Category Archives: Vietnam

Mr. Kerry in Wonderland


There is a disputed old argument that extensive air travel causes pgysical injury and distorts cognitive thinking. [Stewardesses did remark that during the changeover in mid-20th century from internal combustion and jet-prop engines interrupted their menstrual cycle.]
Perhaps that is the explanationof a recent responses by Secretary of State John Kerry to a group of University of Chicago political science students. Kerry, like his predecessor Sec. Jillary Clinton, is in constant motion, most of it to foreign parts.
Kerry was presenting his case for the success of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.
Syria, he said, had actually proved that Pres. Obama’s famous red line had been drawn and was a success. He said it had ushered in a program of the export of chemical weapons of the Assad regime. The fact is, of course, that statement would depend on your definition of chemicals since it is certain Assad and his Russian and Iranian and Hezbollah allies continue to use tear gas in abundance. Nor can the Russian delibe air attacks on civilian air targets including medical facilities – nothing as barbaric seen since the 1930s—be ignored.
Obama’s “deal” with Iran to postpone their introduction of nuclear weapons, however, effective it may be, is another of Kerry’s victories. Again he ignores that within weeks Tehran had boasted of developments in intercontinental ballistics missiles tests – their only utility, of course, would be to transport weapons of mass destruction including nuclear. Nor is their any elucidation if the accusation, quietly confirmed by Washington, that billions in payments to Iran at the same time as the release of American citizens would go to fund the world’s number one state terroruist campaign.
Kerry skirts completely the March 2009 highly staged gift of a badge marked “reset” in English and Russian to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in n March 2009 U.S. The red button Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had the English word “reset”. But the Cyrillic transliteration was “peregruzka”, Russian for “overload”, perhaps a significant mistake!What the Obama Administration believed was to be the beginning of a new cooperative era turned into Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea, his sponsorship of of the Russian-speaking minority toward the destruction of Ukraine, and hints at similar operations in the Baltic states. That was after Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20% of America’s uranium holdings to Russia [while nine investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation]. This was supposed to be another clever maneuver to halt Moscow’s expanding its own production of uranium as a fuel for nuclear weapons.
Kerry claimed the U.S. had preserved freedom of the seas by what must be described by others as a tepid response to China’s claims in the South China Sea. Beijing, despite a fimr denunciation of its sovereignty claims by the Permanent Coiu of Arbigration in the Hague, has moved now from an unsubstantiated claim to negotiations with Washington on how its claims are to be compromised.
Perhaps most egregious of Kerry’s maneuvers has been his courtship of the Vietnamese Communist regime. Ignoring its persecution of Cthe religious and other political prisoners, the argument that a stronger Vietnam in tacit alliance with the U.S. against China’s encroachments in Southeast Asia might be sustained. But the elaborate courtship of the chairman of Hanoi’s Communist Party rather than its government figures reminds us of Kerry’s past. He was, after all, a flamboyant supporter of the cutoff of military aid to a South Vietnam army which had performed well after the American withdrawal. He and his friends assured us there would be no human castrophe. Tell that to the families of a million South Vietnamese who went into fetid political pisons, tens of thousands never to exit, the thousands who lost their lives trying to flee by sea from the new regime and the murder of prominent anti-Communist leaders without trial.
The Mad Hatter told Alice that the truthfulness of his statements was of his own choosing. Kerry obviously has taken that advice.
sws-10-28-16

Media disaster


Perhaps not since 1936 has there been such a failing through prejudicial media reporting of a presidential election. Then, of course, the enormously popular weekly, The Literary Digest, predicted a strong victory for the Republican conservative candidate Kansas Governor Alf Landon against Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR bidding for a second term was pushing a radical program against traditional opposition in his own Party, the Congress and the courts. The landslide victory for Roosevelt that followed – every state but Maine and Vermont that became something of a joke – so invalidated the magazine’s reputation that it collapsed and disappeared.
One has to wonder if such a fate would befall one of the many media sources today or whether it would just continue to blather on.
For what we see in a media today is so slanted that it has further alienated an already antagonistic general public which long since lost all respect and faith in it. CNN and NPR’s support of Hillary Clinton – but much more their tortured attempts to avoid any negative reporting about her many recent pratfalls – is outrageous. And they are followed by the rest of the mainstream media with the exception of Fox News whose effort to maintain some semblance of balance makes them appear pro-Trump.
It is hard to know what has given us this kept press. Is it that the members of the media – with their [often literally] incestuous relationships with the Democratic Party, the Obama Administration and the “Inside-the-Beltway” elite — simply is reflecting their own prejudices? Certainly were that the case they would be overwhelmingly antagonistic to Donald Trump’s politics as a matter of custom rather than reflective partisanship; his perceived gaucherie and outside the Beltway language would be enough to condemn him.
Or is it that the media, as part of a self-appointed elite, is ideologically disposed toward an anti-Trump position, even into support for Hillary Clinton if for no other reason than she seems to reflect the same attitudes? Trump, right or wrong, has ferociously attacked some of the shibboleths of the ruling national political machine for the last half century. He has fed everything from “free trade” to “international cooperation” into the maw and put them up for grabs, revision or disabuse. The outcome of any debate he has touched off is much less important than the dust he has kicked up by even bringing the issue to a question and deliberation.
There is genuine concern in some quarters, not those who accuse him of being another Hitler, that he is removing the foundations of the long period of relative peace which has endured since August 1945. The Korean War and the Vietnam War were bloody interjections in this era, of course, but however bitter was their warfare and the political conflicts around them, they did not represent the horrors of World Warr I and II with its virtually destruction of whole generations of young European men. And the prospect of an even more destructive World War III was held at bay.
The way the anti-Trump media have seized on what are obviously elliptical or misspoken bits and pieces of Trump’ endless stream of consciousness chatter is not only unprofessional but criminal. It was obvious, for example, that when he mentioned the complicated idea [in a phrase], he meant that the enormously powerful following for the Second Amendment possibly could neutralize a roster of liberal judges Clinton as president would put on the Supreme Court. Yet almost the entire media were determined to make the phrase an indication that he was calling for assassination using the constitutional right for individuals to bear arms. A sarcastic reference to the possibility that Vladimir Putin might release e-mails Clinton had destroyed since the Russians were presumably hacking her non-official server and her various devices was turned into an appeal on Trump’s part for Moscow’s intervention in a purely American political fracas.
These are petty offenses. But multiplied as they are almost daily by other inferences and innuendos they add up to a prejudicial presentation of the presidential debate.
It remains to be seen whether, given the low rating all polls attribute to the public’s respect and credence for the media, it will be more than a minor part of the growing circus that is our presidential election.
sws-08-12-16

