Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Philippines

More on the Freedom Agenda

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

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Neoconservatives and Democracy: A 30-Year Story

So it comes as a shock to many people, evidently, that “neoconservative” American intellectuals are consistent in holding the opinion that the national interest is best served by offering moral, logistical, and rhetorical support to those who seek “regime change” in dictatorial societies.

The plain fact of the matter is that this has been the “neoconservative” view for nearly three decades now — since the decision was made during the effort to save El Salvador from Soviet- and Cuban-aligned guerrilla forces to simultaneously push for elections there. That was a controversial choice then; people on the liberal left considered the El Salvador democratization policy mere window dressing for alignment with right-wing thugs, and realist conservatives considered it a display of ludicrous sentimentality.

The 1982 election in El Salvador was a turning point, however, a moment when the people of that country made it clear that they wanted a way out of the binary choice of a junta or a Castro-ite state. It had been Jeane Kirkpatrick’s argument in her great 1979 COMMENTARY article that, when there is a binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, it is not only prudent but moral to choose the former, in part because authoritarian societies can change and evolve.

But what if there are choices that go beyond the binary? That was, in effect, what the democratization strategy was all about. It complemented Kirkpatrick’s argument in one sense because it was predicated on the notion that authoritarian regimes could be pushed toward change. But it also superseded it, since it suggested that the citizens of these nations could and would play a vital role not only in creating the change but also in implementing it.

This was not a developed philosophy at the time; indeed, the El Salvador policy was conceived in response to events on the ground and the need to build domestic support for anti-Communist efforts in Latin America. But over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, with lessons learned along the way, the democratization strategy became something more coherent. Read More

So it comes as a shock to many people, evidently, that “neoconservative” American intellectuals are consistent in holding the opinion that the national interest is best served by offering moral, logistical, and rhetorical support to those who seek “regime change” in dictatorial societies.

The plain fact of the matter is that this has been the “neoconservative” view for nearly three decades now — since the decision was made during the effort to save El Salvador from Soviet- and Cuban-aligned guerrilla forces to simultaneously push for elections there. That was a controversial choice then; people on the liberal left considered the El Salvador democratization policy mere window dressing for alignment with right-wing thugs, and realist conservatives considered it a display of ludicrous sentimentality.

The 1982 election in El Salvador was a turning point, however, a moment when the people of that country made it clear that they wanted a way out of the binary choice of a junta or a Castro-ite state. It had been Jeane Kirkpatrick’s argument in her great 1979 COMMENTARY article that, when there is a binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, it is not only prudent but moral to choose the former, in part because authoritarian societies can change and evolve.

But what if there are choices that go beyond the binary? That was, in effect, what the democratization strategy was all about. It complemented Kirkpatrick’s argument in one sense because it was predicated on the notion that authoritarian regimes could be pushed toward change. But it also superseded it, since it suggested that the citizens of these nations could and would play a vital role not only in creating the change but also in implementing it.

This was not a developed philosophy at the time; indeed, the El Salvador policy was conceived in response to events on the ground and the need to build domestic support for anti-Communist efforts in Latin America. But over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, with lessons learned along the way, the democratization strategy became something more coherent.

For example, in the case of the anti-Communist efforts in Nicaragua, the CIA preferred working with the Contras, for whom its agents had essentially bought and paid, no matter their political coloration; officials at the State Department, however, thought that it was a mistake to align the United States with elements of the previous thug regime and that the U.S. should be promoting liberal forces within the Contra movement.

But probably the key year for the maturation of these ideas was 1986. It was a general axiom on the right, including among neoconservatives, that efforts to impose an economic embargo on South Africa were dangerous and naive because, though the apartheid regime might be unjust, it could be pushed to reform, and the sanctions might lead to a Soviet-aligned takeover of a strategically important country. When Congress voted for such sanctions, Ronald Reagan vetoed them. His veto was overridden.

And those of us who thought the sanctions would be disastrous were proved utterly mistaken. They turned out to be an effective strategy for crippling the regime without toppling it and forcing its end in a manner more pacific than anyone expected. (Not that South Africa post-apartheid is a wonderful model, but it was a gravely wounded civil society, and its healing will take a long time.) Part of the reason that sanctions have been a part of the American diplomatic toolbox ever since, and always with neoconservative support, is that they proved successful in South Africa.

The other thing that happened was an election in the Philippines, whose authoritarian junta regime was closely allied with the United States. The clear theft of the election by Ferdinand Marcos’s forces created a massive groundswell in the streets. At first, the White House did what Barack Obama did with the revolt in Egypt — it tried to stay out of it. Then-Secretary of State George Shultz, together with the later-notorious Paul Wolfowitz, who ran the State Department’s East Asia bureau, convinced Ronald Reagan to change policy, support those who said the election had been stolen, and eventually, with great efficiency, convince Marcos it was time for him to go.

And on it went, with South Korea and Taiwan and Chile and many other nations whose authoritarian regimes peacefully gave way to more liberal ones in part because of the encouragement of the United States.

It’s not a perfect strategy, by any means. No strategy is, and no strategy is applicable in every circumstance. The danger that Egypt might not follow in the path of the Philippines but rather in the path of revolutionary Iran is very real. But as the year of Carter-administration fecklessness on Iran that preceded Khomeini’s takeover in 1979 proved, a policy of passivity is not a way out for a president who does not know what to do.

America can’t not choose sides in such a struggle. Not choosing sides is, in effect, to choose sides. So it’s better to have a policy that offers a direction congruent with our values, and with a proven track record, than one that offers nothing but confusion.

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Obama and Egypt vs. Reagan and the Philippines

President Mubarak’s supporters have decided to instigate violence against the anti-government protesters. This ugly turn of events underscores why Mubarak must leave sooner rather than later. The longer he hangs on to power, weakened but not gone from the scene, the worse everything in Egypt will be. That is why the Washington Post is right in its editorial criticizing the president’s response last night to Mubarak’s statements as “ambiguous.”

“He said he had told the Egyptian president in a phone call that ‘an orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful, and must begin now’ — but he did not object to the strongman’s plan to remain in office,” according to the Post. “Like Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Obama did not go far enough.”

It’s worth comparing what is happening in Egypt with what happened in the Philippines during the Reagan presidency.

In his book An American Life, Reagan writes about how Ferdinand Marco had stolen an election and that an uprising of Filipinos on behalf of Corazon Aquino, the legitimate winner, was inevitable.

On February 23, Reagan was at Camp David and told that Marcos and a loyal general, Fabian Ver, had amassed a force of tanks and troops to attack army units of two military leaders who had resigned from the Marcos government and given their support to Aquino. Ver’s tanks were turned back by hundreds of thousands of civilians — “but the next time,” Reagan wrote, “the result might be huge casualties.” Read More

President Mubarak’s supporters have decided to instigate violence against the anti-government protesters. This ugly turn of events underscores why Mubarak must leave sooner rather than later. The longer he hangs on to power, weakened but not gone from the scene, the worse everything in Egypt will be. That is why the Washington Post is right in its editorial criticizing the president’s response last night to Mubarak’s statements as “ambiguous.”

“He said he had told the Egyptian president in a phone call that ‘an orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful, and must begin now’ — but he did not object to the strongman’s plan to remain in office,” according to the Post. “Like Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Obama did not go far enough.”

It’s worth comparing what is happening in Egypt with what happened in the Philippines during the Reagan presidency.

In his book An American Life, Reagan writes about how Ferdinand Marco had stolen an election and that an uprising of Filipinos on behalf of Corazon Aquino, the legitimate winner, was inevitable.

On February 23, Reagan was at Camp David and told that Marcos and a loyal general, Fabian Ver, had amassed a force of tanks and troops to attack army units of two military leaders who had resigned from the Marcos government and given their support to Aquino. Ver’s tanks were turned back by hundreds of thousands of civilians — “but the next time,” Reagan wrote, “the result might be huge casualties.”

Reagan drafted an appeal to Marcos not to use force and attended a meeting in the Situation Room on February 23, 1986. “We agreed that it was inevitable that Marcos would have to give up power,” Reagan wrote. “He no longer had the popular support to remain in office. … Everyone agreed that we had to do everything possible to avoid bloodshed in Manila; we didn’t want to see it come down to a civil war. I also wanted to be sure we did not treat Marcos as shabbily as our country had treated another former ally, the shah of Iran. At the same time, I knew it was important to start off with a good relationship with the new government of the Philippines.”

Reagan’s diary entries from the period are even more interesting. On February 23, the day of the Situation Room meeting, Reagan wrote, “It was a long meeting with no disagreement but lots of frustration. President Marcos is stubborn and refuses to admit he can no longer govern. I made the point that a message from me must appeal to him on the grounds that if there is violence I’ll be helpless to continue support for the Philippines.”

On February 24, Reagan’s diary reads: “The situation in the Philippines is deteriorating. … We’ve agreed that he [Marcos] should be told I’m recommending he step down and we’ll take the lead in negotiating his safety and offering him sanctuary in the US. He says he wants to live out his life in the Philippines. Well, we’ll try to negotiate that.”

On February 25, Reagan’s diary entry reads this way: “The call this morning was at 6:45. President Marcos and his family and close circle I was told are in our Clark Air Force Base.”

Now the situation in Egypt compared with that in the Philippines is different in important respects. Among other things, there was an obvious successor to Marcos, while there’s no obvious successor to Mubarak. And Reagan admitted that he didn’t want to push Marcos too hard. “We should lay down the facts and let [Marcos] make the decision we wanted him to make” is how Reagan put it.

The point is that, within 48 hours of Reagan’s laying down the facts, Marcos was gone. This development wasn’t the result of Reagan’s charm; it was the result of Reagan’s steel.

What happened to Marcos in the Philippines has to be to our goal with Mubarak in Egypt. Time is of the essence. The Egyptian dictator must leave. And it falls on President Obama to do what needs to be done to get him to exit, sooner rather than later, in a matter of hours or days rather than weeks or months. Otherwise Egypt might explode.

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Egypt: Why America Can’t Work to Prevent Change

What is happening in the streets of Egypt is not about the United States or its relation to Hosni Mubarak. The drama has to do with life inside Egypt after 30 years of Mubarak’s autocratic rule, which was preceded by 30 years of similarly autocratic rule by Nasser and Sadat. And yet there seems to be an idea, which one can find suggested in the latest writings of Caroline Glick and Stanley Kurtz, among others, that the United States might have played a crucial role in preventing what appears to be the inevitable Mubarak ouster — and that the U.S. is thereby acceding to the takeover of Egypt by a government that will make the region less safe, less hospitable to us, and of greater danger to Israel.

