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How Should America compete with China? (Crossposted from Asia Times)

March 29th, 2015 - 10:05 am

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Author:  March 29, 2015 1 Comment

Never in the history of American foreign policy has so much egg adhered to so little face as in the matter of Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. All of America’s allies, including Britain and Australia, have elected to join the Chinese-led institution. That is a grand validation of China’s One Belt/One Road vision for infrastructure upgrades across the whole Eurasian landmass. China’s President Xi Jinping envisions $2.5 trillion of trade between his country and the “Silk Road” nations over the next decade. Rather than fret about the impact of a slowing (or shrinking) world economy on China’s export-driven prosperity, China is seeking to shape the economic environment around it.

It is not only the Obama administration that has been wrong-footed by the world’s embrace of China’s economic ambitions, but almost the whole of America’s foreign-policy elite. With almost no exceptions, American analysts have misunderstood China. One school argues that China inevitably will collapse of its own weight, because authoritarian governments supposedly are incapable of efficient allocation of resources; another warns of a Chinese plan for world domination.

A March 20 Wall Street Journal editorial proclaimed, “China Trounces U.S. ‘Smart Power,’ but expresses sour grapes over the outcome:

The AIIB is likely to enhance China’s influence far more than it will help its supposed beneficiaries. Poor regimes willing to stay on Beijing’s good side will earn cheap loans on lax terms, but the bank will promote a version of China’s state capitalism, not transparent markets.

Gresham’s Law applies to economic development: Bad money drives out good. Ports, bridges and other public works funded by artificially cheap capital, with poor or corrupt oversight, become boondoggles that burden states with debt, raise default risks and often stifle productive private investment. The trillions of dollars Asia needs for public works will never materialize unless private investors see reliable, non-corrupt opportunities for returns. Easy public loans that perpetuate cronyism don’t help.

One would like to ask the Journal editors where in the world they observe an efficient model of private infrastructure investment. American infrastructure is miserable compared to Asia’s newly built roads, trains and bridges, as any traveler who has the misfortune to land at JFK or O’Hare will attest. There is a reason for this: A journeyman bricklayer working on any federally-supported building project in Essex Country, New Jersey is expected to earn $67.26 an hourunder the Davis-Bacon Act. That’s $134,520 a year without overtime. American public works projects cost the moon and take forever because they are run for the benefit of the construction unions. American politicians are as terrified to touch this torpedo as their French and Italian counterparts are terrified to amend protective labor laws in their countries. New York City expects to complete its Second Avenue subway line by 2029 at a cost of $17 billion, or 22 years after ground was broken. China builds whole subway systems for cities the size of New York in a year.

Infrastructure is one of China’s great achievements. As the New York Times observed in a Sept. 13, 2013 report, China’s high-speed rail system already serves more passengers than the 54 million Americans who board domestic flights every day, and has transformed China’s economy. With 600 million Chinese migrating from the low-productivity countryside to higher-productivity employment in urban areas, the high-speed rail network has made business ventures possible that were not conceivable before.

A generation of American China-watchers is growing old waiting for China’s economy to crash. There is a parallel thesis, propounded most recently by Brookings Institution scholar David Shambaugh, that China faces a “coming crack-up” for political reasons. It is true that President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has upset a large part of China’s political elite, but that is not necessarily a sign of political weakness. On the contrary: it is hard for any constituency to oppose Xi on grounds that he has impinged on its parochial interests. Many of China’s economic reforms, moreover, force transparency upon precisely those sectors of the economy that most lent themselves to corruption. The trillion-yuan swap of provincial debt for the obligations of Local Government Financing Vehicles, for example, begins the slow process of shifting provincial infrastructure financing from locally-arranged land sales to tax-financed bonds on the Western model.

A minority of American analysts hold that China will succeed, and that its objective is world domination. That is the nub of Michael Pillsbury’s new book The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower. This I characterized as the “Fu Manchu” theory of Chinese intentions, The leading Chinese news site sina.com had a great deal of fun with this idea, and translated my notice with copies of the covers of the old Fu Manchu novels. Dr. Pillsbury, in fairness, is a serious scholar, and the sensational title of his book doubtless is due to a mercenary publisher Jonesing for impulse purchases. Nonetheless, as I wrote in Asia Times, “China is not planning to take over the world. It doesn’t want the world. It doesn’t like the world – that is, the world outside of China. Unlike Greeks, Romans, Muslims, and European imperialists, it does not want to plant its flag outside its borders, send its young men to conquer and defend new territories, or subject other peoples to colonial rule. Nonetheless, it may inherit the world, reluctantly and by default.”

What should America do in response to a rising China? It is futile and ultimately humiliating to attempt to contain China, as the Obama administration discovered in the case of the AIIB. America should do what it does best, or rather, what it used to do best: Widen the technology gap between America and the rest of the world. That gap is now closing rapidly as a new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs and scientists comes of age. It is closing in part because America’s commitment to basic R&D has faltered.

As Dr. Henry Kressel, former head of RCA Labs, and I wrote in 2013 in American Interest:

One critical but often underrated factor in productivity growth is the impact of basic R&D stemming from aerospace research and development. Between 1952 and 1964, as the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations responded to Russian development of nuclear weapons and space flight, R&D spending rose by more than an order of magnitude. During the Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter Administrations, though, Federal R&D spending grew very little. When America shifted budget priorities toward increasing Federal entitlements and funding the Vietnam War, Federal R&D spending declined. It rose, although not as fast as during the 1950s and 1960s, during the Reagan Administration under the impetus of the Strategic Defense Initiative and the rearmament program.

America’s response to Sputnik set in motion the eventual productivity recovery of the 1980s, with the fastest rate of increase of federally funded R&D in the nation’s history. It is difficult to identify the fundamental research component in overall R&D spending, to be sure, but a rough proxy is the percentage of Federal R&D spending. The Defense Department, NASA and the Department of Energy have provided a disproportionate share of funding for research with long-range objectives in basic science as opposed to incremental improvements on existing technologies. Federal R&D spending has fallen from nearly 2 percent of GDP in 1963, at the height of the Cold War and space program, to less than 1 percent during the past two decades. That may not sound like much, but as with falling infrastructure investment, 1 percent compounded over a decade or two is a very significant number.

America should be reliving the Sputnik moment of 1957, when Russia’s first space flight prompted a big shift in resources towards science education and basic R&D. America also should make it easier for foreign students (who comprise a disproportionate share of our scientific and engineering student body) to settle in the U.S. and obtain funding for new ventures. China and the United States never will be allies, and probably won’t be friends, but the world’s two largest economies can compete peacefully for the high ground of technological innovation. That’s what America once did best. If America can’t sustain its commitment to innovation, its complaints about China’s ascendance will be futile.

 

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The Great and Powerful Ob

March 23rd, 2015 - 3:44 am

Crossposted from Asia Times

http://atimes.com/2015/03/memo-to-netanyahu-pay-no-attention-to-that-man-behind-the-curtain/

The “Wizard of Oz” is the best single-source explanation of American politics. Specialists, to be sure, will want to read the Federalist papers, de Tocqueville and the speeches of Lincoln, but the 1939 MGM movie tells most of the story. We are a nation of scarecrows without a brain, tin men without a heart, and lions without courage. Nothing is going to fix us, but the next best thing is to feel better about ourselves. A broken-down carnival huckster impersonating the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz gives our three national archetypes not what they need, but the next best thing: A phony diploma, a testimonial, and a medal. The party favors don’t help the feckless trio (the Scarecrow proceeds to recite a comically mistaken formula for the length of the sides of an isosceles triangle) but they did wonders for their self-esteem.

