Friday, May 07, 2021

What is Biden’s Foreign Policy Red Line?



In the previous post, I quoted a column by Max Boot, that presents insightful views about Biden’s red line against Iranian attacks on US interests in the Middle East (“Opinion: Biden actually has a strategy for the Middle East, not just a Twitter account”; Washington Post; February 27, 2021). President Joe Biden may be the greatest conciliator, but a compromise can be made through drawing a clear red line. Biden does not have the charisma of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, but according to Professor Toshihiro Nakayama of Keio University, he is a president to do his job business as usual in a professional manner (“Unlike Obama and Trump … Why Did Biden Won the Most Votes in History?”; Shukan Bunshun; January 21, 2021).

In my view, Biden’s uncharismatic professionalism comes from his balance taking and red line drawing skills. Actually, both Obama and Trump were so amateur that they had failed to defend vital national interests from the enemy several times. Among them, both predecessors made terrible mistakes in Syria. In 2013, Obama failed to launch retaliatory air strikes against President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attacks on civil war oppositions and civilians (“The problem with Obama’s account of the Syrian red-line incident”; Washington Post; October 5, 2016). Trump is in no position to blame his predecessor. In 2018, he withdrew troops from there, since he believed prematurely that the War on Terror was over. As a result, local Kurds were abdicated, despite years of alliance with the United States, which led to vehement criticism from the Pentagon (“Trump orders US troops out of Syria, declares victory over ISIS; senators slam action as mistake”; USA Today; December 19, 2018). Also, French President Emmanuel Macron remarked the famous phrase, "What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO” (“NATO alliance experiencing brain death, says Macron”; BBC News; 7 November, 2019). Since then, it has turned out that Trump was wrong, as security in Syria has not improved.

In view of diplomatic failures of Obama and Trump, how does Biden draw red lines to defend vital interests of the United States around the world? To begin with, I would like to mention Russia, because President Vladimir Putin crossed the line more outrageously than any other leaders in the world. As mentioned in the NIC report this March, Russia intervened the presidential election of the United States again in 2020 to boost the Republican candidate Donald Trump. Obviously, Russia has crossed the red line to attack the American homeland repeatedly. In other words, this is another 9-11 attacks. Even China hesitated to resort to such an aggression. According to the report, Putin collaborated with Trump’s election staff, along with launching cyber attacks.

Remember that the Kremlin has been intervening elections in Europe long before Brexit and Trump to delegitimize liberal democracy of the West. Far right politicians, such as Putin, Trump, and Nigel Farage of the UKIP, have utilized anger and racism among the white working class in Europe and America to achieve their political objectives. A Ukrainian journalist Anton Shekhovtsov says that Russian sponsorship of the Western far right is more deep rooted than Putin and his siloviki fellows, and it dates back to the Soviet era. Deplorably, people in Japan and other East Asia raise concerns with the rise of Asian hate in the West now, which is a natural consequence of Russian support of White Christian nationalists, while they were almost unaware of the threat of the Kremlin’s political manipulation in the Euro-Atlantic sphere.

In response to Russian aggression, Biden draws clear red line. Following the release of the NIC report, he tightened sanctions on Russia with strong support from allies (“Biden administration imposes significant economic sanctions on Russia over cyberspying, efforts to influence presidential election”; Washington Post; April 16, 2021). In addition, Biden pressured Putin to withdraw troops from the border area with Ukraine in close cooperation with NATO allies, and its success is impressive enough to discard Trump’s America First (“Russia to Withdraw Troops From Ukraine Border, Crimea”; Moscow Times; April 22, 2021). Remember, Obama failed to defend America’s red line when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. Trump was even worse. Not only did he admit the Russian annexation, he said the he trusted the intelligence of the Russian side rather than that of the American side, regarding the Kremlin’s interference in the presidential election that he won, at the Helsinki summit with Putin. That revealed Trump has no understanding of presidential duties. We have to bear in mind that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson denounces Russian interference in the Brexit vote, even though that enabled him to become the prime minister. He understands Britain’s red line.

Unlike Russia, China did not intervene in the election, but this country is the primary challenger to Pax Americana. China sets her own red lines in her neighboring waters unilaterally in the East China Sea, South China Sea, and around the Taiwan Strait, which is commonly called the Chinese Monroe Doctrine. Meanwhile, the United States is imposing red lines of global rules and norms, regarding freedom of Uyghur and Hong Kong. For China, the latter may sound US-led aggression on her homeland. Actually Foreign Minister Wang Yi demanded Japan not join the US-UK-EU-Canadian coalition to defend human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong (“China tells Japan to stay out of Hong Kong, Xinjiang issues”; Straits Times; April 6, 2021). Also, China and America bicker over the hegemony of information technology.

In view of these contentions, the fact that China hesitated to interfere the 2020 election is quite remarkable, though Russia did it for Trump and Iran did it for Biden. Like Iran, China considered assisting Biden to weaken the populist hawk in the election. However, neither China nor Iran was so wishful as to believe that a Democrat president would be dovish. Some realists talk about Sino-American unrevealed ties behind the curtain, despite serious rivalries between both countries in public. When we talk about mutual interdependence between China and liberal democratic nations, we tend to focus on our vulnerabilities to this country, but everything is vice versa.