Beijing scores again


Communist China has scored another significant blow in its expansionist drive to establish sovereignty – and military bases – athwart the critical South China Sea naval passage.
Beijing’s game was subtle but it could be decisive in blocking a joint effort by the Southeast Asians backed by the U.S. to resist further Chinese penetration.
It’s generally believed in Asia that the Chinese used powerful persuasive weapons to force the Southeast Asians to back off a public statement condemning Chinese policy and action. Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Countries [ASEAN] withdrew their prepared statement which was to conclude their annual meeting with the Chinese in Kunming in south China,
The statement had expressed concern over developments [initiated by the Chinese although they were not named] that had “eroded trust and confidence”. It also stressed the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight of the South China Sea. The statement insisted that resolution of the Chinese claims to reefs a thousand miles from the China Mainland, which it has been enhancing and expanding into military bases, should be submitted to international arbitration. The whole process recalls Soviet [and Chinese] “salami” tactics by first establishing themselves in disputed areas and then forcing acceptance of Chinese sovereignty, as part of a new bargain to be negotiated.
The Philippines has taken its protests against further Chinese expansion to The World Court in The Hague. The move had the general support of the other ASEAN states – Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Burma – in an effort to halt further Chinese construction and expansion over their own claims. But China [with support from Russia] has refused to acknowledge the Court’s jurisdiction.
Malaysia’s foreign ministry announced the statement had been retracted only a few hours after it had been issued. The statement had made the continuing arguments of ASEAN backed by the U.S. that argued for the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight of the South China Sea, and called for disputes to be resolved in accordance with international law.
There was a consensus that China had put pressure and made overtures bilaterally to the individual countries – using its growing economic and political penetration of the region – to force withdrawal of the statement. Chinese spokesmen were quick, however, to deny that there had been Chinese pressure to withdraw the document.
In fact, the unity of the ASEAN countries on the issue has been constantly eroding over the last few months despite Washington’s efforts to support a united front against Chinese aggression. As far back as the 2012 annual meeting of the ASEAN group, they disbanded without a final statement because members could not agree on wording regarding the China issue. Some have seen the $2.3 billion acquisition of Malaysian State Fund’s 1MDB energy assets by China General Nuclear Power Corp as part of the background for Kuala Lumpur’s taking the lead in backtracking from the statement.
ASEAN’s original statement had the full backing of the Obama Administration which has sought Southeast Asian unity as a hedge against Beijing’s expansion into the area. And it could only be seen as another defeat for the Obama Administration in its effort to pursue a general strategy of withdrawal from what the President views as the U.S. record of provocation and overseas overextension. Washington has been counting on ASEAN to maintain a unified front against Beijing even though there are contradictory claims among them over the disputed territories.
Among the interpretations of this diplomatic coup for the Chinese will be an increasing perception of weakening American power in the western Pacific despite the U.S. long-term insistence on freedom of the seas.
sws-06-23-16

Beijing’s water politics


There is increasing concern in South and Southeast Asia over Beijing’s control and implied threat to the major water arteries flowing through the region. Six of the major South Asian and Southeast Asian rivers, the heart of life in South and Southeast Asia, rise on the Tibetan plateau. The Chinese Communists have been on an intensive program of dam building on the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra, the Irrawady, the Meman Chao Phya and the Mekong, which would give them control of these arteries of commerce as well as irrigation for vast areas downstream.

The issue is further complicated by the effect of global warming on the Tibetan glaciers where snows are melting at an unusually rapid pace on 46,000 glaciers, the largest concentration of ice after the south and north poles. Tibet has some of the most rapidly rising temperatures on the planet. One of Tibet’s lakes, Namtso, a holy site where pilgrims circumnavigate its banks in prayer, expanded by 20 square miles from 2000 to 2014 from the melting ice and snow. It’s estimated that Tibet’s glaciers have shrunk by some 15% over the past 30 years. And some scientists have warned that if melting continues at current levels, the warmer temperatures will wipe out two-thirds of the plateau’s glaciers by 2050, affecting more than two billion people in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh Bhutan, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

It is against this background that China has been building politically potent barrages. The most dramatic example is China’s plan to divert the Brahmaputra from its upper reaches where it flows a thousand miles through Tibet and then another 600 miles through India., including emptying into the harbor of its second largest city and port, Calcutta. The Brahmaputra is the lifeline of northeast India, an already troubled region with caste and other ethnic conflicts, some traditionally fed by Chinese subversion.

Concern has also been expressed by Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia over eight dams it is building on the upper reaches of the Mekong river. The Burmese military junta canceled a dam under construction inside Myanmar.one of six other Chinese-led hydroelectric projects planned for the upper reaches of the Irrawady which would have exported electricity to southern China.

Governments and the business communities are worried that Beijing’s apparent intention to dam every major river flowing out of Tibet will lead to environmental imbalance, natural disasters, degrade fragile ecologies, and most of all, divert vital water supplies. The extent of the Chinese program is monumental — on the eight great Tibetan rivers alone, Beijing has already completed 20 dams or has them under construction while it has announced plans for three dozen more.

The Dalai Lama has pointed out the obvious, that China’s program could lead to conflict. He warned that India’s use of the Tibetan water “is something very, very essential. So, since millions of Indians use water coming from the Himalayan glaciers… I think you [India] should express more serious concern. This is nothing to do with politics, just everybody’s interests, including Chinese people.”

The Chinese program for the Brahmaputra is only one of many issues which dog the India-China relationship. Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi, from the nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party, has blown hot and cold over this issue as with other irritants in the relation ship between the two countries. Despite extensive contacts, the Himalayan border disputes which date back almost a century are no more near solution than they ever were with frequent if small set-tos by the countries’ military. Increasing penetration of the Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan, once dependencies of British India, has become a continuing concern for New Delhi.

Meanwhile, however, China has become India’s No. 1 trading partner – up to an estimated $80 billion in 2015, $10 billion more than 2014. That’s despite concern in New Delhi that Indian exports are largely raw materials and imports Chinese electronics and other manufactured goods. Extensive economic relations are often seen as insuring political disagreements would somehow be sorted out – but that has to contend with the U.S.-Japan relationship on the eve of World War II. An outbreak of uncontrolled violence between the two Asian giants is one more high priority concern that must be on America’s foreign policy agenda.

This takes on new weight as Washington negotiates with Modi for access for unlimited refueling and basing in Indian ports, a mutual treaty which of course is largely meaningless for Indians deployment in American waters. But access to Indian ports would be of considerable strategic advantage the U.S. operating in the vast Indian Ocean.

