Commentary Magazine


Topic: Korea

Year of the (War) Horse?

Given that this is the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, comparisons to pre-conflict Europe in 1914 are abounding. Most have little historical value and less predictive worth. However, when even foreign leaders start to repeat them, then we might start to worry about self-fulfilling prophecies.

The most notable comes from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who used his speech at the World Economic Forum meeting to claim that today, China and Japan resemble Britain and Germany in 1914. Despite their close economic ties, Abe noted, Berlin’s military buildup caused instability leading to war. Other reports out of Davos indicate the Chinese noted the same thing, with a confidence that they could achieve their immediate goal of taking over a group of contested islands located near Taiwan, the Senkakus, that Japan has controlled since 1894 (except for a period of American control from 1945 to 1972). Even Henry Kissinger has got into the act, warning that the two are close to war.

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Given that this is the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, comparisons to pre-conflict Europe in 1914 are abounding. Most have little historical value and less predictive worth. However, when even foreign leaders start to repeat them, then we might start to worry about self-fulfilling prophecies.

The most notable comes from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who used his speech at the World Economic Forum meeting to claim that today, China and Japan resemble Britain and Germany in 1914. Despite their close economic ties, Abe noted, Berlin’s military buildup caused instability leading to war. Other reports out of Davos indicate the Chinese noted the same thing, with a confidence that they could achieve their immediate goal of taking over a group of contested islands located near Taiwan, the Senkakus, that Japan has controlled since 1894 (except for a period of American control from 1945 to 1972). Even Henry Kissinger has got into the act, warning that the two are close to war.

Following close on these Davos disturbances were Chinese newspapers noting that this year, the Year of the Horse, is the same zodiacal year in which China and Japan fought their first war. The 1894 Sino-Japanese War broke out over Imperial Japan’s desire to control the Korean peninsula and end Chinese influence there. Of course, Japan defeated China by the following year and upended centuries of East Asian geopolitics.

There are major historical problems with both these analogies. With respect to 1914, Japan is no Britain, which was the de facto defender of the balance of power and open trading system. Instead, Japan has but slowly developed its military potential, while keeping both its capacity limited and being hamstrung by constitutional restrictions on the use of force. The 1914-style clash between reigning hegemon and rising challenger could only be between the United States and China, and there is as yet little reason to believe either is contemplating such a fight.

Further, no matter how much economic interplay there was between Britain and Germany back then, it is nothing like the interdependence of China and Japan, which are each other’s second-largest trading partners, where 10 million Chinese are employed by Japanese firms on the mainland, and where Chinese firms assemble billions of dollars worth of products using Japanese components or designed in Japan. There is no reason to expect that economic ties always trump political/military ones, but the bar has undoubtedly been raised particularly high in the Asian case.

As for 1894, again to use the Lloyd Bentsen analogy, the Senkaku Islands are no Korea. While the Senkakus are strategically useful to China, they are uninhabitable and largely derive their importance from nationalistic feelings that any territory once claimed by a state must be recovered. Korea, by comparison, was the crossroads of Northeast Asia, a fertile land to be controlled and used for further expansion. From that perspective, Korea may indeed have been worth fighting a war over, but no such claim could be made for the Senkakus.

The real danger is not a “guns of August” scenario whereby highly regulated mobilization timetables drag unprepared participants into conflict that spreads to halfhearted alliances. The danger rather falls into two distinct scenarios. The first is that years of war talk by both sides hardens diplomatic positions and inhibits any type of peaceful solution to the problem of a handful of uninhabited islands. Yes, Japan is deeply concerned about China’s seemingly inexorable rise once again to great-power status in Asia. It fears the future and feels its national honor is at stake in the Senkakus issue. As for Beijing, it appears to have adopted a position of pushing as far as it can and waiting to see what the response is; little opposition encourages more probing, while a firm response usually causes it to back down.

The second danger scenario is much more likely: accident or miscalculation leading to conflict. One would think that an accident, say two naval ships colliding, could be contained and prevented from escalating into full war. But here is where years of nationalism, distrust, and ambition could combine into a deadly brew. Neither side may want a real conflict, but each may feel they have drawn their lines too strongly to back down. The Year of the (War) Horse may come to haunt Asia.

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Obama’s FTA Delay

A Korean concession today advanced the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement (FTA), which was originally inked under George W. Bush but that stalled under Obama’s guidance. The delay resulted from Obama’s attachment to his labor constituency, and it ran against his promises to increase U.S. exports. When faced with a quandary, Obama opted for inaction, much to the detriment of American industry.

The FTA has been protested especially aggressively by the Ford Motor Co., but protectionism does more to benefit labor leaders than skilled American workers. As Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) pointed out in his address to the Detroit Economic Club:

Despite the president’s stated objective of doubling American exports in the next five years, trade has largely been ignored by Democrats in Congress and the administration in recent years. With a new Republican majority in the House, I am hopeful that the free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea can move forward. We need to get those deals done, and done right, but it should not end there. We must promote increased trade at every opportunity around the world. When the world “buys American,” Americans go to work.

Both South Korea and the United States will benefit from the FTA, but it’s worthwhile to keep in mind just who has done the crucial compromising — and who has assumed the leadership to ensure that the FTA came to fruition. The answer is: not Obama. This has bearing for similar agreements with other countries, as Mary Anastasia O’Grady summarized earlier this week.

It is a pity that this agreement has been so long in coming. But it would be even more of a pity if the Obama administration were allowed to tout this as an achievement of its own. Passage of a free-trade agreement with South Korea will have happened largely despite Obama, not because of him.

A Korean concession today advanced the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement (FTA), which was originally inked under George W. Bush but that stalled under Obama’s guidance. The delay resulted from Obama’s attachment to his labor constituency, and it ran against his promises to increase U.S. exports. When faced with a quandary, Obama opted for inaction, much to the detriment of American industry.

The FTA has been protested especially aggressively by the Ford Motor Co., but protectionism does more to benefit labor leaders than skilled American workers. As Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) pointed out in his address to the Detroit Economic Club:

Despite the president’s stated objective of doubling American exports in the next five years, trade has largely been ignored by Democrats in Congress and the administration in recent years. With a new Republican majority in the House, I am hopeful that the free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea can move forward. We need to get those deals done, and done right, but it should not end there. We must promote increased trade at every opportunity around the world. When the world “buys American,” Americans go to work.

Both South Korea and the United States will benefit from the FTA, but it’s worthwhile to keep in mind just who has done the crucial compromising — and who has assumed the leadership to ensure that the FTA came to fruition. The answer is: not Obama. This has bearing for similar agreements with other countries, as Mary Anastasia O’Grady summarized earlier this week.

It is a pity that this agreement has been so long in coming. But it would be even more of a pity if the Obama administration were allowed to tout this as an achievement of its own. Passage of a free-trade agreement with South Korea will have happened largely despite Obama, not because of him.

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Korea at Thanksgiving

Most veterans have spent a Thanksgiving on duty. Many have spent Thanksgiving overseas. Some — a growing number — have spent it on alert or in combat. Veterans the world over know what the troops in South Korea said to each other on Tuesday, when North Korea started shooting: “Well, there goes Thanksgiving.”

The timing is uncanny. On November 24, 1950, a month after the discovery of Chinese troops in the war, General Douglas MacArthur launched what became known as the “Home by Christmas” offensive with the U.S. Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps along the Ch’ongch’on River, deep in North Korea. In the previous months, U.S. forces had landed at Inchon and, with other coalition troops, recaptured Seoul. There had been some contact with the Chinese army in November, but the assessment was that the Chinese intended to demonstrate force and then withdraw across their border. MacArthur didn’t expect the fierce resistance his forces would encounter, nor was there any hint of it on the first day of the offensive. The Eighth Army troops had put together a Thanksgiving feast on November 23, and spirits were high.

Much of the battle lore of the Korean conflict comes from the bloody campaign that followed. It dragged into December and saw the fighting retreat of the Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps through North Korea, at the onset of the coldest winter in 100 years. U.S. troops were unprepared for the nights in which temperatures dropped to -30 degrees F. The carnage was punctuated by the slaughter of coalition troops in the “Gauntlet”: the valley through which ran the road to Sunchon. The Eighth Army lost more than 11,000 soldiers in the offensive, but an exact count could never be established. Records had been lost, and whole units destroyed, in the retreat.

On Thanksgiving Day 60 years later, I am thankful that America and South Korea came back from that retreat to fight again. There is a poignant oddity in a 57-year armistice; there are many things to say about failed policies, shaky political nerves, and wrong priorities. But as Kim Jong-il fires an artillery barrage at the South and issues hysterical threats, I am thankful that South Korea today is free, well-armed, and intensively drilled. I am thankful that we have 28,000 troops in South Korea, and plenty of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps forces in Japan. These factors alone are Kim’s biggest deterrent. He knows they will perform well even if there is ambiguity in the policy governing their operations.

It’s Thanksgiving in Korea again, and our forces there are on alert. They are a dedicated volunteer force; they believe in their mission and purpose. They will keep faith with those who fought before them — and with all those who have missed many a Thanksgiving standing watch over American security in the years since the “Home for Christmas” campaign of 1950.

Most veterans have spent a Thanksgiving on duty. Many have spent Thanksgiving overseas. Some — a growing number — have spent it on alert or in combat. Veterans the world over know what the troops in South Korea said to each other on Tuesday, when North Korea started shooting: “Well, there goes Thanksgiving.”

The timing is uncanny. On November 24, 1950, a month after the discovery of Chinese troops in the war, General Douglas MacArthur launched what became known as the “Home by Christmas” offensive with the U.S. Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps along the Ch’ongch’on River, deep in North Korea. In the previous months, U.S. forces had landed at Inchon and, with other coalition troops, recaptured Seoul. There had been some contact with the Chinese army in November, but the assessment was that the Chinese intended to demonstrate force and then withdraw across their border. MacArthur didn’t expect the fierce resistance his forces would encounter, nor was there any hint of it on the first day of the offensive. The Eighth Army troops had put together a Thanksgiving feast on November 23, and spirits were high.

Much of the battle lore of the Korean conflict comes from the bloody campaign that followed. It dragged into December and saw the fighting retreat of the Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps through North Korea, at the onset of the coldest winter in 100 years. U.S. troops were unprepared for the nights in which temperatures dropped to -30 degrees F. The carnage was punctuated by the slaughter of coalition troops in the “Gauntlet”: the valley through which ran the road to Sunchon. The Eighth Army lost more than 11,000 soldiers in the offensive, but an exact count could never be established. Records had been lost, and whole units destroyed, in the retreat.

On Thanksgiving Day 60 years later, I am thankful that America and South Korea came back from that retreat to fight again. There is a poignant oddity in a 57-year armistice; there are many things to say about failed policies, shaky political nerves, and wrong priorities. But as Kim Jong-il fires an artillery barrage at the South and issues hysterical threats, I am thankful that South Korea today is free, well-armed, and intensively drilled. I am thankful that we have 28,000 troops in South Korea, and plenty of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps forces in Japan. These factors alone are Kim’s biggest deterrent. He knows they will perform well even if there is ambiguity in the policy governing their operations.

It’s Thanksgiving in Korea again, and our forces there are on alert. They are a dedicated volunteer force; they believe in their mission and purpose. They will keep faith with those who fought before them — and with all those who have missed many a Thanksgiving standing watch over American security in the years since the “Home for Christmas” campaign of 1950.

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North Korea & Iran: Containment vs. Regime Change

North Korea doesn’t have a whole lot going for it beyond a large army and a nuclear arsenal. So it should be no surprise that the regime resorts to saber-rattling to remind the world that it needs to be propitiated. Earlier this year, in March, a North Korean submarine torpedoed a South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. Today the North shelled a South Korean island, killing two more soldiers. This comes only days after a Stanford professor reported finding a vast new uranium-enrichment plant in North Korea, suggesting that the North is gearing up to produce a lot more atomic weapons.

