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April 25, 2014 / 25 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘China’

The Rise of China’s Militant Nationalism

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

In April 2012, China’s ships surrounded Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. By July, the Chinese had erected a barrier to the reef’s entrance, denying access to all but their own vessels. The swift action was taken despite mutual promises by Beijing and Manila to leave the area, which up until then had been controlled by the Philippines. Chinese state media gloated over the deception.

After gobbling up Scarborough, Chinese vessels and aircraft stepped up their intrusion into Japanese territorial waters and airspace around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, in an effort to wrest them from Tokyo. In a display of massive force, eight Chinese ships entered the waters around the uninhabited outcroppings on the 23 of this month. On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry said the islands were a “core interest,” meaning that Beijing will not stop until it has taken control of them. Some analysts think China will try to land forces on the Senkakus soon.

Beijing’s aggression on the seas is being matched by its aggression on land. During the night of April 15, a Chinese platoon-strength force advanced 10 kilometers south of the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border between China and India in the Himalayas, and established a tented camp in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector of eastern Ladakh. In recent days, Chinese troops advanced another 10 kilometers into India, one more bold attempt to take ground from a neighboring country.

China is a belligerent state that seeks to seize territory from an arc of nations: from India in the south, to South Korea in the north. At the same time, we are hearing war talk from the Chinese capital—from civilians, such as new leader Xi Jinping, to China’s senior military officers. Washington has yet to understand the fundamental challenge China’s militant nationalism poses to America and to the international community.

At one time, it seemed that Beijing, for its own reasons, wanted to work with the U.S. Washington, in turn responded to Chinese overtures. Since Nixon’s trip to Beijing in 1972, the U.S. “engaged” the Chinese to bring them into the international community. The concept was that our generous policies would avoid the devastation that Germany and Japan precipitated last century. The American approach proved durable, despite tumultuous change over the course of four decades, precisely because it was consistent with our conception of our global role as the ultimate guarantor of peace and stability. The policy of engagement of China was enlightened, far-sighted, and generous.

It was also a mistake.

Beijing prospered because of America’s engagement, and while the Chinese required help, they seemed to accept the world as it was. Now, however, they believe they no longer need others and are therefore trying to change the world for the worse. China is not only claiming territories of others but also trying to close off international waters and airspace; proliferating nuclear weapons technology to Iran; supplying equipment to North Korea’s ballistic missile program; supporting rogue elements around the globe; launching cyber attacks on free societies; undermining human rights norms, and engaging in predatory trade tactics that helped tip the global economy over the edge in 2008.

Beijing has gone on a bender. Soon after President Obama’s troubled summit in the Chinese capital in November 2009, China dropped all pretense and started openly to challenge the American-led international system. Chinese diplomats, officials, and officers spent less time explaining, persuading, and cajoling and more time complaining, pressuring, and threatening. In early 2010, China’s flag officers and senior colonels made a point of publicly talking about fighting a war — a “hand-to-hand fight with the U.S.,” as one put it — in the near future. China, as Robert Sutter of George Washington University points out, is the only major power actively planning to kill Americans, and, judging from public comments, China’s senior officers are relishing the prospect of doing so.

IT IS NOT HARD to understand how China became a militant state. First, Chinese leaders became arrogant, evidently believing they were leading the world’s next great power. They saw economic turmoil elsewhere and told us through their media that the United States and the rest of the West were in terminal decline.

Second, the ruling Communist Party was going through a tumultuous leadership transition that, despite appearances, is still not completed. As the so-called Fourth Generation, led by Hu Jintao, gave way to the Fifth, under the command of Xi Jinping, feuding civilians sought support for their personal political ambitions from the flag officers of the People’s Liberation Army. Consequently, the generals and admirals effectively became arbiters in the Party’s increasingly rough game of politics. And in a time of political transition, almost no civilian leader was in a position — or willing to take a risk — to tell the top brass what to do. As a result, the military gained substantial influence, perhaps becoming the most powerful faction in the Communist Party.

Deciphering the Chinese and American Korea Strategy

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Is there any piece of received wisdom more universally invoked than the inane piety that China wants to calm North Korea down, and gets annoyed when the Kims act up?  It’s hard to think of many.  This hoary premise gets trotted out every time.  And every time, it comes up short on explanatory or operational value.  It’s never relevant to why the Kim went crazy.  Nor is China coming down on a Kim ever the key to settling the Kim’s hash.  If the snarling Kim stops yelping for a while, it’s always because the U.S. was induced to do something – intensify some negotiating stance, make some offer, fork over some “aid,” make a concession to China; or maybe just look alert enough to make it the wrong time for a showdown.

