Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Philippines

Atran’s Silly Thesis

Anthropologist Scott Atran shows that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Having studied the battle against Islamist extremists in Indonesia, he argues in the New York Times that we should be using similar methods in Afghanistan — namely leaving the battle to local authorities who have a better understanding of local tribal dynamics than we do. I too have visited countries where the locals are doing very well in fighting against guerrillas and terrorists with much less assistance than we have poured into Afghanistan and Iraq; see my reports from the Philippines here and from Colombia here.

But while admiring the efforts of the Filipinos and Colombians — just as I respect the efforts of the Indonesians and others — I am acutely conscious that their example cannot be replicated in Afghanistan, a country whose government disintegrated when our forces entered in 2001. It takes a long time to build up a functioning state, and in the meantime, we have to send our own forces to provide security. A failure to do enough in that regard results in dangerous gains for the enemy, as we saw in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 and in Afghanistan from 2005 to today.

Atran doesn’t seem to realize this. Instead he comforts himself with foolish fairytales about how supposedly benign the Taliban would be if only we left them alone. He adopts the “accidental guerrilla” thesis propounded by Dave Kilcullen, which holds that it is American military action that is driving the Pashtuns into the Taliban’s hands. This flagrantly ignores the historical record which shows that the Taliban were far more powerful back in the 1990s when there was not a single American soldier on the ground in Afghanistan. In those days, too, the Taliban cemented a close alliance with al-Qaeda, which they have never renounced even though it would have been to their advantage to do so. This suggests rather strongly that if we followed Atran’s advice and left Afghanistan to its own devices, it would soon be taken over by jihadists bent on attacking not only Pakistan but also Europe and the United States.

To argue otherwise, Atran engages in ridiculous speculation. He writes:

After 9/11, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, assembled a council of clerics to judge his claim that Mr. bin Laden was the country’s guest and could not be surrendered. The clerics countered that because a guest should not cause his host problems, Mr. bin Laden should leave. But instead of keeping pressure on the Taliban to resolve the issue in ways they could live with, the United States ridiculed their deliberation and bombed them into a closer alliance with Al Qaeda. Pakistani Pashtuns then offered to help out their Afghan brethren.

In other words, he believes that our initial decision to intervene militarily in Afghanistan after 9/11 was a major mistake. He thinks we should have relied on the Taliban’s good graces to kick out al-Qaeda, ignoring the fact that we offered them an opportunity to do just that and they passed on it. Atran’s argument is not a serious analysis; it is wishful thinking. To President Obama’s credit, he considered such views during the course of his Afghan policy review—and rejected them.

Anthropologist Scott Atran shows that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Having studied the battle against Islamist extremists in Indonesia, he argues in the New York Times that we should be using similar methods in Afghanistan — namely leaving the battle to local authorities who have a better understanding of local tribal dynamics than we do. I too have visited countries where the locals are doing very well in fighting against guerrillas and terrorists with much less assistance than we have poured into Afghanistan and Iraq; see my reports from the Philippines here and from Colombia here.

But while admiring the efforts of the Filipinos and Colombians — just as I respect the efforts of the Indonesians and others — I am acutely conscious that their example cannot be replicated in Afghanistan, a country whose government disintegrated when our forces entered in 2001. It takes a long time to build up a functioning state, and in the meantime, we have to send our own forces to provide security. A failure to do enough in that regard results in dangerous gains for the enemy, as we saw in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 and in Afghanistan from 2005 to today.

Atran doesn’t seem to realize this. Instead he comforts himself with foolish fairytales about how supposedly benign the Taliban would be if only we left them alone. He adopts the “accidental guerrilla” thesis propounded by Dave Kilcullen, which holds that it is American military action that is driving the Pashtuns into the Taliban’s hands. This flagrantly ignores the historical record which shows that the Taliban were far more powerful back in the 1990s when there was not a single American soldier on the ground in Afghanistan. In those days, too, the Taliban cemented a close alliance with al-Qaeda, which they have never renounced even though it would have been to their advantage to do so. This suggests rather strongly that if we followed Atran’s advice and left Afghanistan to its own devices, it would soon be taken over by jihadists bent on attacking not only Pakistan but also Europe and the United States.

To argue otherwise, Atran engages in ridiculous speculation. He writes:

After 9/11, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, assembled a council of clerics to judge his claim that Mr. bin Laden was the country’s guest and could not be surrendered. The clerics countered that because a guest should not cause his host problems, Mr. bin Laden should leave. But instead of keeping pressure on the Taliban to resolve the issue in ways they could live with, the United States ridiculed their deliberation and bombed them into a closer alliance with Al Qaeda. Pakistani Pashtuns then offered to help out their Afghan brethren.

In other words, he believes that our initial decision to intervene militarily in Afghanistan after 9/11 was a major mistake. He thinks we should have relied on the Taliban’s good graces to kick out al-Qaeda, ignoring the fact that we offered them an opportunity to do just that and they passed on it. Atran’s argument is not a serious analysis; it is wishful thinking. To President Obama’s credit, he considered such views during the course of his Afghan policy review—and rejected them.

