Category Archives: India

18Reality and foreign policy


 

 

Donald K. Trump and his base went into office – unexpectedly for most observers – with a promise to cut back on American commitments abroad and to avoid new ones. That was the essence of ”America First”, an echo of an isolationist group and slogan in the pre-World War II debate over U.S. involvement in European arguments.

 

But what they have found to their chagrin is that it is not possible. Overwhelming relative power of the U.S. not only in relation to smaller countries but to other major world leaders makes it ipso facto a determining factor – even when it exercises the option not to take part in the decision-making.

 

The extent of U.S. power in relative terms cannot be overstated. The American GDP of almost 19 billion – the sum total of all its economic activity — in 2016 was $8 billion more than its nearest rival, China. That GDP is a combination of high average individual incomes, a large population, capital investment, moderate unemployment, high consumer spending, a relatively young population, and technological innovation. None of these are challenged by most of its competitors, again save China, and then only n a couple of categories.

The United States shares 24.9 percent of global wealth, while the smallest economy, Tuvalu, a Polynesian island nation, contributes only 0.00005 percent. Fist ranked China shares 18.3 percent. In nominal data, in 2017 five economies would have GDPs above $1 trillion, 62 above $100 billion and 177 above $1 billion. The top five economies account for approximately 53.82 % of the total of world production, where as the top ten account for approx. 67.19 %.

The U.S. overseas involvements continue with few changes in American policy by the Trump Administration.

Washington’s involvement in the Middle East continues to be one of its most important foreign entanglements. The U.S. alliance with Israel depends not only on the important lobby of pro-Zionist Americans including the influential Jewish community, but important commercial and technological ties based on their commercial relationship.

When Trump initially tried to downgrade if not reject American participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO], he encountered counter pressure. The threat of NATO intervention blocked further Moscow action against Ukraine, and supported UN and U.S sanctions against Russian as a lever against further aggression against its Western neighbors which its leader Vladimir Putin had threatened.

Trump’s short-lived love affair with China’s Xi Jinping has been torpedoed by China’s aggressive moves in the Sea of Japan and the South China Sea. Beijing’s base-building athwart one of the major commercial naval routes of the world is inimitable to America’s longtime advocacy of freedom of the seas for itself and all navigators.

The China relationship also is critical to fending off the threat of North Korea to use its intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons against Guam or other U.S. territory. China not only accounts for 90% of North Korea’s external trade, but Pyongyang’s IBM and nuclear weapons owe much to the earlier transfers of Chinese technology.

A Trump hands-off policy in the civil war which has developed in Venezuela is not likely to be sustainable. The attempt to set up a so-called :”socialist” dictatorship backed by the Castro Regime in Cuba is an effort to seek anti-American allies among the left throughout the Hemisphere. Washington’s relations with Latin America are too intimate in terms of trade, immigration and defense capabilities to be left to the machinations of the bankrupt regime in Havana whose only strategy continues to be anti-American.

Trump, as his predecessors – since the end of World War II – finds increasingly that the U.S. must have a policy toward any of the major developments in world politics.

Sws08-09-17

 

 

 

 

16China’s strategy clear


 

In a world of regional conflicts, new fighting in the high Himalayas in Bhutan sheds further significance on Beijing’s world strategy.

Bhutan, an incredibly beautiful retreat in the heart of the highest mountains in the world with only a million inhabitants, was a “protectorate” of British India. It, and a half dozen other frontier states – including Nepal with 30 million – drifted either into incorporation, semi-independence or independence [Nepal’s 30 million] in the new Subcontinent divided basically between predominantly Moslem Pakistan [later Pakistan and Bangladesh] and India [with its Islamic minority almost as large as Pakistan’s population].

In late June Beijing accused India of sending border guards from Sikkim, one of the Himalayan kingdoms that eventually became part of India, on to the Doklam plateau in Bhutan. [Bhutan maintains no formal relations with China.] Historically Bhutan  was linked geographically to Tibet rather than India below the Himalayas.]  China accused the Indians of trying to obstruct road construction. New Delhi did admit it had approached the Chinese crew warning them against disturbing the current status.

Indian and Chinese forces have clashed in various parts of the 3,000-mile frontier – much of it either disputed or indefinitely marked – since 1962. Then as a result of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s pushing the Indian demarcation of the British Indian border – apparently with the assurance from his chief foreign policy advisers, V.K. Krishna Menon, a Communist sympathizer, that Moscow would intervene with their Chinese Communist ally to prevent violence. Instead, the Indian military – heirs to the great British Indian Imperial tradition – suffered a devastating blow which brought the Chinese into the lowlands on the south side of the Himalayas but then with a rapid unilateral withdrawal.

Since then, there have been clashes between them– especially after their occupation of Tibet and the flight of the Dalai Lama, its religious-civil leader, to India in 1950, where he leads a government in exile among Tibetan refugees. Despite Pakistan’s one-time alliance and heavy dependence on U.S. arms, Islamabad has drifted into an alliance with Beijing

As American influence and aid has diminished, Beijing’s role in Pakistan – which already had nuclear weapons – has grown. China has been given permission to establish a naval base at Gwadar, on the Iranian border at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. An official announcement came just a few days after U.S. Navy SEALs conducted a secret raid to kill Osama Ben Ladin in Pakistani when relations between Washington and Islamabad took a nosedive.

Beijing plans for Pakistan to play a major role in China’s “Belt and Road”, a $1.4-trillion global trade plan, a rebuilding of the historic Silk Road from China’s west to the Persian Gulf and Europe. If the Chinese are successful, it could shift the global economy and challenge the U.S.-led order. Islamabad is banking on receiving more than $50 billion in Chinese loans and grants including a pipeline to bring Mideast oil and gas to China’s western province of Sinkiang.

Pakistan leadership – always fraught with division and corruption — has just lost its prime minister after a court’s ruling on his massive corruption. Some Islamabad politicians see China as its new “equalizer” with the U.S. and Indian relationship – after the decades of New Delhi’s alliance with Moscow — increasingly stronger. Prime Minister nahrenda Modi, during a two-day visit to Washington in June, called on Islamabad to end its support of terrorism, supporters of the Kashmir state disputed between the two neighbors.

American aid to Pakistan, once the third-largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, is expected to total less than $1 billion in 2016, down from a recent peak of more than $3.5 billion in 2011.

The Trump Administration is again face to face with a decision: should it continue military and economic aid to nuclear armed Pakistan in order to win whatever support there is for the West among its elite or throw in the towel to what has become a Chinese ally in Beijing’s strategy to reach around India to extend its political influence based on its rank as the world’s No. 2 economy?”

 

 

Sws-08-04

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s sin


We have been waiting, rather impatiently, for some credible explanation for why the recent interview with The New York Times Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg did not take place. Or we would have settled for a denial. Or in the final absence of a satisfactory explanation, simply an explanation that it was a conversation with an old intimate of the Justice that was never intended for publication.
Where to begin to indict Justice Ginsberg for her lack of judgment, protocol or respect for that most holy of American institutions, the Supreme Court of the United States?
It is an old and honorable tradition, one of that has all the support of logic and a respect for law, justices and our institutions, that serving members of the highest court in the land do not discuss their deliberations, their views or the basis of their votes on issues. Bader Ginsburg has always been a show horse, far too ready to lecture in the public forum when she might have been attending to her torts.
But there is only one place for the justices’ views on the law: that is in the briefs which the Justices are permitted to write, either jointly in agreement with other justices, in dissent against other justices, or indeed, as impendent presentation of their legal views on particular cases which often as not may involve consideration of past verdicts of their colleagues on the Court.
The selection of justices for the high court is as serious a proceeding and duty as the president has as in the highest executive, elected by all the people, in the country. That selection and the approval – or disapproval – by the senate of his choice is a thorny political process. The fact that the Republican majority has held up approval of Chief Judge Merrick Garland., Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia who died suddenly earlier this year is not unprecedented. The reason for the Republicans’ reluctance is no secret; Scalia represented the keystone of the conservative majority in most decisions. Liberal Democrats in the same Senate majority position had done the same in the past. But given Garland’s generally highly respected qualifications for the bench, the Republicans might have been on firmer ground had they at least held hearings on his nomination and examined his past expressed views as well as his credentials.
In part, the Founders were less specific about the duties of the judiciary, the third and equal branch of government which they identified. This may have been in part because of their wariness about the threat that lifetime appointments – the only ones in government – might threaten a judicial ascendancy against the legislative and executive functions. In fact, the Founders less clearly defined the duties of the highest court and it could be argued that “judicial supremacy”, the right of the highest court to rule against the constitutionality of a law, arose as much by the action of strong chief justices in the early 19th century than by constitutional fiat.
The process reached a constitutional crisis in the mid-1930s after the wildly popular president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had won an avalanche in his second term election in 1936. FDR had his most loyal Congress supporters introduce the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937. — dubbed by its opponents as the “court-packing plan”.
Roosevelt was attempting to circumvent a strictly constitutional majority of the Supreme Court which had repeatedly struck down some of his more drastic efforts to boost a Great Depression economy. Indeed, some of these proposals – with 20-20 hindsight – were anathema to the U.S. political system, arising as they often did from FDR’s kaleidoscope of advisers, ranging on the right and left from admirers of then new Europe fascism to the Soviet Union Communism.
Then, as now, the court was dominated by older personalities, most clinging to their seats on the Court. Roosevelt’s plan would have permitted him to appoint an additional justice to the Court,, up to a maximum of six, for every member of the court over the age of 70 years and 6 months. FDR and his advisers argued that since the Constitution had not stipulated the number of judges but had been decided by law, it was within the Congress [at his instance] to change the numbers.
But public opposition to Roosevelt’s proposal – including by his own curmudgeonly vice president, John Nance Garner, defeated the legislation. But through the ordinary attrition of age, a more friendly court came into view. It was pyhric victory for Roosevelt, loosing him support even among other members of his own party. But what it may have done was the enshrine the sanctity of the Court including its prerogative acquired in the 19th century to strike down legislation as “unconstitutional”, against the fundamental gurantees of the founding document. In reality it established judicial supremacy among the three separate elements of government which the Founders had conceived, setting up the uniqueness of the American Republic. [Britain, from whom so much of American politics descends, has continued to preserve “parliamentary supremacy”, the ultimate authority of its elected representatives, a divergence that has marked continued debate among Britain’s former colonies, such as India.]
It is against this background that Bader Ginsburg’s remarks must be judged. She has not only violated her own obligations to the Court, but she has perhaps set a bad precedent for other justices to follow. Bringing the Court into the political process for election of the new president is intolerable. Not only are we owed an apology by the 83-year-old Justice Bader Ginsburg, but her early retirement would be a welcomed solution to the disaster she has created.

A Pakistan time-bomb?


Although the Obama Administration may well not recognize it, Pakistan is turning into the U.S.’ number one problem in fighting worldwide Islamic terrorism.
The massacre of 79, many of them children, by an Islamic terrorist group aiming at Christians on a community playground on Eastern Sunday – large numbers of Moslems were also killed and wounded – marks a new downturn in Pakistan. The suicide bomber’s choice of a target in Lahore, Pakistan’s most sophisticated and second largest city, marks a new turn in the two decades of terrorist activity. Lahore is capital of Punjab province with almost twothirds of Pakistan’s 185 million people. Noted for their pragmatism, Pujabis are widely represented in the Pakistan diaspora in the West and despite their religious differences, share much with their neighbors in bordering Indian Punjab.
It’s significant that the Jamaat ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistan Taliban, which claimed credit for the attack, pledges allegiance to Daesh [The Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL].
Punjab is the power base of its native son Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother, the province’s chief minister and power broker. It had been largely spared ghowing terrorism over the last two decades and the military’s counteroffensive.
The Sharifs’ political success has depended on support from the more religious, and financial help from Saudi Arabia. Their civilian rule – Pakistan has spent more than half its existence under military rule – is now in jeopardy. The military has been battling a growing insurgency from Islamic terrorists it out in Karachi, Pakistan’s huge port city. [In December 2014, terrorists, massacred 132 children at a military supported Army school in Peshawar, in the northwest frontier province adjoining Afghanistan.].
. Pakistan’s losses, far greater than those of Western terrorist episodes in the West, have been largely ignored by the foreign media. But this new turn of events, a strike at the heart of the Pakistan civilian regime, signals an increasing a growing threat to what has always been an unstable country. From its creation, carved from Moslem majority areas in British India in 1947 in a bloody partition of the Subcontinent, Pakistan originally included two disparate areas at the extremes of the Subcontinent separated by 1500 miles of the new India. That was resolved with a brief war with India when Bangladesh broke away in 1972. But Pakistan was also bound by other contradictions. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founding leader of the country who died shortly after its creation, while basing his claims on the distinction of “two nations” in British India, one Moslem and the other Hindu, like most of Pakistan’s leadership including its military were not devout Moslems.
Fanatical Moslem groups have become more and more active despite a campaign by the military to curb their sanctuaries in the Pakistan-Afghanistan areas. Always keying their foreign policy to their Indian neighbors with whom they have fought three wars since independence, Pakistan has drifted in and out of an alliance with the U.S. since Partition. With the U.S.’ growing ties to India, anti-Americanism is on the rise in Pakistan.
Washington policy makers had generally seen Pakistan as a bloc to former Soviet – and even older Russian imperial – efforts to reach the Indian Ocean and as a counter to Jawaharlal Nehru’s alliance with the Soviets. After the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan at the end of 1979, the U.S. used Pakistan as a base to oust Moscow in 1980-82 with the help of NATO allies, and again, after the 9/11 [2001] attack by Osama Ben-Ladin from his base in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime.
If the Pakistan military are unable to curb the growing terrorist movements, Pakistani fanatics could well become the most important recruits for Daesh and its attempt to create a worldwide Moslem terrorist network. Contrary to much that has been written, Daesh’s recruits are largely from relatively privileged disaffected Moslems, not the impoverished mass. With the Pakistanis’ large English-speaking minority and its large body of technical immigrants in the West – widely represented in Silicon Valley, for example – it could add immeasurably to Washington’s effort to curb growing international terrorism.
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Southeast Asia Islamic terrorism


The inability of the Obama strategy to reduce area of control by Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] –and most important its serene song to young Muslims – is reaching worldwide proportions.

The mid-January multiple explosions and gunfire near a shopping mall in central Jakarta, Indonesia, is the latest horror in the region. Whether Daesh is in fact responsible for the bombings is problematical. But its claimed responsibility for the terrorism is spreading. Indonesia technically has the largest Muslim population in the world. In the past repeated and bloody bombings by local offspring of the Mideast terrorists in Bali, a famous tourist mecca has costs hundreds of lives.

Conventional wisdom has it that Indonesia with a reputation for moderate Islam is not a major player in the outbreak of worldwide Islamic terrorism. But that misapprehension rests mainly on the fact that the 100-million Javanese located in Middle and Easter Java, have an underlying and deep-rooted parallel Hindu culture.

