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David P. Goldman

David P. Goldman is the columnist “Spengler” for Asia Times Online; his latest book is How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too). He is the Wax Family Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

How Far Down Do You Define Deviancy in Ferguson?

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s celebrated phrase “defining deviancy down” first appeared in a 1993 essay in The American Scholar. “I proffer the thesis,” wrote Moynihan, “that, over the past generation…the amount of deviant behavior in American society has increased beyond the levels the community can ‘afford to recognize’ and that, accordingly, we have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized.”

What used to be a civil rights movement has drawn a bright line behind the late Michael Brown, whose guilt in two violent felonies (robbing a convenience store while assaulting a store clerk, and assaulting a police officer) is not in dispute. It is sad, to be sure, that Brown died in a confrontation with a police officer, but no legal case can be made that the police officer rather than Brown chose to make the confrontation deadly.

Two generations ago the NAACP chose Rosa Parks as the subject of its anti-segregation lawsuit in Montgomery, AL, because she was a woman of unexceptionable character and reputation. Today the NAACP and its allies have chosen Michael Brown as their poster-boy, precisely because he was a violent criminal. The argument of what now might be termed a “criminals’ rights movement” is that the police should not have the right to use force against felons whose crimes do not reach a certain threshold. What that threshold might be seems clear from the repeated characterization of Brown as an “unarmed black teenager.” Unless violent felons use deadly weapons, it appears, the police should not be allowed to use force.

To restate the “civil rights” argument in a clearer way: Young black men are disproportionately imprisoned. One in three black men have gone to prison at some time in their life. According to the ACLU, one in fifteen black men are incarcerated, vs. one in 106 white men. That by itself is proof of racism; the fact that these individuals were individually prosecuted for individual crimes has no bearing on the matter. All that matters is the outcome. Because the behavior of young black men is not likely to change, what must change is the way that society recognizes crime itself. The answer is to remove stigma of crime attached to certain behavior, for example, physical altercations, petty theft, and drug-dealing on a certain scale. The former civil rights movement no longer focuses its attention on supposedly ameliorative social spending, for example, preschool programs for minority children, although these remain somewhere down the list in the litany of demands. What energizes and motivates the movement is the demand that society redefine deviancy to exclude certain classes of violent as well as non-violent felonies.

Posted at 11:59 am on November 26th, 2014 by David P. Goldman

What Do We Do with Suicidal Cultures?

The overriding, terrible theme of the 21st century is the suicide of cultures. Small civilizations die for any number of reasons; great civilizations die because they want to. My book on the subject was reasonably well received in the U.S. but made no real impact on the public debate, although it seems to have had some influence in Hebrew translation.

The suicide of cultures is incomprehensible to liberalism, which places the human condition in a Petrie dish for the edification of social scientists. It is also incomprehensible to the main currents in American conservativism, that is, the Straussian and Catholic versions of natural right and natural law. We flounder in the face of suicidal cultures because we lack the intellectual tools to confront them. Men do not always seek the good, as Aristotle opines in at the outset of the Nicomachean Ethics: often they seek nothingness. When in history have so many volunteered to commit suicide to murder civilians, as the jihadists now do? When in history has a combatant tried to maximize the number of casualties among its own civilians, as does Hamas? The liberal mind reels with horror at the phenomenon of mass suicide.

We learn how to grapple with cultural suicide from Ecclesiastes, from Augustine’s reflections on Ecclesiastes, and from Goethe’s reflections on Ecclesiastes in Faust, which take us to Kierkegaard, Rosenzweig and Heidegger. The latter’s embrace of “Non-Being,” as Michael Wyschogrod observed in his masterwork The Body of Faith, is consistent with his support for Hitler. Our highbrow culture averts its gaze from the philosophical inquiry into Non-Being; our popular culture cannot take its eyes off the personification of self-destruction in the form of zombies and vampires. Our popular culture is infested by existential horrors which our intellectual culture refuses to acknowledge.

The Muslim Brotherhood (and its Palestine chapter, Hamas) and ISIS are the Arabic-language branches of the NSDAP, and they employ the same theater of horror to demoralize their enemies. Mere rationalism quails before such horrors. We require a phenomenology of the irrational to address it.