 

sws-01-15-16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pulling up our Southeast Asia socks


Signing this week by the Obama Administration of new military cooperation agreements with Singapore is an important milestone for a number of reasons. It marks a further upgrading in one of the U.S. most important logistics and surveillance operations worldwide Operating out of Singapore is essential to the U.S. Navy’s forward positions in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.

The new agreement permits American surveillance aircraft to operate off what is an important — if not in name — U.S. base in the city state. Singapore lies, of course, at the heart of Southeast Asia’s transportation and communications systems, increasingly threatened by domination by Communist China.

. In fact, Singapore’s lifeblood has always been, first under British and then Singapore Chinese leadership, an unparalleled center of efficiency, transport and communications. Coupled with its location at a chokepoint on one of the world’s most important economic arteries, it takes on an importance far beyond its size. And even more important, in the worst of times, despite its less than six million people, it has maintained its stability when often surrounded by a group of faltering former colonies attempting to convert themselves into nation states.

Perhaps even more important the new agreement continues what has been a rather bold Singapore foreign policy, a tacit military alliance with the U.S. in the face of growing Chinese strength and adventurism in the South China Sea. That’s despite the overwhelming Chinese ethnic composition of its people. It’s no secret that Singapore has pushed the Obama Administration to maintain the principle of freedom of navigation in the face of Beijing’s building a series of naval and air bases on dredged-up islands on coral reefs a thousand miles south of the China Mainland smack across a naval artery carrying a third of the world’s cargo. That challenge by the Obama Administration has been long coming and hesitant.

But for Singapore freedom of the seas and navigation through the critical Malacca Straits is the essence of its existence. The Singaporeans, in fact, view the Obama Administration as less forceful than they would hope, even though Washington recently has sent naval craft and aircraft into the waters bordering the new China bases as a challenge to their international legality.

At the same time, of course, Singapore has a huge and growing $100-billion trading relationship with China. Having a two-way advantage with the American defense umbrella while at the same time doing a thriving business with Beijing is not a new role for Singapore’s authoritarian leadership. During the Vietnam War, Singapore provided a logistics base for Hanoi in its war against the U.S. Supplies out of Singapore were a highly profitable trade route through Cambodia leading to the border areas with Vietnam, supplying much of the nonlethal materiel that kept the Viet Cong/Hanoi operations going against the Saigon government backed by the U.S., and in its last stages, a regime directly defended by American armed forces. But Lee Kuan Yew, longtime leader of Singapore, repeatedly argued the American stance in Vietnam, despite its ultimate failure, had given the new Southeast Asia nations, including Singapore, a shield for their early development.

A diminishing number of U.S. Naval ships is going to be hard pressed to maintain the U.S.’ current commitments, including those in both the East China and the South China Seas.. “The pivot” to Asia has not shaken off Washington’s interests and obligations in the Middle East despite former Sec. of Hillary Clinton’s famous speech outlining that proposed turn. In fact, there is concern among the U.S.’ allies in the Mideast region that in the midst of a campaign, largely based on bombing, against Daesh and other terrorists, no American carrier is now in the area. Whether, indeed, that is simply a function of the overburdened carriers, homeporting for refitting, or a studied strategy of the Obama Administration to limit its exposure in the area is debatable.

Meanwhile, news reports indicate that China is continuing to build and expand its barrier reefs across the South China Sea commercial artery. The Obama Administration is going to have to match its rhetoric with action there if the Singapore and other Southeast Asian commitments to the American position of freedom of the seas is to be maintained.

sws-12-10-15

 

 

The incremental road to hell


 

If there were one lesson from America’s tragic Vietnam encounter – and as some dead white man has said, all historical analogies are odious — it is that incremental approaches to war inevitably result in disaster.

News reports suggest that Pres. Barak Obama is reversing his strategy of limited engagement in the war on Daesh [ISIS or ISIL]. [It is significant that we can’t get the label straight for this enemy!] After the death of a celebrated hero attached as advisory personnel to Iraqi forces, we learn the lesson that the very presence of American forces of whatever size in an area exposed to conflict will inevitably attract U.S. power.

We have long argued that a vacuum, by its very nature, encourages other forces to fill it if the primary strength is removed. That is precisely what is happening all over the world in contested areas where for more than half a century, the U.S. has been the dominant force.

According to informeds, Obama is coming around to deciding that we must increase our effort against Daesh. That seems logical given three grim facts:

  • Daesh represents a new kind of barbarity unleashed on the world and if it is to grow, it will be not only be an increasing menace to the troubled Middle East but to the whole world.
  • Daesh’s claim that it is the legendary Isalmic caliphate, that is the unitary expression of the political intent of traditional Islam to dominate the world politically as well as religiously, is gaining at least nominal adherence in other parts of the world.
  • Russian’s relatively massive intervention in Syria, while announced as an effort to collaborate with the S. and its allies against Daesh, is instead an effort to sustain the almost equally barbarous regime in Damascus by attacking its enemies in a tactic alliance with Iran.

We learn that in July when the President made one of his rare visits to The Pentagon or to consult his military advisers, he asked for additional options in the current bombing campaign against Daesh. [Again, it is significant that Russian bombing has exceeded in volume the American campaign against Daesh.]

Earlier this month, the President had to publicly announce that his goal of removing all troops from Afghanistan before the end of his Administrations could not be met. With no public statement to confirm the fact, it becomes increasingly clear that more than a year of desultory bombing has not only not destroyed Daesh, but it has strengthened its hold on its area and is expanding. Local observers point out that the bombing runs – often returning to base without jettisoning their weapons – does not have the kind of intelligence which boots on the ground would provide.

Again, reports from the White House and The Pentagon have suggested that Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has already provided the President with his options, and, indeed, backed by the military, Carter is said to be pushing for a more aggressive stance in the whole campaign.

But what must be feared most is that the President, whose underlying strategy in all his foreign policy decision for the past seven years has been to reduce the American commitment to the use of force abroad, will choose only to take an incremental approach to any increases in ground and air forces in the region. While the logic of such an approach has always been apparent – you apply the force as needed as it is needed – it ignores as it did throughout the Vietnam conflict, that such an approach permits a dedicated if less powerful enemy to grow his own forces to meet the incremental demand on his abilities.