That may all be so. But it doesn’t actually matter as a practical reality. Kurtz and Glick and some others are, I think, guilty of reiterating a great foreign-policy fallacy, which is that the United States has the power to control the outcomes of large-scale events in faraway lands even when it does not have a direct hand to play with troops and planes and bombs.

Where is the evidence that the United States has a role to play in the prevention of change? Recent history suggests that our only really effective role when it comes to change is when we involve ourselves in hastening it, as we did with assassinations in the 1950s and 1960s, or by choosing sides with the forces of change, as we did in the 1980s in places as various as El Salvador and the Philippines and in the 1990s in Haiti and Bosnia.

Think of the times we have attempted to slow down or impede change. We did in Iran in the late 1970s in a way that came a terrible cropper. We did again, to our shame, at the beginning of the 1990s, when “Chicken Kiev” Bush tried to slam the brakes on the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. And is anyone happy with the way the Obama administration handled the post-election revolt in Iran in 2009?

The implicit notion in these analyses is that the United States should be backing Mubarak to the hilt so that he could put down the revolt before the Muslim Brotherhood takes over. But aside from the highly questionable proposition that our encouragement and support would change the balance of forces in Mubarak’s favor, doing any such thing is akin to suggesting that we ignore the forces of gravity. It is unrealistic in the most basic sense. It is written into the DNA of the United States that, when push comes to shove, we cannot support the forces of tyranny over mass protest.

Hardheaded choices must be made at times, and indeed have been made at times, especially when the options were a regime friendly to the United States vs. a regime that would have been friendly to the Soviet Union. But those choices did not come at moments of flash-point crisis, with a regime’s legitimacy crumbling before the world’s eyes. And they didn’t come at a time when worldwide instant communications make it impossible for the regime to black out the evidence of its suppression.

In warning us not to view the goings-on with unwarranted optimism, those expressing profound concern about what will come next in Egypt are performing a great service. We are heading into rough waters that had been largely stilled in recent decades. But that is why, perhaps, they should have been more supportive of the idea that Mubarak and others should have been pushed toward democratic reform so that the transition to change might have been managed rather than simply observed powerlessly as it turns into a runaway steamroller.

What is happening in the streets of Egypt is not about the United States or its relation to Hosni Mubarak. The drama has to do with life inside Egypt after 30 years of Mubarak’s autocratic rule, which was preceded by 30 years of similarly autocratic rule by Nasser and Sadat. And yet there seems to be an idea, which one can find suggested in the latest writings of Caroline Glick and Stanley Kurtz, among others, that the United States might have played a crucial role in preventing what appears to be the inevitable Mubarak ouster — and that the U.S. is thereby acceding to the takeover of Egypt by a government that will make the region less safe, less hospitable to us, and of greater danger to Israel.

That may all be so. But it doesn’t actually matter as a practical reality. Kurtz and Glick and some others are, I think, guilty of reiterating a great foreign-policy fallacy, which is that the United States has the power to control the outcomes of large-scale events in faraway lands even when it does not have a direct hand to play with troops and planes and bombs.

Where is the evidence that the United States has a role to play in the prevention of change? Recent history suggests that our only really effective role when it comes to change is when we involve ourselves in hastening it, as we did with assassinations in the 1950s and 1960s, or by choosing sides with the forces of change, as we did in the 1980s in places as various as El Salvador and the Philippines and in the 1990s in Haiti and Bosnia.

Think of the times we have attempted to slow down or impede change. We did in Iran in the late 1970s in a way that came a terrible cropper. We did again, to our shame, at the beginning of the 1990s, when “Chicken Kiev” Bush tried to slam the brakes on the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. And is anyone happy with the way the Obama administration handled the post-election revolt in Iran in 2009?

The implicit notion in these analyses is that the United States should be backing Mubarak to the hilt so that he could put down the revolt before the Muslim Brotherhood takes over. But aside from the highly questionable proposition that our encouragement and support would change the balance of forces in Mubarak’s favor, doing any such thing is akin to suggesting that we ignore the forces of gravity. It is unrealistic in the most basic sense. It is written into the DNA of the United States that, when push comes to shove, we cannot support the forces of tyranny over mass protest.

Hardheaded choices must be made at times, and indeed have been made at times, especially when the options were a regime friendly to the United States vs. a regime that would have been friendly to the Soviet Union. But those choices did not come at moments of flash-point crisis, with a regime’s legitimacy crumbling before the world’s eyes. And they didn’t come at a time when worldwide instant communications make it impossible for the regime to black out the evidence of its suppression.

In warning us not to view the goings-on with unwarranted optimism, those expressing profound concern about what will come next in Egypt are performing a great service. We are heading into rough waters that had been largely stilled in recent decades. But that is why, perhaps, they should have been more supportive of the idea that Mubarak and others should have been pushed toward democratic reform so that the transition to change might have been managed rather than simply observed powerlessly as it turns into a runaway steamroller.

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Wolfowitz on the Convulsions in Egypt

In an interview with the Spectator (UK), Ambassador Paul Wolfowitz makes some insightful observations as they relate to the revolution now unfolding in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

According to Wolfowitz, (a) the predominant sentiment in the streets is not strongly Islamist; (b) Islamists, however, are hurrying to get into the game — and in Egypt, the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood increases the risk of a bad outcome; (c) Western governments can be a positive force on behalf of genuine freedom and against attempts to impose a new kind of tyranny of the Islamist variety; and (d) we can’t be a positive force if we are seen as propping up a hated tyrant or, worse, if we are perceived as encouraging the kind of bloody crackdown that could at best produce an artificial “stability” for a relatively short period of time.

“The possibility of a bad outcome is very real, particularly because we did nothing to encourage more evolutionary change earlier,” Wolfowitz says, “but I believe we have a better chance of a good outcome if we support positive change than if we support the status quo.”

He mentions democratic transitions over the past several decades, in places like the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Central and Eastern Europe, and nations (like Chile) in Latin America. “Few of these countries would qualify as Westminster-style democracies,” according to Wolfowitz, “but most are far better off as a result of these democratic transitions, and so are we.”

So far, he says, Tunisia and Egypt seem to be following this paradigm.

If Arab nations had started the kind of political reform some were advocating years ago, the current convulsions would not be happening. But Egypt is where Egypt is, and the goal of the United States should be to assist the pro-democracy forces there as best we can. Pessimism, fatalism, and lamentations are not a particularly useful guide to policy, especially when events are still unfolding and can, with a mix of skill and luck, go our way.

Nothing good is guaranteed, but nothing bad is inevitable.

In an interview with the Spectator (UK), Ambassador Paul Wolfowitz makes some insightful observations as they relate to the revolution now unfolding in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

According to Wolfowitz, (a) the predominant sentiment in the streets is not strongly Islamist; (b) Islamists, however, are hurrying to get into the game — and in Egypt, the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood increases the risk of a bad outcome; (c) Western governments can be a positive force on behalf of genuine freedom and against attempts to impose a new kind of tyranny of the Islamist variety; and (d) we can’t be a positive force if we are seen as propping up a hated tyrant or, worse, if we are perceived as encouraging the kind of bloody crackdown that could at best produce an artificial “stability” for a relatively short period of time.

“The possibility of a bad outcome is very real, particularly because we did nothing to encourage more evolutionary change earlier,” Wolfowitz says, “but I believe we have a better chance of a good outcome if we support positive change than if we support the status quo.”

He mentions democratic transitions over the past several decades, in places like the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Central and Eastern Europe, and nations (like Chile) in Latin America. “Few of these countries would qualify as Westminster-style democracies,” according to Wolfowitz, “but most are far better off as a result of these democratic transitions, and so are we.”

So far, he says, Tunisia and Egypt seem to be following this paradigm.

If Arab nations had started the kind of political reform some were advocating years ago, the current convulsions would not be happening. But Egypt is where Egypt is, and the goal of the United States should be to assist the pro-democracy forces there as best we can. Pessimism, fatalism, and lamentations are not a particularly useful guide to policy, especially when events are still unfolding and can, with a mix of skill and luck, go our way.

Nothing good is guaranteed, but nothing bad is inevitable.

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The Slap Heard Round the World

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has. Read More

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has.

The danger is that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which is hostile to Israel and close to Hamas, hijacks the revolution. The goal of U.S policy must therefore be to influence this revolution, to the degree we can, in a way that advances U.S. interests and American ideals. This means taking an active role, both publicly and behind the scenes, in support of those who stand for liberal democracy (for more, see here).

The hour has grown quite late. As Max Boot points out, the equivocation of the Obama administration needs to end. Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading Egyptian dissident who appears to be rapidly gaining power, is right when he said the United States is “losing credibility by the day” by its support for the Egyptian dictator. Mr. Mubarak is, politically speaking, a Dead Man Walking. There is still time, but not much time, for the president to get on the right side of this revolution and the right side of history. Secretary of State Clinton’s comments yesterday, in which she called for an “orderly transition” to a representative government, were certainly an improvement from where the administration was last week, when she was assuring the world of the staying power of Mr. Mubarak and Vice President Biden was declaring, against three decades of evidence, that the Egyptian president was not a dictator.

Having worked in three administrations and in the White House during a series of crises, I have some sympathy for how difficult it is to navigate through roiling waters, when one has to act on incomplete information in the midst of chaotic and constantly changing events, the outcome of which is impossible to know. In that respect, the Obama administration deserves some empathy. It’s never as easy to guide events when you’re in government as it is to critique events when you’re outside of government.

Still, as my former colleague William Inboden has written, it seems to me that the Obama administration can be held responsible for two important errors: (a) its failure to anticipate what is happening in Egypt and prepare contingency plans. and (b) its neglect of human rights, democracy, and economic reform in Egypt for the previous two years. “These failures should be front and center in any post-mortem policy review,” Professor Inboden writes. “The Mubarak regime’s brittleness and Egypt’s stagnation have long been apparent to many observers.” But not, apparently, to the Obama administration, which seems to have been caught completely off guard. If the spark that set the region afire was impossible to anticipate, the dry tinder of the region was not.

