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Posts Tagged ‘China’

Foreign policy is a bit like insurance.  Most voters don’t think about it very much, and it doesn’t make the front page news, until something really bad happens. Foreign policy–in particular, foreign policy failures–have much to do with any president’s legacy.  Upon assuming office, Bush had a real passion for tax cuts, legalizing Mexican illegal immigrants, and moving Medicare and Social Security towards privatization.  Instead, after 9/11, he became a “war president,” and his deep unpopularity stemmed in large part from the long duration and indifferent results of the Iraq War.

Obama has never apparently thought much about foreign policy before becoming President.  His passions were personal and domestic:  a quest for identity through inner-city black power politics.  To the extent he has expressed thoughts about foreign policy at all, he has been vaguely anti-imperialist, anti-military, and pro-Third-World. Such views dovetail nicely, after all, with his domestic politics.  In addition, he fancied himself during the presidential campaign as the master of nuance, whose soft touch and appreciation for complexity stood in sharp contrast to Bush’s expressions of American exceptionalism.

How’s Obama doing? Well, perhaps still angry at his father’s treatment under British rule of Kenya, he recently, and without provocation, insulted the British Prime Minister, our long-standing ally in a great many wars and crises.

Now, in a story not widely reported, he’s formally committed to continuing American military support for Georgia, a nation run by the madman Saakashvili with whom we share few interests.  This action’s only strategic importance is that our presence there is considered extremely provocative by its Russian neighbor.  Everyone now pretty much acknowledges that Georgia started the war in South Ossetia last summer, that it is an indefensible country that must make peace with its large neighbor, and that any commitment thereto would further extend our thinly stretched military leading to a possible disastrous clash with the world’s second largest nuclear power.  No change to believe in here.

On his centerpiece concern of Afghanistan, for no apparent reason, Obama has publicly insulted its Prime Minister, Hamid Karzai, apparently shifting the blame for our lackluster results in Afghanistan to this unlikely scapegoat.  This kind of comment suggests someone unable to switch his tone from the variously permissive venues of academic hall, senior staff meeting, and public square.  In other words, you don’t think out loud when talking about other nation’s leaders. Further, the content itself evidences willful ignorance, letting Pakistan’s occasionally disloyal intelligence operatives off the hook, and, to be fair, not grappling with our own mistaken strategy and tactics.  Anyone genuinely concerned with U.S. counterinsurgency must notice that the U.S.’s extensive use of aerial bombs and penchant for heavy firepower routinely kills innocent rural Afghans and further alienates them from our goals and the Karzai government.

Finally, his economic policies have annoyed the Chinese, Germans, and French. Chicago politics did not require ideological choices rooted in principle, but rather chiefly consisted of payoffs to aggrieved ethnic constituencies. After leaving Chicago, as U.S. Senator, Obama focused on himself, the lunacy of the Iraq War, and uncontroversial projects like the Lead Free Toys Act. Now he must deal with genuine, principled, and likely irreconcilable conflicts regarding a complicated and worsening economic crisis.  I predict many more stumbles, some with real consequences.

How could this all be?  Even I’m a bit surprised. I would suggest that Obama is an example of what teenagers call “a legend in his own mind.”  He never really considered these issues deeply.  And his political life has been characterized by incubation in super-liberal Hyde Park, relatively liberal Illinois, nonideological Chicago ethnic politics, and a successful confrontation with an uninspiring GOP candidate in the general election.  Obama’s always been introspective, race-obsessed, and self-obsessed as evidenced by the tortured prose of his first book, Dreams of My Father. But foreign policy requires more than brains and self-knowledge, but empathy, perspective, good sense, a deep store of knowledge, a good decision-making process, and a sense of limitations.  For America, at this time, it calls above all for humility.  Nothing in Obama’s policies or personal story exemplify much of this, nor does he have the personal failures, setbacks, and chastening confrontations with disaster that gave men like George Bush Sr., Harry Truman, and Richard Nixon a great deal of foreign policy horse sense.

Obama’s a conventional and very lucky politician, surrounded until recently by a sycophantic press corps.  In his chosen arena, he has mostly faced opposition from weak and (with the exception of McCain) scandal-ridden competitors.  Throughout his adult and political life he’s been coddled in one way or another by the high hopes and guilty fears of liberal whites. This is bad training and has bred in Obama an overinflated ego and sense of ability.  This schtick won’t fly so much overseas, not least because, for the rest of the world, Obama’s simply the head of a very powerful nation with policies that many oppose for reasons of perceived interest rather than bad faith.  His words won’t soothe foreign nations and foreign peoples, because they are much more focused upon the ways obscure U.S. policies may harm their interests.  Worse still, a great number of foreigners want to see the U.S. fail because of lesser motives like pride and envy.  Obama thinks that he can get a pass on this last piece because he too is one of the erstwhile oppressed, but I would suggest that it’s pretty hard to play that card when travelling by Air Force One and commanding the still mighty wealth and power of the United States.

