Category Archives: Korea

The Japanese Korean dance couple


 

There are two old clichéd maxims that describe the relationship between Korea and Japan:

Familiarity breeds contempt.

Family squabbles are the worst; they are best to be avoided, preferably like the plague.

Perhaps no two strong societies have had as much contact over the centuries than Japan and Korea. Although the Japanese are loathe to admit it, they borrowed much from ancient Korea. A friend jokes that Japanese archaeologists have been forbidden to open ancient tombs because there might be a smell of kimchee, the odiferous Korean pickled spice cabbage. And in fact there is some evidence of the Korean origins, or ancient associations of the Japanese imperial family.

Japan has a million Zainichi , Japanese of Korean ethnic descent, some native-born, others Korea-born, some naturalized citizens, others registered foreign nationals. Prejudice and discrimination against these Japanese-Koreans is widespread, a subject of constant friction.

Adding to friction, of course, is the half century of a bitter Japanese Occupation of Korea ending with Tokyo’s collapse after World War II. Tokyo’s efforts to “Japanize” the Koreans – with Japanese names, economic integration, etc. – produced embittered resistance, often armed, as a substantial collaboration by part of the Korean population..

This heritage has stood in the way of an American attempt to smooth relations between the two nations as the nub of an Asian anti-Communist alliance, perhaps rssembling NATO. The barrier was high during the Cold War even though both countries had bilateral alliances with the U.S., an open and celebrated military collaboration in South Korea and an increasingly close if one-sided defense arrangement with Japan.

It is one of the anomalies of the current scene that Korean Pres. Park Geun-hye has played “hard to get” in persistent American efforts to effect a Seoul-Tokyo alliance. Park’s father, Park Chung Hee, was an officer in Japan’s Manchurian based Japanese Kwantung army when the war ended in 1945. He went on to climb the ranks of the U.S,-sponsored South Korean army, directing an authoritarian regime which has been given credit for South Korea’s remarkable economic success. A “settlement” in 1965 between Park and Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, the current Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe’s grandfather, introduced growing Japanese economic collaboration which was fundamental to Park’s successful economic program.

But frictions continually have arisen between Tokyo and Seoul, in no small part because of this Prime Minister Park’s effort to triangulate Korean relations between Tokyo, the U.S. and a growing warm relationship with Beijing, despite its close alliance with intransigent North Korea. Ms. Park has used the very popular if controversial issue of Korean women pressed into service as prostitutes for the wartime Japanese military. Until recently, the Japanese have insisted such recruitment was not a Japanese Imperial government or army affair by done by private contractors.

It is this background which made the agreement between the two governments announced last week so important, “finally and irreversibly” resolving Tokyo’s use of tens of thousands of Korean women as “wartime sex slaves”. Ms. Park had made the issue primary. Japan poneied up 1bn yen [$8,306,393.356] to be divided among the 46 former “comfort women” still alive. now in their late 80s and early 90s. The Japanese government also conceded that its military authorities played a role in “the sexual enslavement” although Abe did not make another formal apology which Tokyo has already done in the past.

It now remains to be seen whether, indeed, as both sides intoned, this agreement will usher in a new period of more effective collaboration – especially as part of former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’s “pivot to Asia” by U.S. policymakers to meet a growing Chinese aggressive expansion in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

sws-12-29-15

 

 

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Abe strikes the right note


There had been enormous speculation in Japan and those interested in the Land of the Rising Sun about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s formal speech on the 70th anniversary of the end of The Great Pacific War [as it was known in East and Southeast Asia].
Would he, as two predecessors on the 50th and 60th anniversaries, express a formal apology for Japan’s aggression? That was the demand, particularly of the South Koreans whose relationship with their former colonizer remains fraught despite vast cultural and economic ties critical to their own remarkable post-Korean War recovery.
One of Abe’s difficulties in making any statement, of course, is that he was speaking to two different audiences, the outside world and particularly those countries who had suffered Japanese depredations and his internal audience where he trying to reverse pacifist policies in the face of threatened Chinese and North Korean aggression. He succeeded, up to a point, although as important a touchstone as the speech was, Abe faces enormous difficulties in regard to both domestic and foreign policies.
Abe did not make a formal Japanese-style abasement. However, it was a carefully honed historical analysis in which he examined virtually all the parts of the complex relationship Tokyo had with the world before World War II and in the postwar period. He did acknowledge Japan’s culpability and puts the remorse and apologetics of the contemporary Japanese in an historical context:
Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war. In order to manifest such feelings through concrete actions, we have engraved in our hearts the histories of suffering of the people in Asia as our neighbours: those in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, and Taiwan, the Republic of Korea and China, among others; and we have consistently devoted ourselves to the peace and prosperity of the region since the end of the war.

Such position articulated by the previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future.
What may surprise those few Americans and other Westerners who study the speech is the extended references to colonialism, including Japanese attempts to bring parts of Asia under its rule. Not only is that a relevant issue in terms of the historical record, but many in the West including the U.S., rightly appalled by the barbarism of much of the Japanese military, do not see it as an integral part of the regional geopolitical background.
It comes as a surprise to those who do not know the area that, for the most part, Asian nationalists during the European colonial period looked to Japan – and continue even now — not only as a model but as a liberator. Japan had been, of course, the only non-European state to move quickly into the ranks of an industrial society. And among the tenets of the radicals who overtook Japan in the mid-1930s, there was a genuine feeling that they had a role to play in liberating the rest of Asia from European colonialism. Abe introduces that theme, if obliquely, in his remarks and it is certain not to please many who either do not know the history or rationalize it as the introduction of modernism [as even Karl Marx did!]
Repeatedly in his statement, Abe refers to the generosity of the former enemies – particularly the U.S. – in facilitating not only the rehabilitation of Japan in the family of nations but its surprising economic post-World War II comeback. That is certainly fitting and a contribution to what is, in its totality, an interesting review of the history of Japan’s relations with the world over the last century, that unfortunately may be ignored by too many people who ought to learn from it.
sws-08-14-15

Washington is drifting into a new crisis over the Taiwan issue.


