In mid-November, the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff — I serve as the director — published “The Elements of the China Challenge.” The paper argues that the core of the challenge consists of the concerted efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to reconfigure world order to serve the CCP’s authoritarian interests and aims. It explains the errors that nourished the hope on both the right and the left that economic liberalization in China, coupled with Western engagement and incorporation of Beijing into international organizations, would bring about China’s political liberalization. It describes the characteristic practices of the communist dictatorship, traces China’s brazen programs of economic co-optation and coercion in every region of the world, examines the Marxist-Leninist dogma and hyper-nationalist beliefs that provide the intellectual sources of the CCP’s quest for global supremacy, and surveys China’s vulnerabilities — both those endemic to authoritarian regimes and those specific to the People’s Republic of China. In conclusion, the paper lays out a framework for securing freedom.
Reaction to the paper has been instructive. The Chinese Communist Party responded with ritual denunciation. In contrast, public intellectuals, scholars, and public officials from around the world have expressed appreciation for the Policy Planning Staff’s efforts to gather in one place the evidence of the CCP’s predatory policies, to distill the party’s governing ambitions, and to sketch a way forward for the United States and all nations dedicated to preserving the free, open, and rules-based international order. The best of the American responses to the paper have coupled praise, in some cases grudging, with strictures, sometimes angry, about the paper’s limitations. The domestic criticisms are especially revealing, both for the serious issues they raise and for the misconceptions that they promulgate.Recommended
“The Elements of the China Challenge” has its origins in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s reorientation of the State Department — consistent with the Trump administration’s 2017 National Security Strategy and a number of other administration documents — around the new round of great-power competition launched by the CCP. The administration’s attention to the China challenge does not entail — as many mistakenly suppose — that the United States must turn its back to the rest of the world. To the contrary, the Policy Planning Staff paper stresses that to counter China’s quest for global supremacy, the United States must renew its alliance system and must reform international organizations so that they serve America’s vital interest in preserving an international order that is composed of free and sovereign nation-states and that is grounded in respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Trump administration policy reflects this reorientation. For starters, the administration has led in exposing the CCP’s initial cover up of the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent disinformation campaign. The administration intensified efforts to combat China’s massive intellectual property theft. It placed the United States at the forefront of efforts to hold China accountable for gross human rights violations, especially the brutal imprisonment of more than a million Uyghurs in re-education camps in Xinjiang — the United States is the only nation to impose sanctions on CCP officials for these unconscionable abuses. It terminated Hong Kong’s special trading status in the spring, when the CCP crushed freedom in the city. It increased weapons sales to Taiwan, embarked on an inaugural U.S.-Taiwan economic dialogue, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Taiwan on health, science, and technology. It invigorated the Quad (Australia, India, Japan, and the United States) and, with its strategy for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, affirmed the region’s critical importance. It revamped the Development Finance Corporation and reformed the Export-Import Bank to improve the ability of United States and its allies and partners to invest in other nations’ physical and digital infrastructure. And, the Trump administration has convinced more than 50 countries and counting to join the Clean Network, which promises secure telecommunications — unlike the technology offered by Chinese “national champions” Huawei and ZTE, which are CCP extensions whose hardware and software threaten individual privacy and national security.
By stepping back, taking a broader view, and documenting the pattern and purpose of China’s actions, “The Elements of the China Challenge” explains why these policies are urgently needed, and why much more must be done. And by identifying 10 tasks that the United States must undertake — from restoring civic concord at home to, where possible, cooperating with Beijing based on norms of fairness and reciprocity, and to championing freedom abroad — the Policy Planning Staff paper lays the foundations for refashioning U.S. foreign policy to meet the China challenge.
A common theme of the critics, reputable as well as disreputable, is that the paper falls short of the work of George Kennan, a career foreign service officer who in 1947 founded the Policy Planning Staff and became its first director. At the dawn of the Cold War, Kennan’s 1946 “Long Telegram” from Moscow and his 1947 Foreign Affairs article “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” illuminated the threat to freedom posed by the Soviet Union. The most influential documents produced by a State Department official, they served as sources of inspiration for the Policy Planning Staff, but we did not seek to replicate them since, as Kennan well understood, different challenges and moments demand different undertakings and emphases. Above all, today’s Policy Planning Staff learned from Kennan’s insistence on the combination of “ideology and circumstances” that determines great-power conduct, and took to heart his counsel that “to avoid destruction the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation.”
As for the disreputable critics, they give no evidence of having read the paper. The Global Times, a daily tabloid and wholly owned subsidiary of the Chinese Communist Party, was first out of the gate. The CCP newspaper dismissed “The Elements of the China Challenge” the day after it appeared as an “insult to Kennan” amounting to little more than “a collection of malicious remarks from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other anti-China U.S. politicians and senators.” At his regular press conference the following day, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian denounced the Policy Planning Staff paper as “just another collection of lies piled up by the those ‘living fossils of the Cold War’ from the U.S. State Department.”
It would have been more accurate to refer to “the living victors of the Cold War,” but more telling still is the CCP’s failure to notice that the Policy Planning Staff distinguishes the China challenge from the Soviet challenge. While underscoring that, like the former Soviet Union after World War II, China today presents the foremost threat to freedom, the paper also stresses the distinct forms of power at work. “The Soviet Union,” the paper argues, “primarily enlarged its dominions and sought to impose its will through military coercion.” In contrast, and notwithstanding its development of a world-class military, China “primarily pursues the reconfiguration of world affairs through a kind and quantity of economic power of which the Soviets could only have dreamed.”
Of the reputable critics, Odd Arne Westad, a Yale history professor and China scholar, is among the most distinguished. In a Foreign Affairs essay titled “The U.S. Can’t Check China Alone,” he asserts that the “report correctly sees China as the greatest challenge to the United States since the end of the Cold War, showing how Beijing has grown more authoritarian at home and more aggressive abroad.” The paper also, according to Westad, “rightly recognizes how China has tried to gain an advantage by applying economic pressure and conducting espionage — as well as by exploiting the naiveté that causes many foreigners to miss the oppressive nature of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Nevertheless, Westad charges, “the report is limited by ideological and political constraints; given that it is a Trump administration document, it must echo President Donald Trump’s distaste for international organizations, even though they are key to dealing with China.” The professor also takes the paper to task on the grounds that it “almost completely ignores the most basic fact about the current situation, which is that the United States can compete effectively with China only through fundamental reform at home.”
A meticulous scholar of Chinese history, Westad imputes to the Policy Planning Staff paper opinions not found there and overlooks arguments it prominently features. It is not true that our paper, as Westad writes, “suggests that it is now in the United States’ interests to destroy and then selectively rebuild existing international institutions.” Rather, the Policy Planning Staff calls for a reassessment of international organizations to determine where they serve freedom and where they no longer advance the objective for which they were created, arguing for reform where possible and the establishment of new institutions where necessary.
Contrary to Westad, moreover, the Policy Planning Staff highlights the domestic foundations of effective foreign policy. Five of the 10 tasks we identify as crucial to securing freedom involve reform at home — from the renewal of American constitutional government and the promotion of prosperity and civic concord to restoring the U.S. educational system at all levels.
Hal Brands, another reputable critic and leading scholar, finds “valuable insights” in “The Elements of the China Challenge.” Despite the juvenile taunt in the title of his Bloomberg op-ed, “There’s No George Kennan in the Trump Administration,” Brands — a professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies as well as a Bloomberg columnist — writes that the paper “explains, more completely than any prior U.S. policy document, the sources of Chinese conduct — namely the mix of Marxist-Leninist ideology, extreme nationalism and quasi-imperialism that drives the Chinese Communist Party.” In addition, according to Brands, the paper “shows that China’s objectives are not limited to its immediate periphery, but include fundamental changes in the international system”; it “details the troubling aspects of Chinese behavior, from economic predation to Beijing’s menacing military buildup, as well as the deep vulnerabilities — endemic corruption, inescapable demographic problems, economic instability — that threaten its continued ascent”; and it “outlines reasonable steps America should take to strengthen its position.”
Will China’s negligence unleashing the coronavirus and mendacity exploiting it catalyze a reckoning with the PRC, comparable in significance to the Czech Coup of 1948? And will it crystallize long-term American determination to contest China’s scheme to supplant the United States as the world’s preeminent power? Or will China ultimately emerge as the winner from the devastation it has wrought because of a deficit of strategic and moral clarity within the United States and among our allies?
The answer to these questions depends considerably on the policies adopted by the next president. Start with the good news. Negative views of China have soared to a record high of 73 percent of Americans, according to a Pew Foundation Poll released in late July 20201. Chinese behavior during and since the coronavirus also has elicited strong negative reactions across the Indo-Pacific, especially in Japan, India, and Australia, where views of China’s ambitions and behavior already trended strongly in a negative direction. Even in Western Europe, long committed to engaging and conciliating rather than confronting China, COVID-19 has generated an anti-China backlash, more muted on the continent but stronger in Britain where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined President Trump in imposing a complete ban on Chinese 5G vendor Huawei.
Even so, this contingent good news might prove ephemeral rather than enduring if the United States and our allies should waver in the reckoning with China that President Trump deserves credit for initiating. The reelection of President Trump would have offered the best practicable option for building and intensifying the Administration’s first term strategy of contesting China comprehensively and vigorously—a vital condition for bolstering deterrence, or defeating China at the lowest possible cost and risk should deterrence fail. Unlike his predecessor––who “welcomed China’s rise,” who significantly shrank American defense spending while China armed prodigiously, and whose national security statements of 2010 and 2015 omitted naming China or any other great power as an adversary––the Trump Administration designated China from the outset as our number one adversary. The President has not only increased the American defense budget substantially, but invested in threshold technologies such as strategic defense and created an independent Space Force. The President has pushed back hard against China’s implacable economic warfare against us on trade and intellectual property that his predecessors rationalized away. The President’s economic policies before COVID-19 intervened had generated prodigious economic growth on which American military preeminence depends. Trump began, too, the long overdue decoupling of the U.S. economy from China’s, the imperative of which our inordinate dependence on China for essentials such as antibiotics exposed in high relief during this pandemic. President Trump strengthened relationships with a decent democratic India and Japan, vital, value-based allies who share our strategic priorities and alarm about the trajectory of China’s policies at home and abroad—relationships his predecessor, with the support of Vice President Biden, allowed to languish while courting China and other adversaries.
Trump’s recalibration of our China policy that COVID-19 has broadened, deepened, and accelerated is a good start, but only the end of the beginning of what is necessary for the United States and our allies to prevail. For all the considerable merits of President Trump’s approach towards China, the President would enhance the effectiveness of his policies by doing some recalibrating as well. The President’s rhetoric has undervalued the importance of American ideals as well as self-interest in identifying friends, foes, threats, and opportunities. Many Americans who are increasingly alarmed by China rightly advocate calling out China with no pale pastels on human rights, stressing the tyrannical nature of the Chinese regime, while championing the importance of a value-based alliance system of fellow democracies in the Indo-Pacific, grounded firmly in geopolitics. The President’s spokesmen—particularly Secretary of State Pompeo and Vice President Pence—have done much better articulating this dimension of the contest with China than the President, whose actual policies on this and many other issues are often better than he makes them sound. A greater emphasis on human right also may elicit greater support for sterner policies towards China from our Western European allies, where resolve—especially in Germany—is fragile at best even now with disillusionment with China running much higher than usual.
A second term Trump presidency also would run the risk of undermining the significant progress the Administration achieved in the first term if the President decided to settle for a deal rather than staying the course. This temptation is not only organic to President Trump’s nature, but would loom large for whoever became president because of the huge budgetary deficits that COVID-19 has compounded. President Trump’s salutary hectoring our allies to do more—yielding impressive results in Europe his predecessor failed to match—also ran the risk of reaching a culminating point counterproductive to forging a muscular strategic consensus that actively counters China’s ambitions.
With President Trump’s defeat, the odds diminish that China loses more than it gains by unleashing and exploiting COVID-19. Granted, the most recent Pew Foundation Poll found that many Democrats as well as even more Republicans advocate tougher policies on toward China on human rights and trade. An increasing number of prominent Democrats have become rhetorically more willing to criticize rather than conciliate China. Even so, President-elect Biden has a long record of advocating engagement with China while downplaying the idea that the PRC has become a serious strategic rival. The leftward lurch of the current Democratic Party also does inspire confident that a Biden Administration will follow through on President Trump’s policy of robust resistance towards China’s predatory behavior. On the contrary, Senator Biden had moved steadily in a more dovish direction on national security even before becoming President Obama’s Vice President and cheerleading for Obama’s Dangerous Doctrine President Trump has repudiated in its entirety. Neither Biden nor his surrogates said much of anything about China at the Democratic convention despite the urgency of addressing the paramount national security threat of our time.
