“The U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty of 1960 obligates the United States to treat any armed attack against any territories under the administration of Japan as dangerous to [America's] own peace and safety. This would cover such islets as the Senkakus also claimed by Beijing.”
So this author wrote 15 years ago in A Republic Not an Empire.
And so it has come to pass. The United States, because of this 53-year-old treaty, is today in the middle of a quarrel between Japan and China over these very rocks in the East China Sea.
This Senkakus dispute, which has warships and planes of both nations circling each other around and above the islands, could bring on a shooting war. And if it does, America would be in it.
Yet why should this be America’s quarrel?
The USSR of Nikita Khrushchev and the China of Mao Zedong, the totalitarian Communist states against whom we were committed to defend Japan, are dead and gone.
Why, then, are we still obligated to defend not only Japan, but all of its island possessions?
Why were the treaties that committed us to go to war for scores of nations in the Truman-Eisenhower era not dissolved, when the threat that gave rise to those treaties disappeared?
“The commonest error in politics is sticking to the carcass of dead policies,” said Lord Salisbury. Of no nation is that truer than 21st-century America.
For some reason, we cannot let go. We seem so taken with our heroic role in the late Cold War that we cannot give it up, though the world has moved on.
What if you were to strive after something your entire life, only to meet abuse, mistreatment, and punishment? What if, then, you achieved your great goal in the final chapter of your life–indeed, achieved it on a scale so great, the world swooned at your Cinderella story? Invigorated with fresh victory, perhaps you would leap at every chance to accomplish long-cherished dreams, strive to conquer injustices that had plagued and goaded your history for so long. This is, in many ways, the story of Nelson Mandela.
Unfortunately, as Sondheim taught us, Cinderella stories don’t really end with a simple “happily every after.” Even after experiencing victory for a time, most real-life characters must also stomach the pains of defeat.
One wonders if George Washington felt this way. He wrote his name in the rebels’ declaration, risking life and limb for independence. He dodged bullets in battle, braved winter’s deadness and starvation with weary troops, and bore the pain of multiple defeats. John Richard Green wrote of Washington in his History of the English People,
It was only as the weary fight went on that the colonists learned, little by little, the greatness of their leader—his clear judgment, his calmness in the hour of danger or defeat; the patience with which he waited, the quickness and hardness with which he struck, the lofty and serene sense of duty that never swerved from its task through resentment or jealousy, that never, through war or peace, felt the touch of a meaner ambition; that knew no aim save that of guarding the freedom of his fellow-countrymen; and no personal longing save that of returning to his own fireside when their freedom was secured.
Slowly but finally, victory came. The colonists experienced the sweet taste of victory–but then what? There were still constitutional battles in Congress. Revolt and Jacobin controversy in France spurred similar unrest in the young nation. The War of 1812 loomed on the horizon, and slavery remained a stain on the country’s conscience. The battle was not yet won.
I wouldn’t presume to make an extensive comparison of Mandela and Washington, the two men’s historic and personal contexts differ significantly. But in this sense, that of surrendering the victor’s chair and dealing with a post-Cinderella world, I wonder whether Mandela and Washington could have sympathized with each other.
Rod’s post yesterday on the “Mandela Myth” points out,
…Mandela’s status as a moral icon conceals the terrible realities of post-apartheid South Africa, and how so many of its problems have to do with its culture, and cultural attitudes. The Mandela hagiographies we’re seeing now—did you watch TV news last night?—make it seem that after Mandela left Robben Island prison, South Africa lived happily ever after. This is not true, Ruden says.
Now surely, Mandela was aware of this truth. Even as he took in freedom, political accolades, rugby victory, etc., he knew the battle raged on. His nation still wrestled with historical demons and violence. Though victorious, he and his country had not yet won.
Mandela, like Washington, left his office and (to some extent) the spotlight. These two men, who loved their countries and fought bravely for them, must have felt some weariness in seeing the work left to be done—work that others must accomplish. They were willing to surrender their power, even when political victory and compliments still swirled around them. It is difficult to know when to embrace victory and use it for political advancement—even more difficult to know when one should let it go, when one should humble oneself before the reality of human fallibility and mortality.
Neither Mandela nor Washington acted perfectly. But we can learn from them the politics and prudence required in defeat and victory. In these two men, we see life hopes tied up in a whole nation’s joys and pains. They sacrificed and bled for freedom, sinned and failed but strived for the greater good. They finished their lives without full victory, their work incomplete but left in trust for the coming generations to continue.
