Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tokyo

Saber-Rattling: The New Normal

Americans will have to get used to something in the coming years: we are not necessarily the main audience for foreign saber-rattling. When China unveiled its new “stealth” fighter last week, American defense experts were quick to point out that because its design is clunky and primitive, the U.S. need not be overly concerned about this minor triumph. But we would be wrong to imagine the Chinese don’t know that. From their perspective, demonstrating that they have already built a stealth aircraft is more important than impressing American analysts with its characteristics.

The reason for that is simple: an arms-and-power race has been emerging in the Eastern hemisphere — and it’s centered on Asia. The U.S. has had stealth aircraft for years. But Russia announced the prototype test of its first stealth fighter in January 2010, and Japan is pursuing an indigenously designed stealth fighter as well. The Japanese effort has accelerated with the U.S. rejection of Tokyo’s offer to buy the F-22 Raptor. (Secretary Gates reiterated his stance on that in Japan on Wednesday.) India, meanwhile, took delivery this week of its first homegrown fighter jet, billed as the world’s lightest supersonic jet.

There are too many such developments to mention in a brief post for general readers; the fielding of new fighter jets is merely one category. Beyond arms buildups, another category is defense agreements with political, balance-of-power implications, such as the pact now in prospect between South Korea and Japan, or Russia’s cooperation agreements with Vietnam. In a separate category are the territorial disputes heating up between Russia, China, and Japan. Additional factors include the predatory competition between Russia and China for fossil-fuel resources, as well as their competition for clients in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

The timing of the Chinese fighter’s first test flight, which coincided with Bob Gates’s visit, was obviously intentional. China wants to reach a U.S. audience with these signals — but not solely a U.S. audience. The theme that Chinese negotiation is backed by thoroughly modern force is intended as much for Asian consumption as for American. And regardless of the intended audience, there is no better “straight man” for that theme than the U.S. secretary of defense.

Falling behind the neighbors has historically had dreadful consequences for Asian nations; since 1945, even our enemies in the region have relied on America’s power and network of alliances to preserve stability. But the principles we have traditionally acted on in defense of that stability are increasingly in question. The Asian nations are already shifting from a posture of maneuvering around the U.S. to one of maneuvering around each other. Not everything is “about” us; American thinking needs to adjust to that emerging reality. But everything will affect us. If we are unwilling to maintain the order we have built over the past 70-odd years, we will have to learn again the ways of a world that operates without effective American leadership.

Americans will have to get used to something in the coming years: we are not necessarily the main audience for foreign saber-rattling. When China unveiled its new “stealth” fighter last week, American defense experts were quick to point out that because its design is clunky and primitive, the U.S. need not be overly concerned about this minor triumph. But we would be wrong to imagine the Chinese don’t know that. From their perspective, demonstrating that they have already built a stealth aircraft is more important than impressing American analysts with its characteristics.

The reason for that is simple: an arms-and-power race has been emerging in the Eastern hemisphere — and it’s centered on Asia. The U.S. has had stealth aircraft for years. But Russia announced the prototype test of its first stealth fighter in January 2010, and Japan is pursuing an indigenously designed stealth fighter as well. The Japanese effort has accelerated with the U.S. rejection of Tokyo’s offer to buy the F-22 Raptor. (Secretary Gates reiterated his stance on that in Japan on Wednesday.) India, meanwhile, took delivery this week of its first homegrown fighter jet, billed as the world’s lightest supersonic jet.

There are too many such developments to mention in a brief post for general readers; the fielding of new fighter jets is merely one category. Beyond arms buildups, another category is defense agreements with political, balance-of-power implications, such as the pact now in prospect between South Korea and Japan, or Russia’s cooperation agreements with Vietnam. In a separate category are the territorial disputes heating up between Russia, China, and Japan. Additional factors include the predatory competition between Russia and China for fossil-fuel resources, as well as their competition for clients in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

The timing of the Chinese fighter’s first test flight, which coincided with Bob Gates’s visit, was obviously intentional. China wants to reach a U.S. audience with these signals — but not solely a U.S. audience. The theme that Chinese negotiation is backed by thoroughly modern force is intended as much for Asian consumption as for American. And regardless of the intended audience, there is no better “straight man” for that theme than the U.S. secretary of defense.

Falling behind the neighbors has historically had dreadful consequences for Asian nations; since 1945, even our enemies in the region have relied on America’s power and network of alliances to preserve stability. But the principles we have traditionally acted on in defense of that stability are increasingly in question. The Asian nations are already shifting from a posture of maneuvering around the U.S. to one of maneuvering around each other. Not everything is “about” us; American thinking needs to adjust to that emerging reality. But everything will affect us. If we are unwilling to maintain the order we have built over the past 70-odd years, we will have to learn again the ways of a world that operates without effective American leadership.

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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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Shifting Positions in the Far East?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Japan: Russia Piling On

As Americans turn their attention inward, China and Russia are beginning to make geopolitical moves that evoke nothing so much as the environment of the 1930s. I have written elsewhere about China’s dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and Beijing’s resort to a direct confrontation over them in September. Russia added to Japan’s troubles last week, when Dmitry Medvedev planned to make an unprecedented visit to the Kuril Islands in the north, which have been disputed by Japan and Russia since the end of World War II.

Medvedev’s trip was curtailed by bad weather on this occasion (a verifiable excuse, incidentally). But his government has affirmed that he will visit the islands in the near future. In fact, it has doubled down by calling Japan’s claims to the Kurils a “dead end” and flatly warning Japan against complaining about the visit.

Seen as a signal, this uncompromising Russian attitude is very different from the attitude shown by the same government almost exactly a year ago. In late September 2009, Medvedev was shaking hands with then-Prime Minister Hatoyama and vowing solemnly to “work together” to resolve the question of the Kuril Islands. Indeed, there was speculation at the time that Russia was wooing Japan, hoping to weaken Tokyo’s ties with the U.S. As with the Senkakus dispute, the one over the Kurils involves economic claims. But Russia and Japan have set a standard for cooperative development in exploiting the natural gas of Russia’s nearby Sakhalin Island. The ugly face shown by Russia in the past few days is a new one, at least where Japan is concerned.

Its significance cannot be overemphasized. In approaching this confrontation, Russia is effectively treating Japan — a G-8 nation, economic powerhouse, and U.S. ally — the way it treated Georgia in the months leading up to the 2008 invasion. The dispute is over tangible territory, and Russia is pressing its claims coincident with China’s confrontational campaign to the south. Unless the U.S. steps in to prevent the extortion of Japan, the Kan government in Tokyo is faced with a choice between evils. To gain the support of either Moscow or Beijing, Japan would — at the very least — have to cede effective control of the islands in question. In all likelihood, Japan might see both island chains occupied by the other claimants.

Japan’s other option is to assert its claims with military force. This is not infeasible if the Japanese choose their tactics carefully, but it would infuriate and galvanize Russia and China. Only one outcome can avert an onset of instability in the Far East: America enforcing Japan’s position that the disputes over the islands must be resolved peacefully and not through extortion. Uttering sympathetic bromides will not suffice in this case. China and Russia have already proved that they are prepared to breach the conditions of good-faith resolutions. Direct assertion of a U.S. security interest is the only thing that will work — and the U.S posture must not be subverted by Russia or China turning this issue into a perpetual bargaining chip in larger, unrelated negotiations.

This is a bad trend that will not right itself. Either Obama stops it before it gets started, or all our security problems are about to get much harder.

As Americans turn their attention inward, China and Russia are beginning to make geopolitical moves that evoke nothing so much as the environment of the 1930s. I have written elsewhere about China’s dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and Beijing’s resort to a direct confrontation over them in September. Russia added to Japan’s troubles last week, when Dmitry Medvedev planned to make an unprecedented visit to the Kuril Islands in the north, which have been disputed by Japan and Russia since the end of World War II.