You’d think someone would figure this out.  When the Kims start throwing food on the floor, somebody’s got an eye on Uncle Sam.

China’s Basic Posture

While it’s quite true that China sets boundaries on a given Kim’s latitude for geopolitical tantrums, it is wrong to suppose that China wants the same thing the U.S., South Korea, or Japan wants.  China is only interested in pacifying North Korea if events are not proceeding to China’s advantage.  If it is advantageous to China for the Kims to provoke responses out of the U.S., China will let the drama run its course.  (As discussed below, that is the case today.)

Conversely, it is equally wrong to imagine that China instigates what the Kims do.  The Chinese don’t have to make a Kim’s nonsense up for him; the average Kim is an indefatigable nonsense factory.  His natural intransigence and self-cultivated geopolitical alienation are useful for China – a convenience to be prized and guarded.

The Kim psychosis keeps the Korean peninsula divided, with one half of it joined at the hip to China.  For China, that is better than any other option – perhaps even better than the most unlikely one:  a united Korea joined at the hip to China.

The Chinese want to prevent, at all costs, the opposite situation: a united Korea allied with the United States and friendly with Japan.  But a united Korea would tend to be a pain in China’s neck in any case.  For the Chinese, keeping Korea divided is a pretty good option, especially when it’s the United States paying to guarantee that the division remains peaceful.  China couldn’t afford 60 years of guarding the DMZ.

The Obama Enigma

The underlying geopolitical structure for that assumption is starting to change, however, in part because of the deliberate, announced policy change toward the Pacific Rim on the part of the U.S.  But it’s also because, in the context of that new policy, no one is sure what Obama will do.  In visibly and enthusiastically rattling the saber at North Korea, he is not doing what previous presidents have done.  There is one exception – John F. Kennedy, abetted by Robert McNamara – and their pattern of behavior in foreign policy did not turn out well.

Obama’s pattern (Honduras, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria; the missile defense pull-out from Poland; the Obama nuclear policy and New START) is as confused as JFK’s, if not as bombastic.  Predicting what Obama means by the rather humorous “airplane escalation” in Korea – first the B-52s, then the B-2s, then, oh, no, not them, the F-22s – is something of a puzzler.  Is he trying to deter something?  If so, what?  Clearly, he’s not deterring Kim Jong-Un’s saber rattling or missile-launcher moving.

I was amused (yet again) to hear on the TV news yesterday that the U.S. Navy is moving one of its “mightiest warships,” USS John F McCain (DDG-56), to the waters off North Korea.  McCain is an Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyer, and as such is certainly mightier than the global-average destroyer.  But there are 61 other Arleigh Burkes, in total, and 15 others have the ballistic missile defense (BMD) upgrade that McCain has, including four other Arleigh Burkes homeported, like McCain, in Japan.  I’m a big fan of the Arleigh Burke, but I do wonder where the hyperventilating copy billing McCain as one of our “mightiest warships” came from.  I really hope it wasn’t a government office.

The question remains:  What is Obama hoping to achieve with these moves?  It’s like he’s doing an imitation of what he and other academic leftists perceive to be going on when nations come into conflict over something.  These leftists tend to characterize events in terms of nations “posturing” and “rattling the saber” at each other, with the implication that it’s all stupid, regrettable, and untethered to meaningful policy issues – and that it could be prevented with a little grown-up intervention.

China Chooses Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Dead Sea for Major Movie

Friday, April 5th, 2013

A major Chinese film company has chosen Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea as scenes for what is expected to be blockbuster movie.

The Ministry of Tourism is investing more than $80,000 to help promote the film, with expectations that the exposure of Israel to Chinese movie-goers will attract them to visit.

Chinese stars are performing in the 95-minute film, 15 minutes of which will be produced in Israel, according to the Yediot Acharonot’s website.

The cast and production team are scheduled to arrive in the middle of the month to start filming.

 

 

Reagan’s Missile Defense Vision Derailed

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

If you went strictly by the mainstream media reporting on the Defense Department’s recent announcement about missile defense, the thought in your head would be “we’re deploying more interceptor missiles because of North Korea.”