We simply do not understand the world in which we live. That is why we mistook the terminal decline of Muslim civilization for an opportunity to extend Western democracy to the Middle East. That is why we mistook Russia’s desperate efforts to revive its old nationalism as an antidote to cultural despair for a replay of Munich in 1938. These have had baleful consequences: we destroyed an ugly but efficient system of governance in the Middle East and left chaos in its place in Libya, Syria and Iraq. We undid one of the premises of Cold War victory, namely keeping Russia and China apart, and stood godfather to a new Sino-Russian alliance. And we did this systematically and deliberately, because we think the wrong way.

In doing so we demoralized a generation, much as the failures of Vietnam motivated the counter-culture of the 1960s. The inability of evangelical Christians to retain a majority of their young people has a good deal to do, I suspect, with disillusionment over America’s frustration in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have lost the confidence of the American public in foreign interventions through overreaching. Our blunders helped elect Barack Obama, the gravedigger of America’s influence in the world.

Alas: there is no-one left to teach the intellectual tools required to repair the damage. I could sketch a full curriculum in philosophy, history and politics (as I have for literature); if a billionaire wrote a blank check, he couldn’t find the faculty for it. Prof. Wyschogrod was among the last (he is now frail and retired). Perhaps there still are a few survivors hiding in remote crevices of academia.

We will make more mistakes. If there is a consolation, it’s that God looks out for drunks, small children, and the United States of America. America never looked worse than it did in 1859, and never looked better than it did in 1865. Abraham Lincoln, as Mark Noll observes in “America’s God,” had no institutional precedent or formal connection to the theology of his time, yet he was his era’s great theological mind. That is as close to a miracle as we are likely to get in politics. I believe in miracles, and I am praying.

Posted at 10:21 am on November 23rd, 2014 by David P. Goldman

Book review: “Why We Lost,” by Gen. Daniel P. Bolger

Dumbing it away
By Spengler
Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, by Daniel P Bolger

Crossposted from Asia Times Online

http://atimes.com/atimes/World/WOR-01-211114.html

“I am a United States Army general, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism,” Lieutenant-General Daniel Bolger begins his history of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous; step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem, to wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry.”

By this, Bolger means that United States generals, notably David Petraeus, sold short-term fixes to baffled political leaders and

hatched even worse problems for the future.

Bolger’s point was lost on most reviewers, for example Andrew Bacevich in the New York Times and Mark Moyar in The Wall Street Journal. They protested that civilian leaders deserve at least some of, and perhaps the lion’s share, of the blame.

Bacevich and Moyar have no sense of humor, let alone an ear for irony. By placing the blame on the military, Bolger portrays presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama as woefully misguided. The mission was impossible from the outset. Announcing the 2007 “surge” in response to a Sunni insurgency, president Bush said that the US wanted to turn Iraq into “a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties, and answers to its people.”

The trouble, Bolger explains, is that majority rule in Iraq meant permanent war: “The stark facts on the ground still sat there, oozing pus and bile. With Saddam gone, any voting would install a Shiite majority. The Sunni wouldn’t run Iraq again. That, at the bottom, caused the insurgency. Absent the genocide of Sunni Arabs, it would keep it going.”

Bolger’s book should be rushed into Russian and Chinese editions. A substantial current of opinion in those countries, supported by some respected foreign-policy specialists, holds that the US has chosen to destabilize the region intentionally. Now that America is nearly self-sufficient in oil, it wants to interrupt oil supplies to China and others in order to assert global hegemony.

That is paranoid nonsense, but it reflects the incredulity of Russian and Chinese observers at the seeming self-destruction of America’s world role. How could the Americans be so stupid? We could, and were. Bolger’s insider explanation of the chain of blunders that led to the present situation in the region is convincing and should be circulated as an antidote to the paranoia.

Proof that America has set out to destabilize the Persian Gulf region, a well-regarded Chinese specialist argued recently before a Beijing foreign-policy seminar, is that the Islamic State is led by Sunni officers armed and funded by General David Petraeus, the US commander during the 2007-2008 “surge”. The observation is correct, to be sure: ISIS shows impressive leadership capacity and mastery of large-unit tactics involving sophisticated equipment, and it learned much of this from the Americans. But the Americans acted out of short-term political expediency rather than medium-term malevolence.

America did not have to choose the wrong mission, Bolger argues:

Bush’s war began narrowly, knocking out al-Qaeda and its Taliban backers in Afghanistan. Within weeks of 9/11, the basic goals were fulfilled, not perfectly, not completely, but probably close enough. Had we stopped there and reverted to the long, slow Clinton-era squeeze of terror cells and Islamist supporters , it might have done the job. … Again, as after the fall of Kabul, the swift seizure of Baghdad offered another opportunity to close out the conventional military phase and go back to the slow, steady, daily pressures of global containment of Islamist threats. That moment passed. Instead … with minimal domestic debate – and, notably, no known military objection – the administration backed into two lengthy, indecisive counterinsurgency campaigns.

