Focal Points Blog

Bush Sr. and Huntsman: A Tale of Two Ambassadors to the Middle Kingdom

Huntsman ChinaIt may seem odd at first to associate Jon M. Huntsman with George H. W. Bush. Bush Sr. is an Episcopalian while Huntsman is Mormon; Bush served in the military during World War II while Huntsman went on a religious mission long after the war; and the list goes on and on.

However, a close look at the personal and career paths of the two suggests several convergences, and the nexus is the Middle Kingdom.

On June 21, Huntsman officially announced that he would run for the GOP nomination. He is the second former U.S. ambassador to the PRC to make such a vow. As with his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, his Mormon faith has been kept off the table in several public discourses. Instead, what comes into the public light is his international profile, which features substantial experience in the Confucian sphere, including his roles as a Mormon missionary to Taiwan and as the former U.S. ambassador to the PRC. Like Bush Sr., Huntsman could indeed, as president, make an important contribution to Sino-American relations.

The China Connection

In 1974, Gerald Ford, Nixon’s successor, appointed Bush Sr. as the chief of the U.S. Liaison Office to the People’s Republic of China. At a time when official relations between the two countries were yet to be established, Bush Sr. unofficially acted in the capacity of an ambassador. His charisma, open-mindedness, and curiosity served him well as a diplomat, and he was widely loved in China. During his fourteen months in Beijing, Bush Sr. sought every opportunity possible to get to know the lives of the Chinese public. He and his wife, Barbara would tour around Beijing on their bicycles, the most popular means of everyday transportation in the 1970s. Although regulations at the time limited his access to local Chinese families, he would go to grocery stores and talk to the salespeople. He would also try to get to know the people that he met while walking his dog.

HW Bush ChinaDespite congressional and public criticism of his conciliatory approach to dealing with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, Bush Sr. managed to use his China experience to his advantage, and perhaps, to the advantage of the United States. Indeed, his efforts as president to maintain contacts with Beijing can perhaps only be appreciated in hindsight. During his presidential years, Bush Sr. famously served as “his own China Desk Officer,” that is, his own resident expert on the multi-faceted aspects of China and Sino-American relations. His previous experience dealing with the CCP officials effectively established a realist framework for relations between the United States and China, a defining feat in the foreign relations of the 1990s for both sides.

Compared to Bush Sr., Huntsman began to have contact with the Confucian sphere at an earlier stage of his life. Still a college student, Huntsman served as a Mormon missionary to Taiwan. During his two-year mission there, he not only immersed himself in the social and cultural dynamics of Taiwan but also obtained fluency in Mandarin Chinese and Hokkien, a regional dialect of Fujian Province.

Huntsman’s experience with China and Taiwan and his proficiency in Mandarin Chinese proved to be an asset when President Obama appointed him the ninth U.S. ambassador to the PRC. Kenneth Lieberthal, Director of the China Center at the Brookings Institution, once expressed that “in terms of knowledge and diplomatic skills, I’d regard him as one of the best ambassadors we had. I thought he was very good. He related effectively to Chinese audiences.” Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society, told the press that Huntsman was well-liked by the embassy staff. Schell added that Huntsman “is a very smart guy, quick on his feet, and he has a certain candor.”

Will or Should History Repeat?

Like his predecessor Bush Sr., Huntsman is now running for GOP nomination. It is not surprising to any U.S. presidential campaign watcher that clouds of suspicions surround Huntsman’s candidacy, centering on his ability and willingness to place public interests before corporate interests, given his background as a billionaire businessman. There are also his politically expedient actions to consider. To some degree, Huntsman seems to be reinventing his image to cater to Republican voters. These efforts are characterized by his reversal of positions on several key issues of interest to the Republican voters, including his stance on health reform and the Recovery Act. In addition, he was a Democratic appointee as ambassador to the PRC, which may undermine his ideological loyalty to the GOP.

On the other hand, Huntsman has taken perhaps the strongest stance among the Republican candidates on U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, which reveals something provocative about his foreign policy in general. His press release on the president’s remarks last week highlighted his approval for “a safe but rapid withdrawal” of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. In addition to maintaining that there is a great need for “nation building at home,” which is in line with Obama’s vision for U.S. foreign policy, Huntsman went further to say that it is time to “get serious about what needs to be done on the ground, not a counter-insurgency but a counter-terror effort.