Will a Democratic Party reluctant to condemn the breakdown of law and order in a growing number of municipalities its leaders have governed for decades—a party seriously considering deep cuts in law enforcement amidst the mayhem—pursue the types of muscular national security strategies essential for credibly reassuring our terrified real and prospective allies in the Indo-Pacific that it is safer to stand up to China rather than to capitulate? Will a party committed to a vast expansion of government domestically—with deficits cascading, taxes poised steeply to increase if President Biden has his way—have the resources much less the inclination to spend enough on defense to counter China’s relentless military buildup aimed at driving the United States out of the Western Pacific? Will a Biden Administration also designate China’s grandiose ambitions and predatory behavior as danger number one? Or will the President-elect and his party revert instead to the default position of President Trump’s predecessor, who considered climate change the paramount gathering danger, envisaging China as a partner in fighting it?
Concluding with an optimistic plausible caveat about the consequences of a Biden victory for our struggle with China, history furnishes ample examples of policies confounding expectations. Recall the Truman Administration’s decision to resist North Korea’s June 1950 attack on South Korea just six months after Secretary of State Dean Acheson seemed to exclude South Korea as a vital interest in his speech to the Washington Press Club in January 1950. Recall, the strategic metamorphosis of heretofore isolationist Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan into a stalwart supporter of President Truman’s policy of vigilant containment. In the immortal words of the Beach Boys, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” if a Biden Presidency underwent a similar metamorphosis in this direction. It would be a triumph of hope over experience, however, to count on it. This version of the Democratic party has purged itself of all vestiges of the Truman/Scoop Jackson tradition of muscular Cold War liberalism congenial to the President’s hawkishness on China. The party’s political banishment of Former Senator Joseph Lieberman—the last of the Cold War Democrats—sadly attests to that.
May a Biden Presidency, too, be better than it sounds. Otherwise, the COVID-19 pandemic may turn out to be a strange and stinging defeat for the United States instead of a defeat for its perpetrator.
Sanctions relief didn't bring stability in 2015. And it won't now
Back in September, Joe Biden described his Iran policy in an op-ed for CNN. After several paragraphs criticizing President Trump, Biden made an “unshakable commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” Then he offered Tehran “a credible path back to diplomacy.” The terms were simple. “If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal,” Biden wrote, “the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.” Sanctions would be lifted. And Biden is sticking with his plan. Recently Tom Friedman asked him if the offer stands. “It’s going to be hard,” Biden replied, “but yeah.”
Sure, Biden admitted, the agreement did not cover Iran’s missile programs, or support for terrorism, or human-rights violations, or malign behavior in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Absolutely, it contained a sunset clause that freed Iran of its obligations, and limited inspections to non-military installations. True, Iran maintained its archive of nuclear weapons research (until Israel revealed it to the world in 2018). And yes, the regional dynamic has changed. But these are secondary issues. “The best way to achieve getting some stability in the region,” Biden said, is “with the nuclear program.”
“Stability” is not how most people would describe the Middle East after 2015. Iran continued to launch missiles and send weapons and rockets to Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon, Shiite militias in Iraq, and Houthis in Yemen. Iran continued to hold captive U.S. citizens and harass and even detain U.S. naval personnel. Iran continued to harbor al-Qaeda’s number two, until he was killed earlier this year.
The economic benefits from sanctions relief went straight to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Its leader, General Qassem Soleimani, used this walking around money to sow murder and chaos before Trump ended his reign of terror last January. The nuclear deal did not bring order to a Greater Middle East where the Islamic State ruled large parts of Iraq and Syria, and where extremist ideologies inspired attacks in America, France, and the United Kingdom.
It is fantastic to think that the Iran deal stabilized anything. But the agreement has replaced the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as a kind of philosopher’s stone that, according to the liberal imagination, transmutes ethno-sectarian animosity into peace and toleration. In reality, the benefits of the nuclear deal were just as illusory as the promise of Oslo. Concessions did nothing but embolden the agents of terror.
That’s because negotiations were not conducted in good faith. One side, earnest and idealistic, was willing to pay a steep price to attain its aims. The other side wanted to pocket its gains while dissembling, diverting from, or otherwise undermining the spirit of diplomacy. This cynicism and double-talk isn’t a function of religion or ethnicity. It is a function of regime. Both the Palestinian Authority and the Islamic Republic of Iran are autocracies. Neither government respects the dignity and liberty of its own people. There is no reason to assume they would respect ours.
Recent weeks have provided remedial instruction for those unwilling or unable to acknowledge the reality of Iran’s outlaw government. On December 9, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif gave a Persian-language interview in which he said that “America is in no position to set conditions for its return” to the Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA. Then he used anti-Semitic slang to express his support for Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s “popular referendum” that would decide whether Israel should continue to exist. “We’re not talking about throwing the k—s into the sea, or about a military attack, or about suicide operations,” Zarif said. A simple up-or-down vote should do the trick.
No one in the English-speaking world would have known about Zarif’s comments were it not for the indefatigable translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Needless to say, when his despicable language was publicized, Zarif claimed in a tweet that, ha-ha-ha, he was just joking. “I was mocking the allegation that Iran seeks to ‘throw the Jews into the sea’ and reiterating our solution is a referendum with participation of ALL: Jews, Muslims, Christians,” he wrote. In a favorite trick of demagogues everywhere, Zarif cast himself as the victim, and said it was really his critics who were biased and beneath contempt. How could anyone accuse Minister Zarif or his government of anti-Semitism? It’s not like his supreme leader denies the Holocaust and says Israel won’t exist in 20 years. “MEMRI,” Zarif wrote, “has sunk to a new low.”
It is Zarif who’s hit bottom. Around the time the foreign minister dropped the k-bomb, Iran executed the 47-year-old Ruhollah Zam, an Iranian journalist and dissident who had been living in France until Tehran’s agents lured him under false pretenses to Iraq, where they kidnapped and arrested him. Zam’s killing was intended to demonstrate that no Iranian who speaks out against the mullahs is safe. It also sparked an international outcry from the very people whose good opinion Iran needs the most. It’s “another horrifying human rights violation by the Iranian regime,” tweetedincoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan. “We will join our partners in calling out and standing up to Iran’s abuses.”
One way to stand up to “Iran’s abuses” would be resisting the temptation to reenter the nuclear deal. Using the sanctions leverage bequeathed to him by Trump, Biden might try linking not only missiles and terrorism but also human rights to a renewal of negotiations. Iranian refusal would not be a “failure of diplomacy.” It would be confirmation that Tehran has no interest in changing its ways. The mullahs understand that the second they relax their grip, or appear weak vis-à-vis America, their government will crumble. Paying them off to abide by an agreement whose terms they set is an evasion. Stability in the Middle East won’t come when America rejoins the JCPOA. It will arrive when the Iranian people put an end to the Islamic revolution.
During the presidential campaign, candidate Biden never spared his words criticizing the Trump administration’s Iran policy, in particular the decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This so-called “Iran Deal” was the signature foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama administration, which his successor revoked in May 2018. In its place, the U.S. has been pursuing a “maximum pressure campaign”–if not always consistently–through sanctions, with the goal of forcing Iran back to the negotiating table.
The prospect of a return to the JCPOA fit into the Biden campaign’s general political narrative of returning to the policies of the Obama era. Reestablishing the status quo ante Trump as far as Iran is concerned could additionally contribute to rebuilding trans-Atlantic ties, since the European allies are eager to see the U.S. back in the JCPOA. More broadly, a return would amplify Biden’s stated goal of reasserting an American commitment to multilateralism, by drawing a clean line separating him from the Trump-era unilateralism associated with the program of “America First.” Getting back into the Iran Deal is a likely priority of a Biden agenda.
However, instead of a straight-forward return to the JCPOA, there have been suggestions of the need for an alternative to the JCPOA. Biden has said as much, although sometimes in the form of a two-phase process: a return and then a more expansive agreement or a “better deal.” Many view the JCPOA in its current form as insufficient, failing to address a range of contentious points. Secretary of State Pompeo enumerated twelve terms for an improved agreement in May, 2018, including the return of all U.S. prisoners, ending Iran’s missiles program, and terminating Tehran’s destabilizing regional foreign policy.
Yet for the credibility of American foreign policy broadly–with Iran, in the Middle East and globally–it would be a grievous mistake to pursue any agreement that does not give significant attention to a file that the Obama-Biden administration largely disregarded: human rights. Iran is major violator of international human rights norms. This is no secret, certainly not to the U.S. government. On the contrary, the U.S. reports on human rights abuses regularly. Leaving human rights out of the prospective negotiations with Iran would be an indefensible betrayal of the Iranian people as well as American ideals.
Rights have been looming larger in American foreign policy recently. The Trump administration’s treatment of China has increasingly called out human rights abuses, while the Department of State under Secretary Pompeo has underscored the importance of human rights, including with its Report on Unalienable Rights. The Biden administration will have to decide if it will continue this emphasis on rights or whether it will revert to the ignoring of human rights, which Secretary Kerry excluded from the so-called “comprehensive” Iran negotiations.
It is important to highlight the egregiousness of Iran’s human rights violations, even if space here permits for only the shortest of summaries, drawing on U.S. government sources.
The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the State Department issues annual reports on human rights in all countries. The 2019 report on Iran gives prominent attention to the violent suppression of last year’s protest movement: “In response to widespread protests that began November 15 after a fuel price increase, the government blocked almost all international and local internet connections for most of a week, and security forces used lethal force to end the protests, killing approximately 1,500 persons and detaining 8,600, according to international media reports. There was no indication government entities were pursuing independent or impartial investigations into protester deaths.” Astonishingly, this is only the tip of the iceberg; the report also describes systematic abuse of human rights by the Iranian regime, including–but not limited to–the use of torture and other degrading punishments, arbitrary arrests, unfair trial procedures, inhuman conditions in prisons, politically motivated arrests and punishments, and a systematic abuse of migrants, refugees and stateless persons.
A separate report prepared by the Office of International Religious Freedom treats Iran’s parlous record in this arena. The Iranian Constitution defines the country as an “Islamic Republic,” with special privileges reserved for Islam; the only other faiths allowed are Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, but with strict limitations on their practice. There is no genuine religious freedom. Conversion by Muslims to other faiths is prohibited, and proselytism of Muslims is a capital crime. Non-Shia Muslims, especially Sunni, face discrimination as do members of the Baha’i community in particular. Non-Muslims are excluded from serving in parliament, except for five (out of 290) seats reserved for the permitted minorities. The mandatory prioritization of Islam plays out as well with regard to clothing rules for women: “The government continued to require women of all religious groups to adhere to ‘Islamic dress’ standards in public, including covering their hair and fully covering their bodies in loose clothing – an overcoat and a hijab or, alternatively, a chador (full body length semicircle of fabric worn over both the head and clothes). Although the government, at times, eased enforcement of rules for such dress, it also punished ‘un-Islamic dress’ with arrests, lashings, fines, and dismissal from employment. The government continued to crack down on public protests against the compulsory hijab and Islamic dress requirements for women. International media and various human rights NGOs reported the 24-year prison sentence on August 27 of women’s rights activist Saba Kord Afshari for her involvement in protests against the compulsory hijab.[…] In April authorities arrested three anti-forced-hijab activists, Mojgan Keshavarz, Monireh Arabshahi, and her daughter Yasaman Ariyani, for their widely shared video via various social media networks on March 8, International Women’s Day, depicting the women handing out flowers in the Tehran metro while suggesting to passengers that the hijab should be a choice. According to Human Rights Watch, on July 31, branch 31 of Tehran’s revolutionary court sentenced each of them to five years in prison for ‘assembly and collusion to act against national security,’ one year for ‘propaganda against the state,’ and 10 years for ‘encouraging and enabling [moral] corruption and prostitution.'”
In addition, the State Department’s annual report on Trafficking in Persons details Iran’s shameful record, at odds with international norms, involving human trafficking for labor, prostitution, and participation in Iran’s foreign military forays. It describes “a government policy or pattern of recruiting and using child soldiers, and a pattern of government officials perpetrating sex trafficking of adults and children with impunity. Government officials continued to perpetrate and condone trafficking crimes with impunity, both in Iran and overseas […] In addition, the government failed to identify and protect trafficking victims among vulnerable populations and continued to treat trafficking victims as criminals, including child sex trafficking victims. Victims continued to face severe punishment, including death, for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as prostitution and immigration violations.”
These three government reports provide more details, as do the accounts provided by NGOs, especially Human Rights Watchand Amnesty International. Trigger warning: some of the accounts are graphic and heart-wrenching, particularly with regard to the mistreatment of political prisoners and Iran’s use of torture.
There is no doubt that Iran is an egregious human rights violator, and it is equally certain that the U.S. government is well aware of this. Therefore, if the Biden administration insists on reopening negotiations with Teheran, it has an obligation to put human rights on the table: no sanctions relief without human rights reform. In addition to pursuing an end to Iran’s ambitions for nuclear weapons, the U.S. should insist that Iran comply with international human rights norms. If Washington does not do this, no one else will. A reasonable program could include points such as these:
In terms of internationally recognized norms, these are all reasonable policy goals; others could surely be added. In terms of the reality of Iran, achieving these goals would represent a profound amelioration of the lives of the Iranian people. In terms of decades of American policy and statute mandating the pursuit of human rights, these are exactly the sorts of goals the U.S. should pursue, especially in light of the leverage the existing sanctions program provides.