In war, perhaps the most inefficient of all human activities, unpredictability is the norm. A measured but untested approach often leads to disaster. The incremental route is the road to another irresolute ending.

sws-10-28-15

Testing China’s aggression


Apparently Pres. Obama has learned a lesson from his lack of strategy in Syria: The Financial Times reports he has finally acceded to Sec. of Defense Ashton Carter’s pleas to assert freedom of the seas in Southeast Asia.
Within the next two weeks, senior American officials say, U.S. naval vessels will challenge Beijing’s claim to incorporate vast stretches of the South China Sea into its territorial waters.
The vessels will enter the 12-mile limit which Beijing has drawn along “the nine dot line”, its only claim to a group of coral shoals where it has been building at breakneck speed. During the past two years, the Chinese have scooped up enough mud and gravel to build thousands of acres on the several islands replete with military airstrips.
The new bases permit China to advance beyond the so-called first-island chain which has restricted its naval activities to occasional feints across the Strait to threaten the Taiwanese, and contest islands long claimed and occupied by Japan in the East China Sea.
These new bases, hundreds of miles from their Mainland ports and justified only with ancient maps showing vague Chinese claims could become important for projection of strategic power, already menacing nearby Philippines and Vietnam.
The White House has been reluctant to permit the Navy to exercise time-honored rights of passage in one of the world’s most important naval commercial waterways, whether recently because of the state visit just concluded of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, or a part of Obama’s general withdrawal of American power around the world. That lack of resolve has put into question former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’s “pivot to Asia” which the Obama Administration has made part of its worldwide strategy.
It has been clear, however, that although there were glowingly optimistic statements anticipating the Xi visit, Obama got nowhere in negotiating any of the major issues which now confront the two countries. These include, of course, recent Chinese hacking of U.S. cybernetworks, violation of intellectual properties of American and other foreign companies, or other trade issues such as the manipulation of its currency [which Washington has refused to formally recognize, a flagrant example exercised on the eve of the visit with a Chinese devaluation.].
But no issue between the two countries has carried such dangerous longterm implications and possibilities of confrontation as Beijing’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea. The move could be even more important – and fraught – than any of the red lines which Obama has drawn, and then violated, in Syria and the Mideast. Or as important as the growing aggressive behavior of Russia’s Valdimir Putin in Ukraine, and now, in Syria.
A successful test of traditional right of peaceful passage through international waters, in this case those which Beijing has unilaterally claimed as its own territory, is seen by most traditional naval scholars as something long overdue.
Today China’s elaborate and rapid efforts to create a “blue water” navy are still in their infancy. American spokesmen, including the highest echelons of the U.S. Navy, have in the past recognized that China has the right and as an emerging great power, would, build a modern naval fleet. At one point, an American admiral, noting the difficulties of building and maintaining aircraft carriers – China has rebuilt one bought from Ukraine and has another building – was something the U.S. might assist in for a “peacefully emerging China”.
But increasing signs of aggressive behavior by the Chinese have vitiated, at least for the time being, that kind of open military collaboration. And, in fact, Beijing has generally rejected the most routine military to military communication which has become normal and practical among the major powers in their effort to avoid untoward incidents.
Insisting , along with traditional U.S. allies in the region, that peaceful passage through international waters must be preserved and the valid claims of neighboring states honored, is, however much a risk now, one to be preferred than at a later time when Beijing’s resources will be greater and when dangerous precedents would be established.
sws-10-08-15

Kerry crosses the line


Many of us remember that Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before a Congressional Committee during the Vietnam War, in camouflages, as an opponent of continued American support for the war. It was a time of deep division of the country, the scars of which remain with us today. Whether his act was ennobling as his supporters then and now claim, or a betrayal of his comrades engaged in furious battle in a faraway war will have to be left to future historians.
But Kerry’s latest public pronouncements in support of Pres. Obama’s highly controversial “deal:” with Iran are beyond the pale. It is certainly within limits of debate and propriety for the Secretary to criticize, or better still offer arguments, against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public denunciation of the proposed agreement. But Netanyahu has not questioned Obama’s intentions or motivations in arriving at them, however.
Kerry, on the other hand, has recently made statements in support of the proposed agreement suggesting that should it fail – due to Congressional opposition, in fact, apparently reflecting widespread if not majority opinion of the U.S. public – it will redound on the U.S.-Israeli alliance. Were that not going too far, he has hinted that such a reaction would not only include Israel but would result, he hints, at antagonism toward American Jews. The inferences smack of the worst kind of anti-Semitism. But perhaps more important, they demonstrate an increasing hysteria on his part and that of his State Department n egotiators in the validity of their arguments for endorsing the agreement.
Whatever the merits of the proposed agreement, it is clear that it has been arrived at through a series of concessions to the Iranians at almost every point in the argument. Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democratic minority member of the House Intelligence Committee, took to National Public Radio this week [in its usual one-sided liberal presentation of events] to defend the President’s proposed agreement. [He is by the way, a Jew, and once again negates the simple anti-Semitic canard that American Jews vote or even sympathize with issues as a domineering political block or as only in Israel’s interests.]
Schiff’s defense of the Obama proposal was such a tangle of contradictions and rationalizations that it is hard to summarize. But it went from a claim that Iran could never as a sovereign state be expected to accept a blanket suppression of its nuclear bomb-making facilities to the argument that it would deliver an Iran capable of building weapons but forbidden to do so for 50 years through stringent inspection and international control. Mr. Schiff, 50 years is a very long time, especially in the Mideast, and most of us would settle for effective restraints of any duration at this point in the negotiations.
The Congressmen and other defenders of the proposed agreement continue to pile paper on top of paper to prove to us that the details for restraining the Iranian mullahs are adequate. Yet common sense intrudes: 1] this Iranian regime has a long and checkered history of violating its international commitments, including, of course, its signature to the non-proliferation agreements which it has already violated; 2] the UN International Atomic Energy Agency in the past not only did not restrain the mullahs’ violations of its agreements, but was not perspicacious in knowing when and where they were being violated; 3] the highest Iranian leadership has denied now, repeatedly and publicly, that they are committed to the very fine print of the agreement which the Obama Administration trumpets.
It is a bad agreement, arrived at in amateurish and faulty negotiation by the American side, and some way must be found to block it and to go on with putting restraints on an aggressor nation who hopes to use it to dominate the Middle East. That is the problem the Obama Administration has now dumped into the lap of the Congress, after trying to derail any effective Congressional action by a UN endorsement.
It will take statesmanship of a superior kind to untangle this American constitutional muddle, much less the overwhelming effort to check radical Islam terrorism emanating from Iran throughout the world – again Congressman Schiff and his likeminded supporters of the agreement call outside its scope but they admit within its benefices as it releases hundreds of billions of blocked Iranian assets.
sws-08-04-15

