Category Archives: Geopolitics

Rand Paul: You people got me all wrong about this non-interventionism stuff.

Paul’s shift may be even less credible than Clinton’s, and just as mercenary. Unfortunately for Paul, isolationism, emotional authenticity, and financial puritanism are his brand image. Without those things, he’s just Mike Huckabee with better hair. It is Paul’s misfortune that we’re re-awakening to the dreary truth that the low characters of our world won’t let us ignore them away.

I’m still waiting for someone — anyone — to advocate sustainable, plausible strategy for defeating ISIS. The only such strategy I can see is to offer the Sunnis diplomatic support for autonomy and military support for a re-awakening that would deprive ISIS of a haven. For the same reason a doctor wouldn’t treat half a tumor, this same offer has to apply to Sunnis in Syria, which might result in a regional alliance of moderate, autonomous Sunni para-states stretching from Aleppo to Mosul, liberated by Arab tribes with American-supplied weapons, and backed by U.S. air power — and not by U.S. infantry.

Only the Arabs can exterminate ISIS now, but no one has a greater interest in doing so. In due course, a backlash against the brutality of ISIS will build. Our imperative is to be ready to take advantage of that backlash.

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Between surrender and stupid: Regressing toward the mean in a post-Iraq world

As the world’s attention is focused on the disaster in Iraq, let’s take a moment to mourn the last remnants of Syria’s non-extremist, secular rebels, who are facing their final extermination in Aleppo. To Syrians who risked everything for a future worth living in, it’s academic now that Hillary Clinton privately agreed with what I said back in 2011 (last item), when I called for us to arm moderate rebels there. Clinton now says she warned that if we didn’t, extremists would devour the country and its neighbors. Indeed, it seems that for the next several years, Hezbollah will be the most progressive force in Syria.

“The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton said.

As she writes in her memoir of her State Department years, Hard Choices, she was an inside-the-administration advocate of doing more to help the Syrian rebellion. Now, her supporters argue, her position has been vindicated by recent events. [The Atlantic]

I hope Syria’s sacrifice will not be for nothing, and that it will be a useful lesson one day, when we have to confront the same question in North Korea.

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Iraq taught us the cost of excess; Syria is teaching us the cost of inaction.

In The Wall Street Journal, Walter Russell Mead argues that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine was a favor in disguise, a wake-up call for weary Americans who’ve been wishing the world away. Unfortunately, I suspect it will take greater tragedies than this to show us the danger of withdrawing from the world. Yes, there is utility in deterring Putin, even in weakening him domestically, but it’s hard for most of us to see a border war over Russian-speaking parts of the Ukraine as a direct threat to us, particularly if Putin’s actions also drive much of Central Europe closer to the U.S. and the EU. In the end, we see Putin as the leader of a nation of bitterly declining demographics and economics, of local (rather than messianic) ambitions. Russia is a problem to be dealt with through traditional realpolitik.

The greater tragedy could be North Korea, but in North Korea, almost everything is hidden from us, and what isn’t hidden is often dismissed as farce. Another greater tragedy that has unfolded in plain (or plain enough) sight is Syria, where North Koreans recently served as “observers” for Bashar Assad’s sham reelection. As is so often the case with North Korea, this would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

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Americans hate foreign policy, and also, the lack of one

One lovely April morning, the world awakened to find that its greatest power has fallen under the control of a cabal of perky Starbucks baristas. As it turns out, I am not alone in ridiculing the weaponization of tweets and hashtags as a substitute for tough and substantive national security policymaking as the world’s predators seize the day.

Conspiratorial minds will suppose that this is all somehow coordinated, and maybe some of it is, but I assure you that I’ve been excluded. This snub stings all the more, given that the illuminati’s standards of membership are permissive enough to include liberals (James Carville, Fred Hiatt), self-described “realists” (Richard Haass, see also), whatever you call David Brooks, and conservatives like Jonah Goldberg, whose criticism (unsurprisingly, to many of you) looks spot-on to me:

Step 1: Be Barack Obama (and not George W. Bush).

