document the Japanese people “forever” renounced both “war” and “the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” They also promised “never” to maintain “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential.”

But article nine has not been enforced for decades. Tokyo now maintains approximately 240,000 soldiers, sailors, and pilots supported by the world’s fifth-largest military budget. Article nine today is narrowly interpreted as a ban on participation in “collective self-defense,” but even that prohibition has been eroded. Japan sent minesweepers to the Persian Gulf in 1991, an Aegis destroyer to the Indian Ocean in 2002 to support U.S. operations, and, most notably, a contingent of troops to Iraq in 2004. The Iraq deployment was the first time Japan has sent ground troops to a war zone since the end of World War II. And, unlike Japan’s 1992 mission in Cambodia and later peacekeeping efforts, the soldiers sent to Iraq operated outside a UN framework.

Other Asians are uncomfortable with Japanese participation in such military efforts. As Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, famously said, permitting the Japanese to carry arms abroad is like “giving liqueur chocolates to a reformed alcoholic.” The new referendum law caused “high concern and misgivings among the people of Asia who suffered Japanese invasion and enslavement,” according to a statement released by Beijing’s official Xinhua news agency. “People have begun to doubt whether Japan will continue its path of peaceful development.”

Paradoxically, however, Tokyo’s attempt formally to legalize its defensive forces is a necessary step in ensuring that peaceful development. Article nine makes it extremely difficult for the Japanese to have honest debates among themselves about their history. The constitution stigmatizes the past and, as one of the country’s most prominent journalists said to me recently, prevents Japan from becoming “a normal country.”

East Asians may never feel fully comfortable with a rearmed Japan, but their unease is heightened by Tokyo’s openly violating the country’s constitution. The way to end, finally, the long aftermath of World War II in Asia is for the Japanese to amend their constitution—and subsequently to adhere to it.

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David Halberstam’s All-Too-Prescient Forecast

David Halberstam was killed yesterday in an automobile accident in Menlo Park, California, bringing to a close a legendary journalistic career. Plaudits for the Pulitzer-prize winning author are flowing with abandon. Here is a bit of hagiography from the New York Times:

Tall, square-jawed, and graced with an imposing voice so deep that it seemed to begin at his ankles, Mr. Halberstam came into his own as a journalist in the early 1960′s covering the nascent American war in South Vietnam for the New York Times.

This reporting, along with that of several colleagues, left little doubt that a corrupt South Vietnamese government supported by the United States was no match for Communist guerrillas and their North Vietnamese allies. His dispatches infuriated American military commanders and policy makers in Washington, but they accurately reflected the realities on the ground.

This is fascinating stuff, for what the Times omits to say is that Halberstam, who did come to deride the war in Vietnam ferociously, began his career as one of its most avid supporters. Indeed, as late as 1965 Halberstam was telling his readers that if America pulled out of Southeast Asia, a moral tragedy and strategic debacle would ensue:

[T]hose Vietnamese who committed themselves fully to the United States will suffer the most under a Communist government, while we lucky few with blue passports retire unharmed; it means a drab, lifeless, and controlled society for a people who deserve better. Withdrawal also means that the United States’s prestige will be lowered throughout the world, and it means that the pressure of Communism on the rest of Southeast Asia will intensify. Lastly, withdrawal means that throughout the world the enemies of the West will be encouraged to try insurgencies like the one in Vietnam.

Halberstam never came to terms with his past view of the war; he just silently shifted away from it.

As I wrote in my review of Robert S. McNamara’s memoirs in Commentary, “considering what happened to the South Vietnamese after America did pull out—hundreds of thousands bidding farewell forever to their ancestors’ sacred graves to flee ‘reeducation camps’ and other appurtenances of Communist rule, and so many perishing at sea at the hands of pirates or with the foundering of their rickety ships, not to mention the even more unspeakable fate suffered by millions in the mass graveyard that the entire nation of neighboring Cambodia became—surely Halberstam’s is the most clear-sighted forecast ever to be quietly disavowed.”

David Halberstam was killed yesterday in an automobile accident in Menlo Park, California, bringing to a close a legendary journalistic career. Plaudits for the Pulitzer-prize winning author are flowing with abandon. Here is a bit of hagiography from the New York Times:

Tall, square-jawed, and graced with an imposing voice so deep that it seemed to begin at his ankles, Mr. Halberstam came into his own as a journalist in the early 1960′s covering the nascent American war in South Vietnam for the New York Times.

This reporting, along with that of several colleagues, left little doubt that a corrupt South Vietnamese government supported by the United States was no match for Communist guerrillas and their North Vietnamese allies. His dispatches infuriated American military commanders and policy makers in Washington, but they accurately reflected the realities on the ground.

This is fascinating stuff, for what the Times omits to say is that Halberstam, who did come to deride the war in Vietnam ferociously, began his career as one of its most avid supporters. Indeed, as late as 1965 Halberstam was telling his readers that if America pulled out of Southeast Asia, a moral tragedy and strategic debacle would ensue:

[T]hose Vietnamese who committed themselves fully to the United States will suffer the most under a Communist government, while we lucky few with blue passports retire unharmed; it means a drab, lifeless, and controlled society for a people who deserve better. Withdrawal also means that the United States’s prestige will be lowered throughout the world, and it means that the pressure of Communism on the rest of Southeast Asia will intensify. Lastly, withdrawal means that throughout the world the enemies of the West will be encouraged to try insurgencies like the one in Vietnam.

Halberstam never came to terms with his past view of the war; he just silently shifted away from it.

As I wrote in my review of Robert S. McNamara’s memoirs in Commentary, “considering what happened to the South Vietnamese after America did pull out—hundreds of thousands bidding farewell forever to their ancestors’ sacred graves to flee ‘reeducation camps’ and other appurtenances of Communist rule, and so many perishing at sea at the hands of pirates or with the foundering of their rickety ships, not to mention the even more unspeakable fate suffered by millions in the mass graveyard that the entire nation of neighboring Cambodia became—surely Halberstam’s is the most clear-sighted forecast ever to be quietly disavowed.”

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