Medvedev’s trip was curtailed by bad weather on this occasion (a verifiable excuse, incidentally). But his government has affirmed that he will visit the islands in the near future. In fact, it has doubled down by calling Japan’s claims to the Kurils a “dead end” and flatly warning Japan against complaining about the visit.

Seen as a signal, this uncompromising Russian attitude is very different from the attitude shown by the same government almost exactly a year ago. In late September 2009, Medvedev was shaking hands with then-Prime Minister Hatoyama and vowing solemnly to “work together” to resolve the question of the Kuril Islands. Indeed, there was speculation at the time that Russia was wooing Japan, hoping to weaken Tokyo’s ties with the U.S. As with the Senkakus dispute, the one over the Kurils involves economic claims. But Russia and Japan have set a standard for cooperative development in exploiting the natural gas of Russia’s nearby Sakhalin Island. The ugly face shown by Russia in the past few days is a new one, at least where Japan is concerned.

Its significance cannot be overemphasized. In approaching this confrontation, Russia is effectively treating Japan — a G-8 nation, economic powerhouse, and U.S. ally — the way it treated Georgia in the months leading up to the 2008 invasion. The dispute is over tangible territory, and Russia is pressing its claims coincident with China’s confrontational campaign to the south. Unless the U.S. steps in to prevent the extortion of Japan, the Kan government in Tokyo is faced with a choice between evils. To gain the support of either Moscow or Beijing, Japan would — at the very least — have to cede effective control of the islands in question. In all likelihood, Japan might see both island chains occupied by the other claimants.

Japan’s other option is to assert its claims with military force. This is not infeasible if the Japanese choose their tactics carefully, but it would infuriate and galvanize Russia and China. Only one outcome can avert an onset of instability in the Far East: America enforcing Japan’s position that the disputes over the islands must be resolved peacefully and not through extortion. Uttering sympathetic bromides will not suffice in this case. China and Russia have already proved that they are prepared to breach the conditions of good-faith resolutions. Direct assertion of a U.S. security interest is the only thing that will work — and the U.S posture must not be subverted by Russia or China turning this issue into a perpetual bargaining chip in larger, unrelated negotiations.

This is a bad trend that will not right itself. Either Obama stops it before it gets started, or all our security problems are about to get much harder.

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Flashpoint Senkakus

There is reason to be concerned about the spat between China and Japan, which erupted over a Chinese fishing trawler that entered the disputed waters of the Senkaku Island chain on September 7 and then proceeded to collide with two Japanese coastguard ships. The Japanese arrested the trawler’s master, releasing him finally on Friday after a mounting series of threats from China. Beijing cut off shipments of rare earth minerals to Japan — a blow to the Japanese auto and high-tech industries — and is now reportedly subjecting 90 percent of Japan-bound commercial shipments to bureaucratic inspections.

China is apparently doubling down on its confrontational posture, in ways that make it harder for both sides to revert to the status quo ante. This weekend the Chinese demanded an apology and monetary restitution from Japan. On Monday the Naoto Kan government in Tokyo, stung by editorial opposition to its release of the Chinese fishing captain last week, countered with a demand for compensation from China for the damage to its coastguard ships.

Difficult as such positions can be for Asian nations to draw back from, it’s China’s prosecution of a material stake in the disputed economic zone off the Senkaku Islands that may keep both sides in confrontation. Japan has reportedly identified Chinese drilling equipment in the disputed area and suspects that Beijing is preparing to drill for natural gas there. Oil and gas exploration by both nations goes back to 2004; Japan has already stated concerns that drilling performed within China’s acknowledged economic zone could tap gas reserves in the area claimed by Tokyo. Taiwan is another claimant to economic rights in the area, a factor that serves to complicate relations among the parties.

China has assumed a position it cannot back off from gracefully — and one involving its most important economic interests. The outcome of this confrontation will be a point of no return in one way or another. Neither China nor Japan will rest if it loses this face-off. More than economic assets are at stake; this is about power relations and the future of Asia. Of greatest concern in all of this is the basic fact that China was emboldened to pick this fight. Beijing apparently calculates that the U.S. will acquiesce in whatever de facto diplomatic triumph China’s leaders can achieve over Japan.

Japan is unlikely to back down, however. The outcome of this incident matters too greatly to its national future. It’s trite to talk about being at a crossroads, but that’s because the metaphor usually fits. Americans are faced with a choice of our own in this situation: either we are relevant to its resolution — a resolution involving one of our closest allies — or we are not. If we’re not, the status quo of the “Pax Americana” will not last much longer.

There is reason to be concerned about the spat between China and Japan, which erupted over a Chinese fishing trawler that entered the disputed waters of the Senkaku Island chain on September 7 and then proceeded to collide with two Japanese coastguard ships. The Japanese arrested the trawler’s master, releasing him finally on Friday after a mounting series of threats from China. Beijing cut off shipments of rare earth minerals to Japan — a blow to the Japanese auto and high-tech industries — and is now reportedly subjecting 90 percent of Japan-bound commercial shipments to bureaucratic inspections.

China is apparently doubling down on its confrontational posture, in ways that make it harder for both sides to revert to the status quo ante. This weekend the Chinese demanded an apology and monetary restitution from Japan. On Monday the Naoto Kan government in Tokyo, stung by editorial opposition to its release of the Chinese fishing captain last week, countered with a demand for compensation from China for the damage to its coastguard ships.

Difficult as such positions can be for Asian nations to draw back from, it’s China’s prosecution of a material stake in the disputed economic zone off the Senkaku Islands that may keep both sides in confrontation. Japan has reportedly identified Chinese drilling equipment in the disputed area and suspects that Beijing is preparing to drill for natural gas there. Oil and gas exploration by both nations goes back to 2004; Japan has already stated concerns that drilling performed within China’s acknowledged economic zone could tap gas reserves in the area claimed by Tokyo. Taiwan is another claimant to economic rights in the area, a factor that serves to complicate relations among the parties.

China has assumed a position it cannot back off from gracefully — and one involving its most important economic interests. The outcome of this confrontation will be a point of no return in one way or another. Neither China nor Japan will rest if it loses this face-off. More than economic assets are at stake; this is about power relations and the future of Asia. Of greatest concern in all of this is the basic fact that China was emboldened to pick this fight. Beijing apparently calculates that the U.S. will acquiesce in whatever de facto diplomatic triumph China’s leaders can achieve over Japan.

Japan is unlikely to back down, however. The outcome of this incident matters too greatly to its national future. It’s trite to talk about being at a crossroads, but that’s because the metaphor usually fits. Americans are faced with a choice of our own in this situation: either we are relevant to its resolution — a resolution involving one of our closest allies — or we are not. If we’re not, the status quo of the “Pax Americana” will not last much longer.

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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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Obama’s Iran Policy in Shambles

The Obama team keeps telling us that its foreign-policy gurus have successfully “isolated” Iran and are proceeding with serious sanctions. Neither is true. The Washington Post reports:

A year ago, Iran was on its way to becoming a pariah state. Dozens of governments accused Iranian leaders of stealing the presidential election and condemned the brutal crackdown on protesters that followed. The country faced sanctions and international scorn over its controversial nuclear program.

Now, even as the U.N. Security Council prepares to impose its fourth round of sanctions on Iran with a vote slated for Wednesday, Tehran is demonstrating remarkable resilience, insulating some of its most crucial industries from U.S.-backed financial restrictions and building a formidable diplomatic network that should help it withstand some of the pressure from the West. Iranian leaders are meeting politicians in world capitals from Tokyo to Brussels. They are also signing game-changing energy deals, increasing their economic self-sufficiency and even gaining seats on international bodies.