Step 2: ????

Step 3: World peace!

(With apologies to South Park.)

As a candidate, Obama held a huge campaign rally in, of all places, Berlin, touting his bona fides as a citizen of the world. The crowd went wild, as he talked at length about a world without walls (you had to be there).

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The Syria-North Korea Axis

After watching North Korea get away with shipping anti-aircraft missiles to terrorists and its past chemical and nuclear proliferation to Syria, it’s gratifying to see people catch onto North Korea’s role in the tragedy in Syria.  There are several more op-eds and stories on this today, all of them well worth reading:

  • Bruce Bechtol, writing in the Korea Times: “North Korea has designed and built at least two chemical weapons facilities in Syria.  Indeed, despite the lack of statements coming from Washington ? either from the White House or the Pentagon ? regarding North Korea’s role, Pyongyang appears to be Syria’s main provider of chemical weapons.”
  • Claudia Rosett finds a North Korean nexus to the atrocities in Syria, and wonders why the White House can be outraged about Syria while it ignores larger-scale abuses in North Korea. (Thanks for the link, Claudia.)
  • The Obama Administration is citing the worry that North Korea will use chemical weapons to gain support for a strike on Syria … from China. Good luck with that. It has to be about the most naive diplomatic strategy I’ve heard all year.
  • Max Fisher, citing Adrian Hong, worries that Syria will borrow North Korea’s Lucy-with-the-football strategy, make an endless series of promises to disarm, and renege on all of them.
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Syria, the next Afghanistan?

The Flock isn’t moving that way now, but I still defend the Obama Administration’s military and diplomatic approach to the Libyan civil war.  Qaddafi was mentally unstable, mentally unstable people are dangerous, and his regime was an ideal breeding ground for extremism.  If things hadn’t changed, they’d only have continued to get worse. Better for us to have supported the more moderate elements than to have allowed the extremists to make Libya their own, as would have eventually happened (and still could).

Of course, no one would defend the non-optimal way this administration has handled other aspects of its Libya policy, including embassy security, public communications, and congressional relations.  This being an election year, the most focus is on the security and communications aspects, but in the long run, it may prove to be the least consequential of those failures — that is, for everyone but the families of those who died.  The administration’s failure to sell its no-footprint intervention to Congress and the people, on the other hand, subsequently hobbled it when a far more consequential conflict arose in Syria.

Part of this must be because this administration just doesn’t seem interested in expending capital on foreign policy, period.  Another part must have been the unintelligent, short-sighted, and opportunistic criticism of some Republicans.

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At the New Ledger: Thoughts on the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Sorry for forgetting to link this yesterday.

Speaking of Europe, can anyone name one great and positive European contribution to global culture since the end of World War I? After weeks of thought, I’ve come up with just two: the Soviet composers of the 20th Century, and Legos. Sure, I guess it depends on your standards for artistic and cultural merit, but I’ve spent the last month mulling that over and coming up with a nearly blank slate. What also strikes me is the degree to which the rest of the world can’t seem to get enough of the very dumbest that American culture has to offer (and if you can stand Borat‘s more tasteless moments, you’ll see that satirized brilliantly).

It’s true, and also a cliche, that China is rising. But China’s political system and demographics are glass ceilings it might not be able break through without losing plenty of blood. What can you say about a country whose best hope for peaceful change is that the government won’t shoot so many corrupt officials that graft can’t work its gradual liberating magic?

To me, the rising power to watch is India. In every sense I can think of — economic, cultural, legal, military, industrial, demographic, geographic — India is the coiled spring that nobody’s watching, one that could also become an engine of growth and a positive political influence in other regions.

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Robert Mugabe Hearts Kim Jong Il’s Missile

[Updated below.]

