Wednesday, May 11, 2022
Renowned French historian Emmanuel Todd had an interview with NHK of Japan in a TV program “News Watch 9” on May 6, about the current war in Ukraine and its impact on Russia. Among some points that he commented in the interview, I was startled to hear that Russia was no longer a serious threat to the West, because this war has revealed appalling weakness of Russian armed forces.
Being militarily weak does not necessarily mean that the threat posed by the actor, whether state or non-state, is negligible. Typically speaking, Islamic terrorists are too weak in terms of raw military power, but the threat they pose to the global community is horribly huge, in view of their strong hatred and grudge to the West. Actually, such hatred and grudge caused the 9-11 attacks. Likewise, Russian President Vladimir Putin is driven by nasty and hateful emotions against the West, and strong will to destroy Westernd democracy, as he initiated his “special military operation” in Ukraine. If Russia is not a serious threat, why are Sweden and Finland bidding to join NATO?
There are the following reasons why the Russian threat is critical, Firstly, Russian troop’s hostility and cruelty to the enemy, including noncombatants, that imperiled the global community are correlated to their poorly disciplined and unprofessional conducts in the battlefield. Their murder, torture, burgling, and rape associated with the war, coincide with their poor logistics, communication, training, command structure, and tactics in the combat. That is to say, Russian armed forces are too savage, and not modernized enough in this century. It is frequently told in the media that Russia’s conduct and strategy are World War II-styled. But I would say that they are so pre-modern as Middle Age Mongolian forces, and brutally impose the Tatar yoke on Ukraine. Paradoxically, Russia is a terrible threat, because they are weak.
Secondly, Putin does not hesitate to saber-rattle nuclear weapons, which breaks the fundamental assumption of MAD. That erodes the global nuclear arms control regime. As a result, belligerent and autocratic proliferators, such as North Korea, would be emboldened. Furthermore, China could overturn its no-preemptive strike strategy, if Russia’s intimidation were effective to deter Western engagement to assist Ukraine. Since Russian conventional forces are too weak and unsystematic, they may have to depend on nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons in the end. Again, Russia is a terrible threat, because they are weak.
Thirdly, Russia has interfered in the elections in Europe and the United States to weaken and destroy Western democracy. This is a hybrid warfare against the West. The Kremlin agitates anti-globalist mobs to vote for far right candidates and agendas. Notably, Brexit and the Trump phenomenon shocked the global community. On the other hand, Russia provokes far left uprisings as well, because they are also resentful to globalist Western establishment. As a European, Todd is in a good position to understand the threat of Russian penetration into domestic politics in the West. In the last presidential election in France, Marine Le Pen gained the ground gradually, though she lost against Emmanuel Macron.
Lastly, Russian aggression of Ukraine is a critical challenge to international rules and norms. As cited the Atlantic Charter, “Territorial adjustments must be in accord with the wishes of the peoples concerned”, which is a key principle of the United Nations. The Russian troops do not abide by the code of conduct of modern international relations to respect national sovereignty, because they are extremely pre-modern. We, global citizens, should be well-aware that Russia is a peace breaker from every point that I mentioned in this article. A weak enemy is no less a critical threat than a strong enemy.
Thursday, March 24, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, as if filling the power vacuum of international politics, after US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The war broke out as a consequence of the geostrategic clash between Russia and the West. However, unlike Putin’s argument in his latest article “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians“, his KGB-bound aversion to NATO and the EU does not come from Russian culture and history. Yeltsin era foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev showed a starkly different vision from that. Rather than stopping NATO enlargement, Kozyrev envisioned a Russia aligned with NATO, because he saw the trans-Atlantic alliance changing from an aggressive military machine to an alliance of common values. Actually, he thinks Russia be a European democracy of European civilization, which is completely at odds with Putin’s neo-Eurasianism (“Open Door: NATO and Euro-Atlantic Security After the Cold War”; p.450 ; Brookings Institution Press; 2019).