The globally minded Huntsman appears to be committed to effective U.S. engagement with the world. As an old China hand, his expertise on China and Sino-American relations is invaluable, considering that China may become the most crucial partner to the United States in the 21st century. Furthermore, he is likely to be less conciliatory and controversial on China’s poor human rights profile than Bush Sr., given his blunt criticism of the CCP’s detention of prominent Chinese activists like Liu Xiaobo.

At the moment, Huntsman is leaning to the right in order to appeal to the more conservative wing of the Republican Party. Perhaps if his campaign gains traction, however, his views on foreign policy, and on China in particular, might begin to make the Republican Party lean more in his direction.

Shiran Shen is a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus and a senior honors political science student at Swarthmore College.

As Taliban Tactics Grow More Sophisticated, Why Does It Still Use Suicide Bombers?

Typical of articles calling the Taliban attack on the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul a “showcase for their abilities” and a “carefully orchestrated operation” is this from the Daily Beast:

[The Taliban] had proven once again that insurgents can strike just about any time and anywhere against their chosen targets, exposing the fragility of Kabul’s security just days before Afghan security forces are scheduled to take responsibility for securing the city and several other towns and provinces around the country in the wake of President Obama’s announcement of the phased U.S. military withdrawal.

Still, the eight attackers, all armed with suicide vests in addition to weapons, were killed. This begs the question: with its increasing tactical sophistication, why does the Taliban continue to rely on a technique that’s as strictly from hunger as suicide bombing?

As a tactic (if it can be called one), suicide bombing makes the Taliban look not only desperate, but, of course, too savage – read: al-Qaeda-like – to inherit the reins of a nation. My guess is that the willingness of those wearing the vests to die as martyrs is supposed to represent a de facto blessing by Allah for the operation. It’s almost like a shahid are a good luck talisman.

But this is not the way for a regime-in-waiting to behave if it expects to be taken seriously by other states. Time to grow up, Taliban. Act as if you belong on the international stage and maybe you’ll get there.

Australian PM Gillard’s Call for Abolition of Nuclear Weapons No Shot in the Dark

Australia’s prime minister Julia Gillard, reports Sydney’s Telegraph, “will call for a parliamentary vote on a motion calling for nuclear armed countries — including our closest allies in the US and Britain — to destroy their atomic weapons. It would be the first time the Australian parliament had adopted a resolution calling for global disarmament.”

Presumably it was only a matter of time since in June 2008 then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd proposed the formation of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) to be co-chaired by former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans. The ICNND closed down operations in July 2010 after concluding what it considered its mandate, which, in large part was creating a comprehensive report titled Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers.

But Ms. Gillard was reluctant to sponsor the motion and agreed to, the Telegraph reports, only “after pressure from Labor MPs on a parliamentary Committee on Treaties. . . . It is believed it was the second time the [committee] had written to Ms Gillard, after she ignored the first request earlier this year.” By doing so she assures the ICNND’s legacy.

. . . the Prime Minister confirmed the government would adopt recommendation 21 of its [the ICNND’s, that is] Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament report. The resolution calls for an immediate cut to all nuclear arsenals, starting with a ban on enrichment and the production of fissile material.

Below are excerpts from a post I wrote at the time that “Eliminating Nuclear Threats” was issued (posted elsewhere, prior to the existence of Focal Points).

Another Nuclear-Weapons Commission? Wait, This One’s the Bomb!

In December, what for all intents and purposes looks like the mother of all reports on nuclear weapons was issued. The entity responsible is called the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND). A joint initiative of the Australian and Japanese Governments, it was launched to reinvigorate global nuclear disarmament in time for the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.

The ICNND is chaired by Gareth Evans, Australia’s respected one-time foreign minister who has since dedicated his life to preventing and resolving deadly conflict, and Yoriko Kawaguchi, Japan’s former minister of foreign affairs. Its other members are mostly individuals who’ve held high positions in government, including a former chairman of Pakistan’s joint chiefs of staff, a former prime minister of Norway, and Prince Turki Al Faisal of the Saudi royal family.

Come to think of it, the commission’s mainstream membership is reminiscent of that of the recently concluded Congressional Commission on the Nuclear Posture of the United States. The latter included, on the one hand, Clinton Secretary of Defense William Perry, since reborn as a disarmament advocate, and, on the other, former CIA director and noted hawk James Woolsey. Among the Nuclear Posture Review Commission’s recommendations were ratifying the follow-up treaty to START, but not the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In effect, it nullified itself.