What’s probably not in your head is the auxiliary details.  DOD has requested that funding for the additional deployments begin in fiscal year 2014.  The actual deployments won’t start until after that.  Assuming DOD gets the funding, it will take until 2017 for the interceptors to be in place.  And the deployment, if it happens, will do no more than provide the ground-based interceptor baseline that was originally planned by the Bush II administration (44 interceptors), a baseline the Obama administration cut back to its current level (30 interceptors) in April 2009.

To put the last point another way: if the Obama DOD hadn’t cancelled the remaining ground-based interceptor (GBI) deployments in 2009, the 14 additional interceptors would already be deployed.

That said, the utility of deploying the additional GBIs – which would raise the deployed total from 30 to 44 – can justifiably be questioned, if former Secretary Bob Gates was right in 2009, when he said the 30 GBIs in Alaska and California were enough:

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told senators that 30 ground-based interceptors “provide a strong defense” against “the level of [missile] capability that North Korea has now and is likely to have for some years to come.” The system is designed to defend the United States against intermediate- and long-range missiles in the middle range of flight.

The North Korean satellite launch in December 2012 didn’t change the profile of the North Korean threat; it merely validated the predicted type of threat against which the GBIs were originally deployed.  Frankly, the 30 GBIs we already have in their silos probably are enough.

They are if the threat we’re worried about is North Korea, at any rate.  What if it’s not?  Suppose the threat we’re really concerned about is China?  It’s an interesting point, given the lack of precision or clearly-stated strategic purpose behind, basically, any move the Obama administration makes on missile defense.

Cancelling the Atlantic-side Missile defense

Consider the decision announced by DOD at the same time as the GBI augmentation: that the U.S. will cancel the fourth and final phase of Obama’s missile defense plan for Europe.  The European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) is the new plan Obama ordered up in 2009 when he cancelled George W. Bush’s plan to deploy GBIs to Europe.

GBIs in Poland would have provided missile defense for North America as well as for Europe against threats coming westward from Asia.  In Bush’s original plan, the GBIs would have started going into Poland in 2013.  (The GBIs in Alaska and California defend North America against threats coming eastward from Asia, or – to some extent – against missiles from East Asia coming over the North Pole).

Obama’s replacement plan for the cancelled Bush deployments was to develop a new, ground-based mobile interceptor out of the Navy’s shorter-range SM-3 missile, and eventually to deploy a follow-on interceptor, called the SM-3 IIB, which would have “some capability” against ICBMs.  The projected time frame for this deployment was to be 2020-22, some 7-9 years after the GBI deployment in Poland was to have begun.

A key weakness of this approach, however, has been that, for the purposes of defending North America, the geometry isn’t workable for using a new-generation SM-3 interceptor in Europe against an intercontinental ballistic missile from South Asia or the Middle East.  In September 2012, the National Research Council published an assessment of the prospects for defending North America using the EPAA deployment concept, and concluded that the prospects aren’t good.  Obtaining the NRC report costs $62, but fortunately, Defense Industry Daily has summarized its findings as follows (scroll down at the link):

[The NRC assessment] states that EPAA Phase IV is not likely to be an effective way to defend the United States, and recommends that the USA make changes to its own GMD system and radar set. They’re not advocating the dismantling of EPAA, just saying that the USA should have a system in which EPAA is about Europe’s defense, and the USA has a system that doesn’t depend on it.

More on that in a moment.

Israeli Input Drives New Chinese Car

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

A joint Israeli-Chinese car venture won rave views at the Geneva Auto Show this week with a new sedan aimed not only for the Chinese market but also for Europe, and eventually North America.

Israel’s input into the new Qoros compact, besides lots of money, is Western technology that has been not available in China. The Qoros features a unique combination of an electrically powered rear axle and a traction motor integrated into the front drive, along with a six-speed gearbox. The interior includes a unique eight-inch touch screen system

Israel Corp, Israel’s largest company, has eyes on the distant future when it will be able to employ its Better Place electric car battery technology for the Qoros.

“China will eventually go electric,” Israel Corp. executive Idan Ofer told Reuters. “There’s definitely synergy … We need to establish Qoros as a company. We cannot go pure electric from day one but once we are on safe ground, we can start combining forces.”