America is a winner’s game. America succeeds because it breeds success and ruthlessly crushes failure. A main purpose of American politics, in turn, is to make losers feel better, without, of course, preventing them from losing. No president in American history more closely resembles the Wizard than Ob the Great and Powerful, the present occupant of the Oval Office. Self-esteem is America’s consolation prize and Obama spreads it with a shovel.

Six years after America inaugurated its first African-American president, the social condition of black Americans remains dismal and appears to be deteriorating. 49% of black males have been arrested by the age of 23; a third of black males will probably spend time behind bars. 54% of black men graduate from high school vs. more than 75% of whites. Only 14% of black eighth graders score at or above the threshold of proficiency. And nearly three-quarters of black births are to unmarried mothers. On the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, these are catastrophic results. Magical thinking now infects what was in the past a civil rights movement, for example the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” slogan adopted from an incident that Obama’s Justice Department proved never to have happened.

Hypocrisy of this sort plays well in America. It began with the beaten South, which lost nearly 30% of its military age in men in the Civil War, but earned a romantic image of gallantry in America’s popular culture. Claptrap like “Gone With the Wind” was the Confederacy’s consolation prize, with a revoltingly false portrait of a halcyon era of beautiful belles and elegant balls on antebellum plantations. The slaves’ descendants in their days of woe have been accorded the same, slim consolation. Rather than Scarlett and Rhett, African-Americans have rage-spewing rappers like Obama’s regular White House guest Jay-Z. Meanwhile young black men are fed into the maw of the criminal justice system. And Ob the Great and Powerful is there to hand out diplomas, testimonials and medals.

Hypocrisy is a luxury that America can afford. The number of Americans under judicial supervision (prison, probation or parole) rose from 2 million in 1980 to 7.5 million in 2008, and the violent crime rate fell correspondingly, because so many criminals were locked up. But hypocrisy is a far less effective palliative in the Middle East, now that times have gotten tougher. President Obama evinces the same concern for the supposed victims of imperialism around the world as he does for African-Americans–for example the Persians, who are less imperial victims than the rancorous remnant of a failed empire. His concern for the welfare of the Persians is almost child-like; in a sense it is child-like, for it is the concern of the child of the Bohemian anthropologist Stanley Ann Dunham, who married and divorced two Muslim men, and left young Barry with her parents while she set out to save the ironworkers of Indonesia from globalization. Here is what he broadcast to Iranians on Nowruz, the Persian New Year:

Hello!  To everyone celebrating Nowruz—across the United States and in countries around the world—Nowruz Mubarak. For thousands of years, this has been a time to gather with family and friends and welcome a new spring and a new year.  Last week, my wife Michelle helped mark Nowruz here at the White House.  It was a celebration of the vibrant cultures, food, music and friendship of our many diaspora communities who make extraordinary contributions every day here in the United States.  We even created our own Haft Seen (symbolic fruit plate), representing our hopes for the new year…As you gather around the Nowruz table—from Tehran to Shiraz to Tabriz, from the coasts of the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf—you’re giving thanks for your blessings and looking ahead to the future…As the poet Hafez wrote, “It is early spring.  Try to be joyful in your heart.  For many a flower will bloom while you will be in clay.”

There is no consolation for the Persians, however; their fertility rate has fallen from nearly 7 children per female in 1979 to just 1.6 in 2012, which means that they will have a higher proportion of elderly dependents than the United States a generation from now. After 3,000 years Persian culture has reached its best-used-by-date. The end of traditional society and the education of women has ruined it. Iran knows that it is going to die, and all the schmoozing in the world from an American president will do it no good.

The same sort of hypocrisy applies to Obama’s concern for Palestinian self-esteem. When Obama told the Huffington Post March 21 that Netanyahu had placed a strain on Israel’s democratic fabric, he did not refer merely to the prime minister’s factual campaign statement to the effect that foreign-financed campaign organizations were bringing large numbers of Arab voters to the polls. He meant (as Dana Milbank made clear in a March 22 op-ed in the Washington Post):

Without a Palestinian state, Israel can be either a Jewish state or a democracy but not both. If it annexes the Palestinian territories and remains democratic, it will be split roughly evenly between Jews and Arabs; if it annexes the territories and suppresses the rights of Arabs, it ceases to be democratic. There are roughly 4.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and another 1.4 million living inside Israel . That puts them in rough parity with Jews, who number just over 6 million. Higher Palestinian population growth and fertility rates indicate that Jews will be a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean in a few years.

This is simply false: close examination of Palestinian statistics (e.g., comparison of actual birth and school registration records against the computer model output of the Palestinian authority) shows that the Palestinian population data are inflated by about 1.4 million. With the Jewish birth rate and the Arab birth rate between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea converging on 3 children per female, there will be no significant change in relative population in the foreseeable future.

Nonetheless, what Obama means, quite simply, is that any outcome other than the establishment of a Palestinian state will be “undemocratic.” That is an act of hypocrisy Israel cannot afford. Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon undertook perhaps the most hypocritical act in Israeli history, withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza in 2005. Sharon expected the result to be catastrophic, but hoped that the ensuing mess would persuade the world that Israel could not afford to give up more territory. Hypocrisy breeds hypocrisy, though, and Sharon vastly underestimated the world’s capacity to ignore the obvious.

There is an old country joke about the shtetl family that invites a poor man to Shabbat dinner. The hostess brings out a dish of whitefish, and the poor man proceeds to gobble it up. The hostess, somewhat chagrined, says gently, “Whitefish is very expensive,” to which the poor man replies, “Believe me, it’s worth it!” From the vantage point of the utopians in Obama’s camarilla—Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Valerie Jarrett and Ben Rhodes—allowing Hamas to turn Judea and Samaria into an artillery platform is worth it. They identify with failed or failing peoples, and cannot live with the knowledge that civilizations die out for the most part because they want to.

Israel’s election was in effect a referendum on the two-state solution, I argued earlier in this publication. Netanyahu had to tell the truth to his own base to persuade them to vote for him, and he told them that under foreseeable circumstances a Palestinian state simply would not happen—not while Mahmoud Abbas survives on the support of the Israeli Army, and Iran is sending weapons to Hamas, and the surrounding countries (especially Syria) have disintegrated into chaos and polarized radicalism. Israel’s national fund of hypocrisy, already depleted by Ariel Sharon’s profligacy in 2005, was exhausted.

Nothing that Mr. Netanyahu can do will placate the Great and Powerful Ob. It may be painful and in some ways damaging, but he has no choice but to ignore the man behind the curtain.

President Obama sent a video message to the Iranian people on the holiday of Nowruz, averring that his family had observed the feast in solidarity with the Persians, “the heirs to a great civilization.” He began:

Hello!  To everyone celebrating Nowruz—across the United States and in countries around the world—Nowruz Mubarak.