Therefore, let me review the China part of the NIC report. Though Beijing launched negative propagandas against Trump’s foreign policy and corona crisis management through the state media, that was business as usual, and those did not target the election. The point is that China feared the risk of interference, which could fatally damage her relations with the United States. Even if Trump won the election, China needed to improve the relationship. More importantly, there was no prospect of an emergence of a pro-Chinese administration, since America’s China policy was bipartisan. Xi Jinping learned a lesson from Putin’s interference in the election in 2016, that had turned Russo-American relations worse. Also, it is vital to bear in mind that China did not feel an acute threat of Trump’s unilateralism as Iran did. Beijing even thought Trump would be more convenient than Biden in some senses, in hope of isolating the United States from her allies. China is redrawing red lines of geopolitics and values, but still, this country does not dare to infringe on America’s ultimate red line.

Though Biden is rebuilding US foreign policy, his red line regarding Afghanistan is questionable. He may postpone the schedule of withdrawal from Trump’s initial plan, but that does not fix the problem, as the Taliban could retake Kabul sooner or later. In that case, every achievement that America made will be ruined. Isolationist voters, whether right or left, easily fall into cost and benefit thinking of Trump, and Biden needs to reorient such mindsets among the public to defend America’s national security red line. Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations comments that Afghan policy needs to be understood from long term views, notably, avoiding the local government's defeat at an acceptable cost, rather than a clear-cut victory against terrorists.


Furthermore, Tom Tougendhat, British MP and an army veteran of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, insists that enemies elsewhere will also be emboldened to see that the United States and NATO allies are unwilling to sustain even a small presence.


Their concerns are shared among American national security community as expressed in the report by the SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) this March. The SIGAR report articulates that Afghanistan is far from self-reliant to maintain security with her own funding resources, and it raises critical risks associated with troop withdrawal. Since the US-Taliban agreement on February 29 last year, terrorist attacks on the ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) have risen sharply. Despite this, the number of US troops and the amount of the budget to support the local security forces are restrained, today. Since the prospect of the peace negotiation is uncertain, a cut of civilian and military presence of the United States would deteriorate the security environment, which could jeopardize US-led reconstruction programs, such as anti-corruption measure, socio-economic development including public health, anti-narcotics operation, and women’s rights.

In view of such insecurity and problems of the troop pullout, the SIGAR report recommends that the United States and major aid donors upgrade oversight capability of the program through structural reform of the aid system and increased funding. But that does not resolve the fundamental problem of the power vacuum. It seems that Biden is making a dangerous compromise with the fatigue of the long war among domestic voters as Trump did. That makes America’s red line fragile, regarding Afghanistan. Democracy originates from the rule of taxpayers by themselves, but paradoxically, taxpayers are not necessarily responsible and well-aware of public affairs. Occasionally, they are liable to sacrifice national or global public interests for their own narrow benefit. With a long career in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden is more professional to lead American diplomacy than Obama and Trump were, but still, his red line on Afghanistan needs to be reconsidered .

Monday, March 29, 2021

Biden’s Sense of Balance in His Diplomacy




The global community is keenly watching how much President Joseph Biden is going to shift his country away from America First of Donald Trump. This February, he delivered his first foreign policy speech at the Department of State, and subsequently, at the Munich Security Conference. Scholars and commentators elaborate to foresee his foreign policy through interpreting the text word by word. Meanwhile, we have to compare his words and his deeds from comprehensive viewpoints.

Let me review his speeches first. In the speech at the State Department, Biden consistently defends the human rights of political oppositions and ethnic minorities in Russia, China, and the Middle East. Also, global well-being issues like the environment are vital. Meanwhile, regarding China, Biden balances moral high ground of American idealism and geoeconomics of realism. That is not the case with Russia, since she has been intervening public voting in Europe and America, notably for Brexit and Trump. According to a recently publicized report by the National Intelligence Council, Russia interfered in the presidential election to boost Trump in 2020 again, through hacking and personal contacts with his team. While China also considered such interference to defame Trump, she abandoned the idea in the end (“Putin targeted people close to Trump in bid to influence 2020 election, U.S. intelligence says”; Washington Post; March 17, 2020). Since the threat of election intervention has grown so serious that Britain has decided to overturn her long established nuclear strategy, and she is rebuilding the stockpile of warheads to retaliate asymmetrically against cyber attacks by the enemy (“Boris Johnson warns Tories off cold war with China”; Times; March 16, 2021 and here).

Subsequently, at the Munich Security Conference on February 19, Biden stressed that America was in full respect of Article V of NATO, thereby managing regional and global security issues mutually, including emerging challenges of China, Indo-Pacific navigations, and the corona outbreak. While Europeans welcome his willingness to overturn Trump’s isolationism, some of them like Germany and France, may pursue trans-Atlantic multilateralism via their own strategic autonomy, rather than via close partnership with the United States (“Opinion: Message from Munich: Resilience is the foundation of trans-Atlantic security”; Deutsche Welle; 19 February, 2021). Meanwhile, in Asia, as Professor Joseph Nye at Harvard University comments, Xi Jinping’s China has grown excessively assertive in regional security and trade, but the United States cannot sever ties with this country, due to interdependence in the economy and ecological issues. Therefore, he argues that the United States needs a staunch alliance with Japan more than ever (“Biden’s Asian Triangle”; Project Syndicate; February 4, 2021). That was typically illustrated in the two plus two meeting in Tokyo the other day.

