More on US Allies (2): A Response to My Critics


I found the above image here.

Here is part one of my response to two recent, heavily-trafficked posts (one, two) on hypothetical retrenchment under Ron Paul. (So yes, that makes 4 total posts, including this one.) I got some flak on how I ranked US allies in order of importance, with the implication that those further down were more likely candidates for a diminished American commitment. So rather than responding point-by-point, here are some broad responses on specific countries.

My original ranking, in order, was: Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Israel, South Korea, Japan, EU/NATO, and Egypt. (That’s actually 11, not a ‘top 10,’ because I originally put Canada and Mexico in together at # 1.)

1. I was surprised how much controversy my choice for Canada at # 1 provoked. I thought that was pretty self-evident actually. (Stephen Walt, in a riff on my post, says pretty much the same thing.) Just because Canada is quiet and boring (in a good way) doesn’t mean it is not existentially important for the US. (This same logic, boring ≠ unimportant, applies to my choice for Indonesia. The very fact the Indonesia is a moderate Muslim state is why no one cares about it, but that is a good thing! I guarantee you that if Indonesia had nasty salafists running around like in the ME, we’d all be talking about it.) The US trades the most in the world with Canada. We expect Canada to come with us on just about all our foreign ventures. Its cooperation provides crucial symbolic value: if the country most like us in the world can’t agree with us, then we must be doing something wrong. And most obviously, its security is a direct concern, because of the border. In fact, given that the border is something like 3x the length of the US-Mexico border, Canada easily beats every other state in the world for the most basic US national security concerns.

2. Japan (#9): A good commenter noted that after WWII, the US wanted to make Japan into the ‘Switzerland of Asia,’ and that we are reaping what we sow. Absolutely. I do think Americans send mixed signals to allies. We don’t want them taking an independent line, we want them to do what we say, but then we complain that they free-ride. As I argued in the OP, all this US commitment ‘infantilizes’ US allies by not forcing them to deal with their own regional issues. But Americans, or rather the neocon-liberal internationalist elite synthesis that dominates US foreign policy discourse, ultimately accept weak, dependent allies, because we are in love with our own hegemony. It fires our imagination to compare ourselves to Athens, Rome, or Britain. Neocons read Pericles’ Funeral Oration or Gibbon, and they tear up that America too is the noble, tragic ‘weary titan,’ carrying the great orb of its world-historical task of spreading democracy. Americans thrill to that kind of ‘national greatness’ pseudo-metaphysics while Europeans roll their eyes in disillusionment and Asians wonder wth we are even talking about. So yes, free-riding is pretty obvious to see, because we abet it.

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Korean National Identity (1): Comparisons to Israel, France, and the US



Part two is here.

I get lots of questions from Western readers about this or that aspect of Korea in comparison. We don’t really know about Korea too much, but Americans often use it as an example for some larger political point they want to make. Here are a just few examples: 1) Obama: SK is kicking our butt on education and tech; 2) Obama: SK is an example of a country that modernized but didn’t westernize; 3) Michael Crichton and Amy Chua: SKs and other East Asians are work robots who will take over America and cost your kids a job; 4) John Bolton: Long-suffering SK gives us an excuse to stomp on NK.

Of these, I really think only the second is valid. A few years here can rebut the others without too much trouble:

1) Korea has huge educational problems that Americans don’t really know about. After taking insanely difficult tests in high school in order to place into a good universities, Korean college students often slack and party as a ‘reward.’ Too much of university here is about building the informal social network that will carry you through your professional life and not actually clamping down to do the work. Korean students are also not the readers that college education demands, which is why they often struggle in US graduate programs. And far too much of K-12 is focused on rote memorization, so plagiarism is a huge problem. Also, in case you ever wonder why Korea is so wired (which Koreans love to brag about), recall that Koreans live in very dense urban clusters, frequently in high rises. These are very cheap to wire, compared to the far more diffused American population and the high expense of the US ‘last mile.’ (That said, my broadband here is awesome and is about to get even better.)

3) As for Crichton and Chua, gimme a break. America’s inability to balance its budget, control its imperial temptations in the developing world, fix its K-12 schooling mess, reduce hyper-inequality and high crime, etc. are the reasons for US ‘decline.’ Asians like the Japanese, Koreans, or Singaporeans don’t have some magical growth formula. I will agree that East Asians are better ‘socially disciplined’ (crime here is mercifully low), but not the way Amy Chua’s ridiculously racist domestic fascism would have you think. I’ve been here close to 4 years, and I have never seen anything like what Chua describes in the Korean side of my family. As for the ‘Asians-as-work-robots’ idea so popular in the US in the 80s and 90s, once you’ve experienced the East Asian post-work business culture of hard drinking and debauchery, you know that’s bunk too. I have seen enough Korean ‘salary men’ lean out taxi windows on Friday night to vomit while the driver waits complacently to know that the whole ‘Asian values’ schtick is a fraud.

4) Bolton: I resent the way neo-cons manipulate SK unhappiness about national division to suit pre-existing ideological preferences for regime change and US military activism. This is cloying, pretended sympathy in service to American, not Korean, goals; that’s extreme bad faith. I have noted before that SK want nothing to do with ‘Axis-of-Evil’ talk.

Given this mediocre record of popular comparison, here are a few comparative classifications of SK with countries western audiences might recognize better. Compare and contrast is a basic social science method. And comparative politics in political science is always looking for similarities among states on which to build generalization. So here are the ones that have leapt out to me:

1. Like Israel, Korea is a barracks democracy striving for international normalcy. Both are democracies but under long-term siege. Both would like to join the global economy, get rich and be normal, but can’t. Both struggle to maintain civil liberties in an threatening environment with inevitable slippage. Korea, for example, blocks internet access to NK websites; in Israel, Israeli Arabs can’t join the military. Both are trapped in partial or incomplete states. Korea is half a country, and Israel’s borders are up for debate. Both are too militarized for a democracy, but still, they are doing a really good job balancing a huge military role in society with democratic freedoms. By comparison, look at simlarly over-militarized democracies like Indonesia, Pakistan, or Turkey.