But disarmament itself was central to its deliberations, while in the ICNND’s case, it was its raison d’etre. Titled “Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers,” the ICNND’s report counsels disarmament in studied steps.

Reading it proves slow going — it’s as nuanced as it is comprehensive — but it’s no slog. To those of us who’d like to see a shortened route to disarmament and one shorn of the nuclear-energy programs ICNND considers essential to its agenda, the results of the report disappoint to a degree. On the other hand, it’s awash in keen observations and sound reasoning. As I work my way through it (about one-third thus far) I’ll highlight some of those — as well as have some fun with it.

Let’s begin with what the report refers to as nuclear weapons’ “delegitimation” (which, apparently, is to “deligitimization” as “preventive” is to “preventative”). The report reads:

If we want to minimize and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons, the critical need is to change perceptions of their role and utility: in effect, to achieve their progressive delegitimation, from a position in which they occupied a central strategic place to one in which their role is seen as quite marginal, and eventually wholly unnecessary as well as undesirable.

We’re part way there, according to the report, because

. . . it is now broadly accepted that nuclear weapons have little or no utility as instruments of warfighting [because, among other things nuclear weapons], creating impassable terrains and causing long-lasting environmental damage, cannot rationally be used to take territory.

Not only are nuclear weapons weighed down by the irony that they’re inherently unusable, but one rung down the hierarchy of irony resides the humbling knowledge that the biggest, baddest weapons ever invented are of absolutely no use when it comes to seizing territory. If one state covets another for its resources or whatever and were to attack it with nuclear weapons, the resale value on the acquired state immediately plummets.

Even if the conquering state were willing to help rebuild its newfound acquisition, needless to say, great swaths of it are rendered uninhabitable by radiation. Of course, a nuclear-weapons advocate might make the case that not only do nuclear weapons deter a world war, they’re the reason that while states may fight over disputed territory like Kashmir, they no longer seek to acquire new territory.

As opposed to conquest or world wars, today small wars are all the rage. But nuclear weapons

. . . lack finesse in a world where advanced militaries increasingly focus on reducing collateral damage and civilian deaths. . . . weapons of choice in war these days are precise in both targeting and effect.

The last sentence might be amended to read “weapons of choice in war these days are intended to be precise in both targeting and effect.” The report also reads (emphasis added):

Nuclear weapons are essentially self-deterring for actors who depend upon public support from their own populations, their allies, and broader international society. Every time states have come close to their use they have recoiled.

Deterrence aside, another argument that the proponents of nuclear weapons proffer for the retention of nuclear weapons is

. . . the notion that because nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented they can never wholly disappear.

No question — refuting the uninvented argument isn’t easy. But that’s why God created compliance and verification: Vigilance is all. Besides, mankind hasn’t been able to uninvent torture and slavery, but they’ve been eradicated. Oh wait, no they haven’t. Moving on, the report reads:

If these perceptions [about the uninvention of nuclear weapons] are to change, they have to be tackled. . . in a way which recognizes and respects. . . the weight of opposing arguments. . . . The necessary commitments to disarmament will not be achieved by simply denouncing the nuclear-armed states. . . for being in thrall to false theories and prey to unwarranted anxieties.

In fact, said states

. . . can both recognize [the] long-term risks and at the same time fear the short-term impact on their security posed by the processes of disarmament. . . .They must be convinced that there is no incompatibility between nuclear disarmament and security.

As you can see, despite how hypocritical a state sounds when it calls for disarmament while also insisting on retaining nukes, concerns about a disarmament time frame are legitimate. Thus (emphasis added)

Those who advocate elimination need to break the process into manageable steps, countering perceptions that it is a leap into the unknown. . . . the number of diverse states that must cooperate to make nuclear abolition feasible is too great, and the issues too complex, to allow anything but incremental movement. Here as elsewhere in public policy, inertia tends to be the norm, major change the rarity, and sustaining major change extraordinarily difficult. The real alternative to an incremental approach is not more rapid change, but stasis. But doing nothing is not an option.

We can’t know if Prime Minister Gillard’s motion to abolish nuclear weapons will have any impact. But at least she and Australia’s parliament are not doing nothing.

Obama’s Noble Sentiments About Afghanistan Undermined by Meager Drawdown

“This is the beginning – but not the end – of our effort to wind down this war.” President Obama told the American public in a speech on Wednesday, June 22, 2011. The president’s address was full of encouraging statements and ideas, pertaining to both the immediate conflict in Afghanistan and his views of American power in general. Yet with all of his spot-on assessments and high-minded principles, there was a great disconnect between what the president espoused and what he did.