I remember the Zimbabwe of July 1990 as a slightly behind-the-times but functioning country that managed to fix the roads, get the kids to school, grow and export food, and run some very good national parks … and little else.  What a difference 19 years of despotic oligarchy can make.  Today, North Korea’s number two, Kim Yong Nam, is in Harare as a guest of Robert Mugabe.  And how else should the leaders of two nations they have plunged into famine celebrate their alliance?  With a banquet, naturally!

Robert G. Mugabe in his speech said that Zimbabwe felt grateful to the government and people of the DPRK for having sent strong support and encouragement to his government and people in their struggle for the country’s independence and the building of a new society.

The revolutionary idea of President Kim Il Sung has always given confidence and inspiration to the Zimbabwean people in their struggle and he will always be remembered by all people along with history, he added.  [….]

Kim Yong Nam in his speech said that the DPRK and Zimbabwe are far away from each other geographically but they forged close ties of friendship long ago and have developed the cooperative relations.

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Banzai for Nuclear Japan!

Japan should consider possessing nuclear weapons as a deterrent to a neighboring threat, former Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa suggested Sunday.

In a speech in Obihiro, Hokkaido, in reference to North Korea’s rocket launch earlier this month that many believe was a ballistic missile test, the hawkish lawmaker said: “It is common sense worldwide that in pure military terms, nuclear counters nuclear.”

In Sunday’s speech, Nakagawa said he believes North Korea has many Rodong medium-range missiles that could reach almost any part of Japan and also has small nuclear warheads.

“North Korea has taken a step toward a system whereby it can shoot without prior notice,” he said. “We have to discuss countermeasures.”

He added that public discussions must be promoted on what has long been considered a national taboo: whether Japan should possess nuclear weapons.  [Kyodo News via Japan Today; (ht)]

I loved what came next:

Nakagawa stepped down as finance minister in February over what appeared to be drunken behavior at an international news conference in Rome.

Those of you who dread this idea should take some comfort from the word “former,” and I’m not sure that the clownish drunken man is a likely spokesman for an orchestrated trial balloon from the Japanese government.  Even the title of the article ridicules Nakagawa.  I’m guessing that Nakagawa probably speaks for himself and plenty of unstated opinion that will mostly remain unstated for the time being.  But with America increasingly perceived as an unreliable protector in Japan recently, I can understand why some in Japan are starting to think about going nuclear, and I have very good reason to suspect that South Korea has similar ideas.

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The “Realism” Fad, Truth in Labeling, The Obama Doctrine, and Godot

Jeff Jacoby asks how many Democrats still believe in the moral superiority of democracy.  Nowadays, I wonder.  I frequently hear it said, especially by adherents of the fad mislabeled as “realism,” that nations have the “right” to choose their own way.  The problem with this argument is that invariably, “nations” really means a tiny clique of thugs and oligarchs with the keys to the helicopter gunships, who exercise that “right” by proxy and do the choosing for everyone else.  I’ve also wondered how happy the voluble chatterers who espouse this theory would be without their rights to speak freely.  This is just one level of hypocrisy away from the pederast mullahs who want to save the purity of their societies from the destructive urges of other people to hold hands.

The new crop of realists being stamped out of grad schools today reminds me of nothing so much as the shiny new neoconservatives of 2003 — enthusiastic ideologues who have been compressed by their philosophy’s basic truths, but who will in due course be unleashed with the excess that faddish views inevitably produce.  In the case of the neoconservatives, with whom I admittedly share many points of agreement, the excess was to go beyond the moral and pecuniary superiority of propogating personal freedom to support for “using U.S.

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Great Ideas That Won’t Work: A Korea-Japan Alliance

For reasons I laid out here in January, pragmatism is making gradual gains on emotion in Seoul and forcing Japan and South Korea to understand that their interests have aligned:

A senior South Korean government official recently remarked that if the U.S. and North Korea speed up too much in bilateral talks, Japan could play a role in “slamming on the brakes.” He appeared to be suggesting that any bilateral negotiations bringing Washington and Pyongyang together after the North has launched a rocket next month could proceed too fast in the direction of normal diplomatic ties for the comfort of South Korea.

