Commentary Magazine


Topic: Taiwan

Building an East Asian NATO

A common complaint heard among American officials and policy analysts is that in East Asia — one of the most important and conflict-prone areas of the planet — there is no security architecture comparable to NATO. The U.S. has ties to many key countries, notably Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, and Taiwan. But they do not have strong ties to one another, and there is no joint military planning of the kind that NATO undertakes. That does not seem likely to change in the future, because, although all those nations are suspicious of growing Chinese power, they also do not want to antagonize the 500-pound panda by forming an explicit alliance for its containment. The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, formed in 1954, was a colossal failure and is unlikely to be resurrected.

But there are still steps that U.S. officials can take to encourage greater cooperation among our regional partners. In this regard, I was struck a few days ago while visiting Pacific Command headquarters, looked at Camp Smith overlooking Pearl Harbor, by the near-total absence of coalition allies. At Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Base in Tampa, there are substantial liaison offices from more than 50 countries — allies that are working with the U.S. to deal with Iraq, Afghanistan, Somali piracy and other issues. Since 9/11, an entire “coalition village” has sprung up around Centcom headquarters. There is nothing comparable at Camp Smith. In fact, when I asked about coalition representation, I was told about a handful of low-ranking liaison officers from Australia and a few other nations.

This would seem to be an obvious opportunity we are not taking advantage of — to encourage discussion and cooperation among disparate Asian nations hosted by our own regional military command. That would not be as good as a formal alliance structure, but it could represent a small, but useful step, in the right direction.

A common complaint heard among American officials and policy analysts is that in East Asia — one of the most important and conflict-prone areas of the planet — there is no security architecture comparable to NATO. The U.S. has ties to many key countries, notably Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, and Taiwan. But they do not have strong ties to one another, and there is no joint military planning of the kind that NATO undertakes. That does not seem likely to change in the future, because, although all those nations are suspicious of growing Chinese power, they also do not want to antagonize the 500-pound panda by forming an explicit alliance for its containment. The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, formed in 1954, was a colossal failure and is unlikely to be resurrected.

But there are still steps that U.S. officials can take to encourage greater cooperation among our regional partners. In this regard, I was struck a few days ago while visiting Pacific Command headquarters, looked at Camp Smith overlooking Pearl Harbor, by the near-total absence of coalition allies. At Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Base in Tampa, there are substantial liaison offices from more than 50 countries — allies that are working with the U.S. to deal with Iraq, Afghanistan, Somali piracy and other issues. Since 9/11, an entire “coalition village” has sprung up around Centcom headquarters. There is nothing comparable at Camp Smith. In fact, when I asked about coalition representation, I was told about a handful of low-ranking liaison officers from Australia and a few other nations.

This would seem to be an obvious opportunity we are not taking advantage of — to encourage discussion and cooperation among disparate Asian nations hosted by our own regional military command. That would not be as good as a formal alliance structure, but it could represent a small, but useful step, in the right direction.

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Yet Another Step Backward

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said yesterday that military action against Iran is “off the table in the near term,” effectively walking back President Obama’s position that “all options are on the table.” She prefaced her statement with the banal assertion that “military force is an option of last resort,” which of course everyone knows and which implies by itself that force is off the table for now. But the United States nevertheless just softened its position again on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If the president doesn’t return force to the table, it is going to stay off.

It seems as though the U.S. is trying to look irresolute and nonthreatening lately, but whether it’s on purpose or not, that’s what it looks like, and it isn’t helpful. A credible threat — simple deterrence — can make war somewhat less likely, just as police officers on the street make crime somewhat less likely. The Iranian government won’t cooperate with irresolute and nonthreatening enemies; it will steamroll irresolute and nonthreatening enemies.

Attacking Iran wouldn’t be my next step either. I’m entirely sympathetic to the administration’s aversion to it, and not only on behalf of American servicemen who may be injured or killed. I know lots of Iranians. All are decent people. Not a single one supports Tehran’s deranged government. All have friends and family back home, and it has been obvious for some time now that a very large percentage of their fellow citizens left inside the country feel the same way. I don’t want to see any of these people get killed, especially if they’re killed by us. The very idea fills me with horror.

And that’s before factoring in the Israelis and Lebanese who would also be killed if the war spreads to the Levant — a likely event. I spend enough time in the Middle East that I could even end up in a bomb shelter myself.

We have to be realistic, though. There is only the smallest of chances that the Iranian government will mothball its nuclear weapons program if it does not feel some serious heat. Some people can only be disarmed at gunpoint, and that’s true of nearly all belligerent people.

Yet “off the table” has become the new normal. It will remain the new normal until further notice. The United States looks like it’s in retreat. Hardly anyone in the world believed President Obama would ever order a strike even before this most recent of climb-downs.

The administration seems to forget that threatening military action doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go through with it, that we want to go through with it, that we yearn to go through with it, or that we’re warmongers. Look at Taiwan. It exists independently of China only because the United States has made it clear that an invasion of Taiwan would be punished severely. Chinese leaders find the threat credible and have therefore backed off to let Taiwan live. The U.S. doesn’t have to pull the trigger. It’s enough just to say don’t even think about it.

Former Communist countries in Eastern Europe were similarly placed under Western military protection after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow understands perfectly well that its liberated subjects are to be left alone — or else. Saying “hands off Lithuania” by bringing the country into NATO wasn’t cowboy behavior. It was prudent and wise, and it keeps the peace. Russia didn’t like it and still doesn’t like it, but it hasn’t gotten anyone killed.

Deterrence prevents armed conflict by making it clear to the other side that a war would be too costly and shouldn’t be tried. The reverse is true, too. Under certain conditions, war becomes more likely if it looks like there won’t be serious consequences.

Russia invaded Georgia a few years ago, but there is almost no chance that would have happened if Georgia had been a member of NATO. Russia would not have even considered it. The retaliation would have been devastating.

Deterrence might not work with Iran, but it’s even less likely to work if it’s downgraded, put on hold, or smells like a bluff. It’s all but certain to fail once the regime has nuclear weapons and can, short of incinerating cities with weapons of genocide, pretty much do whatever it wants.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said yesterday that military action against Iran is “off the table in the near term,” effectively walking back President Obama’s position that “all options are on the table.” She prefaced her statement with the banal assertion that “military force is an option of last resort,” which of course everyone knows and which implies by itself that force is off the table for now. But the United States nevertheless just softened its position again on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If the president doesn’t return force to the table, it is going to stay off.

It seems as though the U.S. is trying to look irresolute and nonthreatening lately, but whether it’s on purpose or not, that’s what it looks like, and it isn’t helpful. A credible threat — simple deterrence — can make war somewhat less likely, just as police officers on the street make crime somewhat less likely. The Iranian government won’t cooperate with irresolute and nonthreatening enemies; it will steamroll irresolute and nonthreatening enemies.

Attacking Iran wouldn’t be my next step either. I’m entirely sympathetic to the administration’s aversion to it, and not only on behalf of American servicemen who may be injured or killed. I know lots of Iranians. All are decent people. Not a single one supports Tehran’s deranged government. All have friends and family back home, and it has been obvious for some time now that a very large percentage of their fellow citizens left inside the country feel the same way. I don’t want to see any of these people get killed, especially if they’re killed by us. The very idea fills me with horror.

And that’s before factoring in the Israelis and Lebanese who would also be killed if the war spreads to the Levant — a likely event. I spend enough time in the Middle East that I could even end up in a bomb shelter myself.

We have to be realistic, though. There is only the smallest of chances that the Iranian government will mothball its nuclear weapons program if it does not feel some serious heat. Some people can only be disarmed at gunpoint, and that’s true of nearly all belligerent people.

Yet “off the table” has become the new normal. It will remain the new normal until further notice. The United States looks like it’s in retreat. Hardly anyone in the world believed President Obama would ever order a strike even before this most recent of climb-downs.

The administration seems to forget that threatening military action doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go through with it, that we want to go through with it, that we yearn to go through with it, or that we’re warmongers. Look at Taiwan. It exists independently of China only because the United States has made it clear that an invasion of Taiwan would be punished severely. Chinese leaders find the threat credible and have therefore backed off to let Taiwan live. The U.S. doesn’t have to pull the trigger. It’s enough just to say don’t even think about it.

Former Communist countries in Eastern Europe were similarly placed under Western military protection after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow understands perfectly well that its liberated subjects are to be left alone — or else. Saying “hands off Lithuania” by bringing the country into NATO wasn’t cowboy behavior. It was prudent and wise, and it keeps the peace. Russia didn’t like it and still doesn’t like it, but it hasn’t gotten anyone killed.

Deterrence prevents armed conflict by making it clear to the other side that a war would be too costly and shouldn’t be tried. The reverse is true, too. Under certain conditions, war becomes more likely if it looks like there won’t be serious consequences.

Russia invaded Georgia a few years ago, but there is almost no chance that would have happened if Georgia had been a member of NATO. Russia would not have even considered it. The retaliation would have been devastating.

Deterrence might not work with Iran, but it’s even less likely to work if it’s downgraded, put on hold, or smells like a bluff. It’s all but certain to fail once the regime has nuclear weapons and can, short of incinerating cities with weapons of genocide, pretty much do whatever it wants.

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Taiwan’s Diplomacy

The Chinese philosopher Mencius once said that “small states have to be smart, not impulsive, in dealing with big states, and that big states should be tolerant, not overbearing, in dealing with small states.” So quoth leading Taiwanese politician Lien Chan, speaking yesterday at NYU in the context of President Obama’s nuclear summit.

Mr. Chan knows whereof he speaks: he not only has been at the forefront of talks between Beijing and Taipei; he is also the honorary chairman of the KMT party and was the vice president of Taiwan from 1996 to 2000.

The timing of his NYU speech was especially interesting. As the general mood, at least as expressed in the official rhetoric of international leaders, favors disarmament as the path to stability and peace, Taiwan provides a contrarian example. And Obama’s stance on disarmament will be of utmost significance to Taiwan. Obama seems to have handled his Taiwan policy with uncharacteristic boldness so far, following through on an arms sale despite China’s fit of pique. That has empowered Taiwan to approach China in a way that is “smart, not impulsive.”

Though the signing of a peace agreement between China and Taiwan still appears a distant dream, Mr. Chan sees reason for cautious optimism. Taiwan has made an effort in the past years to strengthen its economic relationship with the mainland, which has been viewed by some as an unprecedented thaw. Mr. Chan spoke of dramatic increases in cross-strait investment and tourism, and he noted burgeoning public support within Taiwan for progress toward such a peace agreement. A strong dialogue has been established between the two states, and differences have been temporarily shelved. Taiwan has been able to achieve such steps, he suggested, because it has been able to hold its own against the mighty mainland.

As leaders from around the world return home from the nuclear summit, Taiwan provides an important reminder. Sometimes the threat of force — maintained responsibly through a viable deterrent — is the best guarantor of peace and progress. The elimination of nuclear arms is a lofty, worthy dream, but disarmament is in no way a certain path to peace. In fact, arms have given Taiwan the clout to pursue peace through negotiation. That’s a lesson big states and small states might bear in mind.

