Wednesday, October 30, 2013


"Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday issued a fresh warning to China about its growing maritime activities near Japanese-controlled islets, pledging to engage in surveillance and intelligence activities to protect remote islands. “We will demonstrate our intention not to allow a change in the status quo. We must conduct surveillance and intelligence activities for that purpose,” Abe said in his address to the Ground Self-Defense Force troops during an inspection ceremony at Camp Asaka, which straddles the border of Tokyo’s Nerima Ward and Saitama Prefecture. China has stepped up maritime activities around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, a group of uninhabited islets claimed by China as the Diaoyu and by Taiwan as Tiaoyutai, after Tokyo bought three of them in September 2012 from their private owner. Abe also repeated his policy goal of enabling Japan to take on a greater security role, saying he will “proceed with studying” whether to change the interpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution so it can engage in collective self-defense. “I would like you all to discard the notion that the existence of defense forces itself can act as a deterrent,” Abe said. At the ceremony attended by some 4,000 GSDF personnel, a U.S. amphibious assault vehicle was displayed for the first time. In addition to four amphibious vehicles covered by the budget for fiscal 2013, the Defense Ministry is considering buying two more with command functions in fiscal 2014 and more in fiscal 2015 and beyond, mainly for remote island defense. Verbal skirmishing between Asia’s two biggest economies escalated after Beijing warned Tokyo that any hostile action in the skies against Chinese aircraft will be construed as an “act of war.” “There are concerns that China is attempting to change the status quo by force, rather than by rule of law,” Abe said in an interview after a series of summits this month with regional leaders. “But if China opts to take that path, then it won’t be able to emerge peacefully,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “So it shouldn’t take that path, and many nations expect Japan to strongly express that view. And they hope that as a result, China will take responsible action in the international community,” Abe added in the interview published Saturday."
The Japan Times. "Abe issues fresh warning to China on isle row." 27 October 2013, in
"The diplomatic aspect of our strategy for maintaining a balance with China should consist of three elements: First, we need to continue working to bolster our relationships with traditional treaty allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia. These efforts should have an economic as well as a military component. The recent U.S.-Korea free-trade agreement is an example of a measure that can further strengthen existing ties. Second, we need to attend to our “quasi-alliance” relationships with countries like India, Singapore, Indonesia and perhaps Vietnam that share our concerns about China’s rising power and increasing assertiveness. Finally, we should be quietly working to encourage strategic dialogue and defense cooperation among all of these countries. China’s leaders should know that if they behave aggressively they will face resistance from a coalition of Asian nations."
Jennifer Rubin, "Interview with Aaron Friedberg: Is China going to displace the U.S.?" The Washington Post. 16 October 2013 in
The latest statement by the Japanese premier highlights the dangers of not making it absolutely clear to Peking that any, I repeat any endeavor to change the status quo ante bellum by force, will in turn be resisted by force. Unless and until the Western Powers make absolutely clear that Peking's attempts to intimidate its neighbors by brandishing its newly acquired weapon systems will meet with absolute resistance, the PRC regime will continue to engage in the same policies 1. Make no mistake: Peking is still militarily speaking a mere regional power, unable to compete with the Americans either on the ground, in the air or on the seas. However, this fact does not obviate the fact that if the West allows the impression to gain hold that it is willing to stand aside in any conflict between Red China and one of its neighbors, then the likelihood of such a conflict will increase greatly. The irony is that in many respects the regime in Peking is indeed a mere paper tiger. It does not have either social cohesion or the military power to engage in any type of prolonged military conflicts abroad. And does one need to remind people that the last two times that Peking engaged in military conflicts with its neighbors (Russia in 1969 and Vietnam in 1979), it came out the loser in both. The upshot is that a strong and determined Western policy of deterrence and containment of Peking will keep the peace in the Far East as Aaron Friedberg, probably the best American analyst of Sino-American relations strongly urges 2. A policy of not engaging will have the very opposite effect.
1. On this tendency by Peking's see: Demetri Sevastopulo & Jonathan Soble in "China-Japan relations take turn for worse." The Financial Times. 28 October 2013, in
2. See in particular Friedberg's brilliant book: A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia (2011), where these issues are discussed in depth and to great purpose. It is a tragedy that someone of Friedberg's vast knowledge and insight into the Chinese threat to peace in the Far East is not represented at the summit of American power. Instead policy is being decided by Henry Kissinger-like epigoni.

