Commentary Magazine


Topic: Korea

Blame America First — World War II Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Al Qaeda and America’s Role in the World

Today, Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll, a spokesman for the Multi-National Force in Iraq, seemed to back away from recent remarks made by Ryan Crocker. Speaking to reporters yesterday in Najaf, the American ambassador summarized the trend of developments in Iraq this way: “You are not going to hear me say that al Qaeda is defeated, but they’ve never been closer to defeat than they are now.” Today, Driscoll stated that the group remains “a very lethal threat.”

Nonetheless, the military spokesman pointed to important signs of progress. Last week, the number of attacks “decreased to the level not seen since March 2004,” Driscoll noted, and violence has fallen 70 percent since the surge began a year ago. Of course, al Qaeda can still mount attacks, and a well-timed surge of its own could determine the outcome of the American presidential campaign. Yet, as Driscoll declared, “We will not allow them to reorganize themselves.”

So if present trends hold and the Iraqi government continues to assert itself, what will be the effect on American opinion? “The national mood is retrenchment,” writes James Traub in today’s New York Times. “We recognize that our heroic designs have come to grief in Iraq. We see how very little we have accomplished in the Middle East, for all our swelling rhetoric.”

Of course, Traub has correctly gauged public sentiment in an anti-Bush, anti-idealism America. Just look at the amazing trajectory of the “change” candidate, Barack Obama. And despite the American military’s continuing success in Iraq, there is pressure on the President to end the war, bring troops home, and disengage from the world as fast as we can. Yet this is nothing new. We do this after every conflict, whether ending in victory (both World Wars), defeat (Vietnam), or stalemate (Korea). Last decade, we turned away from historic responsibilities after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Yet the general sentiment that Traub describes may not be as long-lasting as many assume. For one thing, the desire to turn inward will be undercut by the success in Iraq that Crocker and Driscoll describe. And, of course, the world has a way of drawing Americans back into involvement in its affairs. We can solve some of its problems peacefully, but others are not capable of amicable resolution. As Madeleine Albright once said, “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation.”

It is now up to President Bush to continue to remind the American people that we, whether we want to assume the role or not, remain the only guarantor of the international system. With his Knesset speech he redirected the national conversation in the presidential campaign. Now he can take this discussion and put it into the broader context.

Today, Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll, a spokesman for the Multi-National Force in Iraq, seemed to back away from recent remarks made by Ryan Crocker. Speaking to reporters yesterday in Najaf, the American ambassador summarized the trend of developments in Iraq this way: “You are not going to hear me say that al Qaeda is defeated, but they’ve never been closer to defeat than they are now.” Today, Driscoll stated that the group remains “a very lethal threat.”

Nonetheless, the military spokesman pointed to important signs of progress. Last week, the number of attacks “decreased to the level not seen since March 2004,” Driscoll noted, and violence has fallen 70 percent since the surge began a year ago. Of course, al Qaeda can still mount attacks, and a well-timed surge of its own could determine the outcome of the American presidential campaign. Yet, as Driscoll declared, “We will not allow them to reorganize themselves.”

So if present trends hold and the Iraqi government continues to assert itself, what will be the effect on American opinion? “The national mood is retrenchment,” writes James Traub in today’s New York Times. “We recognize that our heroic designs have come to grief in Iraq. We see how very little we have accomplished in the Middle East, for all our swelling rhetoric.”

Of course, Traub has correctly gauged public sentiment in an anti-Bush, anti-idealism America. Just look at the amazing trajectory of the “change” candidate, Barack Obama. And despite the American military’s continuing success in Iraq, there is pressure on the President to end the war, bring troops home, and disengage from the world as fast as we can. Yet this is nothing new. We do this after every conflict, whether ending in victory (both World Wars), defeat (Vietnam), or stalemate (Korea). Last decade, we turned away from historic responsibilities after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Yet the general sentiment that Traub describes may not be as long-lasting as many assume. For one thing, the desire to turn inward will be undercut by the success in Iraq that Crocker and Driscoll describe. And, of course, the world has a way of drawing Americans back into involvement in its affairs. We can solve some of its problems peacefully, but others are not capable of amicable resolution. As Madeleine Albright once said, “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation.”

It is now up to President Bush to continue to remind the American people that we, whether we want to assume the role or not, remain the only guarantor of the international system. With his Knesset speech he redirected the national conversation in the presidential campaign. Now he can take this discussion and put it into the broader context.

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Too Many Lives at Stake

Yesterday, representatives from the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, the so-called P5 + 1, met but failed to agree on a new package of incentives for Iran. The most significant aspect of the meeting is not the result–it was clear from the get-go that the six nations would not immediately see eye-to-eye–but its location, Shanghai: China hosted the talks.

In one sense, it is a measure of progress that Beijing is helping to find a solution to the greatest security challenge of our times. As Guo Xian’gang, a former Chinese diplomat, told Reuters, “China wanted to show that it’s a mainstream member of the five plus one process.”

But should the United States be ceding even more initiative to the Chinese? In 2003 President Bush committed himself to multilateral diplomacy on North Korea, and he generously made China the centerpiece of global efforts to disarm Pyongyang.

The Chinese used their position to craft an arrangement, announced in September 2005, that permitted even more North Korean delaying tactics and bad faith negotiation. And why did the President accept an obviously deficient deal? Largely because Chinese negotiators presented their plan as take-it-or-leave-it and told their American counterparts that they would publicly blame them if they rejected it. In short, the United States generously gave Beijing a leading role on Korea-and the Chinese then turned around and used their new-found prominence to mug America. Now, North Korea is prevailing over United States, as Abe Greenwald suggested on Tuesday, largely because Pyongyang has Beijing on its side.

Yet the Bush administration is again trying to give the Chinese a leading role in international affairs, this time to stop Iran’s efforts to weaponize the atom. That’s why the place of yesterday’s meeting is so important. Working with China can hasten its integration into the global order, yet long before Beijing is ready to accept the role as a constructive power, the Iranians will have built an arsenal of nuclear warheads.

Whether or not it was wise for the White House to work with the Chinese over North Korea five years ago, it should not be doing so now with Iran. There are too many lives at stake for the Bush administration to continue its optimistic diplomacy experiment with China.

Yesterday, representatives from the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, the so-called P5 + 1, met but failed to agree on a new package of incentives for Iran. The most significant aspect of the meeting is not the result–it was clear from the get-go that the six nations would not immediately see eye-to-eye–but its location, Shanghai: China hosted the talks.

In one sense, it is a measure of progress that Beijing is helping to find a solution to the greatest security challenge of our times. As Guo Xian’gang, a former Chinese diplomat, told Reuters, “China wanted to show that it’s a mainstream member of the five plus one process.”

But should the United States be ceding even more initiative to the Chinese? In 2003 President Bush committed himself to multilateral diplomacy on North Korea, and he generously made China the centerpiece of global efforts to disarm Pyongyang.

The Chinese used their position to craft an arrangement, announced in September 2005, that permitted even more North Korean delaying tactics and bad faith negotiation. And why did the President accept an obviously deficient deal? Largely because Chinese negotiators presented their plan as take-it-or-leave-it and told their American counterparts that they would publicly blame them if they rejected it. In short, the United States generously gave Beijing a leading role on Korea-and the Chinese then turned around and used their new-found prominence to mug America. Now, North Korea is prevailing over United States, as Abe Greenwald suggested on Tuesday, largely because Pyongyang has Beijing on its side.

Yet the Bush administration is again trying to give the Chinese a leading role in international affairs, this time to stop Iran’s efforts to weaponize the atom. That’s why the place of yesterday’s meeting is so important. Working with China can hasten its integration into the global order, yet long before Beijing is ready to accept the role as a constructive power, the Iranians will have built an arsenal of nuclear warheads.

Whether or not it was wise for the White House to work with the Chinese over North Korea five years ago, it should not be doing so now with Iran. There are too many lives at stake for the Bush administration to continue its optimistic diplomacy experiment with China.

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“Everything Will Be in Ashes”

Today, Pyongyang threatened to destroy archrival South Korea. “Everything will be in ashes, not just a sea of fire, once our advanced pre-emptive strike begins,” promised an unidentified North Korean military analyst. The remarks, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, cap days of escalating tension on the peninsula. Yesterday, the North threatened to cut off all dialogue between the two states. Pyongyang pinned the blame for its bellicose words on recent comments by Kim Tae Young, the new chairman of the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. On Wednesday, Kim said that his forces were ready to attack suspected North Korean nuclear sites if it appeared that Pyongyang was about to use atomic weapons against the South.

The exchange of nasty words about nuclear war comes amid a general breakdown in relations between the two Koreas. Last Thursday, Seoul withdrew all its officials from the Kaesong industrial park, just north of the Demilitarized Zone. Pyongyang demanded the withdrawal after the new South Korean government said that it would not expand the zone, created to attract South Korean manufacturers, until the North honored its promises to give up its nuclear weapons. On Friday, Pyongyang tested ship-to-ship missiles in what was characterized as a display of anger.