Careful what you wish for: by 2006, the US had sponsored national elections in Iraq and brought to power the Shi’ite leader Nouri al-Maliki, who promptly purged Iraqi’s security forces of Sunnis. Fearful of Shi’ite vengeance, Iraq’s Sunnis revolted and Iraq dissolved into violence. In response, junior officers operating in Sunni-dominated Anbar province devised the stratagem that lay at the heart of the “surge”. The commitment of 20,000 additional combat troops helped suppress the Sunni insurgency, but paying the Sunnis not to fight for the time being was more effective. As Bolger reports,

The Anbar tribes had always helped AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq]. … When individual tribal sheikhs objected, the elders lost their heads. Families were attacked. Houses were demolished and cars burned. The AQI men began to impose Wahhabi discipline – no gambling on horses, no drinking alcohol, and no smoking. The AQI leaders had crossed the line at last. The Persian-influenced sheruggis in Baghdad were far away from Anbar Province. The Americans were right there, and they had little interest in what sheikhs did with their tribes. Forced to choose between the AQI boot on their necks and the US military, [tribal leaders] decided to try the Americans.

That did the trick. Petraeus, lobbying for the Iraq command from his post at the staff college in Leavenworth, Kansas, took careful note of the junior officers’ proposals. Bolger has no patience for Petraeus’ politicking. “Junior soldiers wondered about his real motivations. Service or self? With Petraeus, you never knew for sure, but you often suspected the latter, and it meant trouble.”

With the whole of the senior Army staff opposing the surge, president Bush looked for an officer who would improve the optics in Iraq, and Petraeus was his man. Bolger adds:

Combined with the troop surge in Baghdad, the Sunni Awakening effectively ended the sectarian bloodshed by the summer of 2007. It split the Sunni resistance, and they stayed fragmented during the remainder of the U.S. campaign. It was not a victory, not by any of the criteria the optimistic Americans set for themselves back in 2003, seemingly in another lifetime. But it was something like progress.

… The Sunni Awakening expanded rapidly … Ever conscious of marketing, [Iraq commander Gen David] Petraeus and his inner circle settled on a more inspirational name. With the approval of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Sunni became the Sons of Iraq.

Although the troop surge made the news in America, in country, the Sunni Awakening delivered the real and lasting difference in the rate of attrition. … The Sons of Iraq proved overwhelmingly loyal. Nearly a hundred thousand strong, half of that number in and near Baghdad, the Sahwa movement allowed the Sunni to carry weapons lawfully and get paid, effectively removing much of the incentive for the “honorable resistance.” It was by far the most successful and widespread jobs program in Iraq … The Sahwa, however, paid tens of thousands of Sunni Arabs to kill each other, not Americans. Cynical it might seem, but you couldn’t argue with the results. The Sons of Iraq fielded some six times as many Sunni with firearms as the highest estimate of enemy strength. It showed the potential depth and resiliency of the Sunni insurgency.

One might put the matter even more forcefully: by funding and training the “Sons of Iraq”, Petraeus and his team assembled the elements of the new Sunni insurgency now using the name of Islamic State (also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Andrew McGully’s 2007 report in Agence France-Pressedescribes the first meeting of Sunni tribes near Baghdad with Petraeus and his team.

“Tell me how I can help you,” asks Major-General Rick Lynch, commander of US-led forces in central Iraq … One [tribal leader] mentions weapons, but the general insists: “I can give you money to work in terms of improving the area. What I cannot do – this is very important – is give you weapons.”

The gravity of the war council in a tent at the US forward operating base at Camp Assassin is suspended for a few moments as one of the local Iraqi leaders says jokingly but knowingly: “Don’t worry! Weapons are cheap in Iraq.”

“That’s right, that’s exactly right,” laughs Lynch in reply.

“Having armed all sides of the conflict and kept them apart by the threat of arms,” I wrote in a 2010 essay on Asia Times Online, titled “Gen Petraeus’ Thirty Years’ War”, “the United States now expects to depart leaving in place governments of national reconciliation that will persuade well-armed and well-organized militias to play by the rules. It is perhaps the silliest thing an imperial power ever has done. The British played at divide and conquer, whereas the Americans propose to divide and disappear. At some point the whole sorry structure will collapse, and no-one knows it better than Petraeus.”