But in fact, Indonesian Islam produced its own native terrorism even before the emergence of both Al Qaida and Daesh. In 1949, for example, just before formal independence, two Americans, one a Time correspondent, and another a cultural anthropologist, were assassinated in West Java. Their killers were an Islamic group calling itself Darul Islam and demanding a sharia culture for the country. In 1958, a Muslim-inspired revolt broke out in Sumatra, the Celebes islands in East Indonesia, and the northern tip of Sumatra, Ajeh,

Hadji Agoes Salim, for several decades between the World Wars, the Dutch consul-general in Mecca and one of the original signers of Indonesian independence in August 1945, made an argument for the strength of Islam in his country. As an historian, he argued Islam had in fact established itself in the Archipelago in apposition to the advances of the 350-year-long Dutch rule. Bandung, the country’s third largest city, capital of West Java, has been notoriously a site of religious radicals.

Conservative Muslim enclaves exist throughout the Islands. Minangkabau, a colorful region of western Sumatra, despite its Moslem orthodoxy – in part contradicted by a matriarchal culture – produced moderate Moslem politicians in the early days of the Republic. It was their leadership and influence on the army, under native son and former vice president Mohammed Hatta,that blocked a 1965 Communist coup backed by the Soviets. But the reaction to the attempted coup turned into bloodbath so vast that reliable figures estimate the toll as between half a million and a million Communists and non-Muslims slaughtered.

Whether indeed the recent bombings were ordered by Daesh, or were local “lone wolfe” Moslem terrorist operations, the fact that Daesh has claimed them has changed the perspective in Southeast Asia. Across the narrow Malaccan Strait multinational Malaysia is in disarray with a scandal of massive stealth of government funds involving the current prime minister. There are also links between Malaysian ultra-conservative politicians to the long simmering rebellion of the three southernmost Thailand provinces with Muslim Malay majorities. And there is a similar long-term revolt amongst the Moros, native Muslims of the Philippines Republic, again linked to the neighboring Borneo states of Malaysia.

The continuing failure by the U.S. and its Arab and European allies to destroy Daesh is feeding Islamic terrorism in Southeast Asia. Adding this to the continued friction between Pakistan and India – with its own Muslim population larger than the entire Pakistani population. Meanwhile, Daesh’s very sophisticated internet propaganda is reaching the whole Muslim world of 1.3 billion, with a special appeal to the young including Southeast Asia.

The Obama Administration argues it is taking a long view of Daesh, limiting civilian casualties, reducing the effectiveness of its bombing campaign, and with a minimal U.S. military presence in Iraq and on the Turkish border with Syria. One of the results of this strategy, however, is that so long as it brilliantly commands space on the social media, Daesh is an international menace to the whole Moslem world from Zamboanga to Dakar. Add that to the vacuum Obama’s policies of withdrawal and concessions to Iran and the U.S. is helping to reek havoc through the whole umma [the Moslem world community].

 

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Hope in Pakistan


Reports that the Pakistan government has moved on Islamic “militants” who allegedly were involved in attacks on Indian border military installations in early January is good news – not only for the region but for the U.S.

The Subcontinent has long been plagued with guerrilla forces –imed at supporting Pakistan in disputed Kashmir, the Moslem majority Himalayan state largely ruled by India. These groups had the support of the military, especially the country’s notorious intelligence community. But inevitably these Muslim terrorists have have expanded their activities beyond Kashmir into the growing international networks. With Pakistan’s huge population, virtually all Moslem, of 185 million, there is the growing threat it could become a principal recruiting area for the Mideast Islamic terrorists, constituting an enormous increase in the threat to the U.S. and other Western countries. In fact, Pakistanis have already appeared in the ranks of the Mideast Muslim terrorists.

Now Pakistan’s Prime Minister Sharaz Sharif has arrested 13 Islamic militants including Masood Azhar, a notorious hardliner, in a move without precedent in response to Indian requests for aid in the investigations of the attack on the Indian air force base. The arrest followed recent impromptu meetings between Sharif, and Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi. The arrest surprised most Western observers, especially given the irony that the two leaders share radical pasts: Sharif is close to the Saudi Arabian royal family and Modi comes out of the current ruling party in India with origins in Hindu revivalism.

It is not clear, of course, given the long conflict – four wars since independence when British India was split between the two countries – that the cooperation will continue. Indian officials insist militants from Jaish-e-Mohammad, the group led by Azhar, carried out the attack in early January on the strategic base near the India-Pakistan-Kashmir border. But a senior Pakistani government official confirmed that while Azhar had been taken into “protective custody”, he has yet to be charged with a crime. Characteristically, a Pakistan official said “[O]nce India gives us evidence of Masood Azhar’s involvement in the air base attack, we can then formally charge him. So far there is no hard evidence.”.

Azhar became a leading Moslem radical figure in1999 when, released from an Indian prison in a hostage swap following the hijacking of an Indian commercial airliner, he went to Kandahar in Afghanistan then under Taliban rule. Azhar’s release and alliance with the Taliban was seen by Western observers as an important gain for Moslem terrorists in the area and elsewhere.

The fact that Azhar has been allowed to remain free until now is a reflection of the conflicted elements in the Pakistan regime, both civilian and military, and their ambiguous relationship with the terrorists. Neither Pakistan’s alliances, again contradictory, with both the U.S. and China – have been enough to strengthen the internal anti-Moslem radical elements in the regime. Washington, of course, wants to halt any Pakistani assistance to the growing Mideast Moslem insurgencies, and China is plagued with a growing anti-Han revolt in its huge strategic Western province of Singkiang, bordering Pakistan with a history of its Uighur terrorists having been trained in Pakistan.

It now remains to be seen whether Azhar’s arrest marks a new and tougher policy by the Pakistani authorities toward Moslem radicals, plaguing both their own regime and its neighbors in Afghanistan where the border areas are sanctuaries. Pakistan’s relations with its longtime American ally have weakened with increasing collaboration between the U.S. and India, Pakistan’s perennial enemy. But with Congress voting a new aid package – added to the $67 billion [in constant 2011 dollars] to Pakistan between 1951 and 2011 – of $7.5 billion over five years [FY2010 to FY2014], it its time for the Obama Administration to turn its attention, quietly, to the new Pakistan-Indian cooperation.

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New terrorist theater


 

A terrorist attack on an Indian military installation Saturday, Jan. 2, may have inaugurated a long anticipated but new front in the war against Islamic terrorism.

Two of a groupof four or five terrorist were killed in an attack on the Pathankot Indian Air Force base, a critical installation on the India-Pakistan border, near the troubled Himalaya state of Kashmir. It was the second big terror attack Punjab, a border state, in less than a year. It came only a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, counterintuitively from a Hindu revivalist background, stopped off in Lahore, to confer with Pakistani Prime Minister Awaz Sharif, the first face-to-face of the two heads of government in 12 years.

While India’s 172 million Moslems represent only 14.2% of the country’s population, they have important historical roots, and in fact, it was they who inagurated agitation for independence from British colonial rule.Their numbers approach neighboring Pakistan’s 192 million, India’s twin cut out for a Moslem state on independence in 1947. Furthermore, with a higher birth rate than their Hindu and Christian compatriots, the Moslem population of India is expected to become the largest in the world by 2050, exceeding 18% [310 million] while the ratio tpoHindus will drop by almost 10%.

Indian Moslems are extremely diverse, on the one hand representing a disproportionate number of the country’s poorest, and on the other endowed with several regional elites. They are noteworthy for becoming adept at information technology. Many of the subcontinent’s immigrant technicians in Silicon Valley and throughout the U.S. industry are Indian Moslems [or Pakistanis].

Radical Islam historically has erupted in the community, notably when it supported in the immediate postwar period a Communist insurrection in the former Indian princely state of Hyderabad in the Indian central plateau [Deccan]. The state with a Hindu majority had been ruled by a Moslem prince.

There has been considerable apprehension in official circles and elsewhere that the current wave of Moslem terrorism would spread to the Indian Moslem population. The issue is enmeshed, of course, in the continuing feud with Pakistan with which India has fought four declared wars and continual clashes. Pakistani authorities, charge that the longtime Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru violated the terms of the division of the country by refusing to relinquish control of Kashmir, the Himalayan state between the two new countries.

In November 2008, the Lashkar-e-Taiba based in Pakistan, carried out a series of 12 coordinated attacks lasting four days across Mumbai [Bombay]. New Delhi charged there had been Pakistan government collusion. But as the international Moslem terrorist movement has spread, Indian leadership appears ready to recognize that such events have local roots.

Modi was enroute back to New Delhi after a visit to Afghanistan where the two countries vie for influence, India as a hedge against Pakistan, and Pakistan for “depth” in its always strategic concern for India. Modi’s unscheduled visit was seen as Indian acknowledgement that Islamic terrorism is a threat beyond any Pakistani government manipulation, a danger to both regimes. Observers on all sides expressed hope that the meeting signaled a new collaboration of the two governments against the terrorists.

But the rising tide of “lone wolf” terrorism in India will pose a new problem now for the U.S. [and the Israelis] who have been rapidly expanding their military cooperation. Strategy must also take into account the growing effort by Beijing to expand its influence in Islamabad where it has long been seen as a counter to India’s superior size and strength. Pakistan’s collaboration, for example, with China to build a new port on the Pakistani-Iranian border at the entrance to the Persia Gulf has been of concern to American naval strategists. If, as now seems to be the case, indigenous Moslem terrorist outbreaks are to become “routine:”in India, Washington strategists have new problems on their agenda.

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The shame of India


India is struggling with one of those profound puzzles of justice vs. the law. They are not unknown in any democratic society, including our own of course. Indeed this case is a testament to India’s unique heritage of both British and its own multicultural legal heritage.

On 2012, a savage attack on a young college physiotherapy student and her companion on a city-operated bus in New Delhi momentarily shocked the nation and the world. Six men raped the young woman and beat her companion, leaving them for dead. The violence was such that her intestines were wrenched from her body and she died despite extraordinary medical assistance 13 days later in Singapore.

The youngest of the rapists – just under his 18th birthday at the time, therefore legally a juvenile in India – was released Sunday after serving three years. India and the world hardly took notice. At the time there was enormous worldwide publicity of the crime and a spotlight thrown on the inferior status of women in India despite their frequent prominence in political life. [Indira Gandhi, daughter of the sainted independence fighter, Jawaharlal Nehru, served politically ruthlessly twice for more than a decade as prime minister before her assassination in 1984.]

The young rapist went free if under surveillance after the mandatory limit of three years for a juvenile offender, no matter the crime. Attempts to amend the law to permit longer sentences – death by hanging is mandatory for rape in India – has been shelved in the parliament.

The crime excited large crowds at the time with harassment of women in public life widespread. But most observers are convinced that the hullabaloo over the dramatic crime, which brought out strong popular demands for eliminating customary and legal prejudice against women. has subsided. .

Asha Singh Singh, the victim’s mother, on Wednesday, the third anniversary of the crime released her name, Jyoti Singh, for the first time.

“Why should I hide her name? Why should I be ashamed of it?” her mother said, referring to the law which forbids releasing the name of rape victims. “Those who committed that heinous crime on her should feel ashamed. The makers of this administrative system should feel ashamed.”

“Crime has won. We have lost,”, she was quoted by CNN. “Our efforts for three years have failed. If they understood my daughter’s pain, if they understood my pain, the culprit would not be free.”

“He deserves the same punishment as the four who’ve been given the death penalty. It should set a historic example in society that if you treat women and girls this way, no one will be spared.”

Four of the rapists received death sentences and the fifth, the driver of the bus, died in prison, officially designated suicide but called murder by his family and his attorney.

The verdict was unanticipated by the media with virtually no audience in the court when the verdict was handed down. Under India’s juvenile aws, maximum punishment doe minors is three years at a reform facility. The government opposed his release, but the New Delhi High Court refused to grant a petition for prolonged custody. Government lawyers admitted that the judge had no discretion considering the letter of the law.

However, the general consensus in India is that despite the attention the case gathered at the time, little has changed. Kritika Dua, 22, a young woman studying law to become a judge, claimed that despite the laws on the books, police and the judiciary fail to implement them..

“Even we are at fault,” a young colleague claimed, “The mindset has to change. How can anyone say that the answer to the problem is that girls should not go out?” After the rape, some politicians suggested that she had invited the attack by going out at night.

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An India-Japan alliance


For most of the last half century, Washington “visioners” have been trying to cement relations between Japan and India. The match seemed natural: Japan’s highly industrialized economy needed markets and raw materials from a still industrializing India. That, it has always been argued, would reinforce a political, and perhaps eventually military alliance, between Asia’s two largest democracies. After the 1949 collapse of China’s Nationalists, such a combination seemed an important contribution to The Cold War effort to halt Communist expansion in Asia. After all, it was reasoned, Japan shared India’s Hindu origins of Buddhism as well as a contemporary dedication to representative democracy.

Washington’s planners even went so far as to include such calculations in the massive economic aid programs to India, South Korea, Taiwan and South Vietnam in the 1950s and 60s. But a special fund set up for regional collaboration – essentially Japan and India — extended year after year, only produced one project. That was a development of an iron ore deposit, a railroad, and a port – originally intended to replace Calcutta as India’s then major commercial center, on the Bay of Bengal.

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toured India this month, it appeared that after all Washington’s huffing and puffing, the two countries were on their own settling into the kind of elaborate cooperation Washington geopolitcians hypothesized. The growing specter of Chinese economic as well as military expansion certainly played a role [China is, ironically on of both countries’ largest trading partners.] Leading the new effort is a $15 billion dollar low-interest Japanese loan to finance a favorite project of Prime Minister Narenda Modi, a new fast railway from Bombay, India’s commercial capital, to Ahmnebad, capital of Modi’s native Gujerat state – and eventually to the Indian capital of New Delhi.

Modi, trying to break the mould of a half century of Indian state capitalism, is using Japan to expand the country’s weak infrastructure which most economists see as its greatest barrier to the kind of economic take-off in China in the past three decades. India has the theoretical capacity not only to repeat China’s “miracle” but to go far beyond it with its enormous raw materials resources and one of the youngest – and soon to be largest – populations. Snuggling Japan into the Indian economic picture also could be the wedge needed to defeat the ever present “East India Complex” – the paranoia of India’s enormously powerful “babus”against foreign investment. These bureaucratic clerks whom politicians have relied on in post-British India are one of Modi’s most difficult problems.

Given the long history of Tokyo’s effort to achieve a breakthrough, it is still early to predict its ultimate success. Probably no two international negotiators have larger cultural differences than the Japanese and Indians; the first with their mania for an almost sexual satisfaction from extended negotiation, and the Indian tendency for talk for its own sake.

A shadow, too, hangs over Modi’s political following. He does represent new entrepreneurial tendencies among smaller Indian businessmen – India’s big brandnames often have chosen to go abroad rather than fight through local problems. But his party’s origins in Hindu chauvinism are dangerous at a time when the Islamicists are attempting to infiltrate India’s Muslims. [With 180-million, they are the world’s third largest the world’s third largest Islamic community, much of it mired in poverty and ignorance.] India’s blood links to the political disorder in neighboring Muslim Pakistan, carved too out of British India, make such a threat all the more real.