Let’s begin with what the president did right:

He acknowledged that the U.S. has made serious progress on its the objectives in Afghanistan. The military missions, to decimate al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in the region, turn out the Taliban and train Afghan forces for the transfer of local security, are going well. Considering this news that seems too good to be true, President Obama rightly said that it was time to begin a transition in the war effort: fewer troops, fewer combat missions, more training, devotion to civil society and a serious pursuit of negotiations as a means to responsibly leave this conflict. The United States has spent enough lives, time, and money on the conflict and it is time for it to focus on its domestic issues that are not in short supply.

Further, the president provided insights into his notion of the U.S. in the world that were rather encouraging. Though Robert Creamer highlights the differences between Obama and Bush’s perceptions of just war and ability to follow through on promises, the most important comparisons have to do with their vision of American power and its relations with the world. Though Obama commented on his willingness to use force against those who threaten American lives, he made clear overtures to the United States’ role within the international system and not above it: “When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own. Instead, we must rally international action.” Rather than ignoring the calls of NATO and other allies, the president proudly spoke of his conferences with NATO in Lisbon and his desire for a closer relationship with Pakistan around common goals and mutual-accountability.

Another important difference in Obama’s worldview and that of the former president is his emphasis on the diplomatic process as a means to managing conflict. Expressing his desire to work with the people of Afghanistan and the governments in Kabul and Islamabad, the president highlighted his belief that “peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war without a political settlement.” Whereas Bush refused to negotiate with his enemies, Obama acknowledges that there is no way out of Afghanistan that does involve “initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.” Negotiating with not just an enemy but also one whose past is ridden with oppression and tyranny, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized at the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on June 23, 2011, will not be easy to swallow but it is necessary to the process that ultimately presents the best way for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan.

Now for what he did wrong:

Sadly, for these high-minded principles of inclusive agreements and political settlements, Obama’s proposed plan for withdrawal does not seem to be steering the conflict away from our current methods. To usher in this change in strategy and acknowledge that the fight with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan has largely gone well, the president agreed to withdraw a meager 10,000 troops this year and another 23,000 the next. This wholly underwhelming drawdown hardly deserves that definition. By the end of 2012, the withdrawal of 33,000 troops will still leave approximately 70,000 U.S. forces in the country – twice as many as were in-theater when Obama took office. Let’s not forget the 100,000 contractors that will still be there as well. Combine these figures with whatever commensurate drawdown NATO makes from their 50,000 soldiers and there will still be a rather large military force still on the ground.

For Obama’s talk of changing strategy and turning the corner in Afghanistan, the short term effects of this announcement will be fairly slight despite warnings from Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that these withdrawals are “risky.” Political pressure carried in warnings from top military advisors and a mixture of fear and enthusiasm by those in Afghanistan may help to explain why this decision was made, but it does not excuse it. When asked by various senators at the aforementioned hearing about how U.S. strategy will change, Secretary Clinton commented that current counterinsurgency and counterterrorism missions will continue while training efforts will be increased. Only with more time and greater pullouts should anyone expect to see a real shift away from counterinsurgency and major combat missions. This does not sound like a rethinking of strategy or an immediate change of any kind.

Speaking of risks, many of the senators at the hearing pointed out that there are several problems that could result from not changing strategy soon enough. Most touched upon were concerns of creating an Afghan dependence on U.S. security and aid that will leave them unable to defend or support themselves when withdrawals become more severe. Both the president and Secretary Clinton spoke of this plan as gradual and responsible, but one wonders if the incredibly slow pace agreed upon is necessary or even detrimental to anyone’s long-term interests. Even as senators prayed that Clinton might find a political way out of the conflict that could accelerate the return of U.S. troops, those looking for a serious change in the war in Afghanistan will likely have to wait until the withdrawal plans are decided for 2013 and 2014.

A steeper, more responsible drawdown and a serious alteration of our military strategy would have gone a long way in showing the world we are serious about pursuing a more cooperative and diplomatic approach to solving international problems. Instead, President Obama opted for a plan that seemed at odds with his enlightened views of U.S. foreign policy he advocated for in the same speech. Of course, the U.S. is actively pursuing political solutions to the war, but these meager withdrawals show a lack of commitment to a lighter combat approach. This dissonance between Obama’s words and actions provokes questions of how much control he has over his own foreign policy decisions in what is now undoubtedly his war. More importantly, it means that there are still too many U.S. soldiers in harm’s way for little reason.