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I’ve long thought the Republican obsession with free trade was not only bad politics but a bit of bad policy.  A recent Washington Post article asks the question whether trade–which had a lot to do with our lopsided economy, as US dollars overseas filtered back looking for a safe investment and found it in Mortgage-Backed-Securities–has been a net positive for the US economically:

A few months ago, Robert Cassidy found himself pondering whether trade actually benefited the American economy. “I couldn’t prove it,” he says. “Did it benefit U.S. multinational corporations? Yes. But I cannot prove that it benefits the economy.”

Such doubts would hardly be news if they came from an established critic of free trade. But Robert Cassidy was the chief U.S. negotiator on China’s 1999 market access agreement with the United States — the document that was the basis for Congress’s extension of permanent normalized trade relations to China, which in turn enabled China to join the World Trade Organization. During the 1990s, Cassidy was the assistant U.S. trade representative for the Asia-Pacific region, and before that he worked in the Treasury Department’s international affairs office.

Republicans did not always embrace free trade so uncritically.  In the 1980s, Reagan strong-armed the Japanese to open up their markets, for example.  In the late 1800s, the Republicans were famous for presiding over an industrial policy of protective tariffs. Conservatives have long recognized the value of the nation as an important community of interest, which follows a different logic and pursues other goods besides economic ones.

The free trade orthodoxy is so entrenched on today’s right and the  mainstream Democratic Party–in sharp contrast to the prevailing attitude even in the 1980s–that the least deviation is quickly swatted down, as if we must all become either Davos Man or Dick Gephardt with nothing in between.

I’m for a certain amount of free trade, but oppose trade that (a) hurts the American economy on net, particularly by hurting export industries without a net gain in jobs and productive capacity, (b) hurts our national defense, (c) strengthens illiberal dictatorships, or (d) does not include sufficient buffers between our economy and the various unfriendly regimes around the world whether China, Indonesia, or Iran.

I happen to like free trade with Mexico, but would have not traded a penny with the Chinese starting around 1990 or so when the Cold War ended, preferring instead to isolate them and strengthen the American manufacturing sector.  It’s good for our third world neighbor to do well, even partially at our expense. On China, though, it’s not good for a global competitor and future great power to succeed at our expense and for us to be too dependent on them.  Their cheap dollar subsidy, low cost manufacturing, and the smoke and mirrors of easy credit have distorted our economy and theirs and made us too mutually interdependent for our mutual independence and strength.

In the 1880s, Britain infamously put Egypt into receivership when it defaulted on its debts. While I don’t see anyone able to impose such a dreary condition on the US, we can soon expect foreign creditors to dictate their terms and our policies more freely.  This would not be good, needless to say, and the joys of cheap plasma televisions from China would hardly make up for our loss of independence.  We can live without cheap Chinese trinkets; we cannot live in any normal sense of that term under foreign control.  I should think an American politicians could be very popular in such a circumstance by promoting massive foreign debt repudiation, even though such a move would undeniably be very costly going forward.   We’d soon find out if Americans were more attached to their flag and their independence or, rather, easy credit and cheap trinkets imported from low wage foreign regimes.

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If Obama’s foreign policy is sometimes incoherent, Hillary’s is simply Bush-lite.  Her recent essay in Foreign Affairs reveals herself as someone who does not depart substantially from the globalist paradigm of Bush and President Clinton, with the main difference being her greater faith in “diplomacy.”  In a world where many nations’ interests involve knocking America down in prestige and power, this is simply wishful thinking of the worst sort.  It’s essentially the foreign policy espoused earlier by John Kerry.  It is vague about how she will fight terrorism, focusing instead on a policy of supporting the people that will clean up the pieces in the wake of an attack, the lauded “first responders.” 

The flaws in Hillary Clinton’s basic perspective are never more apparent than in her discussion of one of the major foreign policy failure of the last decade, the payoff deal given to North Korea to cease its nuclear programs.  This deal was brokered by Jimmy Carter and signed off by President Clinton and promised North Korea money to cease its nuclear arms programs after it had essentially threatened the West with its arsenal.  She writes: 

Like Iran, North Korea responded to the Bush administration’s effort to isolate it by accelerating its nuclear program, conducting a nuclear test, and building more nuclear weapons. Only since the State Department returned to diplomacy have we been able, belatedly, to make progress.