The Chinese philosopher Mencius once said that “small states have to be smart, not impulsive, in dealing with big states, and that big states should be tolerant, not overbearing, in dealing with small states.” So quoth leading Taiwanese politician Lien Chan, speaking yesterday at NYU in the context of President Obama’s nuclear summit.

Mr. Chan knows whereof he speaks: he not only has been at the forefront of talks between Beijing and Taipei; he is also the honorary chairman of the KMT party and was the vice president of Taiwan from 1996 to 2000.

The timing of his NYU speech was especially interesting. As the general mood, at least as expressed in the official rhetoric of international leaders, favors disarmament as the path to stability and peace, Taiwan provides a contrarian example. And Obama’s stance on disarmament will be of utmost significance to Taiwan. Obama seems to have handled his Taiwan policy with uncharacteristic boldness so far, following through on an arms sale despite China’s fit of pique. That has empowered Taiwan to approach China in a way that is “smart, not impulsive.”

Though the signing of a peace agreement between China and Taiwan still appears a distant dream, Mr. Chan sees reason for cautious optimism. Taiwan has made an effort in the past years to strengthen its economic relationship with the mainland, which has been viewed by some as an unprecedented thaw. Mr. Chan spoke of dramatic increases in cross-strait investment and tourism, and he noted burgeoning public support within Taiwan for progress toward such a peace agreement. A strong dialogue has been established between the two states, and differences have been temporarily shelved. Taiwan has been able to achieve such steps, he suggested, because it has been able to hold its own against the mighty mainland.

As leaders from around the world return home from the nuclear summit, Taiwan provides an important reminder. Sometimes the threat of force — maintained responsibly through a viable deterrent — is the best guarantor of peace and progress. The elimination of nuclear arms is a lofty, worthy dream, but disarmament is in no way a certain path to peace. In fact, arms have given Taiwan the clout to pursue peace through negotiation. That’s a lesson big states and small states might bear in mind.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Mona Charen spots the Obama blather: “In the latest installment of politically correct, not to say Orwellian, language emanating from the Obama administration, the term ‘rogue states’ has been sidelined in favor of ‘outliers.’ . . .While they were reclassifying Iran and North Korea, the Obama administration, with spine of purest Jell-O, let it be known that the revised National Security Strategy will eschew references to ‘Islamic extremism,’ ‘jihad,’ ‘Islamic radicalism’ and other such terms.”

Michael Anton spots the Obami misleading us on the START treaty’s lack of linkage to our missile-defense development: “Now we have the worst of both worlds: a missile defense system designed not to defend against a Russian strike but nonetheless formally linked to Russia’s nuclear posture. Worse, the Russian foreign minister has hinted that his country may invoke the treaty’s otherwise standard withdrawal language if ‘the U.S. strategic missile defense begins to significantly affect the efficiency of Russian strategic nuclear forces.’ Given that the Russians publicly insist (though cannot possibly believe) that virtually anything we do on missile defense affects their strategic forces, this was not encouraging news.”

John Fund spots the fallout from ObamaCare in Michigan: “The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a culturally conservative area that viewed most aspects of the health care bill with suspicion. In 2000 and 2004, the district went easily for George W. Bush, and Barack Obama barely managed 50% of the vote there in 2008. Mr. Stupak is known to have taken a private poll of his district since his health care vote, and his retirement announcement is a likely indication that he feared he might lose to a Republican challenger this fall.Whatever political bounce Democrats thought they would get from passing health care isn’t showing up in national polls. In districts like Mr. Stupak’s health care appears to be a distinct liability.”

Republicans spot another 2012 contender: Rick Perry.

The National Republican Campaign Committee spots another target: “The NRCC dumped nearly $200K into the special election contest to replace the late Rep. John Murtha (D-PA 12) late Friday, according to FEC filings. The total includes nearly $180K for TV ads, and $12K for a poll. It’s the first independent expenditure for either party for the May 18 contest, and follows the DCCC’s $47K investment in the HI-01 special earlier this week.”

Ray Takeyh spots the danger in the Obami assault on Israel: “[S]hould Tehran perceive fissures and divisions in U.S.-Israeli alliance, it is likely to further harden its nuclear stance. . . . Fulminations aside, Iranian leaders take Israeli threats seriously and are at pains to assert their retaliatory options. It is here that the shape and tone of the U.S.-Israeli alliance matters most. Should the clerical oligarchs sense divisions in that alliance, they can assure themselves that a beleaguered Israel cannot possibly strike Iran while at odds with its superpower patron. Such perceptions cheapen Israeli deterrence and diminish the potency of the West’s remaining sticks.” One has to ask: why is Obama systematically dismantling any credible threats to the mullahs?

Can you spot Obama’s “bounce” from passing ObamaCare? Me neither –  in Gallup 47 approve, 48 percent disapprove of his performance.

Victor Davis Hanson spots the likely results of Obama’s kick-your-friends foreign policy: “Karzai or Allawi will look more to Iran, which will soon become the regional and nuclear hegemon of the Middle East. Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics had better mend fences with Russia. The EU should finally start on that much-ballyhooed all-European response force. Taiwan, the Philippines, and South Korea should strengthen ties with China. Buffer states in South America had better make amends with a dictatorial, armed, and aggressive Chavez. Israel should accept that the U.S. no longer will provide support for it at the UN, chide the Arab states to cool their anti-Israeli proclamations, remind the Europeans not to overdo their popular anti-Israeli rhetoric, or warn radical Palestinians not to start another intifada. (In other words, it’s open season to say or do anything one wishes with Israel.)”

Mona Charen spots the Obama blather: “In the latest installment of politically correct, not to say Orwellian, language emanating from the Obama administration, the term ‘rogue states’ has been sidelined in favor of ‘outliers.’ . . .While they were reclassifying Iran and North Korea, the Obama administration, with spine of purest Jell-O, let it be known that the revised National Security Strategy will eschew references to ‘Islamic extremism,’ ‘jihad,’ ‘Islamic radicalism’ and other such terms.”

Michael Anton spots the Obami misleading us on the START treaty’s lack of linkage to our missile-defense development: “Now we have the worst of both worlds: a missile defense system designed not to defend against a Russian strike but nonetheless formally linked to Russia’s nuclear posture. Worse, the Russian foreign minister has hinted that his country may invoke the treaty’s otherwise standard withdrawal language if ‘the U.S. strategic missile defense begins to significantly affect the efficiency of Russian strategic nuclear forces.’ Given that the Russians publicly insist (though cannot possibly believe) that virtually anything we do on missile defense affects their strategic forces, this was not encouraging news.”

John Fund spots the fallout from ObamaCare in Michigan: “The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a culturally conservative area that viewed most aspects of the health care bill with suspicion. In 2000 and 2004, the district went easily for George W. Bush, and Barack Obama barely managed 50% of the vote there in 2008. Mr. Stupak is known to have taken a private poll of his district since his health care vote, and his retirement announcement is a likely indication that he feared he might lose to a Republican challenger this fall.Whatever political bounce Democrats thought they would get from passing health care isn’t showing up in national polls. In districts like Mr. Stupak’s health care appears to be a distinct liability.”

Republicans spot another 2012 contender: Rick Perry.

The National Republican Campaign Committee spots another target: “The NRCC dumped nearly $200K into the special election contest to replace the late Rep. John Murtha (D-PA 12) late Friday, according to FEC filings. The total includes nearly $180K for TV ads, and $12K for a poll. It’s the first independent expenditure for either party for the May 18 contest, and follows the DCCC’s $47K investment in the HI-01 special earlier this week.”

Ray Takeyh spots the danger in the Obami assault on Israel: “[S]hould Tehran perceive fissures and divisions in U.S.-Israeli alliance, it is likely to further harden its nuclear stance. . . . Fulminations aside, Iranian leaders take Israeli threats seriously and are at pains to assert their retaliatory options. It is here that the shape and tone of the U.S.-Israeli alliance matters most. Should the clerical oligarchs sense divisions in that alliance, they can assure themselves that a beleaguered Israel cannot possibly strike Iran while at odds with its superpower patron. Such perceptions cheapen Israeli deterrence and diminish the potency of the West’s remaining sticks.” One has to ask: why is Obama systematically dismantling any credible threats to the mullahs?

Can you spot Obama’s “bounce” from passing ObamaCare? Me neither –  in Gallup 47 approve, 48 percent disapprove of his performance.

Victor Davis Hanson spots the likely results of Obama’s kick-your-friends foreign policy: “Karzai or Allawi will look more to Iran, which will soon become the regional and nuclear hegemon of the Middle East. Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics had better mend fences with Russia. The EU should finally start on that much-ballyhooed all-European response force. Taiwan, the Philippines, and South Korea should strengthen ties with China. Buffer states in South America had better make amends with a dictatorial, armed, and aggressive Chavez. Israel should accept that the U.S. no longer will provide support for it at the UN, chide the Arab states to cool their anti-Israeli proclamations, remind the Europeans not to overdo their popular anti-Israeli rhetoric, or warn radical Palestinians not to start another intifada. (In other words, it’s open season to say or do anything one wishes with Israel.)”

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Buck Up, Mr. President

COMMENTARY contributor and former UN ambassador John Bolton wants Obama to be more like Google. He writes:

Google’s decision to stop censoring searches on its China-based servers, rerouting search requests instead to its uncensored Hong Kong facilities, is historic. The company has shown itself unwilling simply to be on the receiving end of whatever Beijing dishes out. …

Google’s decision should also tell the U.S. government something about how to advocate its interests with China. The Google controversy coincided with cyber attacks against over 200 American companies, believed by U.S. authorities to have been launched by the People’s Liberation Army. China’s unchallenged behavior shows why we should not be optimistic that romancing Beijing will produce crippling sanctions against Iran’s nuclear weapons program any time soon. Instead, the Obama administration should emulate Google’s approach in official dealings, and support U.S. businesses in situations similar to Google so they do not have to act alone.

The Obama administration’s obsequiousness has certainly not paid off to date. China’s ongoing human rights atrocities, its bellicosity toward U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and its refusal to get on board with Iran sanctions suggest that the Obama approach is, in fact, having the opposite reaction. The lower we bow, the more aggressive the Chinese become. And meanwhile, the Russians, the Syrians, and the Iranians look on, observing a tongue-tied American president (except when it comes to voicing “anger” toward Israel) desperate to ingratiate himself with despotic regimes and unwilling to risk their ire. Dictators become more emboldened, America loses its moral standing, and the world becomes less free and less safe. This — along with the crushing debt he is piling up — will be the Obama legacy.

COMMENTARY contributor and former UN ambassador John Bolton wants Obama to be more like Google. He writes:

Google’s decision to stop censoring searches on its China-based servers, rerouting search requests instead to its uncensored Hong Kong facilities, is historic. The company has shown itself unwilling simply to be on the receiving end of whatever Beijing dishes out. …

Google’s decision should also tell the U.S. government something about how to advocate its interests with China. The Google controversy coincided with cyber attacks against over 200 American companies, believed by U.S. authorities to have been launched by the People’s Liberation Army. China’s unchallenged behavior shows why we should not be optimistic that romancing Beijing will produce crippling sanctions against Iran’s nuclear weapons program any time soon. Instead, the Obama administration should emulate Google’s approach in official dealings, and support U.S. businesses in situations similar to Google so they do not have to act alone.