Since most of the reports and analysis of this war focus on geostrategy, I would like to talk about less-attentioned issue, which is Russian manipulations to destroy Western democracy from interference in their enemy domestic politics to the implosion of their enemy alliance. Those handlings are intended to weaken Western solidarity to boost Russia’s standings in the world. For this objective, Putin’ does not cling to a specific ideology, even though dark ties between Russia and the Western far right has drawn much attention globally since the Trump presidency and Brexit. When Iran launched missiles to Irbil in Iraq the other day, as if in consort with Russian aggression in Ukraine, the Jerusalem Post concludes “Russia wants to return Ukraine to its “near abroad” and counts on US isolationists, the far Left, far Right and “realists” in the West to agree with Russia’s “security needs.” Iran wants to ride that Russian train as far as it can as well” (“Did Russia empower Iran’s attack on Erbil? – analysis”; Jerusalem Post; March 13, 2022). In other words, Putin’s manipulation against Western democracy for decades is closely linked to the recently broke out war in Ukraine.
In the United States, it is too well-known that Russia interfered in the presidential election for Donald Trump in 2016. His administration was extremely skeptical of the trans-Atlantic alliance, and even admitted Russian annexation of Crimea. Social conservatives and alt-rights resonated with Putin’s objection to Western liberals, regarding political correctness, LGBT rights, family values, and so forth. Even after the broke out of this war, Trump Republicans lead by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (MTG) still chanted pro-Putin slogans at an even of the America First Political Action Committee. The group was founded by Nick Funtes, who joined the Charlottesville neo-Nazi march in 2017. Other House Republicans such as Matt Gaetz and Paul Gosar are also deeply associated with this group. Establishment Republicans are so critically concerned with the far right that they claim exclusion of those Trump Republicans from the party (“Republicans tested by congresswoman’s speech to Putin-cheering white supremacists”; Times of Israel; 2 March, 2022).
Why are Trump Republicans so pro-Russian? Craig Shirley, a Ronald Reagan biographer, comments “The attitudes toward Russia have gotten all mixed up with domestic politics” in the Republican Party today. Trump Republicans from right wing legislators of the Hill to Tucker Carlson of Fox News are pro-Putin, because they want “America First” foreign policy to lead their country step back from global alliances with Western democracies. That comes from populist antipathy to the establishment (“How Republicans moved from Reagan’s ‘evil empire’ to Trump’s praise for Putin”; Washington Post; February 26, 2022).
Russia tames left wingers and realists, too. One of such left-leaning realists is Samuel Charap of the RAND Corporation, who was the senior advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Ellen Tauscher of the Obama administration. Prior to the war, he argued that the West stop aiding Ukraine in the border dispute with Russia, and embrace the Kremlin’s requirements based on Minsk II, because “confrontational” approach does not work (“The U.S. Approach to Ukraine’s Border War Isn’t Working. Here’s What Biden Should Do Instead.”; Politico; November 19, 2021). However, he was fatally wrong because he dismissed Putin’s real intention which was founded on deep-seated grudge against Western supremacy in the world order. Charap’s mixture of Obamanian leftism and finesse realism may have seemed “practical”, but that has just emboldened Russia.
Noticeably, the Minsk agreements were mediated by Germany and France, both of which are more soft liner to Russia than the US and the UK. According to Paul Niland of the Lifeline Ukraine, the agreements do not accuse Russian aggression in Crimea and Donbas from the beginning. Nor, do the agreements mention anything about future autonomy in Russian occupied Donetsk and Luhansk (“The Trouble With Minsk? Russia”; CEPA; September 21, 2021). In other words, these agreements enable Russia to continue to seize these two areas plus Crimea illegally, just as it does in the Northern Territories of Japan. No wonder, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is dissatisfied, but Putin does not accept “Enough is enough!”.
Then, why are Germany and France so dovish to Russia? Just for oil and gas? According to a report by the Chatham house last May, both countries pursued strategic independence from the United States, and placed more emphasis on the integration of Russia into European and international structures. That is to say, both countries assumed the role of “motor” to manage EU-Russian relations. While Germany focuses on mutual dependence in energy and the economy from ostpolitik tradition, France does on security issues to balance US and Russia from Gaullist tradition. From such perspectives, both countries had been mediating Russia and Ukraine via the Minsk agreements and the Normandy Format, but Russia did not take them seriously. The Kremlin was growing more aggressive just before Putin’s invasion, despite Franco-German efforts (“French and German approaches to Russia”; Chatham House; 13 May, 2021). Rather, those deals helped Putin exploit their pursuit of strategic independence, in order to drive a wedge in the trans-Atlantic alliance.
