Commentary Magazine


Topic: South Korea

Shifting Positions in the Far East?

While President Obama danced with Indian children and admired a moghul’s monument, our secretaries of state and defense were busy restructuring America’s security posture in Asia. It wasn’t clear before they went, as far as I can tell, that this is what they’d be doing. The Obama administration seems to keep finding major strategy shifts unexpectedly while rooting around in its pockets.

Hillary Clinton and Bob Gates have just concluded a successful visit to Australia during which they obtained agreements to significantly increase the use of Australian bases by the U.S. military. Now, I can attest that Townsville and Darwin, on Australia’s northern coast, are superb liberty ports. Working with our Australian allies is always a top-notch experience; count me a fan of having Oz on your “closest allies” list. But enlarging the U.S. military footprint anywhere is the kind of thing America does sparingly, for serious strategic reasons — and in the context of deliberate and announced policy. No such context is apparent with this move.

Speculation is rampant, however. The Australian media think we’re preparing for the likelihood that our major bases in Okinawa will have to close. The fate of the Marine Corps air forces stationed there does remain uncertain, but that difficult issue could be negotiated without sending a series of counterproductive signals during the process. There is no emergency demanding an immediate increase of U.S. forces in East Asia; under current conditions, shifting our basing scheme there can only be seen as a preemptive shift away from Japan. Read More

While President Obama danced with Indian children and admired a moghul’s monument, our secretaries of state and defense were busy restructuring America’s security posture in Asia. It wasn’t clear before they went, as far as I can tell, that this is what they’d be doing. The Obama administration seems to keep finding major strategy shifts unexpectedly while rooting around in its pockets.

Hillary Clinton and Bob Gates have just concluded a successful visit to Australia during which they obtained agreements to significantly increase the use of Australian bases by the U.S. military. Now, I can attest that Townsville and Darwin, on Australia’s northern coast, are superb liberty ports. Working with our Australian allies is always a top-notch experience; count me a fan of having Oz on your “closest allies” list. But enlarging the U.S. military footprint anywhere is the kind of thing America does sparingly, for serious strategic reasons — and in the context of deliberate and announced policy. No such context is apparent with this move.

Speculation is rampant, however. The Australian media think we’re preparing for the likelihood that our major bases in Okinawa will have to close. The fate of the Marine Corps air forces stationed there does remain uncertain, but that difficult issue could be negotiated without sending a series of counterproductive signals during the process. There is no emergency demanding an immediate increase of U.S. forces in East Asia; under current conditions, shifting our basing scheme there can only be seen as a preemptive shift away from Japan.

Rumors like this one, about a supposed drawdown of U.S. F-16s from Hokkaido, abound throughout Japan right now. Some Japanese suspect the U.S. is trying to wrest concessions from Tokyo with such drawdown threats. But I fervently hope we aren’t: if anything, at this moment, we should be strengthening and talking up our alliance with Japan. China and Russia have both made power moves against Japan in the past two months — moves involving history’s most common casus belli, disputed territory. By affirming a united front with Japan, we could induce them to step back. But sending random and confusing signals about our strategic intentions and true priorities is merely an accelerant to instability.

It’s not a policy-neutral act to shift our locus of military logistics away from Japan and toward Australia, Singapore, and Guam. Besides the politics, the distances involved are huge and significant to military operations. South Korea can be forgiven for doubting our commitment if we seem to be playing games with our bases in Japan. China, on the other hand, is justified in wondering what we have in mind, with this talk of a “military build-up” in Australia and Singapore. Neither venue is well suited to supporting a defense of Taiwan. There is an unpleasantly imperial ring to the proposition that we should ensure we can keep lots of forces in the theater regardless of any specific requirement for them.

That implication is especially discordant when the U.S. administration seems to be giving short shrift to the intrinsic importance of alliances. From the standpoint of American security, the single most significant factor in East Asia is our alliance with Japan. It is crude, mechanistic, and shortsighted to suppose that military force by itself can do the work of a key alliance. An alliance, however, can obviate much military force and many needless threats.

Bases in East Asia have been a benefit for us, but the alliance with Japan is the prize we need to tend. It does great harm to send the signal that we can’t wait for a political resolution with this longstanding ally before adjusting our military basing arrangements. If there is some emergency erupting in Southeast Asia that justifies ill-timed action in this regard, it would be nice if the Obama administration would clarify for the American people what it is.

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The Rising Dragon and “Smart” Diplomacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flotsam and Jetsam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No Good Choices for the White House

The White House is torn these days — focus on the economy (and thereby highlight its own failures) or shift to foreign policy (though its “smart diplomacy” is proving to be anything but)? There is no good choice. If this report is accurate, the Obami appear to have given up on the economy:

This week’s foreign-policy initiatives are of Mr. Obama’s own choosing. But they also show a realization that there is little he can do to boost the economy ahead of the November elections, said William Galston, a domestic-policy adviser to President Bill Clinton. “President Obama for the most part has decided just to be president and do the president’s job for the rest of this year,” Mr. Galston said. “That doesn’t mean he won’t be raising money for candidates, won’t be doing some politicking. … But it seems to me at this point the president is taking a long view, perhaps because he has precious few alternatives.”

But in the foreign policy realm, the vision is anything but “long view.” Obama tends to view foreign policy moves as short term, politically minded gambits. Iraq is a campaign promise kept rather than an achievement or an ongoing commitment. The peace talks are a face-saving gesture so that Obama’s Middle East policy doesn’t go up in flames. But more candid White House aides confess that those talks may very well trigger real flames:

U.S. officials said they worried that a new round of violence in the Palestinian territories could erupt if the freeze isn’t extended. “We might end up preparing for a catastrophe instead of a prolonged peace process,” said one U.S. official engaged in the talks.

Mr. Obama has cited a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal as one of his chief foreign-policy aims. He has said that he believed such an agreement could be achieved within a year, and that it would have far wider implications for stability in the Middle East.

That, however, is fantasyland stuff.

It would be delightful if Obama actually took the long view — real entitlement reform, attacking the debt, ensuring that the world is not threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran, sticking with Iraq so it emerges (as South Korea did) as a reliable democratic ally. But Obama shows little sign of that. His tenure has been marked by hyper-partisanship, irresponsible spending, unreasoned and unwise foreign policy maneuvers, and a lack of responsiveness to the voters. This is why there are, nine weeks from Election Day, no good choices. You can’t undo 18 months of damage in 63 days.

The White House is torn these days — focus on the economy (and thereby highlight its own failures) or shift to foreign policy (though its “smart diplomacy” is proving to be anything but)? There is no good choice. If this report is accurate, the Obami appear to have given up on the economy:

This week’s foreign-policy initiatives are of Mr. Obama’s own choosing. But they also show a realization that there is little he can do to boost the economy ahead of the November elections, said William Galston, a domestic-policy adviser to President Bill Clinton. “President Obama for the most part has decided just to be president and do the president’s job for the rest of this year,” Mr. Galston said. “That doesn’t mean he won’t be raising money for candidates, won’t be doing some politicking. … But it seems to me at this point the president is taking a long view, perhaps because he has precious few alternatives.”

But in the foreign policy realm, the vision is anything but “long view.” Obama tends to view foreign policy moves as short term, politically minded gambits. Iraq is a campaign promise kept rather than an achievement or an ongoing commitment. The peace talks are a face-saving gesture so that Obama’s Middle East policy doesn’t go up in flames. But more candid White House aides confess that those talks may very well trigger real flames:

U.S. officials said they worried that a new round of violence in the Palestinian territories could erupt if the freeze isn’t extended. “We might end up preparing for a catastrophe instead of a prolonged peace process,” said one U.S. official engaged in the talks.

Mr. Obama has cited a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal as one of his chief foreign-policy aims. He has said that he believed such an agreement could be achieved within a year, and that it would have far wider implications for stability in the Middle East.

That, however, is fantasyland stuff.

It would be delightful if Obama actually took the long view — real entitlement reform, attacking the debt, ensuring that the world is not threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran, sticking with Iraq so it emerges (as South Korea did) as a reliable democratic ally. But Obama shows little sign of that. His tenure has been marked by hyper-partisanship, irresponsible spending, unreasoned and unwise foreign policy maneuvers, and a lack of responsiveness to the voters. This is why there are, nine weeks from Election Day, no good choices. You can’t undo 18 months of damage in 63 days.

Read Less

A Pro-Jobs Measure Both Parties Should Support

There aren’t many opportunities these days for bipartisan agreement or for quick boosts to the flagging economy. But the passage of the South Korea free trade agreement would be both. The Washington Post reminds us:

For three years, since it was negotiated by the Bush administration, the free-trade agreement has languished in Congress. Now trade officials from both countries are trying to resolve the problems that have kept it bottled up, including a dispute over U.S. access to the South Korean auto market and restrictions on U.S. beef imposed after the mad cow scare several years ago.