The deployment of Israeli input and a German designer for the Qoros has made it a truly international car. Qoros is an invented word. The Q is intended to represent quality, and the whole name is a play on the Greek chorus, a collective voice in plays and music, reflecting the multinational nature of the company.

“This combination of western technology, western management, coupled with … Chinese pedigree is actually a winning combination,” said Ofer, who also is Israel’s richest man.

Israel Corp.’s partner is the Chinese Chery Automobile company, which surrendered its original demands that foreigners would not control the company or inject cash.

The “Qoros 3” sedan sparked excitement at the Geneva show, with obvious admiration from Renault Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover executives.

Ratan Tata, former Tata Motors chairman and Jaguar Land Rover chief executive officer “spent half an hour here yesterday,” said Ofer. “He was quite amazed. He loved the car.”

The Qoros 3  has a four-cylinder engine with an expected price tag of approximately $25,000. Officials hope to reach an annual production of 150,000 cars a year, with the first vehicles on Chinese roads by the end of this year and in Europe before the end of 2015.

Hollywood is Dead

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Hollywood has no problem being dumb, sleazy and violent. Those are all known and marketable qualities. What it does not look is appearing desperate. Desperation however is what the Oscars of this year and last year have in common. They stink of an industry desperately racing its own age and irrelevance reaching for gimmicks to try and hang on to a younger audience.

The dirty little secret is that Hollywood hardly exists anymore. The industry is bigger than ever, but its bread and butter consists of 200 and 300 million dollar special effects festivals filmed in front of green screens and created in Photoshop and three-dimensional graphics programs. They star obscure or mildly famous actors and they do two-thirds of their business abroad.

America is still the official headquarters of the global entertainment industry, but many of the bigger projects are filmed internationally with foreign money and intended for foreign markets. What the American corporations bring to the table is the intellectual property which is why the latest spasm of mergers and buyouts has focused on taking control of every treasury of classic marketable properties.

Disney has put Star Wars, Mickey and Marvel Comics under one roof. It’s impressive from a business standpoint, but bankrupt from a creative standpoint. Old Americana is being milked dry for the sake of turning out another disposable movie starring familiar characters. The movies are actually still the same.

The blockbuster has mutated into its final stage. The “individual” movie is almost dead. Forget Jaws or Raiders of the Lost Ark. The modern blockbuster is seamless and soulless. An impersonal work that renders the director and cast irrelevant. The criticism has been made before, but what is new now is the percentage of special effects and the cost. The more expensive a movie becomes, the more risk averse its producers are.

If a movie is going to cost 200 million dollars to make, then it has to be identical to the other 200 million dollar movies that were profitable. The template is there. All that’s left is to plug in another talented Korean, British, Russian or even perhaps American director, and then roll out the same movie with characters from another property.

The movie must have collapsing skyscrapers, massive explosions and a few slumming character actors. What it cannot have is too much dialogue or plot, because those don’t translate well. How a movie will play in Topeka or even Los Angeles doesn’t matter nearly as much as how it will play in Beijing, Moscow and everywhere else.

Hollywood makes movies on the side. What it really does is manufacture special effects theme parks for other countries whose own entertainment industries are not yet ready for prime time. And the types of movies that it makes can be made nearly anywhere. And will eventually be made anywhere. Tinseltown is pretending to be artistic and creative, even while both qualities are dead as doornails.

These days Hollywood resembles the decline of the British film industry, kept alive by state subsidies and used as a talent base for other countries. At some point, American actors and directors will move on to next conglomeration of capital and audiences in Asia, the way that British actors and directors moved on to Hollywood. The next Hollywood will speak Mandarin. Its executives will buy up American properties and film them in China. The casts will be diverse, the plots will not exist and every movie will be mostly the same. In other words it will be exactly like Hollywood is now.

The blockbuster of 2025 will be Made in China. It will feature 1. Aliens 2. Robots. 3. Buildings collapsing. It will have a pro-China message, but the Western writers hired to insert some topical dialogue for Western audiences will throw in a few relevant lines for the version that is released here. The Indian, Russian and South American writers will do the same thing for their versions.

Hollywood will become the American distribution arm of a new global film industry that can make the same bad movies more cheaply and easily. Its executives will recommend properties for the head office in Beijing to buy up. Occasionally they may even be allowed to make some of their own movies. There will be plenty of nostalgia and the usual tawdry independent movies funded by taxpayer subsidies that you can find in Europe’s own buggy whip movie industries.