For thousands of years, this has been a time to gather with family and friends and welcome a new spring and a new year.  Last week, my wife Michelle helped mark Nowruz here at the White House.  It was a celebration of the vibrant cultures, food, music and friendship of our many diaspora communities who make extraordinary contributions every day here in the United States.  We even created our own Haft Seen, representing our hopes for the new year.

This year, that includes our hopes for progress between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the international community, including the United States.  So I want to take this opportunity once again to speak directly to the people and leaders of Iran.  As you gather around the Nowruz table—from Tehran to Shiraz to Tabriz, from the coasts of the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf—you’re giving thanks for your blessings and looking ahead to the future…As the poet Hafez wrote, “It is early spring.  Try to be joyful in your heart.  For many a flower will bloom while you will be in clay.”

I beg to differ: Persian culture in many respects is repugnant. The Persians are far from stupid–they invented chess–but their classical culture centers on pederasty. That is not a controversial statement, but the standard academic summary. The essay below appeared in Asia Times on Aug. 12, 2008, and I repost it below as a dissent from Obama’s fawning multiculturalism. Iran is by some measure the most dissolute nation in the world, with rates of chlamydia infection observed in different locations between 13% and 21% (vs. 0.6% in the US), and (according to Iranian health officials) a million cases of genital warts, as I reported in a recent survey. This seems related to extremely high rates of prostitution as well as the Shia institution of temporary marriage, which amounts to a form of clerically approved prostitution.

Sufism, sodomy and Satan
By Spengler

Sigmund Freud thought that everything was about sex, and he was half right. Rarely is love so spiritual that it does not also stir the loins, for human beings are creatures not only of soul but of body. Although it is thought rude to say so nowadays, different kinds of love belong to different kinds of sex. Not even Hell can resist divine love, J W Goethe showed in the funniest vignette in all literature: his devil, Mephistopheles, is disabled by an obsessive lust for the cherubs sent to claim the soul of Faust in the drama’s penultimate scene. Heavenly beauty, that is, reduces the crafty demon to a pathetic old pervert, in a tableau not fit for a family newspaper.[1]

Goethe’s creepily convincing portrait of a pederastic devil in Faust (1832) drew on the poet’s earlier study of Persian love poetry of the High Middle Ages,[2] where “as a rule, the beloved is not a woman, but a young man”, according to the leading Persian historian Ehsan Yar-Shater. Islamic mysticism (Sufism) of the High Middle Ages is the only case in which a mainstream current of a major world religion preached pederasty as a path to spiritual enlightenment. A vast literature documents this, and a great deal of it is available online.
Sufi adoration of pre-pubescent boys “persisted in many Islamic countries until very recent times,” according to the Orientalist Helmut Ritter.[3] The Afghan penchant for dancing boys in female costume, shown in the 2007 film The Kite Runner, is the last vestige of a Sufi practice that has been long suppressed by both the Sunni and Shi’ite branches of Islam. Sufism has a reputation in Western pop culture as a kinder and gentler branch of Islam. It is not a different kind of Islam, but rather Islam’s mystical practice, to which the adage applies, “by their fruits shall ye know them.”

Controversy persists over what is “authentic Sufism”. The Turkish organization of Fethallah Gulen claims millions of members and doubtless is the largest self-styled Sufi organization in the world. The American Sufi convert Stephen Schwartz has dismissed it as a “cult”,[4] while Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute warns that Gulen may become the Turkish Khomeini. Given Turkey’s turn towards political Islam (Turkey in the throes of Islamic revolution?, Jul 22, 2008), the world is likely to find out a great deal more about Sufism in the near future, and well may be dismayed by what it learns.

In contrast to the Judeo-Christian West, where marriage has been a metaphor for God’s love since the Biblical Song of Songs, homosexual pederasty was normative for the Sufi philosopher-poets of Islam’s golden age in Central Asia. For Christians, the earthly adumbration of God’s love was nuptial, but pederastic in Muslim Persia. The classic Persian poets, including Hafez[5] and Rumi,[6] pined for beardless boys while their European contemporaries wrote sonnets to women. Some apologists claim that the Sufi practice of “contemplation of the beardless” was a chaste spiritual exercise, but an Egyptian proverb warns: “In his father’s home a boy’s chastity is safe, but let him become a dervish [Sufi adept] and the buggers will queue up behind him.”[7]

Sufi pedophilia cannot be dismissed as a remnant of the old tribal practices that Islam often incorporated, for example, female genital mutilation. Genital mutilation is a pre-Islamic practice unknown in the ancient and modern West. Even though some Muslim authorities defend it on the basis of Hadith, no one has ever claimed that it offered a path to enlightenment. Sadly, pedophiles are found almost everywhere. In its ascendancy, Sufism made a definitive spiritual experience out of a practice considered criminally aberrant in the West. But pederasty as a spiritual exercise is not essentially different in character from the furtive practices of Western perverts. As the psychiatrists explain, pederasty is an expression of narcissism, the love of an idealized youthful self-image.

Sufism seeks one-ness with the universe through spiritual exercises that lead individual consciousness to dissolve into the cosmos. But nothing is more narcissistic than the contemplation of the cosmos, for if we become one with the cosmos, what we love in the cosmos is simply an idealized image of ourselves. An idealized self-image is also what attracts the aging lecher to the adolescent boy. That is the secret of Sufi as well as other pederasty, for pederasty is an extreme expression of self-love. That is the conventional psychiatric view; Freud for example wrote of the “basic narcissism of the vast majority of pederasts … proceeding as from narcissism, they seek their own image in young people.”

Sufism enjoys a faddish ripple of interest in America, where self-admiration is the national pastime. As opposed to the Biblical God, the cosmos is an unthreatening thing to worship. The universe, after all, is no one in particular, and those who seek to merge their consciousness with no one in particular at the end are left alone with themselves. Worship the cosmos, and you worship yours truly; worship yourself, and it is not unusual to adore your own idealized image.

I do not mean to suggest that Sufis today are more likely to be pederasts than members of any other religious denomination. Sadly, there is brisk competition in that field. Karen Armstrong, the popular writer on religion, claims to be a Sufi, and I have it on good authority that she is not a pederast. Non-Muslims who embrace Sufism view it as a generic form of “spirituality”, like Madonna’s dabbling in what she thinks is Kabbalah. That recalls the joke about the Chinese waiter in a kosher restaurant who speaks perfect Yiddish, of whom the owner says, “He thinks he’s learning English.” No one should blame Hafez or Rumi for the casual interest of American spiritual tourists.

Nonetheless, it is not entirely by accident that Sufism holds a fascination for self-absorbed young Americans who dislike the demands placed upon them by revealed faith. Mysticism of this genre provides a pretext to worship one’s self in the masquerade of the universe. As Rumi (1207-1273), the most revered of the Sufi philosopher-poets, said of his own spiritual master,

Why should I seek? I am the same as
He. His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!

I do not speak Persian and cannot comment on the aesthetic quality of Rumi’s verse, which connoisseurs hold to be elegant. Its content, though, reduces to the same God-is-everywhere-and-all-I-have-to-do-is-look-inside-myself sort of platitudes of pop spirituality, for example,

I searched for God among the Christians and on the Cross and therein I found Him not.
I went into the ancient temples of idolatry; no trace of Him was there.