I would also like to mention Russian intrusion into domestic politics of both countries. Russian penetration in Germany is more deep-rooted than oil and gas. Just as other nations in the trans-Atlantic community, Putin agitates far right movements in Germany to weaken NATO and the EU, and also, to boost nationalist and traditionalist values to discredit liberal democracy. Pro-Russian voices are wide spread in leftist Social Democratic Party (SPD), too. However, Andreas Umland, an analyst at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, commented that the SPD’s conciliatory Ostpolitik toward Moscow even in the face of military threats, and its reliance on soft-power were already becoming unsuitable, shortly before Putin's aggression to Ukraine (“Ukraine crisis spotlights German party ties to Russia”; The Citizen; January 30, 2022). The problem with Germany is that Russian influence reaches even the mainstream left, as shown in ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s association with Gazprom and Rosneft.
Also in France, both the far right and hard left, from Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour to Jean-Luc Mélenchon openly admired Putin for his anti-globalist and anti-American world views, just before the war. In the presidential race for the election on April 10 this year, Mélenchon blamed President Emmanuel Macron’s effort to guarantee the sovereignty of Ukraine for his plot to annex this country into NATO. On the right, Le Pen has argued for normalization with Russia since Putin’s invasion of Crimea (How Putin is dividing French politics; Le Monde; 8 February, 2022). Like isolationists in America, sovereignists in France praise Putin just to “share the same disgust of the European Union, NATO, and the United States of America”. They don’t care their inconsistency to disrespect Ukrainian sovereignty against Russia (“French far-right candidates in Putin’s den”; Le Monde; 22 February, 2022).
In the United Kingdom, Brexiteers such as Nigel Farage admired Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and blames the EU for allowing Ukraine to bid for the membership today (“Nigel Farage once admitted he 'admires Putin politically'”; Daily Express; February 28, 2022). On the left, ex-Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn sided with Russia in the Salisbury poisoning, even though two British citizens were killed after the attack on the Skripals. More problematically, he joins Stop the War campaign along with far left MPs to denounce “belligerence” of Britain and Ukraine against Russia (“Jeremy Corbyn sides with Russia (again)”; Spectator; 20 February 2022). Remember, don’t confuse Stop the War (Twitter: @STWuk) with a “No War” slogan among innocent anti-war grassroots. The former is a dubious British leftwing organization that even supported Russian annexation of Crimea.
In the wake of the war in Ukraine, domestic support for these pro-Russian politicians may be declining, and they may soften the tone, but we should still watch their words and deeds. Even if a ceasefire agreement were reached, the status of the disputed areas, ie, Donestsk, Luhansk, and Crimea, might not be defined clearly. Also, the settlement may be temporary, and the source of conflict may remain. The West has been aware of Putin’s intrusion into their domestic politics long before this war, but even more hawkish US and UK did not take sufficiently strong measures to stop Russia's penetration at home. Whatever happens in this war, Russia will continue to use those Fifth Column machines to destroy Western democracy from inside, as long as Putin and his siloviki fellows stay in power. Stay alert!
Saturday, December 11, 2021
Ever since the Cold War era, defense spending has been a critical issue of burden sharing between the United States and its allies. Quite frequently, allies has been demanded to increase the spending, based on GDP ratio. In the Japanese prime minister race this autumn, LDP candidates discussed raising the GDP ratio of defense spending to 2% from the current 1 %.
However, Jeffery Hornung of the RAND Corporation recommended election contestants to focus on more important and more realistic measures to strengthen the US-Japanese alliance, rather than GDP ratio and enemy base strike capability, in an interview with Sankei Shimbum (“What will Kishida do in a crisis of the Taiwan Strait?”; Sankei Shimbun; October 21, 2021). According to Hornung, the United States wants Japan to show what it can do in case of a crisis in East Asia, notably in the Taiwan Strait. If it happens, it is the US troops in Japan that defends Taiwan from China. Therefore, Japan needs to make it clear what kind of contribution is possible, for example, whether to send a submarine to the East China Sea, to use JSDF surface to ship missiles deployed in the Nansei Islands, and anything else.
On another occasion, Hornung argued that Japan needs to maintain political stability, because a short-lived administration is frequently forced to prioritize domestic political agendas, and to depend on the help of the bureaucracy to make and implement policies. Furthermore, it would be less guaranteed whether Japan would comply with a bilateral agreement solidly, if the prime minister were to change frequently, which would ultimately pose severe constraints on US foreign policy (“What Instability at the Top Means for Japan's Alliance with the United States”; Nikkei Asia; September 22, 2021).
