Tag Archives: Harold Macmillan

Obama [tries] to move the drama East


The Obama Administration is trying to turn an historical page.

The president’s current Pacific tour is promoted as “a return to Asia”, an acknowledgement of its rapidly growing economies, and, of course, recognition of China as a world power. History has a way of dictating its own terms, however. [When asked what next in his agenda, Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Macmillan reminded a young inquirer, “Events, my dear boy, events!”]

As much as the Administration stages in a too long neglected legitimate theater, it’s also an attempt on the eve of a presidential campaign to shuck emphasis on the continuing dismal Middle East scenarios – where Barack Hussein Obama plunged with such enthusiasm only a little over two years ago.

Massive PR only partly obscures how far Washington can escape the Mideast – even with a much publicized exit from Iraq [with an intermediate stop in Kuwait] and a devil-take-the-hindmost Afghanistan withdrawal. The Arab Spring is turning as feckless as its 1968 Prague Spring namesake, offering little resolution of fundamentals — e.g., jobs for the world’s largest demographic bulge. Syria, where wish has betrayed realism in American policy, ticks ominously. Mr. Obama’s repeated profitless overtures to Tehran’s mullahs are concluding with an eminent threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. NATO’s vaunted southwestern tentpeg, Turkey, lurches from one contradictory foreign initiative to another with an overblown economic bubble about to burst.

Furthermore, the President’s company of players including speechwriters cavalierly promoted to geopolitician will encounter a host of equally difficult – many no less pressing — issues. Meetings with an alphabet soup of Asia-Pacific organizations and brief encounters with national leaders won’t resolve outstanding strategic issues Washington long has had on backburner.

Taking precedence is Japan, cornerstone of all U.S. Asian strategies, after this Administration too often has given it short shrift. But Washington will have to continue dealing with a Japanese administration holding on to power by its geta hana-oh. Unresolved is Okinawa military redeployment, with this current Tokyo government more beholden than former conservative administrations to rapacious locals threatening invaluable U.S. regional bases. And now Washington has handed Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda another piece of hot tofu: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed nine-nation free-trade pact from Chile through the U.S. and Japan to Singapore. Tokyo’s highly subsidized and politically powerful agricultural lobby sees a threat to protected food markets at a time commercial and political relations with China – not included in this party round — are Tokyo’s overriding concern. The North Korean ghost haunts from offstage: a juvenile delinquent holding weapons of mass destruction to neighbors’ heads, a trading and technological partner to every other world pariah with its own only alternative strategic prospect anarchic implosion.

Realists would ask more seminal questions: Will Mr. Obama’s one-on-one in Hawaii with outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao smooth the unequal bilateral trade playing field, not a small cause of current world currency and fiscal imbalances? It’s not likely Chinese manipulated currency and intellectual property theft will be remedied. Complicating negotiating these Chinese practices will be Beijing’s ultra-mercantilism becoming a louder and louder wild card in coming American presidential debate. In Beijing, itself, a Communist generational switch – perhaps not going as smoothly as thought a few months ago – struggles with Party dogma attempting to finesse restraining inflation while simultaneously spurring super rapid growth, so long seen as the only card the regime holds as civil dissidence rises.

Thus the combination of Mr. Obama’s continued denigration of America’s historic role, the Washington domestic economic policy tangle, the increasingly aggressive Chinese menace, all challenge the Obama Administration’s modeling a new American Pacific presence.

In fact, it’s a call historically as inaccurate as Mr. Obama’s earlier Istanbul and Cairo speeches summoning myth rather than history for an accommodation with Islam. America’s Asian role always has loomed large since the late 19th century. But alas! Mr. Obama did not take a leaf from Pres. Ronald Reagan’s economic strategy: The Gipper used his “stimulus” in part to rebuild American defenses to face down the Soviets. A new call now to American Pacific destiny rings hollow as the U.S. Navy’s decades-old hegemonic East Asian role erodes in the face of a rapid Chinese buildup with an American fleet soon smaller than any since pre-World War II — however revolutionary its new technologies.

Careful! That trumpet call could sound tinhorn.

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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!

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