Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (8-12-08)
This throwback to the heyday of the Soviet Union is more than symbolic. Historical analogies are never perfect, but our sense of déjà vu was acute as we watched Moscow's Soviet-style move to reassert its domination of the USSR's former fief.
Moscow perceives a threat to its strategic interests from a small regional actor. It prods its neighboring clients to commit such provocations that the adversary is drawn into military action that "legitimizes" a massive, direct intervention to "defend the victims of aggression."
In our recent study Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War, we demonstrated that this was the scenario employed by the USSR to instigate the 1967 conflict. Then, it was the unexpectedly devastating effect of Israel's preemptive strike that thwarted the planned Soviet intervention. Against Georgia this week, the ploy has so far worked much better.
As in our Middle Eastern precedent, a major motive for Moscow's move was to prevent its encirclement by nuclear-armed Western pacts. When the United States announced its intent to deploy missile defenses in the new NATO members Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia declared this to be a measure that would be met with a military response. Its alarm grew when President George W. Bush visited Ukraine and Georgia, inviting them, too, into NATO. But at the pact's summit in Bucharest in April, when the European allies demurred, Russia saw its chance - and pounced.
Georgia has assiduously courted US protection, if not a full NATO guarantee. It sent 2,000 soldiers to Iraq, who are being recalled to face the Russian invasion. Washington has provided Georgia with materiel and advisers, and so did Israel - at least until Russia pressed it to stop, reportedly in return for promises to withhold advanced weapons from Syria.
The South Ossetia separatists are already claiming US intervention - saying there are black people among the Georgian casualties. But even if some American personnel went discreetly into action, that would not suffice to deter Russia from bringing Georgia to heel, if not physically occupying the country. And then the Western loss will not be limited to the independence of a small, remote, struggling democracy.
Russia would achieve another strategic goal: regaining control of the vital flow of Caspian Sea oil to Western (and Israeli) consumers via pipelines that pass through Georgia to its own ports - now already blockaded by the Russian navy - and to Turkey's.
But Moscow's apparent disregard for the hitherto internationally sacrosanct borders and sovereignty of the 15 former Soviet Socialist Republics may have even farther-reaching consequences. Russia itself enjoyed immunity for its suppression of Chechnya's independence bid, as the latter was only an autonomous component of the Russian Federation. By the same token, South Ossetia and Abkhazia (where Russian marines have landed to assist separatists in opening a second front) are integral parts of Georgia. In calling these often-arbitrary borders into question, Russia has opened a vast Pandora's box.
Absent a resolute Western response, the next in line for Russian designs will be another would-be NATO candidate: Ukraine, which Moscow has already berated for backing Georgia. Ukraine's eastern mining and industrial regions are heavily populated by Russian-speakers; the Crimea, whence Ukraine seeks to eject the Russian Black Sea Fleet's main base, was part of Russia until the 1950s.
After "coming to the rescue of Russian citizens" in South Ossetia (locals who were issued Russian passports, or actual settlers from across the border), Moscow may demand the repatriation of its people from Ukraine - along with their land.
In respect to Israel, too, Russian leaders often proclaim a "special relationship" based on the "hundreds of thousands of Russian people" who reside here. This may still be far over the horizon - but you read it here first: Some day, a "representative delegation" of these "Russians" may invoke the Ossetian precedent to appeal for protection from Moscow. With a large part of the Russian fleet moved by then from Sevastopol, Crimea, to Tartus, Syria, such an intervention may be at least as feasible as in 1967.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - 10:29
As the Bush Administration begins its final months in office, it has embarked upon two courses of action that will pre-empt the scope of the incoming Obama or McCain administration and will plague America for years to come.
The first of these is to solidify, literally in concrete, our occupation of Iraq. Despite frequent denials by senior officials and multiple prohibitions exacted by the Congress, we have constructed a string of permanent bases to house our military forces and apparently intend to keep them there.
That is wrong and against our national interests.
We were told some seven years ago that attacking Iraq was justified because Iraq had nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and was about to attack America. Iraq had none of these weapons and could not have attacked America. But our occupation of that little country has done us almost as much damage as though it actually had attacked us:
One and a half million of our soldiers have served in Iraq. Over 4,100 of them are dead and about 400,000 have been wounded. (The official figure of 20,000 wounded is ridiculous: for this year alone, more than 300,000 will need medical treatment.)
Our army is exhausted. To replenish it, we are scraping the bottom of our social barrel and bribing the disadvantaged, some even with criminal records, to enlist; meanwhile, our “best and brightest” middle grade officers, including West Pointers, are quitting in droves.
We have now been in occupation of Iraq longer than we fought in World War II. The occupation already has cost us, even adjusted for inflation, more than the Vietnam war. Every minute costs our country nearly half a million dollars.
To pay for the war, we have borrowed so heavily from abroad (about $3 trillion) and run up our national debt so greatly (about 70%) that our standard of living has deteriorated – our cities have decayed; our transport system is ramshackled; our obsolescent factories are uncompetitive; the airlines hover on the brink of bankruptcy -- fourteen have fallen over the brink while others are cutting back the services on which we have come to depend; with gasoline at more than $4 a gallon, the automobile industry is in serious trouble -- for General Motors to go bankrupt is no longer unthinkable; even giant banks have suffered huge losses and one, Bear Stearns, collapsed.
Everywhere businesses are “downsizing” and so ditching tens of thousands of American workers; new housing starts are down so that the construction industry lost 35,000 jobs in the one month of May this year; 8.5 million workers are unemployed; 5 million have given up looking for work; another 5 million have found only part-time employment; and as prices rise our money is worth less every day.
Our economy is hurting. So is our society.
As property values have declined (some as much as 30%), hundreds of thousands have defaulted on mortgages and, potentially, perhaps 2 million face foreclosure; 37 million Americans have fallen below the poverty line; health care is failing to reach 47 million Americans; and our educational standards have fallen relative even to many “Third World” countries.
The head of our Federal Reserve Board tells us that, bad as it now is, the situation will grow worse -- unemployment will rise and payrolls will shrink.
Why has all this happened? There are several causes but a principal cause is the war in Iraq. It cost about a quarter of our yearly income .
Now we are being told that we must get into a new war -- that Iran is about to attack us and/or Israel with nuclear weapons. That is just what we were told about Iraq. But all our 16 intelligence agencies informed us last November that Iran not only has no nuclear weapons but has no current program to develop them.
President Bush asked for and got a Congressional allocation, a “Presidential Finding,” of $400 million to support political and armed efforts to overthrow the Iranian government. According to reliable sources Amerian special forces are already operating inside Iran. The administration is now advocating a blockade which, in international law, is an act of war. A massive collection of warships, aircraft and missiles is already in place and more are on the way. Can war be far away?