Maybe a longer spoon, Mr. Obama


The proponents of trade wherever, whenever, whoever tell us that Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong was taken aback at the reception he received this past week. For he was treated, at the State Dept., and elsewhere like a chief of government or state rather than the head of one of the most corrupt and repressive political organizations in the world.
The rationalization we are getting for all this pomp and circumstance was that fetting Phu Trong was throwing a little sand into Beijing’s eyes. The theory thereby being expounded was that with the continuing aggressive Chinese thrusts into the South China Sea – even a drilling rig in Hanoi’s claimed economic zone – Washington was demonstrating the growing tacit alliance with Vietnam as well as the other Southeast Asians against Beijing’s threatened aggression. Presidential candidate, then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton called it the pivot to Asia which has creaked rather violently as the Mideast continues to enthrall the U.S. in its tortured problems.
Of course, the fact that Boeing – probably with the dying Ex-Im Bank’s help – has just made a big sale to the Vietnamese might explain more than either State Dept. Protocol officers. Pres. Obama turned up at State. [Sec. John Kerry who once testified against his fellow American soldiers in Vietnam, if in camouflage, at a Congressional hearing was too busy trying to make a deal with the Tehran Mullahs in Lausanne.]
Obama told the gathering at State that “[O]bviously, there has been a difficult history between our two countries in the 20th century.” That could go down as the understatement of the year; one would have hoped a speechwriter even at this White House might have chosen a more profound reference to “a difficult history” that cost more than 54,000 American and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives.
True, history marches as they say, and it is probably time to try to reach some sort of working relationship with Hanoi that fits into the current and future Asian and world geopolitical picture. Obama claimed “what we’ve seen is the emergence of a constructive relationship that is based on mutual respect, and that has benefitted the peoples of both countries.”
Maybe. But we are old enough to be uncomfortable with a former enemy who still shows every sign of not mending his ways. Persecution of the religious and all political opposition is still the way Phu Trong’s comrades run the Vietnam they reunited with force in 1975. Corruption is so rife foreign investors shy away from moving there even with the increasing flight from China because of rising costs and the same sort of difficulties as Vietnam presents. The $7 billion in remittances this year from the huge and relatively prosperous Vietnamese American community are a big part of keeping the whole gimcrackery afloat.
All in all, we think it’s best if the President – and those minions at State always willing to find diplomatic compromise – remember the old adage, “When supping with the devil …”
sws-07-09-15

Remembering the fall of Vietnam


http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/may/3/sol-sanders-remembering-the-fall-of-vietnam/Opinion

\Commentary

Remembering the fall of Vietnam

Hopes for freedom died 40 years ago

Illustration on remembrance of the Vietnam War by Alexander Hunter/The Washington

By Sol Sanders – – Sunday, May 3, 2015

Probably no event in contemporary American history touched more of its citizens than “Vietnam.” I use the quotes to describe a concept that includes more than the country, the American war and 58,000 lost American lives, and convoluted arguments still haunting our political discourse.

Millions of words have been written about this tragedy. Unfortunately, much is ill-informed, ideological and distorting the issues. I sometimes despair historical truth will ever emerge from all the claptrap.

My own “Vietnam” begins much earlier than for most Americans, decades before the massive U.S. military buildup and its disastrous end. It began when I was a callow youth, a budding journalist fascinated with Asia after a short collision with India as an ambulance driver in the British army in World War II. That led to Indonesia, and thence to Vietnam. It metamorphosed into roaming Southeast Asia as a freelancer.

My year in Hanoi during “the French war” (1950-51) taught me basics of the convoluted Indochina conflict. And they were far from those I — and some of my well-meaning anti-colonialist friends — thought we knew. We thought we had done our bit when in 1946 a few Vietnamese emigres — mostly sailors who had jumped French ships — staged a highly successful protest meeting at the old McAlpin Hotel on Herald Square in New York City. Do Vang Ly, then a Columbia University Vietnamese student but already a veteran fighter for his country, and I were the spark plugs.

We drew for participants on an early United Nations General Assembly session Asian luminaries and Americans noted for their interest in the new “underdeveloped countries.” They included everyone from Norman Thomas, the old U.S. socialist warhorse, to Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru’s poet sister, and novelist Pearl Buck, epitome of Western interest in China. Naively, our purpose was to support Ho Chi Minh, purportedly heading a broad national alliance, still negotiating with the French for independence until almost by accident they stumbled into war. A quiet agent among us from Ho’s Paris “embassy,” we were to learn later, saw to it that we adhered to the Communist “line.”

In Hanoi, I learned that beyond the constantly mutating argument between the Vietnamese and the French was the more bitter struggle between the Vietnamese Communists and nationalists. During a 16-month post-World War II hiatus, when the Communists controlled the Tonkin Delta, they had massacred nationalist leaders. In my time, plaques — imitating those for fallen French Resistance heroes throughout Paris — marked the spot where anti-Communist nationalists were struck down. Those included, interestingly enough, the older brother of Ngo Dinh Diem, later to lead the Republic of South Vietnam — the man of that generation from their Confucian court family originally slated to have been the politician.

I still remember the shock when I wrote a friend back in Boston, Harold Isaacs, author of a famous tome on the Chinese Revolution, that were it a choice between Ho Chi Minh and the then-French puppet “chief of state” Bao Dai, I would choose the ex-emperor. As the dedicated southern Vietnamese Trotskyists calculated, it was clear what Ho’s Indochina would be, whereas the corrupt and incompetent Bao Dai might still afford an avenue to Vietnamese freedom.

These two currents — dedicated, efficient, merciless Stalinists with their calls on the Soviet Union and its propaganda and infiltration in the West — and the incompetent, feuding and often far too fallible non-Communists continued the Vietnamese struggle. That contest seemed to have been finally decided once and for all with the fall of the Saigon regime, the 40th anniversary of which we marked on April 30.

However painful the specter of Americans being hauled off the roof of the Saigon embassy as North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the Presidential Palace gates, the United States was ready to shrug and turn to other issues. Nor were officials in Washington ready to admit the cutoff in American military aid had produced the catastrophe. But alas, for the Vietnamese, it marked yet another milestone in that continuing struggle between an alien totalitarianism — morphing as Lenin had prophesied in his more pessimistic moments into traditional Asian despotism — and the universal search for freedom.

Tens of thousands fled the “reunification.” Unknown thousands died in unworthy seacraft. My friend, Do Vang Ly, managed only by an accident of fate to survive. Washing up on an eastern Malaysian beach, he and a little band shepherded by a Catholic priest, were about to be shoved back into the water by their fellow Southeast Asians (a long-forgotten footnote to all the horror). But he took his water-soaked diplomatic passport from his shoe and persuaded the police to take it to a friend, the Malaysian foreign minister.