According to Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, the core of Biden’s foreign policy consists of rebuilding at home, working with allies, embracing diplomacy, participating in international institutions and advocating for democracy. However, domestic troubles that Trump has left, such as political polarization and racism that typically appeared in the January 6 riot, as well as failure in handling the corona crisis, are hindering Biden from success in his foreign policy (“Whither US Foreign Policy?”; Project Syndicate; February 9, 2021 and here). The most critical constraint to American engagement with the world is public perception at home, according to Robert Kagan at the Brookings Institution. Americans are reluctant to assume their burden as the superpower, because they underestimate the power of their country. This is typically seen in the fatigue of limited wars in Iraq and Afghanistan among the public. They yearn the days when the United States kept herself aloof from Old World political manipulation, and pursued her own economic prosperity. Yet, public awareness of world affairs rises keenly, when an international crisis breaks out. The Trump administration, that arose from such naïve anti-globalism, was a stress test for American internationalism, but people are realizing that 19th century isolationism is not helpful for the country. Kagan stresses that it is America’s vital interest to meet the noblesse oblige of the superpower, and voters should understand this (“A Superpower, Like It or Not: Why Americans Must Accept Their Global Role”; Foreign Affairs; March/April 2021).

Despite those domestic and global constraints, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Biden “the greatest conciliator” as his old friend, in “BBC Breakfast” on November 9 last year. Throughout Biden’s long career in the Senate, his sense of balance was an asset. As the Vice President of the Obama administration, he settled the budget dispute in 2013 to avoid sequestration. In diplomacy as the president, a typical case of his balancing skill is seen in his handling of Saudi Arabia. He publicized a long-withheld U.S. intelligence report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on February 26, that attributes the murder of Jamal Kashoggi to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). While Biden has imposed the Kashoggi ban on 76 Saudis to deny entry visas to the United States, the Crown Prince was exempted from the ban, despite strong requests from human rights groups and his fellow Democrats such as Senator Ron Wyden. However, unlike the Trump administration, which had direct contacts with MBS regularly, the Biden administration keeps communications with him within professional necessity, that is, to treat him just as the defense minister rather than the de facto supreme leader, and does not to invite him for a bilateral meeting for the time being (“FAQ: What Biden did — and didn’t do — after U.S. report on Khashoggi’s killing by Saudi agents”; Washington Post; February 28, 2021).

In contrast with “pragmatic realism” of Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Biden foreign policy team gives high priority to human rights. Meanwhile, as Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations calls Saudi Arabia a “frenemy”, simplistic sanctions would just embolden Iran in Middle East geopolitics. He mentions Biden’s way of balancing and reconciliation concisely. Besides condemning the murder of Kashoggi, Biden ended military support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen. Furthermore, he argues that while Biden is making Saudi Crown Prince more controllable, he takes more resolute actions to Iranian aggressions in the region than Trump did in his term. In response to their missile, rocket, and drone attacks on US and allied facilities in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Iraq, since the inauguration, Biden launched critical airstrikes in Syria to destroy pro-Iranian militias, including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyd al-Shuhada on February 25. Thereby, he sends a red line message to Iran that his administration is willing to talk with them, but the United States shall not tolerate any kind of their attacks on US interests (“Biden administration conducts strike on Iranian-linked fighters in Syria”; Washington post; February 26, 2021).

Meanwhile, Trump did not respond so steadfastly to Iran and Houthis’ attacks in Saudi Arabia and Iraq from 2019 to late 2020, despite his notorious and squalid verbal abuses on Twitter and withdrawal from the JCPOA. Actually, he left the job of containing Iran and her proxies to Saudi Arabia, as he declared in his 2016 election pledge (“Opinion: Biden actually has a strategy for the Middle East, not just a Twitter account”; Washington Post; February 27, 2021). The sense of balance that Biden shows in his Middle East policy is likely to be the key to his foreign policy, vis-à-vis China, and similarly, vis-à-vis Russia. Also, he would strike a sensitive balance of intertwined interests, in dealing with global allies and domestic stakeholders.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

How should America restore trust from the World?



The presidential election this November resulted in the loss of Donald Trump, who advocated America First. Though foreign policy was not a top issue for voters in general, his illiberal, zero sum and deal-oriented isolationism was flatly rejected. However, the victory of centrist Joseph Biden is just the beginning to reinvigorate American leadership in the world.Prior to the election, former Secretary of State George Shultz in the Reagan era showed a guideline to nurture trust to US foreign policy from the global community. Most importantly, Shultz explores the meaning of trust in diplomacy through comparing the Reagan-Gorbachev interactions with myopic zero sum diplomacy today (“On Trust”; Foreign Service Journal; November 2020). He does not blame specific president, but the Washington Post understands his article implicit criticism to the Trump administration.

To begin with, Shultz makes a clear distinction between personal friendship and intergovernmental relations, regarding the trust. In interstate relations, trust is beyond honesty, and it arises from the will of commitment to implement the agreement. He recalls the day when the Reagan administration found that Soviet Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev shared common concerns with nuclear weapons, and he is trustworthy to undertake the common goal to implement the mutual agreement. The Washington Post editorial call an attention to “After nearly four years of an administration that seems to have assumed that American relations with the rest of the world is a zero-sum game and that the game is based largely on the personal relations between national leaders, distrust abounds internationally” in his article (“George Shultz, elder statesman, laments distrust of U.S. abroad under Trump administration”; Washington Post; October 31, 2020), because that has limited the capability of the government to implement foreign policy, since decision making process has become increasingly incoherent. The president's sporadic tweets worsened it furthermore.