One Arab nation that so far hasn’t been convulsed by the political revolution now sweeping the Middle East is Iraq — the one Arab nation whose government is legitimate, the produce of free elections and political compromise, and that has the consent of the people. When it came to Iraqi democracy, most of the foreign-policy establishment assured us that self-government there could never take root, that Iraq would simply be a pawn of Iran, that the ethnic divisions in Iraq were too deep to overcome, and that (as Joe Biden argued at the time) the only solution was partition. At this stage, it’s reasonable to conclude that these judgments were quite wrong. And while one can certainly debate whether the Iraq war was worth the blood, treasure, and opportunities it cost, it appears as if the Egyptian people, and not only the Egyptian people, are longing for what the people of Iraq have embraced: self-government. It isn’t perfect by any means — but for the Arab Middle East, it is a model for other nations to aspire.

(h/t: Victor Davis Hanson)

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Obama Must Act Now on Egypt

The president of the United States makes $400,000 a year. He has government-provided housing, a personal chef, his own helicopter and airplane, not to mention the best personal protection in the universe. It is at times like this that he really earns all those nice perks. There is no task more difficult than managing a revolution in progress. Jimmy Carter got it wrong in Nicaragua, and Iran and went down as a failure. Ronald Reagan got it right in the Philippines and South Korea, which contributed to the overall success of his presidency.

So far, I haven’t seen much evidence that Obama is earning his salary with his response to the revolution in Egypt. On Friday, he delivered an ultra-cautious statement, telling the “Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and saying that “the people of Egypt have rights,” including “the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny.” But he stopped well short of telling Hosni Mubarak, who is clearly on his last legs, that it was time for him to go — a message that Ronald Reagan memorably delivered via his friend Senator Paul Laxalt to Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

The New York Times explains Obama’s reticence by citing a “senior administration official” who said that “Mr. Obama warned that any overt effort by the United States to insert itself into easing Mr. Mubarak out, or easing a successor in, could backfire. ‘He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events.’”

Problem is, taking no stand isn’t an option for the United States in this situation. For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, and Mubarak has been one of our closest allies in the Middle East. Egyptian officers have been educated in the United States, its forces are equipped with American weapons, and they regularly conduct exercises with American troops. We have a large say, whether we want it or not. If Obama stays silent about Mubarak’s future, that will be interpreted within Egypt as American support for an increasingly discredited dictator. Read More

The president of the United States makes $400,000 a year. He has government-provided housing, a personal chef, his own helicopter and airplane, not to mention the best personal protection in the universe. It is at times like this that he really earns all those nice perks. There is no task more difficult than managing a revolution in progress. Jimmy Carter got it wrong in Nicaragua, and Iran and went down as a failure. Ronald Reagan got it right in the Philippines and South Korea, which contributed to the overall success of his presidency.

So far, I haven’t seen much evidence that Obama is earning his salary with his response to the revolution in Egypt. On Friday, he delivered an ultra-cautious statement, telling the “Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and saying that “the people of Egypt have rights,” including “the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny.” But he stopped well short of telling Hosni Mubarak, who is clearly on his last legs, that it was time for him to go — a message that Ronald Reagan memorably delivered via his friend Senator Paul Laxalt to Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

The New York Times explains Obama’s reticence by citing a “senior administration official” who said that “Mr. Obama warned that any overt effort by the United States to insert itself into easing Mr. Mubarak out, or easing a successor in, could backfire. ‘He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events.’”

Problem is, taking no stand isn’t an option for the United States in this situation. For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, and Mubarak has been one of our closest allies in the Middle East. Egyptian officers have been educated in the United States, its forces are equipped with American weapons, and they regularly conduct exercises with American troops. We have a large say, whether we want it or not. If Obama stays silent about Mubarak’s future, that will be interpreted within Egypt as American support for an increasingly discredited dictator.

The Working Group on Egypt, co-chaired by Bob Kagan and Michele Dunn at Brookings, suggests a more muscular response. They urge Obama to “call for free and fair elections for president and for parliament to be held as soon as possible” and for the government to “immediately lift the state of emergency” and “publicly declare that Mr. Mubarak will agree not to run for re-election.” And just to drive the point home: “We further recommend that the Obama administration suspend all economic and military assistance to Egypt until the government accepts and implements these measures.”

That’s more like it. The one recommendation I am not sold on is immediate elections (though, admittedly, there’s wiggle room in the phrase “as soon as possible”). As we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, elections that occur in an atmosphere of instability can exacerbate that instability. This is an especially tricky moment in Egypt because Mubarak has ruthlessly repressed the secular opposition. The only large nongovernmental organization in the country is the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamists would thus have an advantage in any immediate election, which could allow them to win, as Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006, even though they have not been at the forefront of recent protests and most Egyptians would no doubt recoil from the imposition of an Iranian-style theocracy. (Whether the Brotherhood would in fact try to impose such a regime is unknown. Unfortunately, the only way to find out would be to let them take over.)

A safer alternative, to my mind, would be to call for Mubarak to step down immediately and hand over power to a transition government led by Mohammed ElBaradai, the secular technocrat who has recently returned to Egypt to become the most high-profile opposition leader. As is now happening in Tunisia, he could work with military support to prepare the way for elections in a suitable period of time — say in six months or a year.

But I think the Working Group is right to grasp that standing pat isn’t really an option anymore. In this case, the best advice was offered by a conservative Sicilian aristocrat, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, in his great novel The Leopard (1958), where he wrote that “everything must change so that everything can stay the same.”

In other words, if the U.S. is to have any hope of salvaging our alliance with Egypt, we need to embrace the change wanted by its people — not try to cling blindly to a past represented by Mubarak and his mini-me, the intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has just been appointed vice president and putative successor.

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China and Those Tensions that Remain

Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has been accompanied by the usual swooning. The New York Times, for instance, finds “Subtle Signs of Progress in U.S.-China Relations.” Very subtle indeed:

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the Chinese for the first time expressed public concern over North Korea’s recent disclosure of a modern uranium-enrichment plant, a small but ardently sought step in American efforts to press Kim Jong-il to roll back his nuclear weapons program.

More surprisingly, perhaps, Mr. Hu said at a White House news conference that China “recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights,” a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate.

But even Times reporter Michael Wines is forced to admit that “words, of course, are easier than deeds.” He went on to concede (a concession that undercuts the entire thrust of the article):

Neither side made any significant progress, much less any breakthrough, on the larger problems that have bedeviled relations ever since Mr. Obama made his state visit to Beijing in November 2009. On the American side, that includes revaluing China’s currency, leveling the playing field for American investors in China and establishing a serious discourse between the nations’ militaries.

That tensions remain even after the two presidents broke bread together should hardly be a surprise. Keep in mind the larger picture. Numerous countries have ascended to great power status in the past 1,000 years, as China now aspires to do. Not a single one managed to make the transition peacefully. Not the Ottomans, not the Habsburgs, not the French, not the British, not the Germans, not the Russians. Not even the Americans. We like to think of ourselves as a peace-loving nation, but that’s not how our neighbors see us — and with good cause. Remember, as soon as we were strong enough, we went to war with Mexico to wrestle away the Southwest, and then, for good measure, we went to war with Spain to wrestle away Cuba and the Philippines. These were the actions, recall, of a liberal democracy. Autocratic regimes like the one in Beijing tend to be much more belligerent.

And indeed, China has been acting aggressively recently in trying to establish its hegemony in the region. As part of this process, it has undertaken a rapid military buildup that, as Dan Blumenthal and Mike Mazza note in the Weekly Standard, includes acquiring the means to strike distant American bases.

Does this mean that war with China is inevitable? Of course not. But we should be wary of the happy talk that normally accompanies summits. China may indeed see a “peaceful rise,” the slogan it adopted a few years ago. But based on history, that’s not the way to bet.

Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has been accompanied by the usual swooning. The New York Times, for instance, finds “Subtle Signs of Progress in U.S.-China Relations.” Very subtle indeed:

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the Chinese for the first time expressed public concern over North Korea’s recent disclosure of a modern uranium-enrichment plant, a small but ardently sought step in American efforts to press Kim Jong-il to roll back his nuclear weapons program.

More surprisingly, perhaps, Mr. Hu said at a White House news conference that China “recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights,” a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate.

But even Times reporter Michael Wines is forced to admit that “words, of course, are easier than deeds.” He went on to concede (a concession that undercuts the entire thrust of the article):

Neither side made any significant progress, much less any breakthrough, on the larger problems that have bedeviled relations ever since Mr. Obama made his state visit to Beijing in November 2009. On the American side, that includes revaluing China’s currency, leveling the playing field for American investors in China and establishing a serious discourse between the nations’ militaries.

That tensions remain even after the two presidents broke bread together should hardly be a surprise. Keep in mind the larger picture. Numerous countries have ascended to great power status in the past 1,000 years, as China now aspires to do. Not a single one managed to make the transition peacefully. Not the Ottomans, not the Habsburgs, not the French, not the British, not the Germans, not the Russians. Not even the Americans. We like to think of ourselves as a peace-loving nation, but that’s not how our neighbors see us — and with good cause. Remember, as soon as we were strong enough, we went to war with Mexico to wrestle away the Southwest, and then, for good measure, we went to war with Spain to wrestle away Cuba and the Philippines. These were the actions, recall, of a liberal democracy. Autocratic regimes like the one in Beijing tend to be much more belligerent.

And indeed, China has been acting aggressively recently in trying to establish its hegemony in the region. As part of this process, it has undertaken a rapid military buildup that, as Dan Blumenthal and Mike Mazza note in the Weekly Standard, includes acquiring the means to strike distant American bases.

Does this mean that war with China is inevitable? Of course not. But we should be wary of the happy talk that normally accompanies summits. China may indeed see a “peaceful rise,” the slogan it adopted a few years ago. But based on history, that’s not the way to bet.

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Hot Times in the Far East

It’s getting harder to pick the most noteworthy headline among geopolitical events in East Asia. For the second time in two weeks, a high-ranking South Korean defense official has abruptly resigned (this time, the army chief of staff). His departure followed intelligence disclosures suggesting that North Korea has as many as four uranium-enrichment sites in operation, a level of activity previously unsuspected by the South Korean public. But are those developments more portentous than the most recent communications from Japan? And what about the Russian patrol aircraft that interrupted the U.S.-Japan naval exercise last week?

Japan’s announcements on defense this month figure collectively as the augury of a seminal shift. It’s not all that unusual for Tokyo to announce an increase in the size of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF). But the reason invoked on this occasion amounts to a crack in the foundation of the U.S.-guaranteed security regime in the Far East. Japan plans to reorient its defense policy toward the emerging threat from China — and plans, in general, to defend its interests against Chinese and North Korean threats more proactively than at any time since 1945.