2. a. Like France, Korea has aloof, farily corrupted political class in a too-cozy, corporatist relationship with business. Both also have weak political parties and weak legislatures. So voting doesn’t really make much difference; political participation looks for other avenues.  As a result, both have a vibrant street protest tradition. Working for serious change within the system feels pointless because of an entrenched, circulating elite, toothless opposition, close party-state relationship, and a bureaucracy rather insulated from popular pressure. So when Koreans and French are most angry, they turn to extra-parliamentary means. They march on the streets. Immobilist, scandal-ridden politics channels real political grievance onto the streets.

b. Also like France, Korea is extremely centralized on the national capital. Seoul dominates Korean life, vacuuming up talent, wealth, and prestige from around the country. The goal of just about everyone is to go ‘up’ to Seoul, whether for school, the best jobs, or the best cultural life. You even see it among the expats. Even we foreigners in Busan say we wish we had a Seoul gig! And, as Paris does to the provinces, the rest of Korea is impoverished by this.

c. Finally, both Korea and France are semi-presidential systems. Both have a tradition of a megalomanical ‘father of the nation’ who created a super-presidential post above ‘grubby’ politics. In France, de Gaulle directed the ship of state from a constitution he set up for his own personal benefit as the living embodiment of France. In SK, Park Chung-Hee did the same thing. In both countries though, political institutions are weaker than you’d think because of their ‘great man’ origins. Eventually a succession must occur – no one lives forever – and both France and SK have struggled to tame the office of the president and build more routinized, democratic institutions open to the public. To date, France has succeeded better. Korea remains a very presidentialized semi-presidential system. Ironically, that may help Korea, because the rise of the prime minister in French semi-presidentialism has effectively created a bifurcated executive, particularly when the PM and president have different party affiliations. In Korea, the reduction of the PM to essentially the first cabinet minister has helped unify its executive.

3. The cultural gap between the West and East Asia is wider than the between the West and Latin America, Russia, or even the Middle East. In terms of food, music, religion, and language, the differences are far greater. So it is therefore all the more surprising how Americanized Korea is. English is everywhere – in the schools, on street signs, music, TV. Its institutions, especially military ones, are heavily patterned on the US; until 1981, the Korean version of the CIA was even called – the KCIA! Today there is still the K-FDA. Koreans watch lots of American TV and film. They eat our fast food and junk food (and are getting heavier for it). And they are beginning to pick up the American culture wars. They fight increasingly over stuff like abortion and the death penalty as we do. Korean evangelicals (yes, they are here too) even say that God has a special mission for the US no less! (Now that really is brainwashing.) My own personal guess for why Korea is so Americanized, is that if Korea can close the cultural distance between it and the US, the US is more likely to honor its alliance commitment and fight for SK. In other words, cultural Americanization is a national security strategy to reduce the ‘otherness’ of Korea to average Joe American, in order that he will agree to fight here. Kinda smart if you think about it.

Don’t push any of these analogies too far, but Obama mentioned Korea five times in the 2011 State of the Union, so I thought this might help.

Continue to part two.

Foreign Policy of the GOP Debate (2): the Creepy Relish for Violence

This is the second GOP national security debate, from November 22.

Part one of my thoughts on the foreign policy discussion in the Republican primary is here.

4. At least Gingrich, Romney, Santorum, and Huntsman know what they are talking about. If the primary was just about foreign policy, the race would narrow fast. Huntsman is obviously the only one talking as if he would run the country’s foreign policy as an institution in the real world, rather than a Rambo movie. I do wish he would get some traction. I’d love to give him a shot. Gingrich, while I do think he’s brilliant (I know, I know –  most people think he’s a charlatan), has morphed into a disturbing superhawk on Iran and the faux ‘due process’ of the drone war even though I think he knows better. (Full Disclosure: I worked for the GOP in Congress during Gingrich’s Speakership.) Romney sounds increasingly like what the Japanese, Indians, Koreans, and Australians want us to be – containers of China. I still think this should be their job first, if containment must happen, and Huntsman was right to warn him off. Santorum shocked me the most. His answer on Pakistanis loose nukes was downright intelligent, especially from the guy most famous for saying this. Hm. Not quite sure what to make of that…

5. Ron Paul is my new … gah, I can’t say it, please help … hero in the primary, at least on foreign policy professionalism. While his ‘let-em-die-without-healthcare’ creepiness, loathing for the Fed, and love of the gold standard (?!) terrifies me on domestic policy, his foreign policy answers were, to be perfectly honest, the most consonant with the rule of law, and the legal and moral constraints the president does and should face  – despite his isolationism which I don’t care for. He stuck to the Constitution and insisted that the Congress, not the prez, declare war. (Thank god someone still says that after Korea, Vietnam, Iraq 1, and Iraq 2). He rejected the legality of  hellfiring Awlaki (a US citizen). He defined waterboarding as torture (that is just how low the bar is now,  good god). And he argued against striking Iran, which would almost certainly chain-gang us into yet another horrible conflict in the ME. Throughout the debates, he has rejected empire, rejected GWoT legal games, spoken regularly of our growing inability to pay for all these wars, bases, and other exertions, and counseled legal and financial restraint in the face of the Republican adulation of the imperial presidency, which even Obama has expanded (sooo disappointing that). Here’s Sullivan on Paul’s foreign policy importance as well.