The agreement would eventually eliminate tariffs between the two countries. Because those levies are typically higher on the South Korean side, administration officials estimate the deal could mean more than $10 billion annually in increased U.S. exports to Seoul and tens of thousands of new U.S. jobs. South Koreans say they would benefit from lower prices — some tariffs on food imports from the U.S. are as high as 40 percent — and a more efficient flow of investment in and out of their country.

This is such an obvious no-brainer that the only explanation for the failure to move forward must be and, in fact, is political: the power of Big Labor, specifically. When running for the nomination, Obama naturally voiced concerns about the agreement. But once safely in office he has of late “placed a priority on export promotion, calling it a key to job growth, and embraced the agreement with South Korea as a opportunity to weigh in on the broader debate over trade policy and advance U.S. interests.” He even dispatched his trade representative to drum up support around the country.

Yet it is far from clear that the agreement will be approved. Free trade is simply an anathema with many elected Democrats. (“Unions, environmental advocacy groups, and other organizations, meanwhile, are urging Obama to keep his campaign promises and stiffen the terms for South Korean access to the U.S. market.”)

This would be an opportunity for Obama to stand up to special interests, the Democrats in Congress to do the same, and both parties to claim credit for a pro-jobs measure. So, naturally, the safe bet is that nothing will get done.

There aren’t many opportunities these days for bipartisan agreement or for quick boosts to the flagging economy. But the passage of the South Korea free trade agreement would be both. The Washington Post reminds us:

For three years, since it was negotiated by the Bush administration, the free-trade agreement has languished in Congress. Now trade officials from both countries are trying to resolve the problems that have kept it bottled up, including a dispute over U.S. access to the South Korean auto market and restrictions on U.S. beef imposed after the mad cow scare several years ago.

The agreement would eventually eliminate tariffs between the two countries. Because those levies are typically higher on the South Korean side, administration officials estimate the deal could mean more than $10 billion annually in increased U.S. exports to Seoul and tens of thousands of new U.S. jobs. South Koreans say they would benefit from lower prices — some tariffs on food imports from the U.S. are as high as 40 percent — and a more efficient flow of investment in and out of their country.

This is such an obvious no-brainer that the only explanation for the failure to move forward must be and, in fact, is political: the power of Big Labor, specifically. When running for the nomination, Obama naturally voiced concerns about the agreement. But once safely in office he has of late “placed a priority on export promotion, calling it a key to job growth, and embraced the agreement with South Korea as a opportunity to weigh in on the broader debate over trade policy and advance U.S. interests.” He even dispatched his trade representative to drum up support around the country.

Yet it is far from clear that the agreement will be approved. Free trade is simply an anathema with many elected Democrats. (“Unions, environmental advocacy groups, and other organizations, meanwhile, are urging Obama to keep his campaign promises and stiffen the terms for South Korean access to the U.S. market.”)

This would be an opportunity for Obama to stand up to special interests, the Democrats in Congress to do the same, and both parties to claim credit for a pro-jobs measure. So, naturally, the safe bet is that nothing will get done.

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The War Against Extremism

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

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Sanctions on Iran: A Tale of Two Narratives

In a session with journalists at the White House last week, President Obama reportedly “made the case that his Iran policy is working.” He also hedged his bets by acknowledging that the “Iranians may be impervious to sanctions.” Friendly journalists being a quiescent filter, the Obama narrative comes through quite well: our president, earnest and competent, is doggedly wielding every tool in his toolbox. He sees some progress — reportedly in the form of “rumblings” that sanctions are prodding Iran to rethink its nuclear ambitions — but he recognizes the recalcitrant character of the Iranian leadership. He’s no fool, but this is, after all, a big problem.

That’s one narrative. It’s not a narrative about what Iran wants or is going to get, or what kind of threat that might pose to the Middle East or the U.S. It’s a narrative about what Obama is doing and how he sees the problem. We can call this one the Narrative of Obama.

The other narrative running in parallel with it is what we might call the Narrative of Events. Its elements are brought to our attention primarily by nontraditional media. The Obama administration simply ignores them in formulating its media themes, focusing instead on what Obama is doing and what he might have to do. Three developments in particular have cropped up in the last week.

One is the confirmation by IAEA inspectors that Iran has begun enriching uranium more efficiently. It’s a technical point, but it shortens the timeline to a weapon. As the Institute for Science and International Security observes, the procedure Iran has inaugurated mirrors the steps to a nuclear weapon outlined in the A.Q. Khan plans recovered from Libya. The Khan method essentially allows Iran to squeeze the most medium-enriched uranium possible from a given amount of low-enriched uranium, accelerating its progress toward the high-enriched uranium needed for a bomb. As the Reuters report notes, analysts say Iran “could advance to weapons-grade level in months.”

The other developments are interrelated and concern the economic sanctions themselves. One is the extent to which China — along with Turkey, India, and Russia — is stepping into the void created by tightened Western sanctions. This article from the new-right journal Il Foglio (available only in Italian) summarizes a number of mutually reinforcing factors, from Iran’s significance in China’s petroleum strategy to the dramatic increase in trade between the two countries and India’s determination not to be sidelined. According to Il Foglio, Turkey has proposed that Iran use major Turkish ports — rather than Dubai — as hubs for its foreign business. As I wrote in July, the rail lines are in place to make this a reality, allowing Iran to simply bypass the Strait of Hormuz for much of its trade.

Worrying about the danger it might create to inspect cargo ships in the Persian Gulf may soon be an outdated concern. Meanwhile, the third development reported in the last week is South Korea’s dilemma over the sanctions. This editorial reflects the significant concerns in Seoul about oil imports and the impact on medium-size businesses; Il Foglio points out, moreover, that if South Korea cooperates fully on sanctions, it will be abandoning one of its fastest-growing foreign markets to China. South Korean enthusiasm for effective cooperation is by no means assured.

Indeed, we are reaching the point at which it’s just as likely that patterns of trade and regional power will shift as it is that nations will continue to respond reflexively to American requests. Rick’s piece today is a timely reminder that the Narrative of Obama is an especially verbose one. It is also increasingly divorced from the Narrative of Events.

In a session with journalists at the White House last week, President Obama reportedly “made the case that his Iran policy is working.” He also hedged his bets by acknowledging that the “Iranians may be impervious to sanctions.” Friendly journalists being a quiescent filter, the Obama narrative comes through quite well: our president, earnest and competent, is doggedly wielding every tool in his toolbox. He sees some progress — reportedly in the form of “rumblings” that sanctions are prodding Iran to rethink its nuclear ambitions — but he recognizes the recalcitrant character of the Iranian leadership. He’s no fool, but this is, after all, a big problem.

That’s one narrative. It’s not a narrative about what Iran wants or is going to get, or what kind of threat that might pose to the Middle East or the U.S. It’s a narrative about what Obama is doing and how he sees the problem. We can call this one the Narrative of Obama.

The other narrative running in parallel with it is what we might call the Narrative of Events. Its elements are brought to our attention primarily by nontraditional media. The Obama administration simply ignores them in formulating its media themes, focusing instead on what Obama is doing and what he might have to do. Three developments in particular have cropped up in the last week.

One is the confirmation by IAEA inspectors that Iran has begun enriching uranium more efficiently. It’s a technical point, but it shortens the timeline to a weapon. As the Institute for Science and International Security observes, the procedure Iran has inaugurated mirrors the steps to a nuclear weapon outlined in the A.Q. Khan plans recovered from Libya. The Khan method essentially allows Iran to squeeze the most medium-enriched uranium possible from a given amount of low-enriched uranium, accelerating its progress toward the high-enriched uranium needed for a bomb. As the Reuters report notes, analysts say Iran “could advance to weapons-grade level in months.”

The other developments are interrelated and concern the economic sanctions themselves. One is the extent to which China — along with Turkey, India, and Russia — is stepping into the void created by tightened Western sanctions. This article from the new-right journal Il Foglio (available only in Italian) summarizes a number of mutually reinforcing factors, from Iran’s significance in China’s petroleum strategy to the dramatic increase in trade between the two countries and India’s determination not to be sidelined. According to Il Foglio, Turkey has proposed that Iran use major Turkish ports — rather than Dubai — as hubs for its foreign business. As I wrote in July, the rail lines are in place to make this a reality, allowing Iran to simply bypass the Strait of Hormuz for much of its trade.