If Washington fails to raise human rights concerns in the pending negotiations with Iran, it will squander this leverage, and it will lose credibility to raise the question of rights toward any other regime, in the Middle East and beyond. Cynics, realists and pro-regime Iran lobbyists will dismiss these human rights concerns as fabricated, marginal to disarmament concerns, or matters of legitimate “cultural difference.” Yet an American administration intent on laying claim to global leadership should integrate them firmly into its foreign policy agenda.
To know what the Chinese are really up to, read the futuristic novels of Liu Cixin.
“We are in the foothills of a Cold War.” Those were the words of Henry Kissinger when I interviewed him at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Beijing last November.
The observation in itself was not wholly startling. It had seemed obvious to me since early last year that a new Cold War — between the U.S. and China — had begun. This insight wasn’t just based on interviews with elder statesmen. Counterintuitive as it may seem, I had picked up the idea from binge-reading Chinese science fiction.
First, the history. What had started out in early 2018 as a trade war over tariffs and intellectual property theft had by the end of the year metamorphosed into a technology war over the global dominance of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies Co. in 5G network telecommunications; an ideological confrontation in response to Beijing’s treatment of the Uighur minority in China’s Xinjiang region and the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong; and an escalation of old frictions over Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Nevertheless, for Kissinger, of all people, to acknowledge that we were in the opening phase of Cold War II was remarkable.
Since his first secret visit to Beijing in 1971, Kissinger has been the master-builder of that policy of U.S.-Chinese engagement which, for 45 years, was a leitmotif of U.S. foreign policy. It fundamentally altered the balance of power at the mid-point of the Cold War, to the disadvantage of the Soviet Union. It created the geopolitical conditions for China’s industrial revolution, the biggest and fastest in history. And it led, after China’s accession to the World Trade Organization, to that extraordinary financial symbiosis which Moritz Schularick and I christened “Chimerica” in 2007.
How did relations between Beijing and Washington sour so quickly that even Kissinger now speaks of Cold War?
The conventional answer to that question is that President Donald Trump has swung like a wrecking ball into the “liberal international order” and that Cold War II is only one of the adverse consequences of his “America First” strategy.
Yet that view attaches too much importance to the change in U.S. foreign policy since 2016, and not enough to the change in Chinese foreign policy that came four years earlier, when Xi Jinping became general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Future historians will discern that the decline and fall of Chimerica began in the wake of the global financial crisis, as a new Chinese leader drew the conclusion that there was no longer any need to hide the light of China’s ambition under the bushel that Deng Xiaoping had famously recommended.
When Middle America voted for Trump four years ago, it was partly a backlash against the asymmetric payoffs of engagement and its economic corollary, globalization. Not only had the economic benefits of Chimerica gone disproportionately to China, not only had its costs been borne disproportionately by working-class Americans, but now those same Americans saw that their elected leaders in Washington had acted as midwives at the birth of a new strategic superpower — a challenger for global predominance even more formidable, because economically stronger, than the Soviet Union.
It is not only Kissinger who recognizes that the relationship with Beijing has soured. Orville Schell, another long-time believer in engagement, recently conceded that the approach had foundered “because of the CCP’s deep ambivalence about the way engaging in a truly meaningful way might lead to demands for more reform and change and its ultimate demise.”
Conservative critics of engagement, meanwhile, are eager to dance on its grave, urging that the People’s Republic be economically “quarantined,” its role in global supply chains drastically reduced. There is a spring in the step of the more Sinophobic members of the Trump administration, notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger and trade adviser Peter Navarro. For the past three and a half years they have been arguing that the single most important thing about Trump’s presidency was that he had changed the course of U.S. policy towards China, a shift from engagement to competition spelled out in the 2017 National Security Strategy. The events of 2020 would seem to have vindicated them.
The Covid-19 pandemic has done more than intensify Cold War II. It has revealed its existence to those who last year doubted it. The Chinese Communist Party caused this disaster — first by covering up how dangerous the new virus SARS-CoV-2 was, then by delaying the measures that might have prevented its worldwide spread.
Yet now China wants to claim the credit for saving the world from the crisis it caused. Liberally exporting cheap and not wholly reliable ventilators, testing kits and face masks, the Chinese government has sought to snatch victory from the jaws of a defeat it inflicted. The deputy director of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s information department has gone so far as to endorse a conspiracy theory that the coronavirus originated in the U.S. and retweet an article claiming that an American team had brought the virus with them when they participated in the World Military Games in Wuhan last October.
Just as implausible are Chinese claims that the U.S. is somehow behind the recurrent waves of pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong. The current confrontation over the former British colony’s status is unambiguously Made in China. As Pompeo has said, the new National Security LawBeijing imposed on Hong Kong last Tuesday effectively “destroys” the territory’s semi-autonomy and tears up the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration, which guaranteed that Hong Kong would retain its own legal system for 50 years after its handover to People’s Republic in 1997.
In this context, it is not really surprising that American public sentiment towards China has become markedly more hawkish since 2017, especially among older voters. China is one of few subjects these days about which there is a genuine bipartisan consensus. It is a sign of the times that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign clearly intends to portray their man as more hawkish on China than Trump. (Former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s new memoir is grist to their mill.) On Hong Kong, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, is every bit as indignant as Pompeo.
I have argued that this new Cold War is both inevitable and desirable, not least because it has jolted the U.S. out of complacency and into an earnest effort not to be surpassed by China in artificial intelligence, quantum computing and other strategically crucial technologies. Yet there remains, in academia especially, significant resistance to my viewthat we should stop worrying and learn to love Cold War II.
At a forum last week on World Order after Covid-19, organized by the Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, a clear majority of speakers warned of the perils of a new Cold War.
Eric Schmidt, the former chairman of Google, argued instead for a “rivalry-partnership” model of “coop-etition,” in which the two nations would at once compete and cooperate in the way that Samsung and Apple have done for years.
Harvard’s Graham Allison, the author of the bestselling “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?”, agreed, giving as another example the 11th-century “frenmity” between the Song Emperor of China and the Liao kingdom on China’s northern border. The pandemic, Allison argued, has made “incandescent the impossibility of identifying China clearly as either foe or friend. Rivalry-partnership may sound complicated, but life is complicated.”
“The establishment of a productive and predictable US/China relationship,” wrote John Lipsky, formerly of the International Monetary Fund, “is a sine qua non for strengthening the institutions of global governance.” The last Cold War had cast a “shadow of a global holocaust for decades,” observed James Steinberg, a former deputy secretary of state. “What can be done to create a context to limit the rivalry and create space for cooperation?”
Elizabeth Economy, my colleague at the Hoover Institution, had an answer: “The United States and China could … partner to address a global challenge,” namely climate change. Tom Wright of the Brookings Institution took a similar line: “Focusing only on great power competition while ignoring the need for cooperation will not actually give the United States an enduring strategic advantage over China.”
All this sounds eminently reasonable, apart from one thing. The Chinese Communist Party isn’t Samsung, much less the Liao kingdom. Rather — as was true in Cold War I, when (especially after 1968) academics tended to be doves rather than hawks — today’s proponents of “rivalry-partnership” are overlooking the possibility that the Chinese aren’t interested in being frenemies. They know full well this is a Cold War, because they started it.
To be sure, there are also Chinese scholars who lament the passing of engagement. The economist Yu Yongding recently joined Kevin Gallagher of Boston University to argue for reconciliation between Washington and Beijing. Yet that is no longer the official view in Beijing. When I first began talking publicly about Cold War II at conferences last year, I was surprised that no Chinese delegates contradicted me. In September, I asked one of them — the Chinese head of a major international institution — why that was. “Because I agree with you!” he replied with a smile.
As a visiting professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, I have seen for myself the ideological turning of the tide under Xi. Academics who study taboo subjects such as the Cultural Revolution find themselves subject to investigations or worse. Those who take a more combative stance toward the West get promoted.
Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua, recently argued that Cold War II, unlike Cold War I, will be a purely technological competition, without proxy wars and nuclear brinkmanship. Yao Yang, dean of the National School of Development at Peking University, was equally candid in an interview with the Beijing Cultural Review, published on April 28.
“To a certain degree we already find ourselves in the situation of a New Cold War,” he said. “There are two basic reasons for this. The first is the need for Western politicians to play the blame game” about the origins of the pandemic. “The next thing,” he added, “is that now Westerners want to make this into a ‘systems’ question, saying that the reason that China could carry out such drastic control measures [in Hubei province] is because China is not a democratic society, and this is where the power and capacity to do this came from.”
This, however, is weak beer compared with the hard stuff regularly served up on Twitter by the pack leader of the “wolf warrior” diplomats, Zhao Lijian. “The Hong Kong Autonomy Act passed by the US Senate is nothing but a piece of scrap paper,” he tweeted on Monday, in response to the congressional retaliation against China’s new Hong Kong security law. By his standards, this was understatement.
The tone of the official Chinese communiqué released after Pompeo’s June 17 meeting in Hawaii with Yang Jiechi, the director of the Communist Party’s Office of Foreign Affairs, was vintage Cold War. On the persecution of the Uighurs, for example, it called on “the US side to respect China’s counter-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts, stop applying double standards on counter-terrorism issues, and stop using Xinjiang-related issues as a pretext to interfere in China’s internal affairs.”
And this old shrillness, so reminiscent of the Mao Zedong era, is not reserved for the U.S. alone. The Chinese government lashes out at any country that has the temerity to criticize it, from Australia — “gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe” according to the editor of the Party-controlled Global Times — to India to the U.K.
Those who hope to revive engagement, or at least establish frenmity with Beijing, underestimate the influence of Wang Huning, a member since 2017 of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the most powerful body in China, and Xi’s most influential adviser. Back in August 1988, Wang spent six months in the U.S. as a visiting scholar, traveling to more than 30 cities and nearly 20 universities. His account of that trip, “America against America,” (published in 1991) is a critique — in places scathing — of American democracy, capitalism and culture (racial division features prominently in the third chapter).
Yet the book that has done the most to educate me about how China views America and the world today is, as I said, not a political text, but a work of science fiction. “The Dark Forest” was Liu Cixin’s 2008 sequel to the hugely successful “Three-Body Problem.” It would be hard to overstate Liu’s influence in contemporary China: He is revered by the Shenzhen and Hangzhou tech companies, and was officially endorsed as one of the faces of 21st-century Chinese creativity by none other than … Wang Huning.
“The Dark Forest,” which continues the story of the invasion of Earth by the ruthless and technologically superior Trisolarans, introduces Liu’s three axioms of “cosmic sociology.”
First, “Survival is the primary need of civilization.” Second, “Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant.” Third, “chains of suspicion” and the risk of a “technological explosion” in another civilization mean that in space there can only be the law of the jungle. In the words of the book’s hero, Luo Ji:
The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost … trying to tread without sound … The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life — another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod — there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people … any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out.
Kissinger is often thought of (in my view, wrongly) as the supreme American exponent of Realpolitik. But this is something much harsher than realism. This is intergalactic Darwinism.
Of course, you may say, it’s just sci-fi. Yes, but “The Dark Forest” gives us an insight into something we think too little about: how Xi’s China thinks. It’s not up to us whether or not we have a Cold War with China, if China has already declared Cold War on us.
Not only are we already in the foothills of that new Cold War; those foothills are also impenetrably covered in a dark forest of China’s devising.
Facing the China threat requires new institutions and renewed alliances
You can’t beat something with nothing. But America seems determined to try.
America’s attempt to integrate China into the global economy as a “responsible stakeholder” failed. China’s economy has become more statist, its political system more repressive, its foreign policy more bullying, its ambitions more outsized than they were 20 years ago. China did not challenge American leadership directly. It altered the character of international institutions from within.
The multilateral institutions that comprise the American-led liberal international order have been decaying for some time. Coronavirus has accelerated the deterioration. NATO, the United Nations, the European Union, the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization—they are unresponsive, unaccountable, divided, demoralized, defunct. The world is a more dangerous place.
We are used to autocratic domination of the U.N. General Assembly and the secretariat’s various commissions. No one bats an eye when Russia or China vetoes a Security Council measure. Less publicized were the concessions made to China as part of the Paris Climate Accord. Or the fact that the World Trade Organization treats the world’s second-largest economy as a “developing” nation. But the way Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of the WHO, caviled and covered for Beijing as the coronavirus spread throughout the world is impossible to ignore. Drift, confusion, and chaos result.
There are three options. The first is to work within the system to revitalize the existing structures. The second is to build alternative institutions. The third option is to do nothing.
President Trump has tried a hybrid of options one and three. But with a twist. Where others might try a kind word or some quiet diplomacy to inspire reform and collaboration, he turns against the very institutions America created to force them to live up to their commitments. He browbeats NATO members into spending more on defense. He cheers for Brexit and supports the EU’s internal critics. He cripples the WTO’s arbitration mechanism and threatens to withdraw entirely. He suspends funding for the WHO.