6. ‘I will consult with my generals’ is becoming the biggest dodge of tough questions in the race, and it gets used so often, that it’s making me wonder if GOP questions the supremacy of civilian authority. Why don’t we just nominate David Patraeus instead? Indeed, if you listen carefully to the debates, the attitude toward the military is almost sycophantic (note how the armed forces are used as a touchstone), which reinforces my growing suspicion that the GOP equates American greatness overseas with the use of force. Contrast that with the extreme niggardliness of the contenders on foreign aid (Perry’s zero-based budgeting). So we might occupy your country or fly drones over it, but we wouldn’t dare build you a functioning sanitation system. What a terrible signal to send the rest of the world!

The locution ‘our men and women in uniform’ has a become an applause line, a throw-away pander to the red-meat Tea Partiers, conveniently shoe-horned in to defend almost any possible position – waterboarding, killing Iranian scientists, intervening in Pakistan, whatever. Yes, we support the military, and yes, we should provide it with the resources needed when tasked with missions. But we are more than a nation of armies, indeed, we are/should be an open, relaxed democracy FIRST. I would much prefer that the the primary face of our global image be the Peace Corps than men with guns. What is it with the GOP and uniforms and firearms? Didn’t we learn anything from the insurgency in Iraq? I would much rather that foreigners think of America as a place of great artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, poets, etc. than the regular diet of militarization on tap with the GOP since 9/11. Did anyone else notice in the emailed-in question about opposing torture, that the questioner felt obliged to say he was a veteran in order to have the moral standing necessary to question GOP dogma? ‘Service guarantees citizenship!’

7. And there is yet another sycophancy – toward Israel. Again, the pandering was almost embarrassing. The candidates seemed to fall all over themselves to proclaim fealty to even the most maximal positions on Israel, the Palestinians, and Iran. Again, yes, we want Israel to survive and be prosperous and all that. But we are two different states; our interests don’t always align, and the current Israeli administration is surely the most irresponsible and needlessly aggressive in a long time. But here, Israel is the 51st tea partier state.

8. And then, worst of all, there is – there had to be I guess in this primary season of ideological purity – the bloodlust – the relish in the use of force and pain. This more than anything else has scared me. The cheering and clapping from the audience has goaded the candidates to ‘outhawk’ each other; in fact, that is probably too generous – ‘out-brutality’ each other is more accurate. Bachman has her nuclear war. Paul would let people die if no charities came forward to help with medical bills. Perry came off almost bloodthirsty on the Texas death penalty and yet again on waterboarding (“I’ll be for it until the day I die”). Does Perry, previously a somewhat normal guv, really want to be remembered this way? As the ‘guy who loves the death penalty and waterboarding’? (This is what I mean by the Tea Party audience members goading these guys into extremism; Perry is clearly being pushed by this race into rashly saying lunatic things about the Fed, Israel, wateboarding, etc.) But for Paul and Huntsman, the rest endorsed waterboarding and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ too. On Israel, Iran, and Pakistan, the pressure to reach further and further to extremes is so obvious. Even Huntsman, desperate to look ‘tough’ on anything, said he send special forces into Pakistan to chase loose nukes, after even Santorum (!) said that was a bad idea.

There must be a limit. What would the GOP reject? Can the president use drone strikes inside the US? Should he use nuclear weapons in the GWoT? I think it would really help the rule of law if the moderators could tie down the candidates to some framework, but the audience won’t have it. Its too late. The Tea Party understands the GWoT in the Jack Bauer way – the rule of law is for lawyers and sissies; real men carry guns and inflict righteous pain even if its illegal. Terrifying.

Turkey’s ‘neo-Ottoman’ Rise (3): Why I am Wrong…

turkish flag

This is the continuation of a Wikistrat (where I consult a bit) game scenario on Turkey’s economic and possibly military rise. Readers are counseled to start with parts one and two.

The following are responses to criticism, mostly that I didn’t flesh out the reasons why Turkey is likely to hold broadly western course:

1. Turkey’s rise unbalances the region more than I admit, and I don’t muster enough evidence.

My sense is that Turkey’s growth is pretty good, but I don’t see any particular reason that it should be labeled stratospheric or ‘neo-Ottoman’ or something like that. By the standards of a dysfunctional region – Greece, Iran, Syria, Egypt – it is great. But compared to the old and new cores, or even other middle powers, it is a middle power. Even compared to tiny Israel, Turkey is probably a generation behind in state-development, the translation of economic power into military capability, functional political parties, trustworthy courts, and the many other attributes of thick, cohesive, functional state-ness. The CIA lists Turkey’s growth in 2008 at 0.7%; 2009 at (negative) -4.7%; and 2010 at 7.3%. The IMF’s numbers are 2010: 7.8%; 2011: 3.6%. I don’t see that as revolutionary, nor justifying big rhetoric. However, if the argument is more limited, that Turkey will play a greater role in the Middle East and central Asia, I agree. The big losers will be Greece (further unbalanced competition), Israel (yet another headache) and Egypt and Iran (lost prestige as potential regional leaders).

Turkey faces tough structural constraints that do not really mark it out from other second-world risers. No talks about major Brazilian or South African shockwaves, so why is Turkey’s fairly standard modernization-developmentalist growth arc that much different? I am open-minded about this. My thinking is hardly set. I guess I am just not convinced yet.

Finally, my sense is that the tectonic plates of international politics move terribly slowly. Hence I note the stability of Turkey’s foreign policy. Really deep shifts take a long time, like East Asia’s rise, so I am not convinced that a decade or so of choppy albeit healthy growth, coupled pushy, semi-Islamist rhetoric is enough.

2. “The demographic growth in Turkey is all in populations less likely to be EU/West friendly, i.e, the eastern, more rural hinterlands. What’s Turkey’s motivation?”