The Obama administration’s obsequiousness has certainly not paid off to date. China’s ongoing human rights atrocities, its bellicosity toward U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and its refusal to get on board with Iran sanctions suggest that the Obama approach is, in fact, having the opposite reaction. The lower we bow, the more aggressive the Chinese become. And meanwhile, the Russians, the Syrians, and the Iranians look on, observing a tongue-tied American president (except when it comes to voicing “anger” toward Israel) desperate to ingratiate himself with despotic regimes and unwilling to risk their ire. Dictators become more emboldened, America loses its moral standing, and the world becomes less free and less safe. This — along with the crushing debt he is piling up — will be the Obama legacy.

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Obama’s Meeting with the Dalai Lama: Welcome but Late

Barack Obama did the right thing and met with the Dalai Lama today. The White House issued a statement after the private meeting, in which the president appropriately backed the preservation of Tibet’s “unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China.” While it broke no new ground, this is what we expect the leader of what we once called the “free world” to do: to use the moral and physical power of his office to stand with oppressed people like those in the captive nation of Tibet.

Predictably, the meeting has produced a great deal of huffing and puffing from the Chinese, who regard any criticism of their imperial reign in Tibet as a mortal offense. But those who fear that embracing the Dalai Lama will set in motion an international crisis are either alarmists or apologists for Beijing. Among the latter category are those who have been speaking in defense of China’s rule in Tibet and leaving out such minor nasty details as the brutal oppression of its native people and cultural genocide. An excellent example comes from Newsweek, which published a piece yesterday by their Beijing correspondent, Isaac Stone Fish, claiming China “has been good to Tibet.” Stone isn’t exactly an old China hand, as his Facebook page describes him as a recent graduate of Columbia University. But while young in years, the piece shows that he is apparently very wise in the ways of sucking up to the government of the country that he is covering.

But such distasteful flummery aside, it’s now worth asking ourselves whether the Obama administration might not be in a stronger position vis-à-vis China had it not spent its first year foolishly pursuing appeasement of Beijing. As Obama’s November trip to China proved, the Chinese (much like their friends in Iran) saw the president’s obsequious attitude as an expression of weakness and acted accordingly. Had the president started off his term by staking out the moral high ground on Tibet and making it clear that the United States wouldn’t abandon Taiwan, then minimal gestures like meeting with the Dalai Lama and selling arms to Taipei wouldn’t be cause for a crisis. Nor would the speculation about the impact of monetary issues and the amount of our debt to China be used as justification for our silence on human rights. Having come in to office solely obsessed with doing everything differently than George W. Bush, Obama is learning the hard way that his foolish belief in engagement and the power of his own personality is no substitute for hardheaded policy and principles.

Barack Obama did the right thing and met with the Dalai Lama today. The White House issued a statement after the private meeting, in which the president appropriately backed the preservation of Tibet’s “unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China.” While it broke no new ground, this is what we expect the leader of what we once called the “free world” to do: to use the moral and physical power of his office to stand with oppressed people like those in the captive nation of Tibet.

Predictably, the meeting has produced a great deal of huffing and puffing from the Chinese, who regard any criticism of their imperial reign in Tibet as a mortal offense. But those who fear that embracing the Dalai Lama will set in motion an international crisis are either alarmists or apologists for Beijing. Among the latter category are those who have been speaking in defense of China’s rule in Tibet and leaving out such minor nasty details as the brutal oppression of its native people and cultural genocide. An excellent example comes from Newsweek, which published a piece yesterday by their Beijing correspondent, Isaac Stone Fish, claiming China “has been good to Tibet.” Stone isn’t exactly an old China hand, as his Facebook page describes him as a recent graduate of Columbia University. But while young in years, the piece shows that he is apparently very wise in the ways of sucking up to the government of the country that he is covering.

But such distasteful flummery aside, it’s now worth asking ourselves whether the Obama administration might not be in a stronger position vis-à-vis China had it not spent its first year foolishly pursuing appeasement of Beijing. As Obama’s November trip to China proved, the Chinese (much like their friends in Iran) saw the president’s obsequious attitude as an expression of weakness and acted accordingly. Had the president started off his term by staking out the moral high ground on Tibet and making it clear that the United States wouldn’t abandon Taiwan, then minimal gestures like meeting with the Dalai Lama and selling arms to Taipei wouldn’t be cause for a crisis. Nor would the speculation about the impact of monetary issues and the amount of our debt to China be used as justification for our silence on human rights. Having come in to office solely obsessed with doing everything differently than George W. Bush, Obama is learning the hard way that his foolish belief in engagement and the power of his own personality is no substitute for hardheaded policy and principles.

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A Balanced China Policy

George Gilder has been one of our most interesting and important public intellectuals since the 1970s, so his pro-China commentary today in the Wall Street Journal deserves a more serious response than, say, the mindless boosterism of the average Tom Friedman column. In fact, I agree with him that it is hardly worth wasting American diplomatic capital with China on the issues of global warming and the value of the Chinese currency.

I am surprised, however, to see Gilder — who has been an Internet visionary — so blithely suggest that the U.S. government has no stake in Google’s battle with China over Internet censorship and hacking. “Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department,” he writes. That is like saying that protecting downtown New York is the responsibility of the corporations headquartered there, not the FBI and NYPD. Cyber infrastructure is fast becoming even more important than physical infrastructure to the functioning of the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is, indeed, an issue for the State Department — and not only the State Department but also the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other government agencies.

I am even more surprised to see Gilder — known as a relentless defender of Israel — seemingly write off another embattled democracy: Taiwan. His stance here is a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he writes: “Yes, the Chinese are needlessly aggressive in missile deployments against Taiwan, but there is absolutely no prospect of a successful U.S. defense of that country.” On the other hand: “China, like the U.S., is so heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturing skills and so intertwined with Taiwan’s industry that China’s military threat to the island is mostly theater.” Those propositions would seem to be at odds: is China a threat to Taiwan or not? In any case, neither proposition is terribly convincing.

Conquering Taiwan would require China to oversee the biggest amphibious operation since Inchon. Stopping such a cross-Strait attack would not be terribly difficult as long as Taiwan has reasonably strong air and naval forces — and can call on assistance from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Taiwan doesn’t need the capability to march on Beijing, merely the capability to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from marching on Taipei. It would be harder to prevent China from doing tremendous damage to Taiwan via missile strikes but by no means impossible, given the advancement of ballistic-missile defenses and given our own ability to pinpoint Chinese launch sites. Moreover, giving Taiwan the means to defend itself is the surest guarantee that it won’t have to. Only if Taiwan looks vulnerable is China likely to launch a war.

The notion that such a conflict is out of the question because of the economic links between Taiwan and the mainland is about as convincing as the notion — widely held before World War I — that the major states of Europe were so economically dependent on one another and so enlightened that they would never risk a conflict. If the statesmen who ran Austria and Germany and Russia and France and Britain were, in fact, primarily interested in economic wellbeing, they would never have gone to war. But other considerations — national honor and prestige and security — trumped economics back then and could easily do so again, especially because the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is increasingly based on catering to an extreme nationalist viewpoint.

That doesn’t mean we should engage in needless and self-destructive confrontations with China over global warming and currency, but that also doesn’t mean we should mindlessly kowtow to China’s every whim. As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2005, we should pursue a balanced approach to China, tough on security and human-rights issues but accommodating on trade and currency policy. In other words, we should make clear to China that we are prepared to accept it as a responsible member of the international community but that we will not overlook its transgressions, like its complicity in upholding rogue regimes (Sudan, Iran, North Korea) and threatening democratic ones (South Korea, Taiwan).

George Gilder has been one of our most interesting and important public intellectuals since the 1970s, so his pro-China commentary today in the Wall Street Journal deserves a more serious response than, say, the mindless boosterism of the average Tom Friedman column. In fact, I agree with him that it is hardly worth wasting American diplomatic capital with China on the issues of global warming and the value of the Chinese currency.

I am surprised, however, to see Gilder — who has been an Internet visionary — so blithely suggest that the U.S. government has no stake in Google’s battle with China over Internet censorship and hacking. “Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department,” he writes. That is like saying that protecting downtown New York is the responsibility of the corporations headquartered there, not the FBI and NYPD. Cyber infrastructure is fast becoming even more important than physical infrastructure to the functioning of the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is, indeed, an issue for the State Department — and not only the State Department but also the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other government agencies.

I am even more surprised to see Gilder — known as a relentless defender of Israel — seemingly write off another embattled democracy: Taiwan. His stance here is a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he writes: “Yes, the Chinese are needlessly aggressive in missile deployments against Taiwan, but there is absolutely no prospect of a successful U.S. defense of that country.” On the other hand: “China, like the U.S., is so heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturing skills and so intertwined with Taiwan’s industry that China’s military threat to the island is mostly theater.” Those propositions would seem to be at odds: is China a threat to Taiwan or not? In any case, neither proposition is terribly convincing.

Conquering Taiwan would require China to oversee the biggest amphibious operation since Inchon. Stopping such a cross-Strait attack would not be terribly difficult as long as Taiwan has reasonably strong air and naval forces — and can call on assistance from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Taiwan doesn’t need the capability to march on Beijing, merely the capability to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from marching on Taipei. It would be harder to prevent China from doing tremendous damage to Taiwan via missile strikes but by no means impossible, given the advancement of ballistic-missile defenses and given our own ability to pinpoint Chinese launch sites. Moreover, giving Taiwan the means to defend itself is the surest guarantee that it won’t have to. Only if Taiwan looks vulnerable is China likely to launch a war.

The notion that such a conflict is out of the question because of the economic links between Taiwan and the mainland is about as convincing as the notion — widely held before World War I — that the major states of Europe were so economically dependent on one another and so enlightened that they would never risk a conflict. If the statesmen who ran Austria and Germany and Russia and France and Britain were, in fact, primarily interested in economic wellbeing, they would never have gone to war. But other considerations — national honor and prestige and security — trumped economics back then and could easily do so again, especially because the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is increasingly based on catering to an extreme nationalist viewpoint.

That doesn’t mean we should engage in needless and self-destructive confrontations with China over global warming and currency, but that also doesn’t mean we should mindlessly kowtow to China’s every whim. As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2005, we should pursue a balanced approach to China, tough on security and human-rights issues but accommodating on trade and currency policy. In other words, we should make clear to China that we are prepared to accept it as a responsible member of the international community but that we will not overlook its transgressions, like its complicity in upholding rogue regimes (Sudan, Iran, North Korea) and threatening democratic ones (South Korea, Taiwan).