As with more than 1.5 million other Vietnamese refugees, “Tony” and his family made it to America. But he did not live to see the democratic Vietnam to which he had devoted his life. The continuing travesty in Vietnam today mocks those hopes. Nor do the new self-serving American rationalizations — in which some of our most aspiring politicians indulge — mask that the old fight still goes on if under different auspices.

• Sol Sanders is a veteran international correspondent.

Copyright © 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

More Sharing Services

Share on email

All site contents © Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC

3600 New York Avenue NE | Washington, DC 20002 |202-636-3000

Strategy, any one?


 

“Okay, smart-a___, what is your strategy?”

In a [rather large] nutshell; here are the tactics which when pulled together make up a grand strategy:

Domestic

Make an “America is back!” speech from the Oval Office in the White House modeled on Harry Truman’s “Doctrine” speech of 1947. http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/harrystrumantrumandoctrine.html   Its principal theme would be recognition that the U.S. and its allies are launched in an extended war — and still far from being won — against the Islamic jihadists.

Immediately ask Congress for emergency lifting of all Sequestration applying to the Department of Defense, the CIA and other security agencies for five years. Halt and reverse with continuing extension and recruitment the personnel cutbacks now decimating the American armed forces.

Reverse energy policies to provide the U.S. economy and our allies with a noninflationay stimulus of cheaper fuel, simultaneously directly providing hundreds of thousands of new jobs, by:

 

  • Administratively, opening up all federal lands [including offshore Virginia, etc.] to fracking,
  • Administratively, waiving all EPA regs on fracking for five years.
  • Administratively, fast-tracking applications for the dozen or so outstanding applications for liquefied natural gas export facilities, putting on hold any Environmental Protection Agency regulations concerning them for a five-year period.
  • Asking  Congress to lift all oil and gas export restrictions, including a waiver on EPA fossil fuel export regs for five years. [These exports would begin to supply allies in Europe and Asia and simultaneously help mend the balance of payments hemorrhage against the dollar.]
  • Immediately okaying the XL Keystone Pipeline and other Canadian applications for pipelines into the U.S. directed at Houston refineries and their export facilities.
  • Pushing Detroit and foreign-owned auto companies to organize and subsidize a national network of filling stations for an expanded production and use of LNG-fueled vehicles.

To reinforce federalism, begin the rescission of the 17th amendment, restoring the original intent of the Founders by returning the power on how to elect senators to the states, freeing the states to determine their own method including indirect election by the various legislatures. [Most of the turn of the 20th century arguments for direct election are now better ones for indirect election, e.g., “it’s a millionaire’s club”.]

Resurrect the independent U.S. Information Service with a cabinet post and assistant secretaries from State, Defense and CIA. The new department would incorporate the Board of International Broadcasting, expanding Radio Liberty [with renewed local language broadcasts to Central Asia] in order to tell “the American story” to the world.

Mideast

            Bomb the ISIL in Syria and Iraq “back to the stone age” with a massive WWII type aerial bombardment. In riposte, sanction all banks and financial institutions – including third parties, and, of course, including all Russian and the Chinese institutions – doing business with the al Assad regime.

“Pressure” Turkey to accept a NATO mission on its southeast flank to work directly with the secular and “moderate” Islamic anti-Assad forces from a Turkish sanctuary. Organize with our NATO partners a joint “request” that Ankara release immediately all imprisoned Turkish journalists as the first step in reinaugurating the movement toward a civil society. Let Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdogan know if he does not acquiesce to these quiet pressures and move back from his drift into Islamism, Washington will demand Turkey’s expulsion from NATO.

Reinvoke strict sanctions on Tehran until the mullahs accept a NATO – not the UN IAEI which has been so notoriously inept — inspection of their nuclear activities. Slam the possibility of military intervention “back on the table” and be prepared for surgical strikes to slow if not deter the Mullahs’ acquisition of WMD.

Administratively, add the Moslem Brotherhood to the State Department’s terrorist list, and direct the FBI to insure that all domestic Islamic organizations [including mosques] with formal and informal ties to the Brotherhood be put on a terrorist alert list.

Lift all restrictions on arms to Egypt now being temporarily enforced and invite al Sisi to visit the U.S. before mid-summer 2015.

Persuade al Sisi to abandon his dicey Second Suez Canal Project. Instead round up  Gulf States, Israel’s Dead Sea Works, the World Bank [IBRD] and private European, American and Japanese capital to fund the Qattara Depression Project to provde Egypt with cheap hydropower and a new chemical industry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qattara_Depression_Project

Immediately and with considerable public fanfare accept Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s request for stationing additional American forces [he has called for 10,000] on the world largest air base at Al Udeid [Abu Nakhlah Airport], the U.S. Army base at Sayliyah and the U.S. base at Doha. Then, “encourage” the Gulf States [UAE, Dubai, Saudi Arabia] in concert with the United Arab Republic [Egypt] to ultimatum the Sheik to end all payments and subsidies to the Moslem Brotherhood, Hamas, al Nusr and ISIL and to both Arabic and English al Jazeera networks — “or else”. Compensate by helping the EU, and especially Germany, to negotiate greater LNG purchases from Qatar, if necessary using additional European storage facilities, to negate the Russian fossil fuels blackmail.

Immediately supply Ukraine with necessary heavy weapons and technical assistance to meet Pres. Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

Reoccupy with significant ground forces and maximum publicity the old Wheelus U.S. Air Force base at Mitiga International Airport in eastern Libya. “Encourage” Gen. Khalifa Belqasim Haftar to negotiate merger of Libya with the United Arab Republic [Egypt] with the help of ENI [Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi ] whereby the huge oil revenues could be stolen and wasted more beneficially.

“Persuade” the UN to amalgamate the UNWRA [special Palestinian UN organization with its enormous budget] with the UN Refugee Organization with the appointment of an American administrator by withholding the major part of both their fundings from the American taxpayer [as was done earlier to reform UNESCO and ILO]. Insist on a purging UNWRA staff, ejecting all those who have worked for or been active in Hamas, a terrorist organization so designated by the US and its allies.

Europe

Put the ruffles and flourishes back into the Anglo-American alliance with its attendant links to Canada, Australia and New Zealand as the cornerstone of NATO and America’s world alliance strategies.

Deliver SAPiest heavy weapons and technical assistance to Ukraine in its fight against the invasion by Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s forces and block Moscow intervention in rewriting the structure of the Kyiv regime.