The big wheels of the industry already know this. But they don’t have much of a choice. Hollywood has been frantically chasing the youth market with each new incarnation of entertainment technology. Hollywood spent decades making movies bashing television for competing with it for its audience. Eventually the electronics companies that fielded the first television networks dumped their products into the same pool as the movie studios, but by then the internet had begun to take off. And all the movies demonizing the internet haven’t done anything to stop it.

The movie/television/comic book conglomerates are competing for younger audiences against video games and the internet. And the internet is winning. The median age for most of the entertainment industry’s products is old. Some of that can be attributed to demographic collection technologies that rely too much on traditional viewership, but much of it is just reality. Hollywood may bring in James Franco or the creator of Family Guy to host its industry party, but that doesn’t change how old it is.

The entertainment industry dumbed down its products to the lowest common denominator to target the teenager. And in the process the entertainment industry destroyed itself. Television networks killed family hour to chase upscale twenty-somethings and wiped out their own viewership. Their big brothers destroyed the movie theater by making it indistinguishable from an amusement park ride. The television network model killed networks and the cable networks that adopted that same model are about to get whacked by the collapse of the cable bundle business model. The movie model made the movie easy to reproduce by any country with enough capital and digital artists. These days that’s the People’s Republic of China.

Hollywood movies are already being made to Chinese specifications, complete with Communist censorship, and that’s only the beginning. If China’s economy does not collapse, then it will become the tail that wags the Hollywood dog. And Hollywood will be history.

The death of Hollywood would have been a tragedy once, but these days it’s almost a relief. It leaves behind a lot of great movies, almost all of them made in the past, and the best proof of that is the compulsive flood of remakes, reboots and reinventions of old properties. The spirit of the industry is gone and all that’s left is a shambling zombie picking over its own brains and living off past glories while throwing elaborate industry parties that are little more than an expensive glorified reality show.

Hollywood is still chasing relevance and the youth market. The theater conglomerates are figuring out new ways to squeeze twenty bucks out of customers in a bad economy to cover their own expenses which include revamping their theaters for youth-oriented gimmicks like 3D. But the problem is that in an economy where the under 20 and 30 crowd is out of work, those gimmicks are struggling to pay for themselves. Add in the high levels of unemployment among minority young males, who are the industry’s best customers, and the picture looks even bleaker.

The Chinese kid has some money to spend after getting through a long shift of making iPads or grinding for virtual money in an online game. American kids have less money than they used to and the internet offers entertainment, including the latest pirated movies, for free, often offered by sites run by some of those same Chinese kids.

In this solipsistic environment, does the movie theater even have a future? How much room is there for a business model built around digital entertainment that doesn’t run on the internet? Despite the billion-dollar grosses, theater owners are not entirely certain. There’s a reason that a thimble’s worth of soda and popcorn is so expensive and it’s not because movie theaters are doing well. It’s because everyone is behind and running up debt.

Movie studios throw fortunes into mediocre blockbusters and then spend the next three years wrangling over the profits, and cheating everyone from the director to the stars to their distributing partners of their fair share. Movie theaters pay out most of the money from the opening weekends to the studios and count on extended engagements to make money, but the modern blockbuster is one opening weekend after another with no extended engagements.

Everyone is deep in debt and counting on a string of hits to bring in audiences and save their business model. Everyone is merging and clustering together to limit the risk, while increasing the drag.

There’s no future in that and Hollywood knows it. The industry is locking down intellectual properties because it knows that it’s about to turn into Kodak after the digital revolution. An outdated business with nothing to offer except its rights to certain properties that more successful industries will want to make use of.

Hollywood is dead, but its corpse is still trying to carry on with business as usual. The inventive industry that mixed together vaudeville and adventure books into an entire industry that spanned the globe has long ago run out of ideas. Instead it’s marking the time, deadening its nerves and doing everything it can to appear youthful. The parties are still being thrown as if the industry has not changed, as if it’s still a band of salesmen and theater owners who opened their own studios and made and lost fortunes betting on geniuses and big concepts.

What we think of as Hollywood was a byproduct of the need to fill theaters, but the technology of filling theaters is being broken down on a more sophisticated level, without the need for creativity. What the big computers did to Wall Street, they are also doing to Hollywood. The future isn’t a silver screen, it’s a behavioral map of the most reliable ways of getting the industry’s best customers into a theater to watch a product created in slave-labor countries based on templates that run on numbers, not creativity, even of the three-act kind.

