China and the World. Dealing With a Reluctant Power

Very good read at FA on the American behavior towards the Chinese attempts at charting its own path to great power status.

Here is one bit.

Most important, China is a disruptive power but not a revolutionary one. Its size, wealth, and assertive foreign policy lead it to demand significant changes to existing institutions, but it does not seek to overturn the current international order wholesale. Just half a century ago, Mao Zedong’s China did indeed offer a distinctly revolutionary vision of world politics and China’s role in it. Today, in contrast, Beijing doggedly pursues its national interests and territorial claims yet lacks a coherent alternative to the prevailing system and is actually a member of nearly every one of the existing major institutions. Yet China is a reluctant stakeholder—inside the tent, but still ambivalent and often dissatisfied.

Interesting throughout and highly recommended.

My takeaway (although not the main point of the paper) was that China doesn’t want to remake the world in it’s image. The parallel international architecture that China is building is to hedge against the American mission to liberalize the world. Whereas the United States has a “civilizing” dimension to its foreign policy, China just wants to do business.

The author is Evan A. Feigenbaum

 

 

 

Make internationalism great again!

AEI’s Dalibor Rohac has a great column on how liberals (who if you haven’t noticed are losing the war of ideas as of lately) can reclaim the narrative of globalism.

He encourages liberals to

…show the national interest is not advanced by empty promises of manufacturing jobs, immigration bans and ethnic homogeneity. Instead, it is best served by economic openness, international engagement by liberal democracies and reasonably liberal immigration policies.

He further states

What liberal leaders must offer is a different narrative about national identity and national greatness, one we might call “internationalist nationalism.” A genuine commitment to prosperity and success of one’s own country, they must argue, goes hand in hand with the embrace of openness, economic dynamism and globalization.

Such a perspective has been absent from the larger debate as those who advocate open markets, relatively open borders, and the institutionalization of international politics have usually assumed that the net benefits speak for themselves. Yet the lure of tribalism is most seductive when one’s identity is least certain, such as in the wake of the creative destruction of globalization.

The rest of the article can be found here.

 

Paul Pillar on America in the Middle East

National Interest has a wonderful article penned by Paul Pillar titled “How Donald Trump Should Transform America’s Middle East Policy.”

He states the quite obvious that

An immense share of the blood and treasure the United States has lost overseas in the past couple of decades has been in the Middle East, an expenditure that has not brought proportionate benefits.

You can rattle off the failures easily, from the Iraq invasion to the dithering in Syria. Obama’s Pivot to Asia, which was based on an interpretation of America being over-involved in the Middle East, was a good start in addressing our poorly formulated regional policy. Yet, a significant chunk of his foreign policy legacy will be defined by his inability to disentangle America from Middle Eastern politics. This includes Libya, Yemen, Syria, ISIL, Iran, the Arab Awakening, Peace Process, etc..

What is to be done? The US still has interests in the Middle East, but they should be better defined and more limited. Moving forward, his recommendations include

…the initial principle that the new administration should observe in making policy toward the region is the Hippocratic one of first doing no harm. A second principle is to keep costs and risks commensurate with prospective gains to U.S. interests. A third is to recognize that not all problems, even heart-rending ones, are solvable, and that if they are, the United States is not always best suited to solve them. Often the interests and objectives of other players in the region are better engaged, and this sometimes means taking advantage of the balancing of conflicting interests.

Highly recommended that you read the entire thing (quickly as it will soon be gated).

 

Putin and Erdogan’s Marriage of Convenience

Excellent read at the Wilson Center on the evolving and odd relationships between the United States, Turkey, and Russia. In late 2015 Turkey was shooting down Russian fighter jets. In August of 2016, Erdogan was praising his dear friend Putin. This turnabout was largely a result of America’s intervention into Syria.

Here is one bit from the article.

Overnight, America had transformed the Syrian Kurds into a legitimate actor, enabling them to consolidate territorial gains adjoining Turkey. For Ankara, however, this was nothing short of a victory for the hated Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which had been instrumental in the creation of the YPG and waged a decades-long guerrilla war against the Turkish state

Yet, like most American allies, Erdogan is more than happy to free ride on American security treaties.

Still, it would be foolhardy to suggest that Erdogan would contemplate abandoning NATO. Turkey lives under the shadow of the Russian giant — its anger at the United States and its Western allies notwithstanding, it needs the protection the alliance offers. Without it, the Russians would be able to intimidate Ankara at will. Erdogan correctly calculates that he can be a free rider in the alliance, cozying up to Moscow and antagonizing Washington, all the while knowing that the U.S.-Turkish relationship is deeply embedded in NATO.

Do read the entire thing.

The author is Henri Barkey.

President Obama’s biggest failures.

At the National Interest, Daniel R. DePetris has a piece where he discusses “…the five biggest failures that will at least partially color President Obama’s two terms..”

The list includes

  1. Guantanamo Remains Open
  2. No Mideast Peace Deal
  3. The Syria Red Line
  4. Partisanship Got Worse
  5. A Nation that Remains At War

It is a curious list as you hear very little about Guantanamo, all Presidents fail at the peace process, Republicans decided on day 1 to oppose every aspect of his agenda, and most civilians don’t feel as if they are at war (I’m not convinced that the average voter is aware or even cares about Obama’s light footprint strategy).