In 2010, General Stanley McChrystal commanded US forces in Afghanistan with the same nation-building objective. Bolger has a particular dislike for McChrystal’s insistence on “courageous restraint”, that is, accepting a higher level of US casualties to reduce Afghan civilian casualties that might cause a “loss of popular support”.

To tough Pashtun tribesmen, that smacked not of discipline or kindness, but weakness. It wasn’t clear that any significant portion of the Afghan population would ever embrace thousands of infidel foreigners. The locals often hated the Taliban, but those insurgents were natives, and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] troops were not. As for “strategic defeats,” McChrystal mistook [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai’s daily bleatings for the views of Afghan villagers. Many of the average Pashtuns proved to be made of sterner stuff and accepted that in a war, innocent people sometimes got killed. Afghans would never love ISAF, but they might well fear and respect the occupiers. Now, with this kind of guidance, even that was unlikely.

Counterinsurgency only works, Bolger observes, when the occupying power is ready to stay in place indefinitely, as the US did on the Korean peninsula. Otherwise, the guerrillas will bide their time. America had no stomach for another dozen years of war. The Maliki government, which owed its existence to American string-pulling, wanted no American presence, and marked the Americans’ final departure with a national holiday.

Unexceptionably sensible and cleverly written, Bolger’s book deserves attention as the considered view of a soldier-historian who also was a participant in the story. It is likely to figure in the wider political debate as to what went wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Too many Republican reputations are at risk for the mainstream of the party to admit to the errors that Bolger documents. Nonetheless, a steady stream of defectors is abandoning the mainstream position. The most recent is the conservative columnist George F Will, who wrote on November 13 that the reappearance of “heterodoxy” in Republican foreign policy discussions is welcome:

Americans generally, but Republicans especially, are thinking afresh about the world. Henry Kissinger’s new book, World Order, deftly diagnoses America’s bipolar mental condition regarding foreign policy, a condition that is perennial because it is congenital. “The conviction that American principles are universal,” Kissinger says, “has introduced a challenging element into the international system because it implies that governments not practicing them are less than fully legitimate.” This “suggests that a significant portion of the world lives under a kind of unsatisfactory, probationary arrangement, and will one day be redeemed; in the meantime, their relations with the world’s strongest power must have some latent adversarial element to them.”

The utopianism that Kissinger decries is falling out of favor, Wills argues:

The last 11 years have been filled with hard learning. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, the worst foreign policy decision in U.S. history, coincided with mission creep (“nation building”) in Afghanistan. Both strengthened what can be called the Republicans’ John Quincy Adams faction: America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

Wills’ mention of John Quincy Adams, the nation’s fifth president, refers to the foreign policy sage Angelo Codevilla, whose new book To Make and Keep Peace I reviewed earlier this year in theClaremont Review of Books. A new generation of Republicans is contending for party leadership – Ted Cruz and Scott Walker come to mind – who do not bear the burden of complicity in the foreign policy blunders of the Bush era.

The Republican Party has for the past decade dragged the sins of the Bush administration like the chain borne by Marley’s Ghost in Dickens’ Christmas Carol. George Wills writes of a “potential fresh start for US foreign policy”. Bolger has made an important contribution to that debate, and it bears careful reading by anyone who wants to understand how America got into its present mess.

As for Bolger’s critics: They might better understand sort of irony Bolger applies by reading Hans Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen’s picaresque novel of the Thirty Years War, The Adventurous Simplicissimus.

Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, by Daniel P Bolger. Houghton Miflin Harcourt (November 11, 2014). ISBN-10: 0544370481. US$18 hardbound; 544 pages.

Posted at 6:24 am on November 21st, 2014 by David P. Goldman

Maybe They’ll Listen to Kissinger

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has been trying to explain to the adolescents in charge of American foreign policy in both parties that our Ukraine policy has been a disaster. As he told the German news organization Der Spiegel Nov. 13:

Crimea is a special case. Ukraine was part of Russia for a long time. You can’t accept the principle that any country can just change the borders and take a province of another country. But if the West is honest with itself, it has to admit that there were mistakes on its side. The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest. It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia….Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn’t make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine…

We have to remember that Russia is an important part of the international system, and therefore useful in solving all sorts of other crises, for example in the agreement on nuclear proliferation with Iran or over Syria. This has to have preference over a tactical escalation in a specific case. On the one hand it is important that Ukraine remain an independent state, and it should have the right to economic and commercial associations of its choice. But I don’t think it’s a law of nature that every state must have the right to be an ally in the frame work of NATO.