The Japanese will officially abandon the Cold War–era “basic defense doctrine,” which provided for territorial defense but not for the projection of military power beyond Japan’s recognized borders. Besides adding more submarines to the fleet, they will look at a military build-up in the southern chain of Japanese islands, near the Senkaku archipelago disputed with China. And on Sunday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan startled South Koreans by telling an audience that Japan would consider changing JSDF policy to allow for the deploying of troops to South Korea to rescue Japanese citizens.

The point here is not that any such move by Japan is suspicious. The point is that Japan perceives the need for a new, more active security posture. The tacit U.S. guarantee since World War II has been a balance in the Far East: the three great powers there — Russia, China, and Japan — held in check with a network of alliances and military presence. In the past two decades, however, the U.S. has failed to effectively counter what are arguably the most important threats to stability in the region: Chinese maritime aggression and the North Korean nuclear-weapons program. Against that backdrop, the Obama administration’s determined reliance on China to deal with North Korea looks — from the Asian side of the Pacific — like ceding China too much power. If America will not broker a balanced stasis, Russia and China will arm themselves for emerging opportunities, and everyone else will follow suit. Read More

It’s getting harder to pick the most noteworthy headline among geopolitical events in East Asia. For the second time in two weeks, a high-ranking South Korean defense official has abruptly resigned (this time, the army chief of staff). His departure followed intelligence disclosures suggesting that North Korea has as many as four uranium-enrichment sites in operation, a level of activity previously unsuspected by the South Korean public. But are those developments more portentous than the most recent communications from Japan? And what about the Russian patrol aircraft that interrupted the U.S.-Japan naval exercise last week?

Japan’s announcements on defense this month figure collectively as the augury of a seminal shift. It’s not all that unusual for Tokyo to announce an increase in the size of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF). But the reason invoked on this occasion amounts to a crack in the foundation of the U.S.-guaranteed security regime in the Far East. Japan plans to reorient its defense policy toward the emerging threat from China — and plans, in general, to defend its interests against Chinese and North Korean threats more proactively than at any time since 1945.

The Japanese will officially abandon the Cold War–era “basic defense doctrine,” which provided for territorial defense but not for the projection of military power beyond Japan’s recognized borders. Besides adding more submarines to the fleet, they will look at a military build-up in the southern chain of Japanese islands, near the Senkaku archipelago disputed with China. And on Sunday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan startled South Koreans by telling an audience that Japan would consider changing JSDF policy to allow for the deploying of troops to South Korea to rescue Japanese citizens.

The point here is not that any such move by Japan is suspicious. The point is that Japan perceives the need for a new, more active security posture. The tacit U.S. guarantee since World War II has been a balance in the Far East: the three great powers there — Russia, China, and Japan — held in check with a network of alliances and military presence. In the past two decades, however, the U.S. has failed to effectively counter what are arguably the most important threats to stability in the region: Chinese maritime aggression and the North Korean nuclear-weapons program. Against that backdrop, the Obama administration’s determined reliance on China to deal with North Korea looks — from the Asian side of the Pacific — like ceding China too much power. If America will not broker a balanced stasis, Russia and China will arm themselves for emerging opportunities, and everyone else will follow suit.

Meanwhile, Russia is probing and making shows of force wherever possible. The intrusion of Russian patrol aircraft in the naval exercise held by the U.S. and Japan last week was remarkable for the fact that it was an actual intrusion. Military aircraft monitor foreign exercises all the time, but usually from a distance. The Russian planes approached so closely last week that the exercise was suspended while fighters were scrambled to intercept them.

The Nixon administration concluded a 1972 agreement with Soviet Russia to avoid such provocations in air and naval activity. Indeed, it was Nixon who, during the same period, re-established relations with China, returned Okinawa to Japan, and signed landmark defense agreements with Thailand and the Philippines. He hoped that these measures, desirable in their own right, would contribute to an environment of stabilized tension in which the two Vietnams could coexist. Although the hopes for Vietnam were dashed, his larger arrangements have stood for nearly 40 years. But they will not last much longer. The older pattern that obtains in the absence of U.S. power is reasserting itself.

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Challenge at Sea

At the end of August, the Royal Navy gave the UK Telegraph a rare glimpse of what’s going on today in the arcane world of the submariner, under the Northern Atlantic’s restless surface. The report includes the nugget that “British submariners … are experiencing the highest number of ‘contacts’ with Russian submarines since 1987.”

It’s no surprise that Russian attack submarines are trying to trail British ballistic-missile submarines, as the Telegraph reports. But the reference to 1987 is informative. In the annals of the Cold War, 1987 was the last year the Soviet Navy maintained the very active global profile it assumed in the early 1970s. The Royal Navy’s disclosures last month indicate that the reversal of a two-decade trend is gathering steam — and more so than was evident when Russian submarines were reported off the U.S. east coast a year ago.

The Royal Navy had 38 submarines in 1987, compared with its 12 today. The U.S. force of attack submarines — “hunter-killer” submarines — has declined in the same period, from 98 to 53, with a target number of 48 being argued by budget cutters. But numbers are only one aspect of the issue. Equally important, as suggested by the Royal Navy’s recent encounters with Russian submarines, is how our would-be rivals are behaving on the seas.

In that regard, China’s profile constitutes a steadily expanding challenge, particularly to regional stability in the Far East. Tuesday morning, a Chinese fishing vessel was challenged by the Japanese coast guard in the waters of the Senkaku Islands, a chain disputed by Beijing and Tokyo. The Chinese vessel proceeded to collide with not one but two Japanese patrol ships — something that, given the Japanese military’s exemplary tradition of seamanship, had to be deliberate and was probably sanctioned by authorities in China.

China has operated through maritime provocation and bullying in recent years, but usually with smaller nations like Vietnam and the Philippines; very rarely in confrontations with Japan. In the wake of China’s most aggressive naval exercise ever, which penetrated the Japanese islands this past spring, as well as Beijing’s securing of rights to use a North Korean port on the Sea of Japan, the latest incident looks more like part of a trend than an isolated, strategically meaningless event.

This is how maritime dominance is lost: incrementally and off the public’s radar. The U.S. Navy, as an oceangoing sea-control force, has shrunk from 568 ships and submarines in 1987 to 285 today. Our NATO allies’ navies have shrunk significantly as well, some of them by greater percentages. Among our key allies, only Japan and Australia are investing in larger and more diverse naval forces. The U.S. military, under Defense Secretary Gates, is looking at reducing further the inventory of warships — aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines — that perform sea-control missions and maintain maritime dominance. Equally troubling, DoD proposes to eliminate entirely the two major U.S. commands most closely linked with NATO and maritime power in the Atlantic: Joint Forces Command and the U.S. Second Fleet. Events, on the other hand, continue to warn us against this irresponsible course. We can expect more of them.

At the end of August, the Royal Navy gave the UK Telegraph a rare glimpse of what’s going on today in the arcane world of the submariner, under the Northern Atlantic’s restless surface. The report includes the nugget that “British submariners … are experiencing the highest number of ‘contacts’ with Russian submarines since 1987.”

It’s no surprise that Russian attack submarines are trying to trail British ballistic-missile submarines, as the Telegraph reports. But the reference to 1987 is informative. In the annals of the Cold War, 1987 was the last year the Soviet Navy maintained the very active global profile it assumed in the early 1970s. The Royal Navy’s disclosures last month indicate that the reversal of a two-decade trend is gathering steam — and more so than was evident when Russian submarines were reported off the U.S. east coast a year ago.

The Royal Navy had 38 submarines in 1987, compared with its 12 today. The U.S. force of attack submarines — “hunter-killer” submarines — has declined in the same period, from 98 to 53, with a target number of 48 being argued by budget cutters. But numbers are only one aspect of the issue. Equally important, as suggested by the Royal Navy’s recent encounters with Russian submarines, is how our would-be rivals are behaving on the seas.

In that regard, China’s profile constitutes a steadily expanding challenge, particularly to regional stability in the Far East. Tuesday morning, a Chinese fishing vessel was challenged by the Japanese coast guard in the waters of the Senkaku Islands, a chain disputed by Beijing and Tokyo. The Chinese vessel proceeded to collide with not one but two Japanese patrol ships — something that, given the Japanese military’s exemplary tradition of seamanship, had to be deliberate and was probably sanctioned by authorities in China.

China has operated through maritime provocation and bullying in recent years, but usually with smaller nations like Vietnam and the Philippines; very rarely in confrontations with Japan. In the wake of China’s most aggressive naval exercise ever, which penetrated the Japanese islands this past spring, as well as Beijing’s securing of rights to use a North Korean port on the Sea of Japan, the latest incident looks more like part of a trend than an isolated, strategically meaningless event.

This is how maritime dominance is lost: incrementally and off the public’s radar. The U.S. Navy, as an oceangoing sea-control force, has shrunk from 568 ships and submarines in 1987 to 285 today. Our NATO allies’ navies have shrunk significantly as well, some of them by greater percentages. Among our key allies, only Japan and Australia are investing in larger and more diverse naval forces. The U.S. military, under Defense Secretary Gates, is looking at reducing further the inventory of warships — aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines — that perform sea-control missions and maintain maritime dominance. Equally troubling, DoD proposes to eliminate entirely the two major U.S. commands most closely linked with NATO and maritime power in the Atlantic: Joint Forces Command and the U.S. Second Fleet. Events, on the other hand, continue to warn us against this irresponsible course. We can expect more of them.

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The War Against Extremism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Murders of Journalists Continue in the Philippines

The most deadly country for journalists last year was not Somalia or Iraq or Afghanistan, or even China or Russia. It was the Philippines — a democracy — where a severely lacking criminal-justice system, paired with government corruption and inefficiency, has contributed to a “culture of impunity.” Since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, 140 journalists have been killed. This month the trend continues as three more journalists have been murdered.

On June 14, radio broadcaster Desiderio “Jessie” Camangyan, 52, was hosting a local singing competition. A gunman approached him from behind and shot him. His wife and six-year-old son were in the audience to watch the bullet rip from the right side of his ear through his eyes and nose. Camangyan was known for his reporting on the illegal logging industry.