North Korea watchers think that this provocative behavior is meant to ease the leadership transition to a third-generation of Marxist dictators. Kim Jong-il, the current ruler, has just elevated his son Kim Jung-un to four-star rank — widely seen as a perquisite for taking over from his old man. But whatever the explanation, attacks on another country are clearly unacceptable. Problem is, it is devilishly difficult to respond to because North Korea is, after all, a nuclear power.

After the Cheonan’s sinking, the U.S. pushed for a UN resolution condemning the attack, but it was so watered down by the time it passed that it did not even mention North Korea’s culpability. It would be nice if this time the UN were to show some fortitude in upbraiding a nation other than Israel. But no matter what resolution the UN passes, its significance will be purely symbolic.

South Korea has already cut most economic times with the North, so there is not much more that can be done on that front either.

The ultimate solution is plain: regime change. But how to achieve it is another matter. China is North Korea’s major remaining lifeline, but unfortunately it is hard to see how to persuade the Chinese to cut off their client state. They may not like Pyongyang’s powerplays, but they are even less wild about the notion of a unified Korea allied with the United States.

So we are where we have essentially been since the end of the Korean War: practicing containment and hoping for the day when North Korea will finally implode. For those who advocate containment as the solution to the Iranian nuclear threat, it is worth noting how destabilizing a nuclear-armed rogue state can be and how hard it is to contain. Even now, North Korea could be planning to export nuclear know-how or uranium to Iran. If so, what are we going to do about it? My guess: not much. That is an argument for stopping Iran by any means necessary before it crosses the nuclear threshold and becomes as dangerous as North Korea.

North Korea doesn’t have a whole lot going for it beyond a large army and a nuclear arsenal. So it should be no surprise that the regime resorts to saber-rattling to remind the world that it needs to be propitiated. Earlier this year, in March, a North Korean submarine torpedoed a South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. Today the North shelled a South Korean island, killing two more soldiers. This comes only days after a Stanford professor reported finding a vast new uranium-enrichment plant in North Korea, suggesting that the North is gearing up to produce a lot more atomic weapons.

North Korea watchers think that this provocative behavior is meant to ease the leadership transition to a third-generation of Marxist dictators. Kim Jong-il, the current ruler, has just elevated his son Kim Jung-un to four-star rank — widely seen as a perquisite for taking over from his old man. But whatever the explanation, attacks on another country are clearly unacceptable. Problem is, it is devilishly difficult to respond to because North Korea is, after all, a nuclear power.

After the Cheonan’s sinking, the U.S. pushed for a UN resolution condemning the attack, but it was so watered down by the time it passed that it did not even mention North Korea’s culpability. It would be nice if this time the UN were to show some fortitude in upbraiding a nation other than Israel. But no matter what resolution the UN passes, its significance will be purely symbolic.

South Korea has already cut most economic times with the North, so there is not much more that can be done on that front either.

The ultimate solution is plain: regime change. But how to achieve it is another matter. China is North Korea’s major remaining lifeline, but unfortunately it is hard to see how to persuade the Chinese to cut off their client state. They may not like Pyongyang’s powerplays, but they are even less wild about the notion of a unified Korea allied with the United States.

So we are where we have essentially been since the end of the Korean War: practicing containment and hoping for the day when North Korea will finally implode. For those who advocate containment as the solution to the Iranian nuclear threat, it is worth noting how destabilizing a nuclear-armed rogue state can be and how hard it is to contain. Even now, North Korea could be planning to export nuclear know-how or uranium to Iran. If so, what are we going to do about it? My guess: not much. That is an argument for stopping Iran by any means necessary before it crosses the nuclear threshold and becomes as dangerous as North Korea.

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Reassessing the Bush Presidency

Earlier this week, I was in Dallas to participate in events surrounding the groundbreaking of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which will include his library and policy institute.

I found the people there to be, almost to a person, in very good spirits, the mood upbeat, relaxed, and celebratory. Part of the reason for this has to do with being reunited with colleagues with whom you stood shoulder-to-shoulder during dramatic and even historic times. Sharing moments of great achievement and hardship can forge deep and lasting bonds of affection.

But there was something else at play — the sense that for America’s 43rd president, certain qualities and achievements are coming into sharper focus.

One area concerns George W. Bush’s core decency and integrity. He was endowed with the gifts of grace and class that have eluded others who have served as president, including Bush’s successor. President Bush is incapable of self-pity and self-conceit. And he has a deep, heartfelt, and unconflicted love for America. He clearly reveres the nation he served. That cannot be said for everyone who has held the office of the presidency.

Beyond that, though, is the realization that the public’s verdict of the Bush presidency is changing. A recalibration is under way.

After several intense, eventful years in office — years in which Bush stood atop the political world and was as popular as any man who has served as president — much of the public grew weary of his administration. The last years of his presidency were spent in a valley he had to fight through, day by day, especially on the matter of Iraq. By the end of his presidency, things that were viewed as strengths were seen as weaknesses. The strong, principled, decisive leader of the first term was viewed as a stubborn, inflexible leader during the second term. The twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn.

No matter; Bush persevered and refused to grow weary. He made unpopular decisions (from a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq to TARP) that turned out to be the right decisions. And one can now see that Bush’s achievements, particularly in the realm of foreign policy — his response to 9/11; keeping America safe from future attacks by putting the country on a war footing; the surge; deposing two sadistic regimes; championing freedom, human rights and the cause of dissidents; the global AIDS and malaria initiatives; and more — are growing in stature. That is something many of us were confident would happen, but it is happening at a quicker pace than we anticipated. As Vice President Cheney said in his splendid remarks, “History is beginning to come around.”

George W. Bush would not be the first president for whom this occurred. “I am not sure he was right about the atomic bomb, or even Korea,” the CBS correspondent Eric Sevareid said of Harry Truman. “But remembering him reminds people what a man in that office ought to be like. It’s character, just character. He stands like a rock in memory now.”

So he does. And so, one day, will George W. Bush.

Earlier this week, I was in Dallas to participate in events surrounding the groundbreaking of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which will include his library and policy institute.

I found the people there to be, almost to a person, in very good spirits, the mood upbeat, relaxed, and celebratory. Part of the reason for this has to do with being reunited with colleagues with whom you stood shoulder-to-shoulder during dramatic and even historic times. Sharing moments of great achievement and hardship can forge deep and lasting bonds of affection.

But there was something else at play — the sense that for America’s 43rd president, certain qualities and achievements are coming into sharper focus.

One area concerns George W. Bush’s core decency and integrity. He was endowed with the gifts of grace and class that have eluded others who have served as president, including Bush’s successor. President Bush is incapable of self-pity and self-conceit. And he has a deep, heartfelt, and unconflicted love for America. He clearly reveres the nation he served. That cannot be said for everyone who has held the office of the presidency.

Beyond that, though, is the realization that the public’s verdict of the Bush presidency is changing. A recalibration is under way.

After several intense, eventful years in office — years in which Bush stood atop the political world and was as popular as any man who has served as president — much of the public grew weary of his administration. The last years of his presidency were spent in a valley he had to fight through, day by day, especially on the matter of Iraq. By the end of his presidency, things that were viewed as strengths were seen as weaknesses. The strong, principled, decisive leader of the first term was viewed as a stubborn, inflexible leader during the second term. The twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn.

No matter; Bush persevered and refused to grow weary. He made unpopular decisions (from a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq to TARP) that turned out to be the right decisions. And one can now see that Bush’s achievements, particularly in the realm of foreign policy — his response to 9/11; keeping America safe from future attacks by putting the country on a war footing; the surge; deposing two sadistic regimes; championing freedom, human rights and the cause of dissidents; the global AIDS and malaria initiatives; and more — are growing in stature. That is something many of us were confident would happen, but it is happening at a quicker pace than we anticipated. As Vice President Cheney said in his splendid remarks, “History is beginning to come around.”

George W. Bush would not be the first president for whom this occurred. “I am not sure he was right about the atomic bomb, or even Korea,” the CBS correspondent Eric Sevareid said of Harry Truman. “But remembering him reminds people what a man in that office ought to be like. It’s character, just character. He stands like a rock in memory now.”

So he does. And so, one day, will George W. Bush.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t be president, then. “Obama miffed by questions on U.S.”

Don’t think Dems fail to grasp how toxic ObamaCare is. “A leading Senate Democrat vowed Friday to introduce legislation killing a part of the new healthcare reform law that imposes new tax-filing requirements on small businesses. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee and a leading architect of the reform law, said a provision requiring businesses to report more purchases to the IRS will impose undue paperwork burdens on companies amid an economic downturn when they can least afford it.”

Don’t get your hopes up. “All the president has to do is abandon some foolish ideological presuppositions, get down to work, and stop fishing for compliments. If he did so, he’d end up getting genuine compliments—from us and, we dare say, from the American people. And then his self-respect would have a firmer ground than vanity.”

Don’t underestimate your impact, Nancy. “‘We didn’t lose the election because of me,’ Ms. Pelosi told National Public Radio in an interview that aired Friday morning.” No wonder Republicans are “giddy.”

Don’t believe that Obama learned anything from his rebuffs in Copenhagen (on global warming and the Olympics). Charles Krauthammer nails it: “Whenever a president walks into a room with another head of state and he walks out empty-handed — he’s got a failure on his hands. And this was self-inflicted. With Obama it’s now becoming a ritual. It’s a combination of incompetence,  inexperience, and arrogance. He was handed a treaty by the Bush administration. It was done. But he wanted to improve on it. And instead, so far, he’s got nothing. … And this is a pattern with Obama. He thinks he can reinvent the world. With Iran, he decides he has a silver tongue, he’ll sweet-talk ’em into a deal. He gets humiliated over and over again. With the Russians he does a reset, he gives up missile defense, he gets nothing.”

Don’t you wish the Obami would stop giving excuses that make them sound even more incompetent? “The U.S. position on settlements has not officially changed, [National Security Council's Dan] Shapiro said. The United States still believes that the Israeli settlement moratorium should be extended, but that Palestinians should stay in peace talks even if it is not. He said that President Obama — who said Monday that Israeli settlement construction was ‘never helpful’ to peace talks Israel announced further construction plans in East Jerusalem — wasn’t trying to publicly criticize Netanyahu with his remarks. He simply answered a question put to him in a direct way, said Shapiro.” But not publicly criticize Bibi? They are frightfully inept — or disingenuous.

Don’t you miss smart diplomacy? “President Obama’s failure to conclude the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is a disaster. It reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America’s leadership in the global economy. The implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan. … The debacle in Seoul is a slap in the face of a critical U.S. ally in a critical region, and it will cast doubt on U.S. trade promises in other negotiations elsewhere. But if an American president loses his credibility, the damage spreads beyond the narrow confines of economic deals and Northeast Asia.”

Don’t be shocked. CNN’s guest roster skews left.

Don’t let your family pet do this at home. “A 150-pound mountain lion was no match for a squirrel-chasing terrier on a farm in eastern South Dakota. Jack the Jack Russell weighs only 17 pounds, and yet he managed to trap the cougar up a tree on Tuesday. Jack’s owner, Chad Strenge, told The Argus Leader that the dog ‘trees cats all the time,’ and that the plucky terrier probably ‘figured it was just a cat.’”

Don’t be president, then. “Obama miffed by questions on U.S.”

Don’t think Dems fail to grasp how toxic ObamaCare is. “A leading Senate Democrat vowed Friday to introduce legislation killing a part of the new healthcare reform law that imposes new tax-filing requirements on small businesses. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee and a leading architect of the reform law, said a provision requiring businesses to report more purchases to the IRS will impose undue paperwork burdens on companies amid an economic downturn when they can least afford it.”

Don’t get your hopes up. “All the president has to do is abandon some foolish ideological presuppositions, get down to work, and stop fishing for compliments. If he did so, he’d end up getting genuine compliments—from us and, we dare say, from the American people. And then his self-respect would have a firmer ground than vanity.”