Hollywood’s past glories may live on as nostalgia, but it has no future. The industry is history.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

Is Turkey Leaving the West?

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Recent steps taken by the Government of Turkey suggest it may be ready to ditch the NATO club of democracies for a Russian and Chinese gang of authoritarian states.

Here is the evidence:

Starting in 2007, Ankara applied three times unsuccessfully to join as a Guest Member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (or SCO, informally known as the Shanghai Five). Founded in 1996 by the Russian and Chinese governments, along with three (and in 2001 a fourth) former Soviet Central Asian states, the SCO has received minimal attention in the West, although it has grand security and other aspirations, including the possible creation of a gas cartel. More, it offers an alternative to the Western model, from NATO, to democracy, to displacing the U.S. dollar as reserve currency. After those three rejections, Ankara applied for “Dialogue Partner” status in 2011. In June 2012, it won approval.

One month later, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reported about his saying to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, “Come, accept us into the Shanghai Five [as a full member] and we will reconsider the European Union.” Erdoğan reiterated this idea on Jan. 25, noting stalled Turkish efforts to join the European Union (E.U.): “As the prime minister of 75 million people,” he explained, “you start looking around for alternatives. That is why I told Mr. Putin the other day, ‘Take us into the Shanghai Five; do it, and we will say goodbye to the E.U.’ What’s the point of stalling?” He added that the SCO “is much better, it is much more powerful [than the E.U.], and we share values with its members.”

On Jan. 31, the Foreign Ministry announced plans for an upgrade to “Observer State” at the SCO. On Feb. 3 Erdoğan reiterated his earlier point, saying “We will search for alternatives,” and praised the Shanghai group’s “democratization process” while disparaging European “Islamophobia.” On Feb. 4, President Abdullah Gül pushed back, declaring that “The SCO is not an alternative to the E.U. … Turkey wants to adopt and implement E.U. criteria.”

What does this all amount to?

The SCO feint faces significant obstacles: If Ankara leads the effort to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, the SCO firmly supports the beleaguered Syrian leader. NATO troops have just arrived in Turkey to man Patriot batteries protecting that country from Syria’s Russian-made missiles. More profoundly, all six SCO members strongly oppose the Islamism that Erdoğan espouses. Perhaps, therefore, Erdoğan mentioned SCO membership only to pressure the E.U.; or to offer symbolic rhetoric for his supporters.

Both are possible. But I take the half-year long flirtation seriously for three reasons. First, Erdoğan has established a record of straight talk, leading one key columnist, Sedat Ergin, to call the Jan. 25 statement perhaps his “most important” foreign policy proclamation ever.

Second, as Turkish columnist Kadri Gürsel points out, “The E.U. criteria demand democracyhuman rights, union rights, minority rights, gender equality, equitable distribution of income, participation and pluralism for Turkey. SCO as a union of countries ruled by dictators and autocrats will not demand any of those criteria for joining.” Unlike the European Union, Shanghai members will not press Erdoğan to liberalize but will encourage the dictatorial tendencies in him that so many Turks already fear.

Third, the SCO fits his Islamist impulse to defy the West and to dream of an alternative to it. The SCO, with Russian and Chinese as official languages, has a deeply anti-Western DNA and its meetings bristle with anti-Western sentiments. For example, when Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad addressed the group in 2011, no one refused his conspiracy theory about 9/11 being a U.S. government inside job used “as an excuse for invading Afghanistan and Iraq and for killing and wounding over a million people.” Many backers echo Egyptian analyst Galal Nassar in his hope that ultimately the SCO “will have a chance of settling the international contest in its favor.” Conversely, as a Japanese official has noted, “The SCO is becoming a rival block to the U.S. alliance. It does not share our values.”

Turkish steps toward joining the Shanghai group highlights Ankara’s now-ambivalent membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, starkly symbolized by the unprecedented joint Turkish-Chinese air exercise of 2010. Given this reality, Erdoğan’s Turkey is no longer a trustworthy partner for the West but more like a mole in its inner sanctum. If not expelled, it should at least be suspended from NATO.

After the Fall: What Do You Do When America Is (Temporarily) Kaput?