As for those sanctions, the Post reveals just how ineffective they are:

But in another sign of the fragile nature of Washington’s anti-Iran alliance, the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran convened a regional security summit Tuesday to emphasize the realignment of military power in the region. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who backs U.N. sanctions, said the measures should not “be excessive” or impose undue hardship on the Iranian leadership or the Iranian people.

The new U.S.-backed measures have been watered down enough that Tehran’s crucial oil sector will probably be spared, and Russia’s and China’s business dealings with Iran will go largely untouched.

Meanwhile, members of Congress shuffle their collective feet, Jewish groups remain mum, and the Obama administration congratulates itself on its “success.” Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, says the administration’s moves won’t hobble Iran’s nuclear ambitions. (“The horse is out of the stable.”) At every turn — engagement, “reset” with Russia, quietude on the June 12 uprising, downplaying the Qom revelation, fashioning anemic sanctions, and abusing our ally Israel — the Obama team has made fundamental errors. This leaves two options: Israeli military action or a nuclear-armed Iran. The former is undesirable, but the latter is catastrophic. That we face this dilemma is solely the result of Obama’s grievous errors. History will not be kind.

The Obama team keeps telling us that its foreign-policy gurus have successfully “isolated” Iran and are proceeding with serious sanctions. Neither is true. The Washington Post reports:

A year ago, Iran was on its way to becoming a pariah state. Dozens of governments accused Iranian leaders of stealing the presidential election and condemned the brutal crackdown on protesters that followed. The country faced sanctions and international scorn over its controversial nuclear program.

Now, even as the U.N. Security Council prepares to impose its fourth round of sanctions on Iran with a vote slated for Wednesday, Tehran is demonstrating remarkable resilience, insulating some of its most crucial industries from U.S.-backed financial restrictions and building a formidable diplomatic network that should help it withstand some of the pressure from the West. Iranian leaders are meeting politicians in world capitals from Tokyo to Brussels. They are also signing game-changing energy deals, increasing their economic self-sufficiency and even gaining seats on international bodies.

As for those sanctions, the Post reveals just how ineffective they are:

But in another sign of the fragile nature of Washington’s anti-Iran alliance, the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran convened a regional security summit Tuesday to emphasize the realignment of military power in the region. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who backs U.N. sanctions, said the measures should not “be excessive” or impose undue hardship on the Iranian leadership or the Iranian people.

The new U.S.-backed measures have been watered down enough that Tehran’s crucial oil sector will probably be spared, and Russia’s and China’s business dealings with Iran will go largely untouched.

Meanwhile, members of Congress shuffle their collective feet, Jewish groups remain mum, and the Obama administration congratulates itself on its “success.” Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, says the administration’s moves won’t hobble Iran’s nuclear ambitions. (“The horse is out of the stable.”) At every turn — engagement, “reset” with Russia, quietude on the June 12 uprising, downplaying the Qom revelation, fashioning anemic sanctions, and abusing our ally Israel — the Obama team has made fundamental errors. This leaves two options: Israeli military action or a nuclear-armed Iran. The former is undesirable, but the latter is catastrophic. That we face this dilemma is solely the result of Obama’s grievous errors. History will not be kind.

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Economic Uncertainty in China

The almost universal assumption is that China is a rising dragon that someday — perhaps someday soon — will overtake the United States. But notwithstanding China’s impressive growth rates, there is trouble on the horizon — something that is suggested by this New York Times article — which reports on the growing unease among foreign companies trying to do business in China. As the article notes:

Foreign companies doing business in China are increasingly feeling as if the deck is stacked against them.

China has filed more than a dozen trade cases to limit imports, imposed a series of “buy Chinese” measures and limited exports of some minerals to force multinationals to move factories to China.

That echoes the concern of some American businessmen in Tokyo, to whom I talked last week. They complained about how unpredictable business conditions are in China- – subject to the whims of shortsighted, corrupt cadres, who are intent on lining the pockets of well-connected countrymen even at the expense of cheating major investors. Japan, by contrast, has its own barriers to business but, these executives report, is a much more welcoming, less worrisome place in which to grow a business. Another American investor with whom I talked recently mentioned that he had just invested in a major real-estate project in India — something he would not do in China, because he has no confidence in that country’s future.

None of this is meant to dismiss China’s prospects. Wherever I went in Asia there was talk about growing Chinese power especially as manifested in its ever-more-capable armed forces; its naval ships are acting in increasingly aggressive ways toward Japan, the United States, and other states. But the Chinese quest for economic growth — the underpinning of its military power — will be endangered unless it can develop a genuine rule of law that will assure foreign and domestic investors of its long-term prospects.

The almost universal assumption is that China is a rising dragon that someday — perhaps someday soon — will overtake the United States. But notwithstanding China’s impressive growth rates, there is trouble on the horizon — something that is suggested by this New York Times article — which reports on the growing unease among foreign companies trying to do business in China. As the article notes:

Foreign companies doing business in China are increasingly feeling as if the deck is stacked against them.

China has filed more than a dozen trade cases to limit imports, imposed a series of “buy Chinese” measures and limited exports of some minerals to force multinationals to move factories to China.

That echoes the concern of some American businessmen in Tokyo, to whom I talked last week. They complained about how unpredictable business conditions are in China- – subject to the whims of shortsighted, corrupt cadres, who are intent on lining the pockets of well-connected countrymen even at the expense of cheating major investors. Japan, by contrast, has its own barriers to business but, these executives report, is a much more welcoming, less worrisome place in which to grow a business. Another American investor with whom I talked recently mentioned that he had just invested in a major real-estate project in India — something he would not do in China, because he has no confidence in that country’s future.

None of this is meant to dismiss China’s prospects. Wherever I went in Asia there was talk about growing Chinese power especially as manifested in its ever-more-capable armed forces; its naval ships are acting in increasingly aggressive ways toward Japan, the United States, and other states. But the Chinese quest for economic growth — the underpinning of its military power — will be endangered unless it can develop a genuine rule of law that will assure foreign and domestic investors of its long-term prospects.

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Obama’s Appeal Is Lost on World Leaders

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

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Japan’s Flip-Flop

This has not been a good week for U.S.-Japanese relations.

Today, Japan ended its eight-year refueling mission that once supported the American war in Afghanistan. And on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton met with the Japanese foreign minister in Hawaii. The official remarks were awkward as both diplomats timidly addressed how to relocate the U.S. Futenma military base. The U.S. wants to move the controversial base to a different place within Japan, but the new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, campaigned partially on reducing U.S. presence and has considered removing the base from the country altogether. So evident were the differences of opinion between Tokyo and Washington that a Japanese reporter questioned whether “you really can have substantive talks [on any topic at all] while the Futenma issue remains unresolved.”

There are many similarities between Obama and Hatoyama. Both came to power on promises of change, overturning an established political party. And change they have delivered. But change is tricky in the foreign-policy arena.

The refueling mission was an eight-year show of Japanese symbolic support for the U.S. efforts in the Middle East — a precedent not to be reversed lightly. And the United States thought it had resolved the Futenma issue back in 2005 — but now Hatoyama wants until May to reconsider that decision. “We now have a change in government in Japan and there are different views within the coalition government,” Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said Tuesday in defense of the hesitancy and delays.

In a way, Tokyo has given the Obama administration a dose of its own medicine. But Japan’s reconsideration has resulted in a decrease in American trust. If agreements can end or reverse from one executive to another, policy will be limited by terms in office — and, thus, it will inherently be shortsighted. That’s the danger of pressing the restart button too often.