Syria is expected, as during the Obama administration over 11 percent of their population were killed and the refugee problem was the biggest threat to the EU project of the past 20 years. But I think his association with Syria will be the tragedy of what happened there and not the “red line” as argued by Daniel. I think the future way we frame Syria will be that Obama was callous and allowed it to happen which is not fair to him but that isn’t the point of Daniel’s list.

Oddly left off the list is the return to geopolitics in Ukraine and the South China Sea, ISIL, the failure of TPP, and what I consider his biggest foreign policy blunder, Libya.

In Libya, it was one policy mistake after another. If 9/11 meant domestic institutions replaced power distributions as America’s biggest security concern, why create a failed state? Why overturn a regime which actually cooperated with the United States on its various weapons program, complicating our credibility with nuclear powers or aspiring nuclear powers. It seems obvious to me that Libya damaged our credibility more than the “red line” ever did. Lastly, if the list is to correctly identify what failures will color the legacy of the Obama administration once he leaves office, Benghazi will also play a role in cementing “all things Libya” as his biggest policy debacle aboard.

 

Trump, China, and Russia

Should we be as concerned as most have been regarding the ongoing love affair between Trump and Putin? Jennifer Rubin at the WaPo has been especially active on how dire we should be over the expected thaw in US-Russian relations. See here, here and here.

I’m not as alarmed.

Russian aggression offends my western sensibilities, but not my perception of American strategic interests. The atrocities committed by Russia in Syria are truly tragic, and the there should be serious consequences for their recent cyber crimes, but you ally not based on values, but interests…otherwise, how would WW2 have ended if we refused to work with Stalin?

It seems clear to me that Trump has identified China as the biggest threat to the United States and from the phone call to Taiwan to nominating Peter Navarro as the director of the National Trade Council, you can read Trump’s early maneuvering as building leverage for when he has to deal with China.

How does Russia fit into this? From his outlook on Syria, nominating Tillerson to Secretary of State, and to his dismissal of Russia’s interference in the election, Trump seems to be courting Russia to help balance against the future country which will be the most important player in what is expected to be the most important region. I disagree with this approach., but it isn’t crazy. If your international outlook emphasizes a focus on power, which I presume Trump’s does, on nearly every metric China should be the more concerning country. Just look at a very crude metric of power, GDP. Assuming both states are illiberal and that one is the recognized potential hegemon of their region, who should the United States ally with?

Perhaps I’m giving too much credit to Trump to assume this is the framework that guides his thinking (as opposed to his suspected need to be adored by powerful men), but either way, an improvement in relations with Russia will be a welcomed change of pace.

What planet does Michael Flynn live on?

The NYT reports some of his more crazy positions and comments which include…

“…The war is on. We face a working coalition that extends from North Korea and China to Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua. We are under attack, not only from nation-states directly, but also from Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, ISIS and countless other terrorist groups.”

In another, he said, “No surprise that we are facing an alliance between radical Islamists and regimes in Havana, Pyongyang, Moscow and Beijing. Both believe that history, and/or Allah, blesses their efforts, and so both want to ensure that this glorious story is carefully told.”

The actual article is titled “China Pushes Back on Michael Flynn’s ‘Radical Islamist’ Remarks.”

I’m not even sure how to answer this as it is so far removed from reality. He write as if “everyone is out to get us” which is a sign of insanity.

All this conspiracy theory nonsense is something you expect to find in the hinterlands of the internet yet this is someone actually advising our next President.

Abe to visit Pearl Habor

Very good news from Japan. As reported in the NYT,

“Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday that he would visit Pearl Harbor, becoming the first sitting Japanese leader to go to the site of Japan’s attack 75 years ago that pulled a stunned United States into World War II.”

Japan has always been an odd country in regards to its post WWII history. Unlike Germany, it has stubbornly refused to fully and remorsefully acknowledge its past war crimes. As well, unlike any other “normal” country, it has never really demonstrated any real interest of returning to a position of regional leadership commensurate with its economic ability. Most international relations scholars assume that economic growth is soon followed with some attempt by the state at reasserting itself on the world stage. This is the historical norm, but Japan doesn’t seem interested in shaping the far east in its image.

This is opposite of Germany which cannot apologize enough for its Nazi past and is the regional leader for economic and political integration.

So whereas Europe looks to Germany to lead, Asia looks to Japan with suspicion. This is one of the reasons why I don’t think the United States should withdrawal its troops from Asia but can from Europe.

I’m speculating but I think a lot of the contrast between regional perceptions of Germany and Japan has to do with how Germany has made great efforts to address its past behaviour while Japan has not. Although the situation is much more nuanced, I think a good amount of tension in the region could be reduced if Japan were to attempt to more genuinely apologize for its past. In fact, as a way to put pressure on Japan towards this direction, I’ve often thought it would be good American policy to apologize for using atomic weapons on Japan. Obviously President Obama is not the best person to do this. Too much of my country doesn’t even think he is an American citizen for him to be the one who offers the apology. Even more obviously, President Trump is not the one either. He is more likely to demand the U.S. get reimbursed for the materials used in making the bomb then apologize for dropping them. But either way, the trip to Pearl Harbour is good news as it is the first step in the direction of Japan reconciling with its past and helping reduce the burden of America maintaining regional peace.

