Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Robert Kagan vs. Thomas Freedman on the American Empire

A leading neoconservative Robert Kagan, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has published a book on the history of American foreign policy this month. He came back to Washington DC from Brussels to attend a panel discussion moderated by Thomas Freedman, editor of the New York Times, on October 18th at the Carnegie Endowment.

In his latest book “Dangerous Nation: America's Place in the World from Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the 20th Century”, Kagan refutes the myth of America's isolationist tradition and insists that American foreign policy has been expansionist since its earliest days of the history. Currently, he is on leave for Brussels under a project of the German Marshall Fund. He sees America from Europeans’ viewpoint, and explores perception gaps on American between the United States and the rest of the world. Let me review the discussion. (See the video on Windows Media and Real Player.)

At the beginning of the panel, Kagan said that the nature of the government and the society define foreign policy of a country even more than external factors. American foreign policy is based on the Declaration of Independence, which advocates universal rights of all mankind. The key point of this is promotion of humanitarian liberal ideals. From its earliest days, American leaders have been pursuing this objective, from John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, to Woodrow Wilson.

While American people regard their foreign policy altruistic, and driven by the noblest conceivable motives, the rest of the world sees it a dangerous, threatening, and destabilizing factor. Kagan mentions the US-Spanish Was in 1898 as a typical example. Though Europeans condemned American intervention to Cuba, Americans insisted this war a humanitarian and moralistic mission to liberate Cubans from Spanish colonial tyranny. The underlying nature of American foreign policy is expansionist and belligerent attitude, based on revolutionary character. However, Americans are not conscious of it, and they do not regard themselves as an empire. They do not admit their ambition and belligerence. This is a perception gap between America and the rest of the world.

Thomas Freedman asked whether there were other dangerous nations. Kagan said no nations were as revolutionary as the United States. China does not claim universal values. The British Empire was very close to the United States today, but it was based on ethnic nationalism. On the other hand, American nationalism is ideological one, which is based on the Declaration of Independence. Kagan argues that religion does not bind the United States, and it is utterly wrong to call it a Protestant nation or Christian nation.

An interesting example to illustrate the chasm between America and the rest of the world is the Monroe Doctrine. This is widely believed to be the symbol of isolationist foreign policy. In fact, the doctrine is an assertion of US foreign policy. It declares American dominance in the Western hemisphere and ideological superiority in the world.

In addition to ideological nationalism and altruistic expansionism, Kagan sheds light on the impact of the Civil War on US foreign policy. Before the Civil War, the United States made every effort to prevent slave uprising. The South feared another Haiti; a slave leader took place of white plantation owners. In terms of ideology, freedom and slavery are ambiguous. The result of the Civil War defines America’s ideological identity that liberal democracy prevails all over the world.

According to Robert Kagan, the Bush administration articulates basic values of US foreign policy that America is the special place in the world, and its power must be used for global progress. This trend has become more noticeable since 9/11. From normal America’s viewpoint, enemies like 9/11 terrorists, Japan, and the Soviet Union, attacked the United States because they were undemocratic. Therefore, American policymakers believe it necessary to change them, as they do not understand the ultimate truth that liberal democracy is universal.

The United States does not assume itself an empire, and US forces do not behave as occupiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike Lord Palmerstone in 19th century Britain, none of the American leaders admit their ambition for dominance. British historian Niall Ferguson, professor at Harvard University, criticize this attitude, and insists that the United States behave as the super power just as Britain did in the 19th century. However, Americans are unconscious of implicit meaning of their altruism: telling other nations to “become like us.” The rest of the world rejects such an idea.