Above all, the alliance is mutual, not one-sided. Currently, the US-Japanese alliance is multilateralizing, as shown in European participation in the Free and Open Indo-Pacific initiative, and the development of the Quad with India and Australia. In view of this, it is increasingly important for Japan to discuss the division of the role with those global partners, rather than pursuing self-satisfactory measures that arise from domestic political interactions. We have to remember how much we were bewildered with erratic words and deeds by Donald Trump. Why acting like him?
The debate on spending is meaningless, if it is not associated with real strength. Nevertheless, not every decision in politics is rational. Occasionally, it is just symbolical without solid ground, as shown in the case of the Smithsonian agreement in 1971, in which both Japan and the United States agreed to raise the exchange rate from 360 to 308 yen against the US dollar. As to defense spending, its share in the GDP is an easily understandable indicator, but the definition is different from country to country. Therefore, it is not necessarily effective to impose a sweeping target without examining the real capability.
Turning our eyes to the Atlantic area, we notice that defense spending and burden sharing have been a critical issue between the United States and NATO allies, too. Successive administrations in America have frequently urged Europe to spend more on defense in order to strengthen the capability and solidarity of the alliance, since the Cold War with the Soviet Union. On the other hand, obsessed with the amount of expenditure, Trump pressured European nations that he would pull out US troops if they failed to meet the requirement, and continued to criticize his America First foreign policy. Actually, Trump was cutting troops in Germany at the end of his term, which was overturned by current President Joe Biden.
Trump’s vengeful racketeering over the spending has simply damaged long mutual trust between Europe and America. Instead, he should have explored the division of the role within the regional security framework, and discussed necessary armaments for this objective.Ironically, his Republican Party was supposed to be the party of wise and effective spending at home, but in fact, he did not talk with allies how the increased defense budget should be spent. Rather, his foreign policy of "business acumen" had fallen into nasty emotional clashes within the trans-Atlantic alliance. Regardless of the era and the country, leaders have been repeating the same mistake.
Monday, October 18, 2021
The world was pleased when Joseph Biden edged out Donald Trump in the US presidential election last November. The cohesion of Western alliance was reconfirmed at G7 Carbis Bay, and NATO summit in Brussels. Also, Biden successfully lead NATO to stop Russian invasion of Ukraine in April. However, US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent chaos there have eroded the trust to the Biden administration from the global community. Trump seized this opportunity to blame Biden, but it was he who made the deal with the Taliban for early pullout.
Remember, Trump Republicans endorsed Trump’s withdrawal schedule, which was set much earlier than Biden’s. For example, Former Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daadler criticized Senator Mitch McConnell for blaming Biden’s withdrawal while opposing continual deployment in Afghanistan.
Other Trump Republicans such as Representative Kevin McArthy and Representative Jeff Van Drew are more or less as hypocritical as McConnell. After all, Trump himself deleted his comment to endorse the withdrawal from his website.
There's a big fallacy behind the criticism of Biden's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan--which is that the alternative to withdrawal was the status quo (as McConnell and other critics maintain). That's simply wrong. 1/x pic.twitter.com/GWUjCbAJRc— Ivo Daalder (@IvoHDaalder) August 24, 2021
. Therefore, we should be well-balanced to see domestic political clashes in the United States.
BREAKING: Donald Trump has deleted statements from his website demanding America withdraw from Afghanistan saying it would be a “wonderful and positive thing to do.”— MeidasTouch.com (@MeidasTouch) August 16, 2021
There are so many arguments about Western self-defeatism. I would like to refute some of them. Critics of American attack on Afghanistan argue that it was an imperial overstretch, and an anger-driven overreaction to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. But this is just a criticism for criticism. The attacks on the US homeland were assaults on Western democracy, and inaction to their outrageous crime would have just made the world much more insecure. Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations questions anti-war critics as shown in the following.
Curious about critics who argue US never should have gone into Afghanistan. What would they have had us do post-9/11 when Taliban wouldn't hand over al-Qaeda? And once Taliban ousted, would they have wanted us to turn away? Obama admin did that in Libya; result was a failed state— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) August 23, 2021
Other critics also deny the universal value of Western enlightenment and liberalism, as if they were legitimizing the brutal rule of religious fanaticism by the Taliban. In addition to Islamic tradition, they even mention complicated ethno-sectarian and tribal nature of Afghan history to deny Western installed modern nation state. But the Taliban rule is more centralized and monolithic, as Pashtun Islamic extremists monopolize the power. Therefore, it is utterly wrong that rural people prefer the Taliban, unlike urban people. Also, the Taliban brings alien extremists in this country, such as Al Qaeda as their ally before the 9-11 attacks, and IS-K as their enemy after the US troop withdrawal.