Establish a NATO base in Estonia.

Move into lock-step with the French in tamping down West and Central African violence [see below].

See that the NATO Rapid Deployment Force becomes a reality SAPiest with the training on a level with the U.S.’ and Britain’s Special Forces.

Prepare for the eventual collapse of the Euro.

East & South Asia

Quietly assign a senior U.S. diplomat to a special U.S.-Japan-Korea commission to sit sine die to help sort out issues between Tokyo and Seoul with special personal representatives of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Pres. Park Geun-hye. [Their grandfather and father, respectively, established postwar relations between the two countries.] This would aim to smooth over the most important obstacle in an American-led defensive alliance in Asia against North Korea and Communist China threats.

Reinvoke the strict sanctions earlier used to induce the North Koreans to come to heel, including third party sanctions against any financial institutions who deal with them, openly or clandestinely. They would be lifted when an international inspection team consisting of Americans, Japanese and the NATO allies certify its weapons of mass destruction programs have been ended.

Nudge ASEAN to resurrect the intent of Sec. of State John Foster Dulles’ 1950s Southeast Asia Treaty Organization with the headquarters again in Thailand, and hold out admission possibility to Vietnam [if it makes major “reforms”, that is de-Communize] in its feud with Communist China.

Push Taiwan rearmament and “invite” the Republican Party to cuddle up to the Democratic Progressive Party to pressure the Kuomintang back into a stronger line against amalgamation with the Mainland to maintain the oinly democratic society in Chines history.

Latin America

Initiate “tough love” with Mexico, e.g., introduce legislation to subsidize American investment in Mexican oil and gas in exchange for joint paramilitary border operations to halt illegal flow of immigrants to the U.S. with reinforced joint patrols on both sides of the border and a joint U.S.-Mexican undercover immigration control force on the Mexican-Guatemala border. Reach agreement on new “modalities” for protecting American citizens traveling, visiting and doing business in Mexico, matching those affording Mexican citizens in the U.S.

Swap new legal provisions for bond concessions to the Argentines for their cooperation in U.S. Latin American projects, especially cleaning up “ice” trafficking through Rosario and Iranian penetration of neighboring Paraguay, and a quit-claim to the Falkland Islands.

Introduce legislation to reinstitute the macro aspects of the Cuban embargo at the same time removing all restrictions on movement to and from Cuba by American and Cuban citizens.

Africa

Move U.S. Africom to a new joint U.S.-French-Portuguese-NATO base to be built rapidly with port and air facilities on São Tome e Principe in the Gulf of Guinea while pursuing a campaign of destruction with African and Eruopean allies against Boka Harum.

If this seems a formidable list, it is indeed. It it seems an impossible list, remember that a population less than half the present one in the American war mobilization between 1939 and 1944 doubled real wages in the U.S., produced 229,600 aircraft, added 5,000 ships to the existing merchant fleet, even though two-thirds of the economy was devoted directly to military equipment — and simultaneously won a war against two formidable enemies. It took leadership and political resolve. But just as the attack on Pearl Harbor alerted a recalcitrant nation, however far current leadership has drifted away the country should be reminded that 9/11 was proof that “the splendid isolation” of the U.S. from the rest of the world’s troubles during the 19th century is long past history.

But no amount of posturing over strategy and tactics will suffice if the leadership is irresolute and tries to wish away the dangers of that world jungle that has now physically encroached.

sws-09-07-14

The Asia scrum


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sws-05-01-14

 

 

Around the world in 48 days*


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

It was intended as my last hurrah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japan

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

China

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

Taiwan

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

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

Hong Kong

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

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

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

New Delhi

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

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

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

Bombay

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

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

Jerusalem

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

Vienna

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

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

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

Zurich

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

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

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

Dulles

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

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

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

sws-04-28-13

Around the world in 48 days*

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

It was intended as my last hurrah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japan

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

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

Taiwan

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

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

Hong Kong

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

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

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

New Delhi

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

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

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

Bombay

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

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

Jerusalem

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

Vienna

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

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

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

Zurich

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

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

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

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

sws-04-28-13

Perfidious Americus


Running an empire is not for sissies.

Since 1945, the U.S., holding the aces, had to finesse a role once played by the Europeans with Washington pulling up the Latin American rear. But that tacit alliance maintained worldwide stability for only two decades, in part because pre-digital America could sulk behind two oceans.

After Western Civilization’s second bloody civil war, rules changed: colonialism was abnegated, first “officially” in the 1943 Cairo Declaration. Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his Nationalist China ally Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek acknowledged European domination would go following the Allied victory. Of course, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, there too, was soon to meet British class voter retribution, and within less than two decades, the last of the Tory Grandees, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, would wrap up what had been the empire on which the sun never set. So much for Churchill’s vow he had not become the King’s first minister to preside over liquidation of the British imperium.

But Soviet aggression setting off The Cold War, and, U.S. amateurism, never allowed Washington. to get ahead of the time curve. [After “Cairo” former Sec. of State Dean Rusk, then a young political officer in the South East Asia Command, signaled Washington for instructions on French Indochina. He never got a response.] Furthermore, it was always America’s idealistic aim to set new standards for mutual respect and benefit, even while it had not yet cleaned up its own racist backyard.

Washington learned quickly managing alliances never comes easy, even with hegemonic power. The reason is obvious: too many conflicting demands. Still Pres. Harry Truman’s good old Midwestern common sense, gifted European leadership, and American dough-re-me, girded Western Europe to defeat the Soviet challenge. Although we may well look aghast at today’s tatters, NATO was perhaps the most successful alliance in history, winning a long, costly struggle – “peacefully”.

You wouldn’t know that, of course, listening to the self-deprecation and, indeed, abysmal groveling, of the Obama Administration. That alone would have torpedoed current American prestige and strategy, unhinged by Islamic terrorism and an abrupt end to the most prosperous era in world history – gained in no small part through trillions of dollars in U.S. generosity still continuing to client states.

The Obama Administration, though, was intent on “leading from behind”. Too clever by half, as our British cousins would say, forgotten were the first elements in any alliance: at least temporary loyalty to a common cause, and stalwart if sometimes painful leadership by example. First there were petty insults to the Brits – return of Churchill’s bust from the Oval office, gimcrackery for the Queen, etc. Instead of securing an Iraq alliance at the heart of the Arab/Muslim world, there was a hallelujahed withdrawal timetable. There is, apparently, coming abandonment of a Kabul regime on lifesupport long before victory. Vociferous equating of Israeli and Palestinian claims doomed any accommodation there, especially after a problematic “Arab Spring” explosion demonstrated Israeli-Arab relations was only one, and probably not the most important, Mideast problem..