I think the motivation is primarily economic. A significant turn from the West would reduce critical inward foreign direct investment flows and tourism dollars, and damage links that military and business cherish (easier visa rules; access to Wall Street, western universities, and the international financial institutions; etc.). Turkish elites are aware of this. Like most late, second world developers, Turkey needs continued access to old (West) & new (East Asia) Core dollars, markets, and technologies. This is why I originally said ‘neo-Ottoman’ rhetoric might be more justified in 20 years. For a comparison, look at Indonesia or Malaysia. They too have populations that rankle at Western dominance, want more international stature and maneuvering room, and have populist, entrepreneurial, Islamist politicians. But these tendencies have been held in check by the huge economic incentive of continuing, decent relations with OECD states. I see this in Turkey too – hence my list of institutions and relationships Turkey has retained.

Populism may work for electoral reasons, but does Turkey want to become Venezuela? Perhaps the the AKP (Justice and Welfare Party) really wants to push in this direction, but resistance from the revenue-generating (western and westernized) parts of the country would be strong. This is the counter to the eastern demographic growth you mention. Perhaps this is why Huntington referred to Turkey years ago as a ‘torn’ country. I did not think so much about the demographic evolution though. Point taken.

A second motive is national security. If Turkey drifts from the West, to whom will it go – Iran and Syria? If so, it faces balancing and isolation by some combination of Israel, the US and the EU, and possible exclusion from NATO and the WTO. I suppose Russia is a possible patron/ally/friend, but what does Russia gain? The reset is important for Russia, as well as WTO entry, and, most importantly, being perceived as a great power by the West. Siding with a semi-islamized, somewhat unpredictable ‘new Turkey’ might be useful to poke the West in the eye – certainly a Putin proclivity – but how much does it advance Russia’s great power pretension? Not much I think, but I admit this question requires more research. Next, Turkey might reach to Central Asia – hence the neo-Ottoman moniker I think. But again, how much is there to gain? Those regimes are terribly poor, with weak state apparatuses, and repressions that have alienated investors. The cost-benefit analysis of the ‘stans vs the core is quite one-sided IMO.

The best chances for a real turn would be some kind of alignment with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) against the West. This would effectively split the new core, between China and the Asian democratic periphery. In so far as China has propped up some nasty regimes for the last decade or so, a genuinely independent Turkish line that alienated the old core could still find some succor with Sino-Russian assistance. This SCO strategy strikes me as far more viable than reaching out to local ME nasties like Iran or Syria. I will admit that I haven’t thought through this likelihood, but the SCO doesn’t seem so much like a club or alliance, but just a gang united by ‘anti-hegmonism.’ I am not sure if it represents a coherent enough alternative. But this too requires more scenario thinking.

Finally, I would say that my argument flows directly from Barnett’s general core-gap analysis. I believe it fits rather well actually. Late developers’ future is with the core. The gap represents what they are leaving behind, and what they so very often, so desperately don’t want to be perceived as in the eyes of global public opinion – backward, third-world, irrelevant. Maintaining those newly emergent links to the core – its money, trade, professionalism, geopolitical clout, and general seriousness – weighs heavily in the cost-benefit analysis and motivates important domestic actors – youth, business, military – who will resist populism.

BONUS: Here is the Wall Street Journal on ‘neo-Ottomanism,’ including Erdogan’s appalling refusal to support a no fly-zone over Libya.

Turkey’s ‘neo-Ottoman’ Rise (2): Late Developers Need Inward FDI


This is the continuation of a game scenario on Turkey’s economic and possibly military rise. Readers are counseled to start with part one. Part three will be in three days. In part one, I argued that Turkey will not pursue a populist-neo-Ottoman course in the Middle East, despite the recent trouble from its islamic leaning leadership:

Global Implications of a Turkish Climb-down from neo-Ottomanism


The EU and NATO will breathe a sigh of relief they don’t have to countenance yet another Muslim-ME headache. Most importantly Turkey’s return to the fold will reduce the explosion of criticism it had recently faced from American supporters of Israel. China will ignore the whole thing and move on; no one else in the new core (East Asia’s wealthy states) either will pay much attention, except for a few business groups. Triumphalist western analysts and neo-cons will over-read this, albeit with some justification, as a part of the general democratization trend in the post-Arab Spring ME.



The biggest opportunity will be the restoration of market confidence in Turkey by foreign investors. Risk analyses of Turkey will reduce the downside political risks. Indeed, this the single biggest reason – the likely reason IMO – for a Turkish return to the fold. A populist-islamist turn will incentive a flight to quality out of Turkey, reducing the inward foreign direct investment (IFDI) flows and tourism dollars it so desperately needs to continue its rise. In this way, Turkey is caught. Its population may wish to pursue a more independent, perhaps even Islamist course, but the costs of access to (especially old, western) Core money is large. As Iran and Venezuela are showing – and conversely Indonesia and Malaysia – one can’t be too populist and anti-western, while keeping FDI. You can’t have both (especially without oil to sell). These are pretty incompatible, would push Turkey back toward the IMF and World Bank for financing, and generally slow its rise.

Probability Turkey will not Become an Ottoman/Islamic version of Venezuela


Turkey is a middle power. For all the ‘second world rising’ hype, Turkey has the same problems and needs of other similar states – South Africa, Brazil, Indonesia, etc. It faces major corruption and infrastructure problems at home. It has few if any globally recognizable brands. It has a military whose relationship to power is cryptic. It has only a mildly competitive workforce. It won’t continue to grow without continuing inward FDI flows. It must trade, and this requires stability and professionalism. It is surrounded by other middle powers whose red flags will go up immediately at expressions like ‘neo-Ottoman’ or ‘Islamic Republic.’ It has a history of imperialism (the old Empire) and atrocity-denial (the Armenians) that will make others wary and push them to balance should recklessness prevail. Arabs won’t bandwagon to aggressive Turkish power, and its geographic encirclement makes counter-balancing by the neighborhood easy. It has no serious allies outside the West. Its burgeoning middle class is nervous about Islamic politics. Iran and Syria are hardly geopolitical winners representing the future in a world of globalization, iPads, dollars, and East Asia. Ottoman-Islamic bluster can’t overcome these serious structural constraints on its rise.