Iran cannot attack us, but if we attack Iran, we will replay the Iraq war -- on a far greater scale. Iran is about three times the size of Iraq and has been preparing to defend itself for years. Whatever they may feel about their government, Iranians are a proud and nationalistic people. They have bitter memories of generations of British, Russian and American espionage, invasion and dominance. If we invade their country, they will fight.
How would war with Iran affect us?
First, while we could probably destroy their factories, their army and even their cities with air strikes, air strikes alone would not destroy all their nuclear installations so we would almost certainly invade with ground troops. Then the real war – the guerrilla war -- would begin. Unlike Iraq in 2003, Iran is ready to resist. It has about 150,000 dedicated and well equipped national guardsmen. Predictably, the wounded and killed Americans would amount to several times what we suffered in Iraq.
Second, an attack would almost certainly halt the 8% of the world’s energy produced by Iran. Moreover, responding to our attack, the Iranians would counterattack shipping on the Gulf with their fleet of rocket- and bomb-equipped speedboats and submarines. These attacks might be suicidal but they would almost certainly be able to stop or substantially diminish the 40% of the world’s energy that flows down the Gulf. The price of energy would soar. As a result of the Iraq war, it climbed from c. $25/bbl to c. $150/bbl; experts predict that the price would double or even triple. Some believe it would go out of sight. That would destroy the good life we have struggled for generations to achieve and plunge us into a depression from which even our grandchildren would struggle to escape.
Third, an attack on Iran would be regarded as aggression and would severely damage what remains of the favorable image of America throughout the world and would further encourage anti-American jihadi movements throughout the Islamic world. Americans could expect counter-attacks here at home.
Fourth, while an American or Israeli attack might temporarily slow down or even stop the development of nuclear technology in Iran and perhaps overthrow its government, it would make any future Iranian government determined to acquire nuclear weapons to protect their country from us. In repeated public statements from the President, the Vice President and their neoconservative advisers and in the official 2005 “United States National Security Doctrine,” we have told Iran that we would attack it. Can we be so blind as not to see that an attack on Iran would be self-defeating, ensuring precisely what we seek to avoid, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran? We must not allow this catastrophe to happen.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - 10:10
SOURCE: The American Interest (8-11-08)
Presidential administrations tend not to be remembered in the same way they were regarded while in office. Proximity breeds weariness, disappointment and often contempt. Distance—if by that is meant the cooling of passions that comes with retirement, together with proximity to presidents who have followed and to mistakes they have made—tends to foster reconsideration, nostalgia and even respect. That’s why the presidential libraries of even the least remarkable presidents continue to attract visitors.
George W. Bush, whatever else one might say about him, has been a most remarkable President: Historians will be debating his legacy for decades to come. If past patterns hold, their conclusions will not necessarily correspond to the views of current critics. Consider how little is now remembered, for example, of President Clinton’s impeachment, only the second in American history. Or how President Reagan’s reputation has shifted from that of a movie-star lightweight to that of a grand strategic heavyweight. Or how Eisenhower was once believed to be incapable of constructing an intelligible sentence. Or how Truman was down to a 26 percent approval rating at the time he left office but is now seen as having presided over a golden age in grand strategy—even a kind of genesis, Dean Acheson suggested, when he titled his memoir Present at the Creation.
Presidential revisionism tends to begin with small surprises. How, for instance, could a Missouri politician like Truman who never went to college get along so well with a Yale-educated dandy like Acheson? How could Eisenhower, who spoke so poorly, write so well? How could Reagan, the prototypical hawk, want to abolish nuclear weapons? Answering such questions caused historians to challenge conventional wisdom about these Presidents, revealing the extent to which stereotypes had misled their contemporaries.
So what might shift contemporary impressions of President Bush? I can only speak for myself here, but something I did not expect was the discovery that he reads more history and talks with more historians than any of his predecessors since at least John F. Kennedy. The President has surprised me more than once with comments on my own books soon after they’ve appeared, and I’m hardly the only historian who has had this experience. I’ve found myself improvising excuses to him, in Oval Office seminars, as to why I hadn’t read the latest book on Lincoln, or on—as Bush refers to him—the “first George W.” I’ve even assigned books to Yale students on his recommendation, with excellent results.
“Well, so Bush reads history”, one might reasonably observe at this point. “Isn’t it more important to find out how he uses it?” It is indeed, and I doubt that anybody will be in a position to answer that question definitively until the oral histories get recorded, the memoirs get written, and the archives open. But I can say this on the basis of direct observation: President Bush is interested—as no other occupant of the White House has been for quite a long time—in how the past can provide guidance for the future...
Posted on: Monday, August 11, 2008 - 18:31
SOURCE: Special to HNN (8-11-08)
There is a great deal of blame to go around for the disastrous war over South Ossetia. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili deserves the greatest share, for starting a war to reassert control over South Ossetia that Russia can now finish on its own terms. The Russian government, with former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the lead, has cynically taken the conflict Saakashvili began as a golden opportunity to flex its muscles, make Georgia an object lesson for the rest of Russia’s neighbors, rally Russian voters, and tighten its grip on Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
But in a classic example of blowback, past American policy also bears some responsibility for the mess in Caucasus. While American training and equipment, intended to make Georgia a partner in the war on terror and future member of NATO, made Saakashvili overconfident in his ability to seize South Ossetia quickly and easily, the problem goes back further than that. However good American motivations were in Kosovo, the breakaway region of the former Yugoslavia, its actions there handed Russia what it needed to take full advantage of the crisis Georgia created. Violating Yugoslavia’s sovereignty—its right to be left alone—and its territorial integrity—its right to keep itself intact—has come back to breed war in Georgia.
The Clinton administration took a fateful step in March 1999 when it led NATO into war with Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslavia to protect the Albanians of Kosovo. Milosevic’s treatment of his Albanian minority in Kosovo was brutal, but the world is filled with brutal regimes. The Clinton administration justified interference against this particular brutal regime on the grounds that Milosevic’s policies were so murderous, and the flood of Albania refugees fleeing state terror so overwhelming, that they negated Yugoslavia’s right to be left alone.
After NATO’s bombing campaign won automony for Kosovo, the Kosovar Albanians ran their own government under NATO protection, and lacked only formal legal status as an independent state. They achieved that in February 2008, when Kosovo’s parliament formally declared its independence, and was quickly recognized by the Bush administration, the United Kingdom, Germany, and a host of other Western nations. Though the population of Serbia—what is left of the former Yugoslavia—was overwhelmingly opposed to Kosovo’s formal separation, the United States came down firmly in favor of an embittered ethnic minority’s right to break free.
Kosovo established two precedents. First, governments violating norms of civilized conduct can find themselves under military attack. Second, ethnic minorities can claim and win independence, even if ethnic majorities want to keep them under control. Both those principles sound right and just. Who could be against them?