Actually, North Korea was undertaking all these programs after the deal when it promised it would not do so.  Nothing in Bush’s “axis of evil” remark could have set off such a massive undertaking.  The money paid off by the ’94 Clinton Deal enabled the North Korean regime by giving it much-needed financial and material support.  As I wrote earlier:

I can’t say I blame Clinton for not discovering North Korea violations and weapons plans earlier. The secret North Korean regime is notoriously hard for our spies to penetrate. But I do fault him for thinking he could bribe a criminal regime like this into behaving sensibly. The basic concept of the agreement was the problem, and the end result was more or less inevitable. Even the most minimally rationally black-mailer, once he’s been paid, has an incentive to seek more. And that’s exactly what North Korea’s been trying to accomplish ever since. Clinton’s plan was all carrot and no stick. Bush has been tasked with cleaning up a mess that he did not create, where he did not fail to negotiate real security guarantees, and under the threat of a far more substantial North Korean weapons capability.

On top of its flawed concepts, Clinton’s lengthy essay provides little guidance as to when and where diplomacy is necessary or unlikely to be of use, nor does it articulate when force is needed and under what circumstances she would use it.  For instance, does she embrace the “humanitarian wars” concept of President Clinton?  Does she think a UN mandate is always necessary (after all, her husband did not in Kosovo)? Does she recognize that certain irrational players on the world stage, such as A-Jod in Iran, may not respond to the same incentives as less ideological and religiously-tinged leaders?  Finally, does she recognize any inherent or at least structural tension between the Western World and the Islamic world?  She’s either silent or vague on these issues.  The world Muslim only comes up in referring to her support for “building a Muslim democracy in Afghanistan.”

Bush has been a disaster on foreign policy because he is a liberal.  He believes in spreading democracy, the universality of American values, and the necessity of idealism in our foreign policy.  He also has been incompetent, using tough talk without backing up words with appropriate action, alienating potential friends like Russia, using democracy as a substitute for the necessity of real security in Iraq, and being diffident and inarticulate about the need for intelligence-gathering against al Qaeda.  There is no reason to think Clinton will not be worse in all these respects, even if she is accepted more readily by the Europeans. 

Let’s not forget that it is al Qaeda, China, Iran, and Russia who matter most in the next President’s foreign policy.  On all four matters, the first President Clinton, embracing a very similar view as Hillary was a disaster.  Al Qaeda grew in strength and planned 9/11 during his watch.  China grew stronger military and economically under his watch, and its increasing trade with the West did not liberalize its internal affairs as promised.  Iran continued to support terrorism during Clinton’s more mild presidency and was linked to the Khobar Towers bombing without any retaliation on his part.  Finally, Russia grew increasingly alienated from the West during Clinton and Bush’s presidency because both presidents desired to expand NATO, criticized Russia on Chechnya (where it’s fighting al Qaeda and its allies), and both meddled in Russia’s internal affairs and elections.  Clinton may not be loony on foreign policy, but liberals and conservatives alike should expect many of the same problems as Bush has had, coupled with the likely disappointments that the deus ex machina of diplomacy will foster.  These problems will persist because both Hillary Clinton and Bush use liberal ideas–the importance of the UN, democracy (including among our allies), and human rights–as guides when hard-headed realism about diplomacy and the use of force is needed.

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I recently completed Diversity: Invention of a Concept, by Peter Wood. This is the first of several book reviews I’ll be writing of books generously sent to me by my readers.

Diversity has become one of the defining ideals of our age, surpassing in certain respects our earlier commitments to formal equality, liberty, the rule of law, and merit. The diversity concept, unlike more exotic ideas such as multiculturalism, is important because it has spread outside the academy into the world of business and politics. Every mainstream institution from Hollywood and the art world to the education establishment and business trumpets its commitment to diversity. Yet diversity has undergone little criticism. Unlike affirmative action, which was earlier justified as a form of reparations for white injustice to blacks, diversity is a “feel good” idea that purports to benefit everyone, even members of the majority. Minorities advantaged by affirmative action obviously benefit by receiving positions and admissions they would otherwise not receive. But privileged groups also benefit according to diversity’s partisans because they are now exposed beneficially to different perspectives, ideas, and cultures.

Earlier works such as Dinesh D’Souza’s End of Racism (1995) and Alan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind (1987) dealt with narrower issues: the continuing social problems facing black Americans and the decline of standards in the academy respectively. Both of these works were authored in an age when diversity was less accepted as an aspirational ideal than it is at present. Wood’s contribution is unique. . . .

(more…)

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