Then I directed my search to the Kaaba, the resort of old and young; God was not there even.
Turning to philosophy I inquired about him from ibn Sina but found Him not within his range.
I fared then to the scene of the Prophet’s experience of a great divine manifestation only a ‘two bow-lengths’ distance from him’ but God was not there even in that exalted court.
Finally, I looked into my own heart and there I saw Him; He was nowhere else.

If the point of love is to dissolve one’s self into the All, then there is no difference between the self and the All; the self and the All are the same, and one loves one’s self. There is no Other in Sufism, only your own ego grinning back from the universe. To embrace the cosmos implies the destruction of individuality. In Goethe’s drama, Faust conjures up the personification of the cosmos, the Earth Spirit, and cannot bear to look upon it; the Earth Spirit dismisses him with the epigram, “You are like the spirit whom you comprehend – not me!” Woe betide the adept who succeeds in merging his mind with the universe: he would become a monster, like Mephistopheles, the consummate nihilist.
Love of the cosmos reduces to idolatrous love of self. It is a radically different sort of love than the love of YHWH or Jesus, who are distinct beings with a personality, even if incomprehensible in their totality. The Judeo-Christian God is known to humankind by revelation, and specifically self-revelation through love. The revealed God seeks the love of humankind as an Other. Revelation does not reassure us that the Divine was in our hearts all along. It is not always a pleasant experience. It burns our lips like the kiss of a seraph, and casts our heart into the refiner’s fire. It shatters, burns, overwhelms and transforms us – but it does not dissolve us into a cosmic soup. On the contrary: it enhances our individual personality. Precisely because it reinforces our individuality, love in the Judeo-Christian world can be a very painful experience.

To Christians and Jews, God reveals himself as a personality, and through acts of love – the Exodus and the Resurrection. There is no such event in Islam. Allah does not reveals himself, that is, descend to earth; instead, he sends down from heaven his instruction manual, namely the Koran. Allah remains unknown, and ultimately indistinguishable from the nature in which he is embedded. Confronted by this absolutely transcendental entity the individual human personality shrivels into insignificance.

Mystical communion with an unrevealed and unknowable God demands the sort of star- and navel-gazing that brings the communicant right back to good old number one. Just as Rumi said, it’s all inside you, like the self-help books say. And that brings us back to the matter of pederasty.

Men and women are so different that the experience of heterosexual love is analogous to the spiritual encounter with the divine Other. Love is as strong as death, says the Song of Songs:

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.

It is not only the passion of love that challenges death, but the fruit of love, the birth of children, that keeps death at bay. Nature appears to have arranged matters so that these two presentiments of immortality occur together. The Judeo-Christian God becomes the partner of human lovers: “Lovers could not love if they did not have an ally against death, if the only certainty were the grave and silence,” writes Michael Wyschogrod. Anyone who has been in love with someone of the opposite sex knows precisely what I am talking about. Those who have not may consult the Song of Songs, for example:

The love of bride and bridegroom is not quite the same thing as the love of God and his congregation, but the passion as strong as death that unites men and women is analogous to the encounter with the Other in the person of God.

On the extreme opposite of the spiritual spectrum, we encounter pederasty as the foundational experience of Sufism. According to Wikipedia,

As a Sufi practice of spiritual realization and union with the godhead, the meditation known in Arabic as Nazar ila’l-murd, “contemplation of the beardless,” or Shahed-bazi, “witness play” in Persian has been practiced from the earliest years of Islam. It is seen as an act of worship intended to help one ascend to the absolute beauty that is God through the relative beauty that is a boy.

The medieval Persians were not the first to practice the higher sodomy. The Greeks of the 6th century BC preferred young boys, procreating out of patriotic habit while their women closed their eyes and thought of Athens. Adoration of youth is a very different way to capture from love a sense of immortality. In Greek legend the gods turned Narcissus into a flower to punish his pride in refusing male suitors. Pederasty thus was present at the origin of the concept of narcissism.

The medieval Persians surpassed the Greeks in enthusiasm. Hafez, widely considered the greatest Persian poet, wrote such verses as

My sweetheart is a beauty and a child, and I fear that in play one day
He will kill me miserably and he will not be accountable according to the holy law.
I have a fourteen year old idol, sweet and nimble
For whom the full moon is a willing slave.
His sweet lips have (still) the scent of milk
Even though the demeanor of his dark eyes drips blood. (Divan, no 284)

And about the Magian baccha:

If the wine-serving magian boy would shine in this way
I will make a broom of my eyelashes to sweep the entrance of the tavern. (Divan, no 9)

Hafez is typical of the Muslim philosopher-poets of the epoch. Ehsan Yar-Shater wrote:

As a rule, the beloved [in medieval Persian poetry] is not a woman, but a young man. In the early centuries of Islam, the raids into Central Asia produced many young slaves. Slaves were also bought or received as gifts. They were made to serve as pages at court or in the households of the affluent, or as soldiers and body-guards. Young men, slaves or not, also, served wine at banquets and receptions, and the more gifted among them could play music and maintain a cultivated conversation. It was love toward young pages, soldiers, or novices in trades and professions which was the subject of lyrical introductions to panegyrics from the beginning of Persian poetry, and of the ghazal.[8]

As noted, it is tempting to dismiss the pederasty of the Sufi philosopher-poets as a cultural artifact of traditional society, along with the mystical practice of “contemplation of the beardless”. This would obscure rather than shed light, however, for three reasons.

The first is that traditional society is precisely what revelation seeks to temper. The Hebrew Bible abjures pagan practices, just as Mohammed inveighs against the pagans. Yet we do not find a single instance of a Hebrew poet celebrating homosexuality until, of course, late 20th-century Tel Aviv. Classic Persian and Arab literature ooze with it. Islam could not extirpate a pederastic culture including virtually all the leading poets of the high Middle Ages except by suppressing the Sufi cults. There were a number of reasons that both the Sunni and Shia mainstream persecuted Sufism, but a prominent one was the cited practice called “contemplation of the beardless” in which the dervish sought communion with the eternal by immersing himself in the beauty of adolescent boys.

Second, the same sort of people who reject the demands of “organized religion” in favor of “free spirituality” have made the defense of homosexuality the Shibboleth of their generation. Speak out against gay marriage in the United States, and you have made yourself a pariah in any of the strongholds of liberalism, especially university campuses. I do not believe in criminalizing adult homosexuality, any more than I believe that a heterosexual chosen at random is necessarily a better person than a homosexual chosen at random. But the experience of divine love reflected in the love of men and women and their children is the foundation of society, and gay marriage would have dreadful consequences.

Third, pederasty has become a plague in parts of the West, and widespread abuse of children has occasioned a crisis in the Catholic Church. It is hard to avoid the impression that sexual misbehavior is associated with a retreat from faith in a personal God, namely the Jesus who lived on earth and was crucified and was resurrected, in favor of a mushy and unspecific spirituality – something like Sufism, in fact. Perhaps the same link between spiritual and sexual narcissism is at work in the West.