Still, the new Japan-India ties are a welcome development in an Asia where the Obama Administration’s “pivot” has failed to materialize, and Beijing’s aggressive intent is manifest all around – including India’s disputed Himalayan frontier with Tibet..

sws-12-12-15

Pakistan’s shaky equilibrium


Pakistan’s 185 million people suffer a fragile combination of its military, probably the only viable national institution, its British Indian-descended civil Punjabi elite – and a growing body of Islamic terrorists. That balance may be coming unhinged. Chaos in Pakistan would threaten the whole 1.3-billion ummah, the Islamic world, from Zamboanga in the Philippines to Dakar in West Africa.
A secret trial has collapsed of 10 would-be assassins, originally charged with attempting to murder the then 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, a teenage advocate of female education in the face of Islamic fundamentalists. Only two have been convicted from a gang which mounted a student bus, asked for her to be identified, and then shot her through the head. That she survived to become a Nobel Laureate, a symbol of resistance to the Muslim fanatics [even though she dare not go back to Pakistan] is something of a miracle.
Conviction in April of the original suspects to life imprisonment [25 years in Pakistan] has been annulled, and only two have been sentenced. Reuter’s quotes Salim Khan, a senior police official, saying that eight suspects were freed because of “lack of proof”. Such trials are held in deep secrecy because of the possibility of retribution from “militants”.
Hardly a day passes without a terrorist attack, either against the civilian government or felled in sectarian conflict between Pakistan’s majority Sunni and its smaller but important Shia sects including the Agha Khan’s Ismailis.In western Baluchistan province where a violent civil war has gone on for decades, dozens of bus passengers from the minority Muslim communities have been killed in the last few weeks. Christians have been condemned to death for violating Pakistan’s outrageous blasphemy laws. Last December 145 students and teachers were killed by Pakistan Taliban terrorists attacking a military-supported school.
Pakistan’s deficit economy survives with major infusions from the U.S., the Saudis and, to a more limited extent, the Chinese. Washington began providing economic assistance along with military aid in 1947shortly after the country’s creation, a total of nearly $67 billion [in constant 2011 dollars] between 1951 and 2011. After abandoning Pakistan [and Afghanistan] in the 90s in opposition to its nuclear weapons development, Washington moved to authorize $7.5 billion FY2010 to FY2014, not always actually meeting the $1.5 billion annual commitment.
This swing and sway of Washington’s policies, and virulent radical Muslim propaganda has produced bitter anti-American hostility. And the U.S. has had a hard time facing up to terrorism, sometimes an extension and outgrowth of the Pakistani military and intelligence in its constant low-level support of pro-Pakistan and independence guerrillas in Kashmir, the Himalayan state contested with India. Pakistani military and intelligence officialdom, for example, shaded off into the 2008 Bombay Massacre which took the lives of 164 victims and nine terrorists, including a half dozen Americans.
It was, in part, Washington pressure in 2008 which ousted Gen.-Pres. Pervez Musharraf and his “civilianized” military government. The current weak, Saudi-supported administration, imitating the rule of law of much vilified British India, is constantly under threat of another military takeover – more than half of Pakistan’s history has been under military government. The hidden drama of the Malala trial suggests a breakdown under the increasing terrorist threat may again bring back the army – or worse.
The implications for the U.S., India [with more Moslems than Pakistan], Bangladesh, and the Pakistan diaspora [a half million of the total of 45 million Diaspora live in the U.S.] are ominous. Given the sorry record of the Obama Administration in the Near East, Washington’s ability to cope with a Pakistan implosion are at best problematical.
sws-06-06-15.

Foreign Policy 101


In a revolutionary world environment, foreign policy of a great power – and especially the lone superpower – is bound to be full of inconsistencies. Interests are far-flung and constantly demanding new priorities. But one does not have to refer to Machiavelli to recognize rules of the road which when violated are costly and in the case of the U.S., destabilizing for the entire world.

Again, those guidelines are often internally contradictory in the nature of generalizations.  But a knowledge of and adherence to them is essential to pursue a foreign policy, and, in this instance, of the superpower, the United States, and world peace and stability..

That we living through cataclysmic times does not have to be extensively argued. Suffice it to say that the digital revolution alone has made it harder than ever to distinguish between reality and perception by exaggerating – to quote Sec. Donald Rumsfeld – unknown unknowns. A recent former CIA operative hired by a Swiss bank to prevent fraud put it to me succinctly: the ability to reproduce almost any document [or signature] has led to almost unlimited financial hoax.

In the world of international relations something similar is equally true. But, again, there are basic dictum which are as old, at least, as the European nation-state and apply today as they always have. Many are commonsensical. To be unacquainted with them is to introduce new and additional volatility in an uncertain world.

America’s role Because of its size, its population and continental breadth, and its economy, the U.S. under any conditions would play a major world role — disengaged as well as engaged. But there are important additional nonphysical aspects. The Founders, however conservative their personal backgrounds [with the unresolved problem of black slavery], constructed a new nation on ideology rather than ethnicity, race or language. They believed that they were creating a new and unique beacon of liberty and justice harking back to Greek and Roman institutions as well as a Judeo-Christian ethic.

That, in essence, is “American exceptionalism”. To associate it with such more precise policies as “interventionism” or “isolationism” is to misunderstand completely. All one has to do is hark back to the 1930s debate of America’s world role in which both poles invoked U.S. singularity, whether Midwest agrarian populist isolationists, or East Coast industrial and financial bureaucratic interventionists.

Furthermore, it might not make much difference whether the concept is valid.the fact that it has been accepted as a part of American foreign policy for more than 200 years – however much hypocrisy one might charge – makes it is an important part of any discussion. Perhaps that is why Pres. Barrack Obama had to make the sharpest possible break with his earlier [presumably] offhanded remark in Europe denigrating the whole concept. But he did so now “with every fiber of my being. ” – indeed a turnabout!

America’s tools The most important if the most nebulous of tools in making foreign policy is the prestige of the United States abroad.[So-called opinion surveys, especially those in countries with widespread illiteracy are ridiculous.] More than half a century of overwhelming domination of the world scene, especially the two decades since the implosion of the Soviet Union, have contributed to an overestimate, if anything, of the U.S.’ power and ability to solve problems.

But there is a general talking heads consensus that belief has eroded significantly for whatever reason – policies of the current Administration or the accumulation of debris from two indecisive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a welter of unidentified “mistakes” to which Obama has continually referred. That may be true, but that also depends on the strength of American prestige at its zenith, if, indeed, that point is behind us. My own reading from conversations with informed foreign friends at home and abroad is that the belief in American omnipotence, for better or for worse, is alive and well.

If I am correct, then American power arises in no small part from Harvard University’s political scientist and former government official Joseph Nye has called “soft power”. Americans who have not traveled abroad or those who have accepted internationalization of U.S. fashions as the norm are often unaware of how that influence permeates foreign cultures. However, some of the clichéd ideas concerning American influence are equally irrelevant; e.g., the idea that a U.S. education automatically makes a returned foreigner sympathetic to Washington policy. [Some of the most virulently anti-American politicians abroad have been – and continue to be – products of at least a partial American education, a tribute perhaps to our tolerant institutions.]

In the best of all worlds formal U.S. diplomacy would exploit these cultural levers. That is rarely the case. The massive efforts of American propaganda, for example, that accompanied The Cold War have been largely abandoned. Just as it demoralized a more efficient consular service, incorporation of United States Information Service by State has been a disaster. Libraries which once were the most important U.S. cultural activity [aside from American movies] in backward countries have disappeared without an organized digital replacement.

Less difficult to define, of course, are four other major instruments in the conduct of U.S. foreign relations: formal diplomacy, economic warfare, the U.S. military and clandestine espionage and “special” operations.

Unfortunately, over the years, U.S. diplomacy has taken on more and more the attributes of its traditional European model. As it has done so, for the most part, American embassies abroad deal with their counterparts in a bubble to the exclusion of any attempt to cultivate a wider public. [In many countries, with authoritarian governments, of course, this may not be a choice.]

Worse still, U.S. diplomats suffer from what the French call déformation professionelle – if you are a lawyer, your first instinct is to litigate, if you are a surgeon, you instinctively want to cut, etc. And if you ae a diplomat, you first seek to negotiate. But since a successful diplomatic outcome requires compromise, what do you do when your opponent refuses to budge? You  extend unilateral  concessions  to achieve “success”, including abandoning prematurely “the military option”.

Much is made of the fact that U.S. military expenditures are more than the sum of most other major military powers. The argument is fallacious. Unfortunately, our European NATO allies have cut back their military expenditures, too often already eaten away by non-fighting bureaucracies. Or, for example, the French in their desperate pursuit of a policing francophone Africa have had to rely on U.S. transport.

In a sense that the one and only time NATO’s famous Article 5 has been invoked in Afghanistan is unfotunate– answering the 9/11 attack on the U.S. that required all partners to come to a member’s aid.  For the intervention in an siolated pre-industrial soceity was always destined to be inconclusive otherthan t eliminate the immediate source of violence against America’s heartland.

Ironically, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine may have restored some relevance of that concept, for the Europeans if not for a war weary American public.

All that notwithstanding, the mere threat to use U.S. military in a given crisis – what the geopoliticians call “strategic ambiguity” – is perhaps American policymakers’ most potent weapon. A generally quiet if dramatic example has been the guarantees to Taiwan which permitted development of the first democratic and prosperous society in Chinese history. [However, recent Washington foot-dragging on arms and accomodation of the current Taipei government for economic collaboration with the Mainland may have put it in jeopardy.] Were the Chinese Communist to have bases on Taiwan, it would be a game-changer in the increasingly delicate Northeast Asian powder keg with a rapidly accelerating North Korean drive for WSM and an. aggressive Beijing posture.

To name specific conditions and dates when American military power is to be used [or withdrawn] is perhaps the greatest weakness of the current Administration’s foreign strategies. It prepares the ground for the opponent’s counterstrategy. Even worse is to rattle the cage of a potential opponent – whether Pres. Obama with an announced on-and-off “limited blow”, as against the bloody Syrian regime or Defense Sec. Chuck:Hagel’s latest provocative public denunciation of Chinese adventurism while at the same time cutting back military budgets.

Waging the U.S.’ economic weapon is also a mixed bag. International trade has increasingly become a larger part of the U.S. gross national product, producing jobs as well as profits. And because since 1985 there is more foreign investment in America than U.S. equity abroad, the Treasury has had to trim its use as an instrument of foreign policy. A tax structure which has U.S.-based multinationals holdings in the tens of billions in profits stashed overseas also weighs heavily.

Still, Americaneconomic sanctions – especially when they are applied to third parties – can be crippling as Tehran found out before the Obama Administration loosen the bolts as incentive for a hoped for negotiated settlement..

Clandestine American operations abroad are part and parcel of any effective foreign policy. But certain conventions, however false, have to be adhered to. Yes, everyone knows Washington is listening to their mail but to tell the world as Edward Snowden and his pal Glenn Greenwald did is not only to prejudice important sources of information but to raise doubts for those who would want secretly to collaborate with the U.S., including foreign intelligence organizations. It is no secret that because of its superior facilities, Washington quietly has sometimes done “favors” for those allies.

For the White House [it says] to accidentally reveal the name of a station chief is inconceivable; not that in virtually any country there has always been unacknowledged cognizance generally of who he was. [Our old joke was that he could always be identified because he collected “art”, had a wife named “Magda”, and stacked all Praeger’s books in his shelves – and wore U.S. Navy officer shoes.]

Perhaps the most important and incalculable element in the search for an effective foreign policy is political will. When presidential candidate Barrack Obama — whose team showed incredible smarts at manipulating the media so it seems hardly an accident — prominently carried a copy of Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World so it could be photographed, friends and enemies got an unmistakable  signal.

Defensive backpedaling, even in front of an audience as important as West Point’s graduation class, will not be enough to avoid new crises through miscalculations, the kind which have brought on most wars. Nor must a policymaker wallow in what used to be called “mirror imaging” – assuming your opponent’s motivations are yours.

After the longest war in U.S. history, Obama is unilaterally calling an end to violence in Afghanistan – and, in fact, to “the war on terror”. Is he so certain a sprinkling of Al Qaeda splinters of increasing sophistication in a half dozen other countries – including their recruiting some of our native-bred — will do the same?

sws-06-01-14

India – a new beginning?


By Sol Sanders

Hardly.

In a conversation decades ago with an old Asia hand about differences between India and China, my friend claimed her pursuit of knowledge on China was so much easier than anything similar for India. There, she said, everything had 5,000-year-old origins. She could have said, too, that while the Chinese write elaborate histories of their dynasties [usually rewrite is the first order of a new dynasty] there is a timelessness about [Hindu] India: no graves, acres of ruins that can hardly be dated, names repeated endlessly, a vast variety of cultures versus the Chinese attempted homogeneity.

That is not to say that the landslide victory of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party isn’t meaningful. It brings a dramatic change to the infinitely complicated Indian political scene. The BJP governemnt, unlike its predecessors for almost three decades, will have a working majority in parliament without the debilitating compromises necessary for coalition. Modi – a good orator and facile inguist — has arrived as a charismatic figure, something the India psyche seems to not only relish as elsewhere but to exalt to almost godlike proportions.

As the first chief executive born after Partition of the British subcontinental colony and the creation of the new independent India, he is accompanied by an incredibly young population – half its 1.2 billion under 25. His reputation as chief minister in Gujarat state as a driving economic force is what the sagging Indian economy cries out for. He and his party have promised to turn their back on the previous government’s effort at expanding a corrupt social welfare system beyond the point any New Delhi government could sustain. In the campaign process, he may have wrung the deathknell for the Nehru dynasty which has dominated Indian politics since independence and further dramatized it with his own humble origins. Some in Washington will again see the hawkish wing of the BJP as an ally in its efforts to build a tacit alliance against an increasing aggressive Beijing, especially since India’s decades-long territorial disputes with China remain unresolved.

But a word of caution for those who believe India has once and for all turned its back on state capitalism or that its fantastic electoral process [more than a half billion voters for more than 8,000 candidates] insures rapid progress and ethnic peace. Much of Modi’s success, although his personal adulation does not reflect that, is due to his home state of Gujarat. It has always been in the forefront of economic progress since the days of British India when it was the Indian textiles center of the nascent industrialization. Gujarati offspring were willing early on to immigrate to East Africa, North America and elsewhere for economic opportunity – with their cherished remittances sent back home. Its entrepreneurs dominated the Bombay Presidency, India’s then second commercial city all during the days of Raj and the immediate postwar period. Its Muslim elite [the only large Brahmin high caste community converted en masse to Islam] built Karachi’s industrial center after their flight during Partition and it has kept Pakistan afloat. Even though it is as caste-ridden as the rest of the country, the great secret of caste mobility [get wealthier, go vegetarian and move up] is nowhere demonstrated more clearly, than its Patel subcaste..