It’s the “America First” foreign policy Trump promised. And the results have been mixed. NAFTA was replaced. NATO budgets are up (for now). Mexico agreed to have asylum-seekers wait on its side of the border while their claims are adjudicated. China signed a “Phase One” trade deal.
But there’s a cost. Allies may accede to your demands, but resentment builds. The foundations of the alliance weaken. Unpredictability inspires fear and caution. If sustained for too long, though, it conveys irresoluteness and fecklessness. Adversaries begin to probe. They buzz flights and collapse the oil price, resume shelling U.S. troops and harassing U.S. naval vessels, begin tailingcontainer ships in the South China Sea.
The democracies look inward. NATO is silent, the EU split, America distracted and distressed. China exploited this strategic vacuum. It launched a global disinformation campaign falsely assigning responsibility for the pandemic to the United States. Its agents pushed scurrilous and panic-inducing messages to U.S. cellphones saying that President Trump was about to impose a national lockdown policed by the National Guard. Its diplomatic “Wolf Warriors” enforce the party line whenever foreign governments challenge Beijing’s preferred narrative.
Chinese propaganda used to amplify achievements and repress criticism. Now it attacks directly overseas enemies of the state. The strategy, writes Laura Rosenberger in Foreign Affairs, “aims not so much to promote a particular idea as to sow doubt, dissension, and disarray—including among Americans—in order to undermine public confidence in information and prevent any common understanding of facts from taking hold.” It’s working.
China isn’t invincible. It is reaping the economic whirlwind of the coronavirus it hid from the world. None of its neighbors are thrilled about the growth of Chinese power. Its internal political situation may be unstable. But the speed with which it has used the pandemic for geopolitical advantage is extraordinary. Look at how it plays favorites with its distribution of pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment, how it stepped into the breach with a new flow of cash for its friend Dr. Tedros. Confronting China’s rise requires “a common understanding of facts,” and partners with whom to share those facts in common. These days, America is lacking in both.
By all means, punish the World Health Organization for collaborating with China. But also be prepared to stand up another mechanism to do the good work its founders intended. Go ahead, demand allies live up to their commitments. But also recognize that partnerships of like-minded nations were critical to success in the First Cold War. This is the time to build new institutions that reflect the realities of a 21st century that pits liberal democracies against an authoritarian surveillance state. For every moment that passes without American leadership brings us closer to a world where the sun never sets on the five golden stars.
Britain is reclaiming its agency as a self-governing nation. Its example will reverberate throughout Europe.
Because European Union business runs on Brussels time, the United Kingdom will be leaving the EU at precisely 11 p.m. GMT Friday. (If you’re in New York and want to tip your glass to our newly sovereign friends, that’s 6 p.m. EST.) In my own, perhaps peculiar view, Brexit is the most important moment for democracy since 1989.
If the European Union were merely the European Market, Brexit would be foolish: The United Kingdom has enjoyed a kind of privileged access to the Common Market because it retains its own powerful currency rather than the Euro, which in reality is managed on behalf of Germany and against the interests of Southern Europe. But the European Union is not just a market but a political project, really a kind of institutionalized utopian project.
European Council president Donald Tusk said, “I fear Brexit could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also Western political civilization in its entirety.” It’s easy to point and laugh at such an extravagant statement, but Tusk was verbalizing the incredible challenge Brexit presents to a certain kind of European mind, a mind conditioned to the idea that democracy inheres not in popular sovereignty — democratic peoples governing themselves — but in the elite administration of human rights, insulated from democratic passions and prejudices.
It is this worldview that has shaped the construction of the European Union. The EU is governed by an unelected Commission and an unelected Court, both joined to an elected Parliament with no real legislative power. Can you impeach a European commissioner? Can you vote for one? Or vote to remove one? No, non, nein!
The European project that the Commission promotes and protects is guided by a spirit of ever-closer union, not the laws and treaties it makes. The European Union does not respect votes that go against that spirit, such as Ireland’s vote against the Lisbon treaty; instead, it forces reruns. It does not respect its own commitments, either: Angela Merkel’s welcome to 1 million refugees and migrants in 2015 totally blew apart the supposedly solemn Dublin Accords. It plays favorites: The pro-EU Emmanuel Macron is allowed to temporarily blow through the budgeting and debt requirements imposed on member states, but those same requirements are enforced with fervor against populists such as Italy’s Matteo Salvini. And it has no qualms about interfering in the politics of its member states: During the Euro crisis, recalcitrant national governments in Italy and Greece were replaced by a combination of pressure from above in the form of the Commission and the European Central Bank, and from sideways in the form of captured native interests.
In short, untethered from real democratic input, the EU at once suffocates European life with regulation and unmoors it with lawless caprice.
The response of the European Union to Brexit isn’t rebuke and repentance, a newfound willingness to accede to the wishes of the democratic peoples within it. No, it’s doubling down. MEP Guy Verhofstadt has said that Brexit has underscored the need to “make it into a real Union, a Union without opt-in, without opt-outs, without rebates, without exceptions. Only then we can defend our interests and defend our values.”
Lest you dismiss his words as empty, it is Verhofstadt who has been chosen to lead the next Conference on the Future of Europe, which is already preparing to recommend removing the last true badges of sovereign and democratic control from national parliaments: their freedom to tax and appropriate money as they see fit. Doing this is likely necessary to save the Euro. But the price is the loss of self-government on the continent where self-government was born into this world. Having bought off almost every party save for nationalists and populists, the European Union is, ironically, guaranteeing the very thing it was created to stop: the ascendance of nationalist parties to domination of Europe.
Brexit is not just a way to preserve British democracy by restoring independence and sovereignty to the United Kingdom’s Parliament. It is a way of recovering the very things a democratic constitution enables: the conciliation of diverse interests and the political moderation of the people that comes with it.
Our friends are escaping the Brussels nomenklatura. They are demystifying the supposed “arc” of history, a bit of superstition used to rob democratic peoples of real agency. There are many dangers Britain may yet face, but it will be all the better for facing them as a free, independent, and self-governing nation.
Historically, efforts to prevent dead set regimes from acquiring nuclear weapons have been marked mostly by embarrassing diplomatic fiascos. The chronology of every state-sponsored nuclear program began with developing the necessary human resources to facilitate domestic plutonium production. In phase two, while diligently laboring on enriching uranium to the critical mass, all these states denied vehemently their intentions to become nuclear powers by emphasizing their governments inherently peaceful nature. In phase three they presented the rest of the world with a fait accompli, namely, the nuclear bomb.
Thus far, the Islamic Republic of Iran has followed the same well-trodden path. Most importantly, from its inception, the Mullahcracy has been, even within the Islamic Ummah, an international pariah. Isolated and therefore devoid of friends and allies, the two Ayatollahs, the late Ruhollah Mostafavi Musavi Khomeini and the current one Seyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, have decided to acquire the ultimate weapon for self-preservation.
Therefore, the quest for a nuclear power Iran has started immediately after the fall of the Shah in early 1979. In 1987, the theocratic regime acquired technical schematics for building a P-1 centrifuge from the Pakistani Abdul Qadeer Khan network. The conversion of the Test Readiness Review that was done in 1987 by Argentina’s Applied Research Institute allowed the regime enrichment to less than 20%. In 2002, the National Council of Resistance on Iran, the political wing of the so-called Mujahideen-e Khalq (MeK), revealed that Iran already built two secret nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak respectively. More ominously, thousands of documents seized by Israeli intelligence agents during a raid of a nondescript hanger in Shorabad district of Tehran in 2018, revealed that the regime never abandoned its clandestine quest for building a nuclear bomb. Among the documents released to the public, one that originated in 2002, contains a proposal for “warhead”, which were given the green light by the regime’s top nuclear official Moshen Fakhrizadeh. His hand-written remark in Farsi in the top left corner of the document reads in English translation: “In the name of God. Right now in a treatment process. Please archive the original script of the document. Fakhrizadeh.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had its own doubts about Tehran peaceful intentions and sincerity. As a result, the Board of Governors adopted a resolution on September 12, 2003, calling on Tehran to suspend all enrichment as well as all reprocessing-related activities. Moreover, the same resolution called upon the Iranian regime to declare all material relevant to its uranium enrichment program. Finally, the Board demanded that the regime allow the IAEA inspectors to undertake unencumbered environmental sampling at any location. The deadline for compliance was set at October 31, 2003.
In its reply, the regime seemingly indicated its readiness to comply. On October 21, 2003, Tehran agreed to meet the IAEA demands by the designated date. However, on June 18, 2004, the IAEA complained of Iran’s non-compliance. Again, Tehran notified the IAEA on November 14, 2004, that it will suspend enrichment-related activities for the duration of talks with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In this manner, Tehran prevented the IAEA Board of Governors to notify the UN Security Council. On February 27, 2005, the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran concluded an agreement to supply fuel for the nuclear reactor in Busher. A provision of this agreement mandated that Iran shall return the spent nuclear fuel to Russia. Next, Tehran announced on August 8, 2005, that it has commenced the production of uranium hexafluoride at its Isfahan facility. Following this announcement, the United States, France, and Germany froze negotiations with Tehran. Shortly thereafter, on September 24, 2005, the IAEA adopted a resolution declaring Tehran in noncompliance with the previous safeguard agreement. Most glaringly, this resolution stated that Iran’s nuclear activities combined with the absence of their peaceful nature are within the competence of the UN Security Council, opening the way for future referrals.
Sure enough, on February 4, 2006, the Board of Governors of the IAEA referred the Islamic Republic of Iran to the UN Security Council. Pursuant to the resolution, the Board of Governors deemed it “necessary for Iran” to immediately suspend its enrichment related activities, reconsider the construction of the Arak heavy-water reactor, ratify the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, and fully cooperate with the IAEA’s investigations. As a result, Tehran informed the IAEA on February 6, 2006, that it will “voluntarily” implement the additional protocol and other non-legally binding inspection procedures. Nonetheless, on April 11th, Tehran announced that it successfully enriched uranium for the first time to 3.5%. The enriched uranium was produced at the Natanz pilot enrichment plant. On June 6th, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the Federal Republic of Germany (the P5+1) proposed a framework agreement to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Then, on July 31st, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1696, elevating the IAEA’s demand for Tehran to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities legally binding for all member states. Tehran responded on August 22nd. On the one hand, it rejected the demand to suspend enrichment, but on the other hand, added that the resolution contained “elements which may be useful for a constructive approach.”
As a reply and for the first time, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1737 on December 23rd, imposing sanctions on the lslamic Republic of Iran for its refusal to suspend its enrichment-related activities.
According to the resolution, states were prohibited from transferring sensitive nuclear-and missile-related technology to Tehran. Moreover, the states were obligated to freeze the assets of ten Iranian organizations and twelve individuals for their involvement in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.
In 2007, Tehran continued to defy the international community. Thus, the UN Security Council again unanimously adopted Resolution 1747, demanding that the Islamic Republic of Iran suspend uranium enrichment. Three rounds of talks followed. These talks brought forth on August 21st, a so-called “work plan.” This work plan mandated that Tehran must answer specific and long-standing questions about its nuclear activities, including activities suspected of being related to nuclear weapons developments. To make the point, the Bush administration made public on December 3rd, an unclassified version of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program. While stating “with high confidence” that Tehran stopped pursuing its nuclear weapons program approximately around the fall of 2003, it could not state with the same degree of confidence that Tehran had not resumed those activities as of mid-2007. More alarmingly, the National Intelligence Estimate concluded that the Islamic Republic of Iran was technically capable of producing sufficient quantities of weapon-grade
The year 2008 witnessed another UN Security Council Resolution. Resolution 1803, added new sanctions to the previous ones. Among its other provisions, it broadened the blacklist with seven new entities and thirteen more individuals. In conjunction with this resolution, the P5+1 states also proposed that Tehran shall freeze its enrichment activities in exchange for no more sanctions.
The year 2009 was a significant one for the international community. First, Tehran announced on February 2nd its successful launch of a satellite. On
September 25th, the Obama administration revealed the existence of a second secret uranium enrichment facility at Fordow, in the mountains near the holy city of Qom. On October 1st, the Obama administration agreed the supply 20% enriched uranium in exchange for Iran removing from the country the majority of its 3.5% enriched uranium. The so-called “fuel swap”, the stupid brainchild of the Obama administration, was never fully implemented by Iran.
The year 2010 saw the same old pattern. Tehran started to produce 20% enriched uranium on February 9th. On May 17th, diplomacy kicked in once more. A joint declaration by Brazil, Turkey, and the Islamic Republic of Iran tried to breathe fresh air into the old fuel swap proposal. The United States, France, and the Russian Federation rejected the proposal on the grounds that Tehran stockpiled more 3.5% enriched uranium than it is willing to give up and that Tehran systematically misled the IAEA, the UN Security Council, and everybody else concerning its additional enrichment activities. On June 9th, another UN Security Council resolution followed. Resolution 1929 significantly expanded sanctions against the theocratic regime. It also banned Tehran from nuclear-capable ballistic missile tests. Finally, the resolution imposed an arms embargo on the transfer of major weapons systems to Tehran. On June 24th, the U.S. Congress adopted the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, tightening U.S. sanctions against legal entities investing in Iran’s energy sector, and imposing new sanctions on legal entities that sold refined petroleum to Tehran. On July 26th, the European Union joined the United States by agreeing to impose its additional sanctions on Tehran. On September 16th, the Obama administration decided to act. The Stuxnet computer virus attacked the Natanz enrichment plant.