Given all this, it is fairly unlikely to go its own way. It simply doesn’t have the strength to genuinely break with the old (West) or new (East Asia) cores by openly tilting towards Islamism, Iran, or some other other Middle Eastern ‘special path.’ It may sympathize with the Palestinians and be miffed at US and EU behavior, but those are fairly common traits in the Muslim world. In order to keep the critical IFDI and tourism flowing, to keep the relationships alive that allow its students, military, and businesses to interact with the rest of the world, and to prevent open balancing by Israel, the EU, or the US against it, Turkey won’t wander far. If China, vastly more powerful and influential, won’t balance the wealth and military capability of the democracies, then an independent Turkish line would face yet greater hurdles.

Talk is cheap, and mild hedging is easy. Praising Islam and damning Israel are easy rhetorical strategies for elites seeking reelection, especially since Turkey can’t do much. Talking to Iran raises its local prestige a bit, sure. But so far Turkey had done nothing meaningful to chart an independent course: it’s still in the WTO, hasn’t left NATO, cooperated somewhat on Iraq, hasn’t instituted capital controls or other big mercantilist policy, hasn’t withdrawn its application for EU membership, hasn’t built a formal alliance with Iran or Syria, etc.

Its rise complicates life for the US and the EU a little in the Middle East, but not much. Turkish unhappiness is not sui generis; it is more an outcome of typical regional resentment over the Iraq War and US support for Israel. This simulation‘s worst fears (another scenario pathway is entitled “Shift Eastward”)will be serious in 20 years should Turkey continue to grow and the West continue to slip. But for now, ‘neo-Ottoman’ is pretention and hubris, not reality.

Egyptian Revolution (1):We should Support the Uprising

Good lord, Beck really is insane…


Part 2 is here.

Like all of you in the last few weeks, I have been glued to CNN regarding Egypt. It is pretty inspiring, and I can only hope that Mubarak leaves and something more genuinely liberal and democratic takes his places. Here are a few thoughts.

1. Regarding the video selected above, I did plan to post a good pic from Egypt, but you’ve seen that a lot already, so that would not have added much new value. This you probably haven’t seen though, and it is ‘important’ for the sheer insanity about US conservatives’ foreign policy concerns in the ME it reveals. Apparently the Egyptian revolution is an islamist plot that will turn the Mediterranean into an Islamic lake, allow Russia to control Northern Europe, and China to control India and Pakistan. Don’t believe me? Beck’s sweeping hand movements will explain all…    h/t: Center for a New American Security.

2. This is one of those critical junctures when observers should to go on the record about what to do. If all this somehow goes wrong, everyone will blame Obama in 20/20 hindsight. That will inevitably be partisan and unfair, because the Obama administration is making decisions under huge uncertainty. Credibility requires one to go on record now, when information is limited and we all have to make our best guess.

That US conservatives are badly split signals this huge uncertainty. Absolute moral certainty is a central pose of the American right’s self-image (tax hikes are always bad, Iraq 2 was a good idea no matter what), so if even the Right –  which IMO takes foreign policy more seriously than domestic-focused US liberals – is divided, that tells you just how confused everyone really is. For the neo-con take that this really is about democracy, try Gerecht (excellent); for the gloomy realism that we should hew to the Egyptian military, try Krauthammer (depressing, but also good). And for the downright bizarre conspiratorial stuff, watch the above vid.

So here’s my line: I’ll say that Krauthammer and the realists are wrong. The Iran parallel is inaccurate; this will not lead to a Muslim Brothers’ dictatorship. Further, the support of democracy is, in itself, an important value. Even if there was a serious risk of an islamist takeover, we should still pressure Mubarak to get out, nor support a military oligarchy (Krauthammer). Who wants to look back in 10 years and say we supported yet another authoritarian in one of the worst governed places on earth, that we didn’t take the chance to push for something better, even if it was risky? How awful and embarrassing for the US; what a betrayal of all those heroic people we’ve seen on TV. And if they want islamists in the government, well, it is ultimately their country. So long as it remains a democracy (the difference between Turkey’s islamists’ participation, and Hamas’ budding oligarchy), then we have to allow them to disagree with us as is their right. Risking fanatics in government is part of democracy (witness, ahem, Sarah Palin). If we believe in it for ourselves, then we must be true to it for them. So, no, this is not a result of George Bush’s foreign policy, but we should support it anyway.

3. Israel should not drive our policy toward Egypt. Has anyone else noticed how much of this discussion has gotten hijacked by the ‘what-will-happen-to-Israel’ externality? (Try here, here, here, here, and here.) This is embarrassing and almost sycophantic. You can’t blame the Arabs for disbelieving we’re an honest broker when the fate of 6 million people in a different country outweighs the 85 million of the country that is actually the center of the story. Really? Should the US point of origin for yet another Middle East event be Israel’s benefit? We are two separate countries, right? Maybe we should care about the Egyptians themselves, right? Israel does have the finest military in the region, nuclear weapons, and a take-no-prisoners lobby in the US Congress, right? Don’t misunderstand me. I realize that Israel’s security is important for the US and that it is the only democracy in the region (although that is increasingly under question). I want Israel to be secure too; I’ve traveled there 3 times and unconditionally support its right to exist. If it would help, usher them into NATO or the EU, or extend formal US deterrence guarantees, even nuclear. But it’s long-overdue time that we break the habit looking over our shoulder to Israel on ME issues, and it’s extremely immoral to support continued Egyptian authoritarianism on the (likely correct) premise that a democratic Egypt will push Israel harder. That sells out the admirable sacrifice of 85 million for 6 million who voted for an openly provocative right-wing government.