South Korea’s new president, Lee Myung-bak, has taken a noticeably tougher line than either of his two predecessors, Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun. The North’s propaganda machine had mostly held off criticizing the South Korean president until last week. Now it appears that Pyongyang will try to undermine Lee by a new round of belligerent conduct and words.

Deteriorating relations on the Korean peninsula are bound to finally scuttle the Bush administration’s efforts to salvage the so-called six-party process. The North is months late on honoring its agreement to make a complete declaration of its nuclear programs, and even before last week there was little prospect that Pyongyang would reverse course and comply.

Despite its promises, the regime in Pyongyang has yet to make the critical decision to give up its atomic arsenal. We will not know for some time whether Kim Jong Il is holding out for a better deal from a new administration in Washington, as some contend, or whether, more probably, he has been unable to obtain the cooperation of his military to disarm. In any event, it is time for President Bush to acknowledge that his Korean policy is being overtaken by events in Korea. His counterpart in Seoul already knows there can be no progress until governments are willing to hold the enigmatic Kim to his promises. The time for American patience with the dangerous autocrat in Pyongyang is now over.

Today, Pyongyang threatened to destroy archrival South Korea. “Everything will be in ashes, not just a sea of fire, once our advanced pre-emptive strike begins,” promised an unidentified North Korean military analyst. The remarks, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, cap days of escalating tension on the peninsula. Yesterday, the North threatened to cut off all dialogue between the two states. Pyongyang pinned the blame for its bellicose words on recent comments by Kim Tae Young, the new chairman of the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. On Wednesday, Kim said that his forces were ready to attack suspected North Korean nuclear sites if it appeared that Pyongyang was about to use atomic weapons against the South.

The exchange of nasty words about nuclear war comes amid a general breakdown in relations between the two Koreas. Last Thursday, Seoul withdrew all its officials from the Kaesong industrial park, just north of the Demilitarized Zone. Pyongyang demanded the withdrawal after the new South Korean government said that it would not expand the zone, created to attract South Korean manufacturers, until the North honored its promises to give up its nuclear weapons. On Friday, Pyongyang tested ship-to-ship missiles in what was characterized as a display of anger.

South Korea’s new president, Lee Myung-bak, has taken a noticeably tougher line than either of his two predecessors, Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun. The North’s propaganda machine had mostly held off criticizing the South Korean president until last week. Now it appears that Pyongyang will try to undermine Lee by a new round of belligerent conduct and words.

Deteriorating relations on the Korean peninsula are bound to finally scuttle the Bush administration’s efforts to salvage the so-called six-party process. The North is months late on honoring its agreement to make a complete declaration of its nuclear programs, and even before last week there was little prospect that Pyongyang would reverse course and comply.

Despite its promises, the regime in Pyongyang has yet to make the critical decision to give up its atomic arsenal. We will not know for some time whether Kim Jong Il is holding out for a better deal from a new administration in Washington, as some contend, or whether, more probably, he has been unable to obtain the cooperation of his military to disarm. In any event, it is time for President Bush to acknowledge that his Korean policy is being overtaken by events in Korea. His counterpart in Seoul already knows there can be no progress until governments are willing to hold the enigmatic Kim to his promises. The time for American patience with the dangerous autocrat in Pyongyang is now over.

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The “Iraq Recession” Fallacy

I couldn’t believe my ears when I was on a radio program a few days ago with Rep. Barbara Lee, one of the most liberal members of Congress (she represents Berkeley and environs). She referred to our current economic difficulties as the “Iraq recession,” blaming the downturn not on the mortgage crisis or other commonly cited factors but on the Iraq War. This is a nonsensical argument on its face: If the recession is due to the war in Iraq, why has it started (if in fact it has started—the evidence isn’t definitive) after five years of war?

In a slightly more sophisticated form, Barack Obama picked up this theme in a speech yesterday in West Virginia. Obama is too savvy to come right out and call it the Iraq Recession but he hints at the same linkage: “Because at a time when we’re on the brink of recession–when neighborhoods have For Sale signs outside every home, and working families are struggling to keep up with rising costs–ordinary Americans are paying a price for this war.”

He then goes on to blame the war for the high cost of oil: “When you’re spending over $50 to fill up your car because the price of oil is four times what it was before Iraq, you’re paying a price for this war.” But why blame the war for the increase in oil prices?

According to page 36 of the Brookings Iraq Index, Iraq this month will produce 2.44 million barrels of oil a day, close to the peak prewar level (2.5 million barrels). Iraqi oil exports, at 2.11 million barrels a day, are actually higher today than at some periods before the war when exports ranged from 1.7 to 2.5 million barrels of oil a day.

In short, it is absurd to suggest that a lack of Iraqi production is responsible for the rise in oil prices; the likely culprits are increased demand in China, India, and other emerging markets.

Obama is more on target when he laments the continuing cost of the war which is running at some $120 billion a year. What he leaves out is any context. The overall size of our economy is $13.1 trillion. So the Iraq War is costing us less than 1% of GDP (0.91% to be exact). Even if you add in the entire defense budget that still only gets us to roughly 4% of GDP—roughly half of what we spent on average during the Cold War, to say nothing of previous “hot” wars such as World War II (34.5% of GDP), Korea (11.7%), and Vietnam (8.9%). (A handy chart may be found here.)

You can make a lot of arguments against the war in Iraq, but the one Obama is now making is the least persuasive of all—that this is a war that “America can’t afford.” At least in dollar terms, it is eminently affordable. What we really can’t afford is a precipitous pullout which, among other consequences, could spread turmoil throughout the Middle East that would greatly exacerbate our current economic woes.

I couldn’t believe my ears when I was on a radio program a few days ago with Rep. Barbara Lee, one of the most liberal members of Congress (she represents Berkeley and environs). She referred to our current economic difficulties as the “Iraq recession,” blaming the downturn not on the mortgage crisis or other commonly cited factors but on the Iraq War. This is a nonsensical argument on its face: If the recession is due to the war in Iraq, why has it started (if in fact it has started—the evidence isn’t definitive) after five years of war?

In a slightly more sophisticated form, Barack Obama picked up this theme in a speech yesterday in West Virginia. Obama is too savvy to come right out and call it the Iraq Recession but he hints at the same linkage: “Because at a time when we’re on the brink of recession–when neighborhoods have For Sale signs outside every home, and working families are struggling to keep up with rising costs–ordinary Americans are paying a price for this war.”

He then goes on to blame the war for the high cost of oil: “When you’re spending over $50 to fill up your car because the price of oil is four times what it was before Iraq, you’re paying a price for this war.” But why blame the war for the increase in oil prices?

According to page 36 of the Brookings Iraq Index, Iraq this month will produce 2.44 million barrels of oil a day, close to the peak prewar level (2.5 million barrels). Iraqi oil exports, at 2.11 million barrels a day, are actually higher today than at some periods before the war when exports ranged from 1.7 to 2.5 million barrels of oil a day.

In short, it is absurd to suggest that a lack of Iraqi production is responsible for the rise in oil prices; the likely culprits are increased demand in China, India, and other emerging markets.

Obama is more on target when he laments the continuing cost of the war which is running at some $120 billion a year. What he leaves out is any context. The overall size of our economy is $13.1 trillion. So the Iraq War is costing us less than 1% of GDP (0.91% to be exact). Even if you add in the entire defense budget that still only gets us to roughly 4% of GDP—roughly half of what we spent on average during the Cold War, to say nothing of previous “hot” wars such as World War II (34.5% of GDP), Korea (11.7%), and Vietnam (8.9%). (A handy chart may be found here.)

You can make a lot of arguments against the war in Iraq, but the one Obama is now making is the least persuasive of all—that this is a war that “America can’t afford.” At least in dollar terms, it is eminently affordable. What we really can’t afford is a precipitous pullout which, among other consequences, could spread turmoil throughout the Middle East that would greatly exacerbate our current economic woes.

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Dvorak Diplomacy

Today, the New York Philharmonic arrived in Pyongyang, the cold and barren capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The orchestra will perform a concert tomorrow, and Lorin Maazel, its music director, hopes to make a “tiny contribution” to warming up America’s relations with the world’s most repugnant state. “I am a musician and not a politician, but music has always been an arena or area where people can make contact.”

Contact? The hope in the West is that increased contact, starting with the Phil’s visit, will open up North Korea, the world’s most isolated nation. Many argue that friendly relations will weaken the regime, which has been built on hostility to the United States. “I don’t see why Kim is doing it,” says Andrei Lankov, a longtime observer of the Kimist state. “If I were him, I wouldn’t do it.”

So why did North Korea’s leader invite America’s premier orchestra to play in his capital? The answer may be found in Seoul, the capital of the better version of Korea. South Korea today inaugurated its 17th president, Lee Myung-bak. The conservative Lee looks set to reverse a decade of the Sunshine Policy of his two predecessors, Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Lee has already set a new tone in Seoul by signaling that he will condition major assistance to North Korea on adherence to its commitment to give up its atomic bombs. Since the beginning of this year Pyongyang has failed to provide a promised declaration of its nuclear weapons programs, and, as a result, the international community has slowed aid deliveries.