Notes
1. Mephistopheles addresses the boy angels (in Tony Kline’s translation online):

What wretched luck, and dire!
Is this Love’s own element?
My whole body’s bathed in fire,
I scarcely feel, my head’s so burnt. –
You float to and fro, sink down a while,
Move your sweet limbs with earthly guile:
True, a grave expression suits you well,
But I’d still like to see you smile a little!
That would be an eternal delight to me.
Like the lovers’ mutual glance, you see:
A simper round the mouth, is how it’s done,
You, the tall lad, you could make me love you,
The priest’s pose doesn’t really suit you,
So show a little lust, and look hereon!
You could be more modestly naked too,
That robe’s long hem, so demure in its rising –
They turn away – and seen from the rear view –
Those rascals now are really appetising!

See http://www.tonykline.co.uk/klineasfaust.htm

2. The West-Ostlicher Divan of 1814

3. See The Ocean of the Soul: Man, the World, and God in the Stories of Farid Al-Din Attar, by Hellmut Ritter, John O’Kane, Bernd Radtke (Brill: New York 2003), p 516 et seq. Ritter quotes a 1936 travelogue from Albania: “Still another oddity: among the Albanians there is ‘love of beauty’. Fifty to sixty people are united through love for a beautiful youth. Quite frequently they ask the father’s permission in the morning, take the boy with them and have him sit on a table. Everyone sits in front of him and gazes at him admiringly for hours. These youths are called dilber. They’re dressed up like a girl, ie, with finger rings, a pleated silk shirt … silk sash and a small hat tilted to one side …” Comments Ritter, “Since Albania from far back in time has been a home for Sufi orders, it is not far-fetched to assume that the described practice is also of Sufi origin.”

4. http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=10273

5. Khwaja Samsu d-Din Muhammad Hafez-e Sirazi, flourished 14th century

6. Mawlana Jalal-ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi, 1207-1273

7. Wikipedia entry, “Pederasty in the Islamic World.”

8. Yar-Shater, Ehsan. 1986. Persian Poetry in the Timurid and Safavid Periods, in Cambridge History of Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1986, pp 973-974.

AP Image

AP Image

It’s time to have a national conversation about one of the most sensitive, controversial issues in American culture, the stain on our national honor: Coffee. American coffee is now and always has been revolting, and it behooves us to look deep into our souls to understand why we overpay for muck at Starbucks. There’s a sucker born every minute, and he’s almost certain to be American. We are boosters, enthusiasts, tent-evangelicals, fly-by-nighters, snake-oil salesmen and honky-tonkers as a people, and get swindled every time. Now, to tell a man that his coffee is disgusting is just a tad less offensive than explaining that his wife really is a shaved chimpanzee. Next to one’s spouse, nothing gets under our skin and into our soul like coffee. It’s the one thing we ingest daily for which there is no substitute, and without which the day hardly seems worth enduring. To get snookered over coffee is a sad thing to admit, but we have to start our great national dialogue somewhere. Back in 2003 I argued in dead seriousness that lousy coffee was a characteristic flaw of American culture:

Writing of English culture, the poet and critic T S Eliot famously described it as follows: “The reader must remind himself as the author has constantly to do, of how much is here embraced by the term culture. It includes all the characteristic activities and interests of a people: Derby Day, Henley Regatta, Cowes, the twelfth of August [the start of the grouse shooting season], a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, 19th century Gothic churches and the music of Elgar.”

After the fashion of Eliot, I have complied my own list of characteristic features of American culture [including] Burnt coffee at exorbitant prices. The most popular cafe chain, whose name decent people do not pronounce, burns its coffee beans to produce what Americans mistakenly believe is an authentic European taste. Proper coffee, by which of course I mean Italian coffee, is bittersweet, not burned. Americans evidently hate the wretched stuff because they drown its flavor in a flood of milk, in the so-called “latte”, something I never have observed an Italian request during many years of travel in that country. By contrast, Italians drink cappuccino, mixing a small amount of milk into the coffee and leaving a cap of foam. If Americans do not like it, why do they buy it at exorbitant prices? They do so precisely because the high price makes it a luxury, but an affordable one for secretaries and shopgirls.

I am now free to admit that the coffee chain to which I referred was Starbucks, which burns low-grade coffee beans in order to persuade its customers that they are drinking something sophisticated and European. Because the flavor is unpleasant, Americans saturate it with milk.

It’s time to address this national disgrace. The next time you meet a Starbucks barista, start a serious conversation: does he or she have no shame in foisting this fraud upon the American public? How can we as a people maintain our self-esteem if we pay top dollar for the excrescence of incinerated low-grade coffee beans? Take the time to have this important conversation and to save our national soul.

*****

Related at PJ Lifestyle: “The 3 Most Hilarious Comments Responding to Spengler’s Anti-Starbucks Rant

The Kingdom of Judea?

March 19th, 2015 - 5:14 am

Ha’aretz columnist Ravit Hecht had the following tantrum after Israel’s elections:

Israel is galloping toward an anti-democratic binational future saturated with hatred and racism….Israel will sink into international, academic and economic isolation…Israel will not be a liberal democracy but rather another failing state in the Middle East…Even though nearly half the people chose otherwise and flexed every muscle to create some hope for the continuation of the Zionist dream, the right-wing half, the settler and religious half, forced on us a nightmarish government in which a cynical racist like Lieberman might still be defense minister…The Israeli people don’t want peace — amid all the incitement they’re afraid. They don’t want to live in a liberal and democratic Western country. They want to live in the Kingdom of Judea, whose fate is known. This wish must not be honored.

Since Ms. Hecht raises the issue, I should like to say that there is a very good case for Israel to become a Jewish kingdom, that is, a constitutional monarchy that underpins parliamentary government. Just such a model was proposed by the great Jewish philosopher Michael Wyschogrod. Prof. Wyschogrod wrote in 2010 in First Things magazine:

The crowning of an actual Davidic monarch today would require prophecy to select the proper person. In the absence of prophecy, this is impossible”and the sages of Israel declared almost two thousand years ago that prophecy was gone from Israel. Israel nonetheless can be declared a Davidic monarchy without a reigning king. This action would build into the self-understanding of the state of Israel the messianic hope of the Jewish people, while excluding a messianic interpretation of the present state of Israel.

The solution that I propose is by no means unusual for a constitutional monarchy. It is a common occurrence in monarchy that no king is present or that the present king cannot rule, for example, due to youth. In such situations, a regent is appointed as a placeholder for a king. Such a placeholder can either be appointed or elected. A regent safeguarding the Throne of David until such time that divine intervention identifies the rightful heir to the Davidic kingdom would thus assume the functions now performed by Israel’s president, the symbolic head of state.

It would be quite possible for Israel’s parliament to elect the regent who safeguards the throne just as it now elects Israel’s president. None of the other mechanisms of parliamentary democracy in Israel would need to change. What is important is not the specific mechanism by which the Israeli polity might choose a regent, but, rather, for Israel to understand itself as a monarchy, albeit one without a reigning king.

This would acknowledge God’s will that Israel be ruled by the House of David, and it would define the Jewish character of the Israeli state. If we concede that any constitutional constraints on popular sovereignty derive from an authority higher than the people, we must conclude that a constitution uniquely suited to a Jewish state should embody the political form through which this higher authority has been manifest in the Jewish concept of polity for the past three thousand years. To be a constitutionally Jewish state, Israel must understand itself as a monarchy temporarily without a king.