2010 Asia Predictions: How did I do?



Last year in January, I made  some predictions on Asian security. It is always useful to look back at how one did. I did ok, but one might criticize me  that I predicted too many things would not happen. That predicts the lack of change, which is easier than predicting proactive change. That is true.

But prediction is one of the great goals of the social sciences. Indeed it is our hardest chore, and no matter how much we read, data we collect, or theories we propound, we still don’t seem to do much better than the ‘random walk’ theory. Depressing, but nonetheless worth the effort. So here is a quick review of my record. (For a nice collection of the worst world politics predictions from 2010, try here; thankfully none of mine are as eye-rollingly bad as them.) Here is a nice run-down from CFR on the big (East) Asia events of 2010. Note the differences from mine below.

My review of my 2010 Korea predictions will go up on Thursday. Here are my 2010 Asia predictions in retrospect:

1. There will be some kind of power-sharing deal in Iran before the end of the year.


I really blew this one. My sense 12 months ago was that Iran was really slipping toward some sort of genuinely systemic crisis. Not primarily because of the street demonstrations. Those are relatively easy for dictatorships to contain with nasty head-crackings. In the movies (Avatar), the people overthrow the powerful, but in reality it is usually other powerful who overthrow the powerful. That is, elites usually depose other elites in dictatorships. And that is what I thought we saw in late 2009: the emergence of real splits inside the regime’s elites. Particularly, I thought that the clerics’ growing hesitation on Ahmadinejad’s policy of confrontation with the West might lead to a real cleavage requiring some kind of accommodation. Note that I did not predict a revolution or major change in the regime’s Islamist character. No one really expected that. But I did think that Ahmadinejad needed the clerics for legitimacy in what is still an overtly theocratic state. Looking back, I am fairly impressed at his ability to maneuver these domestic difficult waters, while nonetheless continuing to bluff the West. Yet perhaps the external bluff is the key to that internal success. Perhaps the nuke program insulates him against clerical unhappiness. He can appeal to a Persian populist nationalism with the nuclear issue, which allows him to ideologically outflank the clerics. If this is so, then Ahmadinejad is more enduring then we anticipate.

2. Israel will not bomb Iran.

This is a negative prediction, so it was a little easier. But still, given how much noise Netanyahu and the Israel lobby in the US make on this issue, including regular veiled threats to take matters into their own hands, I do think this deserves some credit. Also, the Wikileaks revelations that Sunni Arab states might look that other way on a bombing add further weight to my prediction’s riskiness. Netanyahu is playing a tough negotiating game with the US, but this one was probably a bridge too far, although I bet the righties in his cabinet are unhappy. Still, Israel really needs the US, and that need will deepen the more it becomes apparent that the Israeli right is the primary force blocking an Israeli accommodation with the rest of the Middle East. And without US approval, unlikely on Obama’s watch, I still think the cost-benefit calculus tilts against an Israeli strike. That said, a strike is more likely this year, because the Iranian nuclear program keeps rolling along and Iran (point 1 above) has not softened.

3. Japan will disappoint everyone in Asia by doing more of the same – more moral confusion over WWII guilt and wasteful government spending that does nothing meaningful to reverse its decline.

This is another negative prediction, and seems like an easy one too, because it just predicts more of the same from a country that has been doing that for 20 years. But placed the context of the DPJ’s (pseudo-)revolutionary election victory of late 2009, it still seemed like a mildly risky prediction at the time. Recall that the DPJ came in saying it would change so much – fixing the ever-sliding economy, improving Japan’s relations with its neighbors, edging away from the US, etc. All that turned out for naught. Some of this was because China seemed to flip out in 2010 (a big positive prediction I really missed – X!). China’s 2010 behavior pushed Japan back toward the US in a way the DPJ probably wanted to avoid. But on the other issues, Japan still strikes me as stuck in a terrible historical funk. It can’t seem to get beyond the fact that the glory days of its developmentalist economy (1960s-80s) are over, and that more Asian-style state intervention now just means more debt. Nor can it seem to figure out, despite the DPJ talk, that the rest of Asia is genuinely freaked out by Japan and pays attention to every change in Japan’s defense policy or utterance by defense officials. Worse, every time some disgruntled righty in Japan say the old empire wasn’t so bad after all, the neighbors go into paroxysms on incipient Japanese re-militarization. My own experience with Japanese students tells me that Japanese are just blind to this (although Japanese academics do seem aware). So my sense was that for all the DPJ talk, there was no real popular interest in a Willy Brandt-style ostpolitik on the history issues. Nor does that seem to have changed in the last year.

4. North Korea won’t change at all.

X! – It got worse!

Who would have thought that the worst state in the world could plumb the depths yet further? Somehow the loopy Corleones of Korea – the Kim family gangster-state – became ever more unhinged and dangerous. My original prediction was aimed at those who thought that Kim Jong Il’s trips to China and China’s growing ‘investment’ in NK might somehow hail a Chinese-style liberalization, at least of the economy a little. To be fair, no one expected NK to morph into a ‘normal,’ somewhat well-behaved dictatorship like Syria or Burma. But there was a mild hope that NK, finally, under the weight of economic collapse and the pressure to show results for the 2010 65th anniversary of the state’s founding, might open a little. I thought that was far-fetched, so in that sense, my prediction was right. But more importantly, I missed that NK would actually go the other way. Instead of possible better behavior, NK went overboard – provoking three major crisis – the Cheonan, the new uranium plant, and Yeonpyeong– in just 7 months. Wow. Wth is going up on there?!

5. The US drawdown from Iraq will be softened, hedged and qualified to be a lot smaller than Obama seemed to promise.


This one seems mixed but broadly accurate. It was a gutsier positive prediction, but the evidence is not definitive. I was genuinely surprised when the last brigades rolled out, but then, there are still 50k US troops in Iraq (more than in Korea or Japan, btw). Now that Iraq is off the front pages, and with Obama’s speech that it is all over, no one pays attention much. But we are still running around performing what really should be called combat operations, and Americans are still dying. And in Afghanistan, the Obama people are now openly moving the goal posts from 2011 to 2014 now. While I didn’t predict that, it does fit into my general sense that Obama can’t really end the GWoT quickly as he hinted during the campaign. Instead, it seems likely that it will slowly splutter out.