The year 2011 commenced on a negative note. The January 21st and 22nd meeting in Istanbul between the P5+1 group and the Islamic Republic of Iran ended without any real results, because the latter laid down two unacceptable conditions. First, Tehran demanded that the P5+1 group recognize its right to enrich uranium. Second, that sanctions must be lifted unconditionally. On May 8th, the Bushehr nuclear power plant started operations and, according to Russia’s Atomstroyexport, it successfully achieved a sustained chain reaction. On the same day, Tehran announced that it intends to triple the rate of 20% enriched uranium production, utilizing more advanced centrifuge designs. In addition, it declared that production will be shifted to the Fordow plant. On July 12, Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief sent a letter to the chief negotiator of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Saeed Jalili, proposing “meaningful discussions on concrete confidence building steps” to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear “ambitions.” On November 8th, the IAEA published a report underlying the concerns of the organization about Tehran’s nefarious intentions. To wit, on the last day of the year, the U.S. Congress passed legislation to empower the federal government to sanction foreign banks doing business with the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The year 2012 began with a sour note for Tehran. The European Union decided in early January to ban all member states from importing Iranian oil, beginning on July 1, 2012. Moreover, the decision also barred member countries from providing the legal protection and indemnity insurance for tankers carrying Iranian oil. The intervening months between March and August were spent on arduous negotiations between the P5+1 group and Tehran with barely any meaningful progress. In August, the IAEA highlighted the futility of diplomacy with Tehran. On the 30th of this month, it was reported that Tehran produced more 20% enriched uranium than was needed to fuel its research reactor. The IAEA upped the ante on November 16th, by stating that Tehran was busy installing more centrifuges at Natanz and Fordow.
The year 2013 was consumed by slowly progressing negotiations between the P5+1 group and the Islamic Republic of Iran at a variety of locations.
On January 9, and January 10, 2014, the member states of the P5+1 and the Islamic Republic of Iran met a third time in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action, agreed upon on December 30-31, 2013, in the same place. As a result, the parties agreed that the implementation will begin on January 20th. Simultaneously, the IAEA certified that Tehran in compliance with the provisions of the Joint Plan of Action. Accordingly, the United States and the European Union waived the specific sanctions listed in the November 24, 2013, deal and also released a schedule of payments for Tehran to receive the oil money that various states withhold.
Subsequent meeting mainly in Vienna, Austria, between February and July 2014, involved negotiations concerning a comprehensive nuclear agreement. The rest of the year was consumed with more negotiations. In January 2015, negotiations continued in Geneva. In February, additional negotiations took place in Vienna.
Ominously enough, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opined in his speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress that any Iran deal “would all but guarantee that Iran gets (nuclear) weapons, lots of them.” In the same vein, Senator Tom Cotton of Kansas and forty five of his colleagues signed an open letter to the Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran. They warned, as it turned out prophetically, their counterparts that any agreement reached without Congress’s approval could be revised by the next president “with the stroke of a pen.”
During the month of March, more negotiations took place in Lausanne, Switzerland. Finally, on April 2, 2015, the parties announced that they reached an agreement on the general framework of a comprehensive deal.
Again, the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution that required the president to submit any agreement to Congress for a vote. This resolution was approved by the full Senate on May 7, 2015, by a vote of 98-1.
On July 14, 2015, the member states of the P5+1 and the Islamic Republic of Iran signed the nuclear deal, officially named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna, Austria. Commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal or simply Iran Deal, it mainly dealt with enrichment-related activities. Tehran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium was reduced by 97%, from 10,000.00 kg to 300.00 kg. This reduction had to be maintained for fifteen years. For the same period, Tehran was ordered to limit its enrichment of uranium to 3.67%. Yet, after fifteen years, all physical limits on enrichment will be removed. Moreover, for ten years Tehran must put two-thirds of its centrifuges in storage, with enrichment capacity being limited to the Natanz plant. There, the centrifuges must be the type IR-1. The IR-2M centrifuges must be stored in Natanz and monitored by the IAEA. Finally, Tehran shall not build any new uranium-enrichment facilities for the next fifteen years.
On the other hand, Tehran was allowed to continue its research and development work on enrichment, but only in Natanz. The Fordow facility was barred from enriching uranium for fifteen years.
To monitor the implementation of the JCPOA, a comprehensive and multilayered inspection regime was set up. However, prior to January 16, 2016, several exemptions were granted to Tehran that weakened from the get go the severity of the enrichment provisions.
Sanctions in the form of “snap back” provisions were also included in the JCPOA. Specifically, the deal established a “dispute resolution” process. Accordingly, a Joint Commission was created to monitor implementation. If the Joint Commission cannot resolve the dispute, the UN National Security Council had to be notified. Finally, future reinstatement of the sanctions allowed Tehran to leave the JCPOA altogether.
After fifteen years, Tehran will be free to do whatever it wants.
Criticism of the JCPOA both within Iran and in the rest of the world was instantaneous. Benjamin Netanyahu called the Iran nuclear deal a “historic mistake.” Addressing President Barack Obama he stated: “In the coming decade, the deal will reward Iran, the terrorist regime in Tehran, with hundreds of billions of dollars. This cash bonanza will fuel Iran’s terrorism worldwide, its aggression in the region and its efforts to destroy Israel, which is ongoing.” In the United States, criticism centered on ignoring Tehran’s ballistic missile program and the lack of provisions regarding the regime’s support for terrorist groups and organizations across the region. The $150 billion plus money transfer from the Obama administration
to Tehran in cash only strengthened opposition to the deal.
On October 13, 2015, the Iranian Parliament approved the deal. The next day, the Guardian Council ratified the JCPOA. Two days later, the P5+1 and the Islamic Republic of Iran formally adopted the JCPOA.
On October 21st, the United States raised Iran’s ballistic missile test as a possible violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929 at a meeting of the Security Council.
On November 21st, Tehran tested another medium-range ballistic missile in clear violation of Resolution 1929.
On January 16, 2016, the IAEA verified that Tehran met its nuclear related responsibilities. On February 26th, the IAEA published its first quarterly report on Tehran’s post-implementation day nuclear activities. The report noted that Tehran met its general obligations with some minor deviations. However, missile launches continued unabated.
More ominously for the JCPOA, then Republican candidate Donald Trump stated at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference on March 21, 2016, that his “number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” After having been elected president on November 8, 2016, Donald Trump again labeled the JCPOA as the worst deal ever negotiated and pledged its renegotiation.
On January 28, 2017, Tehran test fired a medium-range ballistic missile, in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231. On March 23rd, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, introduces the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017, targeting Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its support of global terrorism. In spite of Democrat opposition, the full Senate passed the Act 98-2. On July 25th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3364, the Countering Adversarial Nations Through Sanctions Act, which was designed to impose new sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia.
As the years have gone by, the JCPOA has turned out to be a great hoax. Its main objective to prevent Tehran from achieving military nuclearization within ten or even fifteen years could not have been accomplished. The reason for this was and is obvious. Tehran was building and operating many secret enrichment plants that were not included in the JCPOA, which only listed Natanz and Fordow. In this manner, Tehran has operated two nuclear programs: one for the gullible international community and a secret one that has continued to develop military nuclear capability unabated. For this reason, the IAEA quarterly statements concerning Tehran’s compliance with the limitations of the JCPOA were technically correct, but in reality absolutely meaningless. Clearly, President Obama and his administration intentionally fooled themselves, lied to the American people, and misled the entire international community.
Adding insult to injury, the JCPOA has never been a mutually ratified international treaty. The Obama administration did not even submit it to the U.S. Senate for ratification. According to U.S. as well as international law, the JCPOA has remained a nonbinding agreement among the signatory states.
Thus, President Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018, based on what he termed as “Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program” was absolutely justified. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated, maintaining the fiction of the JCPOA merely would have resulted in certain nuclearization of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The recent elimination of Qassem Soleimani, the resulting threats by Tehran to withdraw from the JCPOA, and the invocation of the dispute resolution process by Great Britain, France, and the Federal Republic of Germany were the last nails in the coffin of this fake and, therefore, useless agreement.
Legally, the fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is much more significant. Based on this Treaty, Tehran is subject to all the limitations on its enrichment activities. Accordingly, Tehran cannot exceed enriching uranium to more than 5% U-235. Any violation of this limit will automatically trigger the intervention of the IAEA and the UN Security Council. Should Tehran repudiate the NPT, UN Security Council Resolution 1540 must be activated.
In this case, Tehran’s production of weapons-grade uranium must be considered as a “threat to international peace and security” pursuant to Chapter VII of the UN Charter that calls for necessary actions against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Throughout 2017, 2018, and 2019, Tehran’s noncompliance with its obligations under numerous UN resolutions, in particular Resolution 2216 respecting the prohibition of “direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer” of short-range ballistic missiles and other equipment to Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, and Egypt, has become legendary. In addition, Tehran has continued to flaunt the JCPOA restrictions on the number and type of centrifuges that it was allowed to operate under the agreement. On September 7, 2019, Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced that technicians introduced UF6 to cascades of 20 IR-4 and 20 IR-6 centrifuges, clearly exceeding the number of machines permitted in a cascade under the research and development terms of the JCPOA.
On September 16, 2019, cruise missiles and drones attacked a Saudi Arabian Oil Company (ARAMCO) facility in Abqaiq, eastern Saudi Arabia. The investigation launched after the strikes determined that the missiles and the drones were fired from Iranian territory. The rest of the year 2019, was filled with threats and lies by AyatollahKhamenei, President Rouhani, and Foreign Minister Zarifagainst the United States and President Trump personally.
Most recently, on January 15, 2020, PresidentRouhani made the announcement that his country now enriching uranium at a higher level than before. To wit, Ayatollah Khamenei, the real leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, just followed up with another provocative sermon on January 17, 2020. The so-called Supreme Leader praised the retaliatory strike against the United States and described all Americans as “clowns” who cannot be trusted. Reacting to the Iran-wide protests against the regime and him personally he mocked President Trump’s sympathy declaration for the Iranian people calling it a “poisoned dagger” into the back of the entire nation.
Without a doubt, the Mullahcracy in Tehran has been constituted from its inception as a theocratic dictatorship that uncompromisingly has been committed to foment permanent instability across the globe, especially in the greater Middle East and South-East Asia. Internally, the regime has established a ruthless and cruel oppression against its opponents and anybody else deemed to challenge and thus jeopardize the religious and cultural uniformity of the country. Internationally, the Mullahcracy has become the source of permanent instability in the greater Middle East and beyond. The timeline of recent events has demonstrated the increasing aggression of Tehran, which has been connected with the regime’s internal predicaments. The most recent attacks against American military installations and the shooting down of the Ukrainian civilian airplane have shown the increasing desperation of the Mullahs.
The more than forty years of Mullahcracy has demonstrated that the regime has been incapable of reforming itself. On the contrary. Even according to official Iranian statistics, in the year 2018 alone, more than 100,000 Iranians committed suicide, and many more were killed or executed. Tragically, 75% of the suicide victims were between the ages of fifteen and thirty four. These numbers show that the younger generation that comprises the majority of the population reject the religious, ideological, and political foundations of the theocratic regime. Clearly, the regime is increasingly incapable of suppressing the opposition by only applying ruthless terror. Since the fraudulent elections of 2009, the Islamic Republic of Iran has experienced six major nationwide uprisings. Now, the Iranians’ patience broke irreversibly. By discrediting itself in the eyes of the world, the bloody and corrupt Mullahcracy signed its own death warrant. With the exception of a minority that benefits from the all-pervasive corruption of the regime, nobody trusts and supports the Islamic Republic. Presently, even the resignation of the Ayatollah Khamenei will not pacify the Iranian people any more, because the reason for the rot of the regime is he himself.
More disappointingly, the Mullahs have shown total resistance of any moderation both domestically as well as internationally. Now, when the regime is bankrupt both ideologically and economically, the Ayatollah’s and his minions’ diminishing rule will surely be more ruthless at home and increasingly aggressive abroad. Under these circumstances, diplomacy definitely will not work. The only solution is to remove by any means this cancerous tumor from the international body politics. Nothing but total regime change will bring a permanently satisfactory solution for the Iranian nation and the rest of the world.
Under Trump, we’re starting to see the jihadist terror for what it really is.
The false analogy fallacy occurs when superficial similarities between events being compared are outnumbered by fundamental differences. This cognitive bad habit has always existed, but has become more prevalent since Vietnam and the increasing politicization of mass news on network and cable television, social media, and especially the internet. The specious analogy between a recent, short-lived attack on our embassy in Baghdad, and the 2012 Benghazi fiasco during Obama’s watch, is a recent example.