Scarcely a day later, broadcaster Joselito Agustin, 37, was riding his motorcycle with his nephew. He was shot four times and died the next morning in a local hospital. His nephew survived after taking a bullet in the leg. Agustin’s on-air commentaries often centered on corruption and lawlessness.

And on June 19, Nestor Dedolido, 50, a newspaper reporter, was murdered, shot six times while buying a pack of cigarettes. Like Camangyan and Agustin, Dedolido had criticized local politics and corruption.

To comprehend the risks Filipino journalists take, it’s worthwhile to see the scope of the violence from last year’s Maguindanao massacre. On November 23, 2009, at least 31 journalists, many of them women, were raped, brutalized, and murdered, allegedly by a militia run by a powerful political clan. A photo album here depicts some of the gruesome details, but much more nauseating coverage can be found elsewhere online.

Therefore, it is also worth mentioning the June 14 killing of Suwaib Upham, a witness to the Maguindanao massacre. Upham sought government protection, but it was never granted to him. Likewise, other witnesses to the massacre have had their homes burnt by unidentified arsonists.

Benigno Aquino, elected president in May, derives his popularity in part from the legacy of his mother, dissident-turned-president Cory Aquino, who opposed the Marcos regime and who has been considered the mother of democracy in the Philippines. Benigno Aquino could further his mother’s legacy by prosecuting those who kill journalists and stepping up efforts to prevent the murders. On the other hand, ignoring it threatens the fabric of the country’s democracy.

But the United States could also help by calling the Philippines to task. The U.S. embassy in Manila has condemned the murder of Upham. But it’s a shame that no statement can be found on its website about the Maguindanao massacre or about the recent murders of journalists. In President Obama’s next exchange with Aquino, this is one human-rights issue that should not be ignored.

The most deadly country for journalists last year was not Somalia or Iraq or Afghanistan, or even China or Russia. It was the Philippines — a democracy — where a severely lacking criminal-justice system, paired with government corruption and inefficiency, has contributed to a “culture of impunity.” Since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, 140 journalists have been killed. This month the trend continues as three more journalists have been murdered.

On June 14, radio broadcaster Desiderio “Jessie” Camangyan, 52, was hosting a local singing competition. A gunman approached him from behind and shot him. His wife and six-year-old son were in the audience to watch the bullet rip from the right side of his ear through his eyes and nose. Camangyan was known for his reporting on the illegal logging industry.

Scarcely a day later, broadcaster Joselito Agustin, 37, was riding his motorcycle with his nephew. He was shot four times and died the next morning in a local hospital. His nephew survived after taking a bullet in the leg. Agustin’s on-air commentaries often centered on corruption and lawlessness.

And on June 19, Nestor Dedolido, 50, a newspaper reporter, was murdered, shot six times while buying a pack of cigarettes. Like Camangyan and Agustin, Dedolido had criticized local politics and corruption.

To comprehend the risks Filipino journalists take, it’s worthwhile to see the scope of the violence from last year’s Maguindanao massacre. On November 23, 2009, at least 31 journalists, many of them women, were raped, brutalized, and murdered, allegedly by a militia run by a powerful political clan. A photo album here depicts some of the gruesome details, but much more nauseating coverage can be found elsewhere online.

Therefore, it is also worth mentioning the June 14 killing of Suwaib Upham, a witness to the Maguindanao massacre. Upham sought government protection, but it was never granted to him. Likewise, other witnesses to the massacre have had their homes burnt by unidentified arsonists.

Benigno Aquino, elected president in May, derives his popularity in part from the legacy of his mother, dissident-turned-president Cory Aquino, who opposed the Marcos regime and who has been considered the mother of democracy in the Philippines. Benigno Aquino could further his mother’s legacy by prosecuting those who kill journalists and stepping up efforts to prevent the murders. On the other hand, ignoring it threatens the fabric of the country’s democracy.

But the United States could also help by calling the Philippines to task. The U.S. embassy in Manila has condemned the murder of Upham. But it’s a shame that no statement can be found on its website about the Maguindanao massacre or about the recent murders of journalists. In President Obama’s next exchange with Aquino, this is one human-rights issue that should not be ignored.

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Yes We Can … Win in Afghanistan

Andrew Exum has posted a short reply to my critique of his hand-wringing article on Afghanistan. He begins on a nice note: “I respect the heck out of Max Boot and consider him among the smartest of the thinkers often lumped under the label ‘neoconservative’.” (I especially like the way he distances himself from the cliched neocon label.) He then goes on to concede, “Boot is right, to a degree, about political will.” (I had written that, although political will is now lacking in the United States, it could easily be manufactured, if only President Obama were to be slightly more resolute.) But Andrew writes:

I think Boot, like many other neoconservatives, overestimates the importance of U.S. actions and downplays the agency of others. So Afghanistan will definitely be a success if we will it? Sorry, but that’s not how third-party counterinsurgency campaigns work. The actions of others matter as much or more than our own.

For my part, I respect the heck out of Andrew Exum and believe his arguments are worthy of a more detailed examination.

Will Afghanistan definitely be a success if we will it? Nothing is definite, especially not in the confusing realm of warfare. But I think the odds are good — certainly better than 50% — that a reasonable commitment of time and resources can make Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy (which Andrew helped formulate) to succeed. Population-centric counterinsurgency has worked in countries as diverse as Iraq, Malaya, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Oman, and Colombia. Historically speaking (and I say this based on research I’m currently doing for a book on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism), it is the most successful counterinsurgency strategy there is. Does that mean it will work in every instance? Of course not. But it works more often than not, and I have yet to see any evidence that Afghanistan is uniquely resistant to such an approach.

There are difficulties, to be sure, principally having to do with weak and corrupt government; but those problems were well known a year ago, when the McChrystal strategy was formulated with Andrew’s input and support. What has changed in the past year to make McChrystal’s approach invalid? Nothing that I can see.

Indeed, the biggest cause for optimism remains intact — namely the unpopularity of the Taliban. Public opinion polls show that only 6% of the Afghan people would like to see them return to power. The percentage is slightly higher in the South but still well short of a majority. The Taliban suffer from a major disadvantage that did not afflict successful insurgencies in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba: they have actually been in power before and people remember how awful they were. Some 90% of Afghans favor the current government for all of its myriad imperfections.

The Taliban are able to make gains only because of the security and governance vacuum that has existed in much of the countryside. Filling that vacuum is certainly difficult and will take a long time. But is it impossible? I think not, because our objectives are fundamentally in alignment with the views of most Afghans. The key, as I stress once again, is whether the U.S. will have the patience and the will to see this war through to an acceptable conclusion — something that Andrew concedes is “probably” a vital interest of ours.

I don’t mean to suggest that the U.S. is capable of doing anything; I don’t think we could transform the moon into Swiss cheese simply by willing it. Can we, working in cooperation with international and local partners, defeat a ragtag guerrilla army of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters who are widely despised by the population they seek to rule? Yes, we can.

Andrew Exum has posted a short reply to my critique of his hand-wringing article on Afghanistan. He begins on a nice note: “I respect the heck out of Max Boot and consider him among the smartest of the thinkers often lumped under the label ‘neoconservative’.” (I especially like the way he distances himself from the cliched neocon label.) He then goes on to concede, “Boot is right, to a degree, about political will.” (I had written that, although political will is now lacking in the United States, it could easily be manufactured, if only President Obama were to be slightly more resolute.) But Andrew writes:

I think Boot, like many other neoconservatives, overestimates the importance of U.S. actions and downplays the agency of others. So Afghanistan will definitely be a success if we will it? Sorry, but that’s not how third-party counterinsurgency campaigns work. The actions of others matter as much or more than our own.

For my part, I respect the heck out of Andrew Exum and believe his arguments are worthy of a more detailed examination.

Will Afghanistan definitely be a success if we will it? Nothing is definite, especially not in the confusing realm of warfare. But I think the odds are good — certainly better than 50% — that a reasonable commitment of time and resources can make Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy (which Andrew helped formulate) to succeed. Population-centric counterinsurgency has worked in countries as diverse as Iraq, Malaya, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Oman, and Colombia. Historically speaking (and I say this based on research I’m currently doing for a book on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism), it is the most successful counterinsurgency strategy there is. Does that mean it will work in every instance? Of course not. But it works more often than not, and I have yet to see any evidence that Afghanistan is uniquely resistant to such an approach.

There are difficulties, to be sure, principally having to do with weak and corrupt government; but those problems were well known a year ago, when the McChrystal strategy was formulated with Andrew’s input and support. What has changed in the past year to make McChrystal’s approach invalid? Nothing that I can see.

Indeed, the biggest cause for optimism remains intact — namely the unpopularity of the Taliban. Public opinion polls show that only 6% of the Afghan people would like to see them return to power. The percentage is slightly higher in the South but still well short of a majority. The Taliban suffer from a major disadvantage that did not afflict successful insurgencies in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba: they have actually been in power before and people remember how awful they were. Some 90% of Afghans favor the current government for all of its myriad imperfections.

The Taliban are able to make gains only because of the security and governance vacuum that has existed in much of the countryside. Filling that vacuum is certainly difficult and will take a long time. But is it impossible? I think not, because our objectives are fundamentally in alignment with the views of most Afghans. The key, as I stress once again, is whether the U.S. will have the patience and the will to see this war through to an acceptable conclusion — something that Andrew concedes is “probably” a vital interest of ours.

I don’t mean to suggest that the U.S. is capable of doing anything; I don’t think we could transform the moon into Swiss cheese simply by willing it. Can we, working in cooperation with international and local partners, defeat a ragtag guerrilla army of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters who are widely despised by the population they seek to rule? Yes, we can.

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Hypocrisy Run Amok

The Washington Post reports:

Beneath its commitment to soft-spoken diplomacy and beyond the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret U.S. war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials.

Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year. In addition to units that have spent years in the Philippines and Colombia, teams are operating in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

It’s always reassuring to learn that the White House is hypocritical and not entirely naive in its approach to terrorism. Like its defense of “no rules apply at Bagram,” it is some evidence that the un-Bush approach is selectively applied. No caterpillars to annoy terrorists who show up here, but no habeas corpus rights at Bagram. Mirandize a bomber who makes it here, but kill him — and his unfortunate family members — in his home country with a drone. I’m not quite seeing how this justifies the moral preening, but it’s good to know the administration doesn’t believe all of its own spin. Now, if it would just recognize who the enemy is and that U.S. soil is a battlefield too, we’d be making some progress.