When to Just Give Up on Territory Disputes: Palestine, Kashmir, Dokdo?


One of the most basic tenets of almost all IR theorizing is that states are territorial, literally, and obsessed with holding, if not expanding what space they have. Even if you aren’t Alexander the Great or Napoleon, out to conquer whatever is there, you still want to hold on to at least what you have. Territory is a fundamental requirement of statehood (ask the Kurds), and more is better given land’s inherent scarcity. The logic for this is simple. There is only so much real estate in the world. Barring extreme scenarios like suddenly easier land reclamation (from the sea) or interplanetary colonization, space on earth is finite. So the race to control space is by definition a zero-sum game (the Scramble for Africa). If I have it, then you don’t. The more you have, the more secure you are from others (the further away they are), the more people you probably have, the more resources you are likely to find under the ground, etc.

And this logic is backed up by loads of empirical evidence. The Japanese fight individually with Russia, Korea, and China about islands. The USSR and China fought a border war, as did the PRC and Vietnam. The US Union invaded the Southern Confederacy. The Israelis and Palestinians seem ready to kill each other over inches of barren desert. I recall reading somewhere that after the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai, Egypt sued Israel in the World Court over several hundred feet of extra space Israel wanted to hold for a hotel or something. (Egypt won.) And the above map makes clear just how severe the territorial dilemma can be for micro-states like Israel. (Do not take the source of the map as my endorsement of Israeli policy in the occupied territories; I chose it just because it makes my point well.) No state wants to be dismembered, and lots of blood in history has been spilt trying to expand one’s land space (imperialism).

But Israel’s endless troubles holding the Palestinians, much less converting the Palestinian space and people into exploitable resources rather than manpower and money sinks, or India’s endless quest to quell and hold Kashmir, raise a good IR theory question: when is it time to just give up and take less? I am not sure if this question has been researched much because we worry, obviously, more about expansionism and irredentism than voluntary cession. But there are some good examples of this also. This article got my thinking how Sudan’s Arab elite has simply decided to throw in the towel after 25 of years of civil war with the south. 15 years ago, Ethiopia’s government decided to do the same with Eritrea. And Britain, I think, secretly hopes the Northern Irish Catholics will outbirth the local Protestants and vote for republican unification, hence ridding Britain of the endless Irish question. In Korea, I frequently argue that Korea needs Japan more than Japan needs Korea, because NK is so scary, unification with it will be so expensive, China is so big, and the US is in relative decline in Asia. Hence, it would make national security sense for Korea to try to come to some kind of deal on its island dispute with Japan (the Liancourt rocks [Dokdo]). Better relations with Japan would help Korea prepare for the Chinese challenge and bolster it in the stand-off with NK. Nor is there anything of value on Dokdo (it’s a bunch of rocks, like most of the West Bank too) and because it is uninhabitable, control of Dokdo has no implications for division of the sea or seabed. In short, the benefits of a deal are high.

So there is a cost-benefit analysis at work here. At some point, an enduring, costly stalemate may just not be worth it. I can see a few reasons why:

1. Your country is already pretty huge, or the land disputed is comparatively tiny. If I were India, I think I would be pretty close to giving in on Kashmir. India is huge, both geographically and demographically already. How much does Kashmir really matter when you already have 1.3 billion people ? For Israel though, the problem is much more acute. The IDF has argued for years that the West Bank adds ‘strategic depth’ to little Israel, which, disregarding the  moral dimension, is accurate. By this dimension, the Eritrean succession surprises me, because it land-locked Ethiopia. I would have thought that would be a national interest worth toughing it out for…

2. There are no natural resources or other immediate, tangible national interests. Dokdo’s control does not alter any material element in the Korea-Japan relationship. If anything, it wastes Korean money to artificially keep people and services stationed there that would not otherwise exist but for this dispute. This is no ‘resource war.’ So what great benefit do you get beyond that patriotic tingle in your chest?

3. The disputed territory is not ‘holy ground.’ I think this is the most tricky condition, because these sorts of disputes, zero-sum in nature and frequently rooted in long-standing neighborhood grudges, are exactly the sort of thing that get layered in over-heated nationalist rhetoric about holy struggles, national identity, God-given missions and all that sort of metaphysical talk. Witness the Jewish right in Israel talking about biblical claims from Moses to the West Bank, or Hamas’ reverse claim (also made up) of the centrality of Jerusalem to Mohammed’s revelation (it was just a sideshow in the big Arabian picture). For a hysterical and mawkish Korean version of Dokdo as holy ground, try here (be sure to listen to the song). I think there is a good dissertation here.

Illiberal Zionism Update: Beinart Nails It



Peter Beinart is exactly the sort of liberal necessary to win the GWoT. He correctly realized that the American right is not credible in its claims to defend Western liberalism against salafi illiberalism, because too much of the GOP base is too illiberal now and sees the GWoT exactly as Bin Laden does – a theological clash of civilizations – only they are on the other side. The increasingly Christianized and fundamentalist (Protestant mostly) GOP wants to ‘win’ the GWoT as a triumph of Christianity and/or American power. They are, as Walter Russell Mead correctly notes, ‘Jacksonian Zionist,’ not liberal. No Muslim, correctly, will believe US power to be neutral, serving universalist liberalism, when Bush needed to be told that the GWoT had biblical justification and Sarah Palin insists that Israel be allowed to do whatever it wants in the Occupied Territories.