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Digging Ourselves a Hole

The Washington Post editors observe:

In its first year, the Obama administration went out of its way to cater to China’s communist leadership. It publicly put human rights concerns on a back burner, delayed a presidential meeting with the Dalai Lama and did not press Beijing hard about its currency manipulation. Now it appears that effort produced the opposite of the intended effect. Rather than respond with its own gestures of cooperation, Beijing is pressing hard for more American concessions. Bursting with hubris about its emergence as a global power, it is testing to see how far a new and inexperienced U.S. president can be pushed.

But all the bowing and scraping didn’t pay off. Instead, we have a new level of bellicosity reflected in threats over our arms sale to Taiwan and the delayed upcoming meeting with the Dalai Lama. There is reason to fret that the Obami will retreat to more conciliation in their ongoing effort to gain China’s support for Iran sanctions.

This is, of course, a lesson that extends beyond China. It should serve as a warning to the “smart” diplomats that weakness and reticence in advocating our interests will engender not respect but contempt from adversaries. While the Chinese threaten to sanction our companies that provide weapons to Taiwan, the mullahs in Iran shoot off a missile and continue to imprison and murder their citizens. Have we incurred goodwill or encouraged brazenness there?

After a year of the apology tour, reductions in our own missile-defense program, yanking missile defense from our allies, and remaining largely mute on human rights, we have communicated to foes that there are few adverse consequences to fear from the Obama administration. That has made the administration’s job even tougher now. When it finally acts with appropriate forcefulness — in announcing the Taiwan arms sale, for example — it must withstand screams of protest and redoubled threats. Had it projected greater strength and determination sooner, perhaps the task of convincing foes and friends of our resoluteness would not be so difficult now.

The Washington Post editors observe:

In its first year, the Obama administration went out of its way to cater to China’s communist leadership. It publicly put human rights concerns on a back burner, delayed a presidential meeting with the Dalai Lama and did not press Beijing hard about its currency manipulation. Now it appears that effort produced the opposite of the intended effect. Rather than respond with its own gestures of cooperation, Beijing is pressing hard for more American concessions. Bursting with hubris about its emergence as a global power, it is testing to see how far a new and inexperienced U.S. president can be pushed.

But all the bowing and scraping didn’t pay off. Instead, we have a new level of bellicosity reflected in threats over our arms sale to Taiwan and the delayed upcoming meeting with the Dalai Lama. There is reason to fret that the Obami will retreat to more conciliation in their ongoing effort to gain China’s support for Iran sanctions.

This is, of course, a lesson that extends beyond China. It should serve as a warning to the “smart” diplomats that weakness and reticence in advocating our interests will engender not respect but contempt from adversaries. While the Chinese threaten to sanction our companies that provide weapons to Taiwan, the mullahs in Iran shoot off a missile and continue to imprison and murder their citizens. Have we incurred goodwill or encouraged brazenness there?

After a year of the apology tour, reductions in our own missile-defense program, yanking missile defense from our allies, and remaining largely mute on human rights, we have communicated to foes that there are few adverse consequences to fear from the Obama administration. That has made the administration’s job even tougher now. When it finally acts with appropriate forcefulness — in announcing the Taiwan arms sale, for example — it must withstand screams of protest and redoubled threats. Had it projected greater strength and determination sooner, perhaps the task of convincing foes and friends of our resoluteness would not be so difficult now.

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Chinese Ire and Obama’s Big Stand

The Obama administration deserves credit for finally ending its kowtowing to Beijing. As the New York Times notes, the administration has recently raised the ire of Chinese officials in several ways. The biggest and most recent is the announcement of a $6 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which China claims is simply a breakaway province — a fiction that far too many nations, including the United States, collude in by refusing Taipei formal diplomatic relations.  China has reacted predictably, suspending military-to-military contacts with the U.S. for some unspecified period; other expressions of pique are no doubt coming. The Obama-ites knew this would happen, but they went ahead anyway. Good for them.

The president is also finally going to meet the Dalai Lama, something he refused to do before his visit to China in the fall, where he went to contemptible lengths to please his hosts. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has unveiled a doctrine of Internet freedom that rankles China, which is in the midst of a dispute with Google over Chinese censorship and hacking.

Chalk this up as another area where some of the illusions that Obama and his aides carried into office are being shed as they confront the cruel reality of the world. They had hoped that by making nice with the Chinese, they would win Beijing’s cooperation on issues like global warming and sanctions on Iran. It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead of signing up with the Obama agenda, China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, went out of his way to humiliate the American president at the Copenhagen global warming summit. The latest initiatives from the Obama administration can be interpreted as payback.

It’s about time. After his first year in office, Obama gave the distinct impression that he could be pushed around with impunity. That is cheering news for America’s rivals and enemies — and dangerous news for us. Obama needs to do far more to dispel that impression of weakness, but this is at least a start. Next up: Iran?

The Obama administration deserves credit for finally ending its kowtowing to Beijing. As the New York Times notes, the administration has recently raised the ire of Chinese officials in several ways. The biggest and most recent is the announcement of a $6 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which China claims is simply a breakaway province — a fiction that far too many nations, including the United States, collude in by refusing Taipei formal diplomatic relations.  China has reacted predictably, suspending military-to-military contacts with the U.S. for some unspecified period; other expressions of pique are no doubt coming. The Obama-ites knew this would happen, but they went ahead anyway. Good for them.

The president is also finally going to meet the Dalai Lama, something he refused to do before his visit to China in the fall, where he went to contemptible lengths to please his hosts. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has unveiled a doctrine of Internet freedom that rankles China, which is in the midst of a dispute with Google over Chinese censorship and hacking.

Chalk this up as another area where some of the illusions that Obama and his aides carried into office are being shed as they confront the cruel reality of the world. They had hoped that by making nice with the Chinese, they would win Beijing’s cooperation on issues like global warming and sanctions on Iran. It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead of signing up with the Obama agenda, China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, went out of his way to humiliate the American president at the Copenhagen global warming summit. The latest initiatives from the Obama administration can be interpreted as payback.

It’s about time. After his first year in office, Obama gave the distinct impression that he could be pushed around with impunity. That is cheering news for America’s rivals and enemies — and dangerous news for us. Obama needs to do far more to dispel that impression of weakness, but this is at least a start. Next up: Iran?

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Stick a Fork in It

The Jan. 16 meeting of the P5+1 ended ingloriously. The U.S. representative said the P5+1, which will confer again by phone this month, remains committed to the “dual track” approach, in which the possibility of sanctions on Iran is part of the “pressure track.” Western media uniformly characterize the meeting’s outcome as indecisive; but although Russia’s envoy made no definitive pronouncements, the headline at state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti was categorical: “Iran Six decides [sic] against new sanctions on Tehran.”

China, meanwhile, created impressive diplomatic theater by shifting veteran P5+1 negotiator He Yafei to a new post just before the Jan. 16 meeting, sending a low-ranking functionary in his stead and failing to provide contact information for Mr. He’s replacement. According to the UK Times, the P5+1 negotiators don’t know whom to contact in Beijing to schedule the phone conversation proposed for later this month.  The Washington Post reports that “diplomats said they did not know China’s motive” for these measures, but it cites the diplomats’ speculating — with straight faces, as far as we know — that “it might be to illustrate Beijing’s resistance to punishing Iran with more sanctions or dismay at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.” China’s obstructionist behavior effectively ended any hope for progress on Saturday.

This meeting, of course, was the threat hanging over Iran if it elected not to comply with President Obama’s Dec. 31 deadline. As Rick Richman pointed out last week, Obama’s State Department was already soft-peddling the deadline in mid-December, an approach unlikely to impress Iran with our seriousness. In fairness, however, making such an impression would require overcoming the relentless countersignals coming from our negotiating partners, whose businesses have spent recent months deepening their commercial ties with Iran. Whether it’s France’s Total SA bidding with China to develop Iranian gas fields or German port operator HPC contracting to manage the container port in Iran’s Bandar Abbas complex, our P5+1 partners are engaging themselves to make a lot of money from precisely the commercial activities we would have to sanction to affect Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Recent summaries like the ones here and here recount the many ways in which commerce is outrunning the political sentiment for sanctions. That sentiment is by no means strong or unified to begin with: Russia has been extraordinarily consistent in its position that there’s no evidence Iran is even pursuing nuclear weapons. Vladimir Putin reiterated that position on Jan. 7 after two previous Russian assertions to the same effect in December (here and here). Indeed, Putin said it in 2008, 2007, and 2005, a record we have heroically disregarded in our eagerness to negotiate alongside Moscow.

Obama’s effort, launched in September with the dramatic revelation about the nuclear site near Qom, is done. On assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on Jan. 5, China announced that sanctions against Iran will not be on the council’s agenda for January — a promise more credible than Obama’s December deadline. Either we change the pace of our diplomacy right now, or the nations concerned will conclude that U.S. diplomacy is irrelevant. Procrastination at this point means certain failure.

The Jan. 16 meeting of the P5+1 ended ingloriously. The U.S. representative said the P5+1, which will confer again by phone this month, remains committed to the “dual track” approach, in which the possibility of sanctions on Iran is part of the “pressure track.” Western media uniformly characterize the meeting’s outcome as indecisive; but although Russia’s envoy made no definitive pronouncements, the headline at state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti was categorical: “Iran Six decides [sic] against new sanctions on Tehran.”

China, meanwhile, created impressive diplomatic theater by shifting veteran P5+1 negotiator He Yafei to a new post just before the Jan. 16 meeting, sending a low-ranking functionary in his stead and failing to provide contact information for Mr. He’s replacement. According to the UK Times, the P5+1 negotiators don’t know whom to contact in Beijing to schedule the phone conversation proposed for later this month.  The Washington Post reports that “diplomats said they did not know China’s motive” for these measures, but it cites the diplomats’ speculating — with straight faces, as far as we know — that “it might be to illustrate Beijing’s resistance to punishing Iran with more sanctions or dismay at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.” China’s obstructionist behavior effectively ended any hope for progress on Saturday.

This meeting, of course, was the threat hanging over Iran if it elected not to comply with President Obama’s Dec. 31 deadline. As Rick Richman pointed out last week, Obama’s State Department was already soft-peddling the deadline in mid-December, an approach unlikely to impress Iran with our seriousness. In fairness, however, making such an impression would require overcoming the relentless countersignals coming from our negotiating partners, whose businesses have spent recent months deepening their commercial ties with Iran. Whether it’s France’s Total SA bidding with China to develop Iranian gas fields or German port operator HPC contracting to manage the container port in Iran’s Bandar Abbas complex, our P5+1 partners are engaging themselves to make a lot of money from precisely the commercial activities we would have to sanction to affect Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Recent summaries like the ones here and here recount the many ways in which commerce is outrunning the political sentiment for sanctions. That sentiment is by no means strong or unified to begin with: Russia has been extraordinarily consistent in its position that there’s no evidence Iran is even pursuing nuclear weapons. Vladimir Putin reiterated that position on Jan. 7 after two previous Russian assertions to the same effect in December (here and here). Indeed, Putin said it in 2008, 2007, and 2005, a record we have heroically disregarded in our eagerness to negotiate alongside Moscow.