Yet Gujarat has not always been a model that could be transplanted. In the 1960s, I investigated a novel milk supply operation for the nearby huge Bombay metropolis. A creative agronomist – by the way, a Christian from Kerala state in southwest India – had found that if water buffalo were kept pregnant and lactating, they produced larger quantities of milk with larger amounts of butter fat at cheaper cost than milchcows. He set up a collecting system, even invented a new cheese [which could not be sold and had to be converted to something resembling American process cheese which had an Indian market]. But U.S. Aid after spending time and money on trying to transplant the Gujarat experiment to other parts of India failed in the face of Hindu literal and figurative cow worship. Tradition and inertia die hard in the Indian environment.

Modi needs to strike lightning blows – always an unlikely phenomenon in India where everything moves slowly – at the South Bloc bureaucracy, a deadly accumulation of traditional Indian hierarchy and British colonialism. Probably more than any other single factor, the hangover from what the first Indian governor-general Rajaji called “the permit-license raj” restrains the economy. It is haunted by the East India Syndrome, the fear foreign investment with its advanced technology will sabotage sovereignty. But worst of all, for three decades former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s plunge for Soviet-style centralized, top-down planning added another accretion to the pattern of repression of one of the most accomplished entrepreneurial peoples in the world. It was so deadly the world began to accept “a Hindu rate of growth”, stagnation, only challenged with the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1990. [It’s often forgotten that outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has reigned for a decade with the Nehru clan pulling the strings was a compliant planning bureaucrat for much of his career.] Despite a partial liberalization of the economy, in no small part because of the Soviet collapse, India has lapsed back into lower rates of growth as resistance to painful liberalization policies reasserted itself through the babus [clerks]in the bureaucracy. That deadweight would only be uprooted quickly with a ruthlessness which Indian politics has never seen and is probably not likely to.

On the foreign policy front, Modi is encumbered in two ways: his Hindu revivalist background and, at a minimum, his lack of leadership during the Gujarat pogroms of 2002 when more than 2,000 Muslims were killed. It will make him suspect not only among his own huge Muslim [probably more than 150 million or bigger than the population of Pakistan] and other minorities. But it promises more difficulties in the ceaseless feud with Pakistan that has cost three and half wars. On the basis of this and accusations [by the U.S. State Dept.] that “Modi revised high school textbooks to describe Hitler’s ‘charismatic personality’ and the ‘achievements of Nazism’, Washington denied Modi entry to the U.S. until his election as prime minister became a probability. It will take some hard swallowing on both sides to overcome that past, as well.

Perhaps more important in a rapidly changing East European international environment, the continued adherence to a New Delhi-Moscow alliance – even after the implosion of the Soviet Union – dominates the Indian Foreign Ministry. Just as in Soviet times, India has rationalized Moscow’s aggression on Crimea and Ukraine – even at the risk of seeing it as a model for Chinese policies in the Himalayan states. Russia remains India’s principal supplier in one of the biggest rearmament programs in history. Political prejudice went out of its way to avoid put ting American fighter aircraft on Delhi’s short list last year for one of the largest proposed purchases in history. The possibility of more than tactical cooperation between the U.S. and India in defense of freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean [which New Delhi regards as its mare nostrum] and South China Sea appears dim.

India, as much or more than other societies, defies the kind of “logical” analysis which the more acquainted often apply. Over a half century ago, one of my favorite arguments in discussions with Indians and others interested in the country was the quip that New Delhi’s economic policies would have to change. “Two people cannot stand on the same piece of ground”, I would say, talking about the vast reaches of 600,000 largely unmonitored villages without the simplest creature comforts. Now India with a cell phone for almost every one of its 1.2 billion people and more than half of Indian households with TV would seemingly have a different character. And, of course, the population has almost tripled. Despite a relatively low birthrate of only 1.2%, India will soon surpass China as the world’s largest. Estimates are that it will reach a staggering 1,684.197 in 2050 before growth will begin to taper off.

Modi is up against a problem, as I use to miscalculate it, which defies …gravity.

sws-05-17-14

The Asia scrum


Rather suddenly there is a welter of developments turning Asia’s dozen-odd countries into a cat’s cradle of conflicting interests – some new — that could lead to war.

Central, of course, is “a rising” China. The Chinese, themselves, have given up the phrase “a peaceful rising”. That was a promise that the new boy on the block would not repeat a united Germany’s late arrival as a strong player in Europe, setting off two world wars. Now almost daily aggressive rhetoric in official Chinese media is matched by extravagant territorial claims against its neighbors in northeast and southeast Asia coupled with a rapid naval buildup. Infringement of the cease fire lines in the Himalayas accompanies temporary military thrusts against Indian forces.

China’s only ally in the region, North Korea – dependent on Beijing aid for its very existence – has turned even more enigmatic. A highly publicized – unusual in such frequent eruptions – purging of its No. 2 leader is inexplicable even to the experts. Its tightly controlled media showed Jang Song Thaek being yanked off to prison. Then the uncle by marriage to the 31-year-old Kim Job-Un, third member of the Kim dynasty, was summarily executed.

One side effect has been both official media in China and North Korea accusing each other of perfidy; Jang was close to Chinese official and business interests. Yet there is no sign that they are not still wedded in their opposition to Japan and the U.S. These events have written a death notice for Washington’s continuing hope that Beijing could and would intervene to halt North Korea’s expanding weapons of mass destruction program. And the Obama Administration, like its predecessors has no answer to the conundrum of the continuing Pyongyang blackmail for additional aid as an incentive to halt its weapons program.

On the other side of the East [or Japan] Sea, most of which Beijing now claims as a restricted area, Japan’s extremely popular Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has defiantly defended Tokyo’s longstanding claim to sovereignty of disputed rocks between its Islands and the Mainland. His attempt to restore Japan’s economy, dawdling for a decade, has been accompanied by a campaign to regain a sense of national purpose. His strategy includes breaking through the virtual monopoly of the leftwing mainstream media not excluding the government radio and the Communist Nikyoso teachers union. Visiting Japan’s shrine to its fallen war dead was part and parcel of that cultural offensive. But because of the enshrinement there of World War II war criminals, it was looked on askance [and for propaganda] by Beijing and South Korea.

Obvious self-interest is being flaunted for political advantage: Beijing threatens to impose economic strictures on Tokyo. Seoul has refused needed Japanese ammunition for its UN Peacekeeping Force under attack in South Sudan. In a period of rapidly declining GDP and attempts at reform, Beijing can ill afford to abandon its heavy reliance on Japan for China assembly for third Japanese markets. Furthermore, Beijing has always looked to Tokyo not only for investment but for technological and management know-how, reflected in Japan being China’s No. 1 supplier in their $334 billion trade [2012]. Seoul’s collaboration with Japan, including such recent joint naval exercises, is essential for any effective counter to China’s power sponsored by the U.S. in Asia.

Abe, anticipating that Beijing despite all the talk of reform will not be able to boost its domestic consumption, long the holy grail of Japanese and Western business, is encouraging Japanese business to look elsewhere. Already Japanese direct investment into China plunged by nearly 37% in the first nine months of 2013, to only $6.5 billion, in part because of the outlook for Chinese markets. Alternatively Japanese investment in Southeast Asia’s four major economies ­— Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines —­ surged by over 120% to almost $7.9 billion.

Tokyo is moving quickly to exploit the new opening in Burma through its traditional special relationship there, Not least it cultivates opposition leader Suu Kyi, whose father, one of the martyred leaders of the independence struggle, was a Japanese protégé. Tokyo has written off more than $5 billion in debt for the reforming generals, and offered new infrastructure loans. Completing the circle, Tokyo has just announced $3 billion for Burma’s long-suffering minorities in off and revolt against the central government since independence.

Japan’s attempt to move away from China toward South Asia has its geopolitical aspects as well: a recent joint naval exercise with Indian forces off that country’s coast, a first, backs up its attempt to encourage an export led investment in the other Asian giant. It is part of a growing Japanese military, integration with its U.S. ally, and projection of its power and prestige overseas.

Radical shifts are taking place elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Thailand’s feud between an urban Sino-Thai Establishment – including avid supporters of the King and Queen – and rural voters is escalating. Rioting with upcoming elections – which the opposition threatens to boycott – have already dampened continued rapid expansion of tourism which accounts for over 7% of Thailand’s economy. And it could threaten foreign investment which has made region’s leading automobile industry a cog in the growing worldwide car assembly network.

Eighty-six-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is ill and apparently unable, especially given his closest followers’ involvement, to make his usual intervention to calm political waters. And the Thai military, which many hoped had been ruled out of a new democratic, booming society, now have hinted they will lapse back into their old coup habit as they did in 2008 if street violence continues. Meanwhile, no one is paying much attention to a growing insurgency in Thailand’s Malay provinces on its southern border. That augurs badly for the region with Malaysia’s own increasingly Islamicist Malays moving toward conflict with its Chinese and Indian minorities, and more radical politicians arising in the more isolated states on Thailand’s border.

Indonesia, largely ignored despite its fourth largest population in the world nearing 250 million – almost a third under 14 — has temporarily staved off a balance of payments crisis. But its meager 3.6% increase in gross national product in 2013 is not what is required for one of the world’s most resource endowed countries with a generally docile and hardworking population. Highly dependent on a few mineral and agricultural specialty exports, Indonesia has been hard hit by the downturn in the world commodity prices. Despite large oil and gas potential, one of the founders of the Organization of Petroleum Export Countries [OPEC] became a net importer in 2009. Corruption, protectionism and fluctuating economic and fiscal policies have discouraged foreign investment and technological transfer. Despite conventional wisdom that Islam in Indonesia is moderate and catholic, incorporating large elements of its pagan and Hindu past, the world’s largest Muslim nation has always had a virulent jihadist movement. Indonesian authorities have been less than prescient in cracking down on it. In a deteriorating economy, it could become a major factor in the worldwide Islamicist terrorist network.

It was into this rapidly moving miasma that Sec. of State Hillary Clinton just two years ago announced the Obama Administration’s “pivot”, a turn from concentration on the Middle East to focus on Asia. But to continue Clinton’s metaphor, a pivot is a “central point, pin, or shaft on which a mechanism turns or oscillates”. It could well be that in the world of diplomacy – and geopolitical strategy — one does not reveal the fulcrum. The U.S. has every reason to hope and even pretend that the growing aggressive rhetoric and behavior of Communist China is not the central issue in Asia for the foreseeable future. But to ignore that threat publicly is not to make it central to the strategy shift which was so loudly proclaimed.

Yet, particularly in its relations with Japan, since 1950 the keystone of American strategy in Asia, the Obama Administration appears not to have a China policy beyond associating itself rhetorically with China’s neighbors resisting Beijing’s encroachment. It may be just as well that U.S.-Japanese military integration under an expanded Mutual Defense Treaty is moving rapidly ahead on autopilot. For despite Tokyo’s continued public espousal of close relations, the coolness between Abe’s Tokyo and Obama’s Washington are an open secret. The strong – by the exotic standards of formal diplomatese – of Washington denunciation of Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine [“disappointing”] — was a shock in Tokyo despite an earlier warning. Washington’s refusal to take a direct hand in smoothing relations between its two most important bilateral allies in Asia, Japan and South Korea, has been …disappointing in Tokyo and elsewhere. That is particularly true since U.S.diplomats [and retired Foreign Service Officers] and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have publicly espoused mediation between Japan and China.

The Washington-sponsored Trans Pacific Partnership, an ambitious attempt to create a vast new common market including 40% of U.S. trade, all North America and some hangers-on, is stagnating, in part because of inattention from the Administration’s leaders. And it is no secret that excluding China from the TPP – even if there were not substantial justification given its unfair trading practices – is presumably a part of the pivot.

But shaking off the Middle East, even with repeated attempts at “leading from behind”, is certainly not conclusive. This weekend’s crisis in Iraq and Washington’s promise to intervene short of boots on the ground shows how hard it will be to disentangle the U.S. from primary concentration on the area. Sec. of State John Kerry’s persistent – if unrealistic – devotion of enormous time and energy toward a breakthrough in Israel-Palestinian relations, too, points in another direction

The U.S. President is scheduled for a swing through Asia in April. It remains to be seen whether the Administration will publicly try to tidy up its “pivot’ with new initiatives.

.Until then the “pivot” is flapping in the growing East winds of change.

sws-05-01-14

 

 

In a world he never intended [to make]


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The Obama Administration’s foreign policy begins to look like that tightly wound ball of crocheting thread which the kitten has been playing with for several hours and is now finally completely unraveling. How innocent the kitty is may be a question in the eye of the beholder. But the disarray is so vast as to be unfathomable:

 

Iran

 

The agreement not to reach agreement on a six-months pact for adjusting U.S. and Western interests with Iran, which Pres. Obama said only had a 50-50 chance, is falling apart even before it officially begins. Sources from inside the never very effective UN International Atomic Energy Commission say the agreement cannot be policed or enforced. The $10 billion in additional oil exports it permts the Mullahs in Iran will help bail them out of crisis economic situation while they continue to hurl threats at the world and call for an end to all sanctions. The Administration after giving Tehran relief by not instituting penalties against new violations of the existing sanctions regime, has now reserved itself. But Pres. Obama opposes bipartisan Senate and House members pushing legislation for new sanctions if and when the short-term agreement collapses. All sides admit/claim that Iran’s search for enriched uranium and nuclear weapons and a delivery system is going forward without hindrance during the truce period.

 

Israel

 

Ignoring the fact Secretary John  Kerry’s negotiations mandate is only dealing with one of the three Palestinian elements – the PLO on the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan – new obstacles have arisen. Kerry has thrown over bitterly and long time negotiated U.S.-Israeli guidelines for its security if a Palestinian state comes into being. So he has inadvertently manufactured a new crisis over Israel’s continued presence in the JordanValley. With growing threats from Iran-armed officially designated terrorists, Hezbollah in the Lebanon north and Hamas in the Gaza south, armed by Iran, no Israeli government is going to accede to any major concessions on their eastern flank with an always fragile Jordan now facing new difficulties with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

 

Syria

 

Washington has had to abandon the dribble of aid to the “moderate” opposition in Syria fighting for an overthrow of the Assad regime because of a takeover of the motley anti-Assad forces by jihadists. A new and even more violent jihad group has supplanted earlier groups linked to Al Qaeda. There are no prospects for the proposed U.S.-Soviet sponsored conference to end the civil war. Not only has the mechanics for disarming Assad’s chemical weapons collapsed, but the bloody dictator – perhaps now in the hands of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard – is currently carrying out a bloody air war against opposition elements in the second city of Aleppo. In part because of Obama’s maybe-in, maybe-out Syrian initiatives, the Assad government has a new lease on life, But this more and more desperate use of air power and heavy weaponry against poorly armed opposition forces and civilians not only continues the humanitarian crisis, but threatens to spread the war to its neighbors, including Israel.