Don’t underestimate your impact, Nancy. “‘We didn’t lose the election because of me,’ Ms. Pelosi told National Public Radio in an interview that aired Friday morning.” No wonder Republicans are “giddy.”

Don’t believe that Obama learned anything from his rebuffs in Copenhagen (on global warming and the Olympics). Charles Krauthammer nails it: “Whenever a president walks into a room with another head of state and he walks out empty-handed — he’s got a failure on his hands. And this was self-inflicted. With Obama it’s now becoming a ritual. It’s a combination of incompetence,  inexperience, and arrogance. He was handed a treaty by the Bush administration. It was done. But he wanted to improve on it. And instead, so far, he’s got nothing. … And this is a pattern with Obama. He thinks he can reinvent the world. With Iran, he decides he has a silver tongue, he’ll sweet-talk ’em into a deal. He gets humiliated over and over again. With the Russians he does a reset, he gives up missile defense, he gets nothing.”

Don’t you wish the Obami would stop giving excuses that make them sound even more incompetent? “The U.S. position on settlements has not officially changed, [National Security Council's Dan] Shapiro said. The United States still believes that the Israeli settlement moratorium should be extended, but that Palestinians should stay in peace talks even if it is not. He said that President Obama — who said Monday that Israeli settlement construction was ‘never helpful’ to peace talks Israel announced further construction plans in East Jerusalem — wasn’t trying to publicly criticize Netanyahu with his remarks. He simply answered a question put to him in a direct way, said Shapiro.” But not publicly criticize Bibi? They are frightfully inept — or disingenuous.

Don’t you miss smart diplomacy? “President Obama’s failure to conclude the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is a disaster. It reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America’s leadership in the global economy. The implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan. … The debacle in Seoul is a slap in the face of a critical U.S. ally in a critical region, and it will cast doubt on U.S. trade promises in other negotiations elsewhere. But if an American president loses his credibility, the damage spreads beyond the narrow confines of economic deals and Northeast Asia.”

Don’t be shocked. CNN’s guest roster skews left.

Don’t let your family pet do this at home. “A 150-pound mountain lion was no match for a squirrel-chasing terrier on a farm in eastern South Dakota. Jack the Jack Russell weighs only 17 pounds, and yet he managed to trap the cougar up a tree on Tuesday. Jack’s owner, Chad Strenge, told The Argus Leader that the dog ‘trees cats all the time,’ and that the plucky terrier probably ‘figured it was just a cat.’”

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Obama — a Weak Advocate for Free Trade

Obama’s international endeavors are going about as well as his party’s electoral efforts. The latest flop: ”The presidents of the U.S. and South Korea were unable to overcome disputes over cars, cattle and domestic politics, potentially killing the biggest bilateral trade deal the U.S. has taken up in more than a decade.” It is worth examining why the president couldn’t make a deal.

In essence, Obama has refused to stand up to domestic advocates of protectionism — a failure that stands in contrast to the actions of past presidents from both parties. And, no doubt, the South Koreans calculated that they might as well try to wait him out. It sure doesn’t seem that Obama was on the side of the angels — or of free trade. This tells you all you need to know:

Labor leaders and some powerful politicians from both parties praised Mr. Obama for not going ahead with a deal they characterized as bad for U.S. workers. “President Obama is exactly right in holding out for a deal that puts working people’s interests first,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

Translation: Obama caved to protectionist elements in the U.S.

As a result of this and Ben Bernanke’s printing press, we are increasingly isolated and becoming the object of our trading partners’ criticism:

The trade-talk failure came on top of criticism from other G-20 nations concerning the Federal Reserve’s move to pump billions into the U.S. economy, potentially weakening the dollar.

“This reinforces the opinion of many key global and business leaders that the U.S. isn’t really committed to global engagement and is instead pushing mercantilist, beggar-thy-neighbor policies,” said Matthew Slaughter, a former member of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.

As for the particulars, it seems as though Obama wanted to hang on to some protectionist provisions just a little longer. (“One stumbling block was Korea’s refusal to change a provision in the 2007 pact that provided an immediate end to a 2.5% tariff the U.S. levies on imports of Korean cars. … The U.S. wanted the tariff reduced gradually, while Korea eliminates safety and environmental rules that U.S. auto makers, led by Ford, said help keep Korea the world’s most closed car market.”)

Congress has traditionally been more protectionist than the White House, the result of intense lobbying by both U.S. businesses and Big Labor. A strong presidential hand has been required to rebuff protectionist sentiment and negotiate free-trade agreements that are essential to America’s prosperity. To his credit, Bill Clinton did just that. But Obama has neither the will nor the interest in following this approach. This spells trouble for the U.S.:

Meanwhile, the European Union and other nations have signed far more bilateral deals than the U.S. since 1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect, displeasing some U.S. industrial companies. “We as a country have essentially taken two years off” from pursuing trade agreements while the rest of the world goes full speed ahead, said Eaton Corp. Chief Executive Alexander Cutler on Thursday. “If you want to have a vibrant economy, you have to have access to the fastest-growing parts of the world.”

You would think a president who ran on the promise to “restore our standing” in the world and end the supposed cowboy unilateralism of his predecessor would understand this.

Obama’s international endeavors are going about as well as his party’s electoral efforts. The latest flop: ”The presidents of the U.S. and South Korea were unable to overcome disputes over cars, cattle and domestic politics, potentially killing the biggest bilateral trade deal the U.S. has taken up in more than a decade.” It is worth examining why the president couldn’t make a deal.

In essence, Obama has refused to stand up to domestic advocates of protectionism — a failure that stands in contrast to the actions of past presidents from both parties. And, no doubt, the South Koreans calculated that they might as well try to wait him out. It sure doesn’t seem that Obama was on the side of the angels — or of free trade. This tells you all you need to know:

Labor leaders and some powerful politicians from both parties praised Mr. Obama for not going ahead with a deal they characterized as bad for U.S. workers. “President Obama is exactly right in holding out for a deal that puts working people’s interests first,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

Translation: Obama caved to protectionist elements in the U.S.

As a result of this and Ben Bernanke’s printing press, we are increasingly isolated and becoming the object of our trading partners’ criticism:

The trade-talk failure came on top of criticism from other G-20 nations concerning the Federal Reserve’s move to pump billions into the U.S. economy, potentially weakening the dollar.

“This reinforces the opinion of many key global and business leaders that the U.S. isn’t really committed to global engagement and is instead pushing mercantilist, beggar-thy-neighbor policies,” said Matthew Slaughter, a former member of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.

As for the particulars, it seems as though Obama wanted to hang on to some protectionist provisions just a little longer. (“One stumbling block was Korea’s refusal to change a provision in the 2007 pact that provided an immediate end to a 2.5% tariff the U.S. levies on imports of Korean cars. … The U.S. wanted the tariff reduced gradually, while Korea eliminates safety and environmental rules that U.S. auto makers, led by Ford, said help keep Korea the world’s most closed car market.”)

Congress has traditionally been more protectionist than the White House, the result of intense lobbying by both U.S. businesses and Big Labor. A strong presidential hand has been required to rebuff protectionist sentiment and negotiate free-trade agreements that are essential to America’s prosperity. To his credit, Bill Clinton did just that. But Obama has neither the will nor the interest in following this approach. This spells trouble for the U.S.:

Meanwhile, the European Union and other nations have signed far more bilateral deals than the U.S. since 1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect, displeasing some U.S. industrial companies. “We as a country have essentially taken two years off” from pursuing trade agreements while the rest of the world goes full speed ahead, said Eaton Corp. Chief Executive Alexander Cutler on Thursday. “If you want to have a vibrant economy, you have to have access to the fastest-growing parts of the world.”

You would think a president who ran on the promise to “restore our standing” in the world and end the supposed cowboy unilateralism of his predecessor would understand this.

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Is ABC Becoming MSNBC?

This Week is a sort of media car wreck. It is invariably a display of terrible journalism — so much so that you can’t help but stop and gawk. On Sunday, Christiane Amanpour badgered Senator-elect Rand Paul on what cuts he would favor to address the debt. He repeatedly answered that he’d favor across-the-board cuts, including defense and entitlements. You might not agree, but it was his answer. The following ensued:

AMANPOUR: Give me one specific cut, Senator-elect.

PAUL: All across the board.

AMANPOUR: One significant one. No, but you can’t just keep saying all across the board.

PAUL: Well, no, I can, because I’m going to look at every program, every program. But I would freeze federal hiring. I would maybe reduce federal employees by 10 percent. I’d probably reduce their wages by 10 percent. The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year. Let’s get them more in line, and let’s find savings. Let’s hire no new federal workers.

AMANPOUR: Pay for soldiers? Would you cut that? Read More

This Week is a sort of media car wreck. It is invariably a display of terrible journalism — so much so that you can’t help but stop and gawk. On Sunday, Christiane Amanpour badgered Senator-elect Rand Paul on what cuts he would favor to address the debt. He repeatedly answered that he’d favor across-the-board cuts, including defense and entitlements. You might not agree, but it was his answer. The following ensued:

AMANPOUR: Give me one specific cut, Senator-elect.

PAUL: All across the board.

AMANPOUR: One significant one. No, but you can’t just keep saying all across the board.

PAUL: Well, no, I can, because I’m going to look at every program, every program. But I would freeze federal hiring. I would maybe reduce federal employees by 10 percent. I’d probably reduce their wages by 10 percent. The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year. Let’s get them more in line, and let’s find savings. Let’s hire no new federal workers.

AMANPOUR: Pay for soldiers? Would you cut that?

PAUL: Right. I think that soldiers have to be paid. Now, can we say that gradually we don’t need as large of an Army if we’re not in two wars? Yes, I think you can say that. You can save money there. You can bring some troops home or have Europe pay more for their defense and Japan pay more and Korea pay more for their defense or bring those troops home and have savings there. . .

AMANPOUR: So, again, to talk about the debt and to talk about taxes, there seems to be, again, just so much sort of generalities, for want of a better word.

PAUL: Right.

AMANPOUR: And, for instance, there are many people…

PAUL: Well, the thing is that you can call it a generality, but what if — what if I were president and I said to you, “Tomorrow, we’re going to have a 5 percent cut across the board in everything”? That’s not a generality, but there are thousands of programs. If you say, “Well, what are all the specifics?” There are books written on all the specifics.

Is she so wedded to her script that she’s not listening to the answers? Or is she simply there to argue with her conservative guests while lobbing softballs at those with whom she is in ideological agreement? She ends with an inappropriate snipe at her guest: “Well, we hope to have you back, and we’ll get more details from you next time.” I suspect he won’t be back anytime soon.

There are a couple of problems with her approach. For starters, it’s not very enlightening. Paul repeatedly answered Amanpour’s question, but we didn’t learn much beyond that. (Do other Republicans share his position? How do we cut defense while fighting a war?) She was so busy arguing with his answer that she never followed up on the answer he gave.

Second, she is so obviously playing the role of partisan advocate that her interviews take on a lopsided, cheerleading quality for her invariably liberal positions. In the interview with David Stockman and Mike Pence that followed, all her probing “You can’t really mean that?” questions were directed at Pence, while she all but applauded Stockman for his insistence that we needed to raise taxes.

The faux interview format in which hosts use guests not to elicit information but to push their own agenda works for Keith Olbermann on MSNBC and Glenn Beck on Fox, but is that the approach ABC News, which hasn’t gone the partisan route, now wants to adopt? So far, Amanpour is a ratings loser and a journalistic embarrassment. The ABC execs will have to decide whether it’s worth risking their brand for no apparent financial gain.

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A Natural Experiment in Political Economy

One of the reasons that political science is such an inexact discipline is the difficulty of experimentation. If you want to test, say, a drug, you take a bunch of genetically identical rats, give half of them the drug and half a placebo, and see what differences turn up between the two groups. But testing a political theory (or an economic one — and political science was known in the 19th century as political economy) is harder to arrange. Rats don’t vote and people do, at least in democracies.