Worrying about the danger it might create to inspect cargo ships in the Persian Gulf may soon be an outdated concern. Meanwhile, the third development reported in the last week is South Korea’s dilemma over the sanctions. This editorial reflects the significant concerns in Seoul about oil imports and the impact on medium-size businesses; Il Foglio points out, moreover, that if South Korea cooperates fully on sanctions, it will be abandoning one of its fastest-growing foreign markets to China. South Korean enthusiasm for effective cooperation is by no means assured.

Indeed, we are reaching the point at which it’s just as likely that patterns of trade and regional power will shift as it is that nations will continue to respond reflexively to American requests. Rick’s piece today is a timely reminder that the Narrative of Obama is an especially verbose one. It is also increasingly divorced from the Narrative of Events.

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Hissing in North Korea

North Korea is escalating tensions in response to South Korean military exercises. Especially as the United States seeks Seoul’s help in punishing not only North Korea but also Iran, it’s important that the Obama administration show its commitment to our allies.

Yesterday, North Korea seized a fishing boat with seven sailors aboard, four South Koreans and three Chinese. (It will be interesting to see how the weary patron state, China, responds to its unruly ward.) And today, North Korea shot artillery rounds near the sea border it shares with the South. These acts have been accompanied by the usual North Korean statements of sensationalist vitriol.

All this, of course, underscores a bigger point: neither North Korea nor Iran plans to go gentle into that good night. But by taking a strong line against one aggressor, we send the right message to others. Pyongyang’s aggression follows the robust military drills that South Korea held in response to North Korea’s sinking of the Southern Navy boat the Cheonan. These military drills include one completed recently alongside the United States in the East Sea, one being conducted right now in the Yellow Sea despite Chinese protestations, and more likely to follow.

South Korea’s leadership deserves hefty American support for its tough stance against North Korea, especially as Pyongyang continues troublemaking. The joint military exercise was a good first step, but it should be followed by further displays of American solidarity.

North Korea is escalating tensions in response to South Korean military exercises. Especially as the United States seeks Seoul’s help in punishing not only North Korea but also Iran, it’s important that the Obama administration show its commitment to our allies.

Yesterday, North Korea seized a fishing boat with seven sailors aboard, four South Koreans and three Chinese. (It will be interesting to see how the weary patron state, China, responds to its unruly ward.) And today, North Korea shot artillery rounds near the sea border it shares with the South. These acts have been accompanied by the usual North Korean statements of sensationalist vitriol.

All this, of course, underscores a bigger point: neither North Korea nor Iran plans to go gentle into that good night. But by taking a strong line against one aggressor, we send the right message to others. Pyongyang’s aggression follows the robust military drills that South Korea held in response to North Korea’s sinking of the Southern Navy boat the Cheonan. These military drills include one completed recently alongside the United States in the East Sea, one being conducted right now in the Yellow Sea despite Chinese protestations, and more likely to follow.

South Korea’s leadership deserves hefty American support for its tough stance against North Korea, especially as Pyongyang continues troublemaking. The joint military exercise was a good first step, but it should be followed by further displays of American solidarity.

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Hillary vs. China

Throwing your weight around is a time-honored tool in the diplomatic toolbox. Some circumstances call for it, but in others, it is cringe-inducingly inappropriate. With an oddly overt poke in China’s eye at the Asean conference this week, the Obama administration has unfortunately chosen to engage in weight-throwing under the latter conditions.

Almost every relevant headline in the mainstream media is some variation on that of the New York Times: “U.S. Challenges China on Island Chain.” Hillary Clinton, speaking at an Asean meeting in Hanoi, reportedly “said [the U.S. was] ready to step into a tangled dispute between China and its smaller Asian neighbors over a string of strategically sensitive islands in the South China Sea.” The islands in question make up the Spratly archipelago, claims to which confer tremendous undersea mineral resources on those who can enforce them. Clinton properly identified the U.S. interest as relating to freedom of navigation for world shipping, but her method of offering U.S. intervention in the regional dispute – one that China calls a “core interest” of its own national security – could hardly have been less diplomatic.

Nor could the timing have been worse. As Jillian wrote yesterday, the U.S. and South Korea are launching a naval exercise series that is planned to involve major operations in the Yellow Sea, obviously a sensitive area for Beijing. (The Chinese were unamused by USS George Washington’s foray into the Yellow Sea in October 2009, as discussed here.) Moreover, Bloomberg reports that the American delegation to the Asean conference got some very pointed additional business done on the side, inaugurating discussions on military cooperation with conference host Vietnam and restoring ties between the special forces of the U.S. and Indonesian militaries. Both nations border the South China Sea and have island claims in competition with China’s.

The point here is not that the U.S. doesn’t have a security interest in the South China Sea, nor is it that we can’t play a constructive role in fostering a peaceful and equitable settlement of the Spratly Islands dispute. But an offer of mediation is a departure from our decades-old policy of tacitly enforcing regional stability and promoting our own primary interest – freedom of maritime navigation – while respecting the sovereign concerns of the Spratly claimants as a matter for them to work out among themselves. This week’s policy departure has the appearance of being blurted out without prior diplomatic spade work.

Such an Obama initiative, introduced less pointedly and with less of the appearance of challenging China, might well have achieved a productive effect. We do want all the nations of the region to know that the U.S. will act to prevent the imbalance of power that China tends to seek. But conveying that quietly, through dedicated military presence and assiduous bilateral diplomacy – and without dramatic announcements and provocative headlines – is worth every minute of the tongue-biting patience necessary to operating with greater foresight. There is no strategic payoff from issuing gratuitous and public challenges to China, which is what the Obama administration has effectively done.

Throwing your weight around is a time-honored tool in the diplomatic toolbox. Some circumstances call for it, but in others, it is cringe-inducingly inappropriate. With an oddly overt poke in China’s eye at the Asean conference this week, the Obama administration has unfortunately chosen to engage in weight-throwing under the latter conditions.

Almost every relevant headline in the mainstream media is some variation on that of the New York Times: “U.S. Challenges China on Island Chain.” Hillary Clinton, speaking at an Asean meeting in Hanoi, reportedly “said [the U.S. was] ready to step into a tangled dispute between China and its smaller Asian neighbors over a string of strategically sensitive islands in the South China Sea.” The islands in question make up the Spratly archipelago, claims to which confer tremendous undersea mineral resources on those who can enforce them. Clinton properly identified the U.S. interest as relating to freedom of navigation for world shipping, but her method of offering U.S. intervention in the regional dispute – one that China calls a “core interest” of its own national security – could hardly have been less diplomatic.

Nor could the timing have been worse. As Jillian wrote yesterday, the U.S. and South Korea are launching a naval exercise series that is planned to involve major operations in the Yellow Sea, obviously a sensitive area for Beijing. (The Chinese were unamused by USS George Washington’s foray into the Yellow Sea in October 2009, as discussed here.) Moreover, Bloomberg reports that the American delegation to the Asean conference got some very pointed additional business done on the side, inaugurating discussions on military cooperation with conference host Vietnam and restoring ties between the special forces of the U.S. and Indonesian militaries. Both nations border the South China Sea and have island claims in competition with China’s.

The point here is not that the U.S. doesn’t have a security interest in the South China Sea, nor is it that we can’t play a constructive role in fostering a peaceful and equitable settlement of the Spratly Islands dispute. But an offer of mediation is a departure from our decades-old policy of tacitly enforcing regional stability and promoting our own primary interest – freedom of maritime navigation – while respecting the sovereign concerns of the Spratly claimants as a matter for them to work out among themselves. This week’s policy departure has the appearance of being blurted out without prior diplomatic spade work.

Such an Obama initiative, introduced less pointedly and with less of the appearance of challenging China, might well have achieved a productive effect. We do want all the nations of the region to know that the U.S. will act to prevent the imbalance of power that China tends to seek. But conveying that quietly, through dedicated military presence and assiduous bilateral diplomacy – and without dramatic announcements and provocative headlines – is worth every minute of the tongue-biting patience necessary to operating with greater foresight. There is no strategic payoff from issuing gratuitous and public challenges to China, which is what the Obama administration has effectively done.

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A Times Bouquet for Those Lovable North Koreans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Storms Brewing in the Asian Seas

In response to North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean ship last March, the United States and South Korea will hold a series of joint military exercises beginning next week. But the joint exercises have become as much about geopolitics and China as they are about North Korea.

Although the exercises may be adroitly executed from a military-strategic standpoint, their success in sending a political and symbolic message is less certain. As the exercises have been considered throughout recent months, the Chinese protested aggressively and created a situation that tempts U.S. overreaction — which would be especially destructive now, as Sino-U.S. relations are already strained. The Obama administration has avoided that temptation, and the handling of the joint exercises has been both reasonable and measured. But the risk remains that Washington’s tact will be misinterpreted as a major concession to Beijing. This would be a pity. In a rare act of real smart diplomacy, the Obama administration is standing by our ally, South Korea, while also taking a moderate approach to China.

After Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates met with counterparts in Seoul this week, the Department of Defense announced a series of exercises to be held in both the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. In the Sea of Japan, a large-scale air and naval exercise will begin Sunday. But notably, the details of the Yellow Sea exercises, to be held at some point in the future, were not announced, leaving more questions than answers. (The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.)

The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.

Given Beijing’s strong objections to military escapades in the Yellow Sea, which it considers its territorial backyard, the U.S.-South Korean exercises take on new significance. The fear is that unless the United States stridently defies Chinese concerns, it will be seen as conceding to Beijing and setting a precedent about what constitutes Chinese territory. This perception would be overblown given the facts, but it is all the more worrisome in the context of growing Chinese naval assertiveness.

Some have speculated that the Chinese are seeking to establish their own Monroe Doctrine and see this as a chance to reinforce it. Contrary to the UN Law of the Sea, China has objected to any unapproved non-surveillance navy activity in its exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 miles from shore. Beijing has repeated strongly worded protests against exercises in the Yellow Sea, especially those involving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington.

If the United States proceeds with a major military exercise in the Yellow Sea, a military response from the Chinese would not be unprecedented; during the 1994 North Korea nuclear crisis, the U.S. sent a similar carrier, the Kitty Hawk, into the Yellow Sea. Although China was then a lesser military power, a Chinese submarine trailed the Kitty Hawk, and the Chinese air force dispatched fighters.

But the biggest risk is not military but political: China is trying to assert sea control; Sino-U.S. relations are already rocky, especially given Obama’s adherence to an arms deal with Taiwan; under a new prime minister, Japan is questioning whether to tilt its national-security strategy toward Beijing or toward Washington; South Korea is determining how steadfastly the United States intends to defend it from its hostile Northern neighbor; and North Korea wants to know what it can get away with.

Upon examining the facts, it’s clear that the plan announced yesterday serves the United States’s primary objectives: the Sea of Japan exercise is sufficient warning to North Korea, and it is also an impressive display of solidarity with South Korea. The scale of the exercises is huge: about 8,000 American and South Korean military personnel will participate. And the United States will employ some flashy assets. The exercise will include the George Washington, which is the core of U.S. naval power, and F-22s, the best of the best among tactical aircraft. The few disadvantages of a Sea of Japan–based exercise is that the South Korean ship, the Cheonan, was sunk in the Yellow Sea, and Pyongyang lies closer to the West. Hillary Clinton announced today, however, that the Obama administration would be imposing further economic sanctions against North Korea, strengthening the U.S. stance even more. The message to Pyonyang and to our allies is loud and clear.

This approach also enables the U.S. to avoid needlessly provoking China without conceding U.S. military rights, while taking into consideration the unavoidably necessary collaboration with China regarding the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese have suffered some of their most embarrassing historic defeats in the Yellow Sea, so they’re understandably sensitive. At the same time, joint Yellow Sea exercises will follow eventually, and the Pentagon’s press secretary, Geoff Morrell, stated clearly that the United Statesobviously [has] the right to navigate all international waters, conduct operations in all international waters at the time and place of our choosing.” Furthermore, China will also be a major player in the future of North Korea and in any reunification of the Korean Peninsula; therefore, our allies in Seoul could suffer more harm than benefit from outright defiance of Beijing’s concerns.

The Obama administration’s challenge now will be to convey the wisdom of this approach to China and to America’s allies. The Nobel-winning president has made this harder on himself because of his history of pacifying aggressors and distancing allies.  But in international relations, perception is reality. Had Obama been more fearsome before, he’d be more credible now.

In response to North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean ship last March, the United States and South Korea will hold a series of joint military exercises beginning next week. But the joint exercises have become as much about geopolitics and China as they are about North Korea.

Although the exercises may be adroitly executed from a military-strategic standpoint, their success in sending a political and symbolic message is less certain. As the exercises have been considered throughout recent months, the Chinese protested aggressively and created a situation that tempts U.S. overreaction — which would be especially destructive now, as Sino-U.S. relations are already strained. The Obama administration has avoided that temptation, and the handling of the joint exercises has been both reasonable and measured. But the risk remains that Washington’s tact will be misinterpreted as a major concession to Beijing. This would be a pity. In a rare act of real smart diplomacy, the Obama administration is standing by our ally, South Korea, while also taking a moderate approach to China.

After Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates met with counterparts in Seoul this week, the Department of Defense announced a series of exercises to be held in both the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. In the Sea of Japan, a large-scale air and naval exercise will begin Sunday. But notably, the details of the Yellow Sea exercises, to be held at some point in the future, were not announced, leaving more questions than answers. (The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.)

The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.

Given Beijing’s strong objections to military escapades in the Yellow Sea, which it considers its territorial backyard, the U.S.-South Korean exercises take on new significance. The fear is that unless the United States stridently defies Chinese concerns, it will be seen as conceding to Beijing and setting a precedent about what constitutes Chinese territory. This perception would be overblown given the facts, but it is all the more worrisome in the context of growing Chinese naval assertiveness.

Some have speculated that the Chinese are seeking to establish their own Monroe Doctrine and see this as a chance to reinforce it. Contrary to the UN Law of the Sea, China has objected to any unapproved non-surveillance navy activity in its exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 miles from shore. Beijing has repeated strongly worded protests against exercises in the Yellow Sea, especially those involving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington.

If the United States proceeds with a major military exercise in the Yellow Sea, a military response from the Chinese would not be unprecedented; during the 1994 North Korea nuclear crisis, the U.S. sent a similar carrier, the Kitty Hawk, into the Yellow Sea. Although China was then a lesser military power, a Chinese submarine trailed the Kitty Hawk, and the Chinese air force dispatched fighters.

But the biggest risk is not military but political: China is trying to assert sea control; Sino-U.S. relations are already rocky, especially given Obama’s adherence to an arms deal with Taiwan; under a new prime minister, Japan is questioning whether to tilt its national-security strategy toward Beijing or toward Washington; South Korea is determining how steadfastly the United States intends to defend it from its hostile Northern neighbor; and North Korea wants to know what it can get away with.

Upon examining the facts, it’s clear that the plan announced yesterday serves the United States’s primary objectives: the Sea of Japan exercise is sufficient warning to North Korea, and it is also an impressive display of solidarity with South Korea. The scale of the exercises is huge: about 8,000 American and South Korean military personnel will participate. And the United States will employ some flashy assets. The exercise will include the George Washington, which is the core of U.S. naval power, and F-22s, the best of the best among tactical aircraft. The few disadvantages of a Sea of Japan–based exercise is that the South Korean ship, the Cheonan, was sunk in the Yellow Sea, and Pyongyang lies closer to the West. Hillary Clinton announced today, however, that the Obama administration would be imposing further economic sanctions against North Korea, strengthening the U.S. stance even more. The message to Pyonyang and to our allies is loud and clear.

This approach also enables the U.S. to avoid needlessly provoking China without conceding U.S. military rights, while taking into consideration the unavoidably necessary collaboration with China regarding the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese have suffered some of their most embarrassing historic defeats in the Yellow Sea, so they’re understandably sensitive. At the same time, joint Yellow Sea exercises will follow eventually, and the Pentagon’s press secretary, Geoff Morrell, stated clearly that the United Statesobviously [has] the right to navigate all international waters, conduct operations in all international waters at the time and place of our choosing.” Furthermore, China will also be a major player in the future of North Korea and in any reunification of the Korean Peninsula; therefore, our allies in Seoul could suffer more harm than benefit from outright defiance of Beijing’s concerns.

The Obama administration’s challenge now will be to convey the wisdom of this approach to China and to America’s allies. The Nobel-winning president has made this harder on himself because of his history of pacifying aggressors and distancing allies.  But in international relations, perception is reality. Had Obama been more fearsome before, he’d be more credible now.

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A Tale of Two Ships

It is instructive to see how differently the UN and the Obama team reacted to two naval incidents: the terrorist flotilla and the sinking of a South Korean ship. Israel was and remains the target of the unending ire of the “international community,” which thrills at the prospect of another excuse to lambaste the Jewish state and to launch another attack on its legitimacy. But it’s quite a different story when there is an act of unprovoked aggression by a totalitarian state.

The Wall Street Journal editors write:

It’s as if the attack was a Sherlock Holmes mystery about a murder without a body. Never mind that everyone in the world knows that the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, killing 46 sailors in one of the worst acts of aggression since the Korean War ended nearly 60 years ago. A May report by a panel of global experts convened by South Korea to investigate the sinking left no doubt that the North perpetrated the act, despite Pyongyang’s denials.