Washington and Tokyo have cooperated closely for 50 years. But if the two nations want to see another 50 years of friendship, as Clinton suggested this week, short-sighted policy just won’t cut it. On the other hand, continuity in policy supports alliances and international confidence.

Obama may find his Asian reflection less than flattering.

This has not been a good week for U.S.-Japanese relations.

Today, Japan ended its eight-year refueling mission that once supported the American war in Afghanistan. And on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton met with the Japanese foreign minister in Hawaii. The official remarks were awkward as both diplomats timidly addressed how to relocate the U.S. Futenma military base. The U.S. wants to move the controversial base to a different place within Japan, but the new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, campaigned partially on reducing U.S. presence and has considered removing the base from the country altogether. So evident were the differences of opinion between Tokyo and Washington that a Japanese reporter questioned whether “you really can have substantive talks [on any topic at all] while the Futenma issue remains unresolved.”

There are many similarities between Obama and Hatoyama. Both came to power on promises of change, overturning an established political party. And change they have delivered. But change is tricky in the foreign-policy arena.

The refueling mission was an eight-year show of Japanese symbolic support for the U.S. efforts in the Middle East — a precedent not to be reversed lightly. And the United States thought it had resolved the Futenma issue back in 2005 — but now Hatoyama wants until May to reconsider that decision. “We now have a change in government in Japan and there are different views within the coalition government,” Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said Tuesday in defense of the hesitancy and delays.

In a way, Tokyo has given the Obama administration a dose of its own medicine. But Japan’s reconsideration has resulted in a decrease in American trust. If agreements can end or reverse from one executive to another, policy will be limited by terms in office — and, thus, it will inherently be shortsighted. That’s the danger of pressing the restart button too often.

Washington and Tokyo have cooperated closely for 50 years. But if the two nations want to see another 50 years of friendship, as Clinton suggested this week, short-sighted policy just won’t cut it. On the other hand, continuity in policy supports alliances and international confidence.

Obama may find his Asian reflection less than flattering.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Susan Estrich writes ostensibly on the brewing controversy over new standards for mammography: “The longer answer is that you practice medicine on an individualized basis. While certain things may be true as a matter of ‘public health’ — like the costs of early mammograms outweighing their benefits — that doesn’t mean they’re true for you.” That, of course, is the best argument there is against ObamaCare and other like-minded government-run health-care schemes.

This didn’t take long: “After four years of grappling with how to appeal to voters, a group of top Republicans believe they’ve found a winning formula for 2010. Call it the McDonnell Strategy. The shorthand: run on economic policy, downplay divisive cultural issues, present an upbeat tone, target independent voters and focus on Democratic-controlled Washington—all without attacking President Barack Obama personally.”

Marty Peretz writes on a potential silver-lining in the civilian trial of KSM: “This is also likely to evoke from the millions and millions of enthusiasts of true jihad demonstrations of fidelity and enthusiasm. That is also a good thing. Otherwise, we will still be stunned every time Muslim terror strikes.” Well, the other option is that when Muslim terror does strike — as in Fort Hood — officials and mainstream media refuse to call it a Muslim terror strike.

Another Democrat refuses to play dumb: “Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said after a briefing from Pentagon and Army officials that his committee will investigate how those and other e-mails involving the alleged shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, were handled and why the U.S. military was not made aware of them before the Nov. 5 shooting. Levin said his committee is focused on determining whether the Defense Department’s representative on the terrorism task force acted appropriately and effectively. Levin also said he considers Hasan’s shooting spree, which killed 13 and wounded more than 30, an act of terrorism.”

A smart take on Obama’s Asia trip: “The problem with President Obama’s recent swing through Asia cannot be boiled down to the kowtow, the collapse of Copenhagen, or the rebukes in Beijing and Tokyo. Lack of success does not automatically add up to failure. The more damaging outcome of the trip for Obama is the entrenchment of the perception at home and abroad of the president as a pied piper of American retreat in the world.”

Obama tries to play defense: “President Barack Obama on Saturday urged Americans to show patience over the economy and argued that his just-concluded Asia trip was critical for U.S. exports, countering criticism he had returned empty-handed.”

James Pinkerton on health-care reform: “So what we have seen, and what we will continue to see, is the gradual peeling back of all the rationing and rationing-esque ‘reforms’ dreamed up by the national policy elites. Those elites are plenty smart, but the grad-school group is committed to an intellectual model that the American people reject. Think of it as the health-care equivalent of cap-and-trade–that is, a too-clever-by-half scheme that works well on a Cambridge chalkboard, and nowhere else.”

Her story and sticking to it: “Sen. Blanche Lincoln is a yes for debating health reform, but a no for the public option, and she and fellow centrists are making clear they expect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to scrap his current plan for a government-run insurance program.” But if  a government-run health-care reform passes, which Lincoln’s constituents hates, she’ll have a tough time convincing them that she wasn’t responsible. After all, she could have stopped it in its tracks.

Voters can register their objections in the 2010 senate race: “Just 35% of New York State voters agree with Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try the confessed mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks and five other suspected terrorists in a civilian court in New York City rather than before a military tribunal. A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the state finds that 55% are opposed to that decision, which is part of the Obama administration’s effort to close the terrorist prison camp at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.”

Susan Estrich writes ostensibly on the brewing controversy over new standards for mammography: “The longer answer is that you practice medicine on an individualized basis. While certain things may be true as a matter of ‘public health’ — like the costs of early mammograms outweighing their benefits — that doesn’t mean they’re true for you.” That, of course, is the best argument there is against ObamaCare and other like-minded government-run health-care schemes.

This didn’t take long: “After four years of grappling with how to appeal to voters, a group of top Republicans believe they’ve found a winning formula for 2010. Call it the McDonnell Strategy. The shorthand: run on economic policy, downplay divisive cultural issues, present an upbeat tone, target independent voters and focus on Democratic-controlled Washington—all without attacking President Barack Obama personally.”

Marty Peretz writes on a potential silver-lining in the civilian trial of KSM: “This is also likely to evoke from the millions and millions of enthusiasts of true jihad demonstrations of fidelity and enthusiasm. That is also a good thing. Otherwise, we will still be stunned every time Muslim terror strikes.” Well, the other option is that when Muslim terror does strike — as in Fort Hood — officials and mainstream media refuse to call it a Muslim terror strike.

Another Democrat refuses to play dumb: “Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said after a briefing from Pentagon and Army officials that his committee will investigate how those and other e-mails involving the alleged shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, were handled and why the U.S. military was not made aware of them before the Nov. 5 shooting. Levin said his committee is focused on determining whether the Defense Department’s representative on the terrorism task force acted appropriately and effectively. Levin also said he considers Hasan’s shooting spree, which killed 13 and wounded more than 30, an act of terrorism.”

A smart take on Obama’s Asia trip: “The problem with President Obama’s recent swing through Asia cannot be boiled down to the kowtow, the collapse of Copenhagen, or the rebukes in Beijing and Tokyo. Lack of success does not automatically add up to failure. The more damaging outcome of the trip for Obama is the entrenchment of the perception at home and abroad of the president as a pied piper of American retreat in the world.”

Obama tries to play defense: “President Barack Obama on Saturday urged Americans to show patience over the economy and argued that his just-concluded Asia trip was critical for U.S. exports, countering criticism he had returned empty-handed.”

James Pinkerton on health-care reform: “So what we have seen, and what we will continue to see, is the gradual peeling back of all the rationing and rationing-esque ‘reforms’ dreamed up by the national policy elites. Those elites are plenty smart, but the grad-school group is committed to an intellectual model that the American people reject. Think of it as the health-care equivalent of cap-and-trade–that is, a too-clever-by-half scheme that works well on a Cambridge chalkboard, and nowhere else.”