Adam Cohen is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

The Nuclear Terrorists Are Coming: Break Out the Varsity Squad!

“In a briefing last week for the visiting commandant of the Marine Corps,” writes Nathan Hodge at the Wall Street Journal, Japan-based Marines “said the experience of Operation Tomodachi, the Japan relief effort launched after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, could help the U.S. military respond to worst-case battle scenarios.”

“This is varsity-level stuff,” Gen. [James] Amos said.

Hodge again:

Japan has become an unlikely laboratory for the U.S. to study modern warfare after the March nuclear accident created conditions like those the military could face if a terror group set off a “dirty” radiological bomb. It was the first time Marine aircraft had operated in a radiologically contaminated environment, and Lt. Col. Marsh [commander of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265], which was involved in the operation. . . told [Gen. Amos], “it’s not hard to believe that we could be responding someplace involving a disaster at a nuclear power plant, dirty bombs or terrorism.”

Fukushima has focused the attention of the world on the safety of nuclear plants. As Matthew Bunn of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs writes:

At Monday’s opening of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s ministerial meeting in Vienna on what to do about nuclear safety after Fukushima, [IAEA] Director-General Yukiya Amano laid out a sensible five-point plan for improving global nuclear safety. But Amano missed a crucial point: Disasters like Fukushima can be caused not only be accident but by terrorist action. The nuclear industry in many countries is much less prepared to cope with security incidents than with accidents.

As if the nuclear industry (at least in Japan) was even prepared to cope with an accident. Dr. Bunn again (emphasis added).

[Thus] the need to take steps to strengthen global nuclear security – protecting against both sabotage of nuclear facilities and theft of nuclear weapons or the materials to make them — [is] particularly urgent. . . . Both al Qaeda and Chechen terrorist groups have repeatedly considered sabotaging nuclear reactors – and Fukushima provided a compelling example of the scale of terror such an attack might cause. Indeed, given the multiple layers of safety systems in place for nuclear facilities today – and the extraordinarily weak security measures in place in some countries – the chance that the next big radioactive release will happen because someone wanted to make it happen may well be bigger than the chance that it will happen purely by accident.

Back in 2003, at the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote:

An attack on a nuclear power plant would seem to fulfill, almost perfectly, Al Qaeda’s objective of using America’s technology against it. In his State of the Union Message last year, President Bush announced that United States forces searching Afghan caves had indeed found diagrams of American reactors. Around the same time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, acting on information provided by the F.B.I., warned of a plot to crash a commercial aircraft into a plant. . . . As potential targets go, Indian Point [nuclear energy plant] seems almost too obvious. It is situated on the Hudson River . . . thirty-five miles from midtown Manhattan. . . . A 1982 analysis by a congressional subcommittee estimated that, under worst-case conditions, a catastrophe at one of the Indian Point reactors could result in fifty thousand fatalities and more than a hundred thousand radiation injuries. . . . By an uncomfortable coincidence, American Airlines Flight 11, just minutes before it slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, flew almost directly over Indian Point’s twin reactor domes.

Then there’s the threat of cyberwarfare, as exemplified by the impact that the virus Stuxnet has had on Iran’s nuclear program. Still, as Seymour Hersh wrote in a New Yorker piece last November, The Online Threat, which is a cautionary tale about the dangers of allowing the intelligence communities and the military to hype cyberwarfare: “There is surprising unanimity among cyber-security experts on one issue that the immediate cyber threat does not come from traditional terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.”

He quotes John Arquilla of the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School: “Terrorist groups are. . . . not that interested in. . . . attacking our computer system.” When it comes to cyber security, their priority is to “protect their operations.” Still, Hersh warns: “As terrorist groups get better at defense, they may eventually turn to offense.”

Meanwhile, as Bunn writes

. . . attempting to separate safety and security is wrongheaded as the two are integrally linked. Better safety measures can make a facility more secure (by making it more difficult to sabotage, or keeping better control of where nuclear material is within a plant), and better security measures can make a plant safer. . . . Ultimately, a nuclear facility cannot truly be safe unless it is also secure.

Three years ago, the World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) was launched in Vienna at an IAEA conference, the first organization dedicated to strengthening the “physical protection and security of nuclear and radioactive materials and facilities worldwide.” After another conference in May, this time about Fukushima, WINS issued this statement, which I’ve excerpted:

Safety and security have traditionally been regulated and managed in isolation from each other. Safety management has been the responsibility of operators, engineers, safety managers and scientists, whereas security [is] frequently led by ex-military and police personnel. . . . This situation must change. The complex, interconnected nature of safety, security and emergency management requires convergence.