Washington is drifting into a new crisis over the Taiwan issue.
No headlines have warned Taiwan’s relations with Mainland China are not far from the minds of the Communist leadership in Beijing. But Communist Party Boss Xi Jinping publicly threatened the current ambiguous relationship cannot continue, but refused to meet Taiwan Pres. Ma Ying-cheou. Ma has gone very far to extend economic and cultural ties to the Mainland, much too far for many on the Island. The mood was recently jarred with a highly publicized video of a Mainland military exercise including an unmistakable depiction of an attack on Taiwan’s presidential palace.
The Obama Administration is faced with implementing the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. That piece of legislation prevented Pres. Jimmy Carter from abandoning Taiwan. requiring a continued working arrangement with support for Taiwan’s defenses. House of Representatives legislation in the last Congress extending military sales to Taiwan was one of many pieces of legislation then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed blocked.
It’s been almost 15 years since we have added to Taiwan’s defense – aircraft and submarines, particularly, needed to offer defense from a Mainland attack. And that is much too long given the growing expenditures and growth of Communist Mainland’s military.
There has been a sort of Alphonse and Gaston act holding up the weapons. The Taiwan parliament has been reluctant to vote funds and the U.S. has been inactive authorizing them, especially with the Obama Administration’s general strategy of courting U.S. enemies and opponents.
But events both on the Mainland and in Taiwan are exacerbating what many had hoped was a sleeping dog.
Communist Party Secetary Xi Jinping is bearing down hard, not only against his own Party opponents, but against resistance outlying areas of the People’s Republic. Repression and immigration by Han Chinese has produced an armed resistance among Turkic minorities in westernmost Singkiang. Almost weekly self immolation by dissidents continues after the cutoff by Beijing of negotiations with the Dalai Lama for Tibetan autonomy.
With a half million Taiwanese operating manufacturing on the Mainland, Beijing has used the economic incentive to press for a political settlement. But Taiwan Pres. Ma’s efforts – given the Island’s lacklustre economy in a worldwide slowdown – has produced a backlash.
As a result, Ma’s Nationalist Party has sagged in the polls appears headed for a smashing defeat in the presidential elections in January. His opponents, the Democratic Progressive Party which once called for formal recognition of Taiwan independence, is expected to win handily. Its following has been enhanced by the Sunflower student movement, a strong political force. Its anti-Beijing stance takes its cues from Hong Kong where Beijing’s promised “one country, two systems” is being subversted by Beijing’s pressure.
Beijing’s aggressive moves into the South China Sea – building bases a thousand miles beyond its southern shores on coral shoals – has changed strategic considerations. Maintaining the de facto independence of Taiwan – the preference of mostTaiwanese – has now become not only a moral and legal issue for Washington, but a strategic necessity. Communist control of Taiwan ports would breach “the first island chain” and enchance Beijing’s threat to freedom of navigation as the U.S. Navy downsizes. Strategists in America’s keystone ally, Japan, increasingly cognizant of Beijing and North Korean threats, have always considered a neutral Taiwan essential to defense of its home islands.
Boosting Taiwan’s defenses is now more than ever an important part of any American strategy. It’s time the Obama Administration picked up the cudgels on arms to Taiwan regime, despite anticipated protests from Beijing, but in the face of a growing a military threat by the neo-Maoist regime.
sws-07-27-15

The North Korean powderkeg


While the world’s attention is largely focused on the chaotic Mideast events, a timebomb is ticking in northeast Asia. Mysterious but heavily armed North Korea is a largely silent threat.
But central to the dangers Pyongyang poses for its neighbors and the rest of the world is the role of Kim-chung Un, the 32-year-old third generation Communist monarch. Kim has neither the experience nor the training for a totalitarian leader, now armed with intercontinental weapons of mass destruction. He was, after all, the second or third choice of his father, Kim-chung Il. And it is not clear whether his elder brothers eschewed the throne did because they wanted less onerous and dangerous lives. One at least may be in Beijing’s pocket as a possible replacement, if and when.
The notorious secrecy of the regime was revealed again with the announcement that young Kim will not be attending Moscow’s celebration May 9th of the Allied World War II victory. South Korean sources said Kim chose not to participate in “a freak show”. By that was meant Moscow’s isolation for what is the most heartfelt Russian cause, the memory of its 20 million military and civilians who died fighting Hitler. The Soviet Union’s old Western allies are boycotting because of Near-Dictator Valdimir Putin’s continuing aggression in Ukraine.
Moscow announced Kim’s change of heart was “related to [North] Korea’s internal affairs.” But there had never been official North Korean information on the visit, and in its not unusual routine, Pyongyang was mum on cancellation. There had been speculation that Kim – or whoever is running the regime – were hoping the Moscow visit might usher in a new period of closer relations with the Russians. Playing Moscow against Beijing in Stalin and Mao’s day for handouts, in fact, had been the source of headier times in Pyongyang.
But those “internal affairs” could be more spectacular. South Korea sources report 15 senior officials have been executed this year. That followed the disappearance last year of Kim’s uncle and a formidable wife who reportedly had been his chief advisers.
The Moscow trip would have been Kim’s international debut. Although he has been photographed inside his private jet, he is said to dislike flying. It was also considered strange that he would visit Moscow before Beijing, what with North Korea almost totally dependent for food on China for is 25 million people, always on the verge of starvation because of the diversion of resources to its massive arms projects.
More important, Beijing is virtually Pyongyang’s only friend. China tries to shield the North Koreans from the continual criticism and sanctions of the international community — even at the UN with its strange sympathy for rogue regimes. Beijing fears a regime collapse would send a flood of refugees into northwest China where at least two million ethnic Koreans help keep its Manchurian border a running sore with corruption and illegal crossings. Perhaps more important, the general assumption is that a Pyongyang collapse would result in a reunited Korea with strong ties to the U.S. [and Japan]. The Korean War, in part, reached its still inconclusive truce because of China’s entry on just that sort of speculation.
What the world might very well have in Pyongyang is that greatest of nightmares – a fragile and unstable regime with its hand on nuclear destruction.
sws-05-01-15

Iran: Why?