Obama’s effort, launched in September with the dramatic revelation about the nuclear site near Qom, is done. On assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on Jan. 5, China announced that sanctions against Iran will not be on the council’s agenda for January — a promise more credible than Obama’s December deadline. Either we change the pace of our diplomacy right now, or the nations concerned will conclude that U.S. diplomacy is irrelevant. Procrastination at this point means certain failure.

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Game On

China announced its first successful test of an antiballistic-missile system on Jan. 11. The Pentagon confirms detecting the test. American pundits note in passing that this represents an apparent shift in China’s long-maintained political stance on ballistic-missile defense (BMD), but they are more eager to focus on the connection between the Chinese test and our Patriot-system sale to Taiwan.

They should back up and look again at their first point. It’s China’s posture shift on the role of BMD systems in global security that will matter in the long run. China has indeed, as the New York Times analysis points out, been a perennial opponent of the BMD concept advanced in U.S. defense programming. Throughout its participation in the nuclear age, China has hewed to the same line as Russia: that global stability is preserved, in fact if not always in name, by mutual assured destruction. U.S. analysts have known for some years now that Beijing could turn its anti-satellite technology on the BMD problem, but China’s pattern, like Russia’s, has been to develop and test in secret while staking out a contradictory political posture.

The contradictory political posture has been abandoned, and that means more than that China is mad at us. It means that China perceives that the old conditions have expired. Under those old conditions, the chief dynamic involved Russia trying to forestall U.S. deployment of our “National Missile Defense” — the concept that would fully supersede MAD. But that condition no longer obtains, because with President Obama’s September 2009 policy reversal, Russia has succeeded.

The significance for China of our Patriot sale to Taiwan, assuming it is consummated, is that Beijing will have been unable to deter us given the same conditions in which Russia succeeded. That is inevitably a blot on China’s image as a great power. The BMD system launch of Jan. 11 was not announced solely for our benefit; it was a signal to the rest of the world too — starting with Russia, Japan, and India — that China has superpower options of its own and will use them. With Obama’s America retreating self-consciously to a “just one of the guys” security posture, the global interplay of power demonstrations, influence, and intimidation will increasingly be anyone’s game.

Not everything will be about us, in 2010 and beyond — but everything will affect us. Victor Davis Hanson has an apt metaphor for it this week, depicting the emerging international situation as a gunfight brewing at the OK Corral. He correctly predicts that the participants will achieve as much as they can with flashy holster work. But without the early, preemptive intervention of a sheriff, bullets eventually fly. China’s fundamental change of posture this week, regarding the basis of global security, is a signal: game on.

China announced its first successful test of an antiballistic-missile system on Jan. 11. The Pentagon confirms detecting the test. American pundits note in passing that this represents an apparent shift in China’s long-maintained political stance on ballistic-missile defense (BMD), but they are more eager to focus on the connection between the Chinese test and our Patriot-system sale to Taiwan.

They should back up and look again at their first point. It’s China’s posture shift on the role of BMD systems in global security that will matter in the long run. China has indeed, as the New York Times analysis points out, been a perennial opponent of the BMD concept advanced in U.S. defense programming. Throughout its participation in the nuclear age, China has hewed to the same line as Russia: that global stability is preserved, in fact if not always in name, by mutual assured destruction. U.S. analysts have known for some years now that Beijing could turn its anti-satellite technology on the BMD problem, but China’s pattern, like Russia’s, has been to develop and test in secret while staking out a contradictory political posture.

The contradictory political posture has been abandoned, and that means more than that China is mad at us. It means that China perceives that the old conditions have expired. Under those old conditions, the chief dynamic involved Russia trying to forestall U.S. deployment of our “National Missile Defense” — the concept that would fully supersede MAD. But that condition no longer obtains, because with President Obama’s September 2009 policy reversal, Russia has succeeded.

The significance for China of our Patriot sale to Taiwan, assuming it is consummated, is that Beijing will have been unable to deter us given the same conditions in which Russia succeeded. That is inevitably a blot on China’s image as a great power. The BMD system launch of Jan. 11 was not announced solely for our benefit; it was a signal to the rest of the world too — starting with Russia, Japan, and India — that China has superpower options of its own and will use them. With Obama’s America retreating self-consciously to a “just one of the guys” security posture, the global interplay of power demonstrations, influence, and intimidation will increasingly be anyone’s game.

Not everything will be about us, in 2010 and beyond — but everything will affect us. Victor Davis Hanson has an apt metaphor for it this week, depicting the emerging international situation as a gunfight brewing at the OK Corral. He correctly predicts that the participants will achieve as much as they can with flashy holster work. But without the early, preemptive intervention of a sheriff, bullets eventually fly. China’s fundamental change of posture this week, regarding the basis of global security, is a signal: game on.

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Obama Resists Anti-Censorship Efforts

The Wall Street Journal‘s Jerry Seib has a nice column today describing efforts by a group of senators — led, of course, by the Three Amigos: John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman — to provide funding to stymie Iran’s efforts to censor the Internet. As Seib notes, the Victims of Iranian Censorship Act “authorizes the U.S. government to develop proxy Web servers and Web addresses beyond the reach of the Iranian government, and to deploy technologies that would allow Iranians to go to those sites anonymously to stay in touch with one another and the outside world via the Internet.” This bill has already passed the Senate and is now awaiting an appropriation. But here’s the really interesting part of the article. Seib writes:

The idea is uncomfortable for the Obama administration, largely because some advocates of Internet-freedom legislation have in mind helping Chinese dissidents, not Iranian democracy protesters. Wrangling with China’s leaders, on whom the U.S. is depending for help with, among many other things, putting pressure on Iran, is a much trickier proposition.

Come again? The Obama administration doesn’t want to facilitate the free flow of information into China? It would prefer that the Chinese people be subject to censorship by their Communist government? If this were any other administration I would find that amazing. But coming from President Obama — who made no attempts to speak directly with the Chinese people during his recent visit and did everything possible to make nice with the ruling oligarchy — it is eminently believable. It is also deeply misguided. The U.S. has a long-term interest in fostering the growth of a free, liberal, and democratic China. The existing regime, while willing to do business with us (and buy up our debt), is also fostering a dangerous showdown with Taiwan in an attempt to bolster its nationalist credentials — a showdown that could eventually embroil us in war. Moreover, China consistently opposes U.S. interests in such flashpoints as North Korea and Iran, and it is fostering close ties with some of the worst thugs on the planet.

That doesn’t mean we should try to overthrow the existing regime by force. It does mean that, at a minimum, we should help dissidents and do more to facilitate accurate information getting to the people. That the Obama administration apparently views this as a dangerous policy shows a narrow realpolitik orientation that bodes ill for American foreign policy in the years ahead.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Jerry Seib has a nice column today describing efforts by a group of senators — led, of course, by the Three Amigos: John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman — to provide funding to stymie Iran’s efforts to censor the Internet. As Seib notes, the Victims of Iranian Censorship Act “authorizes the U.S. government to develop proxy Web servers and Web addresses beyond the reach of the Iranian government, and to deploy technologies that would allow Iranians to go to those sites anonymously to stay in touch with one another and the outside world via the Internet.” This bill has already passed the Senate and is now awaiting an appropriation. But here’s the really interesting part of the article. Seib writes:

The idea is uncomfortable for the Obama administration, largely because some advocates of Internet-freedom legislation have in mind helping Chinese dissidents, not Iranian democracy protesters. Wrangling with China’s leaders, on whom the U.S. is depending for help with, among many other things, putting pressure on Iran, is a much trickier proposition.

Come again? The Obama administration doesn’t want to facilitate the free flow of information into China? It would prefer that the Chinese people be subject to censorship by their Communist government? If this were any other administration I would find that amazing. But coming from President Obama — who made no attempts to speak directly with the Chinese people during his recent visit and did everything possible to make nice with the ruling oligarchy — it is eminently believable. It is also deeply misguided. The U.S. has a long-term interest in fostering the growth of a free, liberal, and democratic China. The existing regime, while willing to do business with us (and buy up our debt), is also fostering a dangerous showdown with Taiwan in an attempt to bolster its nationalist credentials — a showdown that could eventually embroil us in war. Moreover, China consistently opposes U.S. interests in such flashpoints as North Korea and Iran, and it is fostering close ties with some of the worst thugs on the planet.

That doesn’t mean we should try to overthrow the existing regime by force. It does mean that, at a minimum, we should help dissidents and do more to facilitate accurate information getting to the people. That the Obama administration apparently views this as a dangerous policy shows a narrow realpolitik orientation that bodes ill for American foreign policy in the years ahead.

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Carrots, Sticks, and Trips

President Obama’s trip to Asia has drawn unfavorable reviews from people as diverse as Leslie Gelb (“disturbing amateurishness” on top of the “inexcusably clumsy” Afghan review) and John Bolton (“one of the most disappointing trips by any U.S. president to the region in decades”) — but none as devastating as that of Christopher Badeaux in the New Ledger (a foreign policy “premised on the idea that the Carter Administration was not inherently wrong on anything, just well ahead of its time”).

Badeaux notes that the critical feature of the relatively successful China polices of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush was their recognition that “the carrot and the stick are closely joined”:

American Presidents praise a free, prosperous China. They speak of strategic partnerships while directing carrier battle groups in the Pacific. They talk about One China while approving arms shipments to Taiwan and hugging the Dalai Lama. They let China know that it faces no threat from the United States, but that it could.

Obama’s trip seemed simply another stop on a world tour to introduce (in Victor Davis Hanson’s phrase) the exceptional president of an unexceptional nation, complete with an even more exaggerated bow. The only good thing one can say is that at least he showed up (rather than simply send a video) and did not mention that Richard Nixon — one of our pre-Pacific chief executives — could not have imagined when he went to China in 1972 that Obama would one day be president.

The real consequences of this foreign-policy embarrassment, however, may not be in Asia but in Iran. As Iran watches the president on his self-absorbed travels (he is scheduled to pick up an unearned prize in Oslo on December 10 and again address his fellow citizens of the world) and observes him as he redoubles his efforts to talk every time they stiff him, it can be excused for thinking that the chances of its ever facing a stick rather than a carrot are slim.

President Obama’s trip to Asia has drawn unfavorable reviews from people as diverse as Leslie Gelb (“disturbing amateurishness” on top of the “inexcusably clumsy” Afghan review) and John Bolton (“one of the most disappointing trips by any U.S. president to the region in decades”) — but none as devastating as that of Christopher Badeaux in the New Ledger (a foreign policy “premised on the idea that the Carter Administration was not inherently wrong on anything, just well ahead of its time”).

Badeaux notes that the critical feature of the relatively successful China polices of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush was their recognition that “the carrot and the stick are closely joined”:

American Presidents praise a free, prosperous China. They speak of strategic partnerships while directing carrier battle groups in the Pacific. They talk about One China while approving arms shipments to Taiwan and hugging the Dalai Lama. They let China know that it faces no threat from the United States, but that it could.

Obama’s trip seemed simply another stop on a world tour to introduce (in Victor Davis Hanson’s phrase) the exceptional president of an unexceptional nation, complete with an even more exaggerated bow. The only good thing one can say is that at least he showed up (rather than simply send a video) and did not mention that Richard Nixon — one of our pre-Pacific chief executives — could not have imagined when he went to China in 1972 that Obama would one day be president.