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

If we reach the following, highly unpleasant, conclusion what are the implications?

The United States has taken a political turn which at least for the next four years will guarantee that it does not play the role of a great power mindful of and willing to protect its own true interests, supporting its allies, and combating its real foes? On the contrary, through inaction or active effort the leadership of America will take counterproductive actions that achieve the opposite result. And there are certain factors–radical ideological hegemony, a weak economy and growing debt, structural social changes, the weakness and disorganization of the opposition–that may make this situation regarding America’s international behavior and policies a long-term, partly irreversible condition.

In other words, we don’t know if America is finished as the world’s leading power but we do know that it will not take leadership and certainly not leadership in a good direction for a while and perhaps will never fully recover. Please note carefully that I am speaking here only of US foreign policy and more remarking on the domestic situation. So what do those outside the United States do to face this situation?

There are those readers who would contest the accuracy of this statement. They will say that Barack Obama is a great president or at least a decent one. There is no big problem regarding U.S. foreign policy at all. In fact, he and his team, which now includes Secretary of State-designate John Kerry, will be just fine or at least okay. They will make the point–valid but irrelevant–that the United States doesn’t control everything in the world. Of course, but what about the things it can affect?

Unfortunately, American allies and clients cannot afford the luxury of clueless optimism or wishful thinking. Some will grumble publicly and scramble to limit the damage. Others will smile, praise the president, and scramble to limit the damage. To put it another way, it doesn’t matter whether you agree with me. I’m telling you what’s actually happening.

Other readers will want to debate endlessly on the cause of the problem. Why is this happening? Is it deliberate or due to incompetence and bad ideology? Various conspiracy theories will be raised and time wasted on them. To put it another way, for the purposes of this particular article at least I don’t care who or what you blame or what you intend to do about it, I’m talking about what’s happening right now. It is fortunate that in these post-Cold War times there is no candidate to replace America as world leader. Instead, we have candidates to be regional leaders: China in Asia; the European Union already playing that role in Western Europe; Russia trying to do this in Central/Eastern Europe; and Egypt, Iran, and Turkey competing for hegemony in the Middle East.

But here’s the real issue: things look bad. What does this mean specifically and how can potential victims react? Let’s begin with a very brief survey of the world scene.

Latin America. There are now several radical regimes in the area—most notably Venezuela–alongside, of course, Cuba. America’s allies in the region are dismayed that the former group (except for Cuba) gets soft, even favorable, treatment by Washington. Fortunately, radical revolutions or major armed insurgencies don’t seem probable. So leaders in the region will worry a lot, be frustrated (why should we be nice to the United States when it doesn’t help us but rather rewards being anti-American?) but get through it. Ironically, of course, the current administration favors policies that are sure to fail in South America so to the degree Washington has influence, it will help sabotage the region’s economic progress.

Sub-Saharan Africa. What is truly remarkable is how the Obama Administration has done nothing to change U.S. policy in the area. One might have expected that given its worldview and certain ethno-racial factors and ideas in the US leadership, Obama would have wanted to make this region a showcase of how he differed from his predecessors, as a model of reparations for past colonialism and racism. No such luck for the Africans. They will continue to suffer economic and political hardship without significantly increased US help. Bad, but not a change from the usual neglect. Let them eat rhetoric!

South Asia. The pro-Pakistan policy will continue; India will be mistreated. Again, bad, but no big change. It will just be more of watching Pakistan help conceal al-Qaeda terrorists, work for a radical Islamist Afghanistan once the US forces withdraw and sponsor terrorism against India as Washington pays more billions in aid money. That Afghanistan issue might cause a crisis: Why did hundreds of Americans die there? Someone–albeit not so much in the mass media–might ask if and when Kabul is taken over by a new anti-American regime. Also slated to be killed, Afghans who helped the Western forces. They will start seeking new protectors very soon.

East Asia. The smaller countries which want US help and protection against what they perceive as an ever-stronger China won’t get it. This will make them very nervous indeed. Since I believe China doesn’t have aggressive geopolitical intentions, that situation won’t deteriorate too much in military terms. Yet in economic terms the US government is ceding a great deal to China. Much or most of Asia may become a Chinese economic zone and that will be costly to Americans since potential markets for American goods will in some cases go to China instead, further reducing opportunities for the US economy. Leaders of other countries will scramble to get in good with the new regional superpower as they perceive the United States no longer matters very much. And we all better hope that North Korea doesn’t get too confident–hopefully Beijing will restrain that wacko dictatorship–and attack the South.