Why is one of the world’s poorest countries [40% living in poverty, halfway down on list of countries in per capita GDP]] building capital-intensive nuclear power facilities?
Iran has the third largest oil and the second largest gas reserves in the world [without recourse to new shale gas potential]. 2006 oil production level was enough for 88 years if no new oil were found. But only in the last weeks a whole new huge reserve was located offshore in the Caspian Sea. Iran’s fossil fuel export potential is so great that were current sanctions ended suddenly, the world price of oil might well drop $10. That’s despite Tehran’s official rationale that nuclear plants for desalinization are necessary to halt diversion of oil and gas exports.
Why do the Tehran mullahs insist on construction of high cost nuclear power facilities when Iran produced 254 billion kWh gross in 2012 from fossil fuels and hydro, with consumption only 200 TWh?
Demand – before the sanctions — was growing at about 4% per year, according to the World Nuclear Association, London. But although Iran trades electricity with Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Turkmenistan and Turkey, it had small net surplus. Tehran plans to boost generating capacity by 2022 would have produced additional substantial exports.
Why did Tehran keep details of its nuclear program secret after signing a safeguards agreement with the UN International Atomic Energy Agency [1958] and other additional weapons of mass destruction limiting treaties since?
Iran’s experimental nuclear program was initiated by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi [1967] under the U.S Atoms for Peace Program. But in November 2003 the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] announced Tehran systematically had violated its internastional agreements over 22 years, concealing nuclear weapons capability. Iran confirmed the IAEA’s accusations but denied their importance.
Why has Iran violated its agreement with Russia for a fuel supply including the return of used fuel?
Adherence to the agreement would have removed any necessity for uranium enrichment which Tehran now admits after dissident Iranian expatriates revealed the details of a secret enrichment plant in 2002. Furthermore, some 20 countries have nuclear power facilities which do not depend on locally sourced enriched nuclear fuel.
Why is Iran enriching nuclear fuel at at least three plants with the IAEA in March 2015 questioning whether another undisclosed facility may also exist?
In about 2000 Iran started building a sophisticated enrichment plant, which it declared to IAEA only after it was identified in 2002 by exiled dissidents. A second and and third plans for uranium conversion are under international safeguards, though IAEA says its monitoring is limited.
Why has the subject of Iran’s role as the world’s No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism been excluded from present negotiations?
Diplomacy to end Iran’s nuclear arms program by the 5+1 [United States, Russia, China, France, United Kingdom and Germany] with Tehran began in the spring of 2003 with continual extensions deadlines. During that period, Tehran has successful extended it aid to the Syrian regime of Basher al-Assad that has killed some 200,000 of its own people, been suspect in the murder of an investigator in the two 992 bombings of Israeli diplomatic and Jewish 1community centers in Buenos Aires, set up a new Latin American infiltration and subversion center in Bolivia, armed and now rearms the Hamas terrorist in Gaza, attempted [but was thwarted by the Israelis killing a prominent Irnian general] to extend its puppet Lebanese Hezbollah to a new anti-Israeli installation on the Golan Heights, expanded a drug smuggling and intelligence network with sympathetic Venezuelan [and Cuban] officials throughout Latin America and in the U.S., among other worldwide subversion activities targeted against the U.S. and its allies.
In November 2014, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said, “In order to avoid a bad deal, the P5+1 must hold strong on achieving an agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program to a reasonable civilian capability, significantly increases the timelines for breakout to nuclear weapons, and introduces enhanced verification that goes beyond the IAEA’s Additional Protocol. A sound deal will also require Iran to verifiably address the IAEA’s concerns about its past and possibly on-going work on nuclear weapons, which means Iran must address those concerns in a concrete manner before a deal is finalized or any relief of economic or financial sanctions occurs.”
The Obama Administration and its supporters have presented a dire dilemma: either accept an increasingly watered-down agreement now being negotiated which would ostensibly limit Tehran’s nuclear weapons program with [what can only be described as a highly suspect] monitoring, or go to military action to end or degrade Iran’s program with the possibility of an ensuing regional conflict in the chaotic Mideast.
This formulation ignores several counterarguments:
1] With the current dramatic drop in world fuel prices – likely to continue even in the notoriously unpredictable oil and regional gas markets because or rising production in Iraq and Libya [and by Iran’s own black-markets operations]. That forecast is despite local violence because of new entries of shale gas in the U.S. and abroad, Saudi Arabia’s current low price regime to retain share in a dwindling market, and increasing fuel economies in a depressed world economy.
2] Continued sanctions or elevated sanctions could well bring about a capitulation of the mullahs or regime change in Tehran. [The Obama Administration not only refused to publicly endorse Iran’s Green Revolution after stolen elections in 2009 but ignored demonstrators’ signs in English calling on Obama’s intervention. Instead the Obama Administration moved for negotiations which strengthened an endangered regime.] .
3] As Washington [in 2006] proved in its successful efforts against North Korea counterfeiting of dollars, threatened or actual sanctions against third parties by the U.S. can be enormously effective. [Chinese banks temporarily withdrew their support from North Korea in the face of American pressure until it ended its most flagrant counterfeiting and distribution of $100 bills.]
. 4] If military action were to be taken even against parts of the Iranian program, it does not have the capacity quickly to restore the weapons program since it does not have the domestic industrial backup which has produced the current level of activity. It has relied on imported machinery and technology. It would produce an extended period of a halt to nuclear [and perhaps missile] development, and would critically impact a regime with growing serious economic difficulties.
So, the ultimate question:
Why has the Obama Administration continually given ground in its negotiations with Tehran, now permitting not only continued enrichment, but in effect, reducing the “breakout” time for conversion of enriched fuel to weapons?
sws-03-21-15