But we now see the consequences of those principles. Russia has long been furious over the West’s backing of Kosovo’s Albanians against first Yugoslavia and now Serbia. Too weak to do anything about NATO’s war in 1999, a much stronger Russia is now delighted to turn these argument around against an American ally. The leadership of South Ossetia has appealed specifically to the precedent of Kosovo. Sergei Shamba, Foreign Minister of Georgia’s other breakaway region of Abkhazia, uses Kosovo to justify his own government’s ongoing preparations for military action.
The Russian government has taken the precise arguments America used for defending Kosovo against the Serbs and is now employing them to justify defending South Ossetia against the Georgians. The Clinton administration held that Slobodan Milosevic’s policies of ethnic cleansing and the humanitarian crisis they created meant that war was necessary, including bombing of Milosevic’s military machine and infrastructure far outside Kosovo itself. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accuses Georgia of ethnic cleansing, while Vladimir Putin describes Georgia’s actions as genocide, and repeatedly referred to tens of thousands of Ossetian refugees fleeing into Russia.
Whether Russian accusations are accurate is impossible to tell, given how hard it is to get objective information from a war zone. But true or not, while the fighting rages the precedent America set in Kosovo gives Putin and the Russian government a wonderful tool to mobilize Russian public opinion behind this war. It allows Russia to accuse the United States of hypocrisy, especially effective when American credibility is already in question in much of the world.
The collapse of communism created dozens of Kosovos and Ossetias, where boundaries on the map don’t match ethnic identities. Trying to fix that by redrawing borders as the United States did in Kosovo, however well-intended, only opens to the door to a host of conflicts elsewhere. Russian-American relations are at a low not seen since the end of the Cold War. Changing that will require both sides to recognize that ethnic separatism is too dangerous a game for anyone to play.
Posted on: Monday, August 11, 2008 - 03:04
SOURCE: WSJ (8-7-08)
Shortly after 9/11, in an interview for a book I was writing on how to handle terrorism as a strategic threat, the pre-eminent nuclear strategist Thomas C. Schelling remarked: "What the government really ought to do is reverse-engineer the Rand Corporation of the fifties and sixties."
During that crucial epoch, Rand helped draw a sharp distinction between first-strike and second-strike nuclear deterrence, and the dangerously offense-oriented "brinkmanship" of the 1950s gave way to the more stable defensive posture of "mutual assured destruction."
Back then, Rand was situated exclusively in Santa Monica, Calif., far away from the churn of day-to-day government policy implementation. It had uniquely broad research and budgeting standards that freed analysts to think outside the box about strategic problems. At the same time, Rand's official status as a federally funded research and development center afforded its employees high-level security clearances and access to classified information and government officials.
Today, Rand's closeness to the Pentagon and other federal agencies has narrowed its priorities. A new, government-linked think tank with an expansive mandate may be the best mechanism for incubating strategies to fight terror.
The Pentagon is finally moving in that direction with its five-year, $50 million Minerva Consortia. The initiative aims to recruit a broad spectrum of social scientists -- psychologists, demographers, economists, sociologists, historians, anthropologists and security studies experts -- to help figure out how to marginalize al Qaeda and its ilk. Grant proposals will be peer-reviewed to ensure high-caliber work. Under Minerva, Defense Department-sponsored research is to be open and unclassified, so that those funded can exercise their academic freedom without being afraid of being co-opted into performing ethically dicey secret work.
In the late 1950s, Mr. Schelling took time off from teaching economics at Yale to work at Rand on the problem of stabilizing nuclear deterrence. While the general theory of deterrence was elegantly simple and required few secrets to understand, honing its specific applications demanded classified technical details about nuclear explosives, bomber and missile logistics, information and launch procedures, and worst- and best-case scenarios, among other things.
Mr. Schelling had ready access to such information at Rand, and it deepened his understanding of the strategic environment. For that reason, he was able to forge groundbreaking innovations in game theory that illuminated the value of communications and even negotiations in ensuring mutual deterrence -- particularly through the arms- control process -- and staving off Armageddon...
Posted on: Friday, August 8, 2008 - 00:08
SOURCE: WSJ (8-7-08)
Last week Russia furiously attacked President Bush for his proclamation on Captive Nations Week (July 20-July 26), which was established to raise awareness of countries living under communist and other oppressive regimes. Mr. Bush said that, "In the 20th century, the evils of Soviet communism and Nazi fascism were defeated and freedom spread around the world as new democracies emerged."
The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed that treating Nazi fascism and Soviet communism as "a single evil" was an insult that "hurt the hearts" of World War II veterans in Russia and in allied countries, including the United States. "While condemning the abuse of power and unjustified severity of the Soviet regime's internal policies, we nevertheless can neither treat indifferently attempts to equate Communism and Nazism nor agree that they were inspired by the same ideas and aims," the ministry said in a statement.
Actually, the Bush statement is correct: There is really no big difference between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia. When World War II began in September 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were allies; indeed Stalin and Hitler launched the war together.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty of Aug. 23 was a nonaggression pact between Germany and Russia; but a secret protocol in the treaty also opened the way for the division of Europe by carving Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania into spheres of influence. Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1 from the north, south and west; Stalin invaded Poland from the east on Sept. 17.
And this was only the beginning. The second campaign of the war was Soviet aggression against Finland in November 1939; only the third campaign, against Denmark and Norway (in April) was a pure German operation. The fourth campaign, the invasion of France in May 1940, was accompanied by Stalin's annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In this period, Stalin was a most devoted ally of Hitler. Without Soviet oil and grain, Hitler would probably not have survived the first year of the war. Stalin even ordered European communists not to help their governments fight against Hitler.
In occupied countries, Poland for example, the Nazi Gestapo and the Soviet NKVD worked hand in hand. Germany's secret police killed people in its zone of occupation according to racial criteria. In its zone, the Soviet secret police killed according to social or political criteria. The Nazi SS handed over Ukrainian nationalists to the Soviets; in return the NKVD handed over escaped German communists to the Gestapo.
Only when the two totalitarian leaders could not agree how to divide the world did war between them come. Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941; the resulting anti-Nazi coalition helped the West survive and come out of the war with half of Europe rescued from totalitarianism. But for the rest of Europe under communist control, World War II ended only in 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet empire...
...So why, in some quarters, are the crimes of communism not yet condemned? There are still many people who say that, whilst the crimes of Nazism were proven and condemned in the Nuremberg Trials, the crimes of communism still need investigation. Others hesitate to condemn communism because, knowing that Hitler saw in Bolshevism its main opponent, they fear to share a common position with the Nazis.