Such a constitutional monarchy is quite as compatible with modern parliamentary democracy as are the monarchies of Holland and England. But there would remain a fundamental difference between Israel and the European monarchies, which exist as a matter of historical happenstance. For Israel to establish its claim to be a Jewish state”the core issue of contention between Israel and many of its Muslim neighbors”it must do so in the unique way specified by the Bible and the undivided view of Jewish tradition.

Full disclosure: I solicited and edited Prof. Wyschogrod’s essay, one of his last (and in my view one of his best) before his retirement. I am a die-hard small-d democrat, but democracy itself is possible only in the presence of higher principles. In a Jewish state, it is possible to embody these principles in a royal stewardship for the House of David, for whose restoration devout Jews have prayed thrice daily for the past two thousand years.

Update: It’s disappointing to see qualified, sheepish support for Netanyahu from the likes of the Wall Street Journal, which today wrote: “But in the closing days Mr. Netanyahu played up that foreigners (read: President Obama) wanted him defeated, and he rejected statehood for Palestinians, reversing a position he had taken in 2009. The reversal gave the impression of opportunism, even desperation, but it also rallied conservative voters who had hinted at growing “Bibi fatigue” after his long tenure as premier.” Opportunism? On the contrary, Netanyahu finally told the truth. Concludes the Journal: “Israel’s raucous democracy is imperfect, like America’s, but it is the only reliable one in the bloody cauldron of the Middle East.”

Ha’aretz explains the discrepancy between the Israeli polls and the outcome as follows: “[Netanyahu] won this election by convincing over 200,000 voters who were planning to vote for Habayit Hayehudi, Shas, Kulanu and Yahad to change their minds in the last six days of the campaign.” Why did they switch? The answer is simple and obvious: Most of those small-party voters oppose a Palestinian state, and Netanyahu ruled out a Palestinian state on his watch a day before the election. Outside of the Eurocentric secular elite in Tel Aviv, most Israeli voters look at the chaos in the Muslim world and draw the obvious conclusion that a Palestinian State would be absorbed into the maelstrom of extremism surrounding it, and turn into an artillery platform for terrorists. Last July I argued in Tablet magazine that it’s not the settlers, but the “unsettlers” (ISIS and Iran) who have forced a one-state solution on Israel. Netanyahu went through the motions of diplomacy until Monday in order to maintain correct relations with Washington. That pushed the one-state vote out to minor parties. Once Netanyahu acknowledged the obvious, 200,000 minor party voters came back to Likud.

Netanyahu has decided, with some justification, that he might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb. His disagreement with the Obama administration is not about the best way to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Obama administration views Iran as a positive force with benign motives: the Director of National Intelligence’s Threat Assessment speaks of “Iran’s intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia,” and dismisses Iran’s threat to regional stability as mere “secondary consequences” of its support for Shia communities. Iranian official propaganda quotes it with enthusiasm. And after the appointment of Robert Malley as the Middle East Coordinator for the White House–the man Obama kicked out of its 2008 campaign because of his close ties to Hamas–Netanyahu has little to lose in terms of good will.

We now read that the White House will abandon Israel to the wolves at the United Nations. The political damage to the Democrats will be extensive, but less than one might guess at first glance: the majority of American Jews will continue to choose liberal utopianism over Israeli security. Leftwing Jewish outlets like The Forward echo the cri de coeur  of the Israeli left: the “Zionist dream” of socialist equality and religious harmony is dead, and Bibi is its gravedigger. That corpse has been high for some some time, but no matter. The West is choking on its own illusions and hypocrisy; Israel once again may become an Asian nation.

Each for its own reasons, the world’s major powers have decided to accept Iran as a regional hegemon, I wrote March 4 in Asia Times, leaving Israel and the Sunni Arabs in isolated opposition. The global consensus on behalf of Iranian hegemony is now coming clearly into focus. Although the motivations of different players are highly diverse, there is a unifying factor driving the consensus: the Obama administration’s determination to achieve a strategic rapprochement with Tehran at any cost. America’s competitors are constrained to upgrade their relations with Iran in order to compete with Washington.

The Obama administration’s assessment of Iran’s intentions is so positive that Iranian official sources quote it in their own propaganda.  As Jeryl Bier observed at the Weekly Standard, the just-released Threat Assessment report of the director of National Intelligence makes no mention of Iran’s support for terrorism, in stark contrast to the explicit citation of Iranian terrorism in the three prior annual reports. The omission of Iran’s terrorist activities is noteworthy. What the report actually says is even more disturbing. It praises Iran with faint damn:

Despite Iran’s intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia, Iranian leaders—particularly within the security services—are pursuing policies with negative secondary consequences for regional stability and potentially for Iran. Iran’s actions to protect and empower Shia communities are fueling growing fears and sectarian responses.

Iran supposedly is doing its best to “dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia” — complete and utter falsehood. Iran is infiltrating Saudi Arabia’s Shi’te-majority Eastern Province (also its most oil rich) to agitate against Saudi control, and sponsored a coup against a Saudi-allied regime in Yemen. The report attributes nothing but good intentions to the Tehran regime, and worries only that its policies will have “negative secondary consequences” due to its (understandable, of course) efforts to “protect and power Shia communities.” Iran’s primary motivation, in the administration’s view, is to be a good neighbor and a fountain of good will. Neville Chamberlain never said such nice things about Hitler.

A sign of Saudi Arabia’s waning influence was Pakistan’s decision March 15 to refuse a Saudi request for Pakistani troops to deploy on its border with Yemen, now controlled by pro-Iranian Houthi rebels. A senior Pakistani official told the local press, “Pakistan would not rush to join the anti-Iran alliance that is being forged,” in the wake of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Saudi Arabia last week. “We cannot afford to involve ourselves in the disputes among the Muslim countries,” the official said, adding that Pakistan could spare no additional troops for Saudi Arabia.

That is a serious rebuff for Riyadh, which reportedly financed Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program as a last-ditch guarantee of its own security. As Akhilesh Pillalamarri wrote March 12 in The Diplomat, “Pakistan may be Saudi Arabia’s best bet for a strong long-term security guarantee”:

Pakistan has long had a close relationship with Saudi Arabia and has been involved in protecting that country and the House of Saud. Pakistan has much friendlier relations with Iran than Saudi Arabia does, but ultimately it is more dependent on Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, for example, gave oil to Pakistan in 1998 to help Pakistan weather international sanctions against it for conducting a nuclear test. The Saudis also saved Nawaz Sharif after he was overthrown in a coup in 1999, and he is thus beholden to them.

Pakistan may have been Saudi Arabia’s best bet, but it is a bet that has not paid off. Pakistan is not beholden enough, it appears: Pakistan also is beholden to both the United States and China. The right question to ask is whether Washington intervened with Pakistan to block the Saudi proposal. And China, as I reported in my March 2 analysis, has decided that Iranian regional hegemony is the least bad alternative for the time being. China’s overriding concern is the security of its energy supplies, and it wants to avoid a full-dress Sunni-Shi’ite war in the region. Until early 2014 China thought it could rely on the United States to guarantee energy security in the Persian Gulf. With America’s strategic withdrawal from the region and the rise of ISIS, China has found itself without an American guarantee and without the resources to assert its own security interests. China’s shift towards Iran reflects these considerations.