Obama Losing his war on the American Economy


Whether the fourth quarter 5% growth of the U.S.gross development product [GDP] is a fluke, another wave of the troubled sea of the longest recovery in recent American history, it is evidence of the miraculous strength of the U.S. economy.
Some are predicting it means a return to 3% annual growth rates next year, still not what is required to reduce both cyclical and the new digital revolution induced structural unemployment, but back to “normal” trends..
The war the Obama Administration has been waging against business, private initiative, and historical American innovation hasn’t been able to stifle the basic American entrepreneurial spirit. Nowhere is that more apparent, of course, than in energy.
For the energy revolution which has come about as a result of the private sector pursuing new technologies to develop shale gas and oil, of course, are at the center of the miniboom. And, the chutzpah of the Obama Administration’s claiming credit for something it fought as vigorously as its amateur planners could – promoting higher energy costs to encourage their vaunted shift to new fuels — is even by the standards of this Administration, outrageous. It remains to be seen whether a new administration in 2017 might open government including offshore lands and reinforce the U.S.’ position already as the number one oil producer in the world and a potential major gas exporter.
Whether it is recreational drivers enjoying the new, lower gasoline prices, or the petrochemical industry moving back from overseas to use as throughput cost a price for gas a quarter of deliveries in East Asia, the domestic economy is getting a shot in the arm. Not even the threat of an unconstitutional Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency all-out attack on all American electrical production and manufacturing can stymie the trend.
The international impact of this remarkable and relatively sudden development is still playing out.
The world energy price, however much markets are segregated by political concerns, is still in the throes of being threshed out. But lower energy prices, even in the fickle oil market, are obviously with us for several years. That’s the result of the American shale revolution, but also – despite all the feuds and guerrilla in the Mideast – the coming on market of more and more production. Boycotts and sanctions have only increased the black-markets nipping and tucking through all the back alleys of the world economy to market more oil.
It’s hard to know where to begin with what we already see as the immediate results of the world energy goldmine:
Saudi Arabia, hoping to impede the American and foreign shale revolution with its higher costs, is pumping more oil than ever from its low-cost resources. It hopes not only to have an effect on a possible competitor as the U.S. moves to becoming, again, a gas [liquefied natural gas, LNG] and oil exporter, but to deal a blow to its Mideast rivals.
Venezuela’s two-bit caudillos are in trouble with their heavy oil. [They will have new competition as the Keystone XL Pipeline finally overcomes Obama’s opposition to deliver similar Canadian tar sands oil to the Houston where one of the few refineries which can handle Caracas’ goo exists]. Nor can the collapsing Venezuelan regime continue to feed subsidized energy to its leftwing anti-America playmates. It remains to be seen if Obama’s life preserver thrown to a Castro regime, the first victim of such a shutoff, can save that crumbling dictatorship which has brought infinite misery to its people.
Lower world oil prices may be able to restrain an aggressive Tehran. They may do what American sanctions and a less than dedicated Obama negotiation to block the mullahs’ drive for nuclear weapons has not done. Lower oil prices for its relatively high cost production is tearing the guts out of an economy already in trouble on a variety of scores.
The Chinese are also on a downward spiral as their two big economic props – massive infrastructure development and exports – are being undermined, the first by a crippling debt crisis and the second by a dawdling world economy and growing competition from other low wage producers. But new cheaper worldwide energy will help as they are unable to turn to their own shale resources [mismanagement and lack of technology] as they become larger importers.
Japan and South Korea’s stagnating economies, too, will profit from their lower energy import costs, especially Abemomics in Japan which has had to suffer cutbacks in its heavy reliability on nuclear power as a result of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami catastrophe.
There are going to be groans and yelps from the great international oil conglomerates, too, who have Veneuzle=been riding high in the stock markets on high prices and profits. That may discombobulate some of the financial crowd and some of their kept media, but cheaper worldwide energy is bound to move the world economy forward – and in the process cripple some of the worst corrupt regimes. Not a bad way to enter the New Year, all things considered.
sws-12-28-14

Barbarity


It is not the first time leaders of the civilized world have had to cope with a slide into barbarism which not only threatens international peace and stability but the very foundations of modern morality. Nor is it the first time that American leadership has been reluctant to take on the task of halting the destructive force.

The horrendous beliefs and actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, now styling itself as a Caliphate or the Islamic State, is almost  nihilistic as they persecute and kill Muslims — whom they regard as renegade — as well as Christians and Yadizi.

At the same time, we are witnessing another failure of American leadership to seize the issue and pursue it with maximum force. As part of the reluctance of the current American administration to recognize the continuing threat of Islamic extremism, it has historical analogies. It recalls the 1930s-40s’ determined obliviousness to the rise of Hitler and his destruction of European Jewry and the death of millions of Polish and Russian civilians, as well as more recent failures to cope with Kosovo or Rwanda massacres until they reached their zenith.

It is in the nature of ordered societies with democratic traditions to fail to comprehend the abilities and the growth of the enemy. Too often they “project”, as the Freudians would have it, their own beliefs and modus operandi on the competitor or enemy. [Pres. Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry keep up an infernal litany about how Russia’s Vladimir Putin is mistaken in not applying the new norms of international conduct. That’s as though Putin does not know he is challenging what he sees as their restrictions on his behavior.]

In the current scene in Iraq-Syria-Gaza, with the Obama Administration reluctance to be involved, taking halfway measures, using the camouflage of partially effective humanitarian relief, the unfolding events are all too historically typical. Local beheadings, burial alive of victims, recruitment of young psychopaths is all too typical of recent events in the region.

But the threat is of a larger character and as dire as that posed by Fascism and Communism in the 20th century. For this squalid fanaticism is cloaked in the rationalization that it is based or lives in one of the major religious groups, Islam, with its more than 1.3 billion nominal adherents around the world, in a dozen different cultures. This particular evil, Islamic terrorism, despite the President’s professions of victory, is on the rise and spreading throughout the Muslim world at a rapid pace, even acquiring converts in the democratic societies.

The Obama Administration’s obfuscation of events is further obscured by the current intellectual climate in the U.S. with its enormous influence on world culture. It starts with the whole PC concept, the idea of what is “politically correct” – rationalizing group thinking which abhors and rejects criticism of its basic assumptions. [That speaker in opposition are denied their right to platforms in our most prestigious universities is an affront to the whole tradition of Western discourse and civilization.]

They include the notion that violence and counter-violence are no longer part of the human condition even though daily confronted with evidence to the contrary. Or they may include false definitions of what is Islam and the history of that religion and its more aggressive tendencies for the last 1600 years. It’s no wonder that the nomenclature for “politically correct” – if not its essence – arose among the Communists who were prepared to accept the adherence of important names in the arts and other celebrities so long as they called themselves Communists and echoed its political line even if they affronted some of its fundamental beliefs. [Picasso was the archetypical example.]

A corollary in the general PC agenda is the ability – and the irony — of the Islamicists to deflect criticism and action by their appeal to religious tolerance, now accepted in the Western world for several centuries. Radical Islam has the option, according to some twisted Muslim doctrines, to lie and practice deceit if it is in the promotion of Islamic conquest and conversion. The enemies of the whole American system of civil institutions among the jihadists, therefore, are able to exploit the accusation of “Islamaphobia” to prohibit an open and vigorous debate over the fundamentals of Islam and its relation to this generation of radicals and jihadists and other religions and cultures. This is coupled alas! with less than a hearty chorus of denunciation and avoidance of the jihadists by leaders of Muslim institutions of higher learning and its “clergy”. On the other hand, the fanatic jihadist preachers have full rein to all the avenues of publicity and propagation and recruitment including the new social media.