In view of the transition of international systems due to new challenges of economics, technology, and pandemics, Shultz argues that the United States needs skillful diplomacy and visionary leadership to stay influential to make a “free and open” world. He mentions furthermore, that the United States needs strategic thinking to facilitate to shape the course of history in line with her values and interests. However, current America relies on military intimidation rather than dedicated diplomatic efforts, which provokes anti-American sentiment globally, while the Cold War II against China and Russia is nearing.

How is Joseph Biden going to rebuild trust from the world? Though the global public is frustrated with Trumpism, they are still examining whether Biden’s foreign policy priorities are compatible with their critical interests. Unlike Europeans, Asians take impending threats of China more seriously than climate change, democracy, human rights, etc. Let’s review Biden’s vision of the world spoken by himself (“Why America Must Lead Again”; Foreign Affairs; March/April, 2020). At the beginning of the essay, he tells ambitiously to restore American leadership through overthrowing Trumpian isolationism, thereby checking challengers such as China and Russia. The article gives an impression to readers that Biden prioritizes global issues of civic wellness in his foreign policy, such as global warming, mass migration, pandemics, and so forth. Also, he reconfirms that democracy promotion is the keystone of US foreign policy, which Trump sidelined so scornfully. This would be helpful to rebuild trust between the United States and the global community, notably with European allies.

However, those lofty agendas are “luxuries” for many of Asian and Gulf Arab nations, as they are on the front line of savage geopolitical confrontations against China and Iran respectively. Biden’s multilateralism and international cooperation sounds conciliatory to their enemies, vis-à-vis, Trump’s reality show like tough posture, even though John Bolton criticizes it harshly. Also, there is still a concern that the United States will be continually preoccupied with domestic affairs, even though Biden upholds American leadership. Actually, he gives high priority to rebuild democracy at home. But it is too simplistic to take it domestically-oriented, because autocratic rivals make use of the political divide in the United States to erode democratic ideals in the world. Notably, Russian President Vladimir Putin disinforms the Western public and sponsors far right movements in the West, in order to discredit Western liberalism and weaken the trans-Atlantic alliance. Regarding his “foreign policy for the middle class”, it is intended to defend the American quality of life from China, through uncompromising rivalries in the economy and technology. Therefore, it is premature to equate Biden’s foreign policy with Obama’s dovish “Nation building at home”.

For further understanding of Biden’s foreign policy, let’s see an article by his Secretary of State nominee Anthony Blinken and Robert Kagan a year before the election, in which they jointly argued that Trump’s America First had ruined Foreign Service efforts for preventive diplomacy and deterrence (“‘America First’ is only making the world worse. Here’s a better approach.”; Washington Post; January 2, 2019). The American Foreign Service has been preventing wars between regional powers such as India and Pakistan, Israel and the Arab states, China and Japan, and so forth. Contrary to prevention and deterrence, Trump has triggered geopolitical competition among great powers furthermore, through recognizing the spheres of influence of strategic challengers, notably as shown in Russian annexation of Crimea. As both experts mention, American voters should know, “properly empowered, U.S. diplomacy can save trillions of dollars and many thousands of lives that would otherwise be spent responding to crises that explode because we ignored problems while they were still manageable.” The diplomacy that Blinken and Kagan advocate would help America restore trust from the global public.

Finally, we must bear in mind that the trust between the United States and the global community, both friends and foes, is mutual. Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fough Rasmussen speaks from a European perspective that the United States needs to reassure her engagement with the democratic world, while European allies should be more proactive to take responsibilities for global security, so as not to provoke isolationist mindsets of victimhood among American voters of the right and the left (“A New Way to Lead the Free World”; Wall Street Journal; December 15, 2020). The notion of trust that Shultz upholds in his article is vital for both America and her allies around the world. Also, we should bear in mind that Trump has shattered mutual trust with America’s best partners with his vulgar words and phrases. Deplorably, Trump Republicans belittle this just a matter of his style. They are appallingly ignorant, as opposed to a Reagan Republican Shultz.

Monday, November 16, 2020

US Presidential Election and Japanese Foreign Policy



Every time when the presidential election in the United States, Japanese people from experts to the general public, argue which candidate is better for Japan. Furthermore, some of them insist that Japan shove other American allies worldwide, including European nations, aside to draw Washington’s attention to her vital security interests. However, it does not seem that Japan is good at the zero sum styled rivalries among nations on the global stage. In the prewar era, Japan’s position in the world was stable when she supported Pax Britannica through the alliance with Britain, but she failed in pursuing her own national interests through “sovereign and independent” zero sum diplomacy after repealing the alliance. In the postwar era, Japan upheld the Yoshida doctrine, and tried to pursue mutual economic development and friendship, under the umbrella of Pax Americana. Considering such historical background, it is more suitable for Japan to pursue her own prosperity and stability based on universal principles, rather than winning through state-to-state rivalries.