Her story and sticking to it: “Sen. Blanche Lincoln is a yes for debating health reform, but a no for the public option, and she and fellow centrists are making clear they expect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to scrap his current plan for a government-run insurance program.” But if  a government-run health-care reform passes, which Lincoln’s constituents hates, she’ll have a tough time convincing them that she wasn’t responsible. After all, she could have stopped it in its tracks.

Voters can register their objections in the 2010 senate race: “Just 35% of New York State voters agree with Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try the confessed mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks and five other suspected terrorists in a civilian court in New York City rather than before a military tribunal. A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the state finds that 55% are opposed to that decision, which is part of the Obama administration’s effort to close the terrorist prison camp at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.”

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What’s It Getting Us?

Mike Allen, who pouted over the weekend that readers were complaining about the lack of coverage of the “bow,” now seems to get it:

Greeting the Japanese emperor at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace last weekend, President Barack Obama bowed so low that he was looking straight at the stone floor. The next day, Obama shook hands with the prime minister of repressive Myanmar during a group meeting. The day after that, the president held a “town hall” with Chinese university students who had been selected by the regime.

The images from the president’s journey through Asia carried a potent symbolism that has riled critics back home. One conservative website called the episodes “Obamateurism.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney told POLITICO that Obama was advertising “weakness.”

But the Obami love all this. It is showing “modesty about our attitudes toward other countries,” our president tells us. No, it is submissiveness, not modesty. But modesty would be a good thing — for example, not telling Honduras what its constitution means and not bullying Israel on where Jews can live would be vast improvements. Allen tells us that Obama doesn’t like all those “bald assertions of American self-interest.” Yes, it’s a head scratcher because the American president is supposed to be doing everything in his power to advance American interests. Isn’t he? I thought that was in the job description.

Ah, but it’s all so clever. He really wants what is good for us, he’s just going to pretend he doesn’t all that much, thereby getting everyone to co-operate with us. The way to do this is by bowing, figuratively and literally, and showing we are in effect not only no better than others, but less deserving. (That’s the meaning of the low bow — the other guy has higher status.) Cheney explains: “There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone. Our friends and allies don’t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.” What a quaint idea — that the president does not scrape before foreign leaders.

But is it working? The plan is to appear meek and mild and lure other countries into giving us stuff. But alas, it’s been a bust:

The pageantry of his trip is also playing out against a parade of disappointment: Administration officials have acknowledged that a binding international climate agreement won’t emerge from the Copenhagen summit next month. An arms-reduction treaty with Russia is going to expire Dec. 5 without a new one in place, forcing the parties to scramble to sign an interim “bridging agreement.” And Iran and North Korea have yet to deliver on Obama’s promise that U.S. engagement will yield better behavior.

And we’ve not exactly bowled them over in the Middle East or gotten anything from Russia.

You’d think Obama, who wanted “smart” diplomacy and new “pragmatism” (determined to “leave ideology behind”) would take a look around and see what his team has accomplished: nothing. If they have no innate aversion, no skin-crawling reaction to the suck-uppery, perhaps the Obama team will at least recognize that it’s all been a failure. Then they can fire some people and start over. Unfortunately, that photo of the bow is forever.

Mike Allen, who pouted over the weekend that readers were complaining about the lack of coverage of the “bow,” now seems to get it:

Greeting the Japanese emperor at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace last weekend, President Barack Obama bowed so low that he was looking straight at the stone floor. The next day, Obama shook hands with the prime minister of repressive Myanmar during a group meeting. The day after that, the president held a “town hall” with Chinese university students who had been selected by the regime.

The images from the president’s journey through Asia carried a potent symbolism that has riled critics back home. One conservative website called the episodes “Obamateurism.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney told POLITICO that Obama was advertising “weakness.”

But the Obami love all this. It is showing “modesty about our attitudes toward other countries,” our president tells us. No, it is submissiveness, not modesty. But modesty would be a good thing — for example, not telling Honduras what its constitution means and not bullying Israel on where Jews can live would be vast improvements. Allen tells us that Obama doesn’t like all those “bald assertions of American self-interest.” Yes, it’s a head scratcher because the American president is supposed to be doing everything in his power to advance American interests. Isn’t he? I thought that was in the job description.

Ah, but it’s all so clever. He really wants what is good for us, he’s just going to pretend he doesn’t all that much, thereby getting everyone to co-operate with us. The way to do this is by bowing, figuratively and literally, and showing we are in effect not only no better than others, but less deserving. (That’s the meaning of the low bow — the other guy has higher status.) Cheney explains: “There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone. Our friends and allies don’t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.” What a quaint idea — that the president does not scrape before foreign leaders.

But is it working? The plan is to appear meek and mild and lure other countries into giving us stuff. But alas, it’s been a bust:

The pageantry of his trip is also playing out against a parade of disappointment: Administration officials have acknowledged that a binding international climate agreement won’t emerge from the Copenhagen summit next month. An arms-reduction treaty with Russia is going to expire Dec. 5 without a new one in place, forcing the parties to scramble to sign an interim “bridging agreement.” And Iran and North Korea have yet to deliver on Obama’s promise that U.S. engagement will yield better behavior.

And we’ve not exactly bowled them over in the Middle East or gotten anything from Russia.

You’d think Obama, who wanted “smart” diplomacy and new “pragmatism” (determined to “leave ideology behind”) would take a look around and see what his team has accomplished: nothing. If they have no innate aversion, no skin-crawling reaction to the suck-uppery, perhaps the Obama team will at least recognize that it’s all been a failure. Then they can fire some people and start over. Unfortunately, that photo of the bow is forever.

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Obama’s Japan Fumble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Anonymous and smart analysis on the prospects for health-care reform: “When this debate spills into January still unresolved, voters are going to say: ‘Enough! Where are the jobs. Where is the economic plan?'”

Meanwhile, the media is catching on: “Barack Obama ran for president on a promise of saving the typical family $2,500 a year in lower health care premiums. But that was then. No one in the White House is making such a pledge now.”

Jamie Fly: “Even if the president eventually sends a significant number of additional troops and allows General McChrystal to implement a counterinsurgency strategy, this painfully drawn out process has had negative consequences and does not bode well for the future U.S. commitment in Afghanistan.” As a retired Air Force chief master sergeant tells Fly: “Our service members are dying and the president is dithering. I have been in the military while a president dithered or failed to make a tough decision, it is eviscerating, and a rot settles in. ‘Commander in Chief’  is not just a fancy title.”

Even if the Obami and the chattering class are playing dumb, the American people are not: “Sixty percent (60%) of likely voters nationwide say last week’s shootings at Fort Hood should be investigated by military authorities as a terrorist act.”

James Taranto: “Willful ignorance of the enemy’s ideology is of no help in fighting the enemy–or preventing future attacks. In any case clarity, not obfuscation, is the enemy of prejudice.”

Thomas Joscelyn sums up: “So we know that: the Fort Hood Shooter attended the same mosque that Anwar al Awlaki preached at in 2001; Maj. Hasan had clearly adopted jihadist views very similar to those Awlaki has espoused, including the idea that Muslims cannot truly serve in a foreign army that is supposedly attacking all of Islam, by June of 2007; Maj. Hasan contacted Awlaki between ’10 to 20 times’ beginning in December 2008; Maj. Hasan may have posted on Awlaki’s Facebook page on Dec. 14, 2008; and, in July 2009, Awlaki again said that true Muslims cannot serve these armies and called on Muslims to turn against them. Is there really any mystery about what drove Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan to commit mass murder?”