This is not a logical position. If we find two gangsters fighting each other and one of them kills another, this does not make the first gangster less of a criminal.
Communist terror was in the same league of infamy as the crimes of the Third Reich. It actually lasted longer, killing significantly more people than the Nazis did. This does not make Nazis better than communists. They were both fighting against freedom and human dignity, and must be condemned in the same way as evils of the 20th century.
Posted on: Thursday, August 7, 2008 - 23:09
SOURCE: Huffington Post (8-7-08)
The latest silly attack ad from John McCain on Barack Obama as the Paris Hilton of politics? No, it's actually a journalist's comment on John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Ms. Hilton has responded to the McCain smear with a funny video. A more serious response is to point out how similar the charges were against Kennedy in 1960 -- and against Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.
How about this one: "The Democrats [are] going to nominate a man who, no matter how serious his political dedication might be, [is] indisputably and willy-nilly going to be seen as a great box-office actor."
That's Norman Mailer writing of JFK in his famous 1960 Esquire essay, "Superman Comes to the Supermarket."
And this: "He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President." Must be McCain on Obama, right? Nope; that one is from a widely circulated pre-election assessment of FDR made by Walter Lippman.
"America's politics would now be also America's favorite movie, America's first soap opera, America's best-seller." A new McCain ad ridiculing Obama? No -- Mailer on Kennedy, again.
In 1960, JFK was compared with Elvis. Along his motorcade routes, Kennedy had "jumpers" -- young women who leaped in the air as his car passed. A few weeks before the election, Kennedy received what journalist Theodore White described as an "orgiastic welcome" from an estimated 1,250,000 people in New York City.
"One would have an inkling at last if the desire of America was for drama or stability, for adventure or monotony," Mailer wrote in 1960, prior to Kennedy's narrow victory over Richard Nixon. If the voters chose Kennedy, he said, "in some part of themselves the people might know that they had chosen one young man for his mystery."
When they ran for president, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy were seen as fluff -- celebrities -- but they are now generally seen as the two greatest presidents of the past century.
When will we see a McCain ad linking FDR and JFK with Paris Hilton?
But, of course, McCain and Republicans in general would dispute the ranking of FDR and JFK as the greatest presidents of the twentieth century. No one could have called their "greatest president" an empty-headed celebrity who just gave good speeches and came across well on TV, now could they?
Posted on: Thursday, August 7, 2008 - 18:27
SOURCE: San Francisco Chronicle (8-6-08)
I love everything about sports: playing them, viewing them and writing about them. But when the Olympic Games start later this week in Beijing, I'm not going to watch. And neither should you.
Call it the People's Boycott. Despite worldwide protests, every major nation is sending its athletes to Beijing. That's all the more reason for you and me to stage our own silent demonstration. If you want to change the Olympics, change the channel.
Anything less will make you party to the cynical brutality of China's leaders, who have broken nearly every promise they made when they were awarded the Games in 2001. Although the government pledged to allow journalists unfettered access to the Internet during the Olympics, for example, censors have blocked Web sites such as Radio Free Asia and Amnesty International .
This is the same regime that bankrolls Sudanese dictator Omar el-Bashir, who was recently indicted for genocide and war crimes in Darfur. But China turns a deaf ear to the international community, insisting that the Darfur crisis is an "internal affair."
And that's the same line it uses with respect to Tibet, of course, where China crushed a rebellion earlier this spring. Ditto for the jailing of political dissidents and the muzzling of parents who lost children during last May's earthquake. "Internal affairs," all.
If you really believe that, go ahead and watch the Olympics. But if you think that people should have the same human rights, no matter where they happen to live, then it's incumbent upon you to look away when the Games come on.
The People's Boycott will face objections, of course. I can already predict five of them:
1. The Olympics shouldn't be "political." That's like saying unmarried men shouldn't be bachelors. The Olympics have always been political. They were political in 1936, when Adolf Hitler used the Games to burnish his international standing; in 1968, when two African American medal-winners raised their fists in a black power salute; in 1972, when Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes; and in 1980, when 60 nations boycotted the Moscow Olymp ics to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. One of those nations was - you guessed it - the People's Republic of China.
2. Protesting the Olympics reflects "anti-Chinese" bigotry. No, it doesn't. It's a critique of the Chinese government, not of its citizenry. I have written hundreds of columns questioning the American government's behavior, in Iraq and elsewhere, and but that doesn't mean I'm "anti-American." So why does a demand for an Olympic boycott make me "anti-Chinese"?
3. The United States commits its own human-rights abuses, in Iraq and elsewhere. Like I said, I'm no friend of the war in Iraq. But I'm also free to tell you that, in print and in person, without fear of government goons harassing me or my family. Chinese dissidents aren't so lucky.
4. The People's Boycott will penalize hard-working athletes. That was the best argument I have heard against a true Olympic boycott: if a country withheld its athletes, their toil and preparation would go for naught. Now that all of the nations are participating, however, it's hard to see how turning off your television set will harm Olympic competitors. They'll still get to play, but they'll also get put on notice that lots of people object.
5. The People's Boycott won't make a difference. Maybe not this year. But down the road, it will. After all, NBC bid nearly $900 million to broadcast the Beijing Games. If its TV ratings suffer, you can bet that the International Olympic Committee - which derives the bulk of its revenue from broadcast fees - will think twice before awarding the Games to another dictatorial government.
And remember: Whether you watch the Olympics or not, your children will be watching you. One day, people will read about the Beijing Games and ask how the world could possibly have played along. Your kids will have a ready answer: We didn't. And they'll be proud of it, too.
Posted on: Wednesday, August 6, 2008 - 16:18
SOURCE: Toronto Globe and Mail (8-5-08)
In November of 1986, the Arizona Republican Party held an election night celebration at a Phoenix hotel to toast its victorious candidates. The marquee attraction was a two-term congressman named John McCain, who won the Senate seat vacated by GOP icon Barry Goldwater.
Mr. McCain delivered a rousing speech and then retired to his suite at the hotel, where he watched a replay of the address on television. But someone had failed to erect the speaking platform high enough for the 5-foot-9 senator, so only part of his face was visible on TV.
That unfortunate someone was Robert Wexler, the 20-something head of Arizona's Young Republicans and the chief choreographer of the evening's events. A livid McCain went back downstairs to look for Mr. Wexler, confronting him in the hotel ballroom.
"I told you we needed a stage," Mr. McCain screamed at the young man, jabbing a finger in Mr. Wexler's chest. "You incompetent little [expletive]. When I tell you to do something, you do it."
John McCain's biography is full of episodes like this. As far back as high school, peers nicknamed him "McNasty." He's been known to fling f-bombs at fellow lawmakers when he doesn't get his way. And in a 2006 poll, Capitol Hill staffers ranked him as the Senator with the "second hottest temper," after Alaska's Ted Stevens.