The real consequences of this foreign-policy embarrassment, however, may not be in Asia but in Iran. As Iran watches the president on his self-absorbed travels (he is scheduled to pick up an unearned prize in Oslo on December 10 and again address his fellow citizens of the world) and observes him as he redoubles his efforts to talk every time they stiff him, it can be excused for thinking that the chances of its ever facing a stick rather than a carrot are slim.

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A Debtor’s Strategy?

Although the results — or more accurately, the lack of results — from Obama’s China visit suggest the opposite, the $800 billion the U.S. owes to Beijing “had no impact on [Obama’s agenda in China] whatsoever,” claimed Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman.

“The $800 billion never came up in conversation, and the President dealt with every issue on his agenda in a very direct way and pulled no punches,” Froman said at a news conference yesterday in Beijing.

On Nov. 15, the New York Times described Obama as a “profligate spender coming to pay his respects to his banker” and predicted before the trip’s beginning that “Mr. Obama will be spending less time exhorting Beijing and more time reassuring it.” It was a prediction that Froman’s statement contradicts.

And a savvy prediction, indeed, as it turned out. Obama offered vague statements on human rights—admittedly, an improvement on previous silence. Both sides reaffirmed their cooperation on environmental issues, nuclear nonproliferation and security – agreements likely less solid in reality than in rhetoric. Both promised increasing student exchanges. But all these stated commonalities are mild. If anything, the U.S. lost ground, minimizing India as a first-rate Asian power and making concessions on Taiwan, as Foreign Policy’s Daniel Blumenthal noted.

So the question is one of correlation or causation: whether Obama’s conciliatory approach can be blamed on the debt alone, or whether it is instead indicative of a larger China-policy outlook.

True, as Froman said, there was no documented mention of the $800-billion debt on the White House website. (But, given its status as a quite rotund elephant, perhaps it was a topic that should have been broached at least once.)

But if Obama intends to shift U.S.-China policy altogether, expect bigger foreign policy problems soon, a dilemma articulately described by Robert Kagan and Dan Blumenthal, who wrote for the Washington Post before Obama’s visit.

Previously, the American strategy has been to simultaneously engage and balance China, Kagan and Blumenthal write. But this time, throughout the visit, Obama repeated that “we do not seek to contain China’s rise,” words that must be musical to a country historically accustomed to regional dominance and hegemony.

Blumenthal and Kagan suggest a tension between reality and a policy of strategic reassurance: The U.S. doesn’t want to diminish its Asia presence or power, but China demands parity at bare minimum. “So it will quickly become obvious,” they write, “that no one on either side feels reassured. Unfortunately, the only result will be to make American allies nervous.” As if Obama’s recent treaty forfeitures in the Czech Republic and Poland were not enough.

Either way, the tone of the visit belied a less confident America—but whether that’s by dollar or decision, we have yet to see.

Although the results — or more accurately, the lack of results — from Obama’s China visit suggest the opposite, the $800 billion the U.S. owes to Beijing “had no impact on [Obama’s agenda in China] whatsoever,” claimed Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman.

“The $800 billion never came up in conversation, and the President dealt with every issue on his agenda in a very direct way and pulled no punches,” Froman said at a news conference yesterday in Beijing.

On Nov. 15, the New York Times described Obama as a “profligate spender coming to pay his respects to his banker” and predicted before the trip’s beginning that “Mr. Obama will be spending less time exhorting Beijing and more time reassuring it.” It was a prediction that Froman’s statement contradicts.

And a savvy prediction, indeed, as it turned out. Obama offered vague statements on human rights—admittedly, an improvement on previous silence. Both sides reaffirmed their cooperation on environmental issues, nuclear nonproliferation and security – agreements likely less solid in reality than in rhetoric. Both promised increasing student exchanges. But all these stated commonalities are mild. If anything, the U.S. lost ground, minimizing India as a first-rate Asian power and making concessions on Taiwan, as Foreign Policy’s Daniel Blumenthal noted.

So the question is one of correlation or causation: whether Obama’s conciliatory approach can be blamed on the debt alone, or whether it is instead indicative of a larger China-policy outlook.

True, as Froman said, there was no documented mention of the $800-billion debt on the White House website. (But, given its status as a quite rotund elephant, perhaps it was a topic that should have been broached at least once.)

But if Obama intends to shift U.S.-China policy altogether, expect bigger foreign policy problems soon, a dilemma articulately described by Robert Kagan and Dan Blumenthal, who wrote for the Washington Post before Obama’s visit.

Previously, the American strategy has been to simultaneously engage and balance China, Kagan and Blumenthal write. But this time, throughout the visit, Obama repeated that “we do not seek to contain China’s rise,” words that must be musical to a country historically accustomed to regional dominance and hegemony.

Blumenthal and Kagan suggest a tension between reality and a policy of strategic reassurance: The U.S. doesn’t want to diminish its Asia presence or power, but China demands parity at bare minimum. “So it will quickly become obvious,” they write, “that no one on either side feels reassured. Unfortunately, the only result will be to make American allies nervous.” As if Obama’s recent treaty forfeitures in the Czech Republic and Poland were not enough.

Either way, the tone of the visit belied a less confident America—but whether that’s by dollar or decision, we have yet to see.

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Obama’s Japan Fumble

President Barack Obama is losing ground on all three points of controversy in the Japan-U.S. security alliance, and his meeting today with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama did nothing to improve the U.S. position.

Japan is one of America’s most important allies, geopolitically essential for U.S.-East Asian policy and security efforts. The American presence in Japan has, among other things, been a deterrent to North Korea, a guarantor for Taiwan, and a balance for China, all of which stabilize East Asia. But this summer, Japan’s politics changed as the Democratic Party of Japan overturned the Liberal Democratic Party for the first time in 16 years. And while the new prime minister has called the U.S.-Japan alliance “the axis of Japan’s foreign policies,” his goals suggest the contrary. Up for debate is Japan’s refueling mission to Afghanistan, the status of a U.S. marine base in Okinawa, and — most important — a nearly 50-year-old security treaty between the two countries.

Let’s start with the latter, and most troubling, of these possible changes: the review of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The treaty establishes U.S. protection of Japan in exchange for an American military presence on Japanese soil. Revising that treaty to decrease U.S. military presence would diminish American influence, capability, and agility in the region.

And if the ruling party’s attitude toward the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Base in Okinawa is any indication, the American military presence in Japan could eventually encounter an even larger threat. The U.S. agreed in 2005 to relocate the Futenma base to a remote coastal area. But Prime Minister Hatoyama might want the base outside Japan altogether — hardly a surprise, considering that he campaigned partially on promises to reduce the U.S. military presence in Japan.

As Tokyo considers what it will do about Futenma, Obama has announced “ministerial-level meetings to discuss” the situation. But the U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos, said America’s “hope and expectation [is] that, at the end of that process [of review], the government will be comfortable with that [original] agreement.” He added, “The United States believes that the agreement is vital, that after considering all the alternatives this is the best agreement for the stability, the security and the strength of the alliance.”

That brings us to the Japanese Indian Ocean refueling mission, which is important more symbolically than logistically. The mission is primarily acknowledged as an act of Japanese support for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, and it has continued nearly uninterrupted since its inception in 2001, pausing only for three months when the DPJ won control of the upper house of parliament is 2008. But by all accounts, parliament will allow the mission to expire by January, despite urges to renew from Pakistan, Britain, and especially the United States. Instead, Japan will send money and vocational training to Afghanistan.

These security questions between the United States and Japan remain unresolved. So what of the Toyko meeting? Obama warned Asia against reliance on U.S. consumers and talked about nuclear disarmament and climate change. (Well, he did also get on a first-name basis with Yukio Hatoyama — duly lauded in the joint remarks.) But he accomplished nothing on the security front. East Asia remains a dangerous neighborhood, and the increasingly precarious security holdings there deserve more of Obama’s attention. This is yet another instance where American delay could really hurt.

President Barack Obama is losing ground on all three points of controversy in the Japan-U.S. security alliance, and his meeting today with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama did nothing to improve the U.S. position.

Japan is one of America’s most important allies, geopolitically essential for U.S.-East Asian policy and security efforts. The American presence in Japan has, among other things, been a deterrent to North Korea, a guarantor for Taiwan, and a balance for China, all of which stabilize East Asia. But this summer, Japan’s politics changed as the Democratic Party of Japan overturned the Liberal Democratic Party for the first time in 16 years. And while the new prime minister has called the U.S.-Japan alliance “the axis of Japan’s foreign policies,” his goals suggest the contrary. Up for debate is Japan’s refueling mission to Afghanistan, the status of a U.S. marine base in Okinawa, and — most important — a nearly 50-year-old security treaty between the two countries.

Let’s start with the latter, and most troubling, of these possible changes: the review of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The treaty establishes U.S. protection of Japan in exchange for an American military presence on Japanese soil. Revising that treaty to decrease U.S. military presence would diminish American influence, capability, and agility in the region.

And if the ruling party’s attitude toward the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Base in Okinawa is any indication, the American military presence in Japan could eventually encounter an even larger threat. The U.S. agreed in 2005 to relocate the Futenma base to a remote coastal area. But Prime Minister Hatoyama might want the base outside Japan altogether — hardly a surprise, considering that he campaigned partially on promises to reduce the U.S. military presence in Japan.

As Tokyo considers what it will do about Futenma, Obama has announced “ministerial-level meetings to discuss” the situation. But the U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos, said America’s “hope and expectation [is] that, at the end of that process [of review], the government will be comfortable with that [original] agreement.” He added, “The United States believes that the agreement is vital, that after considering all the alternatives this is the best agreement for the stability, the security and the strength of the alliance.”

That brings us to the Japanese Indian Ocean refueling mission, which is important more symbolically than logistically. The mission is primarily acknowledged as an act of Japanese support for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, and it has continued nearly uninterrupted since its inception in 2001, pausing only for three months when the DPJ won control of the upper house of parliament is 2008. But by all accounts, parliament will allow the mission to expire by January, despite urges to renew from Pakistan, Britain, and especially the United States. Instead, Japan will send money and vocational training to Afghanistan.

These security questions between the United States and Japan remain unresolved. So what of the Toyko meeting? Obama warned Asia against reliance on U.S. consumers and talked about nuclear disarmament and climate change. (Well, he did also get on a first-name basis with Yukio Hatoyama — duly lauded in the joint remarks.) But he accomplished nothing on the security front. East Asia remains a dangerous neighborhood, and the increasingly precarious security holdings there deserve more of Obama’s attention. This is yet another instance where American delay could really hurt.

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Combat-Ready

I confess I haven’t listened to all 80 minutes of this interview with Nancy Pelosi. But my CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald tells me that, in addition to crediting Iranian munificence for the growing stability in Iraq, the Speaker made the following statement:

The undermining of our military strength is just staggering. We don’t have one combat-ready unit in the United States to go to protect our interests wherever they are threatened, or those of our friends .