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RE: Blame America First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The View from the Continent

Last week I was in London attending a Global Leadership Forum, sponsored by the Royal United Services Institute, the Princeton Project on National Security, Newsweek International, and Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP. The attendees–from both the United States and Europe–included academics, scholars, journalists, diplomatic advisers and others who inhabit the foreign policy world. The event was well-organized, the conversations wide-ranging, and there was a genuine effort to hear from a diversity of voices (hence my invitation). But there is no question that the dominant outlook of most of those in attendance was left-leaning, which itself made the trip illuminating.

I came away from the gathering (portions of which I missed) with several broad impressions. One was that multilateralism has become virtually an end in itself. What matters to many Europeans and liberal-leaning Americans is the process rather than the results. What almost never gets discussed is what happens when one’s desire for multilateralism collides with achieving a worthy end (for example, trying to stop genocide in Darfur or prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb). The child-like faith in multilateralism as the solution to all that ails the world would be touchingly innocent if it weren’t so terribly dangerous.

There were the predictable assertions made about how the United States, under George W. Bush, was “unilateralist” and that, in the words of one former Clinton Administration official, “multilateralism was a dirty word” in the Bush Administration. This charge is simplistic and demonstrably untrue–and one could cite as evidence everything from the lead up to the Iraq war (in which the United States went to the UN not once but twice, and gained unanimous approval of Resolution 1441); the war itself (which included support from the governments of Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Norway, El Salvador and many other nations); the E3; the Quartet; the Six Party Talks; the Proliferation Security Initiative; a slew of free trade agreements; and more. In fact the Bush Administration was criticized by Democrats for being too multilateralist in their dealings with North Korea; it was said by John Kerry, among other liberals, that we should engage in bilateral talks with North Korea rather than rely on the Six Party Talks.

Another impression I had was that many (if not most) Europeans and American foreign policy experts are caught in a time warp, acting as if we are still in 2006. They simply want to wash their hands of Iraq. They hate the war, are seemingly impervious to the security and political progress we have seen in Iraq since last summer, and they want the next Administration to downplay Iraq as an issue, which they believe has “obsessed” the Bush presidency. What they don’t seem to understand is that ending U.S. involvement in the war won’t end the war. In fact, if Obama or Clinton follow up on their stated commitments, it is likely to trigger mass death and possibly genocide, revitalize al Qaeda, strengthen Iran, and further destabilize the region. The irony would be that the plans laid out by Democrats, if followed, would increase, not decrease, Iraq’s dominance of American foreign policy. An Iraq that is cracking up and caught in a death spiral is not something that even a President Obama or Clinton could ignore.

The third impression I came away with is the widespread view in Europe, as well as among some Americans, that the U.S. has suffered a huge, almost incalculable, loss of “moral authority” (its worth recalling that we heard much the same thing during the Reagan years). The evidence cited is always the same: Guantanamo Bay, rendition and secret prisons, and waterboarding. They are invoked like an incantation. The effect of this is that you would think that the United States is among the leading violators of human rights in the world.

During one of the panel sessions I said it was fine to place on one side of the moral ledger waterboarding three leading al Qaeda figures, which I consider to be a morally complicated issue–but that it’s also worth putting on the other side of the moral ledger the fact that we liberated more than 50 million people from two of the most odious and repressive regimes in modern history. Liberation was not the only impulse that drove the two wars, but it was one of them, and a noble one at that. I borrowed a line from Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic who, while a harsh critic of the execution of the Bush Administration, has written “I find it impossible to denounce a war that led to the removal of a genocidal dictator.” That is especially true now that we have the right strategy in place, that we’re seeing progress on almost every front, and that we have a decent shot at a decent outcome in Iraq. The situation is still hugely challenging and success, if we achieve it, will be long in coming. But the collapse of will that I witnessed among some leading foreign policy voices on both sides of the Atlantic, while not surprising, was still discouraging. It is no wonder that world leaders who do not share that exhaustion are the objects of condemnation.

Last week I was in London attending a Global Leadership Forum, sponsored by the Royal United Services Institute, the Princeton Project on National Security, Newsweek International, and Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP. The attendees–from both the United States and Europe–included academics, scholars, journalists, diplomatic advisers and others who inhabit the foreign policy world. The event was well-organized, the conversations wide-ranging, and there was a genuine effort to hear from a diversity of voices (hence my invitation). But there is no question that the dominant outlook of most of those in attendance was left-leaning, which itself made the trip illuminating.

I came away from the gathering (portions of which I missed) with several broad impressions. One was that multilateralism has become virtually an end in itself. What matters to many Europeans and liberal-leaning Americans is the process rather than the results. What almost never gets discussed is what happens when one’s desire for multilateralism collides with achieving a worthy end (for example, trying to stop genocide in Darfur or prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb). The child-like faith in multilateralism as the solution to all that ails the world would be touchingly innocent if it weren’t so terribly dangerous.