The second failure of logic — and thereby action — comes out of a false concept of deep intellectual thought which places our leadership above the everyday reactions of individuals. A superficial knowledge of history and application of a secular morality permits large sections of the American elite including the Washington bureaucracy to believe it understands the vast complication of issues thus permitting it to rise above them. By “understanding” all sides of the issues, it argues, it is able to take more judicious positions. That results in false “parities”.[The less than competent Ukrainian state is as “guilty” as their Russian-sponsored domestic enemies; because the Israelis spend their resources and effort on defending their population and therefore reduce casualties; they are on the same footing as Hamas “rising up against its restrictions” and suffering heavy casualties, the Moslem Brotherhood’s professions of commitment to democratic values make them the equal of Egypt’s military dictatorship trying to rescue a nation-state from chaos and poverty; Japan’s remilitarization in the face of a North Korea and Chinese Communist threat puts it on a par with Beijing’s outrageous territorial claims, etc., etc.]

This moral and intellectual ambiguity leads to a failing strategy.

It ignores the well known fact that once engaged in battle, the vagaries of warfare make the outcome always dubious, despite obvious seeming disparities of weaponry. Famous battles throughout history have often, if not mostly, been decided by narrow margins of victory, often later disguised by facile historians with a straight-line backward projection to decision-making. [The Greeks did lose against superior Persian numbers and weaponry at Thermopylae but prepared the victory at Plataea.]

Therefore, “a measured response” in Iraq-Syria now is as likely to fail as those calculated responses led to the Korean stalemate and the final political defeat in Vietnam.

But this time the stakes may be greater for the insidious infection of jihadist conflict is universal, growing, and destined to be with the world for a generation at least. Then, of course, since nothing succeeds like success, the future depends on whether the U.S. and its allies throughout the civilized world can give the jihadists a knockout blow somewhere on the many fronts of the conflict – not excluding the ISIL as a primary target.

sws-08-10-14

Testing, testing, testing…


The horror of 298 innocents, oblivious to the warfare 33,000 feet below them, blown out of the sky by criminally negligent fanatics supported by Russian Vladimir Putin, forebodes greater catastrophes.

The incident is a part of a worldwide scene wherein Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s strategy of withdrawal from what he — and a large part of the apolitical war-weary American people – sees as overreaching worldwide projection of U.S. power.

But Obama’s clumsy retreat has led to a continuing welter of probes by opponents – and even allies — of Pax Americana. Whatever the merit of arguments about a declining U.S., its power and influence on the rest of the contemporary world remains enormous. Obama’s withdrawal creates an international and regional power vacuum, setting up the kind of ambiguities that throughout history has led to misperceptions, and, often, major wars.

The classic example, often cited if by simplistic interpretation of a very complex episode, is Dean Acheson’s speech to the National Press Club on January 12, 1950. In what was considered a seminal statement, the secretary of state did not include the KoreanPeninsula in a statement of the all-important United States “defense perimeter”. Its omission was widely interpreted as a signal that Washington would not defend South Korea, a product of the division of the Peninsular at the 38th parallel at the end of a 50-year-Japanese Occupation on Tokyo’s World War II surrender.

With concentration on the postwar Soviet takeover of Eastern and Central Europe, the U.S. had absent-mindedly occupied the Peninsular with only a vague understanding of its potential threat to highly industrialized if decimated Japan. Into that vacuum, the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin, riding the full thrust of the developing Cold War, instigated his puppets, the well disciplined army led by Kim Il Sung, a former Soviet officer, to attack the South with the intention of reunifying the country as another Moscow satellite. The U.S. responded, if lamely in the beginning, but in force, and initially was victorious in threatening a complete reversal of the two superpowers’ goals.

But Mao Tse-tung, frightened by the prospect of a reunited Korea, an American ally on Communist China’s most important northeastern land frontier, hurled tens of thousands of former surrendered Nationalist troops as cannon fodder into the combat. Pres. Harry Truman, engaged on other European and Middle Eastern “fronts”, denied Gen. Douglas Macarthur his “all-out” strategy for a military victory even were it to bring on possible direct and perhaps nuclear conflict with Beijing, and the war ended in stalemate. “The Forgotten War” cost five million lives – including almost 40,000 U.S. soldiers — devastated the Peninsular, and left a festering international problem.

Today, looking around the world, there are too many places where just such complex unsolved geopolitical nodules present the same sort of potential.

In Europe, Obama cancelled anti-missile defense in Poland and Czechoslovakia.aimed at Tehran and Pyongyang’s potential for Intercontinental Ballistic warfare. The annulment as a concession to Moscow of an onerously arranged reinforcement of the Europeans’ spine only fed Putin’s growing fantasy of restoring the Tsarist/Soviet Empire. It also put into question effective American leadership of the always tenuous trans-Atlantic alliance.

Not even Russia’s partial dismemberment of pro-Western Georgia in 2008 brought an American response. Six years later, a “hot mike” revealed an obsequious American president trying to appease the all-but Russian dictator. Putin’s snatch of the disputed Crimea from Ukraine has been followed by a cat-and-mouse game to muscle Ukraine’s 50 millions back into the Russian orbit. Sec. of State John Kerry’s participation in trilateral talks aimed at deciding the future of the unstable Kyiv regime has inched toward just that sort of outcome. Other former Soviet appendages are next if Putin’s bluff – posturing because of his fragile economic and limited conventional forces despite his nuclear and ICBM armory – were accommodated again.

But were Moscow to move, for example, on the Baltic States with their accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, no American administration could remain aloof and conciliatory. That would be the case despite Obama’s habitual drawing of porous “red lines”. Such a thrust would have to be met, probably even moving the pampered and feckless Europeans.

In Asia, despite Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’s “pivot” to Asia, Obama Administration policies have produced similar results. Bending to American business by refusing to name China as a currency manipulator – albeit a policy relic of the Bush Administration – Beijing’s grasp for regional and Pacific power led by a subsidized economic campaign has run amuck. Increasing bellicosity of Chinese military in public statements, matched in private conversations, is wished away with U.S. offers of military exchanges. Dangerous Chinese forays over their home islands air space forces incessant Japanese fighterplane scrambles. Exaggerated claims on East China Sea atolls – with their possible subterranean oil and gas reserves — and even more outrageous South China Sea map aggression establishes a Chinese pattern. All have been met with little more than U.S. diplomaticese and as yet largely unfulfilled promises of security collaboration with the frightened Southeast Asians

Washington’s cool relations with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinto Abe in his efforts to restore “normality” to Japan as the world’s third economy and a potentially powerful military player have deepened suspicions in Tokyo. In riposte, Abe’s effort to diffuse the issue of North Korean kidnapping of Japanese citizens in the 70s and 80s with concessions to Pyongyang’s desperate need for economic aid is fracturing the effort to contain North Korea’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. But Abe may not ignore the one foreign policy issue that has aroused domestic concern now that the American alliance has become acceptable even to Japan’s leftwing cliques and media. But at some point, Tokyo may question the reliability of its American shield and join its neighbors in a nuclear arms race.