Nearly every day, an article pops up on Twitter stating, “We need more women to become [fill in the blank].” From engineers to CEOs, writers to philosophers, women are told there is such-and-such a position they must fill in order to bring balance to the galaxy. To further this goal, Germany has created a new plan:
According to a new agreement between the parties negotiating to form Germany’s next governing coalition, supervisory boards for companies registered on the German stock exchange will need to be at least 30 percent female starting in 2016 … From the U.S., where women held only 16.1 percent of board seats by last count, it’s an intriguing experiment to watch for several reasons. Government-directed quotas are potentially unconstitutional, and even private companies seeking to set quotas have been told affirmative action plans need to meet pretty strict requirements to survive an equal protection or Civil Rights Act-based challenge. But many of the folks following women’s lack of progress on Wall Street would like to see the U.S. be, well, a little more Teutonic.
It’s an interesting proposition, and seems to promote a sort of necessary balance. But there are some problems with this idea of “egalitarianism” that Micah Mattix identified well in a Tuesday TAC post:
On the one hand, it is asserted that there are no differences between men and women; therefore, every vocation, every position type, should reflect the country’s gender ratio. If the ratio is not reflected, it is the result of some injustice, again because there is no reason other than discrimination for fewer women in this or that vocation. On the other hand, is asserted that having more women in a certain profession or vocation would make it better because it would add something that was missing. But if there is no difference between men and women, what could possibly be missing?
To put it simply: these articles argue that there are no differences between men and women as such. They believe men and women only differentiate on an individual basis. But if this is true, one shouldn’t need gender quotas to help promote a “missing” element.
Now, if women are truly being discriminated against, then this is a problem. If women were failing the bar exam because of a discriminatory system, or if a company refused to hire women CEO’s simply because of their gender, it would be a serious problem. But this seems better remedied on a case-by-case basis than through a statewide quota.
Germany is a democratic country. If women aren’t vying for certain company positions, might it be because some don’t actually want those positions? According to Katrin Bennhold, that’s the problem: in a 2011 New York Times story, she said gender stereotypes (specifically, “the mother myth”) perpetuated throughout Germany’s history have deceived the female populace. She quotes Angelika Dammann, the “first and only female board member at software giant SAP”: “We are still very far from a situation where it’s as normal for women as for men to want both a career and family—even among young women. When you have children, you’re expected to stay home for a significant period; otherwise you are considered a bad mother.”
Perhaps this is a backward question; but must all women want both a career and family? If women deserve the right to pursue whatever vocation they want, then shouldn’t they be allowed to choose family over career? Should the girl who dreams of becoming a “homemaker” be forced onto the supervisory board of a company simply to fulfill some gender quota? No one seems to suggest such a thing. Yet the mothers who choose family over career are treated with a sort of disdain, as if they’ve been brainwashed by an ancient “mother myth.”
It seems only fair that women should be able to choose any vocation, whether engineering or motherhood—not in order to fulfill some gender quota or to appease the feminists of their age, but purely out of love for the vocation they pursue.
When, after the massacres at Newtown and the Washington Navy Yard, Republicans refused to outlaw the AR-15 rifle or require background checks for gun purchasers, we were told the party had committed suicide by defying 90 percent of the nation.
When Republicans rejected amnesty and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, we were told the GOP had just forfeited its future.
When House Republicans refused to fund Obamacare, the government was shut down and the Tea Party was blamed, word went forth: The GOP has destroyed its brand. Republicans face a wipeout in 2014. It will take a generation to remove this mark of Cain.
Eight weeks later, Obama’s approval is below 40 percent. Most Americans find him untrustworthy. And the GOP is favored to hold the seats it has in the House while making gains in the Senate.
For this reversal of fortunes, Republicans can thank the rollout of Obamacare—the website that does not work, the revelation that, contrary to Obama’s promise, millions are losing health care plans that they liked, and the reports of soaring premiums and sinking benefits.
Democrats, however, might take comfort in the old maxim: If you don’t like the weather here, just wait a while.
For, egged on by Bibi Netanyahu and the Israeli Lobby AIPAC, the neocons are anticipating the return of Congress to start work on new sanctions on Iran. Should they succeed, they just might abort the Geneva talks or even torpedo the six-month deal with Iran.