Now, of course, we have Western panic over a new Sino-Russian rapprochement. This was obvious from the outset of the Ukraine crisis. What did the West think Putin would do?

Regarding Iraq, Kissinger had this to say to Der Spiegel:

SPIEGEL: In 2003, you were in favor of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. At that time, too, the consequences of that intervention were uncertain.

Kissinger: I’ll tell you what I thought at the time. I thought that after the attack on the United States, it was important that the US vindicate its position. The UN had certified major violations. So I thought that overthrowing Saddam was a legitimate objective. I thought it was unrealistic to attempt to bring about democracy by military occupation.

SPIEGEL: Why are you so sure that it is unrealistic?

Kissinger: Unless you are willing to do it for decades and you are certain your people will follow you. But it is probably beyond the resources of any one country.

The good news is that Kissinger is speaking about these issues; the bad news is that the only major international news organization to interview him at length is German, not American. A few are listening in the U.S. George F. Will, a Reaganite rather than a Kissingerian back in the 1980s, is now listening to the old statesman’s common sense, as in his Nov. 13 Washington Post column.

My Republican colleagues like to deride Obama for being weak rather than assertive. Where we set out to be assertive, though (as in the State Department’s over-the-top support for the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine and the prospect of taking Crimea away from Russian control), we got our heads handed to us, just as we did when we set out to build democracy in Mesopotamia. We have been stupidly assertive where it got us nowhere, and we have been stupidly weak when we should have wielded an iron fist — as with Iran. That was true of the Bush administration as well as the Obama administration, for a simple reason: We could not promote Shi’ite majority rule in Iraq and make war on Iran at the same time. Then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen told Charlie Rose on March 16, 2009: “What I worry about in terms of an attack on Iran is, in addition to the immediate effect, the effect of the attack, it’s the unintended consequences. It’s the further destabilization in the region. It’s how they would respond. We have lots of Americans who live in that region who are under the threat envelope right now [because of the] capability that Iran has across the Gulf. So, I worry about their responses and I worry about it escalating in ways that we couldn’t predict.”

It isn’t enough to crank up the volume for the theme from Rocky and feel the testosterone surge. One also has to look dispassionately at the chessboard and think more than one move ahead.

Posted at 9:42 am on November 20th, 2014 by David P. Goldman

Why China Won’t Fall Apart

The default Western strategy towards China’s rise as an economic and military superpower appears to be to sit back and wait for it to fall apart. That isn’t going to happen, as the dean of Beijing’s foreign press corps, Francesco Sisci, observes in this short essay entitled, “The Great Resilience of the Communist State:”

As a modest chronicler of events in China for over a quarter of a century, I witnessed at least four events that might have caused the government to crumble, and yet nothing of the sort happened. These include the protest in Tiananmen in 1989, the demonstrations of the Falun Gong in 1999, the SARS epidemic in 2003, and the political attempt of Bo Xilai in 2012. Except for SARS, the other three were caused by deep rifts in the top leadership and efforts of one faction to eliminate another. They were violent internal power struggles causing more damage to Chinese politics than any foreign interference, and yet nothing happened to society.

The deep-seated reasons for this can be found in an essay I wrote a decade ago. True to that analysis, ten years later, and despite many predictions to the contrary, there still has been no revolution in China. The fact remains that while democratic protests have been raging for a month in Hong Kong, adjacent Shenzhen, whose people receive uncensored news from the territory, has shown no sign of contagion.

In a nutshell, now is no time for revolution for the Chinese people, who are experiencing a golden age in their history and have had no past experience with democracy to pine for.

China will need to reform at some point, Sisci argues:

This does not mean that revolutions or democratic demands are impossible in China. A mix of internal forces and international constraints could change the situation in the next decade. There are two elements which could drive change. The Chinese economy will be roughly as large as that of the US, and this will draw increased attention and fear from other countries because China does not share the political framework of the countries that have dominated the world over the past two centuries – the UK and US. Additionally, a large portion of the Chinese population will enjoy Western middle-class purchasing power, and private enterprises will be required to pay a larger portion of taxes as they will represent a large share of the GDP but as a whole they mighthave limited control over how their tax money is spent.