There is also this snippet well down in the body of the story:

The United Nations, in a report this week, questioned the administration’s authority under international law to conduct such raids, particularly when they kill innocent civilians. One possible legal justification — the permission of the country in question — is complicated in places such as Pakistan and Yemen, where the governments privately agree but do not publicly acknowledge approving the attacks.

Former Bush officials, still smarting from accusations that their administration overextended the president’s authority to conduct lethal activities around the world at will, have asked similar questions. “While they seem to be expanding their operations both in terms of extraterritoriality and aggressiveness, they are contracting the legal authority upon which those expanding actions are based,” said John B. Bellinger III, a senior legal adviser in both of Bush’s administrations.

And speaking of hypocrisy, the administration that is expanding the use of techniques that kill entirely innocent civilians won’t extend latitude to the Israelis to act in self-defense when phony peace activists attack their troops? And then Obama complains that Israel isn’t considering our interests. Perhaps George W. Bush’s “failing” was candor and sincerity. Obama isn’t about to make that error.

The Washington Post reports:

Beneath its commitment to soft-spoken diplomacy and beyond the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret U.S. war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials.

Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year. In addition to units that have spent years in the Philippines and Colombia, teams are operating in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

It’s always reassuring to learn that the White House is hypocritical and not entirely naive in its approach to terrorism. Like its defense of “no rules apply at Bagram,” it is some evidence that the un-Bush approach is selectively applied. No caterpillars to annoy terrorists who show up here, but no habeas corpus rights at Bagram. Mirandize a bomber who makes it here, but kill him — and his unfortunate family members — in his home country with a drone. I’m not quite seeing how this justifies the moral preening, but it’s good to know the administration doesn’t believe all of its own spin. Now, if it would just recognize who the enemy is and that U.S. soil is a battlefield too, we’d be making some progress.

There is also this snippet well down in the body of the story:

The United Nations, in a report this week, questioned the administration’s authority under international law to conduct such raids, particularly when they kill innocent civilians. One possible legal justification — the permission of the country in question — is complicated in places such as Pakistan and Yemen, where the governments privately agree but do not publicly acknowledge approving the attacks.

Former Bush officials, still smarting from accusations that their administration overextended the president’s authority to conduct lethal activities around the world at will, have asked similar questions. “While they seem to be expanding their operations both in terms of extraterritoriality and aggressiveness, they are contracting the legal authority upon which those expanding actions are based,” said John B. Bellinger III, a senior legal adviser in both of Bush’s administrations.

And speaking of hypocrisy, the administration that is expanding the use of techniques that kill entirely innocent civilians won’t extend latitude to the Israelis to act in self-defense when phony peace activists attack their troops? And then Obama complains that Israel isn’t considering our interests. Perhaps George W. Bush’s “failing” was candor and sincerity. Obama isn’t about to make that error.

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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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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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Tom Campbell and Israel (Updated)

Philip Klein’s must-read post details more Tom Campbell comments concerning Israel. There was his remark that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, but it’s wrong to say it can’t also be the capital of Palestine.”  And there was his comment to Yasser Arafat, following a minor mishap in the West Bank, that “this makes me the first American to have shed blood in your country.” In isolation, this or that comment might not seem extraordinary. But, in addition to his record of anti-Israel votes, Campbell tosses about praise and encouragement to some extreme figures who are hostile to Israel.

A case in point is his praise for Israel-hater and conspiracy-monger Alison Weir. Others have noted that Weir runs an outfit, If Americans Only Knew, that is replete with her calls to cut aid to Israel and her vile anti-Israel bashing, which includes her fanning of the organ-harvesting libel. This escaped the attention of David Frum, who recently rose in support of Tom Campbell. It was just last week that Frum wrote movingly about a Swedish newspaper that saw fit to give space to a freelance journalist, Donald Bostrom, “to charge that the Israeli army regularly harvested organs from the bodies of slain Palestinians.” Frum explained:

After briefly acknowledging that the vast majority of the world’s illegally harvested organs come from China, Pakistan, and the Philippines, Bostrom then hurled this astounding charge: “Palestinians also harbor strong suspicions that young men have been seized, and made to serve as organ reserve, just as in China and Pakistan, before being killed.”

Jewish vampirism is an ancient fantasy, dating back to the Middle Ages. Yet it remains current in the contemporary Middle East. A Syrian film company created a multipart TV drama out of the story in 2003. The drama was broadcast worldwide on Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite network. Iranian state TV broadcast a drama in 2004 in which the plot turns on an Israeli plan to steal Palestinian children’s eyes.

It’s a winding road from medieval folktales to Hezbollah TV to the New Jersey mob to a Swedish daily to the British House of Lords.

But it’s a road traveled by more and more people. On February 11, Tel Aviv’s Reut Institute presented a paper to the Israeli cabinet warning of “delegitimization” aimed at the Jewish state. As reported by Ha’aretz, the paper warns:

“The ‘delegitimizers’ cooperate with organizations engaging in legitimate criticism of Israel’s policy in the territories such as Amnesty [International] and Human Rights Watch, blurring the line between legitimate censure and delegitimization. … The network’s activists are not mostly Palestinian, Arab or Muslim. Many of them are European and North American left-wing activists,” who portray Israel as a pariah state and deny its right to exist.

It is that very Swedish newspaper report, among many, that Weir touts on her website. Well, I’m sure then Frum would be appalled to learn that Campbell fancies Weir as “an intelligent, careful, and critical” scholar and urges that “American policy makers would benefit greatly from hearing her first-hand observations and attempting to answer the questions she poses.”

Frum also quoted from a recent interview given by Campbell, in which Campbell professes support for Israel. Frum perhaps did not have access to (and hence did not include) the two final questions and responses, which were not included in the web article he cites. However, these have now circulated in the California Jewish community, a copy of which I obtained:

What is Campbellʼs position on his 1990 Jerusalem vote [ opposing support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital]

When George Bush, Sr., was President, then Secretary of State James Baker announced that Israel was not serious about stopping settlements in East Jerusalem, and that when they were serious, they could call the White House. As a rebuke to Secretary Baker, a resolution was introduced by a prominent Democrat in the House recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided, permanent, and not-to-be-shared capital of Israel. The resolution was intended to undermine the position Secretary Baker was attempting to maintain, and which is still official American policy, that the status of Jerusalem is a matter to be resolved between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Declaring all of Jerusalem as sovereign Israeli territory, not to be shared, was equivalent to an endorsement of putting more settlements in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The Bush Administration opposed the resolution, and I voted against it.

What is Campbellʼs position regarding his vote in 1999 against a resolution expressing congressional opposition to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state?

Regarding the resolution disapproving a unilateral declaration of the statehood of Palestine, this was one of those occasions where having taught international law, and studied this particular issue, probably hurt me more than helped me. I know “Wikipedia” is not necessarily the most authoritative source, but look at the selection below dealing with the various legal scholars’ opinions regarding Palestinian statehood. It lays out the complexity of the issue. The international law sources cited support the case that a State of Palestine was already twice declared by the international community, in the Treaty of Lausanne, and then by the UN at the termination of the British Palestinian mandate. Suffice it to say that I could not vote for the proposed resolution, which took absolutely no account of this international history or international law. As things have subsequently worked out, I believe Israel’s official position now is in favor of a State of Palestine.

As to the last answer, I have no idea what Campbell is talking about and how he thinks his opposition to a unilateral declaration of statehood matches Israel’s current position. (Hint: Israel demands the Palestinians actually recognize the Jewish state’s existence and renounce terrorism.)  As one informed staffer and expert on Israel issues put it, “Tom Campbell has the questionable distinction as being the only politician ever to cite the Treaty of Lausanne in order to justify an anti-Israel vote.” And as to his invocation of James “F*** the Jews” Baker and the curious reference to stopping “settlements in East Jerusalem” (What “settlements” is he talking about?), one can only say, as an official of a prominent Jewish organization put it with understated disdain, it suggests “someone with a pronounced anti-Israel perspective.”  (The vote on the measure was not, as Campbell argued, a partisan affair. It passed with 378 votes; Campbell was one of only 34 opposed.) A Jewish official who works on Capitol Hill sums it up:

“I am hard pressed to remember any member of Congress who targeted Israel’s aid to cut, voted the wrong way in an overwhelming bipartisan vote on Jerusalem, supported Hamas terrorist Sami Al-Aryian and others convicted of supporting Islamic Jihad terrorists – even appearing at rallies with Al-Aryian and others as the spewed their anti-Israel bile, took campaign cash from them, wrote letters on Al Ariyan’s behalf, spoke at CAIR events – a group notoriously hostile to Israel and which is at the heart of the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts in America, and publicly supports Alison Weir – lately a purveyor of the organ harvesting blood libel against Israel.  That is quite a public record.  Now maybe Tom Campbell has become more pro-Israel than the Chief Rabbi on Minsk, but that would truly be the world’s most miraculous conversion.  The facts are the facts.  Mr. Campbell’s record speaks for itself and no amount of lipstik can pretty up this pig.”

The voters of California concerned about the candidates’ position on Israel will need to decide for themselves whether Campbell’s record and judgment justify their support. Frankly, he’s got some explaining to do.

UPDATE: Bruce Kesler, who identifies himself as the author of the Tom Campbell  Q&A that David Frum cited, denies that the final two questions and answers I referenced above were part of his interview with Campbell. A document containing those two questions and answers as well as the other questions and answers Kesler did report on his website was circulated in California in the Jewish community by a representative of the Campbell campaign with the purpose of bolstering Campbell’s position on these issues. Campbell’s answers and other materials accompanying the Q&A match other materials that have been sent by the Campbell campaign.

Philip Klein’s must-read post details more Tom Campbell comments concerning Israel. There was his remark that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, but it’s wrong to say it can’t also be the capital of Palestine.”  And there was his comment to Yasser Arafat, following a minor mishap in the West Bank, that “this makes me the first American to have shed blood in your country.” In isolation, this or that comment might not seem extraordinary. But, in addition to his record of anti-Israel votes, Campbell tosses about praise and encouragement to some extreme figures who are hostile to Israel.