Seoul went to the Security Council to seek the global rebuke of the North, but China objected to a resolution that specifically blamed its clients in Pyongyang. Thus the Security Council retreated to writing a resolution that condemned the act of aggression but named no aggressor. Apparently the rogue underwater missile targeted and then launched itself against the South Korean vessel. I, Torpedo.

This episode is a microcosm of the feckless Obama policy. First, there is the disingenuousness, which is needed to disguise the ineptness:

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tried to make the best of this embarrassment by saying the message to the North was “crystal clear” and that “The Security Council condemns and deplores this attack. It warns against any further attacks. And insists on full adherence to the Korean Armistice Agreement.”

Then there is the appeasement mentality: “Follow the logic: Since the North wasn’t condemned for doing what everyone knows it did it, the North’s leaders might now be appeased enough to return to the nuclear talks they walked out of last year.”

Most tragically, however, it is the reliance on morally decrepit international institutions in lieu of American power and, yes, smart diplomacy. The Obami insist on using institutions that don’t — despite all his speechifying — share our values and interests. The result, whether on North Korea or Iran, is thin gruel sanctions and watered-down statements, which encourages rather than retard aggression by rogue states.

It is these same institutions that revel in the opportunity to call out Israel and condemn the Jewish State for daring to defend itself against those wishing its annihilation. Like the equally bankrupt “peace process,” Obama’s fixation on multilateralism is making the world more dangerous, America weaker, and despots breathe easier — and, of course, Israel more embattled, as the Israel-haters enjoy newfound respectability and attention from the U.S. and, therefore, the West more generally. A “smart” diplomatic approach would downplay and minimize the role of these bodies and instead emphasize the full panoply of weapons (diplomatic, economic, and military) in the U.S. arsenal. That Obama has done the opposite goes a long way toward explaining why his foreign policy is in such disarray.

It is instructive to see how differently the UN and the Obama team reacted to two naval incidents: the terrorist flotilla and the sinking of a South Korean ship. Israel was and remains the target of the unending ire of the “international community,” which thrills at the prospect of another excuse to lambaste the Jewish state and to launch another attack on its legitimacy. But it’s quite a different story when there is an act of unprovoked aggression by a totalitarian state.

The Wall Street Journal editors write:

It’s as if the attack was a Sherlock Holmes mystery about a murder without a body. Never mind that everyone in the world knows that the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, killing 46 sailors in one of the worst acts of aggression since the Korean War ended nearly 60 years ago. A May report by a panel of global experts convened by South Korea to investigate the sinking left no doubt that the North perpetrated the act, despite Pyongyang’s denials.

Seoul went to the Security Council to seek the global rebuke of the North, but China objected to a resolution that specifically blamed its clients in Pyongyang. Thus the Security Council retreated to writing a resolution that condemned the act of aggression but named no aggressor. Apparently the rogue underwater missile targeted and then launched itself against the South Korean vessel. I, Torpedo.

This episode is a microcosm of the feckless Obama policy. First, there is the disingenuousness, which is needed to disguise the ineptness:

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tried to make the best of this embarrassment by saying the message to the North was “crystal clear” and that “The Security Council condemns and deplores this attack. It warns against any further attacks. And insists on full adherence to the Korean Armistice Agreement.”

Then there is the appeasement mentality: “Follow the logic: Since the North wasn’t condemned for doing what everyone knows it did it, the North’s leaders might now be appeased enough to return to the nuclear talks they walked out of last year.”

Most tragically, however, it is the reliance on morally decrepit international institutions in lieu of American power and, yes, smart diplomacy. The Obami insist on using institutions that don’t — despite all his speechifying — share our values and interests. The result, whether on North Korea or Iran, is thin gruel sanctions and watered-down statements, which encourages rather than retard aggression by rogue states.

It is these same institutions that revel in the opportunity to call out Israel and condemn the Jewish State for daring to defend itself against those wishing its annihilation. Like the equally bankrupt “peace process,” Obama’s fixation on multilateralism is making the world more dangerous, America weaker, and despots breathe easier — and, of course, Israel more embattled, as the Israel-haters enjoy newfound respectability and attention from the U.S. and, therefore, the West more generally. A “smart” diplomatic approach would downplay and minimize the role of these bodies and instead emphasize the full panoply of weapons (diplomatic, economic, and military) in the U.S. arsenal. That Obama has done the opposite goes a long way toward explaining why his foreign policy is in such disarray.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Another culture — not American — is where you should look for evil, says one of the savviest conservative observers. Back with a bang, she takes issue with Brent Bozell’s invocation of “Satan” to describe American culture: “I, too, believe in evil, and I’d say Satan’s found a far more mellifluous laughing-ground among the Muslims, who please themselves to bury women up to their heads and stone them to death for ‘adultery,’ murder their own daughters for ‘mingling,’ and practice forms of human sacrifice—selling their sons to Pashtun pedophiles, for one, or celebrating their childrens’ deaths in suicide bombings, for another. To name just a few of the ways Islam holds the Satan laugh hand at the moment. So enough with the wah, wah, wah, Brent. Bad as it may be here at culture-rotten central (or not), it’s worse out there among the practitioners of the culture and religion of peace.”

Another terrible ambassador nominated, this time for Turkey. Elliott Abrams explains: “”Especially in 2005 and 2006, Secretary Rice and the Bush administration significantly increased American pressure for greater respect for human rights and progress toward democracy in Egypt. This of course meant pushing the Mubarak regime, arguing with it in private, and sometimes criticizing it in public. In all of this we in Washington found Ambassador [Francis] Ricciardone to be without enthusiasm or energy.” And he was publicly insubordinate.  Other than that, great pick — who can wait in line behind Robert Ford to be confirmed.

Another reason not to take the UN seriously: “When the results of the international investigation into the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan were released in May, the U.S. State Department was adamant that it believed North Korea was responsible — and that the country would have to face some actual punishment for killing 46 innocent South Korea sailors. … Fast forward to today, when the United Nations released a presidential statement which not only does not specify any consequences for the Kim Jong Il regime, but doesn’t even conclude that North Korea was responsible for the attack in the first place.” But the UN is certain the flotilla incident is all Israel’s fault.

Another inconvenient truth for the left: “The Obama administration would quickly send home six Algerians held at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but for one problem: The men don’t want to go. Given the choice between repatriation and incarceration, the men choose Gitmo, according to their lawyers.”

Another awkward moment for Jewish groups. Obama declares that Israelis don’t like him because of his middle name; American Jewish leaders are mute. But Rep. Peter King isn’t: “‘That’s a terrible cheap shot. … And if he wants to get cute about it, King Hussein of Jordan was one of the best allies Israel ever had.’ … But his middle name ‘has nothing to do with it,’ King said. ‘The fact is that his policies from day one have had an anti-Israel overtone. … He has no one to blame but himself. He should forget his name — that’s just a cheap game and he should knock it off.’”

Another reason to dump Michael Steele: Haley Barbour could take over and would do a boffo job.

Another “Huh?” Clinton moment: he is officiating at the wedding of New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and a Hillary aide. Is he really the guy you want to lead the recitation of your wedding vows?

Another sign of the inherent good sense of the American people: Mark Penn, on the result of a survey for the Aspen Festival of Ideas, writes: “The poll suggests that, while the public may be dissatisfied with recent administrations and the partisan political environment, they remain reasonably satisfied with the governmental framework set out in the Constitution. By 64 to 19 they endorse the system of checks and balances as necessary to prevent one branch from dominating the Government. Freedom of speech was seen as far and away the single most important right guaranteed by the Constitution, and, as a corollary, only 28 percent believe the press has too much freedom.” I guess they don’t buy the suggestion that we are “ungovernable.”

Another outburst – and a reminder that the idea of engaging Iran is ludicrous: “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioned the historic dimensions of the Holocaust but rejected the label of an anti-Semite, the Fars news agency reported Friday. …  Ahmadinejad had earlier sparked international fury by calling for the eradication of Israel from the Middle East and its relocation to Europe or North America and by describing the murders of 6 million European Jews by Germany’s Nazi regime as a ‘fairy tale.’ He said Thursday that the Holocaust was an excuse for Israel and the West to take land away from millions of Palestinians and give it to Israel.” You know the last world leader to argue that the Holocaust was the rationale for creation of the Jewish state was… Barack Obama. Just saying.

Another reason to rethink lifetime Supreme Court appointments: at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “Justice Ginsburg said, ‘I am so glad that Elena is joining us.’ … Calling herself a ‘flaming feminist,’ Ginsburg said, ‘we will never go back’ to the days when abortion was illegal.” Since her mind is closed and her bias is evident, she should recuse herself from gender-discrimination and abortion cases.