Dr. Sisci, the first foreigner to complete a Chinese-language doctorate at China’s Academy of Social Science, has been my colleague at Asia Times Online almost since its founding. He was right about China ten years ago and he’s right now.

For background on China’s economic resilience, see the presentation “China’s Two Economies” prepared by my colleagues and me at Reorient Group.

A word of advice to my conservative friends: don’t hold your breath. China’s economy and political system aren’t going to collapse. China will continue to gain power. We need to worry about our own sorry state of affairs: we couldn’t replicate the 1968 moon shot today. Investment in R&D and basic science is a shadow of what it used to be, and our shrunken military budget is biased towards white elephants like the F-35.  Our “Common Core” curriculum stops with algebra, while 90% of Chinese have a high school degree including at least one course in calculus.

There is a myth in the West that the Chinese only copy but don’t create. The past generation, to be sure, found it more cost-effective to adopt than to reinvent the wheel. That was then. A new generation of young Chinese with first-rate scientific qualifications is entering the market with ambitions to found the next Alibaba.

This is real competition, and we can’t make it go away by closing our eyes and wishing for revolution. We should be having a Sputnik moment right about now–I refer to the national mobilization after Russia beat us into space in 1957. Instead, we crank up the volume and listen to the theme from “Rocky.”

More: 

Climate Deal with China: U.S. Makes Cuts, PRC Can Increase Emissions for 16 Years

Posted at 6:38 am on November 13th, 2014 by David P. Goldman

The Sino-American comedy of errors

The Sino-American comedy of errors
By Spengler
(Cross-posted from Asia Times Online)
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.

Posted at 8:54 am on November 11th, 2014 by David P. Goldman

Does Kerry Think that 18 Million Muslim Refugees Are Irrelevant to ISIS?

There are now nearly 18 million refugees and internally displaced persons in seven Muslim countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen), up from slightly over 7 million in 2011, according to the UN.  That doesn’t count more than 2.5 million Afghani refugees from the continuing war in their country. Much of the population of Syria has left their homes, including 3 million who have left the country due to the civil war and an additional 8 million internally displaced.

That is cause for desperation: unprecedented numbers of people have been torn from traditional society and driven from their homes, many with little but the clothes on their backs. There are millions of young men in the Muslim world sitting in refugee camps with nothing to do, nowhere to go back to, and nothing to look forward to. And there are tens of millions more watching their misery with outrage. Never has an extremist movement had so many frustrated and footloose young men in its prospective recruitment pool.

Israel has nothing whatever to do with any of this suffering. It is all the result of social and political disintegration in the Muslim world itself. To blame ISIS’ recruitment of young Muslims on the refugee problem of 1948, as Secretary of State John Kerry did last week, boggles the imagination. It is one thing to ignore the elephant in the parlor, and another to pretend it is not there when it is standing on one’s toe.

To be fair, the secretary of State did not assert as a matter of fact or analysis that the Israeli-Palestinian issue was the cause of rising extremism. What he said was this: ”As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions about the [anti-Islamic State] coalition … there wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt they had to respond to.”

It is quite possible to imagine that some leaders in the region cited the Israel-Palestine issue. They face social unraveling on a scale not seen in the region since the Mongol invasion. They are submerged by a human tsunami, and might as well blame the Jews. Or the bicycle riders.

 

refugees

 

Refugees + Internally Displaced Persons by Country

Country 2011 2012 2013 2014
Afghanistan 450,556 502,485 648,147 648,147
Iraq 1,367,571 1,230,632 1,200,422 1,800,000
Libya 103,695 66,490 79,135 79,135
Pakistan 2,155,632 2,396,452 2,363,993 2,363,993
Somalia 1,358,944 1,135,272 1,135,416 1,135,416
Syrian Arab Republic 755,445 2,493,006 6,670,066 11,000,000
Yemen 562,035 622,502 547,890 547,890
Total 6,753,878 8,446,839 12,645,069 17,574,581
Posted at 7:33 am on October 20th, 2014 by David P. Goldman

Why Europe Is Irrational About Israel

Coming soon after Sweden’s recognition of a non-existent state of Palestine, the British Parliament’s 274-to-12 resolution to recognize “Palestine” flags a sea-change in European sentiment towards Israel. France is thinking of following suit. The European Community bureaucracy, meanwhile, has readied sanctions against Israel. One remonstrates in vain. The Gaza War should have taught the world that Israel cannot cede territory to Mahmoud Abbas, now in the 10th year of a 4-year term. Hamas has the support of 55% of West Bank Palestinians vs. just 38% for Abbas, and Hamas openly brags that it could destroy Israel more easily from firing positions in the West Bank. Only the Israeli military keeps Abbas in power; without the Israelis Hamas would displace Abbas in the West Bank as easily as it did in Gaza; and a Hamas government in the West Bank would make war on Israel, with horrifying consequences.