Friday, October 25, 2013


"I think the question is one that has a very simple answer: yes, America’s leadership remains not only preeminent but necessary. But the world in which we live poses new challenges to all of us on an ongoing basis that require a level of strategic thinking and execution that starts, first and foremost, back in the democracies that we represent. So I would never criticize my country out of my country, but let me say that it is distressing at any point to see a political system that has weathered so many crises over centuries now be caught up in what are very unfortunate partisan disputes. However, underlying them are questions about America’s direction at home and abroad, and I am confident that we will work our way through this latest challenge as we did back during my husband’s administration in 1995 and early 1996. But I think that there’s an underlying concern – and it’s not only in our country, because we didn’t take a vote but you did – that raises issues about, what are our responsibilities? How do we project power in the 21st century which is both traditional forms as well as new, so-called soft or (what I like to say) smart power? Those are debates that societies have to have, not just inside government offices. So I’m looking forward to talking in specifics with you but I think it’s fair to say that the concerns that we have to be aware of when we look at the international position of the United States have to really come from a wellspring of effective decision-making at home.
"Chatham House Prize 2013: In Conversation with Hillary Rodham Clinton." The Royal Institute of International Affairs. 11 October 2013, in
"Polonius: This business is well ended. My liege and madam, to expostulate what majesty should be, what duty is, Why day is day, night night, and time is time, were nothing but to waste night, day and time. Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief."
William Shakespeare. Hamlet. Act II, scene II.
The rise and rise and seemingly ever-lasting rise of former First-Lady, former Junior Senator from New York, former Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton is on the face of it, one of the mysteries of the age. A little suburban nobody from Chicago, transplanted to even more provincial Arkansas. A person like her husband in this respect, with a character almost completely out of Balzac's Comédie Humaine: the provincial, petit-bourgeois, arriveste, as opportunist. Someone who circa 2000, had no, I repeat no, qualifications whatsoever (except for perhaps that of sleeping in the same bed, nay the same room, nay the the President of the United States), to hold any office of importance in the state; I repeat no qualifications, was first elected on the sympathy vote, to be Patrick Moynihan's replacement in the Senate, a seat, formerly held by such august personages besides Moynihan, as James Buckley and Robert F. Kennedy. Thereafter she soon became (for reasons which are not very evident to me...) a 'star' among her Senatorial colleagues and it would appear the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency in 2008. However, for perhaps the only time in her career, nemesis struck Mrs. Clinton and she was denied the nomination and with it the good likelihood of being elected President, by someone who was as little qualified as herself: AKA the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name. However, her consolation prize for not securing the nomination and not being selected as Vice-President, was to be named to the post of Secretary of State. A post which in all honesty, one cannot say she filled horribly or horrendously. She simply filled the position and played a role for the sum of four years. She was hardily what one may term a domineering or forceful Secretary of State. Especially since the American President was to some extent his own Secretary of State, inasmuch as this term means that American foreign policy was for the first term of his presidency very much what he decided to do and to not do 1. As per Mrs. Clinton she simply was a placeholder at the State Department, pur et simple. Which given the tendency to rely, Polonius-like, upon the current clichés and catch-phrases in her conversation and speeches, is au fond hardily surprising in the least. Her discourse, which the talk at Chatham House is a perfect example, is nothing more than an exercise in verbal emptiness if not flatulence. How that could possibly translate as endowing her with the eminence of a Statesman or for that matter, make her the odds on favorite to become the next American President, come-2017, is simply another mystery of the age.