There were the predictable assertions made about how the United States, under George W. Bush, was “unilateralist” and that, in the words of one former Clinton Administration official, “multilateralism was a dirty word” in the Bush Administration. This charge is simplistic and demonstrably untrue–and one could cite as evidence everything from the lead up to the Iraq war (in which the United States went to the UN not once but twice, and gained unanimous approval of Resolution 1441); the war itself (which included support from the governments of Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Norway, El Salvador and many other nations); the E3; the Quartet; the Six Party Talks; the Proliferation Security Initiative; a slew of free trade agreements; and more. In fact the Bush Administration was criticized by Democrats for being too multilateralist in their dealings with North Korea; it was said by John Kerry, among other liberals, that we should engage in bilateral talks with North Korea rather than rely on the Six Party Talks.

Another impression I had was that many (if not most) Europeans and American foreign policy experts are caught in a time warp, acting as if we are still in 2006. They simply want to wash their hands of Iraq. They hate the war, are seemingly impervious to the security and political progress we have seen in Iraq since last summer, and they want the next Administration to downplay Iraq as an issue, which they believe has “obsessed” the Bush presidency. What they don’t seem to understand is that ending U.S. involvement in the war won’t end the war. In fact, if Obama or Clinton follow up on their stated commitments, it is likely to trigger mass death and possibly genocide, revitalize al Qaeda, strengthen Iran, and further destabilize the region. The irony would be that the plans laid out by Democrats, if followed, would increase, not decrease, Iraq’s dominance of American foreign policy. An Iraq that is cracking up and caught in a death spiral is not something that even a President Obama or Clinton could ignore.

The third impression I came away with is the widespread view in Europe, as well as among some Americans, that the U.S. has suffered a huge, almost incalculable, loss of “moral authority” (its worth recalling that we heard much the same thing during the Reagan years). The evidence cited is always the same: Guantanamo Bay, rendition and secret prisons, and waterboarding. They are invoked like an incantation. The effect of this is that you would think that the United States is among the leading violators of human rights in the world.

During one of the panel sessions I said it was fine to place on one side of the moral ledger waterboarding three leading al Qaeda figures, which I consider to be a morally complicated issue–but that it’s also worth putting on the other side of the moral ledger the fact that we liberated more than 50 million people from two of the most odious and repressive regimes in modern history. Liberation was not the only impulse that drove the two wars, but it was one of them, and a noble one at that. I borrowed a line from Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic who, while a harsh critic of the execution of the Bush Administration, has written “I find it impossible to denounce a war that led to the removal of a genocidal dictator.” That is especially true now that we have the right strategy in place, that we’re seeing progress on almost every front, and that we have a decent shot at a decent outcome in Iraq. The situation is still hugely challenging and success, if we achieve it, will be long in coming. But the collapse of will that I witnessed among some leading foreign policy voices on both sides of the Atlantic, while not surprising, was still discouraging. It is no wonder that world leaders who do not share that exhaustion are the objects of condemnation.

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Another “Global Crisis”

Today, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the recent increase in food prices has become a “real global crisis.” His comments come after weeks of food riots in Haiti, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Ethiopia. The Thai and Pakistani governments have had to call out troops to protect crops. Cambodia and Kazakhstan are banning grain exports. Stores in the United States are limiting purchases of rice. North Korea faces famine. Is this a job for the UN?

Perhaps not. On Sunday, Jean Ziegler, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, accused the West of causing starvation in poor countries through, among other things, the promotion of biofuels and the maintenance of farm subsidies. “This is silent mass murder,” he said. Multinationals, for their part, are responsible for “structural violence.”

Ziegler also attacked commodity markets. “And we have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror,” he noted. “We have to put a stop to this.”

What we have to put a stop to is the UN promotion of world government and socialism. The solution to rising global food prices–they have increased 83 percent in the last three years according to the World Bank–is not more UN food aid, which has undermined agriculture in fragile states. The answer is allowing markets to work. Increasing food costs, after all, will encourage further farm production.

And let me add this: there is no right to food. There is, however, a right to live in a free society where people have the ability to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, the UN has yet to appoint a special rapporteur for common sense.

Today, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the recent increase in food prices has become a “real global crisis.” His comments come after weeks of food riots in Haiti, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Ethiopia. The Thai and Pakistani governments have had to call out troops to protect crops. Cambodia and Kazakhstan are banning grain exports. Stores in the United States are limiting purchases of rice. North Korea faces famine. Is this a job for the UN?

Perhaps not. On Sunday, Jean Ziegler, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, accused the West of causing starvation in poor countries through, among other things, the promotion of biofuels and the maintenance of farm subsidies. “This is silent mass murder,” he said. Multinationals, for their part, are responsible for “structural violence.”

Ziegler also attacked commodity markets. “And we have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror,” he noted. “We have to put a stop to this.”