While shaking a fist in the face of the Ayatollah will rally the Republican base, it does not appear to be a formula for winning the nation. Read More…
On the eve of the latest round of Geneva talks, Americans told pollsters by a striking 2-1 margin they favored a negotiated settlement with Iran over war. This was in the face of a startling anti-diplomacy fear campaign waged by Israel’s Likud leaders in the U.S. and a renewed Israel lobby campaign for more sanctions. One wonders if there is soul-searching in Likud or AIPAC offices about why their messaging is falling flat.
Certainly Israel’s reaction could be fairly called “wigging out.” But Netanyahu seemed almost measured next to some neoconservative intellectuals. Take this piece, published by Weekly Standard editor Lee Smith in Tablet. Smith essentially accuses Obama of biding his time during his first term in order to challenge “American Jewish power” in his second. He interprets the Obama administration’s stated desire to pivot away from the Mideast as fancy language to dump Israel. Still he puts up a brave front. Rest assured, right-wing Zionists, Israel doesn’t need America. It can ally with Russia, or China or someone else:
Israel will be fine on its own—even if some of the decisions it might make, like absorbing the West Bank, or refusing to recognize the legitimacy of American Jewish marriages, or cozying up to dictators like Vladimir Putin—will leave American Jews feeling alienated and bereft. Read More…
China announced last Friday that it would change its one-child policy, offering a little more flexibility to select families: if either parent is an only child, parents are now allowed to have two children. The nation’s Communist Party leadership made these changes after seeing the damage its one-child policy has wrought demographically on its populace: the Wall Street Journal reports that China faces maturing growth, a wide wealth gap, pollution, and the world’s most unbalanced sex ratio. This policy was not changed out of a desire to grant freedom, human flourishing, or strong family structure. It was motivated by pure practicality.
While that utilitarianism isn’t bad, it is not necessarily good either. It means that many parents who want more than one child will still be banned from having them. The government will still dictate the reproductive rights of Chinese parents.
This is not to dismiss the magnitude and importance of this change. The policy has remained unchanged since its formation in 1980, and is one of the largest experiments in state-enforced demographic engineering. But if China made this choice purely out of perceived utilitarian necessity, will it ever grant parental freedom without constraints? There is a likelihood that China could swing from one controlling extreme to another: if there is a shortage of children in China’s future, might they begin mandating married adults to have at least one child? Some sort of 1+ child policy?
This change does not indicate that China’s leaders are ready to diminish their control on society. Rather, this exception to the one-child policy is yet another example of attempted population control. Throughout China, local “family planning service centers” will remain in business. And it is likely that, especially in country regions, the one-child policy will continue to have a scarring effect. The Atlantic highlighted some of these dangers in a Monday article:
…the policy has often been administered with brutal force, leaving behind a painful legacy of illegal abortions and sterilizations. The fines are far too expensive for most in rural China to pay, and a lingering preference for male offspring has led to a spike in sex-selective abortions and even infanticide.
There are several problems that may persist under China’s one-child policy, changed as it is. The aforementioned illegal abortions and preference for male offspring (thus accounting for the country’s unbalanced sex ratio) are two of these. The practice of forcing abortions is another.
In addition, the worst demographic damage has already been done—and will take time to reverse. Forbes contributor Gordon Chang wrote Monday, “China’s future demography has now been set for at least a generation. Population-boosting policies rarely work, but when they do it takes decades for them to have a noticeable effect. What Beijing officials are doing now is both too little and too late.”
The motivation behind China’s one-child policy still remains: control. The government tells only certain parents that they can have only a certain amount of children. This is not freedom. One hopes that the deleterious results of China’s one-child policy will, with time, begin to fade. But before that happens, the country’s undergirding stance on liberty and ethics will have to change.
If you visit one of the few remaining large bookstores in a big city, you will find prominent among the two dozen or so displayed new non-fiction titles at least three works about World War I. A large anniversary looms for the summer of 1914, of course, but the subject is almost always of great interest: what combination of bad diplomacy, uncompromising small-nation nationalism, worst-case strategic fears and man-made systems too complicated for statesmen to alter or perhaps even understand (Russia’s army mobilization schedules) combusted to plunge Europe into a civilization-altering war that no major power desired or even thought possible. One hopes the failure of the p5+1 powers and Iran to reach agreement will not be plumbed by historians a hundred years hence in the same spirit, looking for off ramps before a tragedy that were there to be used but never taken.