 

Saudis and Gulf States

 

:The U.S. has lost all credibility with its longtime allies, the Saudis, and the Gulf sheikhdoms, because of its failure to formulate an effective Syrian policy and its hostility to the new military-sponsored government in Egypt [below]. Reports of Saudi overtures to both the Soviets and Iran are probably propaganda, but the Saudis – always pragmatic – are now apparently thinking of trying to compromise their differences with the Shia mullahs given the seemingly inevitable approach of a nuclear-capable Tehran. Intelligence cooperation between the Israelis and the Saudis, sharing their mutual hostility to Washington’s flirtation with Tehran, are probably exaggerated. All this is complicated for the vulnerability of the Saudis [and the rest of OPEC] to the shale revolution in the U.S. which is turning North America into major net exporter of fossil fuels and breaking the hold over the longer term of Mideast oil. China’s appetite for increasing imports of energy are also feeding into a deteriorating presence of the U.S. in the region, ironically despite the fact that the President is surrounded by “Arabists” long sympathetic to anti-Israel machinations of the radical Arabs.

 

Egypt

 

Washington’s alliance with Cairo [which along with the Egyptians’ peace treaty with the Israel and the alliance with Jerusalem] has been the cornerstone of U.S. middle east policy for almost four decades. It is now in tatters. The Obama Administration’s refusal to recognize the general popularity of the military coup which overthrew a growing oppression of the Islamicist regime of the Muslim Brotherhood has alienated the Egyptian military. And for the first time since former Pres. Anwar Sadat threw the Soviets out of the Mideast, Cairo is letting the Russian nose back under the tent. Moscow probably cannot fulfill its promised deliveries of arms to Cairo – nor are the Saudis and the Gulf sheikhdoms now footing Egypt’s deficits likely to permit it – but it has handed Russian President Vladimir Putin another bit of useful propaganda. The erosion of U.S. relations wit Egypt, by far the most populous Arab state and the longtime center of Sunni culture, is a major disaster for peace and stability in the area.

 

Russia.

 

With his tacit ally, Iran, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin has become the arbiter of the Syrian situation, continuing to support the Assad regime against the jihadist-dominated opposition which Washington now fears to support. By going to the aid of Pres.Viktor Yanukovych with emergency financing and discounted natural gas prices, Putin has forced the Ukrainian regime to curb its growing ties with the European Community. The hostility between the nationalist western Ukraine and the Russian-speaking eastern rust-belt threatens the unity of a very fragile new state. But Putin can, at least for the moment, quietly trumpet it as part of a growing successful plan to reassemble the old “Soviet republics” into a new Moscow sphere of influence and customs union resembling the old Communist state. Despite the refusal of the German, British and American heads of state to attend, Putin has lavished some $70 billion – and still counting – on the February Winter Olympics where he hopes to crown his and Russia’s return to superpower status. Obama’s concessions to Moscow on missile defense – embarrassing Polish and Czech allies – and other attempts at concessions for a modus operandi with Putin’s Moscow have fallen disastrously short. And while Putin’s ambitions are likely to be short-lived, he has the capacity to add additional muddle to U.S, policies in the Mideast, Europe and Asia.

 

China

 

While Beijing’s dependence on exports and massive overexpansion of its capital plant and infrastructure has had to be reigned in, U.S. economic policy still refuses to confront the enormous and increasing trade deficit with China which threatens the U.S. dollar. Luckily, Beijing does not have any place to go with its foreign exchange hoard – Sterling long ago was defrocked as a reserve currency, the Euro is in an attenuated crisis, and the Japanese refuse to permit the yen to become a reserve currency. But the Obama Administration refuses to indict the Chinese for currency manipulation which has gutted much of U.S. manufacturing and permitted the Chinese to have pretensions for their own internationalization of the yuan and to make significant if small overseas investments. Increasingly the U.S. is faced with a dilemma of either permitting semi-government Chinese companies to acquire American assets – with their record of mismanagement and corruption – or inhibit the play of market forces in the U.S. economy. The “pivot” to East Asia so portentously announced by former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton – despite all denials an effort to meet an increasing aggressive “rising” China – is being inhibited by the continuing pull of the Mideast on military resources and a lack of clarity on the U.S. strategy in Asia. In riposte, the Chinese are proceeding with more and more territorial claims against their neighbors in the East and SouthChinaSeas further incurring demands on American military capacity.

 

Japan

 

The Obama Administration has failed to enthusiastically grasp the popularity and strategic clarity of the Abe Administration. In the case of the contested Senkakus Islands, it has taken an internally contradictory stand: it recognizes Japanese longtime occupation, it has repeatedly said the little, uninhabited rocky outcroppings which may or may not sit above fossil fuel deposits, are covered by the U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty. But the masters of ambiguity at Foggy Bottom maintain Washington does not take sides in the dispute and does not recognize Japanese sovereignty. There must be some limit even to diplomatic “modalities”! Having initiated the Trans Pacific Partnership, an initiative to create a vast new common market – excluding China but including Japan – the Obama Administration has been allowed the project to dawdle. With Canada and Mexico having joined in, the issues are enormous for all the partners, especially for traditionally protectionist Japan with Abe staking his political life on their negotiating success. Yet it has not engaged the President in more than an occasional passing reference. And, probably correctly, it is no secret that Abe has maintained a stiff upper lip in the face of relatively little attention from his ally, and, in fact, political embarrassment with a growing suspicion in Tokyo’s elite circles that the President’s coterie is incompetent.

 

Korea

 

Seoul, succumbing to a campaign of seduction by Beijing, has steeped itself in the old arguments of the bitter half century of Japanese Occupation. Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel, on his recent tour, shocked Tokyo and discomfited Seoul when he indicated he would be trying to mediate the growing Tokyo-Beijing tension, but then publicly refused to play conciliator to the two most important bilateral allies in the region, Japan and Korea. The Obama Administration seems to be completely oblivious to the fact that an accomodation between Japan and South Korea is the sine qua non of any multinational alliance in Northeast and Southeast Asia to meet the growing aggressive feints of the Chinese regime.

 

Meanwhile, coordination in a joint effort to anticipate the next unpredictable events in North Korea is less than adequate among the three allies, the U.S., Japan and South Korea. Washington’s continued reliance on Chinese intervention seems to be the weakest reed with the recent purges in Pyongyang, apparently, in part aimed at elements seeking to take Chinese advice and move toward liberalization of the economy. The current South Korean administration, with few illusions about North Vietnam, is nevertheless not in synchronization with Washington. Even military strategy, with its ultimate goal the further reduction in American forces but maintaining the nuclear shield is not being given its due priority. The conundrum remains of a North Korea, with the example of Qadaffi’s Libya before them and its profitable technical collaboration with other rogue states such as Iran, which is most unlikely ultimately to abandon its nuclear weapons. The Allies’ alternative is to seek regime change. But fear of the chaos of a post-Kim North Korea is preventing the formulation of alternative strategies to Pyongyang’s continued blackmail for additional aid to keep a starving if militarily advanced economy from collapsing.

 

India

 

Just as its predecessor Republican administrations, the Obama team has had illusions about the prospects of an alliance with New Delhi. India’s dreams of hegemony in the Indian Ocean, its largely continued reliance on Russian weapons, and the predisposition of its professional foreign service corps for a close relationship with Moscow, always defeat any American effort at closer relations. With the Indian economy still hidebound by its inheritance from its socialist and colonial past, there are dwindling prospects of extensive foreign investment and transfer of technology to accomplish the kind of economic superapid progress China has made in the past two decades.

 

The blowup over the arrest and indictment of a member of the Indian New York City consulate-general for alleged maltreatment of an employee seems a legitimate action of the American criminal justice system. But it does seem that the State Dept. with its inordinate pride in its diplomatic traditions might have handled the problem more discreetly. The degree to which the episode has been exaggerated and exploited in New Delhi suggests the underlying faultlines which continue to divide the U.S.-India relationship. The Obama Administration appears to have only deepened them.

 

It was, of course, unavoidable that the immense and complicated structure created since 1948 with the central theme its effort to fend off Communist aggression, would have had to be modified and reorganized after the post-1990 implosion of the Soviet Union. But afterfive years of the Obama Administration, it is caught in the toils of its leftwing participants’ fight against the largely post-World War II U.S. foreign policy. It has only contributed to further confusion. It remains to be seen if in three years, another administration in Washington, whether Republican or Democratic can rescue the still necessary role of American leadership in the world.

 

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Around the world in 48 days*


* For more substantive reporting on the trip, read the datelined pieces displayed on https://yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com

It was intended as my last hurrah!

For after all, at 86, my friends and my life companion, initially, thought it was not only foolhardy but dangerous. And there was the bionic argument – a pacemaker, unstabilized glaucoma beginning to take my sight, and still adjusting to hearing aids.

Still, the urge to try my hand at my old profession of reporting on the scene and acquiring new prejudices in the process was still too strong to resist. And so, off I went, from Norfolk to Norfolk [and remember we pronounce it naw-fawk down heayah] via Tokyo, Beijing, Taipei, Hong Kong, Delhi, Bombay, Jerusalem, Vienna; Zurich, Washington.

The first problem, of course, was setting up the itinerary. I had only two months before I had to meet a contractual deadline for a piece of writing. So that gave me only six weeks after the necessary pause for the long yearend holidays when Japan, first stop on my round-the-world, would again open up. It immediately became apparent I would have to leave out my old and beloved stamping ground of Southeast Asia – Hanoi [where I spent a year during “the French war”] to Dahha [where I sat in on the creation of what Henry Kissinger said would be the basketcase at Bangladesh’s emergence in 1971]. There were the China and India points I had to cover.

Then I remembered, too, that once passed the breakeven point from North America at Bangkok, a round-the-world ticket was cheaper than a roundtrip. So I would have to include some points beyond Asia which contributed to my research.

The task of putting together nine countries and ten stops with some call center of one of the airlines, maybe in India or the Philippines, was daunting. I called the son of an old friend – alas! long since deceased – who had for a couple of decades been the forward man for an international hotel chain, opening one new hostelry after another. I said I knew travel agents didn’t exist any more, or at least not the old-fashioned ones, so what should I do. He said, to the contrary, and gave me the name of two agencies in New York City.

And, thereby, hangs a tale and a hypothesis on the state of analyses today: when in the course of negotiations, I remarked to the agent that it didn’t make any difference whether I was stopping in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem since it was the same airport, she expressed surprise. Working backwards, I understood. Outsourcing of the itinerary, hotels and visas was the new modus operandi for a successful travel agent. No need to have that nasty old data stored in one’s head if, as a travel agent, you could punch a key for an outside data bank and get it.

But what about judgements made on subconscious data burrowed in the brain? Is that what might be happening to our thought processes with the digital revolution?

Since I had no Passepartout to help me on my way, every decision became onerous and difficult. What to take? Little shoes [that fit] and big shoes [for swollen feet], coldweather clothes for north Asia, tropical raiment for India, more formal wear for the critical Swiss, omiyagi [souvenirs] for the Japanese and other Asians, a birthday present for a friend reaching 90 in Austria – and the medicines, for the eyes, for travel’s malaise, for other emergencies. And how to keep it all manageable size for the long stretches of walking in the cavernous new airports in north Asia.

Japan

Norfolk depart, Dulles transfer without a hitch. But then arriving early over Tokyo, my pilot suddenly faced a sudden “snowstorm” – or so Tokyoites viewed three or four inches. We circled for hours, had to set down in Nagoya for fuel, then back over Tokyo to finally arrive on the ground eight hours late. Tokyo’s Narita airport, always a problem with its distance from downtown Tokyo, was closed down: no one could even tell you when the road into Tokyo would be open Normal Japanese discipline collapsed; finally earthquake storage was opened and air mattresses, bottled water, and riceballs, were passed out to the thousands who bundled down to wait for clearance to move out. Finally, next morning – after four hours on the highway – I arrived in the Imperial Hotel in downtown Tokyo, 18 hours behind schedule, broken appointments for dinner, and exhausted from a night dozing in a very hard chair.

China

A busy schedule in Tokyo for five days and then to Beijing: again setting something of a record by arriving on the worst pollution day in the Chinese capital’s history which meant you couldn’t see across the street. My chief contact, a wheeler-dealer of the new China scene had literally disappeared. Virtually every other spokesman person allocated by the regime to speak to foreigners was off on junkets in the West [about the only reward, I take it, for mouthing the regime’s line to foreigners]. Only the sushi [I checked; imported fish from New Zealand] in the Japanese-run hotel relieved the monotony. An extremely interesting and informative interview at Peking University [yes, they still call it and spell it that way because of its pre-Communist reputation] although a bright, young student –translator of the English-speaking professor and politician had to be squelched to get y questions answered. [I note in passing that female liberation is not helping what was once the highly touted reputation of Chinese women for modesty and quiet diplomacy.] The fantastic forest of new skyscrapers were a testimony to the material progress in the post-Deng Hsiaoping state-capitalist society, but gone is the old charm of Beijing and its moon-doored old tenements.

Taiwan

A lunatic taxi driver took me in tow in Taipei and we swept through the traffic into the city with every expectation that life and limb were in jeopardy. Still he had been given a number and a fixed rate by the starter, a welcome respite from the old days of hard and lengthy bargaining for a just price. The lauded Government Information Agency which I remember from the Taiwan Straits Crisis of 1958 headed by that quintessential Shanghai wheelerdealer Jimmy Wei. [Later he was to play an important role in the movement away from martial law and toward Taiwan democracy, the first in China’s lomg history, under his “capo” Chaing Kai-shek’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, proof again of Jeane Kirpatrick’s thesis that there is hope for authoritarian governments but never for a Communist regime but implosion and the desert it leaves behind.]

But a Ministry of Foreign Affairs minder – after some considerable browbeating on my part of the Washington Taiwan reps – and with the help of old friend Parris Chiang, I had a full schedule of official and unofficial appointments. The news was not good. President Ma Ying-jeou’s effort to pump up Taiwan’s economy with extensive agreements on trade and exchanges with the Mainland is eroding Taiwan’s de facto independence. Pro-Mainland elements have taken over some of the media. A well-publicized intelligence figure tried to persuade me that the new Mainland No. 1 Xi Jinping was charismatic, knowledgeable about Taiwan because of his long Communist Party apprenticeship in Fukien province facing Taiwan, and that he would successfully use “soft power” to propel China’s growing role in world affairs. He argued that Xi might even be more acquainted with the West than the old Maximum Leader Deng Hsiao-ping because of his frequent overseas travel. That seemed unlikely to me; after all, Deng was one of the indentured workers taken from China to France during World War I who fell in with the Communist organizers. It was as foolish his claim that Xi was infatuated with Western movies. [They haven’t trotted that one out since the Soviets used it to prove that Andropov, the old NKV/KGB warhose was “pro-American” because he liked Westerns.] This continued “intellectual” infiltration, tied to such growing economic ties as investment by Mainland government banks, the last stronghold of Kuomintang statist economic policies, is towing Taiwan across the Strait just as its strategic position again assumes new importance for the U.S. and Japan in the face of growing Beijing naval expansion efforts in its huge military buildup.