Those comments against the War on terror are riddled with anti-Westernism and lopsided favor of Third World autocrats and terrorists. In fact, the rule of the Karzai and the Ghani administrations was not so bad, though the media report about corruptions in this era. Civil liberties index was gradually improving from the least free of 7 to 5 since US invasion, according to Freedom House. Also, female school attendance rose from almost zero in 2001 to 83% at primary school, and 40% at secondary school in 2018. More impressively, GNI per capita rose from $820 in 2001 to $2,229 in 2019. On the other hand, the Afghan government failed to curb the area of opium cultivation and the number of civilian casualties (“The Legacy of the U.S. War in Afghanistan in Nine Graphics”; Council on Foreign relations; August 17, 2021).
In view of such successful aspects of the pro-Western regime, it is necessary to see why the United States decided to withdraw regardless of partisanship, although the subsequent chaos and geopolitical power vacuum were easily foreseeable. Some people argue that America abandoned Afghanistan to prioritize her national interest. But how and who defines that? Despite bipartisan reluctance of the long war in Afghanistan, Kurt Volker of the Center for European Policy Analysis comments, "America’s most senior career military and diplomatic officers have consistently briefed political leaders during the past decade on the certainty that a US withdrawal would lead to the fall of the Afghan government, a humanitarian disaster, and the perception of a defeated U.S. abandoning its allies" (“Afghanistan’s End Portends a Darker U.S. Future”; CEPA; August 13, 2021). He tells us how much both Trump and Biden alienated the foreign policy establishment to win favor from populists of right and left, regarding Afghanistan.
The above view is widely shared among renowned American foreign policy makers. However, Biden withstands their criticism because voters are annoyed with the “long war” in Afghanistan, and his priorities are given to domestic issues and strategic rivalries against China (“Here's Why Biden Is Sticking With The U.S. Exit From Afghanistan”; NPR News; August 14, 2021). Former National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice comments that Biden should have been more compassionate to Afghan people struggling for their nation building, and he should reinforce commitment to Ukraine, Iraq, and Taiwan to restore trust to America from the world. Also, she told American voters that the war in Afghanistan was not intolerably long, as the Korean War was still ongoing, technically (“Condoleezza Rice: The Afghan people didn’t choose the Taliban. They fought and died alongside us.”; Washington Post; August 17, 2021).
In terms of military strategy, Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute comments that Biden could have repealed the fatal deal that Trump had made with the Taliban, but he did not (“Biden could have stopped the Taliban. He chose not to.”; AEI ; August 14, 2021). Likewise, Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations, criticizes Trump’s hypocrisy and Biden’s dull response to the Taliban advancement (“The Biden administration’s response to the Taliban offensive is delusional”; Washington Post; August 12, 2021 and “Trump & Co. engineered the pullout from Afghanistan. Now they criticize it.”; Washington Post; August 19, 2021). Under the 2020 deal between the Taliban and the Trump, both sides agreed not to allow terrorists to use Afghanistan for their heaven to attack the US homeland. However, terrorism by other extremists such as IS-K is reinvigorated under the Taliban rule of this country. Furthermore, rather than complying with the deal to proceed the peace talk with the Ghani administration, they overthrew the previous regime from Kabul (“U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal: What to Know”; Council on Foreign Relations; March 2, 2020). As mentioned by numerous experts, Trump pressured Ghani to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, in return for a three month ceasefire. Biden did not repeal the deal, which resulted in the abdication of an American ally.
The pullout plan was objected within Biden’s own administration, too. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told the president not to withdraw the troop prematurely, but he did not listen, according to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in their recent book “Peril” (“Biden ignored Austin, Blinken warnings on Afghanistan withdrawal: Woodward book”; Hill; September 15, 2021). Also, at the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and Chief of the US Central Command Kenneth McKenzie testified that both Trump and Biden made the same “strategic failure”, as they did not keep at least 2,500 troops on the ground to stop the Taliban’s such rapid takeover of Kabul from the Afghan government (“Military leaders, refusing to fault Biden, say troop withdrawal ensured Afghanistan’s collapse”; Washington Post; September 28, 2021).