David Axelrod wants to “nationalize” the 2010 elections. Really. Republicans reply: “Super.” Someone should ask Red State senators and Blue Dog congressmen if they want to be nationalized.

Another democratic ally, another strained relationship. “President Obama will arrive in Tokyo on Friday, at a time when America’s relations with Japan are at their most contentious since the trade wars of the 1990s.”

Anonymous and smart analysis on the prospects for health-care reform: “When this debate spills into January still unresolved, voters are going to say: ‘Enough! Where are the jobs. Where is the economic plan?'”

Meanwhile, the media is catching on: “Barack Obama ran for president on a promise of saving the typical family $2,500 a year in lower health care premiums. But that was then. No one in the White House is making such a pledge now.”

Jamie Fly: “Even if the president eventually sends a significant number of additional troops and allows General McChrystal to implement a counterinsurgency strategy, this painfully drawn out process has had negative consequences and does not bode well for the future U.S. commitment in Afghanistan.” As a retired Air Force chief master sergeant tells Fly: “Our service members are dying and the president is dithering. I have been in the military while a president dithered or failed to make a tough decision, it is eviscerating, and a rot settles in. ‘Commander in Chief’  is not just a fancy title.”

Even if the Obami and the chattering class are playing dumb, the American people are not: “Sixty percent (60%) of likely voters nationwide say last week’s shootings at Fort Hood should be investigated by military authorities as a terrorist act.”

James Taranto: “Willful ignorance of the enemy’s ideology is of no help in fighting the enemy–or preventing future attacks. In any case clarity, not obfuscation, is the enemy of prejudice.”

Thomas Joscelyn sums up: “So we know that: the Fort Hood Shooter attended the same mosque that Anwar al Awlaki preached at in 2001; Maj. Hasan had clearly adopted jihadist views very similar to those Awlaki has espoused, including the idea that Muslims cannot truly serve in a foreign army that is supposedly attacking all of Islam, by June of 2007; Maj. Hasan contacted Awlaki between ’10 to 20 times’ beginning in December 2008; Maj. Hasan may have posted on Awlaki’s Facebook page on Dec. 14, 2008; and, in July 2009, Awlaki again said that true Muslims cannot serve these armies and called on Muslims to turn against them. Is there really any mystery about what drove Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan to commit mass murder?”

David Axelrod wants to “nationalize” the 2010 elections. Really. Republicans reply: “Super.” Someone should ask Red State senators and Blue Dog congressmen if they want to be nationalized.

Another democratic ally, another strained relationship. “President Obama will arrive in Tokyo on Friday, at a time when America’s relations with Japan are at their most contentious since the trade wars of the 1990s.”

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The Reluctant Communist

Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist. This extraordinary book is now available for sale on Amazon and elsewhere. It is one of the most important documents to come out of North Korea ever. I review it in today’s Wall Street Journal.  The review can be found on their site, or you can click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below to read it here.

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Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist. This extraordinary book is now available for sale on Amazon and elsewhere. It is one of the most important documents to come out of North Korea ever. I review it in today’s Wall Street Journal.  The review can be found on their site, or you can click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below to read it here.

The Reluctant Communist

By Charles Robert Jenkins, with Jim Frederick

University of California, 192 pages, $24.95

Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist.

Uneducated, dirt poor, from rural North Carolina, Mr. Jenkins joined the U.S. Army in 1958 and rose to the rank of sergeant within three years. He was soon sent to South Korea, where he was assigned to patrols along the demilitarized zone and regularly came under hostile fire. Depressed and drinking heavily, he started searching for a way home. The scheme he cooked up: Cross into North Korea, get handed over to the Russians and then repatriated to the U.S. At most he would face the sanction of a court-martial.

But there was a hitch. “I did not understand,” Mr. Jenkins writes, “that the country I was seeking temporary refuge in was literally a giant, demented prison; once someone goes there, they almost never get out.” Mr. Jenkins was to spend the next four decades in North Korea. His memoir, written with the help of Jim Frederick, a Time magazine senior editor, is the story of his life in that bizarre and barbaric land.

After his capture, Mr. Jenkins recounts, he was subjected to a none-too-gentle period of interrogation and then brought together with three other Americans who had done the same thing, “all young dumb soldiers from poor backgrounds” like himself whose misbegotten actions turned them into North Korea’s “cold-war trophies.” Their lives were privileged compared with those of ordinary North Koreans, but the physical hardship was extreme: scarce, rotten food, lack of heat and indoor plumbing (not to mention privacy), insect and rat infestation.

But the mental strain was far worse. Complete isolation from the familiar world was a mere backdrop to the ordeal inflicted by an endless procession of Communist Party minders, who monitored Mr. Jenkins’s every move and who strove, by means of compulsory self-criticism sessions and beatings, to inculcate in him the “correct ideology.”

Under threat of transfer to a prison colony and almost certain death, Mr. Jenkins was routinely assigned to socialist toil. Sometimes it was weaving fishing nets, sometimes teaching English to North Korean military personnel. Sometimes it was acting in North Korean films, including one celebrating the North Korean capture of the USS Pueblo in 1968. (Mr. Jenkins played the captain of a U.S. aircraft carrier.) With characteristic inefficiency, the North Koreans shot the scenes in the order in which they would appear in the film, breaking down the sets each time and then rebuilding them when needed.

Thanks to Kim Il Sung’s “glorious benevolence,” as the North Koreans called it, Mr. Jenkins and his American comrades were eventually provided with female personal “cooks.” They were expected to serve the state as another set of watching eyes and, as it happened, as “unofficial wives” — potential consorts. The first words that Mr. Jenkins’s own cook said to him were: “I am not cooking for an American dog.” Relations between them, he observes, “went down from there.”

One of North Korea’s cruelest policies was to intersect bittersweetly with Mr. Jenkins’s life. Beginning sometime in the mid-1970s, the regime began kidnapping young Japanese women, some as young as 13, snatching them off streets near beaches in Japan and conveying them to North Korea to fulfill various tasks for its intelligence service. One such young woman was Hitomi Soga, seized along with her mother, stuffed into a black sack, taken by submarine to North Korea and, after a suitable “adjustment period,” delivered to Mr. Jenkins’s home and made to live with him, presumably to bolster the morale of a cold-war trophy.

Mr. Jenkins’s minders, he says, encouraged him to rape her. Instead he treated her with kindness and respect. Before long, the two fell in love, a bond apparently made all the stronger by the suffering both had endured at the hands of their common tormentors. Marriage followed, along with three children, one of whom died at birth. The whereabouts of Hitomi’s mother remain unknown to this day.

In 2002, North Korea unexpectedly acknowledged its kidnapping program and Hitomi was repatriated to Japan. Mr. Jenkins and the couple’s two daughters followed 18 months later. At that point, he turned himself in to American authorities in Tokyo, becoming the longest-missing U.S. deserter ever to report again for duty. The U.S. Army sentenced him, humanely, to 30 days in the brig. “Going AWOL to avoid combat is a serious crime,” Mr. Jenkins writes, “and abandoning troops under your command is one of the worst things a military man can do. . . . I am sorry for that, and I have spent my life having to live with my conscience and the consequence of my actions on that day.”

However we judge Mr. Jenkins’s actions so many years ago, “The Reluctant Communist” is itself an act of redemption. This extraordinary book opens a window on a world of fathomless evil, and it tells a heartbreaking story — of a life lived in adversity and conducted with a mixture of fortitude, resignation, tenderness and regret. Clearly Charles Robert Jenkins emerged from his years of ordeal with his Americanness intact. True patriotism can come in many forms.

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Missing

When Will North Korea Return Our Abductees? is the title of an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today by Kyoko Nakayama, a special advisor to Japan’s prime minister.

