Tag Archives: Dean Acheson

Testing, testing, testing…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What is not holding the world together


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are no easy answers to either of these questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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