A similar pattern has developed in the Mideast where the Obama Administration’s relations with Israel, its only dependable regional ally, are fraught with personal antagonism to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel’s acceptance at face value of Tehran’s threats of annihilation is endemic to Jewish history. That threat is enhanced by Tehran’s network of Shia allies in Damascus, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and even Sunni Hamas on Israel’s southern border. It is leading to a major war of preemption by the Israelis.

In Iraq the Obama Administration’s abandonment of the always difficult negotiations for a status of forces agreement to protect a residual American military on the U.S. withdrawal has led to disaster. Tehran has more influence with a rump Baghdad regime than Washington. With the country literally falling apart, an additional threat of international Sunni fundamentalist terrorists’ redoubt and sanctuary out of Syria’s civil war has arisen in the strategic center of the Arab world.

Abandoning partial sanctions in all but name, the Obama Administration seems dedicated to a continued pause – at best – in Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons with a four-month extension of negotiations and handing Iran some $4.6 billion in frozen assets.. Furthermore, there is a growing suspicion that the Obama Administration would settle for “nuclear threshold”, that is, the ability of Tehran to produce nuclear weapons but a self-imposed restraint to be policed by a UN organization that for 17 years did not know the Persian were in the enriched nuclear business. Removing the threat – despite table-thumping declarations to the contrary – of U.S./Israeli military strikes to destroy its nuclear capacities, creates the kind of climate that could only encourage a fanatical theocratic regime to nibble further toward its goal of regional hegemony.

In its own always neglected Western Hemisphere, the Obama Administration’s flirtation with a Communist regime in Cuba now on the ropes mobilizes its followers for a lifting of the economic embargo. Whether Putin’s just concluded Habana visit really represents an attempt to renew the Soviet-Cuban Cold War alliance [given the Russian economy’s crippled state] remains to be seen.[It could mean at least “swaps” again of Russian for Mexican oil as the Cuban’s recent bankroller in Venezuela collapses.] Moscow has denied leaks from Russian security echelons it intends to restore the massive Lourdes monitoring of American domestic communications, perhaps not even at this stage technically necessary. Meanwhile, a North Korean merchant ship – much like one the Panamanians recently captured carrying arms – skulks around the Caribbean, and, theoretically, could even be carrying short-range missiles.

The assault on the southern border by an avalanche of Central American youths – no small number of whom are late teenagers with gang and drug cartel connections – is met only with humanitarian consideration. Never mind that even Administration surveys show the motivation was not as the kept media contends chaotic conditions in the region but the widespread belief that illegals would be welcomed. Overarching is the Mexican collaboration in facilitating the thousand mile journey over its territory. Turning away from the violence incurred by the fight against and between the drug cartels, Mexican Pres. Enrique Peña Nieto is invited by U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder to join in the federal government’s constitutional challenge of Arizona’s more stringent laws against illegal entrants as amicus juris, friend of the court, an historic precedent.

Any of these probes could, of course, become another dramatic incident further unsettling the world scene. But it is in their totality they suggest the amateurishness of the Obama Administration’s statecraft, its ideological weakness and its incompetence even judged from its own pronouncements and political self interest.

Already in a dangerous and volatile period, these continuing largely unmet tests of American resolve add to world insecurity and could be leading to new general war.

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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

What is not holding the world together


In one of those misbegotten historical analogies, it’s fashionable these days to talk about the parallels between our current scene with the world of 1914. Most historical comparisons are faulty, but often made by people who should know better.

Nothing, in this instance, could be further from the truth.

That we are coming up on the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War is not a good enough excuse for these misapprehensions. Whatever else the 1914 world was, it constituted at its head a collection of somewhat threadbare empires that shared the uneasy job of ruling the world from an industrialized, dominant Europe. They all, despite the deanship of the British Empire “on which the sun never sets”, shared enough equality to be fierce competitors. And therein lay the roots of the catastrophe of The Great War from which European [and therefore world] civilization has never completely recovered.

True, today there are regional conflicts blossoming [or continuing their traditional animosities] all over the globe. And there is the disconcerting arrival of a new boy on the block, China, which like Wilhelmine Germany often seems itching for a fight. And there is the constant possibility of outbreak of new conflicts, even one that might seduce all the major and [many if not most of] the minor powers. War is, after all, one of the traditional adventures of the human race and despite the optimists not likely to disappear.

But there is one cardinal difference between the end of the Belle Époque and the world of 2014: the U.S. for all its failings is still the overwhelmingly the single dominant geopolitical giant. Furthermore, with the defeat of fascism in World War II and communism in The Cold War, Washington won at least token lipservice for the supremacy of democratic political systems and market economics.

Look around the world and one sees, often unremarked because it is so accepted as the norm, the influence of this  and other American “soft power” on every other country. It is, for example, the now requirement for a written constitution however lacking in the genius of that formidable U.S. document. Or whether it is the smaller seedy copying of American popular culture, the wretched loud, inane poverty-stricken rhythms that pass for music or a call for “a government shut down” in Thailand’s current near civil war, the U.S. sets the fashions.

There is an underlying and basic reason for this American omnipresence. For whether it is accepted by the world, or indeed by its own citizens, the American state’s claim to exceptionalism is not rooted in race, language, or even geography, but in ideology. It’s not a coda such as the totalitarians of the 20th century preached that could rouse populist sentiment for others’ subjugation and war. But it is a call for a new individual freedom which older societies have never known and now attempt to emulate. That difference of the Americans from earlier dominant states, perhaps more than anything else, sets 2014 apart from 1914 under any consideration of today’s concert of powers.

Indeed, there are two fundamental questions when examining what is going on in our world today:

  • Is it that the current scene is that different than it has always been, except for the explosion of information [and disinformation] due to the digital revolution which constantly remolds our perceptions of reality?
  • Even more germane, is the current American amateur and incompetent leadership simply aberrant, or has “the American century” [so beloved of Henry R Luce who set many of those U.S. patterns of communication and influence] ended like the empires before it, starting a steep and inevitable decline?

There are no easy answers to either of these questions.