Among the Japanese, notably the right wing, a substantial number of people argue that they prefer the Trump administration be continued for their ”hardline” approaches against China, even though it makes the relationship between the United States and other allies worse furthermore. However, contrary to their “wishes”, some Japanese intellectuals point out that China actually sees the current administration preferable. Those arguments are founded on fundamental problems of Trump diplomacy. Professor Emeritus Homare Endo of Tsukuba University comments that the emergence of the Trump administration has eroded the credibility of American democracy, which has made the position of the Xi Jinping administration in domestic and foreign policy very advantageous. That is to say, in the Sino-American ideological warfare that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched boastfully in his speech at the Nixon Library, American superiority has been eroded. Professor Endo argues furthermore, that thanks to America’s withdrawal from international agreements one after another, China has more opportunities to expand her influence in the world (“China wishes reelection of Trump”; News Week Japan; October 24, 2020).

With basic understandings of international politics, anyone can agree to the points that she raises. As if in support of her arguments, Marc Champion of Bloomberg News comments about his analysis that along with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the following dictators would face difficulties, if Trump were defeated in the election: President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Supreme Leader Kim Jongun of North Korea, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman oh Saudi Arabia, President Recep Erdoğanof Turkey, and so forth (”Defeat for Trump Would Mean Some Other World Leaders Also Lose Out”; Bloomberg News; October 20, 2020).

Meanwhile, there is a concern that Democrat Biden would be softliner against China, which is more widespread among Japanese conservatives, rather than in the United States. However, Akira Saito, Former Chief of the US Bureau of Yomiuri Shimbun, comments that China is critically alert that ex-Vice President Joseph Biden would be more hardliner over human rights and climate change, and more adept at mobilizing allies to encircle them. In addition, China hawks such as former Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy and Senator Tammy Duckworth are top candidates for Biden’s Secretary of Defense (“China is alert to Biden’s foreign and national security policy”; Wedge; October 26, 2020). It is not appropriate to foresee that America’s China policy would turn soft when the Biden administration inaugurates, at least. We should remember that even the Obama administration modified their China policy from the initial G2 approach.

Anyway, Japanese right wingers support current President Donald Trump so passionately, but they are just “anti-Chinese” while hardly sharing common values with American conservatives. Moreover, they are statists and historical revisionists. On the other hand, Red State voters shun governmental intervention, and believe in the “justice of America” in World War II unrepentantly. The only thing that both of them share in common is hatred against China. It is hard to imagine solidarity between them, in view of such a stark gap of values of both. Furthermore, those chauvinists are inherently anti-Ameircan.

The most noticeable failure of Japan’s pro-Trump and zero sum oriented diplomacy is the case of Russia. The Trump administration does not protest the repression of opposition politicians and Journalists by the Kremlin, and also, connived their annexation of Crimea. Among Japanese politicians, there was a growing voice that such an easing of tensions between Russia and the United States would be a boon for the negotiation of the return of the Northern Territories. Nevertheless, no matter how “pro-Russian” Trump is, just a mere personal relation between leaders cannot move interstate relations. As Shigeki Hakamada, Councilor of the Japan Forum on International Relations, comments, Putin rejected Abe’s request because the return of the Northern Territories to Japan as an American ally would put Russian national security in danger. This is Japan’s failure to take benefits without giving consideration to drawbacks of appeasement by zero-sum diplomacy, as if assuming the confrontation of Russia and the West in Europe were none of her concern. This attitude reminds me of prewar Prime Minister Kiichiro Hiranuma, who remarked “The situation in Europe is complicated and mysterious”.

As I mentioned above, Japan is not good at zero sum diplomacy, and continual rule of the Trump administration would put her at a disadvantage in the negotiation of burden sharing in defense. Above all, they pull out US troops from Germany unilaterally, without consulting with the Department of Defense, the EUCOM, and NATO allies. Also, it is not just the US presidential election this year that when Japanese people talk about foreign relations with the United States and the rest of the world, they are liable to expect too much on “politicians with deep contact with Japan” of the counterpart. The most notable example, that such an expectation is betrayed, is Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross of the current administration of the USA, as he is just a sycophant of President Trump. It is not a good idea to snatch something for Japanese national interest so selfishly through zero sum deals. Rather, it would be preferable for Japan to review the ideal and the nature of the regime, and then, to make a decision about her direction of actions through checking whether they are compatible with universal global public interest. Regarding the relationship with Russia that I mentioned previously, America and Europe make their policy through examining the nature of the Putin administration, while the Abe administration made a mistake without giving consideration to the nature of the counterpart regime. We should remember this.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Don’t Trust Pompeo’s Cause of Freedom and Democracy



Unlike Europeans, Japanese, particularly right wingers, praise Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s causes for freedom of the Uyghur and Hong Kong. Come to think of it, it seems quite odd, because rightists among the Japanese are not necessarily satisfied with Pax Americana. Rather, they make revisionist cases against the postwar world order. But there is no denying that Japanese people, from nationalists to moderate general public, are increasingly concerned with the threat of China and Beijing’s defiance to the global rules and norms. Geopolitically, there is no reliable multilateral security framework in the Asia Pacific region,. However, it is ridiculous to admire Pompeo as the savior of freedom, simply out of anti-Chinese sentiment.