To propose immediate Palestinian statehood under these circumstances is psychotic, to call the matter by its right name. The Europeans, along with the United Nations and the Obama administration on most working days, refuse to take reality into account. When someone tells you that Martians are transmitting radio waves into his brain, or that Elvis Presley really is the pope rather than an Argentine Jesuit, one doesn’t enquire into the merits of the argument. Rather, one considers the cause of the insanity.

The Europeans hate Israel with the passion of derangement. Why? Well, one might argue that the Europeans always have hated Jews; they were sorry they hated Jews for a while after the Holocaust, but they have gotten over that and hate us again. Some analysts used to cite Arab commercial influence in European capitals, but today Egypt and implicitly Saudi Arabia are closer to Jerusalem’s point of view than Ramallah’s. Large Muslim populations in Europe constitute a pressure group for anti-Israel policies, but that does not explain the utter incapacity of the European elite to absorb the most elementary facts of the situation.

Europe’s derangement has deeper roots. Post-nationalist Europeans, to be sure, distrust and despise all forms of nationalism. But Israeli nationalism does not offend Europe merely because it is one more kind of nationalism. From its founding, Europe has been haunted by the idea of Israel. Its first states emerged as an attempt to appropriate the election of Israel. As I wrote in my 2011 book How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too):

The unquiet urge of each nation to be chosen in its own skin began with the first conversion of Europe’s pagans; it was embedded in European Christendom at its founding. Christian chroniclers cast the newly-baptized European monarchs in the role of biblical kings, and their nations in the role of the biblical Israel. The first claims to national election came at the crest of the early Dark Ages, from the sixth-century chronicler St Gregory of Tours (538-594), and the seventh-century Iberian churchman St Isidore of Seville.

As I observed on the First World War anniversary, Saints Isidore of Seville and Gregory of Tours were in the Bialystock and Bloom of the Dark Ages, the Producers of the European founding: they sold each petty monarch 100% of the show. Europe’s nationalisms were not simply an expansion of tribal impulses, but a nationalism refined and shaped by Christianity into a ghastly caricature of Israel’s Chosenness. In turn, each European country asserted its status as God’s new people: France under Richelieu during the 17th century, England under the Tudors, Russia (“The Third Rome”) from the time of Ivan the Terrible, and ultimately the Germans, who substituted the concept of “master race” for the Chosen People.

Posted at 5:14 pm on October 14th, 2014 by David P. Goldman

Angelo Codevilla’s Tour de Force

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Tuesday night I had the honor of sharing the podium with Prof. Angelo Codevilla under the auspices of the Claremont Institute at New York’s Yale Club. He is one of the wisest and sharpest strategic thinkers to come out of the Reagan Revolution, and his new book, To Make and Keep Peace is a must read: if you read only one book about politics (and especially foreign policy) this year, this should be the one.

I reviewed the work in the Claremont Review of Books, and my review has been posted at the Federalist website. It is excerpted below.

“To Make and Keep Peace: Among Ourselves and with All Nations,” by Angelo M. Codevilla. Hoover Institution Press, 248 pages, $24.95.

To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune, Lady Bracknell observed in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” but to lose both looks like carelessness. To have lost the peace three times in the past century suggests something worse than carelessness in American foreign policy. Woodrow Wilson set the stage for World War II by making the best the enemy of the good when negotiating the resolution of World War I. Franklin Roosevelt’s naïveté about the Soviet Union set the world adrift into the Cold War. And now a succession of mistakes following the fall of Communism has left America flailing. The overwhelming American majority that favored foreign interventions after 9/11 has melted, yielding isolationism unseen since the 1930s. How did it come to this?

One political party or the other may blunder, but disasters on this scale can be achieved only by consensus. Angelo Codevilla contends that a self-perpetuating foreign policy elite, incapable of taking in abundant evidence about all the things it neither knows nor does well, has steered American foreign policy in the wrong direction for the past century. The shrill partisan debates, he argues, obscure an underlying commonality of outlook among the “liberal progressive,” “realist,” and “neo-conservative” currents in foreign policy. All three schools of thinking derive from “turn-of-the-twentieth-century progressivism.”