Useful analogies are predicated on the permanence of a flawed human nature driven by greed, power, or irrational hatreds. One of the greatest historians ever, Thucydides, explicitly said he wrote his history of the Peloponnesian War in order to provide “an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the understanding of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it.” That’s why he called his history a “possession for all time.” Similarly the Roman historian Livy, writing at the end of nearly a century of savage civil wars, intended to show “what to imitate,” and to “mark for avoidance what is shameful in the conception and shameful in the result.” Without those aims, history is just antiquarianism or another form of high-brow entertainment.
And politics, which thrives on false analogies. The war in Vietnam left us two malign cultural consequences. The first was the antiwar Democrats and their media subsidiary transformed a military victory into a defeat. This created the Left’s paradigm for every U.S intervention abroad as prima facie a neocolonialist, unjust, racist war against national self-determination in order to profit arms manufacturers, the “merchants of death,” and other capitalist “malefactors of great wealth.” Following this ideological deformation came the “another Vietnam” false analogy, and the “Vietnam syndrome”: fear of casualties, self-doubt about our goodness, and angst over “quagmires” and “escalation.”
Leftist Democrats, opportunistic presidential candidates, and the usual media suspects all exploited the Vietnam false analogy to demonize the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few weeks into the former conflict, New York Times columnist R.W. Apple asked, “Could Afghanistan become another Viet-Nam?” and used the loaded word “quagmire.” The concern over Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs, just one of the many predicates for the Senate’s authorization for the war, was called a lie––“Bush lied, millions died,” the protestors chanted. This claim echoed the alleged false predicates for the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Congressional joint resolution concerning two attacks on U.S. naval vessels by the North Vietnamese. This resolution authorized the president to use “armed force” in the region, and became the imprimatur for subsequent “escalation.”
So too the Patriot Act, which removed the “wall of separation” between domestic and foreign intelligence. That “wall” prevented the FBI from examining the computer of another jihadi training to fly a jet a month before 9/11. Yet despite the dangers of the “wall” made obvious after 9/11, leftist critics like ACLU accused the act of “Put[ting] the [CIA] in the business of spying on Americans,” evoking the Vietnam-era bogey of the CIA trying to subvert the antiwar movement, among other violations. Indeed, the 1975 Church Committee investigation of domestic spying during the Vietnam era led in 1978 to the creation of FISA courts––which we now know have been corrupted into tools for spying on Americans by the FBI and other security agencies.
Likewise the humiliation and “torture” of prisoners in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in 2002, which included legal enhanced interrogation techniques like loud noise, sleep deprivation, and extreme heat and cold, were transformed into the equivalent of the My Lai massacre in 1968, when between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians were massacred by U.S. troops, an analogy we saw in the Los Angeles Times headline in 2002 that read, “Military Must Squarely Face ‘New My Lai.’” In fact, what happened at Abu Ghraib was light-years from what went on there under Hussein, such as taking a power drill to people’s skulls, let alone a mass slaughter like My Lai.
Then there was the Democrat opposition to the 2007 “surge” strategy for gaining control over sectarian and insurgent violence in Iraq. Senator Barack Obama called the surge a “reckless escalation,” implying a parallel to Vietnam, and introduced legislation calling for the complete withdrawal of all troops by March 2008––an aim he later achieved as president in 2011, creating the vacuum filled by ISIS and Iran, which has turned Iraq into its satrapy and led to the disorder Trump has to deal with.
Why do such false analogies with Vietnam persist? Because they serve the ideological delusions and propaganda of the left. The common interpretation of Vietnam as a “bad war” motivated by racism and power-hunger has been repeated over and over by historians, the media, and popular culture. Reporters at the time, most of whom sat in Saigon and reported hearsay, were lavished with prizes and book contracts, movies like agitprop master Oliver Stone’s Platoon and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now were celebrated, and textbooks from grammar school to university continue to recycle this skewed history. That culture-wide cachet makes Vietnam the go-to analogy for a Left that wants to demonize America and weaken its resolve.
So it’s no surprise that some on the Left would try to turn one of Obama’s and Hillary’s worst foreign policy failures and examples of covering up the truth with lies, into a weapon against Trump, as MSNBC’s Joy Reid and a left-wing veterans group did. But the analogy is so egregiously false that Democrats recognize the obvious difference and have avoided coming anywhere near it. The most important difference is the fact that no Americans died on Trump’s watch, unlike the four Americans who withstood 13 hours of attacks waiting for help that never came. In contrast to Obama doing nothing, Trump immediately sent reinforcements to bolster the scaled-back diplomatic corps, and made it clear that any further violence will be met with immediate retaliation.
Nor was the threat empty. After receiving actionable intelligence of an imminent attack on American personnel in Iraq last week, Trump ordered the killing of Qassim Soleimani, the chief of the Iranian Republican Guard’s Quds force, who had directed for decades Iran’s terrorist attacks abroad. Soleimani had gallons of American blood on his hands, being responsible for 17% of U.S. dead in Iraq from the shaped charges and more deadly mortars he provided the jihadists attacking our forces. Soleimani was the same designated terrorist Obama would not sanction killing, even though he was for two decades the most deadly and skilled enemy of our country. And to further signal his resolve, after Soleimani’s demise the president ordered a strike on the convoy of another Iranian proxy, the Imam Ali Battalion, killing its chief Shebl al-Zaidi, a particularly vicious jihadist.
Another contrast between the response to the Benghazi and Baghdad attacks is the shamelessly politicized and dishonest attempts on the part of Obama officials to spin the organized attack in Benghazi as a spontaneous reaction to an obscure anti-Muslim internet video. The purpose was to protect Obama’s duplicitous campaign narrative that the terrorists had been neutralized. But most despicable was Hillary Clinton’s lying to the faces of the grieving parents of the four dead heroes as they stood near their sons’ coffins. Trump, however, has nothing to hide or spin because he did what a commander-in-chief should do––defend our military and diplomatic personnel, and retaliate for their deaths.
Rather than the “strategic patience,” “leading from behind,” and reticence to punish aggression that were obvious in the Benghazi debacle, Trump has authorized an aggressive offensive against the Iranian thugs and proxies now dominating the Iraqi government and endangering American lives.
Finally, a consequence of the failure to prevent and retaliate for the Benghazi attack was the energizing of jihadist outfits by a victory over the hated infidel, just as the Iranian assault on our embassy in 1979 did. Such victories and killing of Americans–– like the Beirut bombing of our military barracks in 1983, the retreat from Mogadishu in1993, the murder of American military personnel in Riyadh in 1995 and Dharan in 1996, the east African embassy bombings in 1998, and the attack on the Navy destroyer Cole in 2000––all have provided morale and prestige to the jihadists and strengthened their resolve.
Such a boon will not follow the recent failed attack on our embassy in Iraq. In fact, after just a few days of protests the militiamen and their supporters, whom the New York Timeseuphemized as “mourners,” had called the whole thing off and gone away, leaving a few militiamen to lob some fireworks and Molotov cocktails that damaged a parked car. A few rockets were also fired, to no effect, in the vicinity of the Green Zone. Perhaps their appetite for a more aggressive assault on Americans was dulled by the 100 Marines and the Apache helicopters Trump sent sent to protect the embassy. And rather than retreat or pull back from Iraq, Trump has ordered even more troops and weapons to Baghdad and the region. This build-up will enhance our ability to handle any attempts to get revenge for Soleimani’s death.
As Trump said, his handling of the Baghdad embassy attack is the “Anti-Benghazi,” which enhanced American prestige, whereas the Obama-Hillary response to the attack in Benghazi diminished it. But the Benghazi analogy will quickly fade away. Not even Democrats are stupid enough to try and weaponize a foreign policy failure like Obama and Clinton’s in Benghazi, and remind people of their two biggest political stars’ worst moments.
But don’t think that the Democrats’ shying away from the Benghazi analogy means that they’re starting to accept reality and think coherently. Their loathing for America is too deeply engrained in their worldview. This is obvious in their eagerness to blame the embassy attack on Trump’s earlier bombing of an Iranian proxy-militia’s military base and other sites, killing 25 jihadists, and their second-guessing of the killing of Soleimani: Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi both used the Vietnam-era cliché “dangerous escalation.” Making the U.S. the global evil genius responsible for all the world’s ills is an old tactic for the Left, one so banal that it’s spawned a cynical truism useful to America’s allies and enemies alike: “When all else fails, blame the Americans.”
The longevity of the “blame America first” trope is explained not just by the Left’s inveterate hatred of the U.S., but by the progressives’ voodoo psychology that turns ruthless, illiberal global despots and murderous gangs into children so traumatized by Uncle Sam’s abuse that they blindly lash out in violent reaction to our alleged oppression. So Leftists and even some Republicans blame jihadist terror on Israel, colonialism, the absence of political freedom, our support for corrupt autocrats, jobless economies, the lack of accessibility to women, and “disrespect” to Islam and Mohammed––anything and everything except the Koran, hadith, sira, and 14 centuries of Islamic doctrine and practice that have consistently commanded the faithful to “fight all men until they say there is no god but Allah,” as Mohammed said. And isn’t it ironic that those who demonize the West as a racist oppressor, and who trumpet their groveling respect for, and tolerance of dark-skinned “others,” in fact patronize them and diminish their humanity by stripping them of their agency, their power to act on their own ideals, beliefs, interests, and goods?
That two-bit psychology is the mother of all false analogies and the fake news they spawn. And the most dangerous. For as Sun Tzu said, “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Maybe under Trump’s leadership we’re starting to see the jihadist terror for what it is––traditional Islam, rather than a figment of our own therapeutic obsessions and self-loathing political ideologies
Column: The post-WWII order is ending—and nothing has replaced it
Economists at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund must feel pretty lucky these days. They work for just about the only institutions set up in the aftermath of World War II that aren’t in the middle of an identity crisis. From Turtle Bay to Brussels, from Washington to Vienna, the decay of the economic and security infrastructure of the postwar world has accelerated in recent weeks. The bad news: As the legacy of the twentieth century recedes into the past, the only twenty-first century alternatives are offered from an authoritarian surveillance state.
The pressure is both external and internal. Revisionist powers such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea undermine the foundations of global governance and hijack institutions to the detriment of the liberal international order. The institutions themselves lack the self-confidence necessary to further the cause of human freedom. Meanwhile, the most powerful nation in the world has turned inward. Its foreign policy is haphazard and improvisational, contradictory and equivocal. The confusion and zigzagging contribute to the erosion of legitimacy. It delays the emergence of new forms of international organization.
The breakdown was visible at last week’s NATO summit in London. Remarkably, the source of the immediate ruckus wasn’t President Trump. It was French president Emmanuel Macron, who doubled down on his criticism of the Atlantic alliance that he’d expressed in a recent interview with the Economist. Trump disagreed with Macron’s description of NATO as “brain dead.” He and other allies didn’t back Macron’s call for rapprochement with Russia and China and renewed focus on terrorism.
Macron wasn’t the only troublemaker. Turkey’s autocratic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently tested his Russian S-400 air defense systems againsthis American F-16s, said he would block a Balkan defense plan unless NATO designates the Kurdish YPG a terrorist group. The summit ended with a leaked video of Macron, Justin Trudeau, Boris Johnson, and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte sharing a laugh at Trump’s expense. Haughty euro-elites mocking the American president is always an affront, but it is especially counterproductive now when the alliance is under attack from prominent voices within the United States.
When it was founded, NATO was one part of a strategy whose goal was the prevention of another global war. Security guarantees and the forward deployment of conventional forces bound America to Europe and the Europeans to each other. Another part of the strategy led to the EU. It integrates the economies of nations that unleashed the two most devastating conflicts in human history. It was thought that trade relations contribute to peace and nationalities can be submerged under a continent-sized umbrella. What the architects of Europe didn’t anticipate was popular resentment of bureaucratic administration, the imbalances and fiscal consequences of monetary union without political union, and the reassertion of national identity that results from large-scale immigration.
Today the politics of every major European country is a mess. I write these words on the day of a British election that will determine whether the United Kingdom leaves the EU and whether an anti-Semitic socialist lives in 10 Downing Street. Germany flirts with recession, its chancellor is a lame duck, the grand coalition hosts an SPD under far-left leadership, and the largest opposition party is the Alternative for Germany. Macron might want to spend more time on domestic politics: His approval rating is around 30 percent, striking workers have paralyzed France, and 13 French soldiers were killed in Mali.