Kagan points out vital aspects of American foreign policy. People in the rest of the world see America’s moralistic expansionism dangerous. This is important to understand anti-Americanism abroad as well. Both Britain and America prevail liberal ideals throughout the world. While Britain had no trouble in imposing their ways of thinking to its sphere of influence, the United States do not assume cultural superiority to others. Whether Republican or Democrat, we must always take it into account that fundamental chasm between America and the world will be inevitable. Can people of other civilizations live peacefully with the noblest mission based on the Declaration of Independence? This is one of the key issues in global security in this century.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Managing North Korean Nuclrear Threat

(Source: The Nightmare Comes to Pass, The Economist, October 12)

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the Far East to talk on North Korea’s nuclear bomb test. Prior to this trip, Marcus Noland, Senior Fellow at the Institute for International Economics answered seven questions in an interview with Foreign Policy this autumn. Let’s review the following questions and answers.

Question 1: What do you think the North Koreans hope to accomplish with this week’s test?

Noland says North Korean leaders believe nuclear possession guarantees the survival of their regime. The test is a step toward a nuclear weapons program.

Question 2: What is the significance of the timing?

The followings can be considered: Celebration of 10th anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s elevation to General Secretary of Korean Worker’s Party, Trying to upstage South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon’s selection as UN Secretary General, or Messing up Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to China.

Question 3: Is this an invitation for other countries to develop their nuclear programs?

Noland warns that this test could provoke further nuclear proliferation to the Far East, including Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. In the same autumn issue, Foreign Policy evaluates the potential of nuclear proliferation to them in “The List: The Next Nuclear States.” The article analyses nuclear capability and motive of three countries.

Capability: Twenty-three tons of weapons-usable plutonium and the ability to produce weapons-grade uranium without much trouble. Japan has one of the world’s largest and most advanced civilian nuclear programs.
Motive: North Korea’s great leap may tip Japanese public opinion, and some politicians are calling for the country to debate openly whether it should have nukes.

South Korea
Capability: South Korea probably can’t produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel, despite having an advanced civilian nuclear sector. However, it secretly pursued nukes from the 1970s to as late as 2000. And it could always import technology from elsewhere.
Motive: North Korean military threat is growing seriously. With heightened U.S.-South Korea tension, Seoul has shown increasing interest in developing a defense capability independent of the United States. On the other hand, it may just wait to see whether it can inherit North Korea’s nukes through eventual reunification.

Capability: Until the late 1980s, Taiwan was within a few years of becoming a nuclear-armed state. Due to pressure from the United States and others, Taiwan now has no uranium enrichment capability, and plutonium handling facility. Its weapons-grade remnants are tiny. But its scientific know-how has probably survived.
Motive: Facing increasing military threat posed by China, Taiwan could decide that it needs nukes. Like North Korea, Taiwan can claim an existential threat from a superpower.

Leaders in East Asia must be cautious enough. American policy makers are beginning to see Far Eastern nations critically as they do against Iran and Syria. Readers would understand comments by Japanese foreign minister Taro Aso and Liberal Democratic Party’s policy chief Shoichi Nakagawa are imprudent. They talk of Japan’s nuclear option in public. Nuclear non-proliferation is a global agenda, and it is beyond narrowly scoped national interests. The Economist says as follows.

The spread of weapons of mass destruction is a clear threat to international peace and security. It remains to be seen whether tackling proliferation is something the world's big powers are ready to put ahead of their own rivalries. (See “Going Critical, Defying the World”, October 19)

Question 4: Is it more likely that fissile material would end up in the hands of a state or some organization like al Qaeda?

Noland says this is unlikely. It is difficult to transfer nuclear technology to non-state actors. Fixed location and fixed facilities are necessary, he says. But he does not rule out possible proliferation to terrorist groups.

Question 5: Will China follow through with meaningful sanctions?

Noland points out that China’s position to this issue is ambivalent, because it can use North Korea on the rivalry against the United States and India.

According to “The Nightmare Comes to Pass” in the Economist on October 19th, Professor Yan Xuetong at Tsinghua University says China is reluctant to escalate sanctions. Harder sanctions would lead North Korea to conduct more tests, he argues. Also, he says that China needs North Korea to assure its influence on the Korean Peninsula, and divert America’s attention from the Taiwan Strait. In Professor Yan's view, China's outrage at North Korea's test is similar to that of France and Germany over America's invasion of Iraq in 2003.