Another culture — not American — is where you should look for evil, says one of the savviest conservative observers. Back with a bang, she takes issue with Brent Bozell’s invocation of “Satan” to describe American culture: “I, too, believe in evil, and I’d say Satan’s found a far more mellifluous laughing-ground among the Muslims, who please themselves to bury women up to their heads and stone them to death for ‘adultery,’ murder their own daughters for ‘mingling,’ and practice forms of human sacrifice—selling their sons to Pashtun pedophiles, for one, or celebrating their childrens’ deaths in suicide bombings, for another. To name just a few of the ways Islam holds the Satan laugh hand at the moment. So enough with the wah, wah, wah, Brent. Bad as it may be here at culture-rotten central (or not), it’s worse out there among the practitioners of the culture and religion of peace.”

Another terrible ambassador nominated, this time for Turkey. Elliott Abrams explains: “”Especially in 2005 and 2006, Secretary Rice and the Bush administration significantly increased American pressure for greater respect for human rights and progress toward democracy in Egypt. This of course meant pushing the Mubarak regime, arguing with it in private, and sometimes criticizing it in public. In all of this we in Washington found Ambassador [Francis] Ricciardone to be without enthusiasm or energy.” And he was publicly insubordinate.  Other than that, great pick — who can wait in line behind Robert Ford to be confirmed.

Another reason not to take the UN seriously: “When the results of the international investigation into the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan were released in May, the U.S. State Department was adamant that it believed North Korea was responsible — and that the country would have to face some actual punishment for killing 46 innocent South Korea sailors. … Fast forward to today, when the United Nations released a presidential statement which not only does not specify any consequences for the Kim Jong Il regime, but doesn’t even conclude that North Korea was responsible for the attack in the first place.” But the UN is certain the flotilla incident is all Israel’s fault.

Another inconvenient truth for the left: “The Obama administration would quickly send home six Algerians held at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but for one problem: The men don’t want to go. Given the choice between repatriation and incarceration, the men choose Gitmo, according to their lawyers.”

Another awkward moment for Jewish groups. Obama declares that Israelis don’t like him because of his middle name; American Jewish leaders are mute. But Rep. Peter King isn’t: “‘That’s a terrible cheap shot. … And if he wants to get cute about it, King Hussein of Jordan was one of the best allies Israel ever had.’ … But his middle name ‘has nothing to do with it,’ King said. ‘The fact is that his policies from day one have had an anti-Israel overtone. … He has no one to blame but himself. He should forget his name — that’s just a cheap game and he should knock it off.’”

Another reason to dump Michael Steele: Haley Barbour could take over and would do a boffo job.

Another “Huh?” Clinton moment: he is officiating at the wedding of New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and a Hillary aide. Is he really the guy you want to lead the recitation of your wedding vows?

Another sign of the inherent good sense of the American people: Mark Penn, on the result of a survey for the Aspen Festival of Ideas, writes: “The poll suggests that, while the public may be dissatisfied with recent administrations and the partisan political environment, they remain reasonably satisfied with the governmental framework set out in the Constitution. By 64 to 19 they endorse the system of checks and balances as necessary to prevent one branch from dominating the Government. Freedom of speech was seen as far and away the single most important right guaranteed by the Constitution, and, as a corollary, only 28 percent believe the press has too much freedom.” I guess they don’t buy the suggestion that we are “ungovernable.”

Another outburst – and a reminder that the idea of engaging Iran is ludicrous: “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioned the historic dimensions of the Holocaust but rejected the label of an anti-Semite, the Fars news agency reported Friday. …  Ahmadinejad had earlier sparked international fury by calling for the eradication of Israel from the Middle East and its relocation to Europe or North America and by describing the murders of 6 million European Jews by Germany’s Nazi regime as a ‘fairy tale.’ He said Thursday that the Holocaust was an excuse for Israel and the West to take land away from millions of Palestinians and give it to Israel.” You know the last world leader to argue that the Holocaust was the rationale for creation of the Jewish state was… Barack Obama. Just saying.

Another reason to rethink lifetime Supreme Court appointments: at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “Justice Ginsburg said, ‘I am so glad that Elena is joining us.’ … Calling herself a ‘flaming feminist,’ Ginsburg said, ‘we will never go back’ to the days when abortion was illegal.” Since her mind is closed and her bias is evident, she should recuse herself from gender-discrimination and abortion cases.

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RE: Here’s That Bipartisan Alliance

A complete video of the press conference yesterday on the flotilla can be viewed here. Especially noteworthy are the two Democrats who forcefully rebut the Obama approach to both that incident and the Middle East more generally. Rep. Eliot Engels (D-N.Y.) demanded that we block any UN investigation into the flotilla and reaffirmed that Israel is fully competent to conduct its own investigation. He also revealed that some of the flotilla activists have applied to enter the U.S. to spew their venom, and that he will be presenting a petition signed by thousands of New Yorkers calling for the State Department to block these individuals’ entry. And he implores the administration to keep its eye on the ball — the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

The remarks of Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) included these observations:

The UN is once again seeking to condemn Israel for defending its citizens against Hamas terrorists. This is the same UN that gives the green light for Israel’s enemies to attack the Jewish state, and then condemns Israel for any retaliation against its terrorist attackers or acts of self-defense to protect its families. It happened last year with the deeply-flawed and disturbingly-biased Goldstone Report, and we are here to say it must not happen again. … Turkey is a perfect example of the blatant hypocrisy on display. While they criticize Israel in the UN, Turkey continues to occupy Cyprus, denies the Armenian Genocide and warmly welcomes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the genocidal Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. …

All of this is taking place while North Korea goes unpunished in the UN for a flagrant act of war against South Korea. And the Iranian regime stands on the precipice of developing a nuclear weapon. Either of these despotic regimes could kill millions with access to nuclear weapons and murderous ambitions.

Nicely said, Congresswoman! You can’t miss the vast gulf between the language and position of Berkley and Engel, on one hand, and the White House, on the other. It seems there are at least some Democrats who should be signing on to the King resolution, then, right? Or is there something wrong with insisting that the U.S. get out of the Human Rights Council and start reciting a bill of particulars against Iran, Hamas, and Turkey?

Engel and Berkley are among the strongest Democratic supporters of Israel in Congress. They don’t much care about ruffling the White House’s feathers and they don’t put partisan loyalty above principle. It is a standard that Jewish groups should expect of those who fancy themselves as friends of Israel. Instead of making it easier for lawmakers to capitulate to and enable the Obama assault on Israel, Jewish leaders should be making it harder. You don’t do that by dancing on egg shells or praising Obama’s straddling. You do it by being candid and forceful, both in private and in public — and by reminding lawmakers that these days there’s no benefit (either to their own political fortunes or to the U.S.-Israel relationship) to be gained by running interference for this administration.

A complete video of the press conference yesterday on the flotilla can be viewed here. Especially noteworthy are the two Democrats who forcefully rebut the Obama approach to both that incident and the Middle East more generally. Rep. Eliot Engels (D-N.Y.) demanded that we block any UN investigation into the flotilla and reaffirmed that Israel is fully competent to conduct its own investigation. He also revealed that some of the flotilla activists have applied to enter the U.S. to spew their venom, and that he will be presenting a petition signed by thousands of New Yorkers calling for the State Department to block these individuals’ entry. And he implores the administration to keep its eye on the ball — the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

The remarks of Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) included these observations:

The UN is once again seeking to condemn Israel for defending its citizens against Hamas terrorists. This is the same UN that gives the green light for Israel’s enemies to attack the Jewish state, and then condemns Israel for any retaliation against its terrorist attackers or acts of self-defense to protect its families. It happened last year with the deeply-flawed and disturbingly-biased Goldstone Report, and we are here to say it must not happen again. … Turkey is a perfect example of the blatant hypocrisy on display. While they criticize Israel in the UN, Turkey continues to occupy Cyprus, denies the Armenian Genocide and warmly welcomes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the genocidal Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. …

All of this is taking place while North Korea goes unpunished in the UN for a flagrant act of war against South Korea. And the Iranian regime stands on the precipice of developing a nuclear weapon. Either of these despotic regimes could kill millions with access to nuclear weapons and murderous ambitions.

Nicely said, Congresswoman! You can’t miss the vast gulf between the language and position of Berkley and Engel, on one hand, and the White House, on the other. It seems there are at least some Democrats who should be signing on to the King resolution, then, right? Or is there something wrong with insisting that the U.S. get out of the Human Rights Council and start reciting a bill of particulars against Iran, Hamas, and Turkey?