So political scientists, like astronomers, have to wait for natural experiments to come along. To test, for example, capitalism against Communism, one might want to take an economically and ethnically homogeneous country — Sweden would do nicely — and divide it in half. Place one half under one system and the other under the other and wait 50 years to see which half prospers more. But the Swedes are unlikely to agree to be the rats in this experiment. Fortunately, the vagaries of Great Power politics in the 20th century produced two situations surprisingly like the ideal experiment: Germany and Korea.

The evidence from these natural experiments is overwhelming: capitalism produces wealth and liberty; Communism produces poverty, war, and famine. The wonder is that there are still so many Marxists around.

Perhaps the reason is that ideology makes you stupid.

It is often pointed out that the states make great laboratories for political-science experiments. And an experiment has been underway for quite a while testing the liberal model — high taxes, extensive regulation, many government-provided social services, union-friendly laws — against the conservative model — low taxes, limited regulation and social services, right-to-work laws. The results are increasingly in. As Rich Lowry reports in National Review Online, the differences between California and Texas are striking. Between August 2009 and August 2010, the nation created a net of 214,000 jobs. Texas created more than half of them, 119,000. California lost 112,000 jobs in that period. Lowry writes:

Texas is a model of governmental restraint. In 2008, state and local expenditures were 25.5 percent of GDP in California, 22.8 in the U.S., and 17.3 in Texas. Back in 1987, levels of spending were roughly similar in these places. The recessions of 1991 and 2001 spiked spending everywhere, but each time Texas fought to bring it down to pre-recession levels. “Because of this policy decision,” the Texas Public Policy Foundation report notes, “Texas’ 2008 spending burden remained slightly below its 1987 levels — a major accomplishment.”

The result has been dramatic: “A new Texas Public Policy Foundation report notes that Texas experienced a decline of 2.3 percent from its peak employment [in the current recession], while the nation declined 5.7 percent and California 8.7 percent.” And people have been voting with their feet: A thousand people a day are moving to Texas. It will likely gain four House seats next year, while California for the first time since it became a state in 1850 will gain none.

So, again, the evidence would seem to be overwhelming: high tax-and-spend policies and regulation produces stagnation and unemployment, low tax-and-spend policies and regulatory restraint produce the opposite. So why are there still so many liberals?

Same reason.

One of the reasons that political science is such an inexact discipline is the difficulty of experimentation. If you want to test, say, a drug, you take a bunch of genetically identical rats, give half of them the drug and half a placebo, and see what differences turn up between the two groups. But testing a political theory (or an economic one — and political science was known in the 19th century as political economy) is harder to arrange. Rats don’t vote and people do, at least in democracies.

So political scientists, like astronomers, have to wait for natural experiments to come along. To test, for example, capitalism against Communism, one might want to take an economically and ethnically homogeneous country — Sweden would do nicely — and divide it in half. Place one half under one system and the other under the other and wait 50 years to see which half prospers more. But the Swedes are unlikely to agree to be the rats in this experiment. Fortunately, the vagaries of Great Power politics in the 20th century produced two situations surprisingly like the ideal experiment: Germany and Korea.

The evidence from these natural experiments is overwhelming: capitalism produces wealth and liberty; Communism produces poverty, war, and famine. The wonder is that there are still so many Marxists around.

Perhaps the reason is that ideology makes you stupid.

It is often pointed out that the states make great laboratories for political-science experiments. And an experiment has been underway for quite a while testing the liberal model — high taxes, extensive regulation, many government-provided social services, union-friendly laws — against the conservative model — low taxes, limited regulation and social services, right-to-work laws. The results are increasingly in. As Rich Lowry reports in National Review Online, the differences between California and Texas are striking. Between August 2009 and August 2010, the nation created a net of 214,000 jobs. Texas created more than half of them, 119,000. California lost 112,000 jobs in that period. Lowry writes:

Texas is a model of governmental restraint. In 2008, state and local expenditures were 25.5 percent of GDP in California, 22.8 in the U.S., and 17.3 in Texas. Back in 1987, levels of spending were roughly similar in these places. The recessions of 1991 and 2001 spiked spending everywhere, but each time Texas fought to bring it down to pre-recession levels. “Because of this policy decision,” the Texas Public Policy Foundation report notes, “Texas’ 2008 spending burden remained slightly below its 1987 levels — a major accomplishment.”

The result has been dramatic: “A new Texas Public Policy Foundation report notes that Texas experienced a decline of 2.3 percent from its peak employment [in the current recession], while the nation declined 5.7 percent and California 8.7 percent.” And people have been voting with their feet: A thousand people a day are moving to Texas. It will likely gain four House seats next year, while California for the first time since it became a state in 1850 will gain none.

So, again, the evidence would seem to be overwhelming: high tax-and-spend policies and regulation produces stagnation and unemployment, low tax-and-spend policies and regulatory restraint produce the opposite. So why are there still so many liberals?

Same reason.

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Whining About Whining

As the President and Vice President whine about the whining of their shrinking “base,” as being insufficiently appreciative of the superhuman efforts to confront our problems, they might remember the old saying that “in times like these, we should remember there have always been times like these.” Victor Davis Hanson writes that the problems Obama has faced have not, in fact, been worse than those that other presidents confronted as they entered the presidency:

A recession and 9/11 were not easy in 2001. And 18% interest, 18% inflation, 7% unemployment, and gas lines by 1981 greeted Reagan. Truman took over with a war … a wrecked Asia and Europe, a groundswell of communism, a climate of panic at home, and a soon to be nuclear Soviet Union … capped off soon by a war in Korea.

The President and Vice President might also reflect on the answer of the prior president, in his last press conference on January 12, 2009, when asked as to when Obama would feel the full impact of the presidency. Bush’s answer was “the minute he walks in the Oval Office,” but that:

… the phrase “burdens of the office” is overstated. You know, it’s kind of like, why me? Oh, the burdens, you know. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It’s just — it’s pathetic, isn’t it, self-pity. And I don’t believe that President-Elect Obama will be full of self-pity. He will find — you know, your — the people that don’t like you, the critics, they’re pretty predictable. Sometimes the biggest disappointments will come from your so-called friends. And there will be disappointments, I promise you. He’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, the job is so exciting and so profound …

In Wisconsin yesterday, Obama repeated his constant refrain that he had arrived in Washington to “confront the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” and blamed his current problems on an “opposition party … determined from the start to let us deal with the mess that they had done so much to create.”

And they figured, if we just sit on the sidelines and just say no and just throw bombs and let Obama and the Democrats deal with everything, they figured they might be able to prosper at the polls.

When politicians start whining about their fate and begin referring to themselves in the third person, it is a sign the campaign is not going well. Just ask Bob Dole, as Bob Dole might say.

As the President and Vice President whine about the whining of their shrinking “base,” as being insufficiently appreciative of the superhuman efforts to confront our problems, they might remember the old saying that “in times like these, we should remember there have always been times like these.” Victor Davis Hanson writes that the problems Obama has faced have not, in fact, been worse than those that other presidents confronted as they entered the presidency:

A recession and 9/11 were not easy in 2001. And 18% interest, 18% inflation, 7% unemployment, and gas lines by 1981 greeted Reagan. Truman took over with a war … a wrecked Asia and Europe, a groundswell of communism, a climate of panic at home, and a soon to be nuclear Soviet Union … capped off soon by a war in Korea.

The President and Vice President might also reflect on the answer of the prior president, in his last press conference on January 12, 2009, when asked as to when Obama would feel the full impact of the presidency. Bush’s answer was “the minute he walks in the Oval Office,” but that:

… the phrase “burdens of the office” is overstated. You know, it’s kind of like, why me? Oh, the burdens, you know. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It’s just — it’s pathetic, isn’t it, self-pity. And I don’t believe that President-Elect Obama will be full of self-pity. He will find — you know, your — the people that don’t like you, the critics, they’re pretty predictable. Sometimes the biggest disappointments will come from your so-called friends. And there will be disappointments, I promise you. He’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, the job is so exciting and so profound …

In Wisconsin yesterday, Obama repeated his constant refrain that he had arrived in Washington to “confront the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” and blamed his current problems on an “opposition party … determined from the start to let us deal with the mess that they had done so much to create.”

And they figured, if we just sit on the sidelines and just say no and just throw bombs and let Obama and the Democrats deal with everything, they figured they might be able to prosper at the polls.

When politicians start whining about their fate and begin referring to themselves in the third person, it is a sign the campaign is not going well. Just ask Bob Dole, as Bob Dole might say.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It’s about loyalty and persistence: “Fifty-seven years ago, an armistice ended the fighting in Korea — another unpopular conflict, far bloodier than the Iraq war, although shorter. … Yet when the war was over, the United States did not abandon South Korea. We had done so in 1949, when our post-World War II occupation of Korea ended, opening the door to North Korea’s invasion the following year. This time, instead, we kept a substantial military force in South Korea. The United States stuck with South Korea even though the country was then ruled by a dictator and the prospects for its war-devastated economy looked dim.”

It’s about the worst-run and worst-prepared campaign this season. The latest on the hapless Pennsylvania Democrat: “Republicans criticized U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak yesterday for requesting an earmark they say would have sent $350,000 to a company, in violation of House rules.”

It’s about the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee throwing millions down a rat hole in a fruitless attempt to save a weak candidate: “Republican candidate Pat Toomey has a 10-point lead over his Democratic rival in the race for a Senate seat in the key swing state of Pennsylvania where worries about the economy dominate, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday. In the latest sign that President Barack Obama’s Democrats could struggle at the November 2 midterm vote, 47 percent of likely voters said they would back Toomey and 37 percent said they favored Democrat Joe Sestak.”

It’s about the enthusiasm: “Americans with the strongest opinions about the country’s most divisive issues are largely unhappy with how President Barack Obama is handling them, an ominous sign for Democrats hoping to retain control of Congress in the fall elections. In nine of 15 issues examined in an Associated Press-GfK Poll this month, more Americans who expressed intense interest in a problem voiced strong opposition to Obama’s work on it, including the economy, unemployment, federal deficits and terrorism.”

It’s about time: “As Obama Struggles, Bush’s Legacy Recovers.”

It’s about the lunacy of Iranian engagement: “An Iranian newspaper with close ties to the country’s supreme leader has responded to a campaign by French celebrities to save the life of an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning by calling its most prominent member, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a ‘prostitute’ who ‘deserves to die.’” By the way, where are American celebrities?

It’s about as far from the “summer of recovery” as you can get: “U.S. auto sales in August probably were the slowest for the month in 28 years as model-year closeout deals failed to entice consumers concerned the economy is worsening and they may lose their jobs.”

It’s about loyalty and persistence: “Fifty-seven years ago, an armistice ended the fighting in Korea — another unpopular conflict, far bloodier than the Iraq war, although shorter. … Yet when the war was over, the United States did not abandon South Korea. We had done so in 1949, when our post-World War II occupation of Korea ended, opening the door to North Korea’s invasion the following year. This time, instead, we kept a substantial military force in South Korea. The United States stuck with South Korea even though the country was then ruled by a dictator and the prospects for its war-devastated economy looked dim.”

It’s about the worst-run and worst-prepared campaign this season. The latest on the hapless Pennsylvania Democrat: “Republicans criticized U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak yesterday for requesting an earmark they say would have sent $350,000 to a company, in violation of House rules.”

It’s about the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee throwing millions down a rat hole in a fruitless attempt to save a weak candidate: “Republican candidate Pat Toomey has a 10-point lead over his Democratic rival in the race for a Senate seat in the key swing state of Pennsylvania where worries about the economy dominate, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday. In the latest sign that President Barack Obama’s Democrats could struggle at the November 2 midterm vote, 47 percent of likely voters said they would back Toomey and 37 percent said they favored Democrat Joe Sestak.”