1.For this point, see the interesting article by a former State Department official: Aaron David Miller, "Kerry's time has come." The World Today. October / November 2013, p. 10.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


"The regime has invested far too much of its domestic legitimacy in defending Iran's “rights” (defined as domestic enrichment) to completely capitulate now, regardless of the pressure. The nuclear program and “resistance to arrogant powers” are firmly imbedded in the Islamic Republic's ideological raison d'etre. Khamenei, the ultimate decider on the nuclear file, and the Revolutionary Guards will not give up on the program altogether, for it could be a viewed by their supporters and opponents alike as a total defeat. However, Khamenei may accept a deal that constrains Iran's nuclear program but still allows limited enrichment. Under such an agreement, he could tell the Iranian people: “I said we never wanted nuclear weapons and I have issued a fatwa [religious ruling] against them. I insisted that our rights be respected, and now they are.” But if Khamenei cries uncle and dismantles the entire program, how will he explain the billions invested and justify the years of sanctions and isolation to his people? What would it all have been for? Khamenei likely fears such a humiliation more than he fears economic collapse or targeted military strikes against his nuclear facilities.... A permanent end to Iranian enrichment is not in the cards. Instead of pushing for an impossible goal, the United States and other world powers should push for a possible one: an agreement that caps Iranian enrichment at the 5 percent level (sufficient for civilian power plants but far away from bomb-grade) under stringent conditions designed to preclude Tehran's ability to rapidly produce nuclear weapons, including restrictions on Iran's stockpile of low enriched uranium, limitations on centrifuges, intrusive inspections, and halting the construction of a plutonium reactor that could open an alternative pathway to nuclear weapons. Such an accord would allow Khamenei and Rouhani to claim Iran's “rights” had been respected, giving them a face-saving way out of the current nuclear crisis. Even this might be difficult for the Iranian regime to stomach. But if paired with meaningful sanctions relief, it has a much better chance of success than insisting on the complete dismantling of Iran's program".
Colin H. Kahl & Alireza Nader, "Zero-Sum Enrichment." The Rand Corporation. 14 October 2013, in
"In Persia one always heard fine talk and saw paper plans, but no action."
Sir William Fraser, Chairman of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in: "Minutes of a Meeting held at the Foreign Office on the 2nd August 1950", by R. Barnett. In FO371/82375/EP1531/40 (copy in my possession).
The nuclear talks between Persia and the Western powers has so far been notable for its positive atmospherics in which the apparently willingness of the Persian delegation to actually engage in substantive discussion and negotiations with its Western counterparts has been widely commented on and praised. As the American analysis, Suzanne Maloney this fact is something which is considerably at variance with past Persian practice:
"For the past eight years, Tehran has appeared utterly unwilling to undertake serious measures to address the world’s concerns around its nuclear issues. That appears to have changed, and while the two sides remain some distance from an actual agreement around the modalities, the fact that the Iranians are now actively seeking formulations that address the high-priority issues offers a basis for optimism that a deal can be achieved" 1.
Which is not to gainsay the fact that the talks have not yet resolved some of its most difficult issues, especially those relating to reprocessing and enrichment. As the two RAND corporation experts corrected noted above, the regime in Persia has put a considerable amount of its prestige as well as monies into its nuclear programme. The question for now is: does the West offer Persia a golden bridge to enable an agreement to be concluded? Or should it press its current advantage vis-`a-vis the regime of Mullahs? While I would be the very first to agree with the two RAND analysts that any agreement with Persia will require concessions by both parties the fact of the matter is that the regime in Tehran has not suddenly become agreeable and conciliatory for reasons of its bon fides. The reason for the sudden Persian moderation is that the regime is suffering from the Western sanctions regime. Pur et simple. As the London-based analyst, Katerina Dalacoura has recently noted:
"The Islamic Republic appears to be softening its longstanding policies in favour of a more conciliatory approach. The shift is caused by the country’s long-term decline in the Middle East – and Tehran’s recognition that it must act on this decline 2."
In short, now is not the time to engage in unnecessary concessionary negotiations with the regime of Mullahs. Now is the time to craft an agreement with Persia that makes evident that it has been Tehran which has had to climb down and give-in. Or in the words of Goethe:
"You must conquer and rule, or lose and serve, suffer or triumph, be hammer or be anvil".
1. Suzanne Maloney, "Iran Nuclear Talks Herald A Beginning, Not A Breakthrough." The Brookings Institute. October 18, 2013 in
2. Katerina Dalacoura, "Iran’s diplomacy shows a recognition of its decline." The Financial Times. 20 October 2013, in

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


"Republicans shutdown the government to defund or delay Obamacare. This goes to the heart of Republican base thinking about the essential political battle. They think they face a victorious Democratic Party that is intent on expanding government to increase dependency and therefore electoral support. It starts with food stamps and unemployment benefits; expands further if you legalize the illegals; but insuring the uninsured dramatically grows those dependent on government. They believe this is an electoral strategy—not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. If Obamacare happens, the Republican Party may be lost, in their view.... While many voters, even some Democrats, question whether Obama is succeeding and getting his agenda done, Republicans think he has won. The country may think gridlock has won, particularly during a Republican-led government shut down, but Republicans see a president who has fooled and manipulated the public, lied, and gotten his secret socialist-Marxist agenda done. Republicans and their kind of Americans are losing".