For one thing, the revolutionary effects of digitalization of the economy are rolling out on a daily basis like waves from a tempest. Whether it is in communications or fundamental scientific research, the effects of the new breakthroughs are incredibly forceful. They are changing our society in so many ways we cannot possibly comprehend them at their first encounter. Yet human emotions, the raw material of political events – and conflict – are not that different however much forced into new channels of expression. The Balkan wars the world went through in the final decades of the last century had the same roots and expressed themselves not all that differently than they had when they became the trip wire for opening the century with World War I.

It’s our hypothesis here that wherever regional conflicts exist, they are markedly affected by the overall dominance of the U.S. and its intellectual as well as its power projections. That is not to say, of course, that these regional conflicts are – as the U.S.’ bitterest critics would pretend – the result of American action. Washington did not invent, for example, those excruciating tribal, ethnic, religious and political feuds which bloom perennially in the Middle East. They have, indeed, in many instances existed for more than a thousand years, some even much longer.

But it is to say that American strategy and policy toward that region, and other conflicted areas around the world, is an all important ingredient of the total mix. The fact, for example, that the U.S. has for more than a century [at times, ironically, with the help of the Japanese in an earlier alliance with the British] maintained freedom of the seas in the Western Pacific is as much a part of that regional heritage as any indigenous element.

It is all too apparent, then, that the current U.S. administration’s, and yes, manipulation of American resources around the globe, is critical to the maintenance of the balance of power and to peace and stability. Nor is it to say that there is a foolproof methodology in working out those stratagems. It was, after all, one of the most seasoned diplomats, Secretary of State Dean G. Acheson, who helped loose the Korean War by publicly excluding that peninsular when he defined the American “defense perimeter” in East Asia.

Just as the Soviet Union and North Korea in 1950 tried to move into what they saw as a vacuum, around the globe today chaos and aggressive forces are filling the void created by the Obama Administration’s attempted withdrawal of American power. Pres. Obama and Sec. Kerry may see themselves as master Machiavellians, “leading from behind” or organizing vast pacts for peace and stability with aggrandizing powers such as Iran. But they are in fact agreements not to agree.

I the real world, the exercise of authority, however skillful the diplomacy, must in the end be met with a concomitant commitment of resources, and alas! including military power. The Obama amateurism is self-evident when the Oval Office first commits the U.S. to a military thrust at the barbarous al-Assad regime in Syria, and then as Joe Alsop once said about a similar episode in Laos under Pres. John F. Kennedy, “marched up the hill with bands playing and flags waving, and then casually marched down again”. And thus the death warrant was written for the efforts to build a non-Communist South Vietnam.

It is no secret that the American electorate is tired of war, not with the common sense to see that enormous sacrifices in both Iraq and Afghanistan may have been for naught. And it would be foolish to minimize the difficulty of making a policy that calls for the backing of force in that domestic environment on the eve of new elections. [It’s called statesmanship!]  Yet the Obama Administration has followed not led: in the Iraq withdrawal when it would not pursue diligently the necessary agreement for maintaining a continuing U.S. force to stabilize the democratic regime Washington was leaving behind. In foreign affairs as in most human activities, there is no “sure thing”, of course, and it may well be that had that been done, the present chaotic sectarian war would have exploded anyway. But it is certain that one of the reasons for the current chaos there is the lack of a forceful American policy.

It was all very well for Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, again with trumpets, to commit the U.S. to a “pivot” to Asia in the face of what is the publicly unacknowledged – for good and sufficient reason – the growing aggressiveness of a nascent China. Luckily the rapid integration of American and Japanese military power is moving ahead on autopilot despite the Obama Administration’s neglect of Tokyo’s first strong prime ministry in more than two decades. There is, of course, the little problem that the Obama Administration [or any U.S. executive] can not get out of the Mideast briarpatch to turn its full attention elsewhere. But increasingly aggressive rhetoric matched by a snowballing military force with all the borrowed and stolen American technology is bringing a “Chinese problem” into  focus that cannot be denied despite the entreaties of American business always after its dollar. [Remember that U.S.-Japanese trade maximized on the eve of Pearl Harbor!]

It’s not likely we will know the answer to these colossal ambiguities for a very long time, maybe having to leave it to historians. And much depends on how much more damage Mr, Obama and Mr. Kerry can do in the three years of their administration yet to play out. But the world is watching the growing circus with increasingly trepidation.

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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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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.

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A world turned inside out


American prestige is now dependent on the swift feet and hard heads of its handicapped soccer team trying to pull off a “U-S-A/U-S-A” miracle in South Africa.  Certainly, nothing substantial is likely to come out of the G20 or a subsequent meeting of the Big Boys, the G8, groupings of the world’s most powerful economies and hangers-on, convened as we go to press. That’s in no small part because the Obama Administration has abdicated the U.S. historic post-World War II economic leadership role as it pursues what the world sees as foolish economic policy.

Washington is, of course, too crises-ridden to take new international economic initiatives – or, in fact, to follow up old ones. The Obama Administration strategy which aims to produce recovery through pump-priming and government-subsidized alternative energy gets short shrift from its Western partners and Japan. They want to set their — and especially everyone else’s — budgets in order. Add that to the failure of Pres.Obama’s pre-conference letter to Beijing, again wheedling China to end currency manipulation. The Administration’s pleading – backed by a protectionist revolt among Congressional Democrats – was been met with confused official and semi-official signals, but in the end, stonewalling. Nor can America’s allies ignore Washington’s refusal to waive the Jones Act, purportedly protecting maritme labor and the desiccated U.S. ship industry, to welcome European skimmers and other help in the BP spill.

On the outer fringes of the world economy, Beijing reflects leadership and policy conflicts as confused if more secret than those in Washington. The Chinese first “vowed” [according to fawning media] to take action to permit its wildly undervalued currency to rise. But then after several days trading, it became obvious Beijing would not — and probably could not — take a disastrous short-term route to help rebalance the world’s currencies. [Beijing’s latest announcement of reduced export subsidies is only the reflection of growing inventories and saturated foreign markets.]

Meanwhile, longer term speculation on eventual massive Chinese reevaluation grows – evidenced by China’s real estate bubble and a casino stock market. Government infrastructure expansion — enough for the next century — absorbing most of the “stimulus” has reached its limits. All of these problems are intensified by all pervasive corruption. [Beijing claims more than 94 billion yuan, $14 billion, in misappropriated public funds was recovered from some 800 officials last year alone.]