Western Europe. Honk if you love Obama. Since European leadership is still obsessed with the EU project and seeks to varnish over rather than deal with their deep economic and social structural problems, they will have no big problems with Obama. He doesn’t attack them, just feeds their addictions. We are familiar with the European stereotype of Americans as the ignorant, irresponsible cowboy (applied to George W. Bush) but there is far less talk about the European stereotype of Americans as naive, blundering, would-be do-gooders who make a giant mess (Barack Obama). Yet there are elements of American decline that many Europeans and European leaders like. The day may come when they think otherwise. As I once remarked to a European ambassador, who agreed, they spent eight years trying to hold Bush back and now are spending four years trying to pull Obama forward.

Central/Eastern Europe. Here is a potential big problem. Russian leader Vladimir Putin thinks he can do whatever he wants. He will continue to turn as much as possible of the ex-Soviet now independent states into a Russian zone of influence. If he ever decided he wanted to take over Belarus or Ukraine, or to attack Georgia again, he knows this can be done without any problem from America. Similarly, the regional states know they cannot depend on American support. Have no doubt that people in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic think about this every day.

So we see in Latin America, Asia, and Central Europe that American allies have no reliable protector anymore. They are left potentially helpless to possibly voracious local powers that are more radical than themselves. And of course they are all hurt by the ongoing poor state of the American economy. Lesson: Don’t make the bad guys angry if possible; move away if possible from relying on the United States.

Some, however, will benefit from policies that ensure the export of American jobs. But the Chinese—who seem on the surface to be the main beneficiaries—are horrified to find themselves holding so much American debt as a U.S. government inflates the dollar and goes ever deeper into debt. It is a very bad investment indeed.

The thing to watch for is if there’s a crisis. How well would the United States respond to wars, coups, invasions, revolutions, economic collapses? What kind of leadership would be shown in cases paralleling, say, the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait? What would Washington do if massive repression breaks out in Egypt with the massacre of Christians? Or how would Obama respond if Putin were to grab some neighbor’s territory in part or in full? You can come up with a great many scenarios that could happen. And in each case the local leaders and a lot of people both think and worry about such scenarios becoming real.

At a minimum, knowing they cannot depend on U.S. help makes moderates and democrats more reluctant to fight, more willing to concede or surrender, and certain to despair.

In short, this current (voluntary, not inevitable) decline of the United States places a lot of people at risk. The question is whether there will be crises in which bad and weak American performance makes things worse.

And this brings us to the Middle East where we know such crises will take place. I don’t want to repeat what I’ve written many times. But to put the whole thing into three sentences:

Israel, relatively moderate Arab regimes (including, yes, Saudi Arabia), and real moderate opposition movements know they cannot depend on the United States for the next four years and perhaps for much longer. To make things worse, the US government is aiding their enemies. Consequently, they must act on their own to protect themselves.

For the Saudis, this can mean supporting establishment (Bahrain’s government, Lebanese Sunni Muslims) or even Salafist forces (as in the Syrian opposition) that they feel can be turned into clients. We all have good reasons for not liking the current Saudi regime but imagine the country being run and the oil money being in the hands of someone like Usama bin Ladin or the Muslim Brotherhood, dedicated to overthrowing all the other regimes in the region and forcing out U.S. influence. For Israel, lacking a chance to build real alliances with Arab states or oppositions, it requires unilateral action.

Everyone else—including Christian minorities and women who want equality–is pretty much up the creek without a paddle. The democratic oppositions (and that includes Egypt, Tunisia, and Lebanon as well as Turkey and Iran) will have their hearts broken as they see their own countries as lost to a long reign of even worse tyranny and their hopes for better days dashed. Countries as diverse as Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan will have to maneuver and use force to keep Islamists from taking over. In other words, you may be very courageous but you will give some serious thought to running away as far as possible, to Europe, North America, or Australia.

It is very scary and even tragic for a lot of people.

Here, however, is the main point I wish to communicate: Americans can debate whether this shorter-term vacuum of responsibility and longer-term decline is happening. Much of the world already takes this outcome for granted.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/rubin-reports/after-the-fall-what-do-you-do-when-america-is-temporarily-kaput/2013/01/08/

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