In all these instances, typically, semiruptures came with American media piling-on, campaigns of fact and fiction about the steadfastness, or lack thereof, of allies. This tactic flouts — particularly with third world countries — the obvious: helping inept, corrupt regimes to modernize is the name of the game. Were that not true, America would not be there in the first place.

Now in the election silly season, Obama Administration foreign policy proceeds on autopilot. Not only are arms – required under U.S. law – denied Taiwan but “a high official Administration source” publicly trashes the opposition candidate in the upcoming January presidential elections. Regarding Pakistan, whose overwhelming problem is dysfunctional government, Washington chooses war on the front pages and NPR, simultaneously publicly delivering ultimata. These latter may, in the end, turn bluff given the critical role that country’s geography and its menace of becoming a factory for creating jihadists [with nukes] on a half a billion impoverished, semiliterate Muslim base.

Alas! It is all too reminiscent of the unlearned lessons in the demise of the South Vietnam alliance now a half century ago after loss of 58,000 American lives and enormous treasure. Pompous media, including some conservatives, are still repeating old clichés. No wonder Washington doesn’t seem to have learned a lot about running alliances. Perfidious Albion, indeed!

 sws-9-30-11

Vietnam-U.S. relations


“…Hanoi needs Washington much more than Washington needs Hanoi. At each juncture, Vietnam has promised to respect human rights and comply with international law. Each time, however, Vietnam has learned that it can reap all the benefits from the US, which they view as a paper tiger, without honoring any of its promises. Plus ça change, plus c’ est la même chose. – “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” As charming as the Vietnamese people are, the communist regime remains as deceptive, brutal and suspicious as ever, while US policy enables its repression and treachery….”

http://www.americanthinker.com/2011/04/vietnamese_communists_fear_fac.html
American Thinker
April 3, 2011

Vietnamese Communists’ Fear Factor is Rising
By Michael Benge

This is the best description of the basic situation. Something anyone trying to understand Viet Nam should know….

Ton That Thien
educator, journalist, scholar
Ottawa, April 2011

Vietnam, in sadness but not in shame


America’s more than a million and a half Vietnamese Americans this week will mourn the 35th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the Republic of [South] Vietnam.

Defying conventional wisdom, they will memorialize the bravery and sacrifice of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam [ARVN]. They want recognition for the heroic struggle it put up against overwhelming odds after the withdrawal of American forces and the cutoff of U.S. military aid. Fortunately, a new group of revisionist scholars are setting the record straight, even in the face of the long history of American media and academic malfeasance on the Vietnam disaster.

The mourners will also recall the enormous loss of life and suffering – “the bloodbath” which, again, conventional wisdom has tried to deny took place – that followed Saigon’s fall. Thousands died in “the Vietnamese gulag”, Communist “reeducation camps”, where Prime Minister Pham Van Dong publicly admitted more than a million people had been imprisoned. Few but the Vietnamese remember that in addition to the 255,000 “boat people” who reached the misery of the refugee camps, thousands drowned at sea, often refused shelter by neighboring countries.

That is not in any way to minimize the enormous loss in life and sacrifice of Americans in what was a noble if tragic struggle. But it is an effort to retell the whole story of “Vietnam” for fellow Americans, particularly their own offspring who have grown up amidst a vast media and pseudo-scholarly distortion of facts. And it glories in the thousands of young Vietnamese serving with distinction in the U.S. armed forces.

Unfortunately, in Vietnam itself, the oppression continues unabated. The Communist regime persecutes the religious and ethnic minorities, and in its own ham-handed way attempts to stamp out political dissent. An endlessly feuding politburo guides the one-party state – so enmeshed in petty personal rivalries and ideological confusion that it publicly arrested the Communist Party official newspaper editor after he wrote an anti-Chinese editorial. And, since 1995 when Senators John McCain and John Kerry pushed for U.S. diplomatic recognition without quid pro quos – at a time the Hanoi regime desperately needed and wanted it — official Washington obfuscates the nature of the regime. U.S. policy has naively and ignominiously sought favor with economic and trade concessions in a fruitless effort to achieve political liberalization.

Although it long ago adopted “the Chinese model”, tattered Soviet-style central planning, incompetence and unbridled corruption have led to shortages, inflation, and rising debt. Nevertheless, the indomitable Vietnamese entrepreneur with his traditional thirst for education –- demonstrated so forcefully in the success of the immigrants in the U.S. — has produced a growing gross national product for a youthful population nearing 90 million.

Ironically, remittances from the American émigrés to unfortunate relatives left behind has been the most powerful economic prop for the regime, totaling as much as $8 billion in 2008, only slightly off since the worldwide recession began. [That’s compared with $5 billion annually in aid from the multilateral agencies and bilateral aid programs.] TheseVietnamese Kieu contribute 5% of the GDP adding to the money sent home by half a million workers abroad and receipts from another 400,000 annual ethnic Vietnamese tourists. Capital from the American émigrés, often arriving via the black market, fund small entrepreneurs who make greater Ho Chi Minh City-Saigon the country’s overwhelming economic hub, the cash cow for Hanoi’s kleptocrats. The US remains Vietnam’s largest official investor, as well, with some billion dollars in registered capital. More foreign investment would come were it not for the tangle of kickbacks and intrigues between Hanoi and regional Party bosses.

Attempting to counteract the effects of the worldwide credit crunch and recession, the Communist planners in 2009 threw more than $1 billion [over 1% of GDP] at the currency. But while credit expanded by nearly 40%, the price of dollars soared despite two massive devaluations. Exporters, struggling with an overvalued currency, have difficulty financing dollar imports of raw materials and components in the battle against their heavily subsidized Chinese worldwide competition. And foreign exchange outflow is draining reserves. The business community is bracing for another round of inflation, probably greater than the crisis year of 2008.

The struggle for existence, especially among the unemployed youth for whom both the French and American wars are a distant past, ignores the continued preoccupation with “Vietnam” in the U.S. Hollywood’s Vietnam war movies, for example, despite the widespread appeal of American popular culture, have elicited little interest.

Much more important now, the Vietnamese look over their shoulder at their traditional enemy neighbor, China. Despite border agreements [following the short but bitter war in 1979 in which Hanoi bloodied Beijing’s nose], disputes continue over islands in the South China Sea. And a flood of clandenstine Chinese imports have wiped out cottage industry in the North. Netizens on both sides keep up a steady chauvinist debate over old issues. And everyone waits for some new and spectacular development which will end the current malaise.