It’s about the enthusiasm: “Americans with the strongest opinions about the country’s most divisive issues are largely unhappy with how President Barack Obama is handling them, an ominous sign for Democrats hoping to retain control of Congress in the fall elections. In nine of 15 issues examined in an Associated Press-GfK Poll this month, more Americans who expressed intense interest in a problem voiced strong opposition to Obama’s work on it, including the economy, unemployment, federal deficits and terrorism.”

It’s about time: “As Obama Struggles, Bush’s Legacy Recovers.”

It’s about the lunacy of Iranian engagement: “An Iranian newspaper with close ties to the country’s supreme leader has responded to a campaign by French celebrities to save the life of an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning by calling its most prominent member, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a ‘prostitute’ who ‘deserves to die.’” By the way, where are American celebrities?

It’s about as far from the “summer of recovery” as you can get: “U.S. auto sales in August probably were the slowest for the month in 28 years as model-year closeout deals failed to entice consumers concerned the economy is worsening and they may lose their jobs.”

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Arrogance Doesn’t Become Him

Fox’s Gretchen Carlson was too aggressive in her interview with Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, but it did allow Gibbs to display his unparalleled snideness and condescension. For a man who is part of an administration that is unspooling, you would think Gibbs would show a bit more humility. But you would be wrong.

As for substance: Mr. Gibbs is once again out of his depth. What he can’t seem to understand – or perhaps what he has chosen to willfully ignore – is that the surge was critical in both the success of the Anbar Awakening and the political progress that we have seen in Iraq. The surge allowed everything else that is good to take place. Without it, the Iraq war would have been lost and Iraq itself would be consumed in a bloody civil war and possibly genocide. And if Gibbs’s boss had gotten his way in 2007, that is exactly where things would now stand.

As for who has handled the diplomatic/political situation better between the Bush and Obama administration: here again, the Bush record is superior. Compare Bush’s ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, who was a spectacular diplomat, with Obama’s ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill, who was not (Hill served in the Bush administration; his achievement as Ambassador to Korea and head of the U.S. delegation to the six-party talks could hardly be termed a success either).

Robert Gibbs often doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But to combine ignorance with such preening arrogance is uncommon even for Washington.

Fox’s Gretchen Carlson was too aggressive in her interview with Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, but it did allow Gibbs to display his unparalleled snideness and condescension. For a man who is part of an administration that is unspooling, you would think Gibbs would show a bit more humility. But you would be wrong.

As for substance: Mr. Gibbs is once again out of his depth. What he can’t seem to understand – or perhaps what he has chosen to willfully ignore – is that the surge was critical in both the success of the Anbar Awakening and the political progress that we have seen in Iraq. The surge allowed everything else that is good to take place. Without it, the Iraq war would have been lost and Iraq itself would be consumed in a bloody civil war and possibly genocide. And if Gibbs’s boss had gotten his way in 2007, that is exactly where things would now stand.

As for who has handled the diplomatic/political situation better between the Bush and Obama administration: here again, the Bush record is superior. Compare Bush’s ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, who was a spectacular diplomat, with Obama’s ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill, who was not (Hill served in the Bush administration; his achievement as Ambassador to Korea and head of the U.S. delegation to the six-party talks could hardly be termed a success either).

Robert Gibbs often doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But to combine ignorance with such preening arrogance is uncommon even for Washington.

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A Times Bouquet for Those Lovable North Koreans

This summer marks the 60th anniversary of one of America’s least-known conflicts: the Korean War. The remarkable thing about Korea is that even at the height of the Cold War, when leftist apologists for the Soviet Union and other Communist aggressors were at their high watermark, in the West there were few if any among them who spent much time criticizing America’s decision to save South Korea after it was invaded in June of 1950. Even in those decades when defenders of the Soviets, Castro, and even Mao were never in short supply, it was hard to find anyone to say a good word about the lunatic regime in Pyongyang, a government so oppressive that it gave dedicated Stalinists the willies. There was little room for debate about how the Korean conflict started or what the consequences for the Korean people would have been had the Communists been allowed to complete their takeover of the entire country. But with the passage of time, memory of these basic facts fade, and for the squishy left there is no topic, no matter how cut and dried, that is not ripe for a revisionist retelling as long as America can be portrayed as the villain. That’s the only way to explain a new book about Korea by Bruce Cumings, the chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, and the rapturous review it received in today’s New York Times. Turning history and logic on its head, Cumings believes that not only was American intervention in Korea wrong but the North Koreans were the good guys.

To be fair, Cumings clearly knows a lot more about modern Korean history than most of those Americans who have written about the war. He has a point when he notes that a record of collaboration with the brutal Japanese occupation of the country compromised the South Korean leadership during the first half of the 20th century. But however nasty some of the South Korean leaders were, it is impossible to compare them unfavorably with their Stalinist opponents in the North. Cumings also spends much of his book attempting to paint the American-led United Nations force that defended the South against Communist aggression as genocidal murderers. The strategic bombing of the North exacted a high toll of casualties, but the same could be said of Allied bombings of Germany and Japan during World War Two. But Cumings’s argument isn’t so much with American tactics but rather with its goal of defeating the Communists.

One of the interesting sidelights of the book, touched on with approval in Dwight Garner’s fawning review, is the way the Chicago historian torches the late David Halberstam’s book about Korea. Halberstam, a liberal icon, played a key role in demolishing support for America’s war in Vietnam, but he rightly understood that there could be no ambivalence about his country’s role in saving South Korea. But for a blinkered leftist like Cumings, there are no enemies, no matter how despicable, on the left and no good American wars.

It is Cumings who can’t face the basic truth about Korea. Without American military intervention, the whole of the peninsula would today be under the rule of a maniacal Communist dictatorship that prides itself on starving and oppressing its own people and threatening its neighbors. After a rocky start to life in the midst of the destruction wrought by the North Korean invasion, South Korea has become a democracy with a vibrant economy. The reality of the contrasting fates of the two halves of the Korean peninsula is a testament to the courage of President Truman and the Americans and other UN troops that fought there. It is a sad commentary on the state of contemporary liberal intellectual life — demonstrated by Cumings’s book and the Times review — that the impulse to trash America’s past is so strong that it takes precedence over a respect for history’s verdict about Communist aggression in Korea.

This summer marks the 60th anniversary of one of America’s least-known conflicts: the Korean War. The remarkable thing about Korea is that even at the height of the Cold War, when leftist apologists for the Soviet Union and other Communist aggressors were at their high watermark, in the West there were few if any among them who spent much time criticizing America’s decision to save South Korea after it was invaded in June of 1950. Even in those decades when defenders of the Soviets, Castro, and even Mao were never in short supply, it was hard to find anyone to say a good word about the lunatic regime in Pyongyang, a government so oppressive that it gave dedicated Stalinists the willies. There was little room for debate about how the Korean conflict started or what the consequences for the Korean people would have been had the Communists been allowed to complete their takeover of the entire country. But with the passage of time, memory of these basic facts fade, and for the squishy left there is no topic, no matter how cut and dried, that is not ripe for a revisionist retelling as long as America can be portrayed as the villain. That’s the only way to explain a new book about Korea by Bruce Cumings, the chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, and the rapturous review it received in today’s New York Times. Turning history and logic on its head, Cumings believes that not only was American intervention in Korea wrong but the North Koreans were the good guys.

To be fair, Cumings clearly knows a lot more about modern Korean history than most of those Americans who have written about the war. He has a point when he notes that a record of collaboration with the brutal Japanese occupation of the country compromised the South Korean leadership during the first half of the 20th century. But however nasty some of the South Korean leaders were, it is impossible to compare them unfavorably with their Stalinist opponents in the North. Cumings also spends much of his book attempting to paint the American-led United Nations force that defended the South against Communist aggression as genocidal murderers. The strategic bombing of the North exacted a high toll of casualties, but the same could be said of Allied bombings of Germany and Japan during World War Two. But Cumings’s argument isn’t so much with American tactics but rather with its goal of defeating the Communists.

One of the interesting sidelights of the book, touched on with approval in Dwight Garner’s fawning review, is the way the Chicago historian torches the late David Halberstam’s book about Korea. Halberstam, a liberal icon, played a key role in demolishing support for America’s war in Vietnam, but he rightly understood that there could be no ambivalence about his country’s role in saving South Korea. But for a blinkered leftist like Cumings, there are no enemies, no matter how despicable, on the left and no good American wars.

It is Cumings who can’t face the basic truth about Korea. Without American military intervention, the whole of the peninsula would today be under the rule of a maniacal Communist dictatorship that prides itself on starving and oppressing its own people and threatening its neighbors. After a rocky start to life in the midst of the destruction wrought by the North Korean invasion, South Korea has become a democracy with a vibrant economy. The reality of the contrasting fates of the two halves of the Korean peninsula is a testament to the courage of President Truman and the Americans and other UN troops that fought there. It is a sad commentary on the state of contemporary liberal intellectual life — demonstrated by Cumings’s book and the Times review — that the impulse to trash America’s past is so strong that it takes precedence over a respect for history’s verdict about Communist aggression in Korea.

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Brilliant No More

How many times has a pundit or Democrat gushed over Obama’s “brilliant” mind? As conservatives pointed out to the swooners on the left, there was very little evidence of it — no inventive Third Wave philosophy of governance in his pre-presidential career, no significant legislative or intellectual achievement — other than writing a self-promoting and somewhat fictional account of himself — and actually very poor people skills (Maureen Dowd has only now figured out that he is thin-skinned and emotionally robotic). But it was heresy to suggest that he was a conventional liberal thinker, less interesting than Bill Clinton and less rigorous than Ronald Reagan.

Now that his presidency is in dire straits, perhaps the mainstream media are more receptive to that perspective. As Noemie Emery writes, to the extent that he was/is “brilliant,” it’s in the mundane task of running meetings:

He does seem a genius at chairing a forum, as at the “nuclear summit” in April, where the Washington Post claimed that he shone as a teacher, “calling on leaders to speak, embellish, oppose, and offer alternatives,” coaxing consensus and forging agreements among 45 countries at hand. The problem was that the value of these things was limited, as the attending countries weren’t menacing anyone, while Iran and Korea, who were not in attendance, went on happily building their bombs. He isn’t a sphinx, he’s a seminar leader who’s out of his element. And more and more out of his depth.

And honestly, he’s not that great at running meetings. His Afghanistan-war seminars dragged on. His health-care summit bombed when Rep. Paul Ryan and others stymied him with facts and figures.

Now that Obama’s policies and political standing are faltering, the media mavens are puzzled, as Emery notes. How can it be that he’s failing when he’s so smart? It never dawns on them that they confused slickness with smarts and urbanity with insight.

Whether it is Obama or Elena Kagan, it’s rather easy to impress the chattering class — an Ivy League degree, poise before the cameras, verbal acuity, and disdain for conservative ideas usually do it. It matters not what these figures have produced (legal opinions, legislation, etc.) but with whom they circulate and where they’ve studied. To a great degree, social elitism has replaced meritocracy as the left’s yardstick.

Unfortunately for Obama, he will be judged by what he does, not how he looks doing it. And frankly, his polish and charisma (conservatives never saw the latter, but others did) are crumbling under the pressure to finally produce something (jobs, a responsible budget, a plan for disarming Iran). There is a reason, as Emery points out, that no president has been “a blogger, a pundit, an editor of the New Yorker, or a writer for Vanity Fair.” It turns out that the rationale for the media’s lovefest — he’s just like me, but better! — was not relevant to the presidency.

How many times has a pundit or Democrat gushed over Obama’s “brilliant” mind? As conservatives pointed out to the swooners on the left, there was very little evidence of it — no inventive Third Wave philosophy of governance in his pre-presidential career, no significant legislative or intellectual achievement — other than writing a self-promoting and somewhat fictional account of himself — and actually very poor people skills (Maureen Dowd has only now figured out that he is thin-skinned and emotionally robotic). But it was heresy to suggest that he was a conventional liberal thinker, less interesting than Bill Clinton and less rigorous than Ronald Reagan.