Clearly, Biden and Trump sidelined the cabal of national security architects. Let me quote critical opinion from Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on behalf of the global community. He made out a case against the withdrawal from Afghanistan, because the decision was based on domestic politics, not strategic consideration. In addition, he argues that wrong priority would leave Western democracies vulnerable to the threat of Islamic extremists, which also invigorates China and Russia (“Why We Must Not Abandon the People of Afghanistan – For Their Sakes and Ours”; Tony Blair Institute for Global Change; 21 August, 2021). In view of such isolationist drag down of the foreign policy establishment in the American home turf from both right and left, Blair told that Europe and NATO should develop the capability to act on their own to defend the Western democracy (Speech at the RUSI; 6 September, 2021). Quite importantly, his independent defense is based on universal values, and unlike that of Japanese Yasukuni nationalists, there is nothing revisionist in his idea.
Historically, Americans easily get excited with an international crisis that infringes on their country, but soon calm down when it passes away, as shown in the Lusitania incident in World War I, according to Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution. Having defeated Germany, they lost enthusiasm to engage with the world. Just as in those days, Americans were outraged by the 9-11 terrorist attacks, but they did not want to rebuild the world order from the damage. They were driven by fear of another jihadist attack when they devotedly supported the War on Terror. However, as voters perceive another attack unlikely during the long war, they have become skeptical of the war, and even suspicious of conspiracy by national security élites. That is the reality of war fatigue (“It wasn’t hubris that drove America into Afghanistan. It was fear.”; Washington Post; August 26, 2021). From his view, we understand why Muslim hate rose then, just as Asian hate after COVID-19. Also, voters kept Jeffersonian or Hamiltonian instincts, while foreign policy establishment pursued Wilsonian visions. Trump, who was supposed to be Jacksonian or even Devisonian, seized this opportunity in 2016. Biden does not have the will and capability to overturn this trend, even though he has overthrown Trump.
At one webinar, just before the presidential election, some renowned Japanese experts discussed the real meaning of Biden’s “foreign policy for the middle class”, but I regret to have belittled his words. That was primarily because the foreign policy establishment endorsed Biden almost unanimously, for fear of Trump’s reelection. Also, Trump even defamed American democracy in his term, as if coordinating with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his Russian affairs advisor Fiona Hill told that he was a bigger threat to national security than Russia (“Trump is a bigger threat to the US than Russia: Former foreign policy expert”; Raw Story, October 10, 2021). In view of the above aspects, I was deeply impressed that Wilsonian experts of both right and left were devoted to support Biden. Furthermore, his campaign team showed a photograph of his bipartisan efforts at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with John McCain, so frequently. But I should have realized that Biden is Biden, not McCain.
While the abrupt withdrawal startled European allies, Japanese people somewhat embrace American defeatism, because they desperately want America’s strategic refocus on China, but that is possible only if the Middle East is stabilized. Today, China is not just a giant in East Asia, as shown in the Belt and Road Initiative. Actually, China is filling the vacuum of power in the Af-Pak region through the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor), and India is critically concerned with that. This is a vital point, regarding the reliability of the Quad, the counter-Chinese security partnership in the Indo-Pacific. Indian geostrategist Brahma Challeney tweets as the following, when he contributed an article to Nikkei Asia (“Biden's Afghanistan fiasco is a disaster for Asia”; Nikkei Asia; August 30, 2021).
The big loser from Biden's Afghanistan disaster is India. U.S. and India may be friends but US policy has long undermined Indian security, first by arming Pakistan as a counterweight to India and then aiding China's rise, creating an expansionist monster. https://t.co/iRl1lwRJ2t— Brahma Chellaney (@Chellaney) August 31, 2021
Remember that Former National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster has been firmly against the withdrawal, while he made the national defense strategy to shift the focus of the War on terror to great power rivalries against China and Russia in 2017.
In addition to geopolitics and battleground situations, we have to think again, whether we can talk with the Taliban. A few years ago, Robert Kagan criticized Trump’s close ties with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, despite worldwide condemnation for his murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The point is that dictators are inherently repressive, even if they appear reformative (“The myth of the modernizing dictator”; Washington Post; October 24, 2018). As to the Taliban, we may have to make some humanitarian deals with them, but we should not recognize their legitimacy simply because they appear to become moderate. McMaster says, it does not make sense to talk with the Taliban when the West concedes, as shown in their boast after the successful retake of Kabul (“H.R. McMaster Warns Against 'Self-Delusion' That Afghanistan Withdrawal Means War's End”; News Week; August 21, 2021).