She is referring, of course, to the seventeen Japanese nationals, most of them young women, known to have been kidnapped in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, seized from streets and beaches in Japan and taken by submarine to North Korea to be used as tutors in a school for spies. Five of these abductees were returned to Japan in 2002, and Tokyo is still seeking information on the fate of the others.

Later this month a tremendously important book will be published in this country, The Reluctant Communist, by Charles Robert Jenkins, an American soldier who deserted to North Korea in 1965, and spent the next forty years in captivity there. Jenkins married one of the Japanese abductees and was allowed to leave for Japan in 2004, where he wrote his memoirs.

One of many significant facts he reports in his book is that not only Japanese citizens were abducted. The North Korean, he maintains, were seizing people from all across Asia, and also luring to a life of slavery unsuspecting people from Europe and the Arab world.

Attention has rightly been focused on the fate of the Japanese citizens whose lives were cruelly stolen from them. But these other victims of Pyongyang are also be in need of rescue. Even if rescue is impossible, which it is, they deserve an accounting. That too is likely to be impossible until the evil regime in North Korea is destroyed.

When will that day arrive? It is impossible to say, but tomorrow would not be too soon.   

When Will North Korea Return Our Abductees? is the title of an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today by Kyoko Nakayama, a special advisor to Japan’s prime minister.

She is referring, of course, to the seventeen Japanese nationals, most of them young women, known to have been kidnapped in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, seized from streets and beaches in Japan and taken by submarine to North Korea to be used as tutors in a school for spies. Five of these abductees were returned to Japan in 2002, and Tokyo is still seeking information on the fate of the others.

Later this month a tremendously important book will be published in this country, The Reluctant Communist, by Charles Robert Jenkins, an American soldier who deserted to North Korea in 1965, and spent the next forty years in captivity there. Jenkins married one of the Japanese abductees and was allowed to leave for Japan in 2004, where he wrote his memoirs.

One of many significant facts he reports in his book is that not only Japanese citizens were abducted. The North Korean, he maintains, were seizing people from all across Asia, and also luring to a life of slavery unsuspecting people from Europe and the Arab world.

Attention has rightly been focused on the fate of the Japanese citizens whose lives were cruelly stolen from them. But these other victims of Pyongyang are also be in need of rescue. Even if rescue is impossible, which it is, they deserve an accounting. That too is likely to be impossible until the evil regime in North Korea is destroyed.

When will that day arrive? It is impossible to say, but tomorrow would not be too soon.   

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China Proposes a Three-Way Forum

Yesterday, Nikkei, the Japanese business news organization, reported that Beijing had proposed that China, Japan, and the United States hold regular high-level talks on matters of common interest, such as North Korea.  Is this a good idea?

We start with the general proposition that, given Beijing’s worldview, anything the Chinese propose cannot be advantageous for either the Japanese or us.  As an initial matter, the establishment of a permanent structure including the Chinese enhances their role in Asia.

The Bush administration has done much to bolster Beijing’s diplomacy by putting China at the center of multilateral attempts to disarm North Korea.  The Chinese used the six-party talks to promote dialogue but not a solution.  As a result, they have given the North Koreans the time to build nuclear devices and improve their long-range missiles.  When there has been progress in this forum—started in 2003—it has almost always been because American diplomats have informally sat down with their North Korean counterparts without the Chinese present.  China supplies 90 percent of the North’s oil, 80 percent of its consumer goods, and 45 percent of its food.  They are each other’s only military ally.  No other nation provides more diplomatic support to Pyongyang.  The Chinese cannot obtain the North Koreans’ cooperation or they do not want to.  Either conclusion shows that China is not a helpful diplomatic partner.  Consequently, it would be unwise to repeat our strategic mistakes by giving Beijing more clout than it deserves.

Moreover, the establishment of China’s three-way forum would exclude South Korea, a crucial American ally.  In Asia, the United States has strong alliances with Tokyo and Seoul.  The Japanese and South Koreans, however, have not established good ties between themselves.  South Korea’s outgoing president, Roh Moo-hyun, unfortunately, has stirred up lingering anti-Japanese resentment in an apparent attempt to strengthen his failing administration.  Tomorrow’s inauguration of his successor, Lee Myung-bak, will probably result in better ties between his government and Tokyo: earlier this month the pragmatic Lee signaled his desire to repair the damage Roh has caused.  So America should encourage this welcome trend and not accept Beijing’s plan, which can only drive wedges among Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul.  If the Bush administration promotes three-way discussions, it should encourage dialogue involving the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

So let’s stop promoting potential adversaries and start helping our friends.  Isn’t that what diplomacy is all about?

Yesterday, Nikkei, the Japanese business news organization, reported that Beijing had proposed that China, Japan, and the United States hold regular high-level talks on matters of common interest, such as North Korea.  Is this a good idea?

We start with the general proposition that, given Beijing’s worldview, anything the Chinese propose cannot be advantageous for either the Japanese or us.  As an initial matter, the establishment of a permanent structure including the Chinese enhances their role in Asia.

The Bush administration has done much to bolster Beijing’s diplomacy by putting China at the center of multilateral attempts to disarm North Korea.  The Chinese used the six-party talks to promote dialogue but not a solution.  As a result, they have given the North Koreans the time to build nuclear devices and improve their long-range missiles.  When there has been progress in this forum—started in 2003—it has almost always been because American diplomats have informally sat down with their North Korean counterparts without the Chinese present.  China supplies 90 percent of the North’s oil, 80 percent of its consumer goods, and 45 percent of its food.  They are each other’s only military ally.  No other nation provides more diplomatic support to Pyongyang.  The Chinese cannot obtain the North Koreans’ cooperation or they do not want to.  Either conclusion shows that China is not a helpful diplomatic partner.  Consequently, it would be unwise to repeat our strategic mistakes by giving Beijing more clout than it deserves.

Moreover, the establishment of China’s three-way forum would exclude South Korea, a crucial American ally.  In Asia, the United States has strong alliances with Tokyo and Seoul.  The Japanese and South Koreans, however, have not established good ties between themselves.  South Korea’s outgoing president, Roh Moo-hyun, unfortunately, has stirred up lingering anti-Japanese resentment in an apparent attempt to strengthen his failing administration.  Tomorrow’s inauguration of his successor, Lee Myung-bak, will probably result in better ties between his government and Tokyo: earlier this month the pragmatic Lee signaled his desire to repair the damage Roh has caused.  So America should encourage this welcome trend and not accept Beijing’s plan, which can only drive wedges among Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul.  If the Bush administration promotes three-way discussions, it should encourage dialogue involving the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

So let’s stop promoting potential adversaries and start helping our friends.  Isn’t that what diplomacy is all about?

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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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Tokyo’s False Choices

“A gloom is settling over Tokyo,” writes Brad Glosserman of Pacific Forum CSIS. Japan, he notes, is insecure as it watches its protector, the United States, rush to embrace a rising Chinese state. Glosserman correctly notes that the Japanese feel threatened by improving relations between Washington and Beijing.

As a result of their fears, he believes the Japanese see “false dichotomies” and are making “false choices.” Policymakers should stop framing things “in overly simple terms.” “Tokyo should adopt an inclusive outlook and not feel threatened by improved relations between Washington and Beijing,” Glosserman writes. “Just as a positive Japan-China relationship will not threaten Tokyo’s ties to Washington, improved U.S.-China relations need not undermine the U.S.-Japan alliance.”