In the same vein, he makes a good case here for the growing illiberalism of Zionism and the increasing inability of liberal countries to support its religio-nationalist, rather than liberal, opposition to Islamism and Arab authoritarianism. I made exactly the same point a year ago. (It is always nice to be confirmed in one’s prejudices I suppose, but Beinart does a better job of it than I did.) Sullivan adds his usually biting and gloomy commentary.

All sides seem to be sliding toward a clash of civilizations paradigm. All the more reason for the US to focus on the battle of ideas against salafism and get out of the Middle East in the medium-term

There’s No US-Israel ‘Crisis’ — It’s just Regular Old Alliance Politics


I can’t be the only one who thinks this whole got quickly overbaked – one small step in a well-established, well-publicized endeavor leads to the biggest crisis among friends in decades? Regardless of your opinion of Israeli West Bank behavior, settlement/colonization is a very widely-known and long-standing policy, so there’s little new here.

So this is less about Israel itself, and more about the changed US debate on Israel since the release of The Israel Lobby three years ago. Neocons who are nervous that elite opinion in the US is shifting against Israel saw an opportunity to push back before things go to far. And those pushing for more distance between the US and Israel saw an opportunity to push the issue into  mainstream credibility. But little of this impacts the real depth of the US-Israeli alliance (shared anti-Islamism, liberal democracy, fear of Iran). The whole thing smacks of inside-the-Beltway navel-gazing by people paid to hyperventilate. To rework Rahm Emanuel, never pass up an opportunity to manufacture a crisis.

1. Sure, Biden got snubbed. But ‘alliance politics’ are old hat. At least since the 70s, the US has been complaining that its allies don’t listen to it, that they don’t pay enough for their defense, that they freelance without asking the US for permission. Israel is just doing what lots of US allies have already done (which doesn’t mean it’s right, only that’s fairly typical). Consider that only two or three NATO allies now spend on defense what they they are treaty-obligated to spend (at least 2% of GDP). That includes really big ones like Germany, Italy and Canada. European allies have a pathetic 3 aircraft carriers between them. Or consider that the Europeans don’t want to go to Afghanistan, even thought they are treaty-obligated to do that too. Do we flip out about this every year? No. (Should we? Yes.) Or consider Mexico. Our closest ally in Latin America (since NAFTA)  has illegally exported 10-20 million of its poorest people to the US in the last generation, yet somehow we can’t get them take border security seriously. So why single out Israel so much for its bad behavior? Indeed, this has always been the biggest problem I have had with the Walt/Mearshiemer take on Israel (although I’m sure it’s not because of the idiot charge that they’re anti-semitic).

2. If you want America’s allies to behave better, then stop reaching for hegemony and start playing hard to get (Walt’s own idea btw, thereby increasing my confusion). US hegemony, or more specifically, our relentless celebration of it as America’s right because we are so awesome, tells allies that we love the top-dog slot so much, that we’ll never pull back from more involvement, more force, more shadow world government. This is my biggest beef with the Kagans, Robert Kaplan, Irving Kristol and the neocon persuasion generally. Just how much more do we have to spend on defense? How many more bases do we have to build? Kaplan even admitted that the US mission in Afghanistan is bleeding us white and better serves China than the US; but then he says we must go anyway! How can you possibly convince the allies to help if you say you’ll commit suicide before withdrawing…

This sort of attitude says that being the king-dog, lone superpower isn’t just good for US security or economy. Now it’s a part of our very identity. After three generations have been raised on the post-1940 National Security State, globe-spanning American exceptionalism is a part of who we are now (“God’s special mission for America,” to quote George W. Bush). Besides being exactly the forerunner of domestic tyranny the Anti-Federalists warned about way back in the 1780s, it also tells the world that the US will never abandon allies. Hence we cannot credibly threaten them.

3. Not only does this incentivize free-riding (Germany, Mexico), it also encourages misbehavior (Israel), because the US will never abandon its global role, because it loves it so much. This is (one) fatal flaw of the neo-con argument for US expansion. (The other is that we can’t afford hegemony much longer). Walt makes this argument regularly: if you want the allies to actually do what we tell them, then you have to be willing to cut them off once in awhile, to punish them for misbehavior. But given that NO ONE has the guts to cut Israeli aid on Capitol Hill, then the regular expectation should be Netanyahu-style misbehavior, not compliance. Think of Joe Lieberman and John McCain as enabling an alcoholic: why would Israel possibly stop if the consequences are absolutely zero? Ditto on Germany and defense spending.

Korea is a good comparison case here. US threats of alliance abandonment are far more believable here, because they are real. The size of US Forces in Korea (USFK) is in long-term decline. USFK is not tied into a larger multilateral framework like NATO, which would make it harder for the US to leave. Most Americans don’t know as much about Korea as they do our more culturally western allies, and if they do, they think rich Samsung-land should be able to defend itself. All these reasons cast doubt on the US guarantee to Korea. Koreans know this, and they know how much they need the US. As such, Korea is a far less troublesome ally to the US than most. By contrast, the Israelis or Germans know we aren’t going anywhere; too much of America’s self-identity as a totally awesome superpower is tied up a forward US presence in Europe and the Middle East. (Maybe there is a measurable relationship between cultural distance and credible threats of alliance abandonment; someone write that master’s thesis.)

4. The long-term structure of US foreign policy makes it all but impossible for individual initiatives, even from the POTUS himself, to change allied behavior. We tell Israel to be nice to the Palestinians once in awhile, while we simultaneously deepen our long-term position in the greater Middle East. Do you really think we can credibly threaten Israel with abandonment (a sanction for misbehavior) while US force structure so obviously say we won’t? As we build a huge string of bases that tells everyone – Jew, Muslim, Arab, Afghan, Persian – that we’ll be here for a long time? If you want the allies to burden share and follow orders, then stop enabling them through the endlessly sprawling national security state and endlessly expanding defense budget.