As Cause for Hope in Afghanistan, “Light at the End of the Tunnel” Has Lost Its Luster

At the Atlantic, Michael Cohen writes of President Obama’s Afghanistan speech:

For the first time in ten years, the light at the end of the tunnel of the U.S. war in Afghanistan is suddenly visible. . . . If there is one overriding takeaway from Obama’s speech . . . it is that the same President who 18 months ago was led by his generals into an escalation that he didn’t appear to fully support has now taken back control of his policy in Afghanistan. Right now, that means leading U.S. strategy down the path of de-escalation. As Obama said, this not the end of the war in Afghanistan, but it’s certainly the beginning of America’s effort to “wind down the war.”

No, not the beginning of the end, but, after almost 10 years, only the beginning of the beginning . . . someday the United States may reach the end of the tunnel of the war in Afghanistan. One can’t help but wonder, though, if the purpose of these excruciatingly long drawdowns, which the United States now seems to specialize in, is to ensure that before we reach the end of the tunnel, enough time will have passed to allow excavation of another out of peace’s impassive mountainside.

In other words, the long drawdown — to whatever extent it is one — seems less intended to leave the occupied state stabilized than to provide the defense establishment with a seamless transition to another war. We wouldn’t want them all standing around with nothing to do but drill or worry about future procurements, would we?

Continuing with Cohen, to upend another cliché — “idle hands are the devil’s tools” — what could be more demonic than this?

All of this suggests that the Obama administration is pushing the military away from a strategy of stabilization and pacification in Afghan’s most insecure regions . . . and toward a more limited counter-terrorism strategy. On the ground, this will likely mean [among other things] more drones [and] more special forces operations to eliminate high value targets.

One could be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that we’re countering terrorism “in like kind” (as they say of a response to a nuclear attack with an equivalent amount of nuclear weapons) with nothing but more terrorism.

Like It or Not, World Government May Be Inevitable

All at once, human-rights crises in Libya, Bahrain and Syria have brought into focus the world’s inability to arrive at a consensus on a course of action. In fact, they cry out for an authority higher than states, not to mention the United Nations, to adjudicate them and prescribe a course of unified action.

To at least as great an extent this is also true of environmental crises. As Al Gore writes in Rolling Stone:

All over the world, the grassroots movement in favor of changing public policies to confront the climate crisis and build a more prosperous, sustainable future is growing rapidly. But most governments remain paralyzed, unable to take action — even after [among other things, a] seemingly endless stream of unprecedented and lethal weather disasters.

The seas, especially, at the mercy of both climate change and foreign policy, embody the need for action by a higher authority than sovereign states. Regarding climate change, by now you may have read of a report, writes the Independent, by “a panel of leading marine scientists brought together in Oxford earlier this year by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).”

The seas are degenerating far faster than anyone has predicted, the report says, because of the cumulative impact of a number of severe individual stresses, ranging from climate warming and sea-water acidification, to widespread chemical pollution and gross overfishing. . . . The report says: “Increasing hypoxia [low oxygen levels] and anoxia [absence of oxygen, known as ocean dead zones], combined with warming of the ocean and acidification, are the three factors which have been present in every mass extinction event in Earth’s history.”

Those include such earth-shaking events as the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction 65.5 million years ago, the Triassic–Jurassic extinction 205 million years ago, and the Permian–Triassic extinction 251 million years ago. Sobering, to say the least, to our current crisis compared to those.

Regarding foreign policy and the high seas, does anything spell global apathy, impotence, and inertia as precisely as the return — with a vengeance — of pirating, a scourge we thought that, except for outliers, had gone the way of small pox? The ransoms demanded today — and paid — beggar credulity. At Moon of Alabama, Bernhard reports on a recent case, the seizure of the MV Suez, which exemplifies in a nutshell the inability or lack of will on the part of states to deal with an international crisis.