Some of what happened in Geneva was positive: American and European diplomats interacted cordially with Iran’s new emissaries for many hours and now have a far better understanding of how to speak to one another directly and seek common ground without rhetoric or rancor. Already, diplomatic interaction with Iran has become somewhat regularized, akin to what it became between the West and the Soviets within a decade of Stalin’s death. This goes far towards making stumbling into war by accident or inadvertance less likely. Moreover, by all accounts a deal—a preliminary agreement that would have set the stage for more detailed negotiations over the ensuing months—had already been achieved. Israel’s Netanayahu objected to it vociferously, but not all Israeli strategists did. The neocons objected too, and their allies in Congress. But unlike 2002, they aren’t in power and Obama, Great Britain, Germany, and the large majority of the American strategic and foreign-affairs community which favors a settlement that actually puts the brakes on Iran’s nuclear nuclear quest would almost certainly have produced a political majority to finish a deal and ratify it.
Then at the last moment, France threw a spanner in the works. As a permanent and veto-wielding UN Security Council member, France is one of the “P5.” Its foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, announced his intention to go to Geneva, which he then did while raising as dealbreakers issues that had already been agreed upon or (as in the case of the non-completed and therefore non-functioning Arak reactor) been agreed to be dealt with in the subsequent detailed negotiation. One has the sense that the actual issues France raised didn’t matter as much as the fact that France was exercising, in a forum closely watched throughout the world, its veto power. In the eyes of some American neocons, and perhaps Saudi Arabia, France’s socialist goverment achieved a kind of glory. Read More…
You can’t watch people you can’t see. That’s the lesson Chinese authorities are learning as they come to terms with an unforeseen threat to their national surveillance apparatus: smog.
As Ariel Bogle of Slate writes,
China has long been very enthusiastic about security cameras. Since 2005, the government has rolled out surveillance in public places, parks, and even on buses and in classrooms, as part of an operation called “Skynet”. … Some estimate that there are about 30 million cameras operating in China—that’s one for every 43 citizens.
Over that same period, the effects of rapid Chinese industrialization have resulted in ever-escalating air pollution, recently estimated to contribute to 1.2 million premature deaths in the country. Yesterday, AFP reported that “An eight-year-old girl has become China’s youngest lung cancer patient, reports said, with doctors blaming pollution as the direct cause of her illness.” With smog levels recently shutting down the northeastern city of Harbin, Chinese officials have been increasingly nervous about the reaction to the air pollution. So official state media has often called the pollution “fog,” according to Quartz’s Gwynn Guilford, a judgment the Chinese people had little ability to challenge.
The problem is, the South China Morning Press reports, smog is particularly threatening to the local panopticon. Cameras have traditionally had problems with regular fog from time to time as would be expected, but research has indicated possible countermeasures to beef back up the surveiling, including using infrared cameras to cut through the concentrated water vapor. Smog, on the other hand, is the result of dispersed particles, not water, and the particles are proving to have very different optical qualities. After a bombing in Tienanmen Square, Chinese officials are reportedly concerned that terrorists could use high air pollution days to conceal further attacks.
As a result, China is putting tremendous pressure on both civilian and military teams to find some way to maintain its monitoring system during the country’s famously smoggy days. One expert the SCMP talked to suggested using a radar system that wouldn’t be impeded by elevated levels of particulate matter in the air, with the only downside being exposing the population to radiation levels on top of the smog.
The Chinese predicament holds a century’s worth of progression in the dystopic tradition all within itself, as a state-run panopticon, the stuff of early 20th century totalitarian dystopias, (presumably unwittingly) titled after a post-apocalyptic nuclear dystopia out of the 1980s, is thwarted by the environmental degradation that has succeeded nukes as the 21st century apocalypse of choice. In fact, it is a reminder that the totalitarian logic that animated those earliest dystopias is still alive and well in certain parts of the world, as a government becomes truly alarmed at the growing uninhabitability of its cities only when those conditions interfere with its instruments of control.