A case in point is his praise for Israel-hater and conspiracy-monger Alison Weir. Others have noted that Weir runs an outfit, If Americans Only Knew, that is replete with her calls to cut aid to Israel and her vile anti-Israel bashing, which includes her fanning of the organ-harvesting libel. This escaped the attention of David Frum, who recently rose in support of Tom Campbell. It was just last week that Frum wrote movingly about a Swedish newspaper that saw fit to give space to a freelance journalist, Donald Bostrom, “to charge that the Israeli army regularly harvested organs from the bodies of slain Palestinians.” Frum explained:

After briefly acknowledging that the vast majority of the world’s illegally harvested organs come from China, Pakistan, and the Philippines, Bostrom then hurled this astounding charge: “Palestinians also harbor strong suspicions that young men have been seized, and made to serve as organ reserve, just as in China and Pakistan, before being killed.”

Jewish vampirism is an ancient fantasy, dating back to the Middle Ages. Yet it remains current in the contemporary Middle East. A Syrian film company created a multipart TV drama out of the story in 2003. The drama was broadcast worldwide on Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite network. Iranian state TV broadcast a drama in 2004 in which the plot turns on an Israeli plan to steal Palestinian children’s eyes.

It’s a winding road from medieval folktales to Hezbollah TV to the New Jersey mob to a Swedish daily to the British House of Lords.

But it’s a road traveled by more and more people. On February 11, Tel Aviv’s Reut Institute presented a paper to the Israeli cabinet warning of “delegitimization” aimed at the Jewish state. As reported by Ha’aretz, the paper warns:

“The ‘delegitimizers’ cooperate with organizations engaging in legitimate criticism of Israel’s policy in the territories such as Amnesty [International] and Human Rights Watch, blurring the line between legitimate censure and delegitimization. … The network’s activists are not mostly Palestinian, Arab or Muslim. Many of them are European and North American left-wing activists,” who portray Israel as a pariah state and deny its right to exist.

It is that very Swedish newspaper report, among many, that Weir touts on her website. Well, I’m sure then Frum would be appalled to learn that Campbell fancies Weir as “an intelligent, careful, and critical” scholar and urges that “American policy makers would benefit greatly from hearing her first-hand observations and attempting to answer the questions she poses.”

Frum also quoted from a recent interview given by Campbell, in which Campbell professes support for Israel. Frum perhaps did not have access to (and hence did not include) the two final questions and responses, which were not included in the web article he cites. However, these have now circulated in the California Jewish community, a copy of which I obtained:

What is Campbellʼs position on his 1990 Jerusalem vote [ opposing support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital]

When George Bush, Sr., was President, then Secretary of State James Baker announced that Israel was not serious about stopping settlements in East Jerusalem, and that when they were serious, they could call the White House. As a rebuke to Secretary Baker, a resolution was introduced by a prominent Democrat in the House recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided, permanent, and not-to-be-shared capital of Israel. The resolution was intended to undermine the position Secretary Baker was attempting to maintain, and which is still official American policy, that the status of Jerusalem is a matter to be resolved between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Declaring all of Jerusalem as sovereign Israeli territory, not to be shared, was equivalent to an endorsement of putting more settlements in the eastern part of Jerusalem. The Bush Administration opposed the resolution, and I voted against it.

What is Campbellʼs position regarding his vote in 1999 against a resolution expressing congressional opposition to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state?

Regarding the resolution disapproving a unilateral declaration of the statehood of Palestine, this was one of those occasions where having taught international law, and studied this particular issue, probably hurt me more than helped me. I know “Wikipedia” is not necessarily the most authoritative source, but look at the selection below dealing with the various legal scholars’ opinions regarding Palestinian statehood. It lays out the complexity of the issue. The international law sources cited support the case that a State of Palestine was already twice declared by the international community, in the Treaty of Lausanne, and then by the UN at the termination of the British Palestinian mandate. Suffice it to say that I could not vote for the proposed resolution, which took absolutely no account of this international history or international law. As things have subsequently worked out, I believe Israel’s official position now is in favor of a State of Palestine.

As to the last answer, I have no idea what Campbell is talking about and how he thinks his opposition to a unilateral declaration of statehood matches Israel’s current position. (Hint: Israel demands the Palestinians actually recognize the Jewish state’s existence and renounce terrorism.)  As one informed staffer and expert on Israel issues put it, “Tom Campbell has the questionable distinction as being the only politician ever to cite the Treaty of Lausanne in order to justify an anti-Israel vote.” And as to his invocation of James “F*** the Jews” Baker and the curious reference to stopping “settlements in East Jerusalem” (What “settlements” is he talking about?), one can only say, as an official of a prominent Jewish organization put it with understated disdain, it suggests “someone with a pronounced anti-Israel perspective.”  (The vote on the measure was not, as Campbell argued, a partisan affair. It passed with 378 votes; Campbell was one of only 34 opposed.) A Jewish official who works on Capitol Hill sums it up:

“I am hard pressed to remember any member of Congress who targeted Israel’s aid to cut, voted the wrong way in an overwhelming bipartisan vote on Jerusalem, supported Hamas terrorist Sami Al-Aryian and others convicted of supporting Islamic Jihad terrorists – even appearing at rallies with Al-Aryian and others as the spewed their anti-Israel bile, took campaign cash from them, wrote letters on Al Ariyan’s behalf, spoke at CAIR events – a group notoriously hostile to Israel and which is at the heart of the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts in America, and publicly supports Alison Weir – lately a purveyor of the organ harvesting blood libel against Israel.  That is quite a public record.  Now maybe Tom Campbell has become more pro-Israel than the Chief Rabbi on Minsk, but that would truly be the world’s most miraculous conversion.  The facts are the facts.  Mr. Campbell’s record speaks for itself and no amount of lipstik can pretty up this pig.”

The voters of California concerned about the candidates’ position on Israel will need to decide for themselves whether Campbell’s record and judgment justify their support. Frankly, he’s got some explaining to do.

UPDATE: Bruce Kesler, who identifies himself as the author of the Tom Campbell  Q&A that David Frum cited, denies that the final two questions and answers I referenced above were part of his interview with Campbell. A document containing those two questions and answers as well as the other questions and answers Kesler did report on his website was circulated in California in the Jewish community by a representative of the Campbell campaign with the purpose of bolstering Campbell’s position on these issues. Campbell’s answers and other materials accompanying the Q&A match other materials that have been sent by the Campbell campaign.

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A Deadly Year for Journalists

As freedom is on the decline across the world, journalists are also in grave danger. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2009 Attacks on the Press Report, released today, saw the death toll for journalists reach a record high.

The November 23 murder of 31 journalists in the Philippines helped drive up that number of deaths. The so-called Maguindanao Massacre was a gruesome example of the deadly impunity that arises in a country where the press is not adequately protected. (This photo gallery of the incident is not even the most graphic of those available online.) Furthermore, across the world, freelancers and bloggers were hit hard, lacking big-media support. Iran and China jailed the most journalists.

All this comes as little surprise, especially in light of the 2010 Freedom House report, released in January, which announced the longest uninterrupted decline in political rights and civil liberties ever seen in the report’s near 40-year existence.

But as freedom wanes, the role of these journalists is more important than ever.

Last year, the White House issued a decent statement on May 1, World Press Freedom Day. But landmark incidents like the Maguindanao Massacre did not elicit any comment at all to be found on the White House website.

But as the Committee to Protect Journalists points out, a “name and shame” strategy has worked in the past. “The guiding premise is that even the most brutal leaders in the world want to hide — or at least justify — their repressive actions,” writes executive director Joel Simon.

The year 2010 has already seen major threats to freedom across the world. The safety of journalists is one human-rights issue that Obama can support while also winning high public approval. Now it’s his turn to speak out.

As freedom is on the decline across the world, journalists are also in grave danger. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2009 Attacks on the Press Report, released today, saw the death toll for journalists reach a record high.

The November 23 murder of 31 journalists in the Philippines helped drive up that number of deaths. The so-called Maguindanao Massacre was a gruesome example of the deadly impunity that arises in a country where the press is not adequately protected. (This photo gallery of the incident is not even the most graphic of those available online.) Furthermore, across the world, freelancers and bloggers were hit hard, lacking big-media support. Iran and China jailed the most journalists.

All this comes as little surprise, especially in light of the 2010 Freedom House report, released in January, which announced the longest uninterrupted decline in political rights and civil liberties ever seen in the report’s near 40-year existence.

But as freedom wanes, the role of these journalists is more important than ever.

Last year, the White House issued a decent statement on May 1, World Press Freedom Day. But landmark incidents like the Maguindanao Massacre did not elicit any comment at all to be found on the White House website.

But as the Committee to Protect Journalists points out, a “name and shame” strategy has worked in the past. “The guiding premise is that even the most brutal leaders in the world want to hide — or at least justify — their repressive actions,” writes executive director Joel Simon.

The year 2010 has already seen major threats to freedom across the world. The safety of journalists is one human-rights issue that Obama can support while also winning high public approval. Now it’s his turn to speak out.

Read Less

Yemen — the New “Good War”?

Yemen’s importance as a terrorist base appears to be growing. It is the place where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the Nigerian airline bomber) was radicalized and where Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s spiritual guide, Anwar al-‘Awlaki, lives. This chilling warning reads entirely plausible: “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253, told FBI agents there were more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.”

No doubt this will cause the usual chorus to chant that Afghanistan is the “wrong war” (remember when Iraq was the “wrong war” and Afghanistan was the “right one”?) and that we should really be focused on Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia–all those countries where we don’t currently have ground troops. This critique has a certain plausibility but it is not clear what its implications are. Those who make these arguments are not advocating that we invade Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia. So what, precisely, do they want us to do? Pretty much what we’re already doing: providing aid to the governments in question in fighting the jihadists while also conducting a few covert strikes of our own.

The question is whether drawing down in Afghanistan would make it easier or harder to prosecute the war on terrorism on other fronts. On the plus side, there is no denying that certain ISR assets (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) are tied up in Afghanistan (and Iraq) that could be useful elsewhere–although there are sharp limitations to how much intelligence gathering we can do over the sovereign territory of other states. But this marginal advantage is more than counterbalanced by the larger consequences of defeat in Afghanistan, which would have devastating implications not only for the poor people of Afghanistan but also for the wide struggle against violent extremism.