It is uncertain whether China impose meanigful sanctions against North Korea. In the same issue, the Economist argues critical points in “Sanctions: History Lessons.”

To be effective, it must be imposed by as many countries as possible. Particularly, China is the key actor. It must be smart, without hurting innocent people. Kim Jong Il does not care bad reputations abroad, and surrounded by yes-men. Therefore, “Increasing their isolation may be dangerous.”

True. Isolation from the world, this makes the North Korean issue more perplexing.

Question 6: If sanctions aren’t the appropriate approach, what should the international community’s response be?

Noland insists on using a “sanction card” to dissuade North Korea from testing another bomb. However, he worries that the North Koreans will eventually miscalculate and cross a red line where the United States acts militarily, whether South Korea likes it or not. Noland warns that appeasement can provoke North Korean adventurism.

Question 7: What’s next for North Korea?

China and South Korea are more concerned with turmoil in North Korea than nuclear threat. However, Noland says North Korea’s goal is to maintain the status quo, while accepted nuclear power status. Are China and South Korea united in dealing with the North?

“The Nightmare Comes to Pass” in the Economist on October 19th presents interesting analysis on Sino-Korean relations. China worries that a united Korea would stimulate nationalism and anti-Chinese sentiment throughout the peninsula. Many Koreans suspect China’s ambition to dominate Korea as a buffer against Japan. Historically, Korea subjected to China. This chasm between China and South Korea needs to be noticed.

Now, I have reviewed seven questions. Since then, North Korea promised to stop further nuclear test. But it is not certain how long the autocrat keeps silent. In any case, he has tested a nuclear weapon. Its impact on Iran cannot be dismissed. Eventually, current regime in North Korea must be thrown away through assisting domestic uprising, I believe.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Islam and Democracy

I received an interesting e-mail update from Regime Change Iran, entitled “Iranian Clerics' Angling Stirs Worry on Absolute Rule” on September 25. According to the New York Times, Muhammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, a senior fundamentalist cleric and mentor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, says that democracy is incompatible with Islam. This is a challenge to American foreign policy. His theory on Islamic politics is mentioned below.

“Democracy means if the people want something that is against God’s will, then they should forget about God and religion,” he said in July 1998. “Be careful not to be deceived. Accepting Islam is not compatible with democracy.”

And in November 2002, the daily Aftab-e-Yazd quoted him as saying: “Who are the majority of people who vote: a bunch of hooligans who drink vodka and are paid to vote. Whatever they say cannot become the law of the country and Islam.”

He has criticized democracy more cautiously since the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad, but his disdain for the election process to fill the Assembly of Experts was evident in a speech in Mashhad this month, in which the news agency ISNA quoted him as saying it was like the vote of the “ignorant for the learned.”

Currently, Ayatollah Khamenei and Mesbah Yazdi try to expand the authority of the supreme leader, and they are at odds with moderates like former President Mohammad Khatami and Ali Rafsanjani.

Historically, Iran had been under dual politics between the shah and the imam from the Safavi (1501 ~ 1722) to Qajar (1795 ~ 1925) dynasty. The relationship between the shah and the imam is something like that between the emperor and the pope. Shahs needed recognition by imams to assume political legitimacy. In the Sunni Arab world, Wahhabism has been deterring modernization in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf area. In both cases, religious authorities had restrained political leadership. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has been receding into the Middle Age. Fundamentalists push this trend furthermore.