Should we care? I think we should. The most important measure of a human being is the way he or she treats other people, especially those under his or her power. By many accounts, Mr. McCain degrades and demeans them. And there's no excuse for it.
He's not the only one, of course. In Congress, abusive behaviour toward underlings is eminently bipartisan. Remember Cynthia McKinney, the ultra-liberal Georgia representative who allegedly struck a Capitol police officer when he tried to stop her at a security checkpoint?
Ms. McKinney eventually got voted out of office, but most of Congress's bullies are still going strong. Consider four-term representative Anthony Weiner, a rising Democratic star and a leading candidate to replace Michael Bloomberg next year as mayor of New York. When staffers don't measure up to his standards, Mr. Weiner reportedly throws telephones and kicks furniture.
No wonder Mr. Weiner has experienced more office turnover than any other representative in his state's delegation. Since early 2007 alone, Weiner has had three different chiefs of staff. Roughly half of his 20-odd employees have served for less than a year.
We've all met people like Anthony Weiner; some of us have worked for people like them, too. You don't want a boss who degrades, harangues and humiliates you. So why would you vote for one?
Here you might reply that public officials are elected to, well, serve the public. So if their arrogant and domineering style gets staffers to work harder, it's good for all of us.
Let's leave aside the question of whether this style actually produces better results. Even if it did - and I have my doubts - it would still be wrong. Our lawmakers do more than simply make laws; they're supposed to represent us, in every sense of the word. By electing officials who demean employees, we also demean ourselves.
How much does personal virtue matter in a public office? During the impeachment of U.S. president Bill Clinton, some of my liberal friends told me that it didn't matter at all. The president's extramarital affairs bore no relation to his public duties, so the public should just butt out.
Really? Let's suppose, then, that a president struck his wife instead of simply cheating on her. Would one still deem his personal behaviour irrelevant?
I don't think one would. And that's because our leaders - more than anybody else - serve as symbols of all of us; they embody our deepest beliefs, values and principles. We would never elect people who did physical harm to those under their charge. But we continue to elect verbal and emotional bullies, who can do just as much damage.
And that brings us back to John McCain. During the 2000 GOP primaries, operatives for George W. Bush whispered that Mr. McCain's notorious temper made him a dangerous choice for president: After all, no one wants a madman with his finger on the nuclear button.
That's absurd. There is no reason to question Mr. McCain's good judgment, which he has honed over many years of public service. But there is every reason to question his behaviour, especially toward subordinates, which speaks badly of his basic values - and of the voters'. If Americans don't want bullies in their schools and workplaces, then they shouldn't vote to put one in the White House.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 5, 2008 - 15:38
SOURCE: Carbon County Times-News (8-4-08)
Beginning a mere week after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, envelopes packed with anthrax spores started turning up in people’s mailboxes. Two of those people were sitting U.S. Senators, Daschle of South Dakota and Leahy of Vermont. The National Enquirer in Florida and TV network offices in New York also were targeted. The envelopes were all postmarked in the Trenton/Princeton (NJ) area.
The FBI visited the biology labs on every college campus along the Route One corridor between New York and Philly. The bureau also intensely investigated Uncle Sam’s own bio-weapons facilities, including Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. The investigation proved to one involving needles and haystacks.
Eventually, FBI suspicions focused on a bio-weapons researcher named Steven Hatfill. Indeed, after years of investigating, the agency’s only “person of interest” was this Fort Detrick alumnus. Although never indicted, Hatfill’s POI status was enough to make him a leper to his profession, essentially unemployable. At last, the government admitted it was trailing the wrong guy. In June 2008, Hatfill received a $5.85 million settlement.
With Hatfill off the (exceedingly short) FBI hit list, old leads were reviewed, witnesses revisited, and a new suspect emerged. On Tuesday, July 29th, amidst rumors that this time indictments would be forthcoming, another Fort Detrick denizen, Bruce E. Ivens, killed himself. Attorneys representing Ivens, age 62, in the government investigation, put their client’s death down to a fragile personality that succumbed to pressure.
“The relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo takes its toll in different ways on different people,” Bethesda criminal-defense attorney Paul Kemp commented of the client he had represented for more than a year. “In Dr. Ivins’ case, it led to his untimely death.”
The publicly available evidence against Ivans is circumstantial but somewhat compelling. Of some 33 years as an Army scientist, Ivans’ last 18 were spent at Fort Detrick and apparently were devoted in large part to anthrax. Between December 2001 and April 2002, Ivans secretly swabbed and bleached some 20 work areas that he claimed had been contaminated with anthrax by a sloppy lab technician and then kept his cleanup under wraps. When those illegal activities came to light, he claimed he couldn’t recall whether or not he had gone back to re-swab the contaminated spots to insure that no spores remained. A former co-worked commented in the media, “That’s bull. If there’s contamination, you always re-swab. And you would remember doing it.”
The newspaper reports indicated that the second round of FBI investigations benefited from better genetic technology that made a match between the spores sent through the Postal Service and those with which Ivans had worked.
If Ivans was guilty, one irony in the case is that he earlier had helped the FBI analyze the anthrax sent to the senators’ offices. However, unless the Department of Justice has some direct evidence yet to be made public, we apparently can’t be certain that Ivans’ death closes the case. What, for instance, may have been his motive? Reports I’ve read to date don’t seem to say. Au contraire, the Washington Post reported on August 1st that in 2003, “Ivins and two of his colleagues at the… U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick… received the highest honor given to Defense Department civilian employees for helping solve technical problems in the manufacture of anthrax vaccine.” This doesn’t sound like the same guy whom five years later the DOJ was ready to indict. Yet, added the Post, prosecutors were considering including a request for the death penalty.
Could it be that Ivans and/or colleagues and/or co-conspirators concocted the anthrax attacks in order to enhance the priority of the work they were doing? Perhaps this is no more farfetched than the anthrax attacks themselves. The criminal justice system has recorded earlier cases of health-care workers, who brought their patients to the brink of death in order to come across as heroes when they saved them. Conspiracy theorists have long contended that the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor in 1898 and the Tonkin Gulf incident of 1964 were contrived by the American government to precipitate wars with Spain and North Vietnam, respectively.
Closure of this case, which is older even than the war in Iraq, would add a note of finality to at least one ugly incident in the seven-year-old War on Terror. But I don’t think we are there yet.
Posted on: Monday, August 4, 2008 - 23:55
SOURCE: Newsweek (8-4-08)
Why has the vice presidency been largely brushed over by history?