What we have to put a stop to is the UN promotion of world government and socialism. The solution to rising global food prices–they have increased 83 percent in the last three years according to the World Bank–is not more UN food aid, which has undermined agriculture in fragile states. The answer is allowing markets to work. Increasing food costs, after all, will encourage further farm production.

And let me add this: there is no right to food. There is, however, a right to live in a free society where people have the ability to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, the UN has yet to appoint a special rapporteur for common sense.

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Putin’s Real Record

Surprise, surprise. In an “election” with all the suspense of the Harlem Globetrotters beating the Washington Generals, Russian voters dutifully handed their presidency to Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, who promised to keep Czar Vladimir around as his prime minister.

There is little doubt that Putin and Medvedev are genuinely popular, if only because their critics have been denied access to the news media, parliament, and any other possible source of opposition. But does Putin have a real record of achievement to run on? He tells Russian voters all the time that he restored the country’s greatness and prosperity after the terrible times of the 1990s. But an article in the last issue of Foreign Affairs, “The Myth of the Authoritarian Model” by Michael McFaul and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss of Stanford University, shreds those claims.

The authors concede that Russia’s economy has done well in recent years:

As Putin has consolidated his authority, growth has averaged 6.7 percent — especially impressive against the backdrop of the depression in the early 1990s…. Since 2000, real disposable income has increased by more than 10 percent a year, consumer spending has skyrocketed, unemployment has fallen from 12 percent in 1999 to 6 percent in 2006, and poverty, according to one measure, has declined from 41 percent in 1999 to 14 percent in 2006. Russians are richer today than ever before.

But, they argue, most of this growth is not due to Putin’s policies. Instead it can be traced to the natural recovery from the traumas of communism combined with high oil prices. In fact, notwithstanding Russia’s mineral riches, it has not fared any better than most of its neighbors: “Between 1999 and 2006, Russia ranked ninth out of the 15 post-Soviet countries in terms of average growth. Similarly, investment in Russia, at 18 percent of GDP, although stronger today than ever before, is well below the average for democracies in the region.”

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Surprise, surprise. In an “election” with all the suspense of the Harlem Globetrotters beating the Washington Generals, Russian voters dutifully handed their presidency to Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, who promised to keep Czar Vladimir around as his prime minister.

There is little doubt that Putin and Medvedev are genuinely popular, if only because their critics have been denied access to the news media, parliament, and any other possible source of opposition. But does Putin have a real record of achievement to run on? He tells Russian voters all the time that he restored the country’s greatness and prosperity after the terrible times of the 1990s. But an article in the last issue of Foreign Affairs, “The Myth of the Authoritarian Model” by Michael McFaul and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss of Stanford University, shreds those claims.

The authors concede that Russia’s economy has done well in recent years:

As Putin has consolidated his authority, growth has averaged 6.7 percent — especially impressive against the backdrop of the depression in the early 1990s…. Since 2000, real disposable income has increased by more than 10 percent a year, consumer spending has skyrocketed, unemployment has fallen from 12 percent in 1999 to 6 percent in 2006, and poverty, according to one measure, has declined from 41 percent in 1999 to 14 percent in 2006. Russians are richer today than ever before.

But, they argue, most of this growth is not due to Putin’s policies. Instead it can be traced to the natural recovery from the traumas of communism combined with high oil prices. In fact, notwithstanding Russia’s mineral riches, it has not fared any better than most of its neighbors: “Between 1999 and 2006, Russia ranked ninth out of the 15 post-Soviet countries in terms of average growth. Similarly, investment in Russia, at 18 percent of GDP, although stronger today than ever before, is well below the average for democracies in the region.”

Meanwhile, on a host of other measures relating to “public safety, health” and a “secure legal and property-owning environment,” Putin’s autocracy is doing no better, and in many cases worse, than the more democratic Yeltsin regime which preceded it.

McFaul and Stoner-Weiss cite a host of eye-opening statistics to make their point:

• “In the “anarchic” years of 1995-99, the average annual number of murders was 30,200; in the “orderly” years of 2000-2004, the number was 32,200.”

• “The frequency of terrorist attacks in Russia has increased under Putin. The two biggest terrorist attacks in Russia’s history — the Nord-Ost incident at a theater in Moscow in 2002, in which an estimated 300 Russians died, and the Beslan school hostage crisis, in which as many as 500 died — occurred under Putin’s autocracy, not Yeltsin’s democracy.”

• “The death rate from fires is around 40 a day in Russia, roughly ten times the average rate in western Europe.”

• “At the end of the 1990s, annual alcohol consumption per adult was 10.7 liters (compared with 8.6 liters in the United States and 9.7 in the United Kingdom); in 2004, this figure had increased to 14.5 liters. An estimated 0.9 percent of the Russian population is now infected with HIV, and rates of infection in Russia are now the highest of any country outside Africa.”

• “Life expectancy in Russia rose between 1995 and 1998. Since 1999, however, it has declined to 59 years for Russian men and 72 for Russian women.”