There are signs that the North is headed toward another economic downturn, so Kim Jong Il is undoubtedly looking for new sources of assistance. The North Korean government has stockpiled at least six months’ worth of fuel and other supplies, so it can last through the year. Although it’s unlikely that Beijing would let the regime fall, Kim does not either trust or like the Chinese and would prefer to find other sources of support, especially because multiple benefactors would allow him to play one off against the others, as his father so skillfully did during the Cold War.

The risk is that the United States will fall for the euphoria surrounding the New York Phil’s visit, which has the blessing of the Bush administration. “I don’t think we should get carried away with what listening to Dvorak is going to do in North Korea,” said Condoleezza Rice, who attended Lee’s inauguration. I agree, but her recent Korean policy has been marked by unimaginative strategy, humiliating moments, and unseemly compromises. Kim is a grandmaster of tactics, and if there will be any victim of “Dvorak Diplomacy,” it may be us, not him.

Today, the New York Philharmonic arrived in Pyongyang, the cold and barren capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The orchestra will perform a concert tomorrow, and Lorin Maazel, its music director, hopes to make a “tiny contribution” to warming up America’s relations with the world’s most repugnant state. “I am a musician and not a politician, but music has always been an arena or area where people can make contact.”

Contact? The hope in the West is that increased contact, starting with the Phil’s visit, will open up North Korea, the world’s most isolated nation. Many argue that friendly relations will weaken the regime, which has been built on hostility to the United States. “I don’t see why Kim is doing it,” says Andrei Lankov, a longtime observer of the Kimist state. “If I were him, I wouldn’t do it.”

So why did North Korea’s leader invite America’s premier orchestra to play in his capital? The answer may be found in Seoul, the capital of the better version of Korea. South Korea today inaugurated its 17th president, Lee Myung-bak. The conservative Lee looks set to reverse a decade of the Sunshine Policy of his two predecessors, Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Lee has already set a new tone in Seoul by signaling that he will condition major assistance to North Korea on adherence to its commitment to give up its atomic bombs. Since the beginning of this year Pyongyang has failed to provide a promised declaration of its nuclear weapons programs, and, as a result, the international community has slowed aid deliveries.

There are signs that the North is headed toward another economic downturn, so Kim Jong Il is undoubtedly looking for new sources of assistance. The North Korean government has stockpiled at least six months’ worth of fuel and other supplies, so it can last through the year. Although it’s unlikely that Beijing would let the regime fall, Kim does not either trust or like the Chinese and would prefer to find other sources of support, especially because multiple benefactors would allow him to play one off against the others, as his father so skillfully did during the Cold War.

The risk is that the United States will fall for the euphoria surrounding the New York Phil’s visit, which has the blessing of the Bush administration. “I don’t think we should get carried away with what listening to Dvorak is going to do in North Korea,” said Condoleezza Rice, who attended Lee’s inauguration. I agree, but her recent Korean policy has been marked by unimaginative strategy, humiliating moments, and unseemly compromises. Kim is a grandmaster of tactics, and if there will be any victim of “Dvorak Diplomacy,” it may be us, not him.

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The Word for Katie Couric . . .

Embarrassing. Last night, Ms. Couric interviewed Hillary Clinton for “60 Minutes.” Given the level of access and deference that show receives, both Couric’s Clinton interview and the preceding Steve Kroft interview with Barack Obama were up to the minute and might have turned out to be enlightening and news-making interviews. Instead, Couric shamed herself with a vapid and childish series of questions to the potential Commander-in-Chief.

Among the tidbits we learned: Clinton drinks tea not coffee, that she’s given up diet sodas because “they give you a jolt but it doesn’t last,” that she washes her hands or uses Purell to stay healthy and that were she to lose her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, she’ll be happy to return to being a simple senator from New York. Is any of this information relevant when she’s facing the mother of all nomination battles?

Early on, Couric couldn’t seem to let go of one really nagging question: Doesn’t Mrs. Clinton get down? In her deepest darkest moments, doesn’t she think about losing? Thankfully, Clinton didn’t lower herself to the bait. She smiled and when Couric finally stopped blathering, replied that she didn’t let herself think that way.

Even when the interview got to substantive issues, Couric didn’t listen to her subject and failed to ask any challenging – or really any – follow-up questions. Clinton attacked John McCain for saying he’d be OK with the U.S. staying in Iraq for 50 or 100 years, saying she wold never let that happen. But we’ve been in Germany for over 60 years and we’re still in Korea and Vietnam, does Clinton want to get us out of those commitments, as quickly as she seems intent on getting out of Iraq? Couric didn’t care to find out. (Steve Kroft didn’t see fit to follow up on Obama’s similar attack on McCain, either.)

At the time, there was a lot of discussion about Couric moving from fluffy “Today” into hard news and becoming the first woman news anchor. Whether she can indeed deliver a serious news broadcast every evening is not at issue here. What is at issue is her ability to sit down with serious people, who are engaged in serious endeavors and talk to them at their level. Her performance last night proves that she really should just stay behind the desk and deliver the lines scrolling on the teleprompter.

Embarrassing. Last night, Ms. Couric interviewed Hillary Clinton for “60 Minutes.” Given the level of access and deference that show receives, both Couric’s Clinton interview and the preceding Steve Kroft interview with Barack Obama were up to the minute and might have turned out to be enlightening and news-making interviews. Instead, Couric shamed herself with a vapid and childish series of questions to the potential Commander-in-Chief.

Among the tidbits we learned: Clinton drinks tea not coffee, that she’s given up diet sodas because “they give you a jolt but it doesn’t last,” that she washes her hands or uses Purell to stay healthy and that were she to lose her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, she’ll be happy to return to being a simple senator from New York. Is any of this information relevant when she’s facing the mother of all nomination battles?

Early on, Couric couldn’t seem to let go of one really nagging question: Doesn’t Mrs. Clinton get down? In her deepest darkest moments, doesn’t she think about losing? Thankfully, Clinton didn’t lower herself to the bait. She smiled and when Couric finally stopped blathering, replied that she didn’t let herself think that way.

Even when the interview got to substantive issues, Couric didn’t listen to her subject and failed to ask any challenging – or really any – follow-up questions. Clinton attacked John McCain for saying he’d be OK with the U.S. staying in Iraq for 50 or 100 years, saying she wold never let that happen. But we’ve been in Germany for over 60 years and we’re still in Korea and Vietnam, does Clinton want to get us out of those commitments, as quickly as she seems intent on getting out of Iraq? Couric didn’t care to find out. (Steve Kroft didn’t see fit to follow up on Obama’s similar attack on McCain, either.)

At the time, there was a lot of discussion about Couric moving from fluffy “Today” into hard news and becoming the first woman news anchor. Whether she can indeed deliver a serious news broadcast every evening is not at issue here. What is at issue is her ability to sit down with serious people, who are engaged in serious endeavors and talk to them at their level. Her performance last night proves that she really should just stay behind the desk and deliver the lines scrolling on the teleprompter.

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Libya’s Son

Iraqi Police Colonel Jubair Rashid Naief claims Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam (whose name means Sword of Islam) is sponsoring a terrorist group in Northern Iraq called the Seifaddin Regiment. This group is allegedly responsible for recent attacks in Mosul that killed and wounded hundreds. The U.S. military so far has no comment on the accusation one way or another. I’ve never heard of this group and am not even convinced it exists. But U.S. military officials believe 19 percent of foreign terrorists in Iraq come from Libya.

Robert H. Reid wrote in an Associated Press article that Seif al-Islam “seems an unlikely figure as a sponsor of terrorism. Touted as a reformer, the younger Gadhafi has been reaching out to the West to soften Libya’s image and return it to the international mainstream.”

Yes, Seif al-Islam is touted as a reformer – by journalists. Perhaps naïve government officials also believe Seif al-Islam is a reformer. His father has certainly been given a pass in the last couple of years even though he barely deserves it – if he deserves it at all.

I visited Libya as soon as the U.S. government lifted the travel ban, after Qaddafi supposedly gave up his weapons of mass destruction program. (Click here to see my photo gallery.) It is by far the most oppressive country I have ever been to. Freedom House ranks it the most oppressive of all Arab countries, lower than even Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Qaddafi’s government structure is modeled after Nicolae Ceauşescu’s totalitarian regime in Romania. His state ideology, the unexportable “Third Universal Theory,” is a merger of The Communist Manifesto and the Koran. His own infamous manifesto, The Green Book, is a daft and sinister pseudo-intellectual excuse for his own absolute power. Don’t be fooled by Qaddafi’s court jester antics and buffoonish charisma. He is only funny and entertaining to watch from abroad. Libya is an Orwellian God-state with only Turkmenistan and North Korea as peers.

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Iraqi Police Colonel Jubair Rashid Naief claims Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam (whose name means Sword of Islam) is sponsoring a terrorist group in Northern Iraq called the Seifaddin Regiment. This group is allegedly responsible for recent attacks in Mosul that killed and wounded hundreds. The U.S. military so far has no comment on the accusation one way or another. I’ve never heard of this group and am not even convinced it exists. But U.S. military officials believe 19 percent of foreign terrorists in Iraq come from Libya.