In fact, majority of Islamic countries are undemocratic. An Israeli advocacy group, called Middle East Info says Israel is surrounded by 23 Arab and Iranian police regimes, theocracies, and tyrannies. As they insist, none of the states in the Arab world and Iran are democratic. For further understanding, let’s see the Freedom House Index. As readers know, Freedom House is a bipartisan NGO, founded by Eleanor Roosevelt. Its mission is to prevail freedom under American leadership. It is too well known that Freedom House played a key role to mobilize student movements for democracy in Ukraine.

Is Islam really incompatible with democracy? A careful observation does not substantiate such a viewpoint. According to Freedom House Index for 2006, Mali scores 2,0, which is better than India’s 2.5. I have talked about the scoring methods of this index in a previous post “Grading Freedom: Review of Freedom House Index.” Please see this page for detail. The Bush administration recognizes India a strategic partner to the United States, because they regard India free and democratic enough. This fact is a vital proof that Islamic nations can pursue freedom and democracy without destroying their cultural traditions. From this perspective, Middle East democratization, which is a key agenda in American foreign policy, is right. There is no wonder the project for Iraqi freedom is bipartisan. It was initiated by the Clinton administration, and succeeded by the Bush administration.

In order to bring democracy and modernization, let me review an interesting article by Ruel Marc Gerecht, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. In the essay, entitled “Selling Out Moderate Islam” in Weekly Standard on February 20, he insists on cultural reforms in the Islamic world. Gerecht expects moderate Muslims with Western educational backgrounds will play a substantial role in revivifying Islamic civilization. On the other hand, he says “If Westerners appease Muslims who countenance violent intimidation, we are doing a terrible injustice to the liberal and progressive Muslims among us, who really would like to live in lands where people can say about the Prophet Muhammad what they have said about Jesus, Mary, and Moses.” Furthermore, he comments “Islamic civilization may yet produce its Edward Gibbon, a sincere religious voyager who ends up scrutinizing the foundations of his civilization with a skeptical, cynical, and, at times, profoundly unfair irreligious eye.”

Gerecht maintains precisely “If our standards collapse and give way to fear, theirs in the long-term have no chance whatsoever. The psychology of victimization--surely one of the worst gifts the Western anti-imperialist left has given the Muslim world--can only be made worse by Westerners who treat Muslims like children unable to compete and to defend their religion.”

Mentioning medieval Christian world, Ruel Marc Gerecht concludes as follows.

Like Christendom before it, the Muslim Middle East will have to work out its relation to modernity. The faster democracy arrives, the sooner the debates about God and man can begin in earnest. It will probably be for both Muslims and Westerners a nerve-racking experience. But we have no choice, since continuing autocracy will only make the militants' message stronger and judgment day, as in Iran, a possibly bloody revolutionary event. The electoral victory of Hamas should not give us pause. It should give us hope and encourage us to push for real elections where our national interest stands to gain the most--in Egypt and Iran. We should also not neglect to defend vigorously Christian, Muslim, or Jewish satirists, be they clever, banal, or ugly, wherever they may be found. Both elections and satire are basic to the evolution of the Muslim world.

Successful modernization and democracy in the Middle East will lead to real victory of American, or more broadly, Western foreign policy. A Chamberlainian attitude against radicals will never resolve the problem. Of course, soft policies to stimulate an Islamic enlightenment must be combined with Churchillian policies.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Korea’s Bomb Test and US Leadership: Don’t Forget Iran!

Today, Global American Discourse has changed its blog schedule, and post urgent article on North Korean Nuclear Crisis. I am referring to an article by George Perkovich, Vice President at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Perkovich insists on prompt action by the United States to stop nuclear arms race in the Far East, and prevent Iran’s nuclear ambition. For this purpose, he argues that the United States take leadership to involve Japan, South Korea, and China in intensive diplomacy to prevent nuclear arms race in this region. It is understandable that he is somewhat concerned with Japan’s potential quest for nuclear weapon, in face of North Korean threat. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggested it in the past. I agree with him that it is vitally important that the United States lead an intense and sustained effort with Japan, South Korea and China to clarify each other's intentions and policies in ways that avoid any nuclear competition.