While is not against direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang, it feels a stop must be put to North Korea’s brinkmanship tactics, i.e. to ratcheting up tensions to speak to the U.S. direct and make diplomatic gains. And it is here, the official suggested, that Seoul-Tokyo cooperation comes in. “Japan was once considered a stumbling block to solving North Korean issues,” another South Korean official said. “But now has the most important role.” [Chosun Ilbo]

First reaction: since the beginning of the third Clinton Administration in 2006, the United States has sacrificed the interests of traditional Pacific allies to China.

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Being Loved Is Overrated

Good morning, America — the world hates you slightly less! They took a poll shortly after Obama’s election:

Views of the US showed improvements in Canada, Egypt, Ghana, India, Italy and Japan. But far more countries have predominantly negative views of America (12), than predominantly positive views (6). Most Europeans show little change and views of the US in Russia and China have grown more negative. On average, positive views have risen from 35 per cent to 40 per cent, but they are still outweighed by negative views (43%, down from 47%). [BBC]

And in other news, Europe (and South Korea, and Japan) still isn’t willing to help more in Afghanistan, which has a few more moments as “the good war” until the usual suspects start urging us to flee from that front, too. Ecuador just expelled someone from our embassy in Quito. Anne Applebaum points to a newly emerging school of “thought” — for now, emerging from a collection of cartoonish kooks in Russia and China, mostly — that the Obama presidency is a hoax by the hidden illuminati who really run America. And there’s always North Korea and Iran, for whom hatred of and tension with America are existential.

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And the lions shall lie down with the lambs, and there shall be good eatin’ for the lions.

I am not one who believes that Barack Obama is a closet Muslim or Trotskyite just waiting to fling open the republic’s gates to let the barbarians in, nor have I seen credible evidence that a significant percentage of the population ever really did. On the other hand, the significant percentage of the population wearing those creepy cultish idol-worshipping shirts will find the feet of clay in due course.  I do believe that within the next several years — the number depending on how much aid we provide — the North Korean system will collapse for its own reasons and China will end up dominating what’s left.  But in an effort to prevent that, Secretary of State “Kim Jong Bill” Richardson will offer to lend them some AP and Washington Post journalists to help school a new generation of North Koreans in the practice of shameless, toadying cult-raising adulation.  They certainly perfected it this year.  I regret that I have no subscriptions to cancel.  To hear some of them, the heavens will rain manna, loaves and fishes will appear in every mailbox each morning, and pixie fairies will be waiting in our offices to pleasure us under our desks.

Some of us are going to be very disappointed when we realize that these were, after all, the droids we were looking for.

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What Removing North Korea from the Terror List Means

If tomorrow’s Big Announcement from North Korea isn’t that the Great Leader has gone to the Great Meat Locker, it may well be that the North, having met with  such stunning  success at blackmailing the United States,  will throw some new tantrum at South Korea.  I would not credit the North with diplomatic genius for its success at isolating and blackmailing its enemies one at a time.  The trick isn’t new.  It seems more fair to credit us for the crashing stupidity  of letting them. 

The loss of South Korean aid, which added up to billions of dollars, must have been painful for the regime, and thus far, nothing the United States has given them has made up for that loss.  That may soon change.

1.  The regime gets bailed out again.

Two years ago, our Treasury Department nearly strangled Kim Jong Il’s  palace economy.   Today,  in exchange  for an  incomplete freeze, partial disclosure, and no disarmament at all,  we’ve thrown away  our best  economic leverage.   

The State Department, incidentally, wants you to  believe that the North still remains under a variety of U.S. sanctions  and lists a  myriad of bilateral sanctions, most of which have no real effect.  De-listing the North as a terror sponsor opens the way for a massive inflow of  international loan money  in the form of IMF,  World Bank,  and Asian Development Bank loans (executive orders 12,938 and 13,382 apply to individually designated North Korean entities — various mining and trading companies —  not the regime as a whole).  Given the North’s past history, we can be certain that not one chon of that will ever be repaid, and if the loans don’t flow soon, it’s just a matter of time before the North reverts to what always works and resorts to extortion. 