Engel and Berkley are among the strongest Democratic supporters of Israel in Congress. They don’t much care about ruffling the White House’s feathers and they don’t put partisan loyalty above principle. It is a standard that Jewish groups should expect of those who fancy themselves as friends of Israel. Instead of making it easier for lawmakers to capitulate to and enable the Obama assault on Israel, Jewish leaders should be making it harder. You don’t do that by dancing on egg shells or praising Obama’s straddling. You do it by being candid and forceful, both in private and in public — and by reminding lawmakers that these days there’s no benefit (either to their own political fortunes or to the U.S.-Israel relationship) to be gained by running interference for this administration.

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Potemkin Futbol

Truth has it all over fiction. Sports photographers captured a poignant moment at the Brazil–North Korea match in Tuesday’s World Cup play, when North Korea’s star striker, Jong Tae-Se, stood with tears in his eyes as his national anthem was played and a tiny contingent of fans cheered wildly. The New York Times’s Rob Hughes, answering the call of sentiment, reported that the match helped “bridge the world’s divides” and urged “everyone [to move] away from the notion that the isolation of half of the Korean Peninsula makes its citizens and players somehow inferior.”

No trip back to the manufactured atmosphere of Cold War–era sporting events would be complete without some kind of deceptive show put on by the Marxist side. And this incident requited expectations: it turns out that the 100 North Korean fans vigorously waving their flags last night in the bleachers in Ellis Park were Chinese actors, hired by China to play North Korean fans.

China didn’t qualify for the 2010 World Cup. According to a Chinese TV news anchor who’s now in Johannesburg covering the tournament, “Chinese fans will stand for the Asian teams.” South Korea and Japan are also competing for the World Cup this year, but the TV anchor’s additional comments clarify why China is standing for one Asian team in particular:

… 60 years ago, China’s military forces valiantly crossed the Yalu River to fight alongside the North Koreans against their enemies.

Sixty years on, we cheer for their football team and hope they will go far.

These aren’t comments a Chinese TV personality can make without government approval. America may have common interests with China in a variety of situations, but we’ve been deceiving ourselves for too long that such commonality exists when it comes to the disposition of the Korean peninsula. In significant ways, it’s still 1950 in Beijing. What China wants is a viable North Korea that can withstand attempts at unifying the Koreas under a U.S.-friendly government. China can wait for a propitious time to foster reunification to its own advantage; the key under current conditions is to prevent the Kim regime from collapsing.

In light of North Korea’s torpedoing of the South Korean ship in March, the Chinese endorsement at the World Cup is very pointed. It’s also classic state-socialist stage management — if with a twist this time, China having straightforwardly announced what it’s doing back in May. China’s apparent sense that such signals will be either missed or shrugged off by the U.S. has deepened considerably with the Obama presidency. Asians are less obtuse in this regard, however, and they are the target audience.

Brazil defeated North Korea 2-1, incidentally — a creditable showing by the North Koreans against the world’s top-ranked team.

Truth has it all over fiction. Sports photographers captured a poignant moment at the Brazil–North Korea match in Tuesday’s World Cup play, when North Korea’s star striker, Jong Tae-Se, stood with tears in his eyes as his national anthem was played and a tiny contingent of fans cheered wildly. The New York Times’s Rob Hughes, answering the call of sentiment, reported that the match helped “bridge the world’s divides” and urged “everyone [to move] away from the notion that the isolation of half of the Korean Peninsula makes its citizens and players somehow inferior.”

No trip back to the manufactured atmosphere of Cold War–era sporting events would be complete without some kind of deceptive show put on by the Marxist side. And this incident requited expectations: it turns out that the 100 North Korean fans vigorously waving their flags last night in the bleachers in Ellis Park were Chinese actors, hired by China to play North Korean fans.

China didn’t qualify for the 2010 World Cup. According to a Chinese TV news anchor who’s now in Johannesburg covering the tournament, “Chinese fans will stand for the Asian teams.” South Korea and Japan are also competing for the World Cup this year, but the TV anchor’s additional comments clarify why China is standing for one Asian team in particular:

… 60 years ago, China’s military forces valiantly crossed the Yalu River to fight alongside the North Koreans against their enemies.

Sixty years on, we cheer for their football team and hope they will go far.

These aren’t comments a Chinese TV personality can make without government approval. America may have common interests with China in a variety of situations, but we’ve been deceiving ourselves for too long that such commonality exists when it comes to the disposition of the Korean peninsula. In significant ways, it’s still 1950 in Beijing. What China wants is a viable North Korea that can withstand attempts at unifying the Koreas under a U.S.-friendly government. China can wait for a propitious time to foster reunification to its own advantage; the key under current conditions is to prevent the Kim regime from collapsing.

In light of North Korea’s torpedoing of the South Korean ship in March, the Chinese endorsement at the World Cup is very pointed. It’s also classic state-socialist stage management — if with a twist this time, China having straightforwardly announced what it’s doing back in May. China’s apparent sense that such signals will be either missed or shrugged off by the U.S. has deepened considerably with the Obama presidency. Asians are less obtuse in this regard, however, and they are the target audience.

Brazil defeated North Korea 2-1, incidentally — a creditable showing by the North Koreans against the world’s top-ranked team.

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Realists Become Neocons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bibi Gets Another Meeting with Obama

The White House must be very nervous. There was no way it could excuse Obama’s serial rudeness to Bibi, so it’s trying a do-over:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold another White House meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama next Tuesday, Israeli officials said yesterday. … Israeli officials said that Obama wanted to meet with Netanyahu soon, before Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas arrives in Washington for his White House meeting in another few weeks, due to the crisis in relations between Israel and the U.S. and the substantial criticism Obama has taken over it, both from congressmen and from American Jewish leaders.

We’ll see if it is followed by a nice photo-op and press conference.

As a colleague wryly remarks: “Wow—the fundraising must really be in catastrophic condition.” Yes, one suspects that has a role in the “charm offensive.” Here’s the thing, though: for Obama to really repair the damage he has done, he’d have to make dramatic changes in policy (e.g., give a speech saying military force remains an option, give Israel the same pledge of full support he extended to South Korea, cease the demands for unilateral concessions from Israel, loudly condemn continuing instances of Palestinian incitement, block Iran’s participation in UN committees and commissions, walk out of the UN Human Rights Council). Or maybe he figures he can avoid any substantive change in policy and get back in the good graces of American Jewry. It may be a savvy calculation.

The White House must be very nervous. There was no way it could excuse Obama’s serial rudeness to Bibi, so it’s trying a do-over:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold another White House meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama next Tuesday, Israeli officials said yesterday. … Israeli officials said that Obama wanted to meet with Netanyahu soon, before Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas arrives in Washington for his White House meeting in another few weeks, due to the crisis in relations between Israel and the U.S. and the substantial criticism Obama has taken over it, both from congressmen and from American Jewish leaders.

We’ll see if it is followed by a nice photo-op and press conference.

As a colleague wryly remarks: “Wow—the fundraising must really be in catastrophic condition.” Yes, one suspects that has a role in the “charm offensive.” Here’s the thing, though: for Obama to really repair the damage he has done, he’d have to make dramatic changes in policy (e.g., give a speech saying military force remains an option, give Israel the same pledge of full support he extended to South Korea, cease the demands for unilateral concessions from Israel, loudly condemn continuing instances of Palestinian incitement, block Iran’s participation in UN committees and commissions, walk out of the UN Human Rights Council). Or maybe he figures he can avoid any substantive change in policy and get back in the good graces of American Jewry. It may be a savvy calculation.

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What Real Threats Look Like

There is a set of realities identified by the American left as threats to national, if not global, security. These include things like the U.S.’s own nuclear arsenal, the stationing abroad of some 370,000 American troops, Israel’s capable defenses, and warm weather. To call these phenomena threats is no mere act of speculation. It is a bold inversion of the truth.

Few policies boast a perfect record of 50-plus years, but U.S. nuclear deterrence has the right to do so. The American arsenal kept Russia from invading Western Europe throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Similarly, U.S. military bases, whether established in postwar Germany and Japan or set up 50 years later in the Balkans, have underwritten long-term stability in every hemisphere.

The left has ignored entirely the debt owed to Israel’s military. In 1981, the Israeli Airforce’s Operation Babylon took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, robbing the world’s most dangerous leader of his own deterrence capabilities. This is to say nothing of Israel’s attack on other dangerous weapons programs and of the Jewish state’s perpetual battle to defeat Islamist terrorism the world over.