Well, when you go back to the country's founding and the constitutional convention, it was kind of an afterthought. They didn't know how to deal with the problem of succession, which is why they put it in. One vice president, Nelson Rockefeller called it standby equipment, which is not far from what it is. They wanted an executive official to be on hand in the executive branch to succeed. Then they said "Well, what is he going to do while hanging around?" They figured they'd let him preside over the Senate without having a vote. But every president has used the vice president as he has wished, some more so than others.
So the VP's role is largely defined by the president?
It's not set statutorily, but yes, it's set out by the president. For example, George Washington never asked John Adams to attend cabinet meetings. Calvin Coolidge was the first to take part in meetings. Franklin Roosevelt chose not to brief Harry Truman on the evolution of Marshall Plan.
How has the office evolved?
The modern vice presidency really began to evolve with Richard Nixon. There were three issues that created it. One, we had jet travel, so it was possible for President Eisenhower to send Nixon abroad and use him as a foreign policy tool. He was interested in the office and showed a readiness to step in at any moment, and you had a relatively young vice president who was really looked on as someone who was ready to be president...
Posted on: Monday, August 4, 2008 - 23:52
SOURCE: Japans Times (8-3-08)
Among all this immense bloodletting, one instance of human cruelty stands out as a portent of our future.
At approximately 8:15 on the morning of Monday, Aug. 6, 1945, the world's first atomic-bomb attack was carried out on the city of Hiroshima in western Japan. U.S. President Harry Truman, addressing his nation and the world on Aug. 9, called Hiroshima "a military base." The bomb was used, he said, "to shorten the agony of war."
Three days after Hiroshima, a second bomb was dropped, this time on the even more westerly Japanese city of Nagasaki. The Americans, who had several bombs in production, were planning to use them as they came on line to incinerate one Japanese city after another — as their B-29s had already been doing throughout 1945 using high-explosive and incendiary munitions.
The total number of civilian deaths caused by those two atomic weapons will never be known. But it most certainly surpasses 200,000.
Historians will still be debating the true reasoning behind the use of nuclear weapons by the United States for decades to come. Was it to save Allied lives that might be lost in a land invasion of Honshu, the main island of Japan? If so, why wasn't a demonstration detonation carried out in the presence of representatives of the Japanese government? After all, the invasion was not scheduled to take place until November.
Were the bombs dropped to warn the Soviet Union what it might face after the war with Japan was over, and to gauge their immediate and long-term effects on humans? Could the administration justify the spending of billions of dollars on that new weapons technology without testing its efficacy in battle?
Lost, however, in both the appalling drone of statistics and the polemics of cause and effect is the tragic story of each individual life. This is particularly true of the victims of the indiscriminate U.S. bombing of Japanese cities that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in 1945.
There is a striking exhibition on now in Hiroshima that makes the stories of some of the atomic-bomb victims very real to us. I have not seen this exhibition, which, alas, closes a week from today, on Aug. 10, at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art. But I have before me a book of the photographs that are on display there. If we need a reminder that art provides the truest recreation of the past, incorporating its meaning for us into the present, it can be found in this book.
Titled "Hiroshima" and published this year by Shueisha, it contains photographs by Miyako Ishiuchi of articles of clothing and personal items belonging to people who were killed on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945.
Ishiuchi went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in 2007 to capture her haunting images. She selected 66 items out of the 19,000 kept there — items, as she writes in the book's afterword (titled "For Things That Remain Forever"), "that had been in direct contact with the victims' bodies."
She continues in the afterword, translated by Gavin Frew . . . "I gently placed a dress on top of the artificial sun (light box) that I had brought from Tokyo to allow the light to shine through it. . . . I found myself overwhelmed by the bright colors and textures of these high-quality clothes. Countless threads of time drift in the light, intersect and create fountains of memory. . . . All I can do now is to focus on the air that I share with the objects lying before me and press the shutter to capture that moment in time."
Ishiuchi has, in fact, captured much more than a moment in time. She has brought back to life a sense that the person wearing or carrying these items at the instant of the blast is somehow still attached to them, still "sharing the air" before us.
Moreover, these dresses, chemises, blouses, skirts, trousers, student jackets, shoes, socks, eyeglasses and wristwatches are almost all shown with the name of their owners. Once we know that we are looking at Taiji Obara's underclothes, charred and torn, it becomes harder to ignore this single tragedy and write it off to some higher strategic cause.
Masumi Sagawa's burnt underwear bears the label, "Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.," with the garment's holy-sounding brand name, "Nazareth."
Sonoe Kubotaka's blouse, "with black pattern burnt away," and Aiko Sato's slip "with traces of black rain," tell a story that cannot be told in numbers, however horrific they may be. But, who was the owner of the woman's comb, splattered with what looks like oxidized iron, and of the fragment of false teeth, only four or five of which are sticking to their plate?
The eyeglasses pictured in "Hiroshima" belonged to Ayano Hiragaki. What must have happened to this person's face to turn the two lenses into deformed, charcoal-colored disks? Who owned the wristwatch, perhaps the most frightening object pictured in this book? Its face is bright yellow and red, obliterated but still in its casing, attached to a leather band the color of sand and earth.
The possibility of an imminent invasion of Japan's north by the Red Army was, I believe, the primary reason behind Emperor Hirohito's surrendering and calling an end to the war. But it was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that provided him with the excuse. By making the sacrifice of his own station — as it was then entirely unclear what his personal fate would be after capitulation — he was able to present himself as the person who saved Japan from total devastation. But if there had been no atom bomb, and Allied troops had invaded and conquered Japan, I doubt whether the Imperial system would have survived.
With the anniversary of a historical event, particularly one as deeply tragic as the first and, as yet, sole use of atomic weapons on human beings, it is meaningful for us to relive that event in the most concrete and personal ways we can. Recounting statistics of casualties and mulling over historical arguments only give us access to part of the story — a story whose real plot is elsewhere.
Miyako Ishiuchi has re-created that plot, using her art to bring history up to the present. Her photos of Hiroshima, and of the naval base of Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture where she grew up, can be seen from Nov. 15 until Jan. 11, 2009, at the Meguro Museum of Art in Tokyo.
This story cries out for constant telling and retelling. It's not only on anniversaries that we need reminding.
Posted on: Monday, August 4, 2008 - 23:52
SOURCE: Albany Times Union (8-3-08)
Wednesday is the 63rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and an appropriate time to reflect upon the persistence of nuclear danger. The world's nine nuclear powers continue to cling to some 27,000 nuclear weapons, almost all of them more deadly than that first atomic bomb, which annihilated an estimated 140,000 Japanese men, women, and children. They do so even as most people recognized long ago that nuclear war spells doom.
Have we really learned so little from Hiroshima's terrible fate?
For a time, it seemed that nothing at all was learned. The U.S. and Soviet governments competed with one another to build bigger and more destructive nuclear arsenals. And, soon thereafter, they were joined by Britain, France, China, and Israel.