• “In 2006, Transparency International ranked Russia at an all-time worst of 121st out of 163 countries on corruption, putting it between the Philippines and Rwanda.

• “Russia ranked 62nd out of 125 on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index in 2006, representing a fall of nine places in a year.”

• “On the World Bank’s 2006 “ease of doing business” index, Russia ranked 96th out of 175, also an all-time worst.”

If he had not eliminated the independence of the press and made it virtually impossible for the opposition to field candidates, Putin might have been made to pay a price for some of these problems at the ballot box.

It will be interesting to see what fate will befall the Kremlin clique if oil prices fall in a big way. By then, of course, their power might be so secure that it won’t make any difference, but a collapse in oil prices would make clear for all to see what McFaul and Stoner-Weiss argue so persuasively: that autocracy in Russia isn’t really a success story.

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Singapore Plays with Fire

Scarcely had I sent off my posting about the risks Singapore runs with its Islamic and Malay neighbors by hosting guest workers from the People’s Republic of China than I spotted an even more worrying report.

A headline in my Chinese language morning paper, the World Journal, announced “Singapore and China Conclude Military Cooperation Agreement,” adding “Neighboring States View with Concern.” Singapore’s neighbors, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, all have maritime territorial disputes with China, mostly concerning islands in the South China Sea. Last November China took another step toward claiming that entire body of water when she created a government administration for three island groups–the Sansha–none of which she legally controls. China’s latest plan to build three aircraft carriers and more nuclear attack submarines would fit well with the ambition to annex this territory. Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Hanoi, among others will be asking: Does Singapore now plan to host those ships?

Singapore’s leaders have a track record of botched attempts to cultivate economic and political relations with China while ignoring neighbors. On the economic side, an ambitious Singapore Industrial Park was inaugurated in Suzhou in 1994. The huge investment lost almost a hundred million dollars and the Singaporeans sold out at a loss. State-owned Raffle’s Holding bought Brown’s Hotel in London in 1997, truly a gilt-edged stock, only to sell in 2003, reportedly in order to acquire shopping centers in China. On January 8 of this year China’s government humiliatingly slapped down a bid by Singapore Airlines to take a stake in China Eastern Airlines.

Worse, politically, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien-loong, regularly echoes China’s assertions that her massive military buildup threatens no one, while failing to address the genuine danger. Last June, for example, speaking to a regional conference, Lee observed “that Washington and Tokyo are worried about China’s military build-up . . .But most Asian countries see China’s actions not as a threat to regional security, but as a specific response to the cross-straits situation”–a doubtful assessment to say the least.

Singapore’s tilt toward China is not going unnoticed, either in the island itself, or in the region (though it gets next to no coverage in the American press). It has already cost the island state financially. If it continues, it will undermine security and regional trust as well.

Scarcely had I sent off my posting about the risks Singapore runs with its Islamic and Malay neighbors by hosting guest workers from the People’s Republic of China than I spotted an even more worrying report.

A headline in my Chinese language morning paper, the World Journal, announced “Singapore and China Conclude Military Cooperation Agreement,” adding “Neighboring States View with Concern.” Singapore’s neighbors, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, all have maritime territorial disputes with China, mostly concerning islands in the South China Sea. Last November China took another step toward claiming that entire body of water when she created a government administration for three island groups–the Sansha–none of which she legally controls. China’s latest plan to build three aircraft carriers and more nuclear attack submarines would fit well with the ambition to annex this territory. Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Hanoi, among others will be asking: Does Singapore now plan to host those ships?

Singapore’s leaders have a track record of botched attempts to cultivate economic and political relations with China while ignoring neighbors. On the economic side, an ambitious Singapore Industrial Park was inaugurated in Suzhou in 1994. The huge investment lost almost a hundred million dollars and the Singaporeans sold out at a loss. State-owned Raffle’s Holding bought Brown’s Hotel in London in 1997, truly a gilt-edged stock, only to sell in 2003, reportedly in order to acquire shopping centers in China. On January 8 of this year China’s government humiliatingly slapped down a bid by Singapore Airlines to take a stake in China Eastern Airlines.

Worse, politically, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien-loong, regularly echoes China’s assertions that her massive military buildup threatens no one, while failing to address the genuine danger. Last June, for example, speaking to a regional conference, Lee observed “that Washington and Tokyo are worried about China’s military build-up . . .But most Asian countries see China’s actions not as a threat to regional security, but as a specific response to the cross-straits situation”–a doubtful assessment to say the least.

Singapore’s tilt toward China is not going unnoticed, either in the island itself, or in the region (though it gets next to no coverage in the American press). It has already cost the island state financially. If it continues, it will undermine security and regional trust as well.

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The $40 Billion Autocrat?

How much is Vladimir Putin worth? Perhaps as much as $40 billion, according to recent reports. Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, writes in the Washington Post that the Russian president has allegedly amassed great wealth in the “velvet reprivatization” of his nation’s larger companies.