Some say journalism is on the decline. Others, however, think this may be a golden age of journalism: the New York Times’ Bill Keller is belongs in the latter camp. In his Sunday column, he said he believes modern media prevents dictators from getting away with with propaganda and deception. New technology like auto-translate software has made foreign news even easier to procure. But there is a downside to this new media world, as well:
When practitioners of global reporting get together—as some of us did last week for a stimulating conference on the future of foreign news at Boston College—one question on the table is whether, for all the moaning, we are now enjoying a golden age of global news. My own view is: “yes, but.” I’ve already explained the “yes.” Now the “but.”
The problem with the cutbacks in professional foreign coverage is not just the loss of experience and wisdom. It’s the rise of—and exploitation of—the Replacements, a legion of freelancers, often untrained and too often unsupported. They gravitate to the bang-bang, because that’s what editors and broadcast producers will pay for. And chances are that nobody has their backs.
This new journalism reality is one in which freelancers risk their lives with no backing or safeguard, and often without a contract or formal assignment. Bill Keller cites Emma Beals, a British journalist, who believes that of 17 kidnapped foreign journalists being held by Syrian rebels, the majority are freelancers. This is the dangerous and unsavory side of modern reporting, Keller posits.
Keller pinpoints another disadvantage of modern media, more inhibitive to the reader: “My other caveat about this time of abundance is that while it’s great for a foreign-news junkie, I’m not sure how well it serves the passive reader. The profusion of unfiltered information can overwhelm without informing.”
But when Keller talks of a profusion of “unfiltered information” in news, he is only partly right. One of the dangers of our current news era lies in its plethora of filters. Sites like Google filter their search engines to spit out the results they think you want, according to author Eli Pariser. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have changed our ideas of “relevance” and “connection,” by letting us define those terms according to our preference. If “relevant,” in your mind, means exclusive entertainment news and no foreign policy articles, your social media sites can construct themselves in your image. It will be difficult to break through your bubble.
This is not the fault of journalists, per se, but rather the fault of those organizations that propagate news and information. If readers still pick up a print newspaper, they cannot filter out pertinent front-page headlines without concentrated effort. However, newspapers and news magazines have also increasingly supported the idea of partisan reporting: one should know that The Washington Post and The Washington Times present two different versions of our national and international landscape. Such news coverage propagates the news “bubble.”
It seems a confusing and deluding news world: the amalgamation of information renders some readers overwhelmed and others apathetic, while many retreat into their ideological news bubbles. It’s a world of endless information, but also one of endless blinders. Can we really call this a golden age of news?
The first reports in early May of 1960 were that a U.S. weather plane, flying out of Turkey, had gone missing.
A silent Moscow knew better. After letting the Americans crawl out on a limb, expatiating on their cover story, Russia sawed it off.
Actually, said Nikita Khrushchev, we shot down a U.S. spy plane 1,000 miles inside our country flying over a restricted zone.
We have the pilot, we have the camera, we have the pictures. We have the hollow silver dollar containing the poisoned-tipped needle CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers declined to use.
Two weeks later, Khrushchev used the U-2 incident and Ike’s refusal to apologize to dynamite the Paris summit and the gauzy Spirit of Camp David that had come out of his ten-day visit to the USA.
Eisenhower’s reciprocal trip to Russia was now dead.
A year later, President Kennedy would be berated by Khrushchev in Vienna. The Berlin Wall would go up. And Khrushchev would begin secretly to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from Key West.
Had there been no U-2 incident, would the history of the Cold War have been different? Perhaps.
Yet, while there were critics of launching Power’s U-2 flight so close to the summit, Americans understood the need for espionage. Like us, the Soviets were installing ballistic missiles, every single one of which could incinerate an American city.
Post 9/11, too, Americans accepted the necessity for the National Security Agency to retrieve and sift through phone calls and e-mails to keep us secure from terror attacks. Many have come to accept today’s risks of an invasion of their privacy—for greater security for their family.
And there remains a deposit of trust among Americans that the NSA, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency are not only working for us, they are defending us.
How long Americans will continue to repose this trust, however, is starting to come into question.
Last week, we learned that a high official of the U.S. government turned 200 private phone numbers of 35 friendly foreign leaders, basically the Rolodex of the president, over to the NSA for tapping and taping.
Allied leaders, with whom America works toward common goals, have for years apparently had their private conversations listened to, transcribed and passed around by their supposed U.S. friends.
Angela Merkel has apparently been the subject of phone taps since before she rose to the leadership of Germany and Europe. A victim of the East German Stasi, Ms. Merkel is not amused.