Robert H. Reid wrote in an Associated Press article that Seif al-Islam “seems an unlikely figure as a sponsor of terrorism. Touted as a reformer, the younger Gadhafi has been reaching out to the West to soften Libya’s image and return it to the international mainstream.”

Yes, Seif al-Islam is touted as a reformer – by journalists. Perhaps naïve government officials also believe Seif al-Islam is a reformer. His father has certainly been given a pass in the last couple of years even though he barely deserves it – if he deserves it at all.

I visited Libya as soon as the U.S. government lifted the travel ban, after Qaddafi supposedly gave up his weapons of mass destruction program. (Click here to see my photo gallery.) It is by far the most oppressive country I have ever been to. Freedom House ranks it the most oppressive of all Arab countries, lower than even Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Qaddafi’s government structure is modeled after Nicolae Ceauşescu’s totalitarian regime in Romania. His state ideology, the unexportable “Third Universal Theory,” is a merger of The Communist Manifesto and the Koran. His own infamous manifesto, The Green Book, is a daft and sinister pseudo-intellectual excuse for his own absolute power. Don’t be fooled by Qaddafi’s court jester antics and buffoonish charisma. He is only funny and entertaining to watch from abroad. Libya is an Orwellian God-state with only Turkmenistan and North Korea as peers.

Of course none of this means Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam sponsors a terrorist group in Iraq. I really have no idea if that’s true or not. What I do know is that he is ideologically committed to preserving his father’s prison state system, and that he wants to export that system to as many countries as possible. Gullible diplomats and journalists may sincerely believe he’s a reformer, but a close look at his own statements proves that he’s lying when he passes himself off as moderate. And he is not even a good liar.

“My father has been promoting the idea of direct democracy in Libya for almost 26 years now,” he said to New York Times reporter Craig S. Smith in December, 2004. “It’s quite rational and logical that we have to continue in that direction.”

So much for him reforming his father’s system. He is quite up front about that part of his agenda, at least. What he’s lying about is the nature of his father’s system. Libya is no more a direct democracy than the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea is a democratic republic.

In the same New York Times interview he said “We don’t have an opposition — there is no opposition.” Only “five people,” he claimed, oppose his father’s regime, and all five live in the United States.

It’s breathtaking, really, that even a totalitarian tool like Seif al-Islam doesn’t understand real democracy well enough to know that more than five people in any country will oppose the government regardless of its system or what it does. It takes real insularity from the modern world and its ways to say something like that to a reporter with a straight face. What’s even more striking is that reporters who actually live in a democratic country could take a serious look at this kid and think he’s a straight shooter. You might as well believe Saddam Hussein won 100 percent of the vote in Iraq. At least Syria’s dictator Hafez Assad only claimed to win 99.

I suppose it’s the “direct democracy” part of Seif al-Islam’s shtick that throws people off.

Here is what his father says about democracy in The Green Book: “Political struggle that results in the victory of a candidate with, for example, 51 percent of the vote leads to a dictatorial governing body in the guise of false democracy, since 49 percent of the electorate is ruled by an instrument of government they did not vote for, but which has been imposed upon them. Such is dictatorship.” His solution to the problem of “false democracy” is his version of “direct democracy” that enshrines himself as leader of 100 percent of the people rather than a mere 51. Political parties and political opposition are banned in Libya because they would divide that 100 percent. Libyan-style direct democracy is actually fascism or something very much like it. This is what Seif al-Islam is talking about when he says “we have to continue in that direction.”

The jury is out on whether he’s sponsoring a terrorist group in Iraq. I don’t have access to Iraqi Police Colonel Naief’s intelligence reports and cannot evaluate them. But the idea isn’t that much of a stretch. The Arab world has its reformers, but Seif al-Islam isn’t one of them.

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Flash of the Obvious

Gordon Chang’s recent post, with its circumstantial evidence that China played a major role in North Korea’s nuclear program, perhaps even supporting the creation of the secret uranium enrichment program so that the plutonium program could be traded away: this posting set off for me the proverbial blinding flash of the obvious.

If, as I have argued, our strong interest is that both Koreas should draw away from China in the direction of Japan and the free world, then by the same token, it is China’s interest that both Koreas should become her strategic partners. Aligned with the west, Korea denies China access to the Sea of Japan and keeps her far from Vladivostok, while flanking to the north the entire sea passage to Beijing and its port of Tianjin. Aligned with China, Korea puts the People’s Republic close to Russia’s most important eastern military base, gives her multiple bases from which to enter the Sea of Japan, and brings her to within a hundred miles or so of Japan, with only the sixty or so miles of the Korea Strait separating them. So Korea is a potential decisive weight in Asian strategy.

The issue is how to influence Korea. I have argued that our best policy is to support the universal Korean desire for unification, stop badgering the north about the nuclear program, and, without giving them aid, open up direct lines of communication. As for the south we must work closely with them, in particular with respect to their neuralgic relationship about former colonial power Japan.

China’s best strategy is the opposite: to keep Korea divided and play one state off against the other, in order to keep them weak. Nuclear weapons for the north might have been thought of as a way of cementing loyalty. Close ties with the south are designed to draw her away from the United States and Japan. Tactically it is in certain respects an easier strategy. Its potentially fatal flaw is that because it works against unification, it is bound to be rejected sooner or later, with malice, by both Koreas.

We Americans are thoroughly wrapped up in the Middle East these days. In Korea we are pursuing the fantasy of North Korean disarmament through Chinese assistance–in part because we lack the influence or the attention span, owing to Iraq, to want to get seriously involved. But in the long run, East Asia may well prove even more explosive than the Middle East.

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Gordon Chang’s recent post, with its circumstantial evidence that China played a major role in North Korea’s nuclear program, perhaps even supporting the creation of the secret uranium enrichment program so that the plutonium program could be traded away: this posting set off for me the proverbial blinding flash of the obvious.

If, as I have argued, our strong interest is that both Koreas should draw away from China in the direction of Japan and the free world, then by the same token, it is China’s interest that both Koreas should become her strategic partners. Aligned with the west, Korea denies China access to the Sea of Japan and keeps her far from Vladivostok, while flanking to the north the entire sea passage to Beijing and its port of Tianjin. Aligned with China, Korea puts the People’s Republic close to Russia’s most important eastern military base, gives her multiple bases from which to enter the Sea of Japan, and brings her to within a hundred miles or so of Japan, with only the sixty or so miles of the Korea Strait separating them. So Korea is a potential decisive weight in Asian strategy.

The issue is how to influence Korea. I have argued that our best policy is to support the universal Korean desire for unification, stop badgering the north about the nuclear program, and, without giving them aid, open up direct lines of communication. As for the south we must work closely with them, in particular with respect to their neuralgic relationship about former colonial power Japan.

China’s best strategy is the opposite: to keep Korea divided and play one state off against the other, in order to keep them weak. Nuclear weapons for the north might have been thought of as a way of cementing loyalty. Close ties with the south are designed to draw her away from the United States and Japan. Tactically it is in certain respects an easier strategy. Its potentially fatal flaw is that because it works against unification, it is bound to be rejected sooner or later, with malice, by both Koreas.

We Americans are thoroughly wrapped up in the Middle East these days. In Korea we are pursuing the fantasy of North Korean disarmament through Chinese assistance–in part because we lack the influence or the attention span, owing to Iraq, to want to get seriously involved. But in the long run, East Asia may well prove even more explosive than the Middle East.

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Smoking Out China

Today, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the six-party talks to disarm North Korea could resume this month. Hill, America’s chief representative at the long-running negotiations, is in Moscow in an effort to save the Bush administration’s faltering campaign to take away Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il’s militant state failed to honor an agreement to make a declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007.

This is a particularly bad moment for Kim to stiff the international community. He is set to lose his most valuable ally, the other Korea. Elections last month ended a decade of “progressive”—actually leftist—rule in the South. A conservative, Lee Myung-bak, is set to take over on February 25. After his victory, Lee’s spokesman stated that he would review Seoul’s policies and programs that have supported its northern neighbor. The potential loss of assistance is critical because the North Korean economy largely failed to respond to a package of restructuring measures announced in July 2002, and since then aid from China and South Korea is the primary reason why the regime has remained afloat. Kim Jong Il’s one-man government appears so shaky that some American and South Korean officials think that North Korea could collapse in the near future.

These and other developments suggest that Kim should be even more amenable to giving up his arsenal for immediate financial assistance and the promise of admission into the international community. On the contrary, he is digging in his heels.

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Today, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the six-party talks to disarm North Korea could resume this month. Hill, America’s chief representative at the long-running negotiations, is in Moscow in an effort to save the Bush administration’s faltering campaign to take away Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il’s militant state failed to honor an agreement to make a declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007.

This is a particularly bad moment for Kim to stiff the international community. He is set to lose his most valuable ally, the other Korea. Elections last month ended a decade of “progressive”—actually leftist—rule in the South. A conservative, Lee Myung-bak, is set to take over on February 25. After his victory, Lee’s spokesman stated that he would review Seoul’s policies and programs that have supported its northern neighbor. The potential loss of assistance is critical because the North Korean economy largely failed to respond to a package of restructuring measures announced in July 2002, and since then aid from China and South Korea is the primary reason why the regime has remained afloat. Kim Jong Il’s one-man government appears so shaky that some American and South Korean officials think that North Korea could collapse in the near future.