All regard foreigners as yearning for American leadership. Their proponents regard foreigners as mirror images of themselves, at least potentially. Liberal internationalists see yearners for secular, technocratic development. Neoconservatives see budding democrats, while realists imagine peoples inclined to moderation…. Different emphases notwithstanding, there is solid consensus among our ruling-class factions that America’s great power requires exercising responsibility for acting as the globe’s ‘policeman,’ ‘sheriff,’ ‘umpire,’ ‘guardian of international standards,’ ‘stabilizer,’ or ‘leader’—whatever one may call it.

From Hyperpower to Hyperventilator

It isn’t just that the emperor has no clothes: the empire has no tailors. In the decade since President George W. Bush’s 2003 “Mission Accomplished” speech, America has gone from hyperpower to hyperventilater. The Obama administration and Republican leadership quibble about the modalities of an illusory two-state solution in Israel, or the best means to make democracy bloom in the Middle East’s deserts, or how vehemently to denounce Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, everything that could go wrong, has. Europe’s frontiers are in play for the first time since the fall of Communism; Russia and China have a new rapprochement; American enemies like Iran have a free hand while traditional American allies in the Sunni world feel betrayed; and China has all but neutralized American sea power within hundreds of miles of its coast.

America’s credibility around the world is weaker than at any time since the Carter administration. American policy evokes contempt overseas, and even more at home, where the mere suggestion of intervention is ballot box poison, while the Republicans’ isolationist fringe wins straw polls among the party’s core constituents. In 2013 the Pew Survey found 53 percent of U.S. respondents considered America less important and powerful than a decade earlier, the first time a majority held that view since 1974, just before the fall of Saigon. And four-fifths of respondents told Pew that the United States should not think so much in international terms but concentrate on its own problems, the highest proportion to agree with that proposition since the survey began posing it in 1964.

How War Is Like Pregnancy

Codevilla offers a bracing antidote to stale, wishful thinking. A professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, he is one of our last sages, an actor in the great events that brought down the Soviet empire during the 1980s, as well as a distinguished scholar of political thought. Among the modern-day classics he’s authored—including “War: Ends and Means” (1988, with Paul Seabury) and “The Character of Nations” (2000)—“To Make and Keep Peace” is his “Summa,” a tour d’horizon of American and world history crammed with succinct case studies of success and failure in war and peace.

Read the whole review here.

Posted at 7:54 am on October 8th, 2014 by David P. Goldman

Why Are the Bushies Attacking Ted Cruz?

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The Republican Party has played Marley’s Ghost for the past half-dozen years, dragging behind it the sins of the foreign-policy utopians who persuaded George W. Bush to bet the farm on nation-building in the Middle East. Bush’s 2004 Second Inaugural, written with the help of the Weekly Standard‘s Bill Kristol and the Washington Post‘s Charles Krauthammer, was the high-water mark of foreign-policy overreach and the cusp of Republican fortunes. By the 2006 congressional elections, the electorate had had enough, and the public’s disgust with the pointless sacrifice of blood and treasure helped propel the junior senator from Illinois into the White House. The Bushies who blundered so badly–occupying Iraq, pushing for the West Bank elections won by Hamas, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt against the Egyptian military–are still fighting for what is left of their reputations. And their greatest fear is that a Republican leader will come along untainted by their mistakes, and able to admit what we Republicans should have admitted years ago: the Bush administration made some big mistakes.

That leader is Sen. Ted Cruz, who said Sept. 24,

I think we stayed too long, and we got far too involved in nation-building…. We should not be trying to turn Iraq into Switzerland.

Cruz is a foreign policy hard-liner, not an isolationist, but he is a tough-minded realist in a party contaminated by the ideological impulse to export America’s political system to the Middle East. His way of looking at things is close to that of the original Reagan foreign policy team, for example, Prof. Angelo Codevilla, whose new book I reviewed recently. Codevilla argued that  “U.S. viceroys spent most of a decade fruitlessly trying to negate the Shias’, Sunnis’, and Kurds’ democratically expressed mutual antagonism.” The much-lauded “surge” “consisted of turning over to Sunni insurgents the tribal areas into which the Shia were pushing them. Rather than defeating them, the U.S. government began arming them.” And the result: “After a  bloody decade, Iraq ended up divided along ancient ethno-religious fault lines but more mutually bitter.”

Posted at 9:18 am on October 7th, 2014 by David P. Goldman