The MV Suez was captured by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden on August 2 2010. It was freed a week ago after a quite dramatic story. . . . As month after month went by the cases of the MV Suez sailors and their families grew — via the local media — into interior political issues in India as well as in Pakistan. The Indian government tried to apply pressure on the owner via the Egyptian government. . . . But the Indian government . . . showed no urgency to solve the problem. . . . Late in February the Pakistani human rights advocate Ansar Barney made phone contact with the pirates and started his own negotiations. . . . When the ransom deadline had passed without the ship owner paying, [the] Ansar Barney Welfare Trust, a humanitarian NGO, started to collect the demanded $1.1 million to free the sailors. . . . Somewhere along the Egyptian owners of the ship became furious about the court cases by the families of the Egyptian crew members on board of the MV Suez. The owners backtracked on a promise to pay some share of the ransom they had earlier agreed to [which subsequently] increased to $2.1 million.

One World Government: The Most Loaded Phrase on Earth

No matter how utopian sounding to some or dystopian to others, who fear the United States surrendering its sovereignty to George Soros and the Bilderbergers, none of these issues — from humanitarian intervention to saving the seas — may truly be resolved until or unless states finally reconcile themselves to world government.

True, serious consideration may yet take two or three generations — and an exponential increase in the degradation of the quality of life on earth. But a model exists. In an April post spurred by the Libyan intervention, I wrote that, in a 2008 column for the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman acknowledged that world government represents “the kind of ideas that get people reaching for their rifles in America’s talk-radio heartland.” But, he wrote of the European Union:

So could the European model go global? . . . a change in the political atmosphere suggests that “global governance” could come much sooner than that. The financial crisis and climate change are pushing national governments towards global solutions, even in countries such as China and the US that are traditionally fierce guardians of national sovereignty.

Once states see the benefits that other states that have cast their lot together are reaping, state sovereignty suddenly loses its luster. Ian Williams explains in a 2009 World Policy Journal article.

Ironically, Albanians, Kosovars, and Serbs — along with all their neighbors in the Balkan cockpit of nationalities — unite in sharing the same overriding ambition. They all desperately want to join the European Union, which would entail them giving up much of the sovereignty that they have been so zealously squabbling over. . . . European Union citizens can live and work anywhere they want within the EU, claim education, healthcare, and welfare benefits — and even vote in many elections. For all those nations, whose working definition of sovereignty seems to include the right, indeed the duty, to harass foreigners at the borders and inside them, this is serious self-denial in the interest of a broader human or economic security.

True, job openings for those who seek to rule countries may become scarce. But it’s a small price to pay to ensure the continuation of life on earth.

Has Iran’s President Ahmadinejad Become a Sympathetic Figure?

Since becoming president of Iran in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been demonized on a regular basis. His messianic religious view and comments about Zionism have many in Israel, as well in the United States, convinced he’s a religious fanatic who would sacrifice Iran to bring down Israel. Compared to the forces mounting against him, though, he would seem to be, though far from the soul of reform, a voice of moderation.

Ahmadinejad provides subsidies to his people, has worked to roll back religious influence, and, to some extent, seeks international engagement, including signaling a willingness to talk about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. For example, after Iran’s nuclear energy chief, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, met with International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano, he said that “he had held ‘very good’ and ‘transparent’ talks with [Amano] and had invited him to visit the Islamic state’s nuclear facilities.”

Meanwhile, writes, the editor of insideIRAN, Geneive Abdo, at Foreign Policy:

A long-brewing power struggle. . . . between Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. . . . recently burst into public view over . . . Ahmadinejad’s decision last month to dismiss Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi. [It] has left the Iranian president deeply weakened and revealed many useful lessons about the closed and convoluted political workings of the Islamic Republic. . . . The real fight was not about cabinet ministers. It was part of a test of wills between the Ahmadinejad loyalists, especially those in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and the ruling clerical establishment. . . . Khamenei appeared to believe that the cocky, alarmist Ahmadinejad, who in recent months had been boldly advancing an Iran with minimal clerical influence run by the IRCG and inspired by Iranian nationalism, not Iranian revolutionary Islamism, had to be slapped down. . . . When Khamenei gave the president an ultimatum to reinstate the minister or resign, the Supreme Leader was not only preserving his own power . . . but that of the entire clerical establishment.

The rats, it seems, are leaving the sinking ship. For example, in another article at insideIRAN, Reza Akbari writes

The intensity of threats toward Ahmadinejad have continued to build during the past months, as his previous supporters have turned against him. Ruhollah Hosseinian, a powerful hardliner and head of the Islamic Revolution Fraction of the Iranian Parliament [said of] the political infighting . . . that “efforts continue, but we are not hopeful, and finally, we are working toward a final ultimatum.” In the past, Hosseinian has been one of Ahmadinejad’s most ardent defenders in the parliament. [Emphasis added.]