China is a key actor, and the United States will have to work together to identify a common bottom line with this country, he says. True. There is no doubt that China is also concerned with nuclear non-proliferation. The problem is whether China gets involved in diplomacy as an honest partner. This country is always considering winning strategic advantages in power games in the Asia-Pacific region.

It is worth to notice that Perkovich insists on UN actions to prevent further test by North Korea even if the last test turned out to be failure. Probably, Kim Jong Il wants something from the United States. China and South Korea lost face with this bomb test. In my eyes, North Korea thinks light of both patrons, and wants to talk with America through embarrassing the world. All right, but its habitual deceit must be seriously considered at the UN Security Council. China and Russia must stand tough against North Korea to make it understand that such deceit will not work for further talks.

In addition, we must not forget the test’s impact on Iran. George Perkovich says that Iranian hardliners watch interactions among permanent members of UN Security Council. Furthermore, I would like to call an attention that Iranian officials were invited to the missile test launching site this July. The Axis of Evil poses increasing danger to the global community.

Whether the test was a success or a failure, I strongly believe it necessary to reconsider Clinton diplomacy on North Korean nuclear negotiations. North Korea deceived Jimmy Carter, Special Envoy of the Clinton administration. Those treacherous leaders acquired nuclear plant fuels and facilities without keeping promises. The other day, Fox News questioned Bill Clinton on terrorism. I believe that Fox News invite the former president, and talk about North Korea again. Otherwise, the devilish dictator will continue to befool us.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Link of Interest: Straight Talk America by John McCain

Today, I talk about an interesting web link, “Straight Talk America” by Senator John McCain. As everyone knows, he is one of the leading candidates of Republican nomination for 2008 presidential election. Therefore, this site will be helpful to understand 2006 and 2008 elections.

John McCain is well known for his popularity among neocons. William Kristol and Robert Kagan often comment that the best duo for the United States is President John McCain and Vice President Joseph Lieberman. He has close ties with leading conservative think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for the New American Century.

Despite such good reputations among conservative intellectuals, grassroots and ultra conservatives are reluctant to support him, and call him a RINO (Republican In Name Only). Though he is an ardent advocate for the Iraq War, he is not a conservative “fundamentalist” on domestic issues. He has submitted a legislation bill on global warming with his Democrat partner Joseph Lieberman. Democrat Senator Edward Kennedy is also a good friend to him. Therefore, Republican rightists doubt McCain’s sincerity to conservatism values. For them, John McCain is a candidate, just “better than Democrats, particularly Hilary Clinton.”

Let’s have a look at “Straight Talk America”. The title sounds very attractive. It creates positive and forward-looking image. There is lots of interesting information. I mention some of them. McCain is expanding his campaign. He made a speech at Gorge H. W. Bush Library and shook hands with the former president, as if he were making an impression that he would be the next president. See the video. According to the news on this site, “Thirteen Legislators Join Straight Talk America.”

Besides political issues, McCain has written a book “Character Is Destiny”, a series of morality tales for American youths. I hereby quote a review by the Washington Post.

In summarizing for his readers the lessons they might take from these tales "for the important choices in your own life," McCain offers this view of the human condition: "We are born with one nature. We want what we want, and we want it now. But as we grow, we develop our second nature, our character. These stories are about that second nature." Call me corny, but I wouldn't mind if my kids learned to see life this way.

McCain's book is built around the lives of 34 people whose stories exemplify 34 virtues. Many of the virtues are obvious: honesty, courage, loyalty, responsibility, faith, tolerance, generosity and humility. Some are less obvious choices for a book of this sort: humor, curiosity, resilience, enthusiasm and authenticity.

That McCain really wants to run for president again is clear from his careful selection of heroes. He won't get into any trouble for the politicians he picks: Winston Churchill (for diligence), George Washington (for self-control), Abraham Lincoln (for resilience), Nelson Mandela (for forgiveness), Dwight D. Eisenhower (for humility) and Theodore Roosevelt (for enthusiasm).