These and other developments suggest that Kim should be even more amenable to giving up his arsenal for immediate financial assistance and the promise of admission into the international community. On the contrary, he is digging in his heels.

Why is he doing that? Hill provided one clue yesterday when he was in Beijing. There the American envoy told reporters that Pyongyang was delaying the issuance of its declaration because “to acknowledge certain activities would invite additional questioning on our part and further scrutiny on things.” By “certain activities,” Hill was primarily referring to North Korea’s efforts to develop a program to build nukes with uranium cores.

There is, in all probability, great concern in Beijing that a complete North Korean declaration would reveal the Chinese origin of Pyongyang’s uranium program. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the head of a global black-market ring in nuclear weapons technology, said he began working with North Korea around 1991. Khan agreed to transfer Chinese-designed equipment to Pyongyang, and China helped him deliver it. When Khan’s proliferation activities were exposed in the early part of this decade, Beijing persuaded Islamabad to end its investigation, pardon Khan, and keep him away from American interrogators. Beijing has steadfastly professed that it has been “completely in the dark” about Kim Jong Il’s uranium program when it is clear that it had substantial knowledge.

These denials are, as intelligence analyst John Loftus notes, “a real signal of partnership.” Some speculate that the Chinese may even have developed the long-term master plan that contemplated Pyongyang giving up its visible plutonium weapons program and keeping its covert uranium one. In any event, on Monday Agence France-Presse reported that China has developed contingency plans to grab North Korea’s nukes if that is necessary. Such an exercise would, of course, eliminate evidence of Beijing’s nuclear assistance to Pyongyang. In light of all the evidence, it appears that China recently ordered North Korea not to provide its promised declaration of its nuclear activities.

Another round of six-party talks, which Christopher Hill wants, will not help persuade North Korea to give up its arsenal. Yet insisting on a complete declaration and dragging out the disarmament process may help smoke out the world’s most dangerous proliferator. And I’m not referring to North Korea.

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The First (Bad) News of 2008

For weeks, we have known that the first news of 2008 would be unwelcome. Unfortunately, Kim Jong Il’s North Korea did not disappoint. Pyongyang has, as expected, failed to complete the disablement of its sole working reactor in Yongbyon and, more importantly, to provide a full declaration of its nuclear programs, both of which it agreed to do by December 31st as initial steps toward giving up its arsenal of nuclear weapons.

“The declaration is critical,” said Tom Casey, the State Department’s deputy spokesman, on Monday. “This has to be full and complete and that’s why, I think, this is taking extra time.” No, Mr. Casey, North Korea’s declaration is not delayed because Kim Jong Il wants to make sure his accounting to the international community is accurate and comprehensive. On the contrary, Pyongyang is trying to convince the United States that it possesses only 66 pounds of plutonium when it should have about 110. Moreover, the North Koreans maintain they have no uranium nuclear weapons program when there is substantial evidence to the contrary. The latest indication of the existence of such an effort surfaced late last month when it was reported that the United States had discovered traces of enriched uranium on aluminum tubing that the North Koreans had supplied to American investigators as part of the disarmament effort. The tubes, purchased from Russia in June 2002, are of the type used for the outer casings for centrifuges, which enrich uranium for bomb cores.

Instead of cooperating with the international community, North Korea in the last few days has lashed out, especially at the United States, in an apparent effort to excuse its noncompliance. Among other things, Pyongyang accused Washington of plans to attack the North. “The reality testifies once again that there is no change in the U.S. intention to invade us with force and occupy the whole of Korea,” the Communist nation said. “Dialogue and war attempts can’t stand together.”

Washington’s reaction to North Korea’s failure to honor its disarmament obligations has been mild. “I’m not going to put a timeline on it,” said the White House’s Scott Stanzel on Monday. Well, Scott, let me fill you in on a little history: there was already a timeline and North Korea has fallen woefully behind. And you’re missing the more pertinent point—it is impossible to disarm North Korea with indulgence. Kim Jong Il has apparently made the critical decision to keep his nuclear weapons programs. I can understand why he wants to retain his nukes, but I can’t comprehend why the Bush administration won’t see what is apparent to everyone else. It’s time, Scott, to stop playing make believe with Pyongyang.

For weeks, we have known that the first news of 2008 would be unwelcome. Unfortunately, Kim Jong Il’s North Korea did not disappoint. Pyongyang has, as expected, failed to complete the disablement of its sole working reactor in Yongbyon and, more importantly, to provide a full declaration of its nuclear programs, both of which it agreed to do by December 31st as initial steps toward giving up its arsenal of nuclear weapons.

“The declaration is critical,” said Tom Casey, the State Department’s deputy spokesman, on Monday. “This has to be full and complete and that’s why, I think, this is taking extra time.” No, Mr. Casey, North Korea’s declaration is not delayed because Kim Jong Il wants to make sure his accounting to the international community is accurate and comprehensive. On the contrary, Pyongyang is trying to convince the United States that it possesses only 66 pounds of plutonium when it should have about 110. Moreover, the North Koreans maintain they have no uranium nuclear weapons program when there is substantial evidence to the contrary. The latest indication of the existence of such an effort surfaced late last month when it was reported that the United States had discovered traces of enriched uranium on aluminum tubing that the North Koreans had supplied to American investigators as part of the disarmament effort. The tubes, purchased from Russia in June 2002, are of the type used for the outer casings for centrifuges, which enrich uranium for bomb cores.

Instead of cooperating with the international community, North Korea in the last few days has lashed out, especially at the United States, in an apparent effort to excuse its noncompliance. Among other things, Pyongyang accused Washington of plans to attack the North. “The reality testifies once again that there is no change in the U.S. intention to invade us with force and occupy the whole of Korea,” the Communist nation said. “Dialogue and war attempts can’t stand together.”

Washington’s reaction to North Korea’s failure to honor its disarmament obligations has been mild. “I’m not going to put a timeline on it,” said the White House’s Scott Stanzel on Monday. Well, Scott, let me fill you in on a little history: there was already a timeline and North Korea has fallen woefully behind. And you’re missing the more pertinent point—it is impossible to disarm North Korea with indulgence. Kim Jong Il has apparently made the critical decision to keep his nuclear weapons programs. I can understand why he wants to retain his nukes, but I can’t comprehend why the Bush administration won’t see what is apparent to everyone else. It’s time, Scott, to stop playing make believe with Pyongyang.

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Korean Unity?

The hard-for-some-to-imagine prospect of a united Korea drew closer today with news that the first South Korean freight train had crossed the Demilitarized Zone and headed into North Korea. This regularly-scheduled freight service looks set to continue, not least for economic reasons, as a projected connection with the Trans-Siberian Railway will greatly reduce a variety of transport costs.

The establishment of this rail link is, of course, part of the somewhat erratic foreign policy of outgoing Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. In elections set for December 19, Roh’s party looks as though it will be defeated by Lee Myung Bak of the far more seasoned and conservative Grand National Party. Subsequently, as Japan’s Daily Yomiuri puts it in a headline, the “South Korea vote may cool ardor for North.” But pan-Korean ardor for unification, done realistically and right, will not cool. Korea is a country that was politically united under the same ruling house from the late 14th century until the 20th. Its present division is maintained only by the seeming impossibility of merging the cruel and unreconstructed North with the now free and blossoming South.

These difficulties are now gradually being removed. China has signaled intent to take over North Korea if things go badly there, so Pyongyang is looking for alternatives. In Seoul, even the conservative presidential candidate favors increasing cooperation with the North. The trend is clear—and to many, unwelcome, particularly owing to North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. If the arms of the present two Koreas are amalgamated, the outcome is a military having nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems, advanced jet fighters, and state of the art air-independent-propulsion stealthy submarines—all of which can be indigenously produced.

Such a prospect will elicit two quixotic instincts. One will be to try to keep the Koreas separate. The other will be to attempt to render Korea non-nuclear. Neither, I think is possible, and the first is not desirable. I believe we should explicitly support Korean unification. The first reason is that it is coming anyway. The second is that if we (and Japan) are involved we are more likely to see a liberal and open state emerge. It is in our and Japan’s interest to pull the new state away from China at least to neutrality, and perhaps in our direction. Admittedly, huge headaches will be involved. But better to be moving with inescapable change and attempting to steer it in a positive direction than to allow the new United Korea to align with Russia or China against us.

The hard-for-some-to-imagine prospect of a united Korea drew closer today with news that the first South Korean freight train had crossed the Demilitarized Zone and headed into North Korea. This regularly-scheduled freight service looks set to continue, not least for economic reasons, as a projected connection with the Trans-Siberian Railway will greatly reduce a variety of transport costs.