We have to bear in mind that so many strategists in America and the global community from Europe to Asia are against the Trump-Biden withdrawal. Don’t be an irresponsible observer of history to accept the concession of Western democracy to Middle Age barbarianism. Watch responsibly what the Biden administration and global stakeholders will do to Afghanistan to calm down subsequent chaos..
Saturday, July 31, 2021
This June was a monumental season of big diplomatic events, from the G7 Carbis Bay to the US-Russian summit. However, it appeared that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga behaved clumsily and unconfidently during informal interactions with foreign leaders at the G7, which somewhat disquieted Japanese people and media. They worry that his mediocre knowledge and experience in foreign affairs, and furthermore, his moderate proficiency in English are hurdles to boost Japan’s political presence on the global stage. But in my view, what really matters is neither English nor the diplomatic experience, but awareness sharing of every global agenda that is discussed at the G7.
Japanese media are exuberant with the communiqué that mentions the Taiwan Strait for the first time in G7 history. This is a memorable achievement of long Japanese effort to persuade Western allies to raise alert over China. However, this issue is stated in a few lines in clause 60, and more words are spent on other global issues, such as the environment, the digital economy, development and empowerment in the third world, human rights, and infrastructure initiatives to counter China’s BRI, in the joint statement. Not all of those agendas are necessarily familiar to Japanese politicians in their daily work, compared with G7 counterparts in the Atlantic sphere. For example, third world issues in the Middle East and Africa, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Ethiopia-Tigray conflict, are relatively unfamiliar to Nagatacho politicians.
Russia was also an important agenda, particularly when US President Joe Biden was meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, shortly after the G7. However, besides Crimea, it is quite doubtful whether Suga shared common awareness on human rights and election interference with other leaders. That is not simply because Putin did not interfere in Japanese elections. Postwar Japan has prioritized economic relations with foreign nations, and embraced third world autocrats, under the Yoshida doctrine. Russia is also no exception. More noticeably on human rights, Suga worried that hardline denunciation against the Uyghur oppression, would fatally damage Sino-Japanese relations.
Nevertheless, any Japanese prime minister shall not have so much difficulty to discuss global issues in the formal talk, with the help of bureaucrats. But without sharing common awareness by him or herself with foreign leaders, unofficial talk would be extremely difficult, no matter how fluent he or she is in English or other foreign language. It is the mindset that really matters. A narrow-sightedly Japan First politician would behave awkwardly at international conferences, and fail to win credits from the global community.
Domestically, Suga may not be flamboyant and charismatic, but he is consummate in Nagatacho politics and a calm and steady executive. This was typically seen in his job as the Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Abe administration. As the prime minister, he shows a kind of political ideal in his words, “self help, family help, and public help”, which can be interpreted a small government philosophy. Whether big government or small government, this is quite uncommon in Japanese politics, which is predominated by fractional power politics, rather than ideological rivalry. However, Suga’s handling of the Tokyo Olympics is too clumsy to meet the global criteria, as it is scandalized with misogynist and anti-Semitist gaffes by some administrative staff.
Other Japanese leaders also failed to share a common awareness with the global community. Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is the most notorious example. As the President of the Organising Committee of the Tokyo Olympic Games, Mori carelessly made a gaff, “"If we increase the number of female board members, we have to make sure their speaking time is restricted somewhat, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying," which forced him to resign (“Facing Backlash For Sexist Remarks, Tokyo Olympics Chief Apologizes But Won't Resign”; NPR News; February 4, 2021). It is not just misogyny that matters. In the face of harsh criticism from the world, Mori made an excuse that he was terribly scolded by his wife and daughters to show that he was neither paternalistic nor machismo at home (“The Tokyo Olympics; Shukan Bunshun; February 11, 2021). Clearly, he did not understand the point. The global community questioned his views on gender issues as a public official, but he confused his private life with public affairs, whether willingly or unwillingly.