Hong Kong

The old traditions of the Connaught Hotel, when it was a resting place for my friends coming in from “up-country”, are being maintained in the Mandarin Oriental – even if its vaunted position on Victoria Harbor has been eroded by blocs and blocs of newly filled in building sites between it and the water. The long walk to the Old Star Ferry, much diminished by Hong Kong’s neat underground railway, was almost a walk to the Kowloon side. Despite CNN International’s opening morning vista, the old harbor view is gone.

So are the old rocking chairs at the Peninsular Hotel, although the Rolls Royces used to ferry guests back and forth to the airport, are still lined up outside. The price of a cup of not too good coffee was ferocious when I drifted in after a session with my old friends, the Markbrieters at the offices of their still monumental The Arts of Asia. I guess Hong Kong is still a shoppers’ paradise – I wasn’t buying – but the smog was drifting down from China, and it is clear that – as a Special Administrative Zone official admitted at a public meeting – the old carefully controlled immigration of labor from China has gone awry. Government land sales, the other leg of Hong Kong’s psot World War II prosperity, gained when Mao’s China cut itself off from the world, is still going however. And for the moment at least, it looks like Hong Kong is maintaining its role as an economic powerhouse, substituting financial and other services for the cheap-labor manufacturing flown off to neighboring South China. [It has a convertible currency to the U.S. dollar it is tied to and acts increasingly as a middleman for Mainland nonconvertible yuan, and Singapore;s attempt to supersede it has long since been forgotten.] But the political situation is deteriorating – after two Communist hacks in the executive – and I was not surprised when a taxidriver in my four [repeat] four trips to Kowloon to pick up an Indian visa, told me he yearned for the old British days and could not “understand” why people wanted to do away with London’s colonial rule.

The Indian visa? Thereby hangs a tale: I had forgotten that even for a short stay, New Delhi requires a visa. [Even Beijing now gives a 72-hour sight visa for transients.] In the name of efficiency [it appears New Zealand was the pacemaker, the Indians have outsourced their visa-clearing to a worldwide travel agent. [Thereby must hang another tale given the incredible corruption which has hit the Singh-Gandhi government.] The forms are stultifying, pages and pages, including such questions as the names of other countries you have visited in the last few years and a host of other “security” questions. I called a friend in New Delhi who knows where and how to press buttons, and at 8 o’clock on a Friday night, I got a telephone call at my hotel announcing I could get my visa if I came Monday morning at 9am. In fact it took two more trips – including a stumble and fall in front of a hotel, of course the Shangri-la – where else with such an accident occur! The denouement of this little adventure was that at the last moment I was asked to present a hard copy of my original application file originally on the web. When I protested that would mean another trip back to my hotel in Central, the waspish lady in the said, “You can get a copy downstairs.” I said, “Where?”. “”Downstairs”. “What’s the name of the place” for the ground floor of the building was the usual busy Hong Kong chaos. “Downstairs. You will see it”. Down I went, and after some searching I found a smiling, friendly Chinese man sitting in a six-by-six glass cage with a small sign on his window announcing he could print Indian visa forms. I gave him the number – the second one, by the way – of my visa application, and abracadabra he pulled downmy whole file, printed out the original application, and gave me a receipt for a few HK dollars. I was somewhat flabbergasted. Security? He and I joked: I volunteered that Indian visas were given when the total amount of the paper, weighing what he had printed out in my palm, reached a certain point. He laughingly agreed. I wonder if they found anything interesting in my file in Beijing?

New Delhi

The new [to me] Delhi airport is cavernous and difficult to negotiate if you are carrying a briefcase increasingly full of accumulated papers. The driver who was to have picked me up and I did not make contact and I had one of those typical bumpy, fast and a little frightening rides to the my old standby, The Imperial Hotel. [I had been warned there were better and cheaper places to stay but nostalgia is nostalgia. I still remember the “bearer” so many decades ago when we complained of the mice running in the old dinning room, saying “Sahib: they are cogile {small} and don’t eat much”.] But welcome to India: the shower didn’t have hot water until I remonstrated, the business center was in another building to which I had to lug my netbook and all its cables since there was no IT cable connection in the room, etc., etc. But the old colonial building was as charming as ever and while there must be people waiting for their food since the 19th century when the hotel was opened under the Viceroy’s wife auspices, it was good when it came.

Old friends are gone but the son of one of them set up a program for me and with my own additions, I did get a feel for the current political climate. It is one of those periods of growing Indian somnombulance after a period of relatively high growth rate, with the danger that the economy is drifting back into “the Hindu rate of growth” which dogged it for some some 30 years when the sainted Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, always haunted by his student British socialist days, adopted Soviet-style planning.

And the almost inevitable arrived: at a dinner at my old friend’s widow the last night in town, I gorged on the exotic spicey Indian foods and came away with the oldtimey “Delhi-Belly}, to cripple me for another week. Under instruction, I took a taxi to the new satellite town where a series of the international glass boxes now houses a number of multinational companies, weaning away business from Bombay [Mumbai in the new attribution], so long the commercial capital of the country taking over from the earlier but moribund Calcutta. But I suspecdt they are something of a Potemkin village.

Bombay

Driving in – again a hassle at the much too small airport but at least assigned a taxi with a number and a fixed amount for the fare – it seemed to me that Bombay has become a little too much like Calcutta. My old friends, the remnant of a group who fought for market economics and representative government after their struggle for independence from Britain, confirmed. “We have deteriorated”, a knowledgeable observer said, matter of fatallism and with a touch of remorse.

But the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, now completely restored after the 2008 Bombay Massacre, is as much of a leading world hostelry as ever. I was amused that I was given a “body person”, a member of the staff who was assigned to meet my every want. I was reminded of the “batman” assigned to British army officers during my World War II attachment to the 8th Army in Italy. These were orderlies assigned to typically upper class officers who took care of their bodily comforts, to the extent that was possible, even in combat. My young man was a Maratta, of course, a native of the state into which the Old Bombay Presidency was relegated after the series of language agitations in the mid-1950s which redrew the boundaries of the old British Indian provinces, and eclipsed the domination of the minority Gujarati elite in the old Bombay , alas! probably contributing to the deterioration of governance.

Jerusalem

I have always thought that much of the miracle of the spectacular rise of the new Jewish state had to do with its drawing on people, although all Jews, from cultures all over the world. This visit reconfirmed to me that despite the relatively smaller intake of new immigrants, this was still the case. My taxi driver – I took a trip through a good part of the northern part of the country to visit old friends near Haifa along a new impr4essive toll road which also demonstrated how close Israel inside the old green line is to the so-called Occupied Territories. My driver was an Azeri Jewish immigrant, fluent he said in his own Azeri, of course, but also in associated Turkish and learning Arabic. He was something of a character, telling me in detail his recent breakup with his “Russian” girlfriend. When I purchased a piece of jewelry in my hotel, I learned the chain of shops had been initiated by a German Jewish refugee who had fled Hitler to Brazil where he had begun to trade in jewels, then immigrated to Israel where he founded his store. My salesperson was a lady who called in Russian to a taxidriver to bring an article from another store. Her replacement at the desk was a young and very pretty Turkish Jewish girl who told me she had followed her brother in making “alliyah” [ascending] to Israel only a year earlier, sent by her Turkish Jewish parents who said there was no longer a future for Jews in that country. The manager of the store was Romania-born. I cannot but believe all these people bring their own special gifts to a marvellously varied society, despite its singular dedication to being “Jewish”. Nor would I leave out a lunch site – the hotel is kosher and thus my lunch on the Sabbath was going to be poor so they sent me to “Notre Dame”, a Vatican-owned institute for religious study — which also operated a hotel and a very good dinning room in its building, not that far from the heights overlooking the Old City and The Western Wall [the principal remnant of the former Hebrew Second temple].

Vienna

I am not a particular fan of the Austrians. I spent a part of the summer of 1945, after the European victory, in the southeast of the country, among the marvellous lakes which were the summer holiday site for many Viennese. But then, as on more recent trips, I have rarely met an Austrian of my generation who wasn’t a Nazi, and then a very enthusiastic one. It is no accident, perhaps as the Communists would say, that Hitler, himself were Austrian.

By the quirk of fate and history – and the oncoming Cold War – the Austrians manage to convinvce the world they were victims of the Nazis, and profited in the postwar period in no small way from that.

But seeing an old friend, whose upcoming 90th birthday celebration I would not be able to attend, brought me to Baden, the summer home of the old Hapsburg royalty where she had snug little apartment. It is within commuting distance of Vienna and she gave me the grand tour, wheeling around the Austrian capital in her Cadillac like a spry youngster. We had lovely meal atop a skyscraper where we got a view of the Vienna skyline, actually not that dramatic a scene compared to other world large cities. The food was splendid as it always tends to be there – one of their characteristics, incidentally, the Austrians do not share with the Germans whose cuisine leaves much to be desired in the vast panoply of European food.

Zurich

I am not a fan of the guttural grunts of the German language, which because my East European Jewish immigrant parents spoke Yiddish at home when I was child growing up, I have some understanding. But the growling of Switzerdeutsch is even more unpleasant. That’s the patois spoken in the German-speaking cantons of the Confoederatio Helvetica, that unique little country sitting on iots high mountains in the middle of Europe.

I suppose the first and last subject which hits the foreign visitor is the incredibly high prices the Swiss have managed to move their economy into. They prosper – so much so that the German immigrant population has doubled in the past few years. But even the young women at my small [and by Zurich standards, modestly priced] hotel told me they shopped in neighboring Germany to save money.

The second most striking thing was to see how the Swiss, supposedly so atunned to the world’s economy and any of its problems, were blasé about what I see as the deepening crisis of the Euro economy which surrounds them and on which they hamg like a leach. The business and economics editor of one of the most prestigious papers told me, confidently, that somehow the Europeans would blunder through their current and continuing crisis. I wonder. It disturbs me to see that Spain now looks far too much like the country that [eventually] moved the world into World War II, with its current one-third of its workforce out of work and no hope of an early recovery.

Dulles

It would be the height of understatement to say that by my final touchdown in this seven-weeks trip at the Dulles Hilton, I was dragging. But after a fitful night’s sleep [which time zone was I in anyway?]. I did manage to get into Washington for a morning meeting and a luncheon with an old friend at Dupont Circle.

It could only happen to me: when the lunch was over, I hailed a passing cab for the trip back to my hotel and to take the afternoon plane for Norfolk, the last air leg of my journey. I asked the driver, obviously a recent arrival but one who spoke English without an accent [Indian?], if he knew where the Dulles Hilton was, and when he said yes, we sped away. Sped? Some three hours later, we were still lost and I missed my 5:30pm flight to Norfolk, keeping a friend waiting there for six or seven hours until I managed to get on a late evening flight later, running late of course. Thus a long and extremely demanding trip ended in a minor muckup. But, given all the problems that can befall a traveller in 2013, I suppose I came away lucky.

It took a month of doing little more than eating and sleeping to recuperate.

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Around the world in 48 days*

* For mor e substantive reporting on the trip, read the datelined pieces displayed on https://yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com

It was intended as my last hurrah!

For after all, at 86, my friends and my life companion, initially, thought it was not only foolhardy but dangerous. And there was the bionic argument – a pacemaker, unstabilized glaucoma beginning to take my sight, and still adjusting hearing aids.

Still, the urge to try my hand at my old profession of reporting on the scene and acquiring new prejudices in the process was still too strong to resist. And so, off I went, from Norfolk to Norfolk [and remember we pronounce it naw-fawk down heayah] via Tokyo, Beijing, Taipei, Hong Kong, Delhi, Bombay, Jerusalem, Vienna; Zurich, Washington.

The first problem, of course, was setting up the itinerary. I had only two months before I had to meet a contractual deadline for a piece of writing. So that gave me only six weeks after the necessary pause for the long yearend holidays when Japan, first stop on my round-the-world, would again open up. It immediately became apparent I would have to leave out my old and beloved stamping ground of Southeast Asia – Hanoi [where I spent a year during “the French war”] to Dakha [where I sat in on the creation of what Henry Kissinger said would be the basketcase at Bangladesh’s emergence in 1971. There were the China and India points I had to cover.

Then I remembered, too, that once passed the breakeven point from North America at Bangkok, a round-the-world ticket was cheaper than a roundtrip. So I would have to include some points beyond Asia which contributed to my research.

The task of putting together nine countries and ten stops with some call center of one of the airlines, maybe in India or the Philippines, was daunting. I called the son of an old friend – alas! long since deceased – who had for a couple of decades been the forward man for an international hotel chain, opening one new hostelry after another. I said I knew travel agents didn’t exist any more, or at least not the old-fashioned ones, so what should I do. He said, to the contrary, and gave me the name of two agencies in New York City.

And, thereby, hangs a tale and a hypothesis on the state of analyses today: when in the course of negotiations, I remarked to the agent that it didn’t make any difference whether I was stopping in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem since it was the same airport, she expressed surprise. Working backwards, I understood Outsourcing of the itinerary, hotels and visas was the new modus operandi for a successful travel agent. No need to have that nasty old data stored in one’s head if, as a travel agent, you could punch a key for an outside data bank and get it.

But what about judgements made on subconscious data burrowed in the brain? Is that what might be happening to our thought processes with the digital revolution?

Since I had no Passepartout to help me on my way, every decision became onerous and difficult. What to take? Little shoes [that fit] and big shoes [for swollen feet], coldweather clothes for north Asia, tropical raiment for India, more formal wear for the critical Swiss, omiyagi [souivenirs] for the Japanese and other Asians, a birthday present for a friend reaching 90 in Austria – and the medicines, for the eyes, for travel’s malaise, for other emergencies. And how to keep it all manageable size for the long stretches in the cavernous new airports in north Asia.

Japan

Norfolk depart, Dulles transfer without a hitch. But then arriving early over Tokyo, my pilot suddenly faced a sudden “snowstorm” – or so Tokyoites viewed three or four inches. We circled for hours, had to set down in Nagoya for fuelm then back over Tokyo to finally arrive on the ground eight hours late. Tokyo’s Narita airport, always a problem with its distance from downtown Tokyo, was closed down: no one could even tell you when the road into Tokyo would open Normal Japanese discipline collapsed; finally earthquake storage was opened and air mattresses, bottled water, and riceballs, were passed out to the thousands who bundled down to wait for clearance to move out. Finally, next morning – after four hours on the highway – I arrived in the Imperial Hotel in downtown Tokyo, 18 hours behind schedule, broken appointments for dinner, and exhausted from a night dozing in a very hard chair.