National populism has transformed Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic and plays a significant role in Germany, France, Austria, and Sweden. No longer deputy prime minister of Italy, Matteo Salvini remains the most significant political figure in his country. “Recent opinion polls indicate that if elections were held tomorrow, Mr. Salvini would not only easily become prime minister, but that a coalition of the League, the post-fascist Brothers of Italy and the remainder of Mr. [former prime minister Silvio] Berlusconi’s Forza Italia would command an absolute majority in parliament,” writesMiles Johnson of the Financial Times. The European leaders who fear Salvini are nonetheless ambivalent about the threat posed by Vladimir Putin and by Ayatollah Khamenei. They are happy to advance the Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream pipelines and circumvent U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Frenetic institution building accompanied victory in World War II. The Allies created organizations devoted to international security, diplomacy, health, and economics. The first to go was the Bretton Woods agreement on international finance, which ended when Richard Nixon took America off the gold standard in 1971. The next was the United Nations, which revealed its corruption and domination by dictatorships in its resolution equating Zionism and racism in 1975. The Iraqi nuclear facility at Osirak (fortunately destroyed by the Israeli Air Force in 1981) was evidence that the Non-Proliferation Treaty is only as good as the regimes that sign it. NATO and the EU survived the Cold War and flourished in the two decades after the dissolution of the Soviet Union but both have run up against the limits of expansion. Both have lost sight of their historic function to preserve the peace.
Sometimes changing circumstances render institutions powerless. That is happening to the World Trade Organization. The WTO, endowed in 1995, was built for a unipolar world. When China joined in 2001, its GDP was one-tenth the size of America’s. Now it’s more than half and China has emerged as a military, industrial, and technological rival. But the WTO still designates China as a “developing” country, which entitles it to certain advantages. President Trump’s campaign against this exorbitant privilege reached an impasse December 10, when his administration blockedjudicial appointments to the organization’s dispute-resolution court. It no longer has the capacity to arbitrate. The WTO is toothless. Hollowed out. What will replace it? Nothing has been proposed.
The motive power behind all of these institutions was American commitment. What upheld the structure was our willingness to sustain the costs of international security and global defense of democracy. That engagement began to wane after the Cold War. By 2008 it was practically nonexistent. The president’s disinterest in foreign affairs is a reflection of his countrymen’s. His administration, to its credit, has proposed great power competition as the basis for a renewed American grand strategy. The follow-through has been difficult.
That has left us with entropy. The international scene is filled with decayed institutions and unpalatable choices. On one hand is the status quo. On the other is China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Made in China 2025. “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born,” wrote philosopher Antonio Gramsci. “In this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” And no one has a cure.
Column: A weak and unstable China is also more dangerous
You see it in the maps. In 2015, 1.4 million Hong Kongers voted in elections in which pro-Beijing candidates swept the city’s 18 district councils. Last week, 2.9 million Hong Kongers voted and pro-democracy candidates won every district but one. That is an increase in turnout of more than 100 percent and a stunning rebuke both of Beijing and of chief executive Carrie Lam, who has failed to respond adequately to the demands of the pro-democracy movement that has disrupted Hong Kong for the past six months. Maps of the city once shaded pro-mainland blue are now pro-liberty yellow.
Yes, the vote was symbolic. The councils have little say in the operations of government. But symbols matter. For Hong Kongers to express discontent with their rulers through one of the last vehicles for accountability is no trifle. Beijing was surprised. It had counted on a supposed “silent majority” of voters tired of the upheaval and violence to legitimize the mainland’s authority. That was a mistake. The prefabricated copy that Communist propagandists had been ready to spread was abandoned. “The problem is that under the increasingly paranoid regime of Xi Jinping, even these internal reports have become much more geared toward what the leadership wants to hear,” writes James Palmer, who a decade ago worked for the pro-China Global Times.
Hong Kong is the most visible reminder of the tenuous nature of Communist rule. The city has become a postmodern battleground where masked protesters wield social media and lasers to avoid armor-clad police and facial recognition technology powered by artificial intelligence. When one looks at Hong Kong one sees a possible future where champions of freedom the world over employ desperate measures against the overwhelming resources of a mechanized Leviathan. One also sees the brittleness, confusion, and embarrassment of despotism when challenged by subjects assumed to be grateful for growth and security and immune to the will to freedom.
What is happening in Hong Kong is not isolated. The China model of authoritarian development is damaged and scarred. What seemed as sturdy and invulnerable as a Borg Cube looks more like a fragile and wobbly mobile by Alexander Calder. The regime of Xi Jinping is under economic and political and diplomatic pressure that it is not handling well. This beleaguered combatant in an era of great power competition is more dangerous to the United States than before.
What legitimacy the Communist Party possessed was based on the decades of economic growth inaugurated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. But growth has slowed to its lowest level in decades as the Chinese workforce ages, low-hanging investment opportunities disappear, and the trade war with the United States reduces manufacturing output and sends supply lines to Vietnam and Mexico. Capital is fleeing China at a record pace as the bourgeoisie hedge against stagnation and turmoil.
For all of the Chinese government’s much publicized investments in research and development and defense, and despite the size of its economy, per capita gross domestic product is $10,000, slightly less than that of the Russia Federation ($11,000) and a fraction of that of the United States ($65,000). Recent weeks have brought an uptick in bank runs. The government’s response to slowdown has been to tighten state control. “Between 2012 and 2018, assets of state companies grew at more than 15 percent annually, well over twice the pace of expansion of China’s GDP and double the pace of growth of gross domestic capital formation,” writesNicholas R. Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. This is not state capitalism. It’s statism.
The Chinese authorities use mechanisms of repression to maintain control over what can only be described as an internal empire. The New York Times recently published a horrifying and damning trove of documents relating the extent of Beijing’s efforts to detain, imprison, intimidate, and reeducate Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other minorities in western Xinjiang Province. China wants to override the Dalai Lama’s choice of successor in its continuing efforts to police Tibetan Buddhism and aspirations to sovereignty. China leads the world in the number of political prisoners, its Great Firewall has become more difficult to penetrate, and its influence operations in Taiwan, Australia, and other democracies more sophisticated. Defector Wang Liqiang has told Australian officials of his personal involvement in the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers who had the temerity to advocate democracy.
These are not the moves of a regime confident in its ability to win the allegiance of a multi-ethnic population of 1.4 billion people. They are the policies of an insular and jittery faction whose uncertainty toward a changing economic and demographic landscape has made it suspicious of and opposed to even the slightest hints of liberal democracy. The ambitions of Chairman Xi for a Eurasia integrated under the Belt and Road Initiative, where the preponderance of the latest equipment in key sectors is manufactured, are both grand and mismatched for a nation whose leaders are concerned most with the operation of the surveillance state that keeps them in power.
The resistance to Beijing is both domestic and foreign. Lost in all the predictions of Chinese dominance were the voices of China’s neighbors in the Pacific. Neither Japan, nor Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, nor Australia want to live in a Chinese lake. Most extraordinary has been the response of the United States. Within four years, the American elite has swapped its belief in China’s “peaceful rise” for the recognition that it may be in the opening phase of a Second Cold War whose outcome will determine the ideological character of the 21st century. While Tariff Man wages his trade war, opposing Chinese theft of intellectual property and arguing for structural changes to China’s state owned enterprises, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speak of the political and security challenges presented by Chinese authoritarians who become more willing to lash out as they lose their grip.
Senator Josh Hawley spoke for the emerging consensus when he wrote in the November 24 Wall Street Journal: “And everywhere, in every region, we must ask whether our actions are contributing to the great task of this era, resisting hegemony in the Asia-Pacific.” A few days before Hawley’s op-ed, Congress passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. Though the president already may possess the authorities to sanction Chinese officials granted him by Congress, the bill remains both a powerful statement of American support for the principles of liberty and democracy and a sign of American resolution before the specter of autocracy.
Good for President Trump to have signed the Democracy Act—and better still if he would link human rights to trade and refrain from speaking of his “friend,” the “incredible guy” who seeks nothing less than the defeat and displacement of the United States.
There are uncountable narratives when it comes to the actual and perceived domestic as well as international predicaments of the newly independent state of Ukraine. As a rule, known facts are mixed with unsubstantiated rumors, which, in turn, give birth to fantastic conjectures, ungrounded intuitions, and outright lies in the service of partisan political interests. In reality, the Ukraine question is extremely complex. Yet in the United State of America, both politicians and the media present this complexity to the public from a one sided, exclusively distorted American perspective.
Meanwhile, successive and mostly short-lived Ukrainian governments have tumbled from ever escalating crises to misguided revolutions and repeated implosions in predictable intervals. First the two high ranking former communists dubbed the “Red Barons”, former President Leonid Kravchuk and former President Leonid Kuchma, made half-hearted attempts at the privatization of the state owned economy. Called the “voucher privatization” and originally aimed at distributing state assets judiciously among all Ukrainians, this privatization scheme resulted in the creation of the Ukrainian oligarchy. This development, in turn, deepened the already pervasive corruption that was the essence of the Soviet Union.
Then, following a badly botched presidential election, came the “Orange Revolution” that brought forth the allegedly enlightened and pro-Western Victor Yushchenko. Paralyzed by his petty and incessant bickering with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, he lost badly to his main rival, the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych. The latter was chased from office before his term expired by what was termed by the Kremlin as a coup d’etat but was viewed by the West as a popular revolution against Yanukovych’s vacillation to sign an association agreement with the European Union in Vilnius on November 28, 2013.
Almost immediately after the foiled signing of the association agreement, protests against President Yanukovych commenced. What later was elevated to the mythical heights of the “Revolution of Dignity” forced President Yanukovych to flee Ukraine. In the subsequent presidential election of May 2014, Ukrainians elected with overwhelming majority one of their country’s oligarchs, the “Chocolate King” Petro Poroshenko. In the interim, Russia invaded and then annexed the Crimea. To add insult to injury, Russia also has triggered an armed uprising in eastern Ukraine that has a significant concentration of ethnic Russians.
True to the past of the sovereign state of Ukraine, President Poroshenko did fail in an abysmal fashion, too. In the second round of the presidential election, on April 21, 2019, 73% of the Ukrainian voters chose a non-politician by the name of Volodymyr Zelensky as their new president. Clearly, the vast majority of Ukrainians decided to close the book on almost three decades of arrogant incompetence and shameless corruption by their politicians and oligarch allies. Finally, they expressed their desire to live and raise their children in a normally functioning, peaceful, and transparent state, politically as well as economically.
Although the lion’s share of the blame must be assigned to the Ukrainians themselves, American policy toward the independent sate of Ukraine was burdened by glaring incompetence, unrealistic illusions, erratic oscillations between Russia and Ukraine, and outright idiocy. Instead of assisting the newly independent Ukraine to establish the political and economic foundations of a unified state by harmonizing the old and new forces, the late President George H. W. Bush and President Bill Clinton paid little if any attention to the troubled country. The formers son and his successor President Barrack Obama’s, attempts at interference in Ukraine’s domestic affairs generally only made the situation worse. Especially, the Obama administration’s role in the early and violent removal of President Yanukovych proved to be a double edged sword. On the one hand, President Poroshenko was unable to accomplish the objectives of the Maidan revolution. On the other hand, it triggered Russia’s direct intervention in the Ukrainian mess. Moreover, Vice President Joe Biden’s private diplomacy to help his son Hunter Biden enrich himself and the family gave license to President Poroshenko and the oligarchs to continue unabated their corrupt and destructive activities within and outside Ukraine.
As a result, President Volodymyr Zelensky has inherited a situation in which the oligarchic system was discredited and the democratic values of the United State of America have become objects of ubiquitous scorn. Presently, Ukrainian society is completely traumatized and gripped by an existential fear of enormous proportions.
What can and needs to be done? One does not have to look further for a possible solution that to the almost identical history of the Republic of Finland and its troubled relations with imperial Russia, the Soviet Union and today’s Russian Federation. For centuries, Finland had managed to balance its relationship with Russia and its loyalty to the rest of Europe. From the Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire to the wars against the Soviet Union in 1939 and in 1944, which resulted in Finnish territorial losses, the country survived the Cold War’s Finlandization period. Presently as a full member of the European Union and a close cooperating state with NATO, Finland follows highly pragmatic policies vis-a-vis the Russian Federation. In a recent interview with Bloomberg: Business News, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto described his country’s attitude toward its powerful neighbor thus: “A Cossack takes everything that is loose. You have to be very clear and not let things become loose.”
President Zelensky would be well advised to follow this old Finnish wisdom. He will have to show firmness and resolve with Russia. Furthermore, he must be practical. He must know Ukraine’s strengths and limitations. Becoming a member of the European Union is clearly attainable. Full membership in NATO presently is not. However, being prepared for future Russian aggressions is within the capabilities of Ukraine. To achieve these goals, the Zelensky administration will have to move ever closer to the West by relentlessly promoting Western values inside Ukraine and simultaneously maintaining normal relations with Moscow.
Peace, stability, and prosperity have always been the Sisyphean endeavors of mankind. No doubt, President Zelensky will have to show real leadership. Otherwise, he and Ukraine will end up on the dust heaps of history.
Donald Trump is many things. But one thing he is not is a defender of the 2009-2016 status quo and accepted progressive convention. Since 2017, everything has been in flux. Lots of past conventional assumptions of the Obama-Clinton-Romney-Bush generation were as unquestioned as they were suspect. No longer.
Everyone knew the Iran deal was a way for the mullahs to buy time and hoard their oil profits, to purchase or steal nuclear technology, to feign moderation, and to trade some hostages for millions in terrorist-seeding cash, and then in a few years spring an announcement that it had the bomb.