Really? Diplomacy may not always be a zero-sum game, but it is in Asia at this moment because the most important continental power there—China—sees it as such. Beijing has foreign policy goals that contemplate the removal of the United States from Asia and the neutralization of its two historical rivals, India and Japan. The Chinese, Indians, and Japanese are engaged in intense competitions, and Americans, who fought a series of wars in Asia last century, should know better than to spout bland statements and expect everyone to just get along.

For one thing, the American alliances with Japan and South Korea have no purpose if there are no threats. Why should we keep 28,000 military personnel on the Korean peninsula and 50,000 on the Japanese islands if they are not needed? They are there because the South Koreans and the Japanese feel insecure. And contrary to the blame-America-first crowd, it is not Washington that is creating an enemy to keep its alliances in place. Its alliances remain in place because Asians residing on the perimeter of the modern Chinese state are concerned about Beijing. They see that China is sustaining a hostile North Korean state, threatening the democracy on Taiwan, claiming vast expanses of international waters as its own, making outsized territorial claims, regularly violating their neighbors’ sovereignty, and engaging in aggressive military maneuvers.

The United States has sought to come to an accommodation with China as we hope that the Chinese will moderate their behavior and integrate themselves into the existing international system. So far, we have viewed this as a cost-free exercise. It is not. By doing so, we are undermining our alliances with democratic Japan and South Korea, both of which view our actions with concern if not alarm. Asians do not see “false dichotomies,” they are not making false choices,” and they are not viewing their region “in overly simple terms.” They are reacting to the failure of Washington to understand both the dynamics of Asia and the cost of its policies.

“A gloom is settling over Tokyo,” writes Brad Glosserman of Pacific Forum CSIS. Japan, he notes, is insecure as it watches its protector, the United States, rush to embrace a rising Chinese state. Glosserman correctly notes that the Japanese feel threatened by improving relations between Washington and Beijing.

As a result of their fears, he believes the Japanese see “false dichotomies” and are making “false choices.” Policymakers should stop framing things “in overly simple terms.” “Tokyo should adopt an inclusive outlook and not feel threatened by improved relations between Washington and Beijing,” Glosserman writes. “Just as a positive Japan-China relationship will not threaten Tokyo’s ties to Washington, improved U.S.-China relations need not undermine the U.S.-Japan alliance.”

Really? Diplomacy may not always be a zero-sum game, but it is in Asia at this moment because the most important continental power there—China—sees it as such. Beijing has foreign policy goals that contemplate the removal of the United States from Asia and the neutralization of its two historical rivals, India and Japan. The Chinese, Indians, and Japanese are engaged in intense competitions, and Americans, who fought a series of wars in Asia last century, should know better than to spout bland statements and expect everyone to just get along.

For one thing, the American alliances with Japan and South Korea have no purpose if there are no threats. Why should we keep 28,000 military personnel on the Korean peninsula and 50,000 on the Japanese islands if they are not needed? They are there because the South Koreans and the Japanese feel insecure. And contrary to the blame-America-first crowd, it is not Washington that is creating an enemy to keep its alliances in place. Its alliances remain in place because Asians residing on the perimeter of the modern Chinese state are concerned about Beijing. They see that China is sustaining a hostile North Korean state, threatening the democracy on Taiwan, claiming vast expanses of international waters as its own, making outsized territorial claims, regularly violating their neighbors’ sovereignty, and engaging in aggressive military maneuvers.

The United States has sought to come to an accommodation with China as we hope that the Chinese will moderate their behavior and integrate themselves into the existing international system. So far, we have viewed this as a cost-free exercise. It is not. By doing so, we are undermining our alliances with democratic Japan and South Korea, both of which view our actions with concern if not alarm. Asians do not see “false dichotomies,” they are not making false choices,” and they are not viewing their region “in overly simple terms.” They are reacting to the failure of Washington to understand both the dynamics of Asia and the cost of its policies.

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The Morning After: A Japanese Take

Japan is one place where Hillary Clinton’s drubbing in Iowa may spark some optimism.

During a just-completed visit to that country, high government officials reminded me repeatedly of a statement by Mrs. Clinton that had shocked them by the way it ignored Japan’s pivotal role in Asia. She had written in the November 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs, that: “Our relationship with China will be the most important bilateral relationship in the world in this century.”

No one who, like me, regularly visits both countries can possibly imagine that China is remotely close to reaching the levels of living standard, education, and economic and technical sophistication of Japan today, to say nothing of its political freedoms.

Japan is in addition a far more formidable military power than is usually recognized. Her self-defense forces are superbly trained and competent. On December 18 she became only the second country in the world to intercept an incoming missile in space—when one of her Kongo class Aegis destroyers destroyed a target, designed to resemble a North Korean Nodong, outside the earth’s atmosphere in a test near Hawaii.

Furthermore, geography dictates that any Chinese attempt at force projection in northeast Asia would hit, almost immediately, the likely unyielding boundaries of Japanese territory and interest. Japan is far larger than her four main islands. The most distant point in the chain of islands that runs south of Nagasaki through Okinawa and beyond is Yonaguni island. It’s more than 1,312 miles from Tokyo (Beijing,Seoul, and Manila are all closer) and only sixty miles from the northeast coast of Taiwan. As the Chinese well understand, this fact means that any operation against Taiwan would almost certainly involve violation of Japanese sea and air space, which would lead to hostilities with Japan and her ally the United States.

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Japan is one place where Hillary Clinton’s drubbing in Iowa may spark some optimism.

During a just-completed visit to that country, high government officials reminded me repeatedly of a statement by Mrs. Clinton that had shocked them by the way it ignored Japan’s pivotal role in Asia. She had written in the November 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs, that: “Our relationship with China will be the most important bilateral relationship in the world in this century.”

No one who, like me, regularly visits both countries can possibly imagine that China is remotely close to reaching the levels of living standard, education, and economic and technical sophistication of Japan today, to say nothing of its political freedoms.

Japan is in addition a far more formidable military power than is usually recognized. Her self-defense forces are superbly trained and competent. On December 18 she became only the second country in the world to intercept an incoming missile in space—when one of her Kongo class Aegis destroyers destroyed a target, designed to resemble a North Korean Nodong, outside the earth’s atmosphere in a test near Hawaii.

Furthermore, geography dictates that any Chinese attempt at force projection in northeast Asia would hit, almost immediately, the likely unyielding boundaries of Japanese territory and interest. Japan is far larger than her four main islands. The most distant point in the chain of islands that runs south of Nagasaki through Okinawa and beyond is Yonaguni island. It’s more than 1,312 miles from Tokyo (Beijing,Seoul, and Manila are all closer) and only sixty miles from the northeast coast of Taiwan. As the Chinese well understand, this fact means that any operation against Taiwan would almost certainly involve violation of Japanese sea and air space, which would lead to hostilities with Japan and her ally the United States.

These geographical, economic, and political facts mean that in Asia the most important relationship for Washington must be with Japan. Lip service is regularly paid to this concept. In reality, however, as Mrs. Clinton’s essay demonstrates, Washington gives relatively low priority to consultation with Japan and attention to Japanese issues, particularly when compared to China.

Hillary mentions Japan only once, near the end of her piece, observing: “We must find additional ways for Australia, India, Japan, and the United States to cooperate on issues of mutual concern, including combating terrorism, cooperating on global climate control, protecting global energy supplies, and deepening global economic development.” That is all.

So my Japanese friends may be forgiven if they feel some relief at the primary defeat of a candidate who so conspicuously ignored their country. But they will continue to worry (as I will too) for Hillary’s views are sadly typical of elite American foreign policy thinking today.

Will someone else be better? That’s far from clear. A quick Google search of keywords “Barack Obama” and “Japan” suggested that, on this issue, Iowa’s winner has spoken out so far only about the superior gas mileages of Japanese made automobiles.

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