Another issue for China, Paul Nash and Reza Akhlaghi wrote in the Diplomatic Courier March 16, is that “the rise of militant Sunni Islam is aligning China’s interests with Iran’s.” Nash and Akhlaghi argue:

The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has thus emerged as a new component of the Chinese security calculus. Beijing is worried that the rise and spread of Sunni militant Islam so close to its borders, including neighboring former Soviet “Stan” countries of Central Asia, will kindle radical elements in Xinjiang. Sunni militant Islam also threatens to become a strategic and an ideological nightmare for China’s massive and unprecedented multi-billion dollar investments from Xinjiang westward across Central Asia, the linchpin of Beijing’s future vision of energy security and economic development. Sunni radicalism could hinder, if not derail, the realization of Beijing’s Silk Road Belt initiative, presenting a major obstacle to building out a vast overland transcontinental transportation and energy infrastructure.

In an effort to maintain stability in Xinjiang, China has set about strengthening ties with Turkey. But this is no easy task. According to a Pew Research Center poll published last July, Turkey has the most unfavorable view of China amongst the Middle Eastern countries surveyed, with 69 percent of Turks expressing a negative opinion of China, and 57 percent saying that China’s growing economy is not good for Turkey.

And so China gravitates increasingly towards Iran, which it believes can act as a buffer zone against the eastward advance of Sunni radical Islam.

Reality is a bit more complex: China envisions Turkey as a terminus for the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, but it also rankles at covert Turkish support for Chinese Uyghurs. Contrary to Nash and Akhlaghi, China will continue to balance relations between Iran on the one hand and the Saudis and Turks on the other, but it does not want to confront Iran at a moment when Iran provides an important counterweight to ISIS in Iraq, a growing source of Chinese oil imports.

If militant Sunni Islam is an important (if not dominant) concern for China, it is a primary concern for both India and Russia. Russia’s problems in the Caucasus lie with Sunni rather than Shi’ite Muslims. ISIS’ success has inspired copycat terrorists in Russia such as the Caucasus Emirate. An estimated 2,500 Muslims from Chechnya and elsewhere in the Caucasus have joined ISIS, and ISIS has declared its intention to “liberate” the Caucasus from Russian control. Russia warned the West a year ago that it would align with Iran to punish the West over the Ukraine conflict.

For India, an increase in Iran’s influence represents a distraction for its main opponent Pakistan, which is 80% Sunni and shares a border with Iran in fractious Baluchistan. India may not relish the prospect of Iran as a nuclear power, but it has no more sense of urgency about this than does Israel about North Korean nuclear weapons. China does not want a nuclear arms race in the Persian Gulf, but it needs time to develop a policy response independent of the United States. Washington’s embrace of Tehran has made Iranian regional hegemony the path of least resistance. For the time being, it’s Iran’s show.

The Sino-American Comedy of Errors

March 16th, 2015 - 5:59 am

Now that Britain will join China’s Asia Infrastructure Bank — bringing “One Belt/One Road” to the English Channel–Americans should spent some time learning why China’s global economic outreach is so compelling to our closest ally. Below is a Nov. 14, 2014 piece cross-posted from Asia Times.

 

The Sino-American comedy of errors
By Spengler

BEIJING – Everything in tragedy happens for a reason, and the result always is sad; most things in comedy happen by accident and the outcome typically is happy. Sino-American relations are not destined for conflict, although that is possible. The misunderstandings that bedevil relations between the world’s two most powerful countries remain comedic rather than tragic. That probably is as good as it gets, for no amount of explanation will enable Chinese and Americans to make sense of each other.

Where the Chinese are defensive and cautious, the Americans tend to perceive them as aggressive; where the Chinese are expansive ambitious, the Americans ignore them altogether. The United States is a Pacific power accustomed to maritime dominance. To the extent that Americans focus on China’s foreign policy, it is to express alarm at China’s territorial claims on small uninhabited islands also claimed by Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. Apart from some overheated and self-serving rhetoric from a few Chinese military leaders, though, the contested islands are of negligible importance in China’s scale of priorities. 
The issue may be moot by this writing: last week, China and Japan released a “Principled Agreement on Handling and Improving Bilateral Relations”, following meetings between Japan’s national security adviser, Shotaro Yachi, and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi. The document promises to “establish crisis management mechanisms to avoid contingencies” and to employ “dialogue and consultation”.

Neither Japan nor China had any interest in a military confrontation in the Pacific, although both sides employed the island disputes to play to their own nationalist constituencies. The Principled Agreement sends a signal that the Kabuki show had gone far enough.

A common American meme in response to supposed Chinese expansionism in the Pacific projected an Indian-Japanese military alliance to contain Chinese ambitions under US sponsorship. Although a few Indian nationalists enthused over the idea, it was an empty gesture from the outside. If India got into a scrap with China over disputed borders, for example, just what would Japan do to help?

The newly-elected Indian government under Narendra Modi never took the idea seriously. On the contrary, after President Xi Jinping’s recent state visit to India, Modi envisions Chinese investment in urgently needed infrastructure. Economics trumps petty concerns over borders in the mountainous wasteland that separates the world’s two most populous nations.

There also is a strategic dimension to the growing sense of agreement between China and India. From India’s vantage point, China’s support for Pakistan’s army is a concern, but it cuts both ways. Pakistan remains at perpetual risk of tipping over towards militant Islam, and the main guarantor of its stability is the army. China wants to strengthen the army as a bulwark against the Islamic radicals, who threaten China’s Xinjiang province as much as they do India, and that probably serves India’s interests as well as any Chinese policy might.

Chinese analysts are dumbfounded about the US response to what they view as a sideshow in the South China Sea and only tangentially concerned about India. They struggle to understand why a vastly improved relationship with Russia has emerged in response to US blundering in Ukraine.

As a matter of diplomatic principle, China does not like separatists because it has its own separatists to contend with, starting with the Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. Washington thought that the Maidan Revolution in Kiev last year would take Crimea out of Russian control, and Russia responded by annexing the peninsula containing its main warm-water naval base.

When the West imposed sanctions on Russia in retaliation, Moscow moved eastwards – an obvious response, and one that strongly impacts Western power. Not only has Russia opened its gas reserve to China, but it has agreed to supply China with its most sophisticated military technology, including the formidable S-400 air defense system. Russia was reluctant to do so in the past given Chinese efforts to reverse-engineer Russian systems, but the Ukraine crisis changed that.

Western analysts, to be sure, now observe that the new Russian-Chinese rapprochement might be a challenge for the West. The New York Times devoted a front-page feature to the opinions of the usual suspects among Soviet watchers in its November 9 edition.

This was obvious months ago, and should have been obvious before the fact: the West merely threw B’rer Putin into the briar patch to his east. Of all the miscalculations in Western policy since World War II, this was perhaps the stupidest. The Chinese are left to scratch their heads about their unanticipated good luck.

It is wrong to speak of a Russian-Chinese alliance, to be sure, but there is a developing Sino-Russian condominium in Asia. The energy and defense deals between Moscow and Beijing are important in their own right, but they take on all the more importance in the context of what might be the most ambitious economic project in history: the New Silk Road. The Pacific holds little promise for China. Japan and South Korea are mature economies, customers as well as competitors of China.