McCain's book is built around the lives of 34 people whose stories exemplify 34 virtues. Many of the virtues are obvious: honesty, courage, loyalty, responsibility, faith, tolerance, generosity and humility. Some are less obvious choices for a book of this sort: humor, curiosity, resilience, enthusiasm and authenticity.

That McCain really wants to run for president again is clear from his careful selection of heroes. He won't get into any trouble for the politicians he picks: Winston Churchill (for diligence), George Washington (for self-control), Abraham Lincoln (for resilience), Nelson Mandela (for forgiveness), Dwight D. Eisenhower (for humility) and Theodore Roosevelt (for enthusiasm).」

In order to gain support from Republican rightists, McCain stresses his loyalty to conservative values. A blog linked to this site, entitled “Political Yen/Yang” quotes an article of the Boston Globe. This blog is critical to the Boston Globe article, saying “Not only does McCain need the religious right, they need him too.” Just review Boston Globe article, “Analysts say McCain wooing religious right” on May 13.

The article says that McCain delivered a commencement speech at religious rightist leader Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Christian college, Liberty University. In 2000, McCain criticized Christian right wings, and lost in GOP primary. He needs to repair relations with them, in order to win Republican nomination in 2008. On the other hand religious rightists need McCain as well, says the Boston Globe. Why? Because they have to improve the relationship with the Republican front-runner for the 2008 nomination. However, the Boston Globe analyses this as follows.

Still, McCain's new strategy has risks. By seeming to genuflect to a man he once denounced by name, analysts said, McCain could damage perhaps his biggest political asset: the image that he's a straight shooter who refuses to pander to his audience like a stereotypical politician.

''This tells us that John McCain is a living, breathing politician who has looked in the mirror and said 'I should be president of the United States,' " said Stephen Hess, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution. ''The media built McCain into something more than [a politician] when he last ran for president. They made him into an icon -- the maverick."

In some respects, McCain's reputation as an independent Republican is even stronger now than in 2000. Since then, he has pushed bills limiting political campaign donations, banning the torture of suspected terrorists, and allowing illegal immigrants to become legalized guest workers -- positions that put him at odds with some conservative Republicans.

In addition to a kow-tow to religious rights, McCain made a speech at British Conservative Party Conference on October 1 to confirm common values between British and American conservatives. He may be trying to impress that he is no less conservative than President George W. Bush by cheering up Tory leader David Cameron. This is understandable. However, the timing of this speech is questionable. In the past, British Prime Minister John Major said that he hoped Geroge H. W. Bush to win the election in order to maintain the Reagan-Thatcher conservatism axis. Unfortunately, Bill Clinton defeated the Republican, and Anglo-American relations cooled down until Tony Blair came to power. Japan’s Democrat leader Katsuya Okada made a similar mistake to visit John F. Kerry during the presidential election.

On “Straight Talk America”, you can learn more than policy debates. Grassroots activism plays an important role in American politics. Its influence is much larger than those in Europe and Japan. In “The Right Nation” by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge point out that there are no strong conservative talk radio and citizens groups in Britain, unlike America. In Europe and Japan, civic activism is regarded as somewhat New Left. But in the United States, conservative grassroots movements are strong through various channels. In America, the world of Alexis de Tocqville still prevails.

This civic activism will grow furthermore through the Internet. One of the reasons why British Labour won the election in 1997 is their successful use of the Internet. Currently, the Tory is developing cyber grassroots communities to defeat the Labour, and take office again.

You don’t have to be a Republican nor a McCain supporter. E-mail updates from Straight Talk America are helpful to foresee political trends for the midterm and presidential elections. Also, you can learn a lot about grassroots activism and cyberspace democracy. Therefore, I recommend readers of this blog to visit Straight Talk America.