But then something extraordinary occurred. Millions of people rose up to resist this nuclear arms race—assailing nuclear testing, nuclear weapons buildups, and other preparations for nuclear war. As a result, government officials began to temper their nuclear ambitions. They agreed upon a broad range of arms control and disarmament treaties. Others decided against building nuclear weapons, turned their countries into nuclear-free zones, or abandoned nuclear weapons altogether. Perhaps the most important of the treaties was the nuclear nonproliferation treaty of 1968, under which the non-nuclear powers agreed not to develop nuclear weapons and the nuclear powers agreed to divest themselves of their nuclear arsenals. The number of nuclear weapons declined sharply and the menace of nuclear war began to recede.
Nevertheless, starting in the late 1990s, the nuclear danger began to revive. In the U.S. Senate, Republicans blocked U.S. ratification of the comprehensive test ban treaty. Pointing to the failure of the nuclear powers to fulfill their disarmament pledges, India and Pakistan exploded their first nuclear weapons, while North Korea moved forward with its own nuclear program. Most dramatically, the new administration of George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the ABM treaty, ended U.S. participation in nuclear disarmament negotiations and pressed Congress to fund the building of new U.S. nuclear weapons.
Yes, the Bush administration launched a war over what it claimed was the possession of nuclear weapons by Iraq (although, in fact, Iraq didn't possess any) and today is taking a very hard line toward Iran (which also does not possess them and might not even be developing them). But, in defiance of the disarmament commitment of the nuclear powers, the President seems thoroughly comfortable with his own command of some 10,000 nuclear weapons and his proposals for more.
Now there's pressure to get back on track toward a nuclear-free world. Peace and disarmament organizations, of course, have long championed nuclear abolition, and continue to do so. But they have now been joined by an important segment of the foreign and defense policy establishment. In dramatic columns published in The Wall Street Journal in January 2007 and 2008, George Shultz (Ronald Reagan's secretary of state), Henry Kissinger (Richard Nixon's secretary of state), William Perry (Bill Clinton's secretary of defense), and Sam Nunn (former chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee) argued that the time has come to press forward toward a nuclear-free world...
Posted on: Sunday, August 3, 2008 - 23:01
SOURCE: The Huffington Post (8-3-08)
Kate Merkel-Hess is a graduate student in modern Chinese history at the University of California, Irvine. She is the Editor of The China Beat, and a contributor to the TLS]
The most iconic picture of George W. Bush reading is, sadly, the President holding a children's book upside down. But according to some sources, the President is actually quite a reader; Laura Bush, a former school librarian, is a documented book lover.
Included on one of the President's reading lists was Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's Mao: The Unknown Story, a book that many China watchers, even some who are typically tough on the CCP, have dismissed for its salacious and poorly-documented portrait of the Great Helmsman. In the interest of giving the President a more rounded view of China--and in recognition of the limited time he has before departing for Beijing, as well as media whispers that he may speak out against China's human rights record in the coming weeks--we've put together a brief list of the best recent China writing on the Web.
These pieces are not up-to-the- minute news coverage (though there's plenty of good stuff in that category as well), but rather are commentaries and reflections notable for their sophisticated understandings of China's culture and politics and their willingness to challenge conventional wisdom about China. We don't actually expect the president to follow our reading recommendations, especially because some are taken from periodicals with names like The Guardian that aren't exactly music to Dick Cheney's ears--and the place this piece is running isn't exactly Foxnews.com. Still, hope springs eternal. And perhaps, even if he doesn't take advantage of our advice or ask Laura or a staffer to check the pieces out and summarize the highpoints, a few of you--or, say, a globe-trotting, intellectually curious presidential candidate who hasn't yet added a Chinese stamp to his passport to go along with the recent Middle Eastern and European one, but probably hopes to do so soon if he gets a chance to be the next occupant of the Oval Office--will be inspired to peruse one or more of the thought-provoking items on our must-read list.
1. "Things We'd Rather You Not Say on the Web, or Anywhere Else," by David Bandurski. After George Carlin's death last month, we got to thinking about the words you can't say on the Chinese web--and there are a lot of them, as a result of the Chinese government's efforts to control online discourse. In consideration of that, we asked David Bandurski from the China Media Project to write a piece for our blog, The China Beat, creating a list of "seven words" for the Chinese web. Bandurski took the piece in a slightly different (but altogether more original and fittingly more humorous) direction, writing a tongue-in-cheek indictment of the Chinese leadership's position on word control. And, just as a side note, though we know the President likes to tease foreign leaders, we'd recommend that he not adopt Bandurski's ironic tone when joking around with Hu Jintao.
2. "At War With the Utopia of Modernity," by Pankaj Mishra. There is an American angle in Mishra's careful dissection of Tibetan anger, which led to March attacks on Han Chinese and Hui Muslims in Lhasa--he cautions that, if Chinese policies of development in Tibet hold (as they have every indication of doing), Tibetans are likely to face a fate like that of Native Americans "languishing in reservations." But in responding to the March riots in Tibet and other heavily-Tibetan areas of Southwest China, Mishra, author of Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond, argues that Western commentators are simplifying Tibetan dissatisfaction when they focus on religion. Instead, Mishra points to the Han-driven development in Tibet that is rapidly impoverishing the locals. Though not aimed at American policy-makers or the American public, Mishra's analysis deftly shows how the Cold War lens and religious freedom-focused approach to human rights through which Washington often views international crises can lead us astray.
3. "Why CNN is Patriotic?" by Yang Hengjun. In the wake of the Tibet riots, many Chinese argued that the Western media was misrepresenting Chinese actions, overlooking the fact that the riots were begun by Tibetans who attacked regular Han Chinese in Lhasa. More than any other news agency, anger focused on CNN, whose Beijing office received relentless complaints and criticism from regular folks as well as the official Chinese media (criticism that only intensified after Jack Cafferty referred to Chinese as "goons and thugs"). In the US, viewers attuned to China's limitations on free speech largely dismissed the anger toward CNN as citizens whipped up by government propaganda. Yang Hengjun first began publishing his writing on the web and, in addition to netting a book deal for his spy novels, he is also a piercing social commentator. Yang blogs mainly in Chinese, but a handful of his posts have been translated into English by dedicated readers. In this post, he explains to his Chinese readership how CNN, a supposedly independent news organization, can sometimes appear to be swayed by American patriotic sentiment, as well as the way to force CNN to change its coverage of China (this is largely in response to calls for a lawsuit against CNN after Cafferty's comments; Yang argues that concerned Chinese should instead boycott CNN's advertisers).