Now that his presidency is in dire straits, perhaps the mainstream media are more receptive to that perspective. As Noemie Emery writes, to the extent that he was/is “brilliant,” it’s in the mundane task of running meetings:

He does seem a genius at chairing a forum, as at the “nuclear summit” in April, where the Washington Post claimed that he shone as a teacher, “calling on leaders to speak, embellish, oppose, and offer alternatives,” coaxing consensus and forging agreements among 45 countries at hand. The problem was that the value of these things was limited, as the attending countries weren’t menacing anyone, while Iran and Korea, who were not in attendance, went on happily building their bombs. He isn’t a sphinx, he’s a seminar leader who’s out of his element. And more and more out of his depth.

And honestly, he’s not that great at running meetings. His Afghanistan-war seminars dragged on. His health-care summit bombed when Rep. Paul Ryan and others stymied him with facts and figures.

Now that Obama’s policies and political standing are faltering, the media mavens are puzzled, as Emery notes. How can it be that he’s failing when he’s so smart? It never dawns on them that they confused slickness with smarts and urbanity with insight.

Whether it is Obama or Elena Kagan, it’s rather easy to impress the chattering class — an Ivy League degree, poise before the cameras, verbal acuity, and disdain for conservative ideas usually do it. It matters not what these figures have produced (legal opinions, legislation, etc.) but with whom they circulate and where they’ve studied. To a great degree, social elitism has replaced meritocracy as the left’s yardstick.

Unfortunately for Obama, he will be judged by what he does, not how he looks doing it. And frankly, his polish and charisma (conservatives never saw the latter, but others did) are crumbling under the pressure to finally produce something (jobs, a responsible budget, a plan for disarming Iran). There is a reason, as Emery points out, that no president has been “a blogger, a pundit, an editor of the New Yorker, or a writer for Vanity Fair.” It turns out that the rationale for the media’s lovefest — he’s just like me, but better! — was not relevant to the presidency.

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U.S. Defense Merits Spending

Big surprise. Reason magazine, the libertarian Bible, favors cutting defense spending. But it would be hard to come up with a more unpersuasive argument if they tried. Contributor Veronica de Rugy of George Mason University, a bastion of free-market economics, writes:

Liberals often view the Pentagon as an item that should be cut but can’t for political reasons. … Yet such cuts have been achieved in the past. … During the last 70 years, the defense budget was cut 26 times by an average rate of 10 percent. … The biggest cuts followed World War II, with a 72 percent reduction in 1947. The last cut was in 1998. … Most of the cuts have taken place after the end of a war. But cuts were also achieved in the late 1960s and early ’70s, despite the ongoing conflict in Vietnam. Politicians explicitly debated how to cut spending without cutting security, and they still managed to get re-elected.

So let me see if I have this straight: de Rugy thinks that defense cuts in the late 1940s, early 1970s, and early 1990s are a good model to follow? In all three instances, major wars were winding down (World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War, respectively), and the political class was eager to spend a “peace dividend.” Ms. de Rugy is an economist, not a historian, but she would be well advised to study the historical record for what happened next.

In all three cases, the result was to make America less secure and to embolden our adversaries. The precipitous decline in defense spending after World War II left us ill-prepared to confront Communist aggression in Korea. The drawdown after the end of the Vietnam War led to a “hollow army” that could not stand up to Soviet aggression or the Iranian hostage crisis in the 1970s. And the 1990s drawdown, which included slashing a third of the Army’s active-duty strength, left the armed forces overstretched and ill-prepared to deal with a host of low-intensity conflicts, from Somalia to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 9/11, the trend has reversed, with a big increase in defense budgets, but most of the money has gone for current operations and personnel costs (including health care and pensions) – the latter line item consuming an ever-larger share of the budget since the abolition of the draft in 1973. The U.S. armed forces have not been able to acquire enough big-ticket items to replace weapons designed and bought during the Reagan years or even earlier. (B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers date back to the Eisenhower administration.) The Army has grown slightly, but it is still far below its strength at the end of the Cold War, when it had 710,000 active-duty soldiers. (Today the figure is 560,000.)

It’s true that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, but our commitments are also greater because the U.S. armed forces have to maintain peace and security across the globe – something that is increasingly hard to do when the Navy, for example, has just 286 ships (down from almost 600 ships in the Reagan years). We can certainly afford to keep spending as much on defense as we do today – or even spend more. As de Rugy notes in passing, defense spending is hardly a crippling burden, insofar as it accounts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget and 4.6 percent of GDP (down from 6.2 percent in the 1980s).

She seems enamored of studies that claim that great efficiencies can be achieved “by eliminating a few controversial weapons systems or by reforming the Pentagon’s supply chain, I.T., and personnel management practices.” There is little doubt that the Pentagon – one of the world’s largest bureaucracies – can be more efficiently run. But, to refer once again to the historical record, every secretary of defense since the post was created in 1947 has tried to cut “waste, fraud, and abuse.” This may have saved a few bucks at the margins, but at the end of the day, no green-eye-shade legerdemain can produce a budgetary miracle of less spending and more defense capabilities.

The bottom line is: either we keep spending a lot for defense, or we will watch our strategic position decline. And the consequences of such a decline – as we learned in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s – will be far more costly in the end than maintaining a robust deterrent capacity to begin with.

Big surprise. Reason magazine, the libertarian Bible, favors cutting defense spending. But it would be hard to come up with a more unpersuasive argument if they tried. Contributor Veronica de Rugy of George Mason University, a bastion of free-market economics, writes:

Liberals often view the Pentagon as an item that should be cut but can’t for political reasons. … Yet such cuts have been achieved in the past. … During the last 70 years, the defense budget was cut 26 times by an average rate of 10 percent. … The biggest cuts followed World War II, with a 72 percent reduction in 1947. The last cut was in 1998. … Most of the cuts have taken place after the end of a war. But cuts were also achieved in the late 1960s and early ’70s, despite the ongoing conflict in Vietnam. Politicians explicitly debated how to cut spending without cutting security, and they still managed to get re-elected.

So let me see if I have this straight: de Rugy thinks that defense cuts in the late 1940s, early 1970s, and early 1990s are a good model to follow? In all three instances, major wars were winding down (World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War, respectively), and the political class was eager to spend a “peace dividend.” Ms. de Rugy is an economist, not a historian, but she would be well advised to study the historical record for what happened next.

In all three cases, the result was to make America less secure and to embolden our adversaries. The precipitous decline in defense spending after World War II left us ill-prepared to confront Communist aggression in Korea. The drawdown after the end of the Vietnam War led to a “hollow army” that could not stand up to Soviet aggression or the Iranian hostage crisis in the 1970s. And the 1990s drawdown, which included slashing a third of the Army’s active-duty strength, left the armed forces overstretched and ill-prepared to deal with a host of low-intensity conflicts, from Somalia to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 9/11, the trend has reversed, with a big increase in defense budgets, but most of the money has gone for current operations and personnel costs (including health care and pensions) – the latter line item consuming an ever-larger share of the budget since the abolition of the draft in 1973. The U.S. armed forces have not been able to acquire enough big-ticket items to replace weapons designed and bought during the Reagan years or even earlier. (B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers date back to the Eisenhower administration.) The Army has grown slightly, but it is still far below its strength at the end of the Cold War, when it had 710,000 active-duty soldiers. (Today the figure is 560,000.)

It’s true that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, but our commitments are also greater because the U.S. armed forces have to maintain peace and security across the globe – something that is increasingly hard to do when the Navy, for example, has just 286 ships (down from almost 600 ships in the Reagan years). We can certainly afford to keep spending as much on defense as we do today – or even spend more. As de Rugy notes in passing, defense spending is hardly a crippling burden, insofar as it accounts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget and 4.6 percent of GDP (down from 6.2 percent in the 1980s).

She seems enamored of studies that claim that great efficiencies can be achieved “by eliminating a few controversial weapons systems or by reforming the Pentagon’s supply chain, I.T., and personnel management practices.” There is little doubt that the Pentagon – one of the world’s largest bureaucracies – can be more efficiently run. But, to refer once again to the historical record, every secretary of defense since the post was created in 1947 has tried to cut “waste, fraud, and abuse.” This may have saved a few bucks at the margins, but at the end of the day, no green-eye-shade legerdemain can produce a budgetary miracle of less spending and more defense capabilities.

The bottom line is: either we keep spending a lot for defense, or we will watch our strategic position decline. And the consequences of such a decline – as we learned in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s – will be far more costly in the end than maintaining a robust deterrent capacity to begin with.

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Realists Become Neocons

Richard Haass, the self-described “realist” who has come around to favor regime change in Iran and warned Obama to get over his obsession with the Middle East ”peace process,” reviews the list of belligerent moves by North Korea and then offers up some advice to the Obama administration masterminds:

The next real opportunity to change things for the better is likely to come when North Korea’s mercurial tyrant Kim Jong Il departs the scene once and for all time. But positive change will only happen if China acts. If in real estate all that matters is location, location and location, it is only a slight exaggeration to contend that what matters most when it comes to North Korea is China, China and China. …

American and South Korean officials need to do more than just point out the risk to their Chinese counterparts of China’s current course. They also need to discuss the character of a unified Korea and how one would get there, addressing legitimate Chinese strategic concerns including the questions of non-Korean troop presence and the full denuclearization of the peninsula. …

South Korea’s president may have signaled an interest in just this on Monday, saying “It is now time for the North Korean regime to change.” President Obama should follow suit. There would be no better way to mark this June’s 60th anniversary of the Korean war.

Regime change to deal with despots? Dispense with self-defeating peace processing in the Middle East? Not remarkable views at all for CONTENTIONS or for COMMENTARY magazine, but startling indeed for a middle-of-the-road establishment figure like Haass. It seems that for those willing to absorb reality and not simply adopt the slogan of “realists,” the evidence is mounting that Obama’s absorption with engagement and disinclination to confront despots is useless and indeed counterproductive. These realists understand that the thugocracies are becoming more aggressive and the U.S. less credible and that some serious course correction is needed.

Political moderates and even liberals have grown disgusted with Obama’s abysmal record on human rights and religious freedom and nervous about his reluctance to project American power. The silver lining in Obama’s inept foreign policy is that a potentially broad-based alliance of critics is forming to suggest policies more in sync with neocon thinkers than with the starry-eyed multilateralist president. If not for the dangers to the U.S. and its allies, which Obama is doing little to abate (and much to increase), it would be a very positive development. Provided we and our allies can weather the Obama storm, his successor may have the benefit of a new bipartisan foreign-policy consensus, which has eluded us for some time.

Richard Haass, the self-described “realist” who has come around to favor regime change in Iran and warned Obama to get over his obsession with the Middle East ”peace process,” reviews the list of belligerent moves by North Korea and then offers up some advice to the Obama administration masterminds:

The next real opportunity to change things for the better is likely to come when North Korea’s mercurial tyrant Kim Jong Il departs the scene once and for all time. But positive change will only happen if China acts. If in real estate all that matters is location, location and location, it is only a slight exaggeration to contend that what matters most when it comes to North Korea is China, China and China. …

American and South Korean officials need to do more than just point out the risk to their Chinese counterparts of China’s current course. They also need to discuss the character of a unified Korea and how one would get there, addressing legitimate Chinese strategic concerns including the questions of non-Korean troop presence and the full denuclearization of the peninsula. …

South Korea’s president may have signaled an interest in just this on Monday, saying “It is now time for the North Korean regime to change.” President Obama should follow suit. There would be no better way to mark this June’s 60th anniversary of the Korean war.

Regime change to deal with despots? Dispense with self-defeating peace processing in the Middle East? Not remarkable views at all for CONTENTIONS or for COMMENTARY magazine, but startling indeed for a middle-of-the-road establishment figure like Haass. It seems that for those willing to absorb reality and not simply adopt the slogan of “realists,” the evidence is mounting that Obama’s absorption with engagement and disinclination to confront despots is useless and indeed counterproductive. These realists understand that the thugocracies are becoming more aggressive and the U.S. less credible and that some serious course correction is needed.