A busy schedule in Tokyo for five days and then to Beijing: again setting something of a record by arriving on the worst pollution day in the Chinese capital’s history which meant you couldn’t see across the street. My chief contact, a wheeler-dealer of the new China scene had literally disappeared. Virtually every other spokesman person allocated by the regime to speak to foreigners was off on junkets in the West [about the only reward, I take it, for mouthing the regime’s line to foreigners]. Only the sushi [I checked; imported fish from New Zealand] in the Japanese-run hotel relieved the monotony. An extremely interesting and informative interview at Peking University [yes, they still call it that because of its pre-Communist reputation] although a bright, young student –translator of the English-speaking professor and politician had to be squelched to get y questions answered. [I note in passing that female liberation is not helping what was once the highly touted reputation of Chinese women for modesty and quiet diplomacy.] The fantastic forest of new skyscrapers were a testimony to the material progress in the post-Deng Hsiaoping state capitalist society, but gone is the old charm of Beijing and its moon-doored old tenements.

Taiwan

A lunatic taxi driver took me in tow in Taipei and we swept through the traffic into the city with every expectation that life and limb were in jeopardy. Still he had been given a number and a fixed rate by the starter, a welcome respite from the old days of hard and lengthy bargaining for a just price. The lauded Government Information Agency which I remember from the Taiwan Straits Crisis of 1958 headed by that quintessentiasl Shanghai wheelerdealer Jimmy Wei. [Later he was to play an important role in the movement away from Martial Law and toward Taiwan democracy under his “capo” Chaing Kai-shek’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, proof again of Jeane Kirpatrick’s thesis that there is hope for authoritarian governments but never for a Commuinist regime but implosion and the desert it leaves behind.]

But a Ministry of Foreign Affairs minder – after some considerable browbeating on my part of the Washington Taiwan reps – and with the help of old friend Parris Chiang, I had a full schedule of official and unofficial appointments. The news was not good. President Ma Ying-jeou’s effort to pump up Taiwan’s economy with extensive agreements on trade and exchanges with the Mainland is eroding Taiwan’s de facto independence. Pro-Mainland elements have taken over some of the media. A well-publicized intelligence figure tried to persuade me that the new Mainland No. 1 Xi Jinping was charismatic, knowledgeable about Taiwan because of his long Communist Party apprenticeship in Fukien province facing Taiwan, and that he would successfully use “soft power” to propel China’s growing role in world affairs. He argued that Xi might even be more acquainted with the West than the old Maximum Leader Deng Hsiao-ping because of his frequent overseas travel. That seemed unlikely to me; after all, Deng was one of the indentured workers taken from China to France during World War I who fell in with the Communist organizers. It was as foolish his claim that Xi was infatuated with Western movies. [They haven’t trotted that one out since they used it to prove that Andropov, the old NKV/KGB warhose was :”pro-American.]. This continued “intellectual” infiltration, tied to such growing economic ties as investment by Mainland government banks, the last stronghold of Kuomintang statist economic policies, is towing Taiwan across thed Strait just as its strategiv position again assume new importance for the U.S. and Japan in the face of growing Beijing naval expansion efforts in its huge military buildup.

Hong Kong

The old traditions of the Connaught Hotel, when it was a resting place for my friends coming in from “up-country:”, are being maintained in the Mandarin Oriental – even if its vaunted position on Victoria has been eroded by blocs and blocs of newly filled in building sites between it and the water. The long walk to the Old Star Ferry, much diminished by Hong Kong’s neat underground railway, was almost a walk to the Kowloon side. Despite CNN’s opening vista, the old harbour view is gone.

So are the old rocking chairs at the Peninsular Hotel, although the Rolls Rouyces used to ferry guests back and forth to the airport, are still lined up outside. The price of a cup of not too good coffee was ferocious when I drifted in after a session with my old friends, the Markbrieters at the offices of their still monumenta; The Arts of Asia. I guess Hong Kong is still a shoppers’ paradise – I wasn’t buying – but the smog was drifting down from China, and it is clear that – as a Special Administrative Zone official admitted at a public meeting – the old carefully controlled immigration of labor from China has gone awray. Government land sales, the other leg of Hong Kong’s prosperity, gained when Mao’s China cut itself off from the world, is still going however. And for the moment at least, it looks like Hong Kong is maintaining its role as an economic powerhouse, substituting financial and other services. [It has a convertible currency to the U.S. dollar it is tied to and acts increasingly as a middleman for Mainland nonconvertible yuan, and Singapore;s attempt to supersede it has long since been forgotten.] But the political situation is deteriorating – after two Communist hacks in the executive – and I was not surprised when a taxidriver in my four [repeat] four trips to Kowloon to pick up an Indian visa, told me he yearned for the old British days and could not “understand” why people wanted to do away London’s rule.

The Indian visa? Thereby hangs a tale: I had forgotten that even for a short stay, New Delhi requires a visa. [Even Beijing now gives a 72-hour sight visa for transients.] In the name of efficiency [it appears New Zealand was the pacemaker, the Indians have ousourced their visa-clearing to a worldwide travel agent. [Thereby must hagna tale given the incredible corruption which has hit the Singh-Gandhi government.] The forms are stultifying, pages and pages, including such questions as the names of other countries you have visited in the last few years and a host of other “security” questions. I called a friend in New Delhi who knows where and how to press buttons, and at 8 o’clock on a Friday night, I got a telephone call at my hotel announcing I could get my visa if I came Monday morning at 9am. In fact it took two more trips – including a stumble and fall in front of a hotel, of course the Shandrila – whereelse with such an aiccident occur. The denouement of this little adventure was that at the last moment I was asked to present a hard copy of my original application on the web. When I protested that would mean another trip back to my hotel in Central, the waspish lady in the said, “You can get a copy downstairs.” I said, “Where?”. “”Downstairs”. “What’s the name of the place” for the ground floor of the building was the usual busy Hong Kong chaos. “Downstairs. You will see it”. Down I went, and after some searching I found a smiling, friendly Chinese man sitting ina six-by-six glass cage ith a small sign on his window announcing he could print Indian visa forms. I gave him the number – the second one, by the way – of my visa application, and abracadabra he pulled my whole down, printed out the original application, and gave me a receipt for a few HK dollars. I was somewhat flabbergasted. Security? He and I joked: I volunteered that Indian visas were given when the total amount of the paper, weighing what he had printed out in my palm, reached a certain point. He laughingly agreed. I wonder if they found anything interesting in my file in Beijing?

New Delhi

The new [to me] Delhi airport is cavernous and difficult to negotiate if you are carrying abrifcase increasingly full of accumulated papers. The driver who was picked me up and I did not make contact and I had one of those typical bumpy, fast and a little frightening rides to the my old standby, The Imperial Hotel. [I had been warned there were beter and cheaper pl;aces to say but nostalgia is nostalgia. I still remember the “bearer” when we complained of the mice running in the old dinning room, that “Sahib: they are cogele {small} and don’t eat much”.] And the shower didn’t have hot water until I remonstrated, the business center was in another building to which I had to lug my netbook and all its cables since there was no IT cable connection in the room, etc., etc. But the old colonial building was as charming as ever amd all there must be people waiting for their food since the 19th century when the hotel was opened under the Viceroy’s wife auspices, it was good when it came.

Old friends are gone but the son of one of them set up a program for me and with my own additions, I did get a feel for the current political climate. It is one of those periods of Indian somnabulance after a period of relatively high growth rate, with the danger that the economy is falling back into “the Hindu rate of growth” which dogged it for some some 30 years when the sainted Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, always haunted by his student British socialist days, adopted Soviet-style planning.

And the almost inevitable arrived: at a dinner at my old friend’s widow the last night in town, I gorged on the exotic Indian foods and came away with the oldtimey “Delhi-Belly}, to haunt me for another week. Under instruction, I took a taxi to the new satellite town where a series of the international glass boxes now houses a number of multinational companies, weaning away business from Bombay [Mumbai in the new attribution], so long the commercial capital of the country taking over from the earlier but moribund Calcutta.

Bombay

Driving in – again a hassle at the much too small airport but at least assigned a taxi with a number and a fixed amount for the fare – it seemed to me that Bombay has become a little too much little Calcutta. My old friends, the remnant of a group who fought for market economics and representative government after their struggle independence from Britain, confirmed. “We have deteriorated”, a knowledgeable observer said, matter of factlly and with a touch of remorse.

But the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, now completely restored after the 2008 Bombay Massacre, is as much of a leading world hostelry as ever. I was amused that I was given a “body person”, a member of the staff who was assigned to meet my every want. I was reminded of the “batman” assigned to British army officers during my World War II attachment to the 8th Army in Italy. These were orderlies assigned to typically upper class officers who took care of their bodily comforts, to the extent that was possible even in combat. My young man was Maratta, of course, a native of the state into which the Old Bombay Presidency was relegated after the series of language agitations in the mid-1950s which redrew the boundaries of the old British Indian provinces, and eclipsed the domination of the minority Gujerrati elite in the old Bombay Presidency, alas! probably contributing to the deterioration of governance.

Jerusalem

I have always thought that much of the miracle of the spectacular rise of the new Jewish state had to do with its drawing on people, although all Jews, from cultures all over the world. This visit reconfirmed to me that despite the relatively smaller intack of new immigrants, this was still the case. My taxi driver – I took a trip through a good part of the northern part of the country to visit old friends near Haifa along a new impr4essive toll road which also demonstrated how close Israel inside the old green line is to the so-called Occupied Territories. My driver was an Azeri Jewish immigrant, fluent he said in his own Azeri, of course, but also in associated Turkish and learning Arabic. He was something of a character, telling me in detail his recent breakup with his “Russian” girlfriend. When I purchased a piece of jewelry in my hotel, I learned the chain of shops had been initiated by a German Jewish refugee who had fled Hitler to Brazil where he had begun to trade in jewels, then immigrated to Israel where he founded his store. My salesperson was a lady who called in Russian to a taxidriver to bring an article from another store. Her replacementy at the desk was a young and very pretty Turkish Jewish girl who told me she had followed her brother in making “alliyah” [ascending] to Israel only a year earlier, sent by her Turkish parents who said there was no longer a future for Jews in that country. The manager of the store was Romania-born. I cannot but believe all these people bring their own special gifts to a marvellously varied society, despite its singular dedication to being “Jewish”. Nor would I leave out a lunch site – the hotel was kosher and thus my lunch on the Sabbath was going to be poor so they sent me to “Notre Dame”, a Vatican-owned institute for religious study which also operated a hotel and a very good dinning room in its building, not that far from the heights overlooking the Old City and The Western Wall [the principal remnant of the former Hebrew Second temple].

Vienna

I am not a particular fan of the Austrians. I spent a part of the summer of 1945, after the European victory, in the southeast of the country, among the marvellous lakes which were the summer holiday site for many Vienese. But then, as on more recent trips, I have rarely met an Austrian of my generation who wasn’t a Nazi, and then a very enthusiastic one. It is no accident, perhaps as the Communists would say, that Hitler, himself were Austrian.

By the quirk of fate and history – and the oncoming Cold War – the Austrians manage to cinvce the world they were victims of the Nazis, and profited in the postwar period in no small way from that.

But seeing an old friend, whose upcoming 90th birthday celebration I would not be able to attend, brought me to Baden, the summer home of the old Hapsburg royalty where she had snug little apartment. It is within commuting distance of Vienna and she gave me the grand tour, wheeling around the Austrian capital in her Caidllac like a spry youngster. We had lovely meal atop a skyscraper where we got a view of the Vienna skyline, actually not that dramatic a scene compared to other world large cities. The good was splendid as it always tends to be there – one of their characteristics, incidentally, the Austrians do not share with the Germans whose cuisine leaves much to be desired in the vast panoply of European food.

Zurich

I am not a fan of the guttural grunts of the German language, which because my East European Jewish immigrant parents spoke Yiddish at home when I was child, growing up, I have some understanding. But the growling of Switzerdeutsch is even more unpleasant. That’s the patois spoken in the German-speaking cantons of the Confoederatio Helvetica, that unique little country sitting in the middle of Europe.

I suppose the first and last subject which hits the foreign visitor is the incredibly high prices the Swiss have managed to move their economy into. They prosper – so much so that the German immigrant population has doubled in the past few years. But even the young women at my small [and by Zurich standards, modestly priced] hotel told me they shopped in neighboring Germany to save money.
The second most striking thing was to see how the Swiss, supposedly so atunned to the world’s economy and any of its problems, were blasé about what I see as the deepening crisis of the Euro economy which surrounds them and on which they prosper. The business and economics editor of one of the most prestigious papers told me, confidently, that somehow the Europeans would blunder through their current and continuing crisis. I wonder. It disturbs me to see that Spain now looks far too much like the country that [eventually] moved the world into World War II, with its current one-third of its workforce out of work and no hope of an early recovery.
Dulles
It would be the height of understatement to say that by my final touchdown in this seven-weeks trip at the Dulles Hilton, I was dragging. But after a fitful night’s sleep [which time zone was I in anyway?], I did manage to get into Washington for a morning meeting and a luncheon with an old friend at Dupont Circle.

It could only happen to me: when the lunch was over, I hailed a passing cab for the trip back to my hotel and to take the afternoon plane for Norfolk, the last air leg of my journey. I asked the driver, obviously a recent arrival but one who spoke English without an accent [Indian?], if he knew where the Dulles Hilton was, and when he said yes, we sped away. Sped? Some three hours later, we were still lost and I missed my 5:30pm flight to Norfolk, keeping a friend waiting there for hours until I managed to get on a late evening flight later. Thus a long and extremely demanding trip ended in a minor muckup. But, given all the problems that can befall a traveller, in 2013, I suppose I came away lucky.

It took a month of doing little more than eating and sleeping to recuperate.

sws-04-28-13

Liquidate The World Bank!


An old adage holds bureaucracies may successfully pursue their original goals for only a generation. After that their efforts go to feathering their bureaucratic nest. Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae are examples: outrageous executive compensation and payoffs to Congressional friends, all contributing to a housing bust, now requiring more billions in taxpayers’ bailout.

Another example might well be The World Bank [IBRD]. One of two post-World War II institutions for restructuring the world economy, John Maynard Milord Keynes, author of the Bretton Woods Accords setting them up, said the clerks had got it wrong: the Bank for Reconstruction and Finance should have been called fund and the International Monetary Fund [IMF] should have been called bank.

Created to rebuild Western Europe, the Bank soon was eclipsed by the Marshall Plan and its appendages as West European capital markets recovered. Looking for new fields to conquer, it turned to what then were unambiguously called undeveloped countries, entering its golden age under Eugene Black [1949–1963], a former Wall Street bond salesman. Black’s ah shucks! Hillbilly act masked a wily Washington politician — although a one longtime Bank insider quipped, “Gene Black was a figure of Nat McKitterick’s imagination”, a reference to Black’s anonymous ideas man.

Black stuck to underwriting subsidized specific infrastructure projects, fudging later with parallel lending for soft currencies. His loans record, some $15 [old dollars] billion, theoretically without default, masked disastrous policies such as supporting India’s Soviet-style planning for three decades producing “the Hindu rate of growth” [stagnation] and initiating vast Indonesian [corrupt] lending underpinning the 36-year-long Soeharto dictatorship.