Pompeo’s speech at the Nixon Library on July 23 draws much attention worldwide, but experts give a poor grade to this. Richard Haass comments that Pompeo’s criticism of American policy on China since the Cold War reveals his fundamental lack of understanding of the Nixon-Kissinger geopolitics (“What Mike Pompeo doesn’t understand about China, Richard Nixon and U.S. foreign policy”; Washington Post; July 26, 2020). Furthermore, Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution criticizes that Trump’s America mishandles the ideological warfare with China. Pompeo portrayed the world in clash between open and free democracy of America, and Marxist-Lenist autocracy of China. However, the Trump administration is destroying liberal and rule-based world order, and exploring a tributary international system that enables predatory great powers to exploit smaller nations, as China does. More problematically, Trump and Pompeo do not denounce human rights abuses in other countries so much, and furthermore, democracy in the United States is falling year by year during their rule, according to Freedom House. That erodes the legitimacy of Pompeo’s coalition of the willing (“Pompeo’s surreal speech on China”; Brookings Institution; July 27, 2020). Therefore, Paul Saunders of the Center for the National Interest caricatures that the Nixon Library speech was just an election campaign for Trump (“Responding to Chinese and Russian Disinformation”; Tokyo Foundation; July 29, 2020).

Above all, above experts unanimously criticize Pompeo’s verbal abuse on allies, which is completely incompatible with his idea of freedom coalition against China. Since the height of the Cold War, successive US presidents have been asking burden sharing of defense for allies. Therefore, it is nothing so outstanding that American Secretary of State urges allies to stand firmly against an adversary like China. However, Pompeo’s offensive remark of NATO allies in the speech is unprecedented, I don’t think it is helpful to forge a coalition. Rather, it would deepen the trans-Atlantic chasm furthermore.

Pompeo pounces on Iran, too. Last December, he denounced the repression of religious minorities in this country (“Human Rights and the Iranian Regime”; Department of State; December 18, 2019). However, his commitment to Iranian freedom and democracy is questionable. Kenneth Pollack at the American Enterprise Institute comments that the diplomatic normalization between Israel and the UAE is not a diplomatic breakthrough. In his view, this is in line with strategic withdrawal from the Middle East of the Trump administration, as shown in Iraq and Afghanistan. If it happened, Israel and the UAE along with other Arab nations would have to fill the power vacuum against Iran, by themselves (“Israeli-Emirati normalization: Be careful what you wish for”; AEIdeas; August 13, 2020). Remember that Trump urged Saudi Arabia and other Gulf emirates to nuclearize to defend themselves from Iran, during the campaign for his first term.

Those inconsistencies in the ideological warfare stem from Pompeo’s view of democracy and human rights. As Robert Kagan argues ("The Strongmen Strike Back"; Brookings institution), he understands these words from the Hazonian perspective of nationalism, not the Lockean perspective of natural law and universal liberalism. This view is more in line with sovereign democracy that is proclaimed by Vladislav Surkov, who serves Putin’s Russia to underpin authoritarian traditionalist rule of this regime, rather than that of liberal democracy among Western allies. Japanese right-wingers may feel common nationalist and revisionist bonds with Pompeo, instinctively. That implies that his coalition of the willing is completely unreliable, and no match for that of John McCain, which is based on the universal value.

Quite problematically, Pompeo’s definition of democracy and autocracy is not fair, and based on his own idiosyncratic geopolitics. When the Department of State released “2019 Country Reports on Human Rights and Practices” this March, he named China, Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela the worst violators of civil liberties in his speech, but dismissed other violators mentioned in the report, like Russia, Turkey, North Korea, and so forth. His unfair conduct reveals a deep chasm between the American Foreign Service and himself (“Critics Hear Political Tone as Pompeo Calls Out Diplomatic Rivals Over Human Rights”; New York Times; March 11, 2020). Furthermore, the Trump administration keeps silent to the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, while Germany responded quickly to denounce the Kremlin (Nicholas Burns; Twitter; August 25, 2020). Moreover, Michael McFaul points out that US presidents since Ronald Reagan have paid tribute to both the leaders of the Kremlin and the opposition, when they visited Russia. However, Trump and Pompeo remain dismissive to the Novichok attack (“A Russian dissident is fighting for his life. Where is the U.S.?”; Washington Post; August 21, 2020). Similarly, he did not denounce Saudi Arabia for the murder of Jamal Kashoggi in 2018.

In addition to unfairness, we have to review other ethical problems of Pompeo's behavior furthermore. After the adults in the room such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis et. al, have gone, Pompeo has become the leader of Trump sycophants, as Max Boot mentions (“Trump relies on grifters and misfits. Biden is bringing the A Team”; Washington Post; August 23, 2020). Typically, his televised appearance at the Republican National Convention from Jerusalem was bitterly criticized by opinion leaders from Richard Haass to David Rothkopf, because it politicizes diplomacy to please evangelical voters for the Trump campaign. In view of this, Jackson Diehl, Deputy Editorial of the Washington Post, assesses Pompeo the worst Secretary of State. He comments that the morale of the Foreign Service is at historic low, because Pompeo infringes on professional code of conducts reteatedly. Notably, he sold weapons to Saudi Arabia arbitrarily, and fired the inspector general subsequently (“Mike Pompeo is the worst secretary of state in history”; Washington Post; August 31, 2020). Through this way, he corrodes American democracy at home!