The Kremlin has essentially renationalized large industry, which has ended up in the hands of Putin’s close associates—and perhaps those of the President himself. “Putin is also a big businessman,” said Stanislav Belkovsky, a political observer with ties to the Moscow leadership. Belkovsky alleges that Putin owns a $20 billion stake in Surgutneftegaz, Russia’s fourth largest oil producer; 4.5 percent of the country’s natural gas monopoly, Gazprom; and half of oil-seller Gunvor, which had $8 billion in profits in 2006.

Do we care that Vlad may have become a one-man energy empire? For starters, if you are a Russian citizen, he has essentially stolen from you (if the allegations are true). Yet the rest of us are also affected by grand thievery on this scale. Putin knows that, like Marcos of the Philippines or Mobutu of Zaire, ill-gotten wealth can be taken from him once he no longer exercises power. So he will, in all likelihood, continue in the Kremlin, and this means Russia will maintain its increasingly hostile policies toward the West.

Last month Belkovsky argued that the Russian President would cede power and accept some minor role that will protect him from critics both at home and abroad. Now, however, we are seeing indications that Putin intends to stay at the pinnacle of power. On Monday, for instance, the autocrat announced his support for Dmitry Medvedev, a loyalist with no independent political base, to succeed him as President. On Tuesday, Medvedev suggested that Putin serve as prime minister in his administration. Moreover, the proposed union of Russia and Belarus, if consummated, could end up causing a change in the Russian constitution, and such change could create a position for Vladimir the Rich as the leader of the merged state.

There is one small consolation for the Russian people from this unfolding tragedy. There’s no such thing as tranquil retirement for kleptocrats. They remain in power or suffer at the hands of their enemies. For Putin, there will never be peace.

How much is Vladimir Putin worth? Perhaps as much as $40 billion, according to recent reports. Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, writes in the Washington Post that the Russian president has allegedly amassed great wealth in the “velvet reprivatization” of his nation’s larger companies.

The Kremlin has essentially renationalized large industry, which has ended up in the hands of Putin’s close associates—and perhaps those of the President himself. “Putin is also a big businessman,” said Stanislav Belkovsky, a political observer with ties to the Moscow leadership. Belkovsky alleges that Putin owns a $20 billion stake in Surgutneftegaz, Russia’s fourth largest oil producer; 4.5 percent of the country’s natural gas monopoly, Gazprom; and half of oil-seller Gunvor, which had $8 billion in profits in 2006.

Do we care that Vlad may have become a one-man energy empire? For starters, if you are a Russian citizen, he has essentially stolen from you (if the allegations are true). Yet the rest of us are also affected by grand thievery on this scale. Putin knows that, like Marcos of the Philippines or Mobutu of Zaire, ill-gotten wealth can be taken from him once he no longer exercises power. So he will, in all likelihood, continue in the Kremlin, and this means Russia will maintain its increasingly hostile policies toward the West.

Last month Belkovsky argued that the Russian President would cede power and accept some minor role that will protect him from critics both at home and abroad. Now, however, we are seeing indications that Putin intends to stay at the pinnacle of power. On Monday, for instance, the autocrat announced his support for Dmitry Medvedev, a loyalist with no independent political base, to succeed him as President. On Tuesday, Medvedev suggested that Putin serve as prime minister in his administration. Moreover, the proposed union of Russia and Belarus, if consummated, could end up causing a change in the Russian constitution, and such change could create a position for Vladimir the Rich as the leader of the merged state.

There is one small consolation for the Russian people from this unfolding tragedy. There’s no such thing as tranquil retirement for kleptocrats. They remain in power or suffer at the hands of their enemies. For Putin, there will never be peace.

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Caveat Emptor

Are there people out there who take Wikipedia seriously as a source of objective information? There shouldn’t be, but unfortunately there are. In fact, lots of students use it a source of first resort. It’s so popular, that whenever you type almost any subject into Google, the first hit is usually for a Wikipedia entry.

Yet disinformation abounds, often motivated by animus or prejudice. There is, for instance, the by-now famous story of a former assistant to Robert F. Kennedy who was brazenly—and completely without foundation—accused on Wikipedia of complicity in the assassinations of both JFK and RFK. (For this sorry tale, see his article.)

A friend has now called my attention to another bizarre distortion, this one an attempt not to besmirch the character of one man but of an entire country. If you look up the Philippine War (1899-1902) you get this entry. And in the very first paragraph you get this statement: “The U.S. conquest of the Philippines has been described as a genocide, and resulted in the death of 1.4 million Filipinos (out of a total population of seven million).”

I was pretty startled to read this. I have written a whole chapter on the war in my book, The Savage Wars of Peace, and I have never once heard that the U.S. was guilty of genocide. How could it have entirely escaped my attention?

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Are there people out there who take Wikipedia seriously as a source of objective information? There shouldn’t be, but unfortunately there are. In fact, lots of students use it a source of first resort. It’s so popular, that whenever you type almost any subject into Google, the first hit is usually for a Wikipedia entry.