Furthermore, as Pres. Obama presses a more and more reluctant Congress to pursue a policy that Maynard Lord Keynes would never have condoned despite the Greek chorus invoking his name, Europe’s relatively solid citizen, Germany, declines. Berlin will not dance with a partner carried away on the strains of unlimited expenditures for the public sector.Germany, itself, is hoisted on a dilemma: its export-driven economy has depended on pushing out goods for Euros which its customers, it turns out, had not actually earned. Greece is only the first of several Euro currency economies who will  come a cropper over drunken sailor debt.

Even were Chancellor Angela Merkel to agree to pick up the burden, German taxpayers would not. And the Chancellor already has her hands full with a complicated political crisis over electing a new president. That’s why the Chinese are said to be worried more about the rapidly the deteriorating Euro than their vast hoard of devaluing dollars.

The only “bright spot” is with Britain’s new Prime Minister, David Cameron, like a proper Scotsman taking a meat cleaver to public expenditures. Throwing off suspicions he was “conservative light”, “a Rockefeller Republican”, Cameron has cut public expenditure 25% across the board. But will his Liberal Democrat coalition partners sweat it out long enough for the anticipated long-term results to come home?

With each passing week, world economic problems become more acute. Latest statistics show the bulk of recent international borrowing has been to prop up the Euro, not only against the Greek bailout but anticipating similar credit problems with the whole outer ring of the European Community. It was not for private sector recovery — and jobs, jobs, jobs. In Asia, Beijing’s East Asian partners depend on Chinese assembly operations using slave labor and increasing quantities of imported energy to cling to their export markets. It’s no wonder they have been hit by a wave of “illegal”, unprecedented strikes which Beijing leadership has tried to ignore – perhaps as long as they are foreign-owned firms?

Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, like China, are export-led. [Tokyo’s autos and other high tech exports have come back after a second drop last year; $60 billion in May, normally accounting for 10% of the gross domestic product for the world’s second economy.] For different reasons none of these yesterday’s vaunted Tigers are capable of quickly making the dramatic, painful and complex changeover all have promised: to expand their domestic markets reducing reliance on exports to the West. With each passing day, however, it becomes more and more clear that recovery [and return of once halcyon exports markets] in the U.S. and the EU is a lengthening process – and, indeed, the danger of the industrial economies slipping back into recession again is ever present.

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Korea: the bomb ticks louder


Despite world attention focused on Iran’s emergence as a nuclear clad power, an equally if not more serious crisis swells on the Korean peninsular. There are hints North Korean, sheltered behind its Communist monarchy’s unprecedented secrecy, might implode.

For the moment, its neighbors and the U.S., have a vested interest in the status quo, however obnoxious the regime. South Korea and Japan both worry about a refugee tsunami if Kim Jong Il and his generals lose control. China fears the collapse of its principle ally, the eventual emergence of a powerful united Korea allied with the West. Even Russia, with its faltering grasp on its resource-rich but depopulating Asian expanses, would be weakened by a North Korean collapse.

But a confluence of trends inside North Korea is producing a crisis that may not be staved off. Granted such predictions have been made before – and proved wrong. And there is the history of Pyongyang’s survival in the mid-90s, when after calamitous drought, Kim’s father drove a population into famine killing at least two million people. Most of its 24 million still live below what the rest of the world considers subsistence.

The geopolitical skills of Pyongyang’s small ruling elite are not to be underestimated. Soviet, Nazi and Maoist tools of repression have been honed to brutalities unknown in the civilized world. Whole families, for example, are condemned to permanent imprisonment to snuff out dissidence. Pyongyang has largely defied the digital revolution, isolating its population from outside information.

One could argue the regime has had, albeit for humanitarian reasons, aid if not comfort from its opponents. For a decade, two South Korean presidents not only pursued accommodation with the North but discouraged criticism. The U.S. and Japan — and often corrupt UN agencies — in the service of charity and hope for change supplied a modicum of food and energy to keep the regime alive. China turned a blind eye to contraband with its own 2 million ethnic Koreans as well as extending massive food and energy aid.

The North Korea regime, in riposte, has devoted its manageable resources – including widespread overseas organized crime operations – to a two-pronged, at least partially successful, development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

The basic conundrum which U.S. negotiators face [the Bush Administration before now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] is that the regime’s very existence depends on its weapons sales to pariah regimes such as Iran. Israel’s demolition of a clandestine North Korean nuclear facility in the eastern Syrian desert in 2007 was a recent example of  how North Korean threatens worldwide peace and stability.

Washington’s proffered “bargain” – that Pyongyang halt this traffic in return for massive development aid — faces the unstated Pyongyang”logic” that such a “liberalization” would unseat the tyranny. Even earlier efforts by Beijing to try to persuade Pyongyang to turn to “the China model” were quickly cast aside.

North Korea’s unique problem is the South Korean model sitting on its doorstep. There modernization, first under a military dictatorship, and then a democratic regime, has produced the world’s 20th largest economy with the world’s 14th highest purchasing power. Adoption by Pyongyang of a copy-cat development would inevitably destroy the the current regime.

But a stagnant society cannot endure indefinitely. A crux of issues has formed: Kim Jong Il suffered a heart attack last year. His dysfunctional family may not have produced an adequate heir. An attempt to snuff out a growing black market with a “currency reform” has ended, reportedly, with the execution of its vaunted bureaucratic author.

Now Seoul is gingerly handling an as yet unexplained disaster: the sinking with great loss of life of a South Korean warship in disputed waters. Preliminary evidence suggests a possible attack from rogue North Korean elements. The tragedy came during one of Pyongyang’s unique threats of all manner of destruction to the South Koreans and their American allies.

South Korea’s conservative Pres. Lee Myung Bak, while reiterating offers of food and energy, has turned his back on former efforts to stifle criticism. [Seoul was reluctant even to permit American intelligence access to VIP defectors.] A few North Koreans are tapping foreign media through South Korean non-government organizations.

As Kim dithers on a trip to see his Chinese friends [the first in15 years], Beijing announced a $10 billion aid program and offers to set up export promotion enclaves. That was seen as part of the price to get Kim’s representatives back to six-party talks. But it vitiates American and Japanese efforts to use economic pressure to bring the regime to real negotiations.

The truth is that neither the talks nor Chinese aid is likely to go far in solving the  fundamental problem for the regime – and its interlocutors. Pyongyang sits on its starving people without recourse for its survival except to continue to blackmail the rest of the world with its weapons of mass destruction potential – if, and until, the cracks widen and it collapses.

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