Political moderates and even liberals have grown disgusted with Obama’s abysmal record on human rights and religious freedom and nervous about his reluctance to project American power. The silver lining in Obama’s inept foreign policy is that a potentially broad-based alliance of critics is forming to suggest policies more in sync with neocon thinkers than with the starry-eyed multilateralist president. If not for the dangers to the U.S. and its allies, which Obama is doing little to abate (and much to increase), it would be a very positive development. Provided we and our allies can weather the Obama storm, his successor may have the benefit of a new bipartisan foreign-policy consensus, which has eluded us for some time.

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The Koreas: Sanctions Effectiveness Watch

The most informative development in the Korean ship-sinking case this week is the silence of China on the matter, something South Korea’s press has addressed in pointed fashion. The Chinese announced on the 19th, moreover, that their ambassador would send a deputy to Thursday’s high-level diplomatic briefing from the South Korean government rather than attending it himself. Editorial staffs in Seoul interpret this as de facto support for North Korea’s position in the confrontation. They have reason to.

In the month before the sinking of South Korean navy corvette Cheonan (on March 26), North Korea extended to 2028 China’s lease on the eastern port of Rajin, which sits on the Sea of Japan. China is modernizing the port extensively for commercial use; Japan and South Korea have the obvious concern that China might begin sending warships there as well. In the month after Cheonans sinking, North Korea switched partners in its flagship tourism venture from South Korea to China. China’s tourists lost no time in taking advantage of that opportunity: the first tourist train from China entered North Korea on April 24. Tourism is a latecomer to the burgeoning trade between China and North Korea, which reportedly hit an all-time high in the first two months of 2010.

China’s proprietary relations with North Korea face an aggressive rival in Russia, which obtained a new 50-year lease on the Rajin port in March and plans to connect the port to its eastern railway system. Maintaining China’s position as Pyongyang’s principal patron is high on Beijing’s priority list, which explains why the Chinese welcomed a rare visit from Kim Jong-Il in early May and allowed North Korea to capitalize on that trip with its first-ever national display at the World Expo in Shanghai. (The chirpy cluelessness of MSNBC’s coverage here is priceless.) Neither the Cheonan incident nor reports in April that Pyongyang is planning a third nuclear test threw a damper on the fraternal amity blossoming in Northeast Asia.

The sense among China’s leaders that they have the latitude to display their true intentions in Korea has grown markedly in the last year. It was never accurate to perceive China as a like-minded ally of the U.S. in the Six-Party talks but, as late as April 2009, Beijing was still making a show of acting from common interests. That it no longer does can be attributed largely to the passivity and incoherence of the Obama administration. The administration’s only serious diplomatic response during the tense period after Cheonan’s sinking was to offer food aid to North Korea if it would rejoin the Six-Party talks.

But China has other examples to draw from as well, such as Obama’s unrealistic handling of Iran. The parallels between the Iran and Korea situations include, of course, multiple rounds of toothless international sanctions and U.S. bluster unsupported by any effective action. In the case of the Cheonan sinking, they also include a very specific analogue: the North Korean naval weapons involved. The analytical team’s finding is that North Korea used a Yono-class “midget” submarine to launch a former-Soviet-style 21-inch torpedo — the world’s most common type — at the South Korean corvette. Iran has produced seven Yono-design hulls as its Ghadir class since 2007, has fitted them to launch 21-inch torpedoes, and began adding them to the fleet in 2009. Iran, like North Korea, has been under UN sanctions throughout that period.

The most informative development in the Korean ship-sinking case this week is the silence of China on the matter, something South Korea’s press has addressed in pointed fashion. The Chinese announced on the 19th, moreover, that their ambassador would send a deputy to Thursday’s high-level diplomatic briefing from the South Korean government rather than attending it himself. Editorial staffs in Seoul interpret this as de facto support for North Korea’s position in the confrontation. They have reason to.

In the month before the sinking of South Korean navy corvette Cheonan (on March 26), North Korea extended to 2028 China’s lease on the eastern port of Rajin, which sits on the Sea of Japan. China is modernizing the port extensively for commercial use; Japan and South Korea have the obvious concern that China might begin sending warships there as well. In the month after Cheonans sinking, North Korea switched partners in its flagship tourism venture from South Korea to China. China’s tourists lost no time in taking advantage of that opportunity: the first tourist train from China entered North Korea on April 24. Tourism is a latecomer to the burgeoning trade between China and North Korea, which reportedly hit an all-time high in the first two months of 2010.

China’s proprietary relations with North Korea face an aggressive rival in Russia, which obtained a new 50-year lease on the Rajin port in March and plans to connect the port to its eastern railway system. Maintaining China’s position as Pyongyang’s principal patron is high on Beijing’s priority list, which explains why the Chinese welcomed a rare visit from Kim Jong-Il in early May and allowed North Korea to capitalize on that trip with its first-ever national display at the World Expo in Shanghai. (The chirpy cluelessness of MSNBC’s coverage here is priceless.) Neither the Cheonan incident nor reports in April that Pyongyang is planning a third nuclear test threw a damper on the fraternal amity blossoming in Northeast Asia.

The sense among China’s leaders that they have the latitude to display their true intentions in Korea has grown markedly in the last year. It was never accurate to perceive China as a like-minded ally of the U.S. in the Six-Party talks but, as late as April 2009, Beijing was still making a show of acting from common interests. That it no longer does can be attributed largely to the passivity and incoherence of the Obama administration. The administration’s only serious diplomatic response during the tense period after Cheonan’s sinking was to offer food aid to North Korea if it would rejoin the Six-Party talks.

But China has other examples to draw from as well, such as Obama’s unrealistic handling of Iran. The parallels between the Iran and Korea situations include, of course, multiple rounds of toothless international sanctions and U.S. bluster unsupported by any effective action. In the case of the Cheonan sinking, they also include a very specific analogue: the North Korean naval weapons involved. The analytical team’s finding is that North Korea used a Yono-class “midget” submarine to launch a former-Soviet-style 21-inch torpedo — the world’s most common type — at the South Korean corvette. Iran has produced seven Yono-design hulls as its Ghadir class since 2007, has fitted them to launch 21-inch torpedoes, and began adding them to the fleet in 2009. Iran, like North Korea, has been under UN sanctions throughout that period.

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The Ongoing Korean War

Having just visited South Korea, I felt as if I were in a time warp. It’s not that South Korea itself is out of date; if anything, it is ultra-modern — at the cutting edge of technology, culture, and social and economic development. But its neighbor to the north seems never to have passed out of its Stalinist phase. In addition to starving and repressing its own people, and proliferating weapons technology, counterfeit currency, and other illegal substances, North Korea keeps on threatening the south.

The latest manifestation was of course the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which occurred back in March and which killed 46 sailors. It is now generally agreed that the culprit was a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. This is a bit out of the norm, but not wildly so. Every few years, North Korea commits some provocation along those lines. This is actually fairly mild compared with the bomb blast back in 1983, which killed a number of top Korean officials while they were on a visit to Rangoon.

More often, of course, the North-South standoff results not in actual fighting but in tensions along the DMZ, or demilitarized zone — a misnomer for one of the most heavily armed places on earth. Along with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, I visited Panmunjom, the area in the DMZ where negotiations with the north are conducted, and found a surreal scene, with North Korean guards peering at us through the windows of a hut as if we were animals at the zoo. Meanwhile tense South Korean soldiers in sunglasses and shiny helmets stood around, fists clenched, in what is called the “ROK Ready” position. Don’t dare open the back door, we were told; a soldier who made that mistake was snatched by the North Koreans.

There seems scant hope of ending this standoff anytime soon — not unless the bizarre North Korean regime collapses. It is certainly dysfunctional enough to come to an end at any time, but it could just as easily last for decades as impoverished dictatorships still do in Burma and Cuba. The ultimate objective for American and South Korean policy should be to encourage the north’s peaceful implosion, and that in turn means reducing outside support for the regime. That’s something South Korea, under a more conservative government led by Lee Myung-bak, has already been doing lately. Ultimately, though, the north relies for life support on China, and there seems scant prospect that Beijing will do anything that might undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. There is nothing that Chinese leaders fear more than an implosion on their border, leading to huge refugee flows and possibly the establishment of a unified Korea aligned with the West, not with China.

So in practical terms, South Korea and its American allies will have no choice but to continue preparing for the resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. That task is increasingly being taken up by the Republic of Korea, which has 655,000 active-duty military personnel and 3 million reservists — the sixth-largest military in the world. The U.S. still maintains 28,000 troops in the south, but they are increasingly being pulled back from Seoul and from the DMZ toward a new base farther south, away from any major population center. Their role is not to so much to contribute ground combat power as to help in the naval and air operations against North Korea while, critically, providing a tripwire that will guarantee American nuclear protection against North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean generals already exercise full control of their forces in peacetime, but if war were to break out, their military would revert to the control of the Combined Forces Command, run by an American four-star. That is due to change in 2012, when “opcon” (operational control) is supposed to revert to the Koreans even in wartime, but South Korean officials we spoke to said they want to move that date back by several years. Not only are they still lacking confidence that they can exercise the same kind of command and control as U.S. officers, but they also think it would be a bad signal of disengagement to the north at a dangerous time. Of course, on the Korean Peninsula, every moment since 1950 has been a dangerous one.

Having just visited South Korea, I felt as if I were in a time warp. It’s not that South Korea itself is out of date; if anything, it is ultra-modern — at the cutting edge of technology, culture, and social and economic development. But its neighbor to the north seems never to have passed out of its Stalinist phase. In addition to starving and repressing its own people, and proliferating weapons technology, counterfeit currency, and other illegal substances, North Korea keeps on threatening the south.

The latest manifestation was of course the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which occurred back in March and which killed 46 sailors. It is now generally agreed that the culprit was a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. This is a bit out of the norm, but not wildly so. Every few years, North Korea commits some provocation along those lines. This is actually fairly mild compared with the bomb blast back in 1983, which killed a number of top Korean officials while they were on a visit to Rangoon.

More often, of course, the North-South standoff results not in actual fighting but in tensions along the DMZ, or demilitarized zone — a misnomer for one of the most heavily armed places on earth. Along with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, I visited Panmunjom, the area in the DMZ where negotiations with the north are conducted, and found a surreal scene, with North Korean guards peering at us through the windows of a hut as if we were animals at the zoo. Meanwhile tense South Korean soldiers in sunglasses and shiny helmets stood around, fists clenched, in what is called the “ROK Ready” position. Don’t dare open the back door, we were told; a soldier who made that mistake was snatched by the North Koreans.

There seems scant hope of ending this standoff anytime soon — not unless the bizarre North Korean regime collapses. It is certainly dysfunctional enough to come to an end at any time, but it could just as easily last for decades as impoverished dictatorships still do in Burma and Cuba. The ultimate objective for American and South Korean policy should be to encourage the north’s peaceful implosion, and that in turn means reducing outside support for the regime. That’s something South Korea, under a more conservative government led by Lee Myung-bak, has already been doing lately. Ultimately, though, the north relies for life support on China, and there seems scant prospect that Beijing will do anything that might undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. There is nothing that Chinese leaders fear more than an implosion on their border, leading to huge refugee flows and possibly the establishment of a unified Korea aligned with the West, not with China.