Financial Times Blog titled 'Off Message': "Findings from the ‘Republican Party Project’". The Financial Times. 7 October 2013, in
"It was not strange that efforts should be made to penetrate the Department, I continued. They had been made throughout its history. There was a right way and a wrong way to solve that problem. The right way met the evil and preserved the institution; the wrong way did not meet the evil and destroyed the institution. More than that, it destroyed the faith of the country in its Government, and of our allies in us....What had been going on reminded me of a recent horrible episode in Camden, New Jersey. A madman had appeared on the street and begun shooting people whom he met---a woman coming out of a store, a couple in a car stopped by a traffic light, another passing motorist---no plan, no purpose."
Dean Acheson. Present at the Creation: My years in the State Department. (1969). p. 367.
"Suppose you are an idiot, and suppose you are a member of Congress, but I repeat myself."
Ex-Secretary of State Robert Gates, quoting Mark Twain, 25 June 2013 at the Lotos Club in New York.
The Tea Party inspired shut-down of the Federal Government, reminds one of nothing so much as a recurrence of what the late, great, Dean Acheson once characterized as 'the attack of the primitives' 1. Notwithstanding the differences in targets and paranoia, there is au fond, a great deal of congruity between the current crew of primitives (the Tea Party) and past episodes in American History. Including of course the anti-communist fanatics that Acheson dealt with in the late 1940's and early 1950's. The idea that the current American President, the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name, is a 'socialist-Marxist', is a comical absurdity almost akin to the idea that Acheson, General Marshall and President Eisenhower were agents of the international Communist conspiracy. It is easy of course to make fun of the antics and the mental frailty of the Tea Party partisans, both inside and outside of Congress. Which is not to gainsay the fact that the fears and concerns of those who support the Tea Party are genuine. These are people, who in many cases, has seen their country changed dramatically in the past forty to fifty years. In ways that even those like myself, the arch-typical 'rootless cosmopolitan' find difficult to adjust to, much less endorse. The social and demographic changes in particular are at times difficult to swallow. Hence, perhaps the irrational aspect to the 'political style' of the Tea Party movement. In that respect, the Tea party being representative of a consistent, current in American life. What the late, great American historian, Richard Hofstadter, once correctly characterized as 'the paranoid style in American politics' 2. A style of politics which indeed, as Bernard Bailyn, has also shown, goes back to the American Revolution (King George III, as the head of the International Catholic Conspiracy, et cetera) 3. Notwithstanding this fact, it is a sheer challenge to one's intelligence and sanity to assume that a prolonged shut-down of the Federal Government, much less a default on its debt by the same, is a fruitful means of alleviating this felt longing for a return to a simpler and more organic America.
1. Acheson, op. cit., p. 354, and passim.
2. Richard Hofstadter. The Paranoid Style in American Politics. (1964). See also by the same author: Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. (1969).
3. Bernard Bailyn. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. (1967).

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


"Israel does retain one option for stymying the negotiations if they appear to be heading for what Israelis would view as a bad deal, one that would allow Iran to escape sanctions and creep closer to a bomb. That is for Israel to attack Iranian nuclear sites. Its ability to do so is already being narrowed considerably by the diplomatic thaw, because it is one thing to bomb Iran when it appears hopelessly recalcitrant and isolated and quite another to bomb it when much of the world -- especially the United States -- is optimistic about the prospect of talks. A window for an Israeli attack might open up if the talks bogged down and Western negotiators suggested that the Iranians were refusing to compromise, perhaps speculating that the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards did not want a deal after all. But Rouhani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, are probably too smart to allow such pessimism to creep into Western ranks. In short, the Israelis find themselves in a far worse position now than they have been for several years. There was no way for them to avoid this situation other than attacking last year; bombing Iran when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president would have been more defensible in the court of global public opinion. Now they must fix bleak smiles to their lips and say that they hope for the best -- all the while wringing their hands about the likely terms of the deal. Given that Israel may have little ability to persuade the Western negotiators to be tough, its best path for now is to appeal to Americans, especially in Congress, to refuse to lift sanctions until Iran makes significant concessions.... The Israelis have a difficult task ahead. They do not wish to play the bad cop role in an American game with Iran -- and, in fact, the metaphor is misleading. In the good cop/bad cop routine, both officers are on the same team and are carefully coordinating their approaches. In this case, the Israelis fear, the bad cop wants to see the criminals jailed, and the good cop is open to a sweet plea bargain. If that’s what the Iranians get, they will sit back and smile while the United States and Israel end up in a bitter argument".