The establishment of this rail link is, of course, part of the somewhat erratic foreign policy of outgoing Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. In elections set for December 19, Roh’s party looks as though it will be defeated by Lee Myung Bak of the far more seasoned and conservative Grand National Party. Subsequently, as Japan’s Daily Yomiuri puts it in a headline, the “South Korea vote may cool ardor for North.” But pan-Korean ardor for unification, done realistically and right, will not cool. Korea is a country that was politically united under the same ruling house from the late 14th century until the 20th. Its present division is maintained only by the seeming impossibility of merging the cruel and unreconstructed North with the now free and blossoming South.

These difficulties are now gradually being removed. China has signaled intent to take over North Korea if things go badly there, so Pyongyang is looking for alternatives. In Seoul, even the conservative presidential candidate favors increasing cooperation with the North. The trend is clear—and to many, unwelcome, particularly owing to North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. If the arms of the present two Koreas are amalgamated, the outcome is a military having nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems, advanced jet fighters, and state of the art air-independent-propulsion stealthy submarines—all of which can be indigenously produced.

Such a prospect will elicit two quixotic instincts. One will be to try to keep the Koreas separate. The other will be to attempt to render Korea non-nuclear. Neither, I think is possible, and the first is not desirable. I believe we should explicitly support Korean unification. The first reason is that it is coming anyway. The second is that if we (and Japan) are involved we are more likely to see a liberal and open state emerge. It is in our and Japan’s interest to pull the new state away from China at least to neutrality, and perhaps in our direction. Admittedly, huge headaches will be involved. But better to be moving with inescapable change and attempting to steer it in a positive direction than to allow the new United Korea to align with Russia or China against us.

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Taiwan’s Rejection

Taiwan’s rejection—for the fifteenth time in a row—by the agenda-setting committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations last Wednesday may well be seen, before too long, to have been a turning point. After all, who can believe that Taiwan will be turned down another fifteen times?

Chinese diplomats are nervous. They don’t want Taiwan even on the agenda, because they fear, correctly, that an open discussion might not go their way. They know that no one believes on principle that Taiwan should be excluded. Other countries are simply afraid of China.

How long can China continue to intimidate otherwise free-thinking nations? The answer is, not indefinitely.

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Taiwan’s rejection—for the fifteenth time in a row—by the agenda-setting committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations last Wednesday may well be seen, before too long, to have been a turning point. After all, who can believe that Taiwan will be turned down another fifteen times?

Chinese diplomats are nervous. They don’t want Taiwan even on the agenda, because they fear, correctly, that an open discussion might not go their way. They know that no one believes on principle that Taiwan should be excluded. Other countries are simply afraid of China.

How long can China continue to intimidate otherwise free-thinking nations? The answer is, not indefinitely.

Consider India. In an article on the op-ed page of the Times of India, Ramesh Thakur, formerly a senior vice rector of the U.N. University in Tokyo, wrote:

The biggest and longest running scandal is the way in which Taiwan has been banned from the U.N.. Taiwan is refused membership, is not granted observer status, and does not figure in the U.N.’s statistical databases.

Concluding that the exclusion of Taiwan “has little to do with the merits of the application and everything to do with the geopolitics of China as a permanent member of the Security Council,” Thakur asked:

Where does this leave all the fine talk of democracy, human rights, and self-determination in Kosovo, East Timor, and elsewhere? Taiwan is better credentialed than most of them. Its population of 23 million is almost the combined total of Australia and New Zealand, and bigger than scores of U.N. member states, including East Timor (under one million) and Kosovo (over two million).

To our shame, official jaws in Washington have been clenched tightly shut with respect to this issue, except when reiterating hoary formulas whose authors, with a handful of exceptions, are long dead.

The Bush administration portrays Taiwan’s increasingly audible demands as no more than local political posturing and manipulation, for which their elected president is to blame, and resolutely declines comment on the merits of Taiwan’s case.

Some former officials, however, are talking sense: Michael Green, for instance, Bush’s former top Asian aide, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was recently quoted as saying:

For the U.S. side, we need to recognize the issue of identity in Taiwan is not a political game, it’s not a tactical move in Taipei, it’s a very fundamental issue, not at all unique to its 23 million people…. Look at Korea, Japan, the national identity is at the top of the agenda in every country in Asia and there is no reason why Taiwan should be any different.

Thakur and Green are absolutely right. The issues and processes they describe will not disappear or cease simply because we and China wish they would. We are dealing with nationalism. Difficult as it may be, we need to think ahead.

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Asians in Classical Music

Anyone who has been to a classical concert recently, especially at a conservatory, will note the ever-increasing number of Asian musicians, what some call an “Asian Invasion.” In 2006, of the nine new musicians hired by the New York Philharmonic, six were Asian. At the noted Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, fully three-quarters of the piano students are from Asia. A new study from Temple University Press, Musicians from a Different Shore, by Mari Yoshihara, analyzes the phenomenon.

Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim recalls, during an interview transcribed in the book, that when he studied at Juilliard in the 1970’s, “Eastern European and Jewish students were diminishing and Asians were just coming up.” Kim adds: “Right now at Juilliard, it’s like all Asian.” Yoshihara asserts that in fact only 30 percent of Juilliard students today are Asian, yet the impression remains. Many Asian families seem willing to make any sacrifice in order to advance their offspring’s studies. At ten, Kim made bi-weekly flights to Juilliard from his family’s home in South Carolina, so he could study with legendary pedagogue Dorothy DeLay. Classical music enjoys great prestige among educated families in China, Japan, and Korea, akin to that routinely felt a century ago in bourgeois households in Middle and Eastern Europe.

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Anyone who has been to a classical concert recently, especially at a conservatory, will note the ever-increasing number of Asian musicians, what some call an “Asian Invasion.” In 2006, of the nine new musicians hired by the New York Philharmonic, six were Asian. At the noted Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, fully three-quarters of the piano students are from Asia. A new study from Temple University Press, Musicians from a Different Shore, by Mari Yoshihara, analyzes the phenomenon.

Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim recalls, during an interview transcribed in the book, that when he studied at Juilliard in the 1970’s, “Eastern European and Jewish students were diminishing and Asians were just coming up.” Kim adds: “Right now at Juilliard, it’s like all Asian.” Yoshihara asserts that in fact only 30 percent of Juilliard students today are Asian, yet the impression remains. Many Asian families seem willing to make any sacrifice in order to advance their offspring’s studies. At ten, Kim made bi-weekly flights to Juilliard from his family’s home in South Carolina, so he could study with legendary pedagogue Dorothy DeLay. Classical music enjoys great prestige among educated families in China, Japan, and Korea, akin to that routinely felt a century ago in bourgeois households in Middle and Eastern Europe.

Another interviewee, the eminent Taiwanese-born violinist Cho-Liang Lin (profiled on contentions earlier this year) points out that nowadays Asian music students all want to be solo stars instead of ensemble musicians; most do not “want to play the trumpet, they hardly play the clarinet, but they have to play a solo instrument, piano or violin, or maybe sometimes cello, but bassoon, out of the question, you know.”

Despite the indisputable number of talented Asian performers, Yoshihara points out that Asians remain severely underrepresented on a management level, on boards of trustees, and in other power positions in the classical music world. On the boards of Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Asians are as rare as hen’s teeth. And even when it comes to musicians, misunderstandings still remain. Joel Tse, principal flutist of the Toledo Symphony, recounts that when he plays school concerts in Ohio, students ask him, “Are you related to Jackie Chan?” When the violinist Muneko Otani, who teaches at Columbia University, tours in Oklahoma, people ask her about Pearl Harbor, as if her Japanese ancestry sufficed to make her a ranking expert on the faraway subject. The viola player Junah Chung relates that when his blonde wife, also a musician, auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, she was told by another string player: “Oh thank God, a blonde violinist! This orchestra is starting to look like the Shanghai Symphony.” Even setting aside blatant racism, it is clear that Asian musicians still have some ways to go before they are integrated fully into America’s classical music scene.

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Book Review: In the Ruins of Empire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mao Bites Dog

A pet shop owner in Yongin, Korea, about 25 miles south of Seoul, set off an international incident recently with an advertising sign featuring . . . a puppy. In the sign, a dog’s head replaces that of Mao Zedong in the portrait hanging at the northern end of Tiananmen Square. Last Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry summoned a South Korean diplomat to protest, and the shop’s owner immediately pulled down the sign and apologized to Beijing.

What’s wrong with this picture? First, China’s authoritarian state tried to censor an image appearing in a democracy—and the democracy bowed. Yet there is something even more far-reaching and disturbing in this incident. Since 1954, the People’s Republic has maintained that the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence—mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in others’ internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence—are essential to its foreign policy.

Beijing always says China’s rise will be peaceful, that it does not pose a threat to anyone else, and that it will never interfere in the domestic affairs of another nation. But if its definition of “non-interference” includes the right to ban advertising for a pet shop in a backwater location in another country, then the world is in for a load of trouble.

A pet shop owner in Yongin, Korea, about 25 miles south of Seoul, set off an international incident recently with an advertising sign featuring . . . a puppy. In the sign, a dog’s head replaces that of Mao Zedong in the portrait hanging at the northern end of Tiananmen Square. Last Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry summoned a South Korean diplomat to protest, and the shop’s owner immediately pulled down the sign and apologized to Beijing.