Cuba and certainty in the legislative process

The Miami Herald has a good piece on how Cuba is trying to figure out how to move forward with relations with America.

Alarmed by signs that its fragile relationship with the United States might fall apart under President-elect Donald Trump, the Cuban government is quietly reaching out to its contacts in the United States to determine how best to protect the communist regime’s tenuous diplomatic position.

 

The Cubans are trying to figure out who Trump is, what his real thinking about Cuba might be and how they might be heard by his fledgling administration.

 

 

The Cubans’ chief problem: The contacts they’ve spent years cultivating had the ear of President Barack Obama’s administration. No one close to Trump is — at least publicly — an advocate for their cause.

 

“They did not anticipate a President-elect Trump,” said Jorge Mas Santos, president of the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami.

Now, Trump’s policies positions are at best, erratic. I can’t defend any of what he does let alone understand where it is coming from. But some of the issues raised by the Miami Herald article can be attributed to President Obama’s governing style which had become increasingly marked by bypassing legislative obstacles when implementing his agenda. I supported the rapprochement with Cuba, but process is important. The steps towards a normal relationship with Cuba were achieved through an executive order which can be easily rescinded by the next president. Senate ratification in the treaty process was included to reflect one of the core principles of the founding philosophy that “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” State relations shouldn’t be determined by one person. All sorts of warnings can be given for why one individual should have checks on his or her ability to manage interstate relations, most prescient of which is 

An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth. An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents. The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a President of the United States.

Who knows what sort of deals Trump may cut with Putin through executive orders, but for being such a steely eyed business man, it appears flattery goes a long way with the Mango Mussolini.

There is also the more practical issue of legal uncertainty. The founding fathers required treaties to be approved by 2/3 of the Senate so as to allow American foreign relations to have a certain amount of certainty built into them and to allow for stable expectations about future relationships. Without this process based credibility, companies are trying to allocate capital in the dark as the article notes that

The companies have been in negotiations for months, following the lead of President Barack Obama’s administration, which relaxed commercial and banking sanctions against Cuba’s communist regime. With Trump signaling he’ll take a much harder line toward Cuba, the Obama administration is pushing to settle business agreements that would make it more difficult to undo the president’s Cuba opening.

Hopefully Trump maintains the process of normalizing relations with the Castro regime. But more importantly, lets hope that he doesn’t use the Obama precedent of using executive orders for how he deals with other authoritarian regimes.

Our new Secretary of Defense will be James Mattis

It is official. President Elect Trump has confirmed that former General James Mattis will be his Secretary of Defense.

As a libertarian, I’m pretty skeptical of stocking any administration with so many former generals. I prefer civilian control of the government and some of these picks, like Mattis, are not very far removed from their military service.

Who knows what Trump is up to. He campaigned on disparaging our military leadership so I’m not sure what to make of all these reports of him courting so much former brass. But Mattis isn undoubtably a hawk.

See his suggested “blue print” for America.

He claims that the instability of the world is a consequence “…of 20 years of the United States operating unguided by strategy.” He also adds “The international system as we know it — and as we created it — is under assault from the forces of entropy that fill vacuums and corrode order when the United States is not actively engaged.”

Nothing can be further from the truth. The American strategy of the past 20 years has been some version of “engagement and expansion” which was the Clinton Doctrine of actively engaging the world and expanding democracy and markets. All three post cold war presidents had some version of this.

Mattis notes that a lack of American strategy has resulted in world where “Russia invades Ukraine, shaking the post-World War II European order. China chips away at others’ sovereignty in Asia.” I have no idea what he is talking about. In the far east we have the pivot. In eastern Europe NATO has grown, not shrunk. The recent revanchism of China and Russia are not desirable but the west has done something similar by invading Somalia (91), the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan and engaging in military operations in Yemen, Somalia (2016), Pakistan, and Syria, among others.

As well, the west proudly chips away at others sovereignty with the defense of Responsibility to Protect and such institutions such as the ICC.

All of this western preoccupation with the internal politics of other countries represents a direct threat such illiberal regimes survival. I’m not defending these systems, and I certainly think that they are inferior to what we in the west offer, but exerting pressure on these regimes to liberalize results in a less stable world and a less secure America. If all this instability is the cost of making an omelet, where is the omelet?

I disagree with most of the next Secretary of Defense policy stances. He wants to tear up the Iran deal and bomb ISIS, among other hawkish policies. But the more I read about his personal narrative, the more impressed I become. The “warrior monk” apparently owns 6,000 books and doesn’t deploy without them. Despite his erudition, he still connects with his troops at a personal level. Yet, he will do more damage to American security if he continues to frame China and Russia as a threat to the American “way of life”. Instead, the biggest threat to American democracy was just elected.