Consequently, Pompeo could easily withdraw his freedom and democracy causes, once Trump made a trade deal with China, as John Bolton says in his memoir. Therefore, we should rather not trust his causes naïvely. On the other hand, we should be in close contact with the “Deep State” to understand what the “real will of America” is. Then, allies can explore how to coordinate their policy with the United States. Even Americans face difficulties to handle Mike Pompeo, and diplomatic interactions would remain extremely troublesome, as long as the Trump administration continues.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The Catastrophe of US Troop Withdrawal from Germany



President Donald Trump declared abruptly that he would pull out 9,500 soldiers from Germany this June, which dismayed national security officials of both countries. The focal point is that Trump’s appalling election pledge to pull out US forces from overseas is not a bluff, but real. This is not the first time. Last autumn, he abdicated Syrian Kurds who was a key ally for the United States in the War on Terror. Now, Trump is implementing the core policy of his America First pledge in Europe, when his presidential term is ending.

As Richard Haass mentions, Trump’s foreign policy is based on the “Withdrawal Doctrine”. He pulls America out of multilateral agreements like the TPP, the Paris Accord, the Iran nuclear deal, and other arms control agreements. Also, he abdicates security commitments in Syria and Afghanistan (“Trump’s foreign policy doctrine? The Withdrawal Doctrine”; Washington Post; May 28, 2020). Now, he is slashing American military presence in Germany. In my view, Trump’s America First is an inferior version of Obama’s Nation Building at Home, as it just provokes fears, anxieties, and discomfort among the global public.

In accordance with such views of the world, the Trump administration handles Germany vitriolically. From cabinet members like Vice President Mike Pence to nationalist scholars like Jakub Grygiel of the Heritage Foundation and Michael Anton of Hillsdale College, Trump conservatives denounce that Germany freerides the alliance selfishly, and makes use of the EU to fend off their sovereign nation bilateralism (“Trump treats Germany like “America’s worst ally”; Brookings Institution—Order from Chaos; May9, 2019). Furthermore, recently stepped down ambassador Richard Grenell wrongly said "A troop reduction would take place as a tit for tat for Germany’s continued trade surplus" (“Trump ‘to withdraw thousands of US soldiers from Germany by end 2020”; Local; 6 June, 2020). Some sources even say that Trump’s abrupt US troop withdrawal is a personal revenge to Chancellor Angela Merkel, as she declined to attend the G7 that he hosts this July. As a former national security advisor to ex-Vice President Joseph Biden, Julianne Smith of the German Marshall Fund comments that it will just hurt US interests (Twitter; @Julie_C_Smith; June 6). Yes, this is a conflict of interest.

Quite problematically, Trump made this decision without consulting without consulting with the Department of Defense and the EUCOM. However, Grenell denies this, and says that Trump has been in preparation since last year (“National security officials unaware of Trump's decision to cut troops in Germany: report”; Hill; June 9, 2020). The process shows the inherent danger of this administration, that is, vital national security decision is made only by the president and his personal loyalists. Grenell has no military expertise, and he cannot specify which troops to leave. Security experts on both sides of the Atlantic are concerned that Trump is just committed to “Make Russia Great Again” in European geopolitics (“Real or Not, Trump’s Germany Withdrawal Helps Putin”; Chatham House Expert Comment; 8 June, 2020). The real problem is that he prioritizes his reelection campaign to diplomacy. His isolationist base regards his coercive negotiation style to allies as a splendid art of the deal, and they do not care its terrible consequences on US diplomacy (“Opinion: Trump is playing election games with US troops in Germany”; Deutsche Welle; 7 June, 2020).

For American defense planners, Germany is a strategic hub of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Therefore, the US forces maintain a huge military presence in this country. Among those bases, Stutsgart accommodates the headquarters of the EUCOM and the AFRICOM; and Ramstein accommodates the headquarters of the US air force in Europe and Africa, the Allied Air Command of the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers Europe of NATO, and the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center where wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are cured. Just as in Afghanistan (“The Aftermath Plan for Afghanistan”; National Interest; June 6, 2020), Trump thinks that US troops can be redeployed in Germany immediately when necessary. However, from a military point of view, dynamic force employment like this is relatively easy for the air force, but not so for the army and the navy (“The German Drawdown Debacle”; American Interest; June 10, 2020).

Finally, geopolitical consequences need to be considered. Robert Kagan points out that the German problem would reemerge in Europe, after the power vacuum of US pullout. That is, with the largest economy and population in the region, Germany could overwhelm her neighbors, which might destabilize the regional balance of power in Europe, as it happened in the early 20th century (“Interview with Robert Kagan: Permanence of Liberal Democracy 'Is an Illusion'”; Spiegel International; 8 November, 2019). British Prime Minister-then Margaret Thatcher raised the same concern so acutely, when Germany was reunified after the Cold War.