What’s wrong with this picture? First, China’s authoritarian state tried to censor an image appearing in a democracy—and the democracy bowed. Yet there is something even more far-reaching and disturbing in this incident. Since 1954, the People’s Republic has maintained that the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence—mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in others’ internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence—are essential to its foreign policy.

Beijing always says China’s rise will be peaceful, that it does not pose a threat to anyone else, and that it will never interfere in the domestic affairs of another nation. But if its definition of “non-interference” includes the right to ban advertising for a pet shop in a backwater location in another country, then the world is in for a load of trouble.

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If George F. Kennan Met Osama bin Laden

“Did George Kennan know the best way to fight terror?” is the question asked by a New York Times op-ed today. My question in return is: why is so much that appears on the op-ed page of our leading newspaper so fatuous?

In 1947, writes Nicholas Thompson, the author of a forthcoming book about Kennan, the late American strategist published his famous article in Foreign Affairs under the byline of X, setting forth the strategy of containment. The Soviet challenge, as Kennan understood it, Thompson explains, was political and not military, and it required a political not a military response: “The United States should refrain from provoking Moscow, whether through confrontation or histrionics,” Thompson paraphrases. “Patience would lead to success.”

Alas, Thompson continues, containment was massively misinterpreted and militarized by American cold warriors and turned into an instrument of aggression and bellicosity. This in turn led into the horrors of the cold war:

We soon built up our forces to defend Western Europe, created NATO and engaged in a huge arms race. Eventually containment would mean soldiers in Vietnam and thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at the Soviet Union.

Has Thompson has given us a fair summary of Kennan’s position? In Foreign Affairs, after all, Kennan offered a strategy of “firm containment designed to confront the Russians with unalterable counterforce at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interest of a peaceful and stable world.” It is impossible to read this as a call for pacifism or disengagement or even “patience”—try as Thompson might (and, in his later years, Kennan himself did). In fact, as I have argued in COMMENTARY, there were actually two George Kennans, the second of whom waged a life-long war against the writings of the first, grossly distorting his own ideas and the historical record along the way.

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“Did George Kennan know the best way to fight terror?” is the question asked by a New York Times op-ed today. My question in return is: why is so much that appears on the op-ed page of our leading newspaper so fatuous?

In 1947, writes Nicholas Thompson, the author of a forthcoming book about Kennan, the late American strategist published his famous article in Foreign Affairs under the byline of X, setting forth the strategy of containment. The Soviet challenge, as Kennan understood it, Thompson explains, was political and not military, and it required a political not a military response: “The United States should refrain from provoking Moscow, whether through confrontation or histrionics,” Thompson paraphrases. “Patience would lead to success.”

Alas, Thompson continues, containment was massively misinterpreted and militarized by American cold warriors and turned into an instrument of aggression and bellicosity. This in turn led into the horrors of the cold war:

We soon built up our forces to defend Western Europe, created NATO and engaged in a huge arms race. Eventually containment would mean soldiers in Vietnam and thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at the Soviet Union.

Has Thompson has given us a fair summary of Kennan’s position? In Foreign Affairs, after all, Kennan offered a strategy of “firm containment designed to confront the Russians with unalterable counterforce at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interest of a peaceful and stable world.” It is impossible to read this as a call for pacifism or disengagement or even “patience”—try as Thompson might (and, in his later years, Kennan himself did). In fact, as I have argued in COMMENTARY, there were actually two George Kennans, the second of whom waged a life-long war against the writings of the first, grossly distorting his own ideas and the historical record along the way.

But what does any of this cold-war arcana have to do with terrorism?

Thompson acknowledges that today “we face vastly different challenges from those the nation confronted right after World War II.” Al-Qaeda cells plotting attacks with weapons of mass destruction are a far cry from the dangers posed by the Red Army and Communist insurrection. Nevertheless, claims Thompson, Kennan’s pacific version of containment—“the desired but never executed policy from 60 years ago—contains “profound wisdom” for our present circumstances. In particular, we should recognize that, as in the cold war, “[t]ime is on our side—particularly if we act in a way that doesn’t inflame our enemies’ pride and anger and win them new recruits.”

Thus, with respect to Pakistan, where we are spending $10 billion on military assistance and less than $1 billion on health, education, and the promotion of democracy, Kennan “would have wanted the numbers to be closer to the reverse.”

Kennan’s vision of counterterrorism would also involve

the closing of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, an unambiguous renunciation of torture, and an abandonment of the notion that our legal and moral norms don’t apply to the current struggle. Kennan believed we gave our opponents a propaganda victory each time we acted in a manner unfitting of our ideals.

Whatever the merits and demerits of each of these proposals, invoking Kennan’s doctrine of containment in defense of them is both dishonest and illogical.

Even in the cold war itself, as Thompson himself admits, “We can’t know for sure how [Kennan’s] recommended, wholly political version of containment”—assuming he ever adumbrated such a vision—“would have fared.” In the event, and in the face of massive threats to the peace in places like Korea and Berlin, the “militarized” version of the doctrine was a necessity.

Toward the end of the cold war, moreover, it was only America’s willingness to engage in a military competition that enabled the West to prevail; even Thompson is compelled to admit that a “militant foreign policy” eventually helped “bring about the collapse of Soviet Communism.”

So how does it follow from the history of the cold war that we should now abandon military means in the struggle against al Qaeda and simply try to contain it? In fact, we tried something like that approach in the 1990’s, and on September 11, 2001, it led to one of the worst military disasters in American history.

That there are now voices telling us to abandon the military fight against Islamic terrorists and win by setting an example of moral rectitude shows only that there is no limit to the human desire to cut and run.

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Peace in Our Time

This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States is thinking of ways of formally ending the Korean War, which was started in June 1950 by Kim Il Sung, the father of Kim Jong Il. An armistice in 1953 ended the fighting, but no peace treaty was ever signed.

The article also notes that Washington is seeking to create a permanent organization to handle security concerns in North Asia, something similar to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The concept is that, if North Korea can be disarmed, there is a possibility of maintaining peace through continual dialogue in an official body.

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This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States is thinking of ways of formally ending the Korean War, which was started in June 1950 by Kim Il Sung, the father of Kim Jong Il. An armistice in 1953 ended the fighting, but no peace treaty was ever signed.

The article also notes that Washington is seeking to create a permanent organization to handle security concerns in North Asia, something similar to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The concept is that, if North Korea can be disarmed, there is a possibility of maintaining peace through continual dialogue in an official body.

Since the end of hostilities in Korea, military alliances have remained in place. On one side, China and North Korea are each other’s only formal military ally. On the other, there are American mutual defense treaties with South Korea and Japan. The Journal reports that Washington planners are concerned that if the North Korean threat disappears, the main justification for the two American alliances ends.

Memo to the Bush administration: If North Korea were to give up all its nuclear weapons, all of its missiles, and every last ounce of plutonium tomorrow—a pleasing thought, but don’t hold your breath—Seoul and Tokyo would still want the protection of the American military. The Koreans and Japanese each perceive the Chinese, the local hegemons, as a threat. The border between Korea and China has moved hundreds of miles in each direction over the last half millennium, and even today it is not stable. China and Japan, which also have a tradition of warfare against each other, currently have territorial disputes involving islands and huge portions of waters. Moreover, the Koreans and Japanese are not on good terms with each other, due to recent grievances piled on top of ancient historical reasons.

It’s the United States, in the end, that maintains the peace in North Asia. Creating a permanent organization to give a greater voice to an increasingly assertive China will only make matters worse.

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Boot and Hanson, Final Round: Fixing Our Mistakes

Dear Max,

I wouldn’t necessarily conflate being more aggressive with being more brutal. We can patrol more, embed more advisors, shoot and arrest more insurgents, all without being gratuitously cruel or needlessly overbearing to civilian sensibilities.

Here is what I think happened in Iraq after April 2003. Bolstered by a 70-percent approval rating, and still smarting from all the prewar hysteria from the Left, the Bush administration felt that it could run out the clock, so to speak.

Thus, each time a challenge arose—looting, the Fallujah outbreak, the Sadr uprising—their idea was to finesse the crisis as much as possible. They were afraid to squander the capital of hard-won public support through (unneeded?) escalation, escalation that would increase casualties and only encourage further domestic and international condemnation of the war.

As a result of this policy, public support vanished anyway, in dribs and drabs, each time we did not react strongly and decisively enough to a provocation. The administration thought, apparently, that using more aggressive tactics would only further incite the growing anti-war movement and that the good news of progress in reconstruction would only continue to be ignored by a biased media.

And so with a whimper rather than a bang, our complacency and over-sensitive attention to perceived public opinion made us ever less aggressive and ever more attuned to “force protection”—at precisely the time more and more offensive operations were needed to break the insurgency and win back public opinion.

Now we must shatter that complacency and do in nine months what textbooks warn takes years. It is still not too late; history might still record as a considerable military achievement the removal of Saddam and the creation of a constitutional government in Iraq. The President and the military believe they can pull it off, while the opposition (whose proposals to withdraw are not matched by votes to reduce budget appropriations) remains, to say the least, doubtful. But the American public’s patience will, apparently, tolerate this final effort.