4. "China and the Earthquake," by Li Datong. The May earthquake was covered exhaustively in Western media, but some international observers were surprised by how exhaustively, and openly, the earthquake was also covered in the state-run Chinese media. In this piece, Li Datong argues that not only did domestic coverage display the skills of Chinese reporters but it also revealed the Chinese public's increasing desire for honest reporting. Patently false media reports are regularly mocked by netizens--such as the online response to the coverage of the apparent murder of a young girl and the subsequent riots in Wengan, Guizhou, in which status updates for internet users across China said they were "doing push-ups" (one of the girl's suspected attackers said he was "doing push-ups" when she committed suicide by jumping off a bridge; netizens adopted the phrase to mock what they believed to be a ridiculous cover-up for suspects supposedly connected to local party officials). As a result, Li points out, the Chinese government has increasingly recognized that it has to respond to the public's demands for openness. In addition, Li notes that the response to the earthquake showcased China's growing civil sphere, a phenomenon that several of our contributors at China Beat traced in earlier periods as well, such as the early efforts of the Chinese Red Cross or late Qing elites.
5. "Rudd Rewrites the Rules of Engagement," by Geremie Barmé. Aussie Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has a long history of engagement with China, studying there as a student and then serving in the Australian embassy in Beijing. His comfort with China has allowed him to guide Australia's relationship with China in a new direction, a relationship ever more important to Australia as it shifts from thinking of itself as a "Western" nation to an "Asian" one. Though economic ties between the two countries are clearly important, cultural ones are ever more so, as Australia's ethnically Chinese population grows. In this piece, historian Barmé analyzes the important speech Rudd gave--in Mandarin, no less--at China's premier university, Beijing University, shortly after the Tibetan riots and the flap over the Olympic torch relay had engendered consternation with China from Paris to San Francisco. In a Chinese media environment that was, at that moment, increasingly intolerant of Western criticism of China, Rudd alluded to key fighters for freedom in the Chinese past and carefully chose his words to argue that he came to China as a zhengyou or a true friend, a word that in Chinese carries the connotation, as Barmé writes, of "the true friend who dares to disagree." A simple linguistic turn, but Rudd's sensitivity to China's culture and literature was widely praised in the Chinese media. Barmé here explains why--and why it points to a new way of encouraging great openness in China.The approach Rudd outlined certainly offers a welcome break from the tendency Bush has shown to swing between demonizing some foreign leaders while treating others as the sorts of friends whose faults should be overlooked, due to how important their countries are to the U.S. in geopolitical terms or because, when face-to-face, he has claimed to get a glimpse of a "soul" that is as pure as, well, he once imagined Putin's to be.
No crash course of online reading can hope to transform either the current--or even the next--occupant of the Oval Office into a Kevin Rudd with American characteristics, capable of speaking sensibly to Chinese leaders in their own tongue. Still, we have a more modest hope for the readings provided above, especially if supplemented by following breaking news as covered by the best correspondents in the field, such as the Wall Street Journal's Ian Johnson, NPR's Louisa Lim, and the Chicago Tribune's Evan Osnos, as well as the savviest bloggers, such as Hong Kong-based Rebecca MacKinnon. Some day, we hope, an American leader passing through Beijing will be able to rise to the level of eloquence and significance in English that Rudd recently rose to in Chinese.
Posted on: Sunday, August 3, 2008 - 22:53
SOURCE: Wall Street Journal (8-2-08)
History has a funny way of repeating itself. In a little-reported development last month, Japan offered to contribute peacekeepers to the Australian-led stabilization mission in the Solomon Islands -- the site of some of the fiercest fighting between Japanese and Allied forces of the Pacific campaign in World War II.
While the prospect of Japanese troops returning to Guadalcanal may raise eyebrows on both sides of the Pacific, this is a positive development: It signals Japan's willingness to cooperate with Australia and other liberal democracies in securing regional stability -- and to balance the growing weight of China.
Japan's offer follows from the annual Trilateral Security Dialogue between the U.S., Japan and Australia, as well as the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation between Australia and Japan signed in March 2007.
Help is certainly needed in the South Pacific. The Solomon Islands government collapsed in 2002, necessitating armed intervention from Australia and other neighbors. Fiji still has not recovered from its 2006 coup, Papua New Guinea remains volatile, and deep-seated problems of weak governance, conflict and corruption afflict much of the region.
For this reason alone, Japan's willingness to re-engage in the Pacific Islands should be encouraged. But there are other, longer-term reasons for Japan's renewed interest in the region.
A decade ago, Japan was the leading aid donor to the Pacific Islands, contributing more bilateral aid to the region -- with the exception of Australia in Papua New Guinea -- than any other country. But the relative weight of Japan's contribution has steadily declined, with Oceania receiving only 1.5% of Japan's aid budget over the past decade...
Posted on: Saturday, August 2, 2008 - 22:36
SOURCE: Wall Street Journal (8-2-08)
The failure of the Doha Round of trade negotiations seven years after its launch does not call for despair. The removal of trade barriers and the reduction of subsidies remain worthwhile objectives, and past experience has shown that difficult multilateral negotiations can be completed. But turning talks into agreements will require leadership that can endure a long, lurching process, without instant success.
Cordell Hull, America's longest serving secretary of state (1933 to 1944), was one such leader. Even today, the Tennessee Democrat should be a model for politicians of all backgrounds.
Hull believed that trade was one of the best ways to prevent a repeat of the carnage of World War I. He wrote: "Though realizing that many other factors were involved, I reasoned that, if we could get a freer flow of trade -- freer in the sense of fewer discriminations and obstructions -- so that one country would not be deadly jealous of another, and the living standards of all countries might rise, thereby eliminating the economic dissatisfaction that breeds war, we might have a reasonable chance for lasting peace."
Removing obstacles to trade was not easy. Congress kept tight control over its ability to write the tariff laws that governed imports of thousands of itemized products. The Republicans ruled the 1920s and were committed to protectionism. Britain turned against free trade and adopted discriminatory imperial preferences. Other countries kept wartime controls on trade in place.
Franklin Roosevelt named Hull secretary of state in 1933, but at first lent scant support to Hull's cause. New Dealers, believing that the government should manage trade and not free it, were suspicious of him. But Hull fought a hard battle to get the administration to propose and Congress to enact the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934.
This legislation, a forerunner to what we today call Trade Promotion Authority, authorized the executive branch to undertake trade agreements. It also got Congress out of the business of determining tariffs on an item-by-item basis that bred the infamous Hawley-Smoot tariff of 1930. After the act, Hull traveled to Latin America and negotiated tariff reductions that strengthened the credibility of America's "Good Neighbor Policy."
Hull's efforts to reduce trade barriers were not a big success in his day. Then, as now, Democrats were divided in their support for freer trade. With Europe heading toward war, the secretary of state's initiatives were too little too late...
Posted on: Saturday, August 2, 2008 - 22:35