Elliott Abrams, "Bibi the Bad Cop: Can Israel Prevent a Deal With Iran?" Foreign Affairs. 3 October 2013, in "
President Obama would be crazy not to dive deep into diplomacy with Iran, right now. Forget the standard throat-clearing bromides and water-testing toe-dips that mark the resumption of relations with suspect characters. When the world’s leaders meet at the U.N. General Assembly next week, Obama should not only shake hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani but also meet with him privately, hand him a list of a dozen issues to discuss (uranium enrichment, sanctions, regional stability, etc.), and even be prepared to announce, if possible, a time and place for negotiations to begin and a roster of the delegates to be invited. If Rouhani is who he claims to be—an Iranian moderate who has the authority to strike a bargain on nuclear programs and economic sanctions (at least until hardliners lose patience with him)—then this is an opportunity no Western leader can pass up. If it’s all a ruse, or if the mullahs overrule whatever deal emerges, there’s no harm in trying. In fact, if things go bad and Western leaders feel compelled to respond with tighter sanctions or military action, they could do so with greater legitimacy after having given the high road a chance. In any case, it does little good to sit around and debate the potential truth of Rouhani’s proclamations or the nature of Iranian politics, about which any outsider’s knowledge is limited. Rouhani has put his statements on the table. No Iranian president, in the entire revolutionary period, has said anything remotely this appealing. He has appointed, in Mohammad Javad Zarif, a foreign minister whose known views are consistent with these statements. Iran’s economy is in such a tailspin that the regime—including the mullahs who are ultimately in charge—may be willing to trade some things of value for an end to the U.S.-imposed sanctions."
Fred Kaplan, "Take a Chance on Iran: President Obama would be crazy not to seize the opportunity that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has given him". Slate. 20 September 2013, in
The issues involved in the concrete negotiations between the USA, the other Western powers and Persia over the latter's nuclear programme are fraught with difficulties and intricacies. As the always wise, David Albright of the Institute of Science and International Security recently recounted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
"Some concessions may be obligatory if an agreement is to succeed. It is imperative to determine the critical concessions and the risks posed by omitting others as soon as possible" 1.
The real issue is whether any agreement will effectively prevent Persia from having an easy to access, 'break-out capability', which it can employ at any time of its choosing. Or per contra, whether any agreement will result in effective safeguards which will prevent the regime of Mullahs from being able to produce a nuclear weapon at a time of their own volition. As Albright notes and has noted in the past:
"It is instructive to consider that Iran is now sticking by its story that it never had a nuclear weapons program and this would not satisfy the IAEA in its investigation about past and possibly on-going nuclear weapons work. In this case, there would remain significant suspicions about whether Iran is maintaining a capability to build nuclear weapons" 2.
Ergo, Persia and Persians cannot on the face of it be trusted to employ the truth and any agreement should be such that there will be independently verifiable means of ascertaining Persian compliance. In the absence of any such mechanism, any agreement with Persia will not be worth the paper that it is written on. Pur et simple. The crux of the negotiations to come is whether the moderates in the Persian regime have been given carte blanche to truly negotiate a solution to Persia's nuclear conundrum or not. All the pour parlers in the world are not going to resolve anything unless the regime in Tehran is willing to truly negotiate away, for of course tangible concessions by the Western Powers, its nuclear weapons capability. In short, in the current Near East, the Sphinx is not located in Egypt but in Tehran.
1. David Albright, "Testimony of David Albright Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Reversing Iran’s Nuclear Program: Understanding Iran’s Nuclear Program and Technically Assessing Negotiating Positions." The Institute of Science and International Security. October 3, 2013 in
2. Ibid.