I suppose this is further confirmation of the old chestnut about what goes around comes around: Back in 2000, conservatives were lambasting the Clinton administration for declining readiness levels (see, for instance, this Heritage paper) and promising “help is on the way.” Now it’s the turns of liberals. In both cases the attacks are partially fair, partially not.

The issue is that a unit’s combat readiness declines immediately after rotating out of a war zone. At that point, lots of soldiers and officers leave and lots of new ones come in. Worn-out equipment is repaired or discarded; new equipment arrives slowly. Gradually, the unit fills up and trains up in preparation for another deployment. Often it will not reach the highest level of combat readiness until just before the deployment. Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, most active-duty army and marine units are either deployed, preparing for deployment, or recovering from deployment. That doesn’t leave a lot of units sitting around at high levels of readiness in CONUS–the military abbreviation for Continental United States. But the units we are sending into combat are the most experienced and best-prepared we have ever sent to fight any war.

Traditionally the 82nd Airborne Division maintained one home-based brigade at the highest state of readiness at all times-ready to deploy anywhere in the world within 72 hours. Last year all four of the 82nd brigade’s deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, handing off the “ready brigade” mission to the 101st Air Assault Division, which has lots of its units deployed too. Three of the 82nd‘s brigades have now returned home to Fort Bragg and the division is supposed to re-assume the “readiness” function next year.

It would be nice to have more units standing by at a higher level of readiness, but that hardly means the U.S. is defenseless. In addition to our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have substantial numbers of ground forces deployed in Okinawa, South Korea, and Germany that in a pinch could be used to deal with another crisis. More importantly, we have lots of air and naval assets that are not engaged in the fight today. Pelosi did not refer specifically to army units; she said “combat-ready units.” By that standard, there are lots of air force squadrons and naval task forces that qualify. And they would in fact be our first line of defense against a crisis in, say, the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan strait, or Iran.

Anyway, just what is Pelosi’s point? Is she saying that she supports a large increase in the size of the active duty force? John McCain has called for increasing the overall size of our ground forces (army and marines) from today’s projected level of 750,000 to 900,000. Is Pelosi willing to support legislation along those lines? Or is she instead suggesting that, rather than substantially increase our forces, we downsize their missions? I suspect it’s the latter, and that her preferred option is to pull units out of Iraq, thereby losing the most significant war we’ve fought since Vietnam, in order to keep units in readiness for another contingency that may or may not materialize. But, if Vietnam teaches anything, it is that nothing is guaranteed to harm long-term readiness more than losing a war.

I confess I haven’t listened to all 80 minutes of this interview with Nancy Pelosi. But my CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald tells me that, in addition to crediting Iranian munificence for the growing stability in Iraq, the Speaker made the following statement:

The undermining of our military strength is just staggering. We don’t have one combat-ready unit in the United States to go to protect our interests wherever they are threatened, or those of our friends .

I suppose this is further confirmation of the old chestnut about what goes around comes around: Back in 2000, conservatives were lambasting the Clinton administration for declining readiness levels (see, for instance, this Heritage paper) and promising “help is on the way.” Now it’s the turns of liberals. In both cases the attacks are partially fair, partially not.

The issue is that a unit’s combat readiness declines immediately after rotating out of a war zone. At that point, lots of soldiers and officers leave and lots of new ones come in. Worn-out equipment is repaired or discarded; new equipment arrives slowly. Gradually, the unit fills up and trains up in preparation for another deployment. Often it will not reach the highest level of combat readiness until just before the deployment. Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, most active-duty army and marine units are either deployed, preparing for deployment, or recovering from deployment. That doesn’t leave a lot of units sitting around at high levels of readiness in CONUS–the military abbreviation for Continental United States. But the units we are sending into combat are the most experienced and best-prepared we have ever sent to fight any war.

Traditionally the 82nd Airborne Division maintained one home-based brigade at the highest state of readiness at all times-ready to deploy anywhere in the world within 72 hours. Last year all four of the 82nd brigade’s deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, handing off the “ready brigade” mission to the 101st Air Assault Division, which has lots of its units deployed too. Three of the 82nd‘s brigades have now returned home to Fort Bragg and the division is supposed to re-assume the “readiness” function next year.

It would be nice to have more units standing by at a higher level of readiness, but that hardly means the U.S. is defenseless. In addition to our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have substantial numbers of ground forces deployed in Okinawa, South Korea, and Germany that in a pinch could be used to deal with another crisis. More importantly, we have lots of air and naval assets that are not engaged in the fight today. Pelosi did not refer specifically to army units; she said “combat-ready units.” By that standard, there are lots of air force squadrons and naval task forces that qualify. And they would in fact be our first line of defense against a crisis in, say, the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan strait, or Iran.

Anyway, just what is Pelosi’s point? Is she saying that she supports a large increase in the size of the active duty force? John McCain has called for increasing the overall size of our ground forces (army and marines) from today’s projected level of 750,000 to 900,000. Is Pelosi willing to support legislation along those lines? Or is she instead suggesting that, rather than substantially increase our forces, we downsize their missions? I suspect it’s the latter, and that her preferred option is to pull units out of Iraq, thereby losing the most significant war we’ve fought since Vietnam, in order to keep units in readiness for another contingency that may or may not materialize. But, if Vietnam teaches anything, it is that nothing is guaranteed to harm long-term readiness more than losing a war.

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Chinese Espionage Techniques

The FBI has stepped up counterintelligence investigations of Chinese espionage in the U.S., reports the Washington Post this morning.

The paper reprises several recent cases, including, that of Chi Mak, convicted of stealing sensitive naval technology plans from a U.S defense contractor; Dongfan Chung, a Boeing engineer arrested in February, accused of funneling classified space shuttle and rocket documents to Chinese officials; Noshir Gowadia, indicted last fall for providing cruise-missile data to Chinese officials; and Gregg W. Bergersen, a Pentagon official who pleaded guilty this week to charges that he gave classified information on U.S. weapons sales to China.

What does this flurry of cases mean? A couple of non-mutually exclusive possibilities suggest themselves. One is that the Chinese are stepping up their collection efforts in the U.S. Another is that the FBI, in stepping up its counterintelligence and its work is bearing fruit. A third — a combination of the first and second — is that Chinese intelligence is not ten-feet tall.

That last possibility is suggested by some of the amateurish spycraft displayed by the Chinese in the Bergersen case. In one sense, the operation was fairly sophisticated. Bergersen was induced to take part in a false-flag operation, that is, an operation in which he believed he was selling secrets to a U.S. ally, Taiwan, when in fact the “businessman” he was dealing with, Tai Shen Kuo, was actually a spy from the mainland.

But there was also some remarkably sloppy behavior by the Chinese in this case. An elementary task of spying is maintaining covert communications. Kuo was eager to do so and he acquired PGP Desktop Home 9.5 for Windows, a commercially available program for encrypting emails. That was smart. It was not smart, on the other hand, to discuss this encryption software on an open phone line with his taskmaster in China. The FBI was listening in on the call.

The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Bergersen contains many other arresting details. One high point occurs when Bergersen returns from a trip to Bulgaria and his wife finds a wad of espionage cash in his wallet. Bergersen told her it was gambling winnings. Her reaction: she insisted on taking half of it “as her share.” Bergersen related this to Kuo who offered to make up the amount that he had lost to his spouse. This generous offer was declined.

The FBI has stepped up counterintelligence investigations of Chinese espionage in the U.S., reports the Washington Post this morning.

The paper reprises several recent cases, including, that of Chi Mak, convicted of stealing sensitive naval technology plans from a U.S defense contractor; Dongfan Chung, a Boeing engineer arrested in February, accused of funneling classified space shuttle and rocket documents to Chinese officials; Noshir Gowadia, indicted last fall for providing cruise-missile data to Chinese officials; and Gregg W. Bergersen, a Pentagon official who pleaded guilty this week to charges that he gave classified information on U.S. weapons sales to China.

What does this flurry of cases mean? A couple of non-mutually exclusive possibilities suggest themselves. One is that the Chinese are stepping up their collection efforts in the U.S. Another is that the FBI, in stepping up its counterintelligence and its work is bearing fruit. A third — a combination of the first and second — is that Chinese intelligence is not ten-feet tall.

That last possibility is suggested by some of the amateurish spycraft displayed by the Chinese in the Bergersen case. In one sense, the operation was fairly sophisticated. Bergersen was induced to take part in a false-flag operation, that is, an operation in which he believed he was selling secrets to a U.S. ally, Taiwan, when in fact the “businessman” he was dealing with, Tai Shen Kuo, was actually a spy from the mainland.

But there was also some remarkably sloppy behavior by the Chinese in this case. An elementary task of spying is maintaining covert communications. Kuo was eager to do so and he acquired PGP Desktop Home 9.5 for Windows, a commercially available program for encrypting emails. That was smart. It was not smart, on the other hand, to discuss this encryption software on an open phone line with his taskmaster in China. The FBI was listening in on the call.

The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Bergersen contains many other arresting details. One high point occurs when Bergersen returns from a trip to Bulgaria and his wife finds a wad of espionage cash in his wallet. Bergersen told her it was gambling winnings. Her reaction: she insisted on taking half of it “as her share.” Bergersen related this to Kuo who offered to make up the amount that he had lost to his spouse. This generous offer was declined.

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Ma Wins. Now What?

The New York Times regularly signals changes in the conventional wisdom of our foreign policy elite. Careful reading of its reporting on the election of Ma Ying-jeou as president of Taiwan suggests that the impossiblilities of the policies laid down in the 1970’s are now, gradually, being faced.

To be sure, the Times editorial page joins in the official delight at the overwhelming defeat of the Democratic Progressive Party of the widely vilified President Chen Shuibian, who “spent much of the last eight years baiting Beijing, talking about independence, and seeking international recognition.”

With the departure of Chen, and the election of a president of Chinese ancestry, fluent in English and with a degree from Harvard Law School, the Times sees “a chance for a healthy new start” in Taiwan-China relations. “Mr. Ma has proposed economic opening to China, military confidence building measures, and “a diplomatic framework in which the two sides simply acknowledge each other’s existence.” “The Bush administration” it tells us “is already pressing Beijing to work with Mr. Ma”–this even before he has been inaugurated.

The hopes of both the Times and of Washington are likely to be disappointed. When that happens, they will both face a test.

To begin with, Ma has stated that China must dismantle the thousand-plus missiles with which she currently targets the island. He has also welcomed a visit to his country by the Dalai Lama. That is already enough to enrage Beijing, but only a start.

The truly tricky task, as the newspaper noted two days earlier, will be for Ma “to find a formula that balances Beijing’s position that Taiwan is a breakaway province and Taiwan’s position that it is a sovereign country.”

Finding such a formula will be more than tricky. It will be impossible without the (highly unlikely) amendment of the Chinese constitution, which explicitly claims Taiwan as a province—a fact the Times does not mention.