In other words, de-listing has incalculable significance where it matters — the palace economy.  Just imagine all of the centrifuges, barbed wire, cognac, and sarin they can buy now.

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Anju Links for 2 May 2007: North Korea Denies Abducting Any S. Koreans, May Day in Kaesong, and North Koreans’ Growing Meth Problem

*   It has now been 18 days since North Korea violated all of  the denuclearization commitments to which it agreed last February.   I blame  Bill Richardson, who obviously must have said something tactless and belligerent while being led around the deck of the U.S.S. Pueblo.   It’s time for us to get serious about diplomacy and  offer some carrots.   How many of our soldiers’ lives is Catalina Island really worth?   How many times must the canonballs fly, Bill?

*   Has North Korea made the fundamental decision to rejoin the civilized world?  Not so much, I guess:

“No POWs or abductees exist in North Korea,” Choe Song-Il, the North’s deputy Red Cross chief, said in an interview with Choson Sinbo, a newspaper for pro-Pyongyang ethnic Koreans in Japan.

 “If South Korea broaches the issue again, we will have something to say about 83,000 North Korean POWs held in the South in the name of anti-communism at the time of signing a truce (after the 1950-53 Korean War).” [AFP, via The Nation]

North Korea claims there are no abductees, but they keep trying to escape, and those permitted brief meetings with their families sure do behave strangely.  Yet South Korea doesn’t do anything to save them, so why should we?  To a degree, it’s understandable that the State Department dropped all references to them in its annual terror report.  The Lost Nomad has a comparison of last year’s language to this year’s and some good commentary.

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The Worst Friend, The Best Enemy

[Update:   My worst fears are coming true.  Now the  opposition Grand National Party  is trying to soften up its North Korea policy as it braces for a summit visit from Kim Jong Il and a presidential election this year.  One possible effect is that the GNP’s own perpetual appeaser, Sohn Hak-Kyu, could become the new flavor of the month.]

One of the disadvantages of appeasing North Korea is that the North Koreans are so despised and distrusted, you can pretty much give the  left and the  foreign policy establishment exactly what they want and they still don’t dare defend you, because they know it’s just a matter of time before the North Koreans cheat and make you look silly. 

The rejectionist view doesn’t labor under that uncertainty.  Two more prominent conservatives have stepped forward with skeptical views of Agreed Framework II. 

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Six Party Talks: Off Again?

A North Korean diplomatic source told the Interfax news agency Wednesday that six-way talks on North Korea’s nuclear program cannot restart this year or in the foreseeable future due to ”unacceptable” conditions the United States had set.  The demands the United States put forward at talks among the heads of delegations to the six-way talks in Beijing on Nov. 28 and 29, are ”unacceptable for North Korea,” the source reportedly said[link]

We have now been trying to  lure North Korea back to the talks for 14 months, and  we have tried to negotiate North Korea’s nuclear disarmament for 14 years.  While it’s fair to say that George W. Bush hasn’t disarmed North Korea,  we again see the nonsense of  the usual  criticism that he hasn’t done enough talking to them (although they won’t show up).  More fundamentally,  that argument  loses the end amid the tangled means.  Yes, Bush’s North Korea policy — and to an even  greater degree, Clinton’s —  failed to cause Kim Jong Il’s disarmament, but disarming Kim Jong Il  is not the same as  motivating him  to talk to us,  take our money, yell at us, or send people to stamp their feet and stall us in Beijing.  Kim Jong Il has done all of the latter.  Not one of those things moved us closer to our goal, because Kim Jong Il won’t give up his nukes  for any price we’d conceiveably  pay.  If Bush — and to an even greater degree, his critics — can be faulted, it’s for  failing to recognize this.

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