So in practical terms, South Korea and its American allies will have no choice but to continue preparing for the resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. That task is increasingly being taken up by the Republic of Korea, which has 655,000 active-duty military personnel and 3 million reservists — the sixth-largest military in the world. The U.S. still maintains 28,000 troops in the south, but they are increasingly being pulled back from Seoul and from the DMZ toward a new base farther south, away from any major population center. Their role is not to so much to contribute ground combat power as to help in the naval and air operations against North Korea while, critically, providing a tripwire that will guarantee American nuclear protection against North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean generals already exercise full control of their forces in peacetime, but if war were to break out, their military would revert to the control of the Combined Forces Command, run by an American four-star. That is due to change in 2012, when “opcon” (operational control) is supposed to revert to the Koreans even in wartime, but South Korean officials we spoke to said they want to move that date back by several years. Not only are they still lacking confidence that they can exercise the same kind of command and control as U.S. officers, but they also think it would be a bad signal of disengagement to the north at a dangerous time. Of course, on the Korean Peninsula, every moment since 1950 has been a dangerous one.

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Containment Has Its Own Costs

The signs are building that administration officials are essentially throwing up their hands when it comes to Iran policy and implicitly conceding defeat. Their offer to hold talks with Tehran predictably went nowhere; that wasted the administration’s first year. The justification for all this futile diplomatic activity was that it would supposedly enhance American credibility to seek crippling sanctions against Iran. No such sanctions are on the horizon; instead what we will get, at best, is more toothless gestures from the UN. With time running out, the only feasible way to stop or at least substantially delay the Iranian nuclear program is through military action. But, as senior Pentagon official Michele Flournoy concedes, that option is “off the table.” (She added “in the short term,” but does anyone imagine that the Nobel laureate in the White House is going to start a war in the long term?) Meanwhile, the growing rift between the U.S. and Israel makes it less likely that Israel will risk American wrath by striking Iran on its own. (Israeli officials are said to be worried that “a unilateral strike would cause a break with Washington that would threaten Israeli national interests even more than a nuclear-armed Iran.”)

So where does that leave us? With policy wonks and administration officials increasingly turning to “containment” and “deterrence” as the answer to Iran — a trend noted in this Washington Post article.

Those policies worked against the Soviet Union, but no one should have any illusions that they provide a painless fix to the threat posed by Iran. In the first place, even with the Soviets, there were a few moments when nuclear war was a serious possibility. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? There is no guarantee that a replay with Iran — say a Lebanese Missile Crisis — would be resolved so peaceably. Moreover, even if we avoided World War III, containing the Soviets was hardly bloodless — it cost the lives of nearly a 100,000 American soldiers in Korea and Vietnam.

For a reminder of how difficult containment can be, consider the latest news emanating from the Korean peninsula. There are reports circulating that a South Korean ship that sank on March 26 with the loss of 46 sailors was torpedoed by North Korea. Even if true, South Korea’s options are limited. What’s it going to do — attack a nuclear-armed state? The U.S. faced a similar quandary with the Soviet Union, whose nuclear arsenal gave it a free pass to commit all sorts of aggression against the U.S. and our allies, often by proxy.

The danger is much greater from a nuclear-armed Iran than from a nuclear-armed North Korea. The latter, after all, is a sclerotic state whose leader’s only goal is to stay in power and enjoy various imported delicacies. Iran, by contrast, is a still a relatively young, revolutionary regime ruled by leaders with a fervor to remake the Middle East in accordance with their extremist ideology. Given all the carnage Iran is already responsible for — it has backed some of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq, among other places, and it has been behind the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of American service personnel — it is terrifying to imagine what the region will look like when the mullahs have nukes. But that is precisely where we are headed thanks to the Obama administration’s feckless policies.

The signs are building that administration officials are essentially throwing up their hands when it comes to Iran policy and implicitly conceding defeat. Their offer to hold talks with Tehran predictably went nowhere; that wasted the administration’s first year. The justification for all this futile diplomatic activity was that it would supposedly enhance American credibility to seek crippling sanctions against Iran. No such sanctions are on the horizon; instead what we will get, at best, is more toothless gestures from the UN. With time running out, the only feasible way to stop or at least substantially delay the Iranian nuclear program is through military action. But, as senior Pentagon official Michele Flournoy concedes, that option is “off the table.” (She added “in the short term,” but does anyone imagine that the Nobel laureate in the White House is going to start a war in the long term?) Meanwhile, the growing rift between the U.S. and Israel makes it less likely that Israel will risk American wrath by striking Iran on its own. (Israeli officials are said to be worried that “a unilateral strike would cause a break with Washington that would threaten Israeli national interests even more than a nuclear-armed Iran.”)

So where does that leave us? With policy wonks and administration officials increasingly turning to “containment” and “deterrence” as the answer to Iran — a trend noted in this Washington Post article.

Those policies worked against the Soviet Union, but no one should have any illusions that they provide a painless fix to the threat posed by Iran. In the first place, even with the Soviets, there were a few moments when nuclear war was a serious possibility. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? There is no guarantee that a replay with Iran — say a Lebanese Missile Crisis — would be resolved so peaceably. Moreover, even if we avoided World War III, containing the Soviets was hardly bloodless — it cost the lives of nearly a 100,000 American soldiers in Korea and Vietnam.

For a reminder of how difficult containment can be, consider the latest news emanating from the Korean peninsula. There are reports circulating that a South Korean ship that sank on March 26 with the loss of 46 sailors was torpedoed by North Korea. Even if true, South Korea’s options are limited. What’s it going to do — attack a nuclear-armed state? The U.S. faced a similar quandary with the Soviet Union, whose nuclear arsenal gave it a free pass to commit all sorts of aggression against the U.S. and our allies, often by proxy.

The danger is much greater from a nuclear-armed Iran than from a nuclear-armed North Korea. The latter, after all, is a sclerotic state whose leader’s only goal is to stay in power and enjoy various imported delicacies. Iran, by contrast, is a still a relatively young, revolutionary regime ruled by leaders with a fervor to remake the Middle East in accordance with their extremist ideology. Given all the carnage Iran is already responsible for — it has backed some of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq, among other places, and it has been behind the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of American service personnel — it is terrifying to imagine what the region will look like when the mullahs have nukes. But that is precisely where we are headed thanks to the Obama administration’s feckless policies.

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RE: Blame America First

Jonathan Tobin does a fantastic job of dissecting James Bradley’s ludicrous attempt to blame Theodore Roosevelt, of all people, for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I had read Bradley’s New York Times op-ed and thought of responding as well, but held off because, frankly, I was so baffled by the author’s convoluted reasoning. Not the least of Tobin’s services is to lay out Bradley’s argument more clearly than Bradley himself does, before going on to show why the argument holds no water. I have only a few points to add.

If I understand correctly (and I admit to not having read the book in question, The Imperial Cruise), Bradley wants to blame TR for holding racist, imperialist views — for being a staunch supporter of our acquisition of Asian colonies, namely Hawaii and the Philippines. Since those territories were subsequently attacked by Japan, presumably Bradley thinks acquiring them in the first place was a bad idea, that they were somehow an affront to Japan’s desire to exercise hegemony in the Pacific. A more logical conclusion to draw would be that those territories should have been more strongly defended in the 1930s so as to dissuade Japanese aggression.

But then Bradley heads off in a different and somewhat self-contradictory direction in his Times article, blaming Roosevelt for implicitly ceding Korea to Japan’s sphere of influence in 1905 after the Russo-Japanese War. TR certainly was misguided in thinking that Japan could be a liberal, responsible stakeholder in the international system, as Britain and the U.S. were, but it is hard to know what he could have done differently. Does Bradley think that Roosevelt should have gone to war in 1905 to champion Korean independence? In fact, if Roosevelt had done more to oppose Japanese imperialism, Bradley could simply bash him for his racist lack of sympathy for the Empire of Japan. In Bradley’s worldview, TR must be guilty of either stirring up the Japanese or appeasing them — maybe both. His argument is the height of unfairness.

Actually if he is looking for unfair scapegoats for the events of December 7, 1941 — and his father’s subsequent rendezvous with destiny on Iwo Jima — he would be better advised to skip TR and go straight for Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill? Yup. As I noted in my book War Made New, Japanese naval aviation got its start in 1920, when Britain sent an advisory mission to Japan, “complete with over 100 demonstration aircraft in a bid to boost the British aviation industry.” I went on to write:

British pilots formed the first faculty of the newly established Japanese naval aviation school at Lake Kasumigaura. British naval architects helped Japan complete its first aircraft carrier, the Hosho, in 1922. British aircraft designers helped Mitsubishi design its initial carrier aircraft. Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for both War and Air, was confident Britain and Japan would never go to war—“I do not believe there is the slightest chance of it in our lifetime,” he exclaimed in 1924. So what was the harm?

There you have it: Winston Churchill was responsible for the raid on Pearl Harbor.

Simply to lay out this line of reasoning is to show, of course, how absurd it is — only slightly less absurd than Bradley’s attempts to blame Theodore Roosevelt for events that occurred 22 years after his death. Let’s place blame where it really belongs: in the ruling circles of the Japanese Empire, where the decision to fight America was made. And if we want to find culprits on the American side, look at the “America Firsters” and other isolationists who made it impossible to undertake the kind of American military buildup prior to December 7 that might have deterred Japanese aggression.

Jonathan Tobin does a fantastic job of dissecting James Bradley’s ludicrous attempt to blame Theodore Roosevelt, of all people, for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I had read Bradley’s New York Times op-ed and thought of responding as well, but held off because, frankly, I was so baffled by the author’s convoluted reasoning. Not the least of Tobin’s services is to lay out Bradley’s argument more clearly than Bradley himself does, before going on to show why the argument holds no water. I have only a few points to add.

If I understand correctly (and I admit to not having read the book in question, The Imperial Cruise), Bradley wants to blame TR for holding racist, imperialist views — for being a staunch supporter of our acquisition of Asian colonies, namely Hawaii and the Philippines. Since those territories were subsequently attacked by Japan, presumably Bradley thinks acquiring them in the first place was a bad idea, that they were somehow an affront to Japan’s desire to exercise hegemony in the Pacific. A more logical conclusion to draw would be that those territories should have been more strongly defended in the 1930s so as to dissuade Japanese aggression.

But then Bradley heads off in a different and somewhat self-contradictory direction in his Times article, blaming Roosevelt for implicitly ceding Korea to Japan’s sphere of influence in 1905 after the Russo-Japanese War. TR certainly was misguided in thinking that Japan could be a liberal, responsible stakeholder in the international system, as Britain and the U.S. were, but it is hard to know what he could have done differently. Does Bradley think that Roosevelt should have gone to war in 1905 to champion Korean independence? In fact, if Roosevelt had done more to oppose Japanese imperialism, Bradley could simply bash him for his racist lack of sympathy for the Empire of Japan. In Bradley’s worldview, TR must be guilty of either stirring up the Japanese or appeasing them — maybe both. His argument is the height of unfairness.

Actually if he is looking for unfair scapegoats for the events of December 7, 1941 — and his father’s subsequent rendezvous with destiny on Iwo Jima — he would be better advised to skip TR and go straight for Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill? Yup. As I noted in my book War Made New, Japanese naval aviation got its start in 1920, when Britain sent an advisory mission to Japan, “complete with over 100 demonstration aircraft in a bid to boost the British aviation industry.” I went on to write:

British pilots formed the first faculty of the newly established Japanese naval aviation school at Lake Kasumigaura. British naval architects helped Japan complete its first aircraft carrier, the Hosho, in 1922. British aircraft designers helped Mitsubishi design its initial carrier aircraft. Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for both War and Air, was confident Britain and Japan would never go to war—“I do not believe there is the slightest chance of it in our lifetime,” he exclaimed in 1924. So what was the harm?

There you have it: Winston Churchill was responsible for the raid on Pearl Harbor.

Simply to lay out this line of reasoning is to show, of course, how absurd it is — only slightly less absurd than Bradley’s attempts to blame Theodore Roosevelt for events that occurred 22 years after his death. Let’s place blame where it really belongs: in the ruling circles of the Japanese Empire, where the decision to fight America was made. And if we want to find culprits on the American side, look at the “America Firsters” and other isolationists who made it impossible to undertake the kind of American military buildup prior to December 7 that might have deterred Japanese aggression.

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