Still, even though, according to Abdo, Ahmadinejad represents a threats to a medieval, insular Islamic Republic ruled by clerics, such a regime might actually be preferable to Ahmadinejad. Abdo again.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but Khamenei’s survival and that of the clerical system is in the West’s interest. The alternative — a highly militarized state run by the Revolutionary Guards — would be much worse.

Since When Haven’t the Democrats Been a War Party?

Democrats still reflexively respond to the charge that they’re soft on defense by overcompensating with support for wars and extravagant defense spending. Yet before that charge was routinely leveled at them, Democrats were at least as hawkish as Repubicans.

This was never more apparent than during the Eisenhower presidency. In his 1983 book on the early strategists of the nuclear age, The Wizards of Armageddon (Touchstone), Fred Kaplan explains what happened in the aftermath of the Gaither Report, dedicated to the concept that the Soviet Union would soon outnumber the United States in nuke-bearing missiles by a wide margin. When the Washington Post ran a story hyping the Gaither Report, President Eisenhower, whose intelligence told him that it was grossly exaggerated

. . . was furious. . . . And he knew there would be political heat to take, as well. The Democrats were already making successful capital of the Sputnik affair, claiming that the Republican Administration was behaving too complacently, was endangering the nation by not spending enough money on more bombers and missiles. Now the Gaither Report was turning into another cause for political jubilation among the opposition. Almost at once, after the Washington Post story appeared, dozens of Democratic senators and congressmen took the floor to request or demand that President Eisenhower release the report to the public, which had a right to know the facts on which their lives as Americans were hanging. Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Henry Jackson, Mike Mansfield, John Sparkman, William Proxmire, Stuart Symington and others all eagerly boarded the Gaither bandwagon.

All these demands and all the panic, over Sputnik and over the Gaither Report, conveniently fed into another phenomenon that the Democrats were simultaneously doing their best to exploit — a sharp turn inside the American intelligence community that produced what came to be known as the “missile gap.”

As militarist as the Democrats have been since the Cold War until the present day, they still backpedal and allow themselves to be placed on the defensive about their alleged softness of defense. Obviously it serves some kind of purpose for them. Oh, to continue to feel justified in overcompensating and coming down on the side of war.

India “Soft”? Not After It Launches Its Own Kill-bin-Laden Attacks on Pakistan

India has always been considered a soft state and it is time we shed this image.

Writing at Truthout, J. Sri Raman is quoting senior BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party –sort of India’s Likkud) leader Yashwant Sinha, who also says (emphasis added), “India should reserve the right of surgical strikes and hot pursuit against Pakistan irrespective of the consequences.”

Sinha is speaking about the U.S. attack on the bin Laden compound. (Never mind the consequences, such as, shortly afterwards, the twin bomb attacks on the Frontier Constabulary in Shabqadar, Charsadda, Pakistan that killed 80.) As Raman writes:

One of the very first questions raised in India by the [SEAL attack] was whether this was or was not an example for this country to emulate. “Yes,” said India’s extreme right and the security “experts” that give its rhetoric some respectability. They continue their campaign for a similar operation or series of operations from New Delhi to eliminate sources of anti-India terrorism seen to be harbored on Pakistani soil.

Of course

The demand is not entirely new. [For example, the] question that the Bush-ordered aggression on Iraq . . . provoked was: should not India, too, support “pre-emptive” strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan and the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir?

Raman also cites

. . . a pro-covert-action propagandist as saying, “If a Pakistan-based terrorist group carries out strikes against civilians in Mumbai … India must be able to assassinate its leaders and their financiers.”

For his part, Raman adds

Don’t the words sound eerily like someone speaking from the White House in early May?

But no one throws down the gauntlet with as much of a vengeance as Indian national security advisor Bharat Karnad, who Raman quotes.

Does the … government, encouraged by the successful action to finish off Osama, have the guts, gumption, but mostly the will, to rethink its … attitude, when it comes to doing what any self-respecting country would do when under terrorist threat – bump off those responsible in a major way for terrorist strikes within India?

After a grievous wound like the Mumbai attack, India would be better advised to concentrate more on making sure it never happens again than worrying about vengeance. Especially because, to terrorists, punishment is of zero value as a deterrent.

Meanwhile, as India pumps up the volume on calls for revenge and as the TTP (Pakistan’s Tehrik-i-Taliban) demonstrate more stealth and skill in its attacks within Pakistan, what’s to stop Pakistan from claiming that India is responsible?

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