The German problem poses more extensive implications to global security. Like Germany, Trump has been pushing Japan and South Korea to pay more for US troops in their territories (“From Germany to Japan, Trump seeks huge premium from allies hosting US troops”; Straits Times; March 8, 2019). According to James Schoff at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Trump treats Japan more favorably than Germany, as she does not brandish multilateral security framework. Therefore, he says that the problem of nasty pressure over the payment, which is stated in the memoir of former National Security Advisor John Bolton, is not so serious (“U.S. demanded Japan pay $8 bil. annually for troops: Bolton”; Kyodo News; June 22, 2020 and “Bolton memoir raises concern over Japan alliance if Trump re-elected”; Mainichi Shinbun; June 24, 2020). Nevertheless, Trump clings to his idiosyncratic election pledge over the payment and withdrawal, whether it is feasible or not. A second term of this administration would inflict fatal damages on America’s global alliance network.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Russia’s Constitutional Amendment and Foreign Policy



Russian Duma and the Constitutional Court approved the constitutional amendment by President Vladimir Putin last March (“Russian Lawmakers Adopt Putin’s Sweeping Constitutional Amendments”; Moscow Times; March 11, 2020 and “Russia's constitutional court clears proposal to let Putin stay in power beyond term limits”; ABC News; 17 March, 2020). Much attention was drawn to Putin’s presidential term and his status after the amendment. However, I would like to mention furthermore, which is the impact of this amendment on Russian foreign policy. Putin’s nationalist diplomacy is closely intertwined with his domestic traditionalism of tandem rule with the Russian Orthodox Church. I would like to explore how will Putin advance Russian presence in the world through this amendment.

To begin with, I would like to mention ideological resonance with the Western far right. Through the experience of post-Soviet confusion, Putin had become highly alert to socio-cultural and geopolitical challenges of Western liberalism to Russia. His return to Russian Orthodox traditionalism to overcome such political anomie is highly applauded by White Christian nationalists in Europe and North America, because they are also dismayed with liberal globalism. They believe in common Christian traditions with post-Soviet Russia. Quite importantly, Putin’s constitutional amendment mentions faith in god and straight marriage, based on Russian Orthodox values (“Russia's Putin wants traditional marriage and God in constitution”; BBC News; 3 March, 2020). But that is a complete infringement of the principle of the modern nation state, that is, separation of church and state. Fundamentally, it echoes with the argument of the Christian Right-wing in the United States, who demands the Genesis creation narrative of the Bible be taught at school, rather than the theory of evolution.

Putin’s czarist Christian value was put into practice soon after the corona outbreak. Russia provides an extensive corona aid to Italy. The Kremlin seizes this opportunity to boost their influence in this country. Geopolitically, Italy has been the soft belly of NATO, since the Cold War era. The Communist Party in Italy was the largest in Western Europe, and she had close economic ties with the Soviet Union to import oil and to build a car factory there. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, such strong ties continue. Whether far right or far left, Italian populists have been dissatisfied with strict European standard of transparency of governance, thus, they are willing to embrace Russia and China, rather than their fellow EU nations and organizations (“With Friends Like These: The Kremlin’s Far-Right and Populist Connections in Italy and Austria”; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; February 27, 2020).

Particularly in the north, the Lombardy-Russia Cultural Association, which is sponsored by a Russian Christian ultra-rightist Alexey Komov, who is deeply associated with the American far right organizations, including the WCF (World Congress of Families) and the NRA, serves as the gateway of Russian influence (“A major Russian financing scandal connects to America’s Christian fundamentalists”; Think Progress; July 12, 2019). As if in consort with the Kremlin, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán seized the opportunity of the corona crisis to suspend the parliament and cement his dictatorship furthermore (“Orbán Exploits Coronavirus Pandemic to Destroy Hungary’s Democracy”; Carnegie Endowment --- Strategic Europe; March 31, 2020). In view of those actions of Putin’s Russia and European far right, the corona outbreak accelerates the power game before the incident, rather than changing the framework of international politics completely.

In addition, the proposed amendment defies international norms. It states that domestic law is superior to international law. In practice, Russia has violated international law, such as invading Georgia in 2008, annexing Crimea in 2014, and frequent human rights abuses at home. Also, the Kremlin has not been committed to trade liberalization since joining the WTO in 2012. However, this amendment sends a clear message to Putin’s domestic supporters that Russia stands firmly against the West (“Russian law will trump international law. So what?”; AEIdeas; January 16, 2020). Putin also proposes a ban on territorial cession, which would complicate the relationship with Russian neighbors, particularly, with Japan and Ukraine (“Putin wants constitutional ban on Russia handing land to foreign powers”; Reuters; March 3, 2020).

It is quite likely that these amendments are based on sovereign democracy, which is advocated by Vladislav Surkov, the closest advisor to Putin. The fundamental idea of this ideology is that democracy in Russia is deeply rooted in her sovereignty and cultural tradition, thus, the West should not interfere in domestic issues like human rights and checks and balances (“Putin's "Sovereign Democracy"; Carnegie Moscow Center; July 16, 2006). Open Democracy comments that it is not an intellectually inspiring ideology, and just a propaganda (“'Sovereign democracy', Russian-style”; OpenDemocracy; 16 November, 2006). Interestingly, Surkov’s sovereign democracy resonates with Yoram Hazony’s nationalist democracy among the Western far right, which influences the thoughts of some Trump staff of the United States, notably, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting DNI Richard Grennell, who was the Ambassador to Germany until quite recently. Therefore, Putin’s constitutional amendment poses critical implications globally, much more than commonly understood. Meanwhile, the national referendum on this constitutional amendment, that was scheduled on April 22, was postponed, because of the corona crisis (“Kremlin Mulls Date for Post-Virus Vote on Putin's Constitution Reform”; Moscow Times; April 22, 2020). It is not clear how much it delays Putin’s foreign policy schedule.