Yet disinformation abounds, often motivated by animus or prejudice. There is, for instance, the by-now famous story of a former assistant to Robert F. Kennedy who was brazenly—and completely without foundation—accused on Wikipedia of complicity in the assassinations of both JFK and RFK. (For this sorry tale, see his article.)

A friend has now called my attention to another bizarre distortion, this one an attempt not to besmirch the character of one man but of an entire country. If you look up the Philippine War (1899-1902) you get this entry. And in the very first paragraph you get this statement: “The U.S. conquest of the Philippines has been described as a genocide, and resulted in the death of 1.4 million Filipinos (out of a total population of seven million).”

I was pretty startled to read this. I have written a whole chapter on the war in my book, The Savage Wars of Peace, and I have never once heard that the U.S. was guilty of genocide. How could it have entirely escaped my attention?

There is, needless to say, not a scintilla of evidence that Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt made any attempt to wipe out the population of the Philippines. There is no doubt that a lot of Filipinos died in the course of the war, but most of those deaths were the result of disease, not American bullets. In my book, I cite the generally accepted casualty totals: 4,234 American dead and, on the other side, 16,000 Filipinos killed in battle and another 200,000 civilians killed mainly by disease and famine. My sources for these estimates are books written by William Thaddeus Sexton, an historian writing in the 1930’s, and two more recent accounts written by Stanley Karnow and Walter LaFeber. Neither Karnow nor LaFeber is exactly an American imperialist; in fact, both are well-known liberals. Yet their casualty counts are seven times lower than those claimed by Wikipedia, and they make no mention of any genocide.

Where does the Wikipedia figure come from? The footnote refers to an online essay, “U.S. Genocide in the Philippines” by E. San Juan Jr., posted on an obscure website. The author is described as follows: “E. San Juan, Jr. was recently Fulbright Professor of American Studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, and visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, Republic of China.” Not exactly a pedigree that instantly screams out that he has any special expertise on the Philippine War.

In his short essay (1,046 words), E. San Juan Jr. concedes that his claims of genocide and of 1.4 million dead do not come from any mainstream sources. He writes: “Among historians, only Howard Zinn and Gabriel Kolko have dwelt on the ‘genocidal’ character of the catastrophe.” But even these ultra-left-wing “revisionist” historians (who also have no expertise in the Philippine War) have, in his telling, cited no more than 600,000 dead Filipinos.

So whence the figure of 1.4 million? According to Mr. San Juan, “The first Filipino scholar to make a thorough documentation of the carnage is the late Luzviminda Francisco in her contribution to The Philippines: The End of An Illusion (London, 1973).” I confess to never having heard of Ms. Francisco (whose works are cataloged online by neither the Library of Congress nor the New York Public Library), but Amazon does contain a link for one of her books. It’s called Conspiracy for Empire: Big business, corruption, and the politics of imperialism in America, 1876-1907 and it was published in 1985 by something called the Foundation for Nationalist Studies, which doesn’t have a web page (or at least none that I could discover).

I am, to put it mildly, underwhelmed by the historical evidence gathered here to accuse the U.S. of having killed 1.4 million people in an attempted genocide. This is not the kind of finding that would be accepted for a second by any reputable scholar, regardless of political orientation. But it is the kind of pseudo-fact that is all too common on the world’s most schlocky wannabe “encyclopedia.” Caveat emptor.

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More on Mercenaries

Since I have been defending, in recent days, the general idea of using mercenaries—even while calling for greater oversight of what they are actually doing in Iraq—I have often heard from skeptics that it is somehow “un-American” to rely on hired hands to do your fighting. Often cited is the fact that Americans have long hated the Hessians (actually, they came from all over Germany, not just from Hesse-Kassel) hired by the British to fight the American rebellion that began in 1776.

Well, of course, any nation will hate foreign troops who fight particularly hard and even viciously, as the “Hessians” did. But that’s hardly an argument against employing them. Quite the contrary. In fact, the U.S. has a long tradition of celebrated mercenaries. Here is a partial list:

• The privateers who harassed British shipping during both the War of Independence and the War of 1812.

• John Paul Jones, who, after the American Revolution, was an admiral in the Russian navy.

• The Marquis de Lafayette and Baron von Steuben, two of the most celebrated foreigners who helped the Continental Army fight for independence.

• The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which provided intelligence for the Union, and personal protection for President Lincoln, during the Civil War.

• Various Native American allies, who provided invaluable help in battles ranging from Jamestown to Wounded Knee.

• The Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of the French air force composed of Americans in World War I.

• Douglas MacArthur, who in the 1930’s, after stepping down as Army chief of staff, became a field marshal in the Philippines armed forces.

• The Flying Tigers, a group of American pilots led by Claire Chennault, who flew on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek in World War II.

• The Eagle Squadron, a unit of the Royal Air Force composed of American pilots in World War II.