Expansion in the Pacific simply has nothing to offer China’s economy. What China wants is to be impregnable within its own borders: it will spend generously to develop surface-to-ship missiles that can take out US aircraft carriers, hunter-killer submarines, and air defense systems.

China’s prospects are to the west and south: energy and minerals in Central Asia, food in Southeast Asia, warm-water ports on the Indian Ocean, a vast market, and access to world markets beyond. The network of rail, pipelines and telecommunications that China is building through the former Soviet republics and through Russia itself will terminate at the Mediterranean and provide a springboard for Chinese trade with Europe.

The whole Eurasian landmass is likely to become a Chinese economic zone, especially now that Russia is more amenable to Chinese terms. That the Americans would have helped bring this to fruition by tilting at windmills in Ukraine baffles the Chinese, but they are enjoying the result.

The economic impact of this is hard to fathom, but it is likely to extend Chinese influence westwards on a scale that the West simply hasn’t begun to imagine. It is not at all clear whether China has a clear idea of what the implications of the New Silk Road might be. The implosion of America’s geopolitical position has placed risks and opportunities at Beijing’s doorstep, to Beijing’s great surprise.

A year ago, Chinese officials privately reassured visitors that their country would “follow the lead of the dominant superpower” in matters relating to Middle East security, including Iran’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. For the past several decades, China has allowed the US to look out for the Persian Gulf while it increased its dependency on Persian Gulf oil. By 2020, China expects to import 70% of its oil, and most of that will come from the Gulf.

The Chinese view has changed radically during the past few months, in part due to the collapse of the Syrian and Iraqi states and the rise of Islamic State. It is hard to find a Chinese specialist who still thinks that the US can stand surely for Persian Gulf security. Opinion is divided between those who think that America is merely incompetent and those who think that America deliberately wants to destabilize the Persian Gulf.

Now that the US is approaching self-sufficiency in energy resources, some senior Chinese analysts believe it wants to push the region into chaos in order to hurt China. One prominent Chinese analyst pointed out that Islamic State is led by Sunni officers trained by the United States during the 2007-2008 “surge” as well as elements of Saddam Hussein’s old army, and that this explains why IS has displayed such military and organizational competence.

The complaint is justified, to be sure: General David Petraeus helped train the 100,000-strong “Sunni Awakening” to create a balance of power against the Shi’ite majority regime that the US helped bring to power in 2006. How, the Chinese ask, could the Bush administration and Petraeus have been so stupid? To persuade the Chinese that they were indeed that stupid is a daunting task.

China’s attitude towards Washington has turned towards open contempt. Writing of the mid-term elections, the official daily newspaper Global Times intoned: “The lame-duck president will be further crippled ? he has done an insipid job, offering nearly nothing to his supporters. US society has grown tired of his banality.”

But the decline of American influence in the region from which China obtains most of its oil is not a happy event for Beijing.

China did not anticipate the end of the free ride from the Americans, and it isn’t sure what to do next. It has tried to maintain a balance among countries with whom it trades and who are hostile to each other. It has sold a great deal of conventional weapons to Iran, for example, and some older, less-sophisticated ballistic missiles.

But China has sold Saudi Arabia its top-of-the-line intermediate range missiles, giving the Saudis a “formidable deterrent capability” against Iran and other prospective adversaries. China obtains more oil from Saudi Arabia than any other country, although its imports from Iraq and Oman are growing faster. Because the latter two countries are closer to Iran, China wants to strike a balance.

Chinese opinion is divided about the implications of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons: some strategists believe that the balance of nuclear power in the region will suffice to prevent the use of such weapons, while others fear that a nuclear exchange in the Gulf might stop the flow of oil and bring down China’s economy. China has joined the P-5 plus 1 negotiations (involving the UN Security Council permanent five members plus Germany) on Iran’s nuclear status, but has not offered a policy independent of President Barack Obama’s.

Meanwhile the rise of Islamist extremism worries Beijing, as well it should. At least a hundred Uyghurs reportedly are fighting with Islamic State, presumably in order to acquire terrorist skills to bring back home to China. Chinese analysts have a very low opinion of the Obama administration’s approach to dealing with IS, but do not have an alternative policy. This is an issue of growing importance. Instability threatens the Silk Road project at several key notes.

China has no sympathy whatever for what analysts there like to call “political Islam”. America’s flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood – both from the Obama administration and from mainstream Republicans such as Senator John McCain – strikes the Chinese as incompetence, or worse. But China has no capability to go after the Islamists, except for a very limited deployment of marines off the coast of Somalia.

China’s policy-making is careful, conservative and consensus-driven. Its overriding concern is its own economy. The pace of transformation of the Middle East has surprised it, and it is trying to decide what to do next.

Its pro forma policy is to join the Iran talks, and offer to join the Quartet (the UN, the US, the European Union, and Russia) talks on the Israel-Palestine issue, but neither of these initiatives has much to do with its actual concerns.

What China will do in the future cannot be predicted. But it seems inevitable that China’s basic interests will lead it to far greater involvement in the region, all the more so as the US withdraws.

Air Castles in the Kaganate of Nuland

March 8th, 2015 - 9:30 pm
putin_3-9-15-1

(AP Photo/Sergei Karpukhin, Pool)

There is land of wonder where magic princes and princesses rescue humble folk from the malignant spells of wicked sorcerers. Call it the Kaganate of Nuland: I refer of course to Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Victoria Nuland and her spouse Robert Kagan, respectively the source of the silliest statement on record about U.S. foreign policy (“F— the Europeans”) and the worst book on foreign policy in a generally dismal decade.

I reviewed Kagan’s awful tome when it appeared three years ago, with its fairy-tale thesis about the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy. “It is possible that in the Arab Spring we are seeing a continuation of the Third Wave, or perhaps even a fourth. The explosion of democracy is about to enter a fifth straight decade, the longest and broadest such expansion in history,” Kagan wrote. Nuland got her 15 minutes of fame when someone, presumably Russian intelligence, leaked her expletive-adorned 2013 conversation with America’s ambassador to Ukraine to YouTube.

Kagan and Nuland authentically believed that Ukraine’s Maidan Square overthrow of the Yanukovich government would inspire a democracy movement in Russia that eventually would depose Vladimir Putin, just as they believed that the Arab Spring heralded a great wave of democracy in the Middle East. Instead, Putin rose to the highest popularity ranking (at 86%) of his long and checkered career, and Russian hostility to America surpassed the levels of the Soviet era. “More than 80 percent of Russians now hold negative views of the United States, according to the independent Levada Center, a number that has more than doubled over the past year and that is by far the highest negative rating since the center started tracking those views in 1988,” the Washington Post reported March 9.

The Europeans — upon whose doorstep the Ukrainian mess has landed — are understandably aghast. Der Spiegel, Germany’s largest news organization, complained March 6 that Nuland and some other Americans want “regime change” in Moscow. I want regime change in Moscow, too; I also want the restoration of the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem, but do not expect to get what I want anytime soon. For the foreseeable future we shall have to live with Putin, and promoting regime change is the equivalent of shooting spitballs at the zoo lion: It simply increases the likelihood that the zookeeper will get eaten.

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