As for the deadly threat of high temperatures, a 2007 study reported: “From 1979 to 1997, extreme cold killed roughly twice as many Americans as heat waves, according to Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

It is remarkable how fast these boutique “threats” fall by the wayside when the genuine article appears. Today, the AP reports, “The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 Tuesday after traders dumped stocks on worries about the global economy and tensions between North and South Korea.” Funny, you never read about a stock-market nosedive in response to a balmy June, the ongoing maintenance of American nuclear weapons, an Israeli response to Hamas, or the construction of a distant American military base.

The world sets itself on edge like this only when an unmistakable, demonstrable threat to peace emerges. We now see one in the increasing bellicosity of Kim Jong-il’s regime.

And speaking of those dangerous American military bases abroad, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak doesn’t seem to be too offended by President Obama’s declaration that “the Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States.” When Seoul turns down that support, we can start worrying about the left’s critical-threat list. Until then, the world has some actual problems to deal with, thanks very much.

There is a set of realities identified by the American left as threats to national, if not global, security. These include things like the U.S.’s own nuclear arsenal, the stationing abroad of some 370,000 American troops, Israel’s capable defenses, and warm weather. To call these phenomena threats is no mere act of speculation. It is a bold inversion of the truth.

Few policies boast a perfect record of 50-plus years, but U.S. nuclear deterrence has the right to do so. The American arsenal kept Russia from invading Western Europe throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Similarly, U.S. military bases, whether established in postwar Germany and Japan or set up 50 years later in the Balkans, have underwritten long-term stability in every hemisphere.

The left has ignored entirely the debt owed to Israel’s military. In 1981, the Israeli Airforce’s Operation Babylon took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, robbing the world’s most dangerous leader of his own deterrence capabilities. This is to say nothing of Israel’s attack on other dangerous weapons programs and of the Jewish state’s perpetual battle to defeat Islamist terrorism the world over.

As for the deadly threat of high temperatures, a 2007 study reported: “From 1979 to 1997, extreme cold killed roughly twice as many Americans as heat waves, according to Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

It is remarkable how fast these boutique “threats” fall by the wayside when the genuine article appears. Today, the AP reports, “The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 Tuesday after traders dumped stocks on worries about the global economy and tensions between North and South Korea.” Funny, you never read about a stock-market nosedive in response to a balmy June, the ongoing maintenance of American nuclear weapons, an Israeli response to Hamas, or the construction of a distant American military base.

The world sets itself on edge like this only when an unmistakable, demonstrable threat to peace emerges. We now see one in the increasing bellicosity of Kim Jong-il’s regime.

And speaking of those dangerous American military bases abroad, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak doesn’t seem to be too offended by President Obama’s declaration that “the Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States.” When Seoul turns down that support, we can start worrying about the left’s critical-threat list. Until then, the world has some actual problems to deal with, thanks very much.

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Obama Needs a Korea Strategy Focused on Liberation, Not Engagement

It’s fascinating to see the ideological blinders slipping a bit in the Obama administration. First the president had to acknowledge that his efforts to reach out to Iran were going nowhere; now a similar outreach effort to North Korea mounted over many years by South Korea has been officially declared DOA. South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, is suspending a large measure of the South’s trade with the North, barring Northern ships from entering Southern waters, ramping up propaganda aimed at the North, and taking other steps to signal displeasure with the North’s sinking of a Southern frigate, which resulted in the loss of 46 sailors. The Obama administration, to its credit, is offering “unequivocal” support for the South’s get-tough policy, including agreeing to hold joint military maneuvers.

Such measures are necessary but insufficient. No one imagines they will seriously change the behavior of Kim Jong-il’s rogue regime. That kind of change is probably beyond our power to impose; only China has the leverage needed to really punish the North, and it won’t exercise that leverage for fear of accelerating the North’s collapse. Nevertheless, it would make sense to set a long-term goal for U.S. and South Korea policy — to bring about the peaceful collapse of North Korea.

That is something that South Korea has long been ambivalent about; the South Koreans are keenly aware of how much German unification cost, and they know that North Korea will be even tougher to integrate than East Germany was. But the Cheonan‘s sinking shows that the status quo has significant costs too.

Likewise, when it comes to Iran, the Obama administration needs to stop pretending that a fourth watered-down UN sanctions resolution is going to achieve anything. Here, too, the administration needs to set peaceful regime change as the goal for American policy. In neither case is regime change a panacea; the rulers in both Tehran and Pyongyang are firmly entrenched in power and will not easily be dislodged despite their lack of popular support. It will be a long, difficult process to help the peoples of North Korea and Iran to liberate themselves. All the more reason, then, to make this a priority for American policy now rather than succumbing to more wishful thinking about the possibilities of “engagement” with these criminal regimes.

It’s fascinating to see the ideological blinders slipping a bit in the Obama administration. First the president had to acknowledge that his efforts to reach out to Iran were going nowhere; now a similar outreach effort to North Korea mounted over many years by South Korea has been officially declared DOA. South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, is suspending a large measure of the South’s trade with the North, barring Northern ships from entering Southern waters, ramping up propaganda aimed at the North, and taking other steps to signal displeasure with the North’s sinking of a Southern frigate, which resulted in the loss of 46 sailors. The Obama administration, to its credit, is offering “unequivocal” support for the South’s get-tough policy, including agreeing to hold joint military maneuvers.

Such measures are necessary but insufficient. No one imagines they will seriously change the behavior of Kim Jong-il’s rogue regime. That kind of change is probably beyond our power to impose; only China has the leverage needed to really punish the North, and it won’t exercise that leverage for fear of accelerating the North’s collapse. Nevertheless, it would make sense to set a long-term goal for U.S. and South Korea policy — to bring about the peaceful collapse of North Korea.

That is something that South Korea has long been ambivalent about; the South Koreans are keenly aware of how much German unification cost, and they know that North Korea will be even tougher to integrate than East Germany was. But the Cheonan‘s sinking shows that the status quo has significant costs too.

Likewise, when it comes to Iran, the Obama administration needs to stop pretending that a fourth watered-down UN sanctions resolution is going to achieve anything. Here, too, the administration needs to set peaceful regime change as the goal for American policy. In neither case is regime change a panacea; the rulers in both Tehran and Pyongyang are firmly entrenched in power and will not easily be dislodged despite their lack of popular support. It will be a long, difficult process to help the peoples of North Korea and Iran to liberate themselves. All the more reason, then, to make this a priority for American policy now rather than succumbing to more wishful thinking about the possibilities of “engagement” with these criminal regimes.

Read Less

South Korea, Yes. Israel, No.

The Obama administration is perking up when it comes to North Korea:

The White House said Monday that North Korea should stop its “belligerent and threatening behavior,” and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged “unequivocal” support for Seoul in its escalating dispute with its neighbor.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama “fully supports” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who on Sunday cut off trade with North Korea and shut down sea lanes to North Korean ships in response to the March 26 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. North Korea was found responsible for the attack by an international group of investigators.

It remains to be seen what “fully supports” means, but it’s a step in the right direction.

And now it’s time to do the same with Israel. After all, Israel is an ally subjected to the “belligerent and threatening behavior” of a neighbor that seeks nuclear weapons. But Obama seems not remotely interested in providing a firm guarantee for Israel that might have some deterrent value and at the very least expanding the array of options we currently have. (Nor do American Jewish leaders demand that he do so.) Such a notion, in fact, seems nearly preposterous for this president. His antipathy for Israel is too great, as is his desperation to avoid confrontation with the thugocracy that seeks the Jewish state’s destruction, to contemplate a promise of unqualified support for our democratic ally.

If the president ever gave a press conference or faced a tough interviewer, he might be asked: why South Korea and not Israel?

The Obama administration is perking up when it comes to North Korea:

The White House said Monday that North Korea should stop its “belligerent and threatening behavior,” and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged “unequivocal” support for Seoul in its escalating dispute with its neighbor.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama “fully supports” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who on Sunday cut off trade with North Korea and shut down sea lanes to North Korean ships in response to the March 26 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. North Korea was found responsible for the attack by an international group of investigators.

It remains to be seen what “fully supports” means, but it’s a step in the right direction.

And now it’s time to do the same with Israel. After all, Israel is an ally subjected to the “belligerent and threatening behavior” of a neighbor that seeks nuclear weapons. But Obama seems not remotely interested in providing a firm guarantee for Israel that might have some deterrent value and at the very least expanding the array of options we currently have. (Nor do American Jewish leaders demand that he do so.) Such a notion, in fact, seems nearly preposterous for this president. His antipathy for Israel is too great, as is his desperation to avoid confrontation with the thugocracy that seeks the Jewish state’s destruction, to contemplate a promise of unqualified support for our democratic ally.

If the president ever gave a press conference or faced a tough interviewer, he might be asked: why South Korea and not Israel?

Read Less




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