• The Montagnards, the tribesmen who were recruited and organized into an armed force by the CIA and Army Special Forces to fight the Communists during the Vietnam War.

Mercenaries all, and yet they are all heroes of American history. Why is it impossible to imagine that mercenaries today could be equally useful, and sometimes even heroic?

 

Since I have been defending, in recent days, the general idea of using mercenaries—even while calling for greater oversight of what they are actually doing in Iraq—I have often heard from skeptics that it is somehow “un-American” to rely on hired hands to do your fighting. Often cited is the fact that Americans have long hated the Hessians (actually, they came from all over Germany, not just from Hesse-Kassel) hired by the British to fight the American rebellion that began in 1776.

Well, of course, any nation will hate foreign troops who fight particularly hard and even viciously, as the “Hessians” did. But that’s hardly an argument against employing them. Quite the contrary. In fact, the U.S. has a long tradition of celebrated mercenaries. Here is a partial list:

• The privateers who harassed British shipping during both the War of Independence and the War of 1812.

• John Paul Jones, who, after the American Revolution, was an admiral in the Russian navy.

• The Marquis de Lafayette and Baron von Steuben, two of the most celebrated foreigners who helped the Continental Army fight for independence.

• The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which provided intelligence for the Union, and personal protection for President Lincoln, during the Civil War.

• Various Native American allies, who provided invaluable help in battles ranging from Jamestown to Wounded Knee.

• The Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of the French air force composed of Americans in World War I.

• Douglas MacArthur, who in the 1930’s, after stepping down as Army chief of staff, became a field marshal in the Philippines armed forces.

• The Flying Tigers, a group of American pilots led by Claire Chennault, who flew on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek in World War II.

• The Eagle Squadron, a unit of the Royal Air Force composed of American pilots in World War II.

• The Montagnards, the tribesmen who were recruited and organized into an armed force by the CIA and Army Special Forces to fight the Communists during the Vietnam War.

Mercenaries all, and yet they are all heroes of American history. Why is it impossible to imagine that mercenaries today could be equally useful, and sometimes even heroic?

 

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Cold(er) War

Yesterday, a submersible lowered a titanium Russian flag onto the Arctic seabed, near the North Pole, at a depth of almost 14,000 feet. Canada immediately mocked Moscow’s stunt. “This isn’t the 15th century,” said Ottawa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter MacKay. “You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory.’ ”

International law permits Russia, Canada, the United States, Denmark, and Norway, the nations with coastlines inside the Arctic Circle, to enforce 200-mile exclusive economic zones north of their shores. The Kremlin, however, claims a bigger zone that includes the seabed under the North Pole. It maintains that the Lomonosov Ridge, which runs under the Pole, forms part of Siberia’s continental shelf. Canada and Denmark maintain competing claims to the same ridge. (Why do so many nations want the Ridge? Because a receding polar cap may someday make drilling for hydrocarbons there feasible.)

Russia is not the only nation to make outsized claims on continental shelves. China, for instance, believes it has rights to a good portion of Japan’s coastline. China also maintains claims on the continental shelves of the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam (as well as the entire South China Sea).

The United States is party to few economic-zone disputes. Nonetheless, it is the final guarantor of the international system. As such, it should be taking a greater interest in making sure that claims are settled peacefully—and that the rights of free passage are protected—whether or not the Senate sees fit to ratify the controversial Law of the Sea Convention, as the Bush administration wants it to do. And the first item on our agenda should be to talk openly and pointedly to Beijing and Moscow about their grand claims and methods of bolstering them.

Yesterday, a submersible lowered a titanium Russian flag onto the Arctic seabed, near the North Pole, at a depth of almost 14,000 feet. Canada immediately mocked Moscow’s stunt. “This isn’t the 15th century,” said Ottawa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter MacKay. “You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory.’ ”

International law permits Russia, Canada, the United States, Denmark, and Norway, the nations with coastlines inside the Arctic Circle, to enforce 200-mile exclusive economic zones north of their shores. The Kremlin, however, claims a bigger zone that includes the seabed under the North Pole. It maintains that the Lomonosov Ridge, which runs under the Pole, forms part of Siberia’s continental shelf. Canada and Denmark maintain competing claims to the same ridge. (Why do so many nations want the Ridge? Because a receding polar cap may someday make drilling for hydrocarbons there feasible.)

Russia is not the only nation to make outsized claims on continental shelves. China, for instance, believes it has rights to a good portion of Japan’s coastline. China also maintains claims on the continental shelves of the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam (as well as the entire South China Sea).

The United States is party to few economic-zone disputes. Nonetheless, it is the final guarantor of the international system. As such, it should be taking a greater interest in making sure that claims are settled peacefully—and that the rights of free passage are protected—whether or not the Senate sees fit to ratify the controversial Law of the Sea Convention, as the Bush administration wants it to do. And the first item on our agenda should be to talk openly and pointedly to Beijing and Moscow about their grand claims and methods of bolstering them.

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