I am tired of reading the latest declarations of moral outrage from politicians and pundits blaming Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, Franks, Sanchez, Casey, Abizaid, etc., for “their” three-year-long occupation that ruined “our” perfect three-week war. What happened in Iraq pales when compared to the horrifying mistakes our government and military made in the Civil War, in World War I and World War II, in Korea and Vietnam. What would this generation of politicians and journalists have said after Cold Harbor and the Battle of the Wilderness, after the two-year-long nightmare of the fall of France, after our World War II losses in the Atlantic, after the debacle in Greece, after the surrenders at Singapore and Tobruk? One can only imagine.

All that matters now is correcting our mistakes, countering the defeatists, and defeating the insurgents. We have to keep firmly in mind the correct notion that a functional democracy in Iraq would be the worst nightmare of jihadists the world over, of Iran, Syria, and the royal Gulf “moderates.” Allowing Iraq to devolve into the Lebanon of the 1980’s or the Afghanistan of the 1990’s, on the other hand, would restore al Qaeda’s lost sanctuary and provide a new base of operations for Iranian-backed terrorists. To paraphrase one commentator, such a failure would inflict “1,000 Mogadishus”-worth of damage on the reputation of the U.S. military and on a nascent and necessary U.S. Middle East policy, a policy seeking to transcend the dangerous (and cynical) “realism” of the past.

Best,
Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IV

Dear Max,

I wouldn’t necessarily conflate being more aggressive with being more brutal. We can patrol more, embed more advisors, shoot and arrest more insurgents, all without being gratuitously cruel or needlessly overbearing to civilian sensibilities.

Here is what I think happened in Iraq after April 2003. Bolstered by a 70-percent approval rating, and still smarting from all the prewar hysteria from the Left, the Bush administration felt that it could run out the clock, so to speak.

Thus, each time a challenge arose—looting, the Fallujah outbreak, the Sadr uprising—their idea was to finesse the crisis as much as possible. They were afraid to squander the capital of hard-won public support through (unneeded?) escalation, escalation that would increase casualties and only encourage further domestic and international condemnation of the war.

As a result of this policy, public support vanished anyway, in dribs and drabs, each time we did not react strongly and decisively enough to a provocation. The administration thought, apparently, that using more aggressive tactics would only further incite the growing anti-war movement and that the good news of progress in reconstruction would only continue to be ignored by a biased media.

And so with a whimper rather than a bang, our complacency and over-sensitive attention to perceived public opinion made us ever less aggressive and ever more attuned to “force protection”—at precisely the time more and more offensive operations were needed to break the insurgency and win back public opinion.

Now we must shatter that complacency and do in nine months what textbooks warn takes years. It is still not too late; history might still record as a considerable military achievement the removal of Saddam and the creation of a constitutional government in Iraq. The President and the military believe they can pull it off, while the opposition (whose proposals to withdraw are not matched by votes to reduce budget appropriations) remains, to say the least, doubtful. But the American public’s patience will, apparently, tolerate this final effort.

I am tired of reading the latest declarations of moral outrage from politicians and pundits blaming Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, Franks, Sanchez, Casey, Abizaid, etc., for “their” three-year-long occupation that ruined “our” perfect three-week war. What happened in Iraq pales when compared to the horrifying mistakes our government and military made in the Civil War, in World War I and World War II, in Korea and Vietnam. What would this generation of politicians and journalists have said after Cold Harbor and the Battle of the Wilderness, after the two-year-long nightmare of the fall of France, after our World War II losses in the Atlantic, after the debacle in Greece, after the surrenders at Singapore and Tobruk? One can only imagine.

All that matters now is correcting our mistakes, countering the defeatists, and defeating the insurgents. We have to keep firmly in mind the correct notion that a functional democracy in Iraq would be the worst nightmare of jihadists the world over, of Iran, Syria, and the royal Gulf “moderates.” Allowing Iraq to devolve into the Lebanon of the 1980’s or the Afghanistan of the 1990’s, on the other hand, would restore al Qaeda’s lost sanctuary and provide a new base of operations for Iranian-backed terrorists. To paraphrase one commentator, such a failure would inflict “1,000 Mogadishus”-worth of damage on the reputation of the U.S. military and on a nascent and necessary U.S. Middle East policy, a policy seeking to transcend the dangerous (and cynical) “realism” of the past.

Best,
Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IV

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Boot and Hanson, Round One: Victory Before Peace

Dear Max,

The surge, in my opinion, could very well work—if it is the catalyst for a change in tactics. In COMMENTARY and elsewhere, many observers have noted that the number of troops, per se, has not been, historically, the sole arbiter of military success. If the administration sends more soldiers to Iraq without new, clear directives, it will only breed more Iraqi dependency, create more targets for insurgents, and cost America more prestige.

But if we change our way of doing business tactically, operationally, and psychologically—stop the arrest-and-release insanity, eliminate key militia leaders and disband their followers, expand the rules of engagement, accelerate cash payments for salaried Iraqis, patrol the borders, all while maintaining the veneer of Iraqi autonomy—even at this 11th hour we could entice the proverbial bystanders (a majority of the country) to cast their lot with the perceived winners: namely, us.

And if we can kill more insurgents, we can still overcome what has been our chief obstacle throughout this war—the lingering idea that Iraq was simply to be liberated, without its military (and paramilitary organizations) first being conquered and humiliated. It is hard, as we have seen, to achieve full reconstruction (which is what is entailed in bringing constitutional government, a market economy, and civil rights to Saddam’s Iraq) when “peace” means killing thousands of terrorists under postmodern rules of engagement before the world’s hypercritical television audience.

So where does that leave us? In a race of sorts. On the one side, the Democrats realize that anger over the perceived stasis in Iraq has brought them the Congress and possibly the White House in 2008. On the other side, the administration’s personnel changes, the surge, and a belated public-relations counteroffensive have bought six months to a year (at most) to secure and quiet Baghdad. Democratic critics claimed that they wanted more troops, Rumsfeld’s resignation, and mavericks like General Petraeus in charge—thinking, probably, that President Bush would probably never accede. Now that he has, it will take a few weeks for the Democrats to re-triangulate and refashion credible new opposition to their own earlier demands. (And they must tread carefully while doing it: if the surge works as planned, the Democrats will end up looking foolish on the eve of the 2008 election.)

Meanwhile, the terrorists know that the more carnage they inflict and Americans they kill, the more this window of time closes. So in fine American fashion (consider Grant and Sherman’s onus of turning the tide of the Civil War in 1864, or the assumption that Ridgeway was to save post-Yalu Korea), our national subconscious has decreed: “OK, General Petraeus. Preserve Iraqi democracy and don’t lose any more Americans in the process. You have less than a year. By the way: we’ll be passing hourly televised judgment on your progress!”

Yours,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Max,

The surge, in my opinion, could very well work—if it is the catalyst for a change in tactics. In COMMENTARY and elsewhere, many observers have noted that the number of troops, per se, has not been, historically, the sole arbiter of military success. If the administration sends more soldiers to Iraq without new, clear directives, it will only breed more Iraqi dependency, create more targets for insurgents, and cost America more prestige.

But if we change our way of doing business tactically, operationally, and psychologically—stop the arrest-and-release insanity, eliminate key militia leaders and disband their followers, expand the rules of engagement, accelerate cash payments for salaried Iraqis, patrol the borders, all while maintaining the veneer of Iraqi autonomy—even at this 11th hour we could entice the proverbial bystanders (a majority of the country) to cast their lot with the perceived winners: namely, us.

And if we can kill more insurgents, we can still overcome what has been our chief obstacle throughout this war—the lingering idea that Iraq was simply to be liberated, without its military (and paramilitary organizations) first being conquered and humiliated. It is hard, as we have seen, to achieve full reconstruction (which is what is entailed in bringing constitutional government, a market economy, and civil rights to Saddam’s Iraq) when “peace” means killing thousands of terrorists under postmodern rules of engagement before the world’s hypercritical television audience.

So where does that leave us? In a race of sorts. On the one side, the Democrats realize that anger over the perceived stasis in Iraq has brought them the Congress and possibly the White House in 2008. On the other side, the administration’s personnel changes, the surge, and a belated public-relations counteroffensive have bought six months to a year (at most) to secure and quiet Baghdad. Democratic critics claimed that they wanted more troops, Rumsfeld’s resignation, and mavericks like General Petraeus in charge—thinking, probably, that President Bush would probably never accede. Now that he has, it will take a few weeks for the Democrats to re-triangulate and refashion credible new opposition to their own earlier demands. (And they must tread carefully while doing it: if the surge works as planned, the Democrats will end up looking foolish on the eve of the 2008 election.)

Meanwhile, the terrorists know that the more carnage they inflict and Americans they kill, the more this window of time closes. So in fine American fashion (consider Grant and Sherman’s onus of turning the tide of the Civil War in 1864, or the assumption that Ridgeway was to save post-Yalu Korea), our national subconscious has decreed: “OK, General Petraeus. Preserve Iraqi democracy and don’t lose any more Americans in the process. You have less than a year. By the way: we’ll be passing hourly televised judgment on your progress!”

Yours,

Victor

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