The result? The “healthy new start” that the Times anticipates will likely lead nowhere. Like every elected president of Taiwan, Ma will have to choose between standing for what his people want and yielding to Beijing. When Ma likely refuses to yield, Beijing will castigate him and call on Washington to do the same—as we always have in the past.

But maybe not this time. The conclusion of the editorial suggests that the blame for failure may now be laid at Beijing’s door.

“China’s authoritarian ways are backfiring in Tibet,” the editorial concludes. “Whatever Beijing’s fantasies about unification, it is not likely to happen soon-and maybe not ever–given Taiwan’s strong commitment to political and economic freedom. China would be better off following Mr. Ma’s lead . . .”

Following Mr. Ma is something that Beijing is unlikely to do. But for Washington, like the Times, to offer steady support to realistic proposals by Taiwan’s democratically-elected government would be a genuinely constructive change.

The New York Times regularly signals changes in the conventional wisdom of our foreign policy elite. Careful reading of its reporting on the election of Ma Ying-jeou as president of Taiwan suggests that the impossiblilities of the policies laid down in the 1970’s are now, gradually, being faced.

To be sure, the Times editorial page joins in the official delight at the overwhelming defeat of the Democratic Progressive Party of the widely vilified President Chen Shuibian, who “spent much of the last eight years baiting Beijing, talking about independence, and seeking international recognition.”

With the departure of Chen, and the election of a president of Chinese ancestry, fluent in English and with a degree from Harvard Law School, the Times sees “a chance for a healthy new start” in Taiwan-China relations. “Mr. Ma has proposed economic opening to China, military confidence building measures, and “a diplomatic framework in which the two sides simply acknowledge each other’s existence.” “The Bush administration” it tells us “is already pressing Beijing to work with Mr. Ma”–this even before he has been inaugurated.

The hopes of both the Times and of Washington are likely to be disappointed. When that happens, they will both face a test.

To begin with, Ma has stated that China must dismantle the thousand-plus missiles with which she currently targets the island. He has also welcomed a visit to his country by the Dalai Lama. That is already enough to enrage Beijing, but only a start.

The truly tricky task, as the newspaper noted two days earlier, will be for Ma “to find a formula that balances Beijing’s position that Taiwan is a breakaway province and Taiwan’s position that it is a sovereign country.”

Finding such a formula will be more than tricky. It will be impossible without the (highly unlikely) amendment of the Chinese constitution, which explicitly claims Taiwan as a province—a fact the Times does not mention.

The result? The “healthy new start” that the Times anticipates will likely lead nowhere. Like every elected president of Taiwan, Ma will have to choose between standing for what his people want and yielding to Beijing. When Ma likely refuses to yield, Beijing will castigate him and call on Washington to do the same—as we always have in the past.

But maybe not this time. The conclusion of the editorial suggests that the blame for failure may now be laid at Beijing’s door.

“China’s authoritarian ways are backfiring in Tibet,” the editorial concludes. “Whatever Beijing’s fantasies about unification, it is not likely to happen soon-and maybe not ever–given Taiwan’s strong commitment to political and economic freedom. China would be better off following Mr. Ma’s lead . . .”

Following Mr. Ma is something that Beijing is unlikely to do. But for Washington, like the Times, to offer steady support to realistic proposals by Taiwan’s democratically-elected government would be a genuinely constructive change.

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Our Next Message to Beijing

Today, the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed “serious concern and strong dissatisfaction” with a mistaken shipment of American military parts to Taiwan. It then urged the United States to report the details to Beijing so as to eliminate “severe consequences.” The Taiwanese had requested replacement battery packs for their American-made helicopters. Instead, they received four nose-cone fuse assemblies used to trigger nuclear weapons.

The sharp Chinese reaction came after yesterday’s Pentagon announcement that the Defense Logistics Agency had made the incorrect shipment to Taiwan in August 2006. The Taiwanese had noticed the mistake and contacted U.S. authorities in early 2007, yet it was only last Thursday before anyone in the Defense Department realized what had actually been sent. Defense Secretary Gates and President Bush were informed on Friday.

“Our policy on Taiwan arms sales has not changed,” said Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, yesterday. “This specific incident was an error in process only, and is not indicative of our policies, which remain unchanged.”

But should they remain unchanged? Many argue that, if we want to make sure there is no war in the Taiwan Strait, we should help the Taiwanese build a bomb or, better yet, just give them a few weapons in order to create a stable balance of terror with China. Moreover, some believe that the threat to arm Taiwan and Japan would be the most effective way to get Beijing to stop supporting the nuclear weapons programs of North Korea and Iran.

These proposals, despite apparent advantages, do not represent sound policy choices, at least at this moment. For one thing, both would be clear violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the global pact that in fact prevents the spread of nukes. Yet if we don’t disarm Kim Jong Il and stop Iran’s “atomic ayatollahs” now, we will undoubtedly see the rapid dispersion of nuclear weapons soon. As Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has noted, about forty nations have the capability to develop the bomb within a decade.

The primary reason that prevents them from doing so is the so-called “nuclear taboo,” which is reinforced by the nonproliferation treaty. Once weapons technology starts to spread to dangerous states, however, other nations will have no choice but to accumulate atomic arsenals to defend themselves. When that happens, the nonproliferation agreement will become a dead letter. Some analysts, like Kenneth Waltz, think the world could be more stable then, but I know it will be worse. Things cannot get better when tyrants, terrorists, and thugs will be able to bring on Armageddon.

So what should we now say to the angry Chinese? Today, we should confirm that the shipment to Taiwan was an error. Tomorrow, the message may be different. If the Chinese continue to prevent us from disarming North Korea and stopping Iran, we should say that our next transfer of warhead mechanisms to the Taiwanese will not be a mistake.

Today, the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed “serious concern and strong dissatisfaction” with a mistaken shipment of American military parts to Taiwan. It then urged the United States to report the details to Beijing so as to eliminate “severe consequences.” The Taiwanese had requested replacement battery packs for their American-made helicopters. Instead, they received four nose-cone fuse assemblies used to trigger nuclear weapons.

The sharp Chinese reaction came after yesterday’s Pentagon announcement that the Defense Logistics Agency had made the incorrect shipment to Taiwan in August 2006. The Taiwanese had noticed the mistake and contacted U.S. authorities in early 2007, yet it was only last Thursday before anyone in the Defense Department realized what had actually been sent. Defense Secretary Gates and President Bush were informed on Friday.

“Our policy on Taiwan arms sales has not changed,” said Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, yesterday. “This specific incident was an error in process only, and is not indicative of our policies, which remain unchanged.”

But should they remain unchanged? Many argue that, if we want to make sure there is no war in the Taiwan Strait, we should help the Taiwanese build a bomb or, better yet, just give them a few weapons in order to create a stable balance of terror with China. Moreover, some believe that the threat to arm Taiwan and Japan would be the most effective way to get Beijing to stop supporting the nuclear weapons programs of North Korea and Iran.

These proposals, despite apparent advantages, do not represent sound policy choices, at least at this moment. For one thing, both would be clear violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the global pact that in fact prevents the spread of nukes. Yet if we don’t disarm Kim Jong Il and stop Iran’s “atomic ayatollahs” now, we will undoubtedly see the rapid dispersion of nuclear weapons soon. As Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has noted, about forty nations have the capability to develop the bomb within a decade.

The primary reason that prevents them from doing so is the so-called “nuclear taboo,” which is reinforced by the nonproliferation treaty. Once weapons technology starts to spread to dangerous states, however, other nations will have no choice but to accumulate atomic arsenals to defend themselves. When that happens, the nonproliferation agreement will become a dead letter. Some analysts, like Kenneth Waltz, think the world could be more stable then, but I know it will be worse. Things cannot get better when tyrants, terrorists, and thugs will be able to bring on Armageddon.

So what should we now say to the angry Chinese? Today, we should confirm that the shipment to Taiwan was an error. Tomorrow, the message may be different. If the Chinese continue to prevent us from disarming North Korea and stopping Iran, we should say that our next transfer of warhead mechanisms to the Taiwanese will not be a mistake.

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Taiwan, the Next Tibet?

On Saturday, Taiwan’s 17 million voters head to the polls to elect a new president. For most of the campaign, the dominant issue has been the economy. Both Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang favor closer business ties with China. Ma, for instance, has promoted a Greater China Common Market. Hsieh has adopted a less integrationist approach.

At one point, it didn’t really matter what Hsieh wanted. His opponent, the charismatic Ma, was ahead by a gigantic margin. Depending on the poll, his lead was ten, twenty, or thirty points. Those big margins, however, existed before the outbreak of the insurgency in Tibet—and Beijing’s harsh crackdown. After the bloodshed, Ma’s almost insurmountable lead has appeared to vanish. Taiwan law prohibits the release of polling data ten days before an election, but private polls by the two parties show a tight race with the Kuomintang candidate slightly ahead.

“I severely condemn the violence used by the Chinese authorities,” Ma said at the beginning of this week. He even suggested the possibility of a boycott of the Olympics. Yet the Tibet issue has clearly helped Hsieh, the standard-bearer of the pro-independence party. “Ma’s one-China market would mean that tomorrow’s Taiwan will be like today’s Tibet,” he said on Sunday. If there is one sentiment that unites the Taiwanese today, it is the desire to maintain their own way of life and freedoms. As Shieh Jhy-wey, the island’s minister of information, said, “We don’t want to have the same fate as Tibet.”

So Beijing, on the verge of getting rid of the Democratic Progressive Party, has once again revived the fortunes of the pro-independence forces on Taiwan. Whoever wins on Saturday will face a Taiwanese electorate increasingly wary of the repressive Chinese state.

On Saturday, Taiwan’s 17 million voters head to the polls to elect a new president. For most of the campaign, the dominant issue has been the economy. Both Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang favor closer business ties with China. Ma, for instance, has promoted a Greater China Common Market. Hsieh has adopted a less integrationist approach.

At one point, it didn’t really matter what Hsieh wanted. His opponent, the charismatic Ma, was ahead by a gigantic margin. Depending on the poll, his lead was ten, twenty, or thirty points. Those big margins, however, existed before the outbreak of the insurgency in Tibet—and Beijing’s harsh crackdown. After the bloodshed, Ma’s almost insurmountable lead has appeared to vanish. Taiwan law prohibits the release of polling data ten days before an election, but private polls by the two parties show a tight race with the Kuomintang candidate slightly ahead.

“I severely condemn the violence used by the Chinese authorities,” Ma said at the beginning of this week. He even suggested the possibility of a boycott of the Olympics. Yet the Tibet issue has clearly helped Hsieh, the standard-bearer of the pro-independence party. “Ma’s one-China market would mean that tomorrow’s Taiwan will be like today’s Tibet,” he said on Sunday. If there is one sentiment that unites the Taiwanese today, it is the desire to maintain their own way of life and freedoms. As Shieh Jhy-wey, the island’s minister of information, said, “We don’t want to have the same fate as Tibet.”

So Beijing, on the verge of getting rid of the Democratic Progressive Party, has once again revived the fortunes of the pro-independence forces on Taiwan. Whoever wins on Saturday will face a Taiwanese electorate increasingly wary of the repressive Chinese state.

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