Having (in their own minds at least) already defeated one superpower in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his confederates would be immeasurably boosted if they were able to claim that they had then defeated the sole remaining superpower too. Such a victory for the jihadists would undoubtedly help recruiting all over the world and make states like Pakistan and Yemen even less likely to cooperate with the United States because they would be in mortal fear of al Qaeda and other radical jihadists. A defeat for the Taliban in Afghanistan would by no means make the wider terrorist threat disappear but it would certainly decrease its magnitude. Assuming that the Karzai government can stabilize its control over Afghanistan, this will deny the terrorists a huge staging ground for attacks elsewhere. In the process of defeating the terrorists, we will also wind up killing or incarcerating a lot of them. It’s true that terrorists are replaceable, but still it will be a setback for them to lose so many hardened operatives–and not only in Afghanistan. One of the key advantages gained by our presence in Afghanistan is that it makes it easier to target terrorist lairs in Pakistan. If we scuttle out of Afghanistan, it is doubtful that the government of Pakistan will extend the same kind of anti-terrorist cooperation we receive today.

We cannot ignore the terrorist threat emanating from Yemen or other states but nor should we use this undoubted danger as an excuse to lose the war of the moment–the one NATO troops are fighting in Afghanistan. Winning the “war on terror” will require prevailing on multiple battlefields–Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, and a host of other countries, including, for that matter, Western Europe and the United States. The methods and techniques we will use in each place have to be tailored to the individual circumstances. Few countries will require the kind of massive troop presence needed in Afghanistan or Iraq. In most places we will fight on a lesser scale, using Special Forces and security assistance programs. But because a lower-profile presence may work elsewhere doesn’t mean that it will work in Afghanistan–or would have worked in Iraq. We know this because the Bush administration already tried the small-footprint strategy in Afghanistan. It is this strategy that allowed the Taliban to recover so much ground lost after 9/11–territory that can only be retaken by an influx of additional Western troops. There is no reason why we can’t fight and prevail in Afghanistan even as we are fighting in different ways in different countries.

Yemen’s importance as a terrorist base appears to be growing. It is the place where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the Nigerian airline bomber) was radicalized and where Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s spiritual guide, Anwar al-‘Awlaki, lives. This chilling warning reads entirely plausible: “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253, told FBI agents there were more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.”

No doubt this will cause the usual chorus to chant that Afghanistan is the “wrong war” (remember when Iraq was the “wrong war” and Afghanistan was the “right one”?) and that we should really be focused on Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia–all those countries where we don’t currently have ground troops. This critique has a certain plausibility but it is not clear what its implications are. Those who make these arguments are not advocating that we invade Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia. So what, precisely, do they want us to do? Pretty much what we’re already doing: providing aid to the governments in question in fighting the jihadists while also conducting a few covert strikes of our own.

The question is whether drawing down in Afghanistan would make it easier or harder to prosecute the war on terrorism on other fronts. On the plus side, there is no denying that certain ISR assets (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) are tied up in Afghanistan (and Iraq) that could be useful elsewhere–although there are sharp limitations to how much intelligence gathering we can do over the sovereign territory of other states. But this marginal advantage is more than counterbalanced by the larger consequences of defeat in Afghanistan, which would have devastating implications not only for the poor people of Afghanistan but also for the wide struggle against violent extremism.

Having (in their own minds at least) already defeated one superpower in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his confederates would be immeasurably boosted if they were able to claim that they had then defeated the sole remaining superpower too. Such a victory for the jihadists would undoubtedly help recruiting all over the world and make states like Pakistan and Yemen even less likely to cooperate with the United States because they would be in mortal fear of al Qaeda and other radical jihadists. A defeat for the Taliban in Afghanistan would by no means make the wider terrorist threat disappear but it would certainly decrease its magnitude. Assuming that the Karzai government can stabilize its control over Afghanistan, this will deny the terrorists a huge staging ground for attacks elsewhere. In the process of defeating the terrorists, we will also wind up killing or incarcerating a lot of them. It’s true that terrorists are replaceable, but still it will be a setback for them to lose so many hardened operatives–and not only in Afghanistan. One of the key advantages gained by our presence in Afghanistan is that it makes it easier to target terrorist lairs in Pakistan. If we scuttle out of Afghanistan, it is doubtful that the government of Pakistan will extend the same kind of anti-terrorist cooperation we receive today.

We cannot ignore the terrorist threat emanating from Yemen or other states but nor should we use this undoubted danger as an excuse to lose the war of the moment–the one NATO troops are fighting in Afghanistan. Winning the “war on terror” will require prevailing on multiple battlefields–Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, and a host of other countries, including, for that matter, Western Europe and the United States. The methods and techniques we will use in each place have to be tailored to the individual circumstances. Few countries will require the kind of massive troop presence needed in Afghanistan or Iraq. In most places we will fight on a lesser scale, using Special Forces and security assistance programs. But because a lower-profile presence may work elsewhere doesn’t mean that it will work in Afghanistan–or would have worked in Iraq. We know this because the Bush administration already tried the small-footprint strategy in Afghanistan. It is this strategy that allowed the Taliban to recover so much ground lost after 9/11–territory that can only be retaken by an influx of additional Western troops. There is no reason why we can’t fight and prevail in Afghanistan even as we are fighting in different ways in different countries.

Read Less

Needed: Wartime Commander in Chief

If nothing else, the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should remind us that the “war on terror” (oh, that now banished phrase!) was not dreamed up by some neocon conspiracy bent on curtailing Americans’ civil liberties and on colonizing poor defenseless countries. It is nothing but a simple, accurate description of the threat we face from Islamist extremists bent on mass murder to advance their deranged worldview.

It is not only luck that has kept us (relatively) safe since 9/11, aside from a few random nuts like the Beltway sniper (John Allen Muhammad) and the Fort Hood shooter (Major Malik Nadal Hasan). There has been no lack of larger plots against American targets here and abroad. A few, such as the attempted bombings by Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, have been foiled by a combination of bad planning on the part of the terrorists and active resistance by airline passengers. Many more plots, such as the attempt to blow up airliners flying across the Atlantic by using liquid explosives, have been defeated by active intelligence and law enforcement work. A vital contribution to that work has been made by the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 changes, which have made it easier to wiretap suspects, share intelligence, and (don’t forget) aggressively interrogate captured terrorists and keep them in custody even if they cannot be convicted beyond a shadow of a doubt in a civil court.

Unfortunately all too many people have drawn the wrong lesson from these post-9/11 successes, concluding that we are so safe that we can go back to the pre-9/11 status quo, back when we treated terrorism as a law-enforcement problem and nothing more. This has become the conventional wisdom of the mainstream, left-wing of the Democratic Party and a tiny, right-wing fringe of the Republican Party (Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan), which see the U.S. government as the biggest threat we face—not al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers.

It would be unfair to say that President Obama has bought into this worldview. To his credit, he has continued an active program of using drones and Special Forces to assassinate terrorist kingpins from Pakistan to Somalia; has ramped up our military efforts in Afghanistan; and has continued an active program of intelligence and military cooperation designed to allow states such as Yemen and the Philippines to fight their own wars on terror. Moreover, he has signed off on wider wiretapping and intelligence-gathering authority than the ACLU is comfortable with. But there are certainly some worrisome trends evident from this administration, which insists on trying Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court, which has banned the use of all stress techniques in interrogation, and which continues releasing detainees from Guantanamo, many of whom go right back to the sorts of activities that got them interred in the first place. And let us not forget the president’s unwillingness to get tough with Iran, whose nuclear-weapons program could before long radically increase the chances of our allies’ suffering a nuclear terrorist attack.

Obama has actually been a little tougher on terrorism (and Iraq and Afghanistan) than his record as an ultra-liberal senator would have led us to expect; certainly a lot tougher than Michael Moore or his ilk would like him to be. But not perhaps as tough as the situation demands. If there is any good that comes out of the attempted bombing of the Detroit flight, or the Iranians’ rejections of his naive overtures, it is that he may finally shed some of his remaining illusions about the world and start acting more as a wartime commander in chief should.

If nothing else, the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should remind us that the “war on terror” (oh, that now banished phrase!) was not dreamed up by some neocon conspiracy bent on curtailing Americans’ civil liberties and on colonizing poor defenseless countries. It is nothing but a simple, accurate description of the threat we face from Islamist extremists bent on mass murder to advance their deranged worldview.

It is not only luck that has kept us (relatively) safe since 9/11, aside from a few random nuts like the Beltway sniper (John Allen Muhammad) and the Fort Hood shooter (Major Malik Nadal Hasan). There has been no lack of larger plots against American targets here and abroad. A few, such as the attempted bombings by Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, have been foiled by a combination of bad planning on the part of the terrorists and active resistance by airline passengers. Many more plots, such as the attempt to blow up airliners flying across the Atlantic by using liquid explosives, have been defeated by active intelligence and law enforcement work. A vital contribution to that work has been made by the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 changes, which have made it easier to wiretap suspects, share intelligence, and (don’t forget) aggressively interrogate captured terrorists and keep them in custody even if they cannot be convicted beyond a shadow of a doubt in a civil court.

Unfortunately all too many people have drawn the wrong lesson from these post-9/11 successes, concluding that we are so safe that we can go back to the pre-9/11 status quo, back when we treated terrorism as a law-enforcement problem and nothing more. This has become the conventional wisdom of the mainstream, left-wing of the Democratic Party and a tiny, right-wing fringe of the Republican Party (Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan), which see the U.S. government as the biggest threat we face—not al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers.

It would be unfair to say that President Obama has bought into this worldview. To his credit, he has continued an active program of using drones and Special Forces to assassinate terrorist kingpins from Pakistan to Somalia; has ramped up our military efforts in Afghanistan; and has continued an active program of intelligence and military cooperation designed to allow states such as Yemen and the Philippines to fight their own wars on terror. Moreover, he has signed off on wider wiretapping and intelligence-gathering authority than the ACLU is comfortable with. But there are certainly some worrisome trends evident from this administration, which insists on trying Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court, which has banned the use of all stress techniques in interrogation, and which continues releasing detainees from Guantanamo, many of whom go right back to the sorts of activities that got them interred in the first place. And let us not forget the president’s unwillingness to get tough with Iran, whose nuclear-weapons program could before long radically increase the chances of our allies’ suffering a nuclear terrorist attack.

Obama has actually been a little tougher on terrorism (and Iraq and Afghanistan) than his record as an ultra-liberal senator would have led us to expect; certainly a lot tougher than Michael Moore or his ilk would like him to be. But not perhaps as tough as the situation demands. If there is any good that comes out of the attempted bombing of the Detroit flight, or the Iranians’ rejections of his naive overtures, it is that he may finally shed some of his remaining illusions about the world and start acting more as a wartime commander in chief should.

Read Less




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