But it was under Robert McNamara’s leadership [1968 – 1981] the Bank went cosmic. [Mckitterick: “Cosmic lovers are people who cannot relate to human beings, so they fall in love with the cosmos.”] McNamara called in McKinsey for the usual bloviated rationale for the client’s preconceived strategy, in this case a vast expansion. He proceeded to ignore charter requirements for specific projects, funded social welfare schemes – and muscled in on the IMF with balance of payments loans. In his search, apparently, for expiation of his perceived Vietnam War sins as U.S. Secretary of Defense, McNamara played down capitalist enterprise. He hid the Bank’s International Finance Corporation [IFC], its “free enterprise window” designed to guarantee foreign capital partnering with locals to encourage private sector growth. His lieutenants even had a hard time getting him to be seen on Wall Street selling the Bank’s highly rated bonds [not a big deal since they were backed, after all, by governments’ sovereign credit].

But, increasingly, through the decades in a new world of enormous multinational corporations, vast liquidity and increasingly sophisticated finance [albeit with algorithms sometimes gone awry], the Bank has become superfluous. Its subsidized lending would be better left to markets discipline. Its vaunted research is too often suspect, outdistanced by more hard-nosed entrepreneurial analysis.

Now a minor crisis has arisen: the Europeans’ prerogative to pick the Fund director while Americans chose the Bank president is questioned by Beijing occasioned by the unanticipated refusal of Robert Zoellick to seek a second term. A bureaucrat meandering the Washington circuit including Fannie Mae, Zoellick replaced his predecessor ousted in a sex scandal and has undistinguished himself by having the shortest fuse since former Sec. of Treasury William Simon left town — and sanctioning the Bank’s massive China funding.

The Bank’s over 10,000 bloated bureaucracy gives off a miasma of institutionalized corruption – extraordinarily high, tax-free salaries, unparalleled “extras” and fabulous retirements. A sign of the times: IFC attempts to partner with corrupt Communist Vietnam government entities. Ironically, Zoellick’s parting shot, a long-winded China study, a collaboration with a Beijing Communist Party/government think tank, calls for massive restructuring as China inevitably stumbles off high growth rates. But chances Beijing’s new team scheduled to take office this fall moving away from state capitalism are virtually nil – unless a daunting charismatic figure somehow surfaces from among the faceless Partycrats.

An incoming Republican Administration, if and when, should fold up the whole caboodle as part of its Washington cleanup. But given the size of the awaiting Washington quagmire, it seems an unlikely priority. That means choosing a new World Bank president – Hillary Clinton is rumored hovering offstage — will become just one more bone of contention between Washington and Beijing.

Transparency alert: Sanders was deputy of the World Bank’s Tokyo mission 1970-72.

sws-03-02-12

Moves speed up on a complicated Asian chessboard


A new era of increasing instability is opening in East Asia.

The death of North Korean leader Kim Il Jong is only adding another, if explosive, element to an already volatile equation:

· China enters a period of substantially slower economic growth, if not a crash, on the eve next autumn of a takeover by a new generation of undistinguished Communist Party leaders.

· Japan wrestles with efforts to remake its domestic politics, but buoyed by its always magnificent – if constipated – bureaucracy, pursues a security buildup despite, ironically, a left-leaning governing party precariously clinging to power.

· South Korea’s miraculous ascendancy to world economic leadership and prosperity is imperiled by its export-led strategy now facing world economic shrinkage, and with the prospect of continued harassment from the North.

· North Korea attempts continuance of its highly leverage Communist monarchy but its balancing act could well succumb to both internal rivalries and Western pressure to halt its profitable foreign arms sales.

· Taiwan goes to another democratic election in January under the evil eye of Beijing that fears recent increasingly binding economic ties may be countered by “nationalists” intent on maintaining de facto independence.

· The Obama Administration has made new commitments, particularly in Southeast Asia, of resistance to aggressive Chinese claims despite rapidly reducing the navy as it backs out of two, long and inconclusive wars.

Beijing’s high growth rate – despite its majority largely left out of the Coastal Cities boom – is dropping precipitously, because of inherent weaknesses built into its state capitalism and the world economic downturn. Having abandoned Maoism two decades ago, conventional wisdom held such rapid growth essential to sustain one-party, elitist rule. While there is no organized national opposition, there are increasing signs local Communist cadre have lost control. Massive infrastructure overexpansion, declining export prospects and untenable internal debt levels could produce a breakdown.

Furthermore, Pyongyang provides new concern for Bejiing’s conflicted view of North Korea. China’s aid supports Pyongyang at the same time North Korea rejects “the China model”, the Kim leadership believing – after a failed trial — it could not maintain control were widespread private initiative permitted. Contrary to conventional wisdom, refugee flows from an implosion resulting from the burden of one of the world’s largest militaries and developing weapons of mass destruction would not be the principal threat. What Beijing fears most would be Korean reunification, which led the young Communist China to risk intervention in the stalemated Korean War for control of the peninsular.

Again, conventional comparisons of Korean reunification to Germany are inappropriate. Assuming China could not prevent an internal crackup which might come suddenly – as it did to once seemingly impregnable East Germany and model Communist dictatorship Romania – South Korea could absorb a North Korean colony, and, in fact, longer term turn it to economic advantage. To the consternation of Japan and the U.S., too, as well as China, the world might suddenly face a strong, new nuclear armed power.

As it has for a century, much will depend on China’s relationship with Japan, always uppermost in Beijing’s calculations. Beijing has rejected Tokyo’s proposal for defusing the Japan [East] Sea flashpoint by joint development of gas. Meanwhile, despite the leftwing careers of many now serving cabinet members and its declining population, Tokyo continues to move to quality manufacturing, heightened industrial R&D, and consolidating defenses with purchase of F35s from the U.S. [As always, Tokyo sees joint manufacturing arrangements enhancing Japan’s technology.] The current U.S. defense appropriation dropped funds for moving American forces from Okinawa to Guam; probably not in the strategic interests of either country given the Island’s unique geographic centrality. The Japanese are pushing a trilateral strategic relationship with India and the U.S. – which may again include Australia now that Canberra is lifting its export ban on uranium to New Delhi – in a not very subtle effort to counter China’s Indian Ocean expansion, a continuing Tibet buildup and encroachment on northern India and Pakistan, and central Asian initiatives including Afghanistan. Moves to end Japan’s postwar ban on arms exports could be strategically significant, negotiated, possibly, as part of the Obama Administration’s Trans Pacific Partnership still running up against protectionist Japanese agricultural interests.

Whatever else, pieces are moving rapidly on the Asian chessboard. But as always, unanticipated events are likely to dictate eventual outcome of the best laid plans of mice and allies.

sws-12-23-11

India: a perfect storm


Pollyannas had looked to“the emerging economies” – China, India, Brazil, etc. — for growth to help ward off worldwide economic recession, as the Western economies and Japan stumbled.

It’s clear that isn’t going to happen. China is trimming its sails to dampen inflation, braking unlimited infrastructure expansion at any cost to produce jobs while trying to meet increasing constraints on its subsidized exports. Brazil, with a new administration enmeshed in traditional corruption, faces a commodities export crash while fighting off devastating import competition for its domestic manufacturing from its major customer, China.

But largely ignored — what with the dramatic Euro crisis and a threat of double-dip American recession –   is the more important emerging economy, India, now slipping back into its traditional morass. At stake was the hope 1.5 billion people, almost a quarter of the human race, could move with democratic values into a modern society. That possibility was long seen as counter to “the Chinese model” which economically successful, possibly temporarily, is essentially oldstyle Oriental despotism.

Heading the list of New Delhi’s woes is a leadership deficit. Italy-born, 64-year-old Mme. Sonia Gandhi, widow of a former prime minister and backseat driver to the ruling Congress Party, has been secreted away to New York for cancer surgery [if by a noted Indian émigré physician]. She leaves behind a power vacuum, not only in her ruling Party but in government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a technocrat, increasingly is drowning in massive corruption, growing inflation and a flight of capital escaping crippling bureaucracy.

Rahul Gandhi, Mme. Sonia’s 41-year-old son, has yet to prove he has the charisma of three generations of independence leader Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s family who imperiously have dominated politics – if, arguably, preserving national unity. Caught in India’s worship of priestly figures, a traditional hunger strike by an anti-corruption hero, Anna Hazare, was mishandled. [Mr. Singh has had to backtrack from Mr. Hazare’s arrest.] The government, correctly, is terrified Mr. Hazare’s high-minded tactics could be appropriated by mushrooming anti-government, anti-business campaigns, further paralyzing governance and the economy.

India’s international role, too, is in jeopardy. Naïve Washington hopes for a U.S.-India alliance against Beijing’s growing aggressiveness have been dashed. American forgive and forget efforts have dawdled in extending nuclear and other advanced technologies after New Delhi defied the world to build atomic weapons — matched by Pakistan with Chinese and North Korean assistance. American vendors recently were shockingly left off the short list for a $10 billion fighter plane bid. There’s suspicion stricter American anti-bribery laws than notorious European “incentives” played a role. A 25-year-old case against Mme. Sonia’s deceased husband, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, for a Swedish purchase was recently shelved, more or less indecisively.

Meanwhile, decades of addiction to a Moscow alliance continues among India’s diplomats, illogical as it might be what with growing Russian arms delivery failures and Moscow’s massive military sales to China. Furthermore, India’s proposed huge overseas defense purchases may not meet its security requirements. Mr. Singh has called India’s greatest threat “Maoist” insurgencies in a dozen Indian states. New Delhi and state governments have passed responsibility for their suppression back and forth with little success. These social conflicts grew out of pro-Chinese proclivities of Bengal’s Communists whose 30-year hold on Calcutta, India’s second city, was recently broken, probably only temporarily.

After three and a half wars, negotiations continue fitfully to reach a compromise with Pakistan, the twin regime bloodily carved out of British India over half a century ago. With its own Muslim population as large as Pakistan’s, Indian leaders increasingly appreciate an implosion there would threaten its own breakup. But terrorists with tentacles leading from Pakistani military through the perennial dispute over Indian occupation of Kashmir are torturous, made even more dangerous by occasional clashes of regular forces such as took place in early September. Washington, after fitful attempts, has failed to mediate the feud, caught between aiding a bankrupt Islamabad and attempting to warm post-Soviet Cold War relations with India.

This picture is clouded further by New Delhi’s fishing in troubled ethnic waters in Afghanistan, and Pakistan itself. The Pushtoon terrorist hotbed on the Afghan border is where Pakistani, Indian and Chinese interests conflict. China, meanwhile, continues a campaign of seduction of Pakistan, a massive Tibet buildup, including missiles and probably nuclear weapons, as well as infiltration in the Himalayan border states of Nepal and Bhutan and at both eastern and western ends of the 1500-mile frontier.

sws-09-02-11

Phony Balony


When Indian fake philosophers don’t know what else to do, they usually take off their clothes. Alas! too much competition there in the Congress these days. So  Deepak Chopra has chosen to  froth at the mouth about Sarah Pallin, which again puts the question, What is it about this woman that brings out the worst in these PC fakes?

A vicious circle tightens



The globalized economy’s undertow is ripping all around the world.

Even the economic optimists’ two darlings, China and India, are now troubled. Seen as the world’s growth machine [along with a now overheated Brazil] in a period of advanced economies’ stagnation, their downturn produces a universally grim world outlook.

India, now the world’s largest population, had promise to overtake

China – perhaps more stable with its veteran private sector and representative government. But inflation threatens with food almost half its consumer index rising to more than 9 percent last month. Prime Minister Manmoham Singh, after all a graduate of Soviet-style Indian planning, has his foot on the brake and gas pedal at the same time. Reserve Bank of India rates force lending for preferred firms to 13 percent and notorious paper-shuffling babus [clerks] hobble initiative, sending Indian coal companies, for example, despite some of the world’s largest reserves, chasing projects from Australia to North America. A spate of influence peddling scandals, including $16-billion in telecommunications, further clouds the scene.

New Delhi’s geopolitical rival, China, has turned its back on its 25-year strategy to prevent destabilization of one-party dictatorship with maximum growth. With incipient inflation, Communist leadership enters a generational succession next year trimming its investment-led behemoth’s sails. Widespread civil violence – despite enormous expenditures for the most elaborate hi-tech suppression machine in the history of authoritarianism – jeopardizes any new tactics. In fact, all the Chinese boom’s contradictory chickens simultaneously are coming home to roost: vast overexpansion of infrastructure feeding the boom [along with subsidized exports] has produced marvels for photographers but a real estate bubble including, literally, empty new cities. There’s growing resentment over second class citizenship and lack of services among more than 200 million migrant labor from rural areas stampeded to coastal cities employment. Declining foreign markets, roaring imported commodity prices [ironically brought on in part by speculation on “unlimited” Chinese demand], wage pressure, competition from export-led cheap-wage producers, monumental corruption, all now threaten “the Chinese model”. Consumption continues to decline as a percentage of domestic product mocking talk of redirecting a growth strategy. A combination of nonconvertibility and hot money chasing an undervalued yuan demonstrates how empty talk of it as an international reserve currency is. Beijing’s capacity for foot in mouth disease is epitomized in its increasing hoard of dollars and Treasury debt [again on the upswing] while officials continuously publicly denigrate the dollar.

So much for “the emerging markets”.

Turning to the developed world, there, too, crises are escalating.

A bureaucratic hassle over the Euro with divergent views in Berlin, Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt is turning into a dragged out effort to save the 17 European Union members’ common currency. Meanwhile other integration efforts — a free labor market and common defense and foreign policy — are faltering. A Greek default could produce a European banking crisis [even contagion for North America]. In other words, a fiscal and monetary crisis is turning into a major political upheaval threatening accepted European patterns. Half-baked intervention in Libya, dragging in NATO and the U.S., was announced in idealistic terms by Europe’s leaders. But it encapsulates European concerns – unlike the increasingly hot American debate over Obama Administration’s opting for “a war of choice”. For Europe “Libya” is linked directly to falling birthrates and need for imported labor and unemployed North African, Middle Eastern and Black African youth almost literally swimming the Mediterranean at a time Muslim immigrant assimilation is increasingly questioned.

Europe faces, too, the fact the world’s window to the U.S. consumer maw which supplied the post-World War II economy not only with unlimited markets but revolutionary technology has a “closed for repairs” sign with no reopening time indicated. Whatever happens after decades of drunken sailor’s spending, there will be no substantial U.S. economic strategy in place until after November 2012. Current Washington debate, if it can be dignified with that title, over raising the debt limit and reducing government spending, is simply a foretaste of the pain necessary to get the U.S. economy – perhaps now sliding into a double-dip recession — back to its historic miraculous production of jobs and expanding markets.

It’s going to be a long hot summer and a grim fall — despite the American sideshow of political shenanigans with the curtain only temporarily coming down on the first [Weiner] scene.