No one wished to say that. Trump did. He canceled the flawed deal without a second thought.
Iran is furious, but in a far weaker—and eroding—strategic position with no serious means of escaping devastating sanctions, general impoverishment, and social unrest. So a desperate Tehran knows that it must make some show of defiance. Yet it accepts that if it were to launch a missile at a U.S. ship, hijack an American boat, or shoot down an American plane, the ensuing tit-for-tat retaliation might target the point of Iranian origin (the port that launched the ship, the airbase from which the plane took off, the silo from which the missile was launched) rather than the mere point of contact—and signal a serial stand-off 10-1 disproportionate response to every Iranian attack without ever causing a Persian Gulf war.
Everyone realized the Paris Climate Accord was a way for elites to virtue signal their green bona fides while making no adjustments in their global managerial lifestyles—at best. At worst, it was a shake-down both to transfer assets from the industrialized West to the “developing world” and to dull Western competitiveness with ascending rivals like India and China. Not now. Trump withdrew from the agreement, met or exceeded the carbon emissions reductions of the deal anyway, and has never looked back at the flawed convention. The remaining signatories have little response to the U.S. departure, and none at all to de facto American compliance to their own targeted goals.
Rich NATO allies either could not or would not pay their promised defense commitments to the alliance. To embarrass them into doing so was seen as heretical. No more.
Trump jawboned and ranted about the asymmetries. And more nations are increasing rather than decreasing their defense budgets. The private consensus is that the NATO allies knew all along that they were exactly what Barack Obama once called “free riders” and justified that subsidization by ankle-biting the foreign policies of the United States—as if an uncouth America was lucky to underwrite such principled members. Again, no more fantasies.
China was fated to rule the world. Period. Whining about its systematic commercial cheating was supposedly merely delaying the inevitable or would have bad repercussions later on. Progressives knew the Communists put tens of thousands of people in camps, rounded up Muslims, and destroyed civil liberties, and yet in “woke” fashion tip-toed around criticizing the Other. Trump then destroyed the mirage of China as a Westernizing aspirant to the family of nations. In a protracted tariff struggle, there are lots of countries in Asia that could produce cheap goods as readily as China, but far fewer countries like the United States that have money to be siphoned off in mercantilist trade deals, or the technology to steal, or the preferred homes and universities in which to invest.
The Palestinians were canonized as permanent refugees. The U.S. embassy could never safely move to the Israeli capital in Jerusalem. The Golan Heights were Syrian. Only a two-state solution requiring Israel to give back all the strategic border land it inherited when its defeated enemies sought to destroy it in five prior losing wars would bring peace. Not now.
The Palestinians for the last 50 years were always about as much refugees as the East Prussian Germans or the Egyptian Jews and Greeks that were cleansed from their ancestral homelands in the Middle East in the same period of turbulence as the birth of Israel. “Occupied” land more likely conjures up Tibet and Cyprus not the West Bank, and persecuted Muslims are not found in Israel, but in China.
An aging population, the veritable end to U.S. manufacturing and heavy industry, and an opioid epidemic meant that America needed to get used to stagnant 1 percent growth, a declining standard of living, a permanent large pool of the unemployed, an annual increasing labor non-participation rate, and a lasting rust belt of deplorables, irredeemables, clingers and “crazies” who needed to be analyzed by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. At best, a middle-aged deplorable was supposed to learn to code or relocate to the Texas fracking fields. Perhaps not now.
In the last 30 months, the question of the Rust Belt has been reframed to why, with a great workforce, cheap energy, good administrative talent, and a business-friendly administration, cannot the United States make more of what it needs? Why, if trade deficits are irrelevant, do Germany, China, Japan, and Mexico find them so unpleasant? If unfettered trade is so essential, why do so many of our enemies and friends insist that we almost alone trade “fairly,” while they trade freely and unfairly? Why do not Germany and China argue that their vast global account surpluses are largely irrelevant?
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) assured us that the world would be suffocating under greenhouse gases within 12 years. Doom-and-gloom prophecies of “peak” oil warned us that our oil reserves would dry up by the early 21st century. Former Vice President Al Gore warned us that our port cities would soon be underwater. Economists claimed Saudi Arabia or Russia would one day control the world by opening and closing their oil spigots. Not now.
Three million more barrels of American oil are being produced per day just since Trump took office. New pipelines will ensure that the United States is not just the world’s greatest producer of natural gas but perhaps its largest exporter as well.
Trump blew up those prognostications and replaced them with an optimistic agenda that the working- and middle classes deserve affordable energy, that the United States could produce fossil fuels more cleanly, wisely, and efficiently than the Middle East, and that ensuring increased energy could revive places in the United States that were supposedly fossilized and irrelevant. Normal is utilizing to the fullest extent a resource that can discourage military adventurism in the Middle East, provide jobs to the unemployed, and reduce the cost of living for the middle class; abnormal is listening to the progressive elite for whom spiking gasoline and power bills were a very minor nuisance.
Open borders were our unspoken future. The best of the Chamber of Commerce Republicans felt that millions of illegal aliens might eventually break faith with the progressive party of entitlements; the worst of the open borders lot argued that cheap labor was more important than sovereignty and certainly more in their interests than any worry over the poor working classes of their own country. And so Republicans for the last 40 years joined progressives in ensuring that illegal immigration was mostly not measured, meritocratic, diverse, or lawful, but instead a means to serve a number of political agendas.
Most Americans demurred, but kept silent given the barrage of “racist,” “xenophobe,” and “nativist” cries that met any measured objection. Not so much now. Few any longer claim that the southern border is not being overrun, much less that allowing a non-diverse million illegal aliens in six months to flood into the United States without audit is proof that “diversity is our strength.”
The Republican Party’s prior role was to slow down the inevitable trajectory to European socialism, the end of American exceptionalism, and homogenized globalized culture. Losing nobly in national elections was one way of keeping one’s dignity, weepy wounded-fawn style, while the progressive historical arc kept bending to our collective future. Rolling one’s eyes on Sunday talk shows as a progressive outlined the next unhinged agenda was proof of tough resistance.
Like it or not, now lines are drawn. Trump so unhinged the Left that it finally tore off its occasional veneer of moderation, and showed us what progressives had in store for America.
On one side in 2020 is socialism, “Medicare for All,” wealth taxes, top income tax rates of 70 or 80 or 90 percent, a desire for a Supreme Court of full of “wise Latinas” like Sonia Sotomayor, insidious curtailment of the First and Second Amendments, open borders, blanket amnesties, reparations, judges as progressive legislators, permissible infanticide, abolition of student debt, elimination of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau and the Electoral College, voting rights for 16-year-olds and felons, and free college tuition.
On the other side is free-market capitalism but within a framework of fair rather than unfettered international trade, a smaller administrative state, less taxation and regulation, constitutionalist judges, more gas and oil, record low unemployment, 3-4 percent economic growth, and pressure on colleges to honor the Bill of Rights.
The New, New Normal
The choices are at least starker now. The strategy is not, as in 2008 and 2012, to offer a moderate slow-down of progressivism, but rather a complete repudiation of it.
One way is to see this as a collision between Trump, the proverbial bull, and the administrative state as a targeted precious china shop—with all the inevitable nihilistic mix-up of horns, hooves, and flying porcelain shards. But quite another is to conclude that what we recently used to think was abjectly abnormal twenty years ago had become not just “normal,” but so orthodoxly normal that even suggesting it was not was judged to be heretical and deserving of censure and worse.
The current normal correctives were denounced as abnormal—as if living in a sovereign state with secure borders, assuming that the law was enforced equally among all Americans, demanding that citizenship was something more than mere residence, and remembering that successful Americans, not their government, built their own businesses and lives is now somehow aberrant or perverse.
Trump’s political problem, then, may be that the accelerating aberration of 2009-2016 was of such magnitude that normalcy is now seen as sacrilege.
Weaponizing the IRS, unleashing the FBI to spy on political enemies and to plot the removal of an elected president, politicizing the CIA to help to warp U.S. politics, allying the Justice Department with the Democratic National Committee, and reducing FISA courts to rubber stamps for pursuing administration enemies became the new normal. Calling all that a near coup was abnormal.
Let us hope that most Americans still prefer the abnormal remedy to the normal pathology.
His flip-flops suggest that he remains troublingly clueless about the biggest geo-political peer rival and potential challenger to the United States.
Under old-school journalism, reporters would be camping in front of Joe Biden’s campaign offices asking questions on his foreign policy: whether he still thinks Qatari-funded jihadis wanted to topple Syria’s Bashar Assad, if Libya intervention under President Obama was a mistake, and the reason for the flop of Obama’s Asia Pivot. In the last few weeks, Joe Biden has shown he would say anything to be president, including first promising to cure cancer, then flip-flopping on abortion, and finally flipping on China.
American domestic politics are for Americans to decide when the election comes, but at a time Beijing is returning to Tiananmen form, no bigger issue needs further scrutiny than Biden’s China stance.
Biden recently said in Iowa that China is a “serious challenge” and threat, adding, “We are in a competition with China. We need to get tough with China. They are a serious challenge to us and in some areas a real threat.”
Funny, because in May, he mocked the China threat, saying, “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man…They can’t even figure out how to deal with the fact that they have this great division between the China Sea and the mountains in the east, I mean in the west.”
Biden then added that he is worried about President Trump’s tariff wars against China, which is arguably “exacerbating the challenge,” and said “if we do what we need to do here at home…we can out-compete anyone.” According to reports, Biden then said: “You bet I’m worried about China…if we keep following Trump’s path.”
While pondering the alternative way, Biden said he would force China to go green: “Biden will rally a united front of nations to hold China accountable to high environmental standards in its Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure projects so that China can’t outsource pollution to other countries.” Yes, good luck with that. It might sound plausible in a school kid’s Earth Day project, but not in the policy plans of the prospective leader of the free world.
This, is, of course, pure madness. There is no bigger potential challenge for the West, and especially for the United States, than the rise of a near peer-rival great power like China. At this very moment, Chinese government lackeys in Hong Kong are cracking down on the largest protests of 2019, where more than a million Hong Kongers are marching to stop China’s de facto takeover of Hong Kong’s justice system, which would allow any dissident to be packed off to trial in mainland China.
But that is not the biggest issue. The problem is China is a challenge unprecedented to U.S. policymakers. Chinese peacetime gross domestic product is overtaking America’s, and China is set to soon, as a percentage of relative power, eclipse all previous great power challenges that the United States has ever faced, including Imperial Spain, Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and even the Soviet Union.
To put it simply, the conflict of interest between the rising China and an established hegemon in the United States is inevitable. In international relations, it is known as “the Thucydides Trap“.
Consider the world of international politics like a snooker table. Unlike the domestic politics of a nation state, the international system is anarchic in nature. That is because, in domestic politics there is an established government that can decide and, if needed, enforce. The lack of hierarchy in international politics makes it anarchical, in Kenneth Waltz’s terminology, because there is no global governance, and any attempt to form a global empire would invite backlash from rival powers, while any attempt at global governance would result in a global war.
Naturally, international politics is determined by nation-states, and more importantly great powers, which are the single most important actors of world politics. And great powers rise or fall due to a variety of factors: stupid policies, ideological and military overstretch, spending more than one can afford, foolish wars and global policing, failure or decline in technological competition, juvenile or effeminate elites, and the biggest variable of all: time.
In that light, the Thucydides Trap comes in.
Throughout history, there has been one completely consistent pattern: Growing and rising powers always challenge established powers. From Athens and Sparta, to Rome and Carthage, to Napoleon, to the two World Wars, and the Cold War, this pattern remained the same. China and the United States are just the new avatars of this great game, as the actors change, but the game remains the same.
In this context, conflict does not always mean war. It could be a cold war, trade war, proxy wars, anything, but conflict between a rising and established power is inevitable. As J.J. Mearsheimer states in his book, China will try and push away the United States from Asia, just as the United States once pushed away European great powers from the Western Hemisphere.
Meanwhile, Biden is flip-flopping on this biggest challenge confronting the United States, tweeting friendship bands about how much he misses Barack Obama, and claiming there was not a hint of scandal during his eight years as vice president. For all his problems, President Trump has been forthright about the China challenge, much more than any current Democrat, or even a majority of the Republican leaders. In the future, this might be considered his legacy.
While most focus on tariffs and economics, China—with its AI research, space research, naval build-up, data and IP theft, and unfair trade practices—is a much bigger challenge than to suffer a dollar increase in the price of a beer can. There are questions already on how one should contain China, or what in itself is an intelligent containment strategy.
Some are pointing out their doubts about whether the present U.S. leadership and population is even martial enough to withstand the long-coming generational conflict. But whatever the case, to lightly rephrase an old and used proverb, you cannot choose whether to be interested in a coming Cold War, as the Cold War is already interested in you.
Biden’s callousness about identifying that and then his face-saving flip-flop is, therefore, the most troubling aspect of his candidacy. The less said about his Democratic colleagues, the better.