Even some Western leaders failed to meet international credential. Typically, Republican candidate’s running mate Sarah Palin disappointed the global audience during the US presidential election in 2008 with her comment on Russia, which hurt the prospect of Senator John McCain’s victory. The Republican Party claimed that Palin had a unique foreign policy experience as the governor of Alaska, adjacent to Russia and Canada. But that was taken skeptically among the public (“Palin not well traveled outside US”; Boston Globe; September 3, 2008). Katie Couric asked her about this point in “CBS Evening News” (“New Sarah Palin Clip: Keeping An Eye On Putin”; CBS News; September 25, 2008). She stressed that Alaska was the first target when Russia attacks the United States. That was not American allies and others in the world wanted. In those days, America and Russia were bickering each other, regarding missile defense system deployment in Eastern Europe, the election in Ukraine, and the conflict in Georgia. Clearly, she failed to share understanding and awareness with foreign policy makers in the United States and allies.
In view of these examples, Japanese politicians and opinion leaders should exonerate themselves from an inferiority complex about English. It is already the 21st century, and we have to evolve from the mindset of the 1970s and the 1980s. Nevertheless, we do not have to worry about it so much. On daily job, American and European leaders are also preoccupied with domestic affairs, as typically seen in the case of Palin. However, a substantial portion of G7 agendas, such as development, empowerment, public health, and so forth, are strongly related to the quality of life of individual citizens, rather than state-to-state relations. Therefore, Suga, or any other Japanese prime minister, would be able to behave a little more confidently, if he or she could interrelate daily domestic affairs to global agendas. Finally, it is a pity that Mori failed to utilize his skill of managing domestic issues in his family for the global public interest.
Monday, July 19, 2021
In America and Europe, Asian hate has risen sharply since the corona outbreak from Wuhan of China in December in the year before the last year, and the Biden administration signed the COVID 19 Hate Crime Act in the United States on May 20 (”Here's What The New Hate Crimes Law Aims To Do As Attacks On Asian Americans Rise”; NPR; May 20, 2021). However, we should bear in mind that the hate is deeper than anxieties of the pandemic. Behind that, there are anti-globalism and domestic political divide, as seen in Brexit and the Trump phenomenon. Ultimately, it is very unlikely that Japanese and other East Asian peoples are safe, while discrimination and violence are rising against blacks, Mulims, Jews, Mexicans, and refugees of other ethnicities.
Since I have mentioned Russian sponsorship of Western far right repeatedly on this blog, it is too late that Japanese people and opinion leaders are awakened about the peril of white Christian nationalism by the corona outbreak. Right-wing populism in the Euro Atlantic sphere has swept over, from Eastern Europe to Italy, and ultimately to Britain and America, the core of the Western alliance. Quite strangely, some people defend that ringleaders of those far right politicians, such as Putin, Trump, and Farage, are actually not racists. Certainly, they may have some non-white, non-Christian friends. However, it is difficult to judge whether someone is racist deep in the heart or not, without academic expertise in psychology. Rather, from political observation and analysis point of view, we should be aware of the malicious nature of those far right politicians that they exploit racist emotion among the grassroots for their political objectives.
As widely known, these far right politicians try to achieve their political goals to the maximum level through agitating social divide and anxieties. Racism is a “convenient tool” to mobilize the masses. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a typical example of such a politician, because his nation governing based on traditional ties with the Russian Orthodox Church and hardline posture against Islamic extremists are highly compatible with white Christian nationalism in Europe and North America from cultural perspectives. Even though Trump lost the election, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed concerns with reverse discrimination against the white to provoke dissidents in the United States (”Russia Warns of Anti-White 'Aggression' in U.S.”; Moscow Times; April 1, 2021). However, right-wing populism in the West arose from domestic politics in those countries, not created by Putin. Above all, it is quite unlikely that Putin feels sympathy for white trash in the West. The Kremlin’s sponsorship for the Western far right is an asymmetric warfare to make Western democracies disunified internally and weakened, both in terms of geopolitics and ideology.
Actually, Putin does not cling to race and ideology. While supporting the far right in the West, Russia aids socialist nations such as Cuba and Venezuela in Latin America, and Baa’thist Syria in the Middle East. Also, the Kremlin interfered in the Brexit vote to aid the far right, while sponsoring the left in the Scottish independence movement. We have to bear in mind that the old Soviet Union itself sponsored the Western far right to weaken liberal democracy, even though she assumed the leadership role in global communist movements. Putin is a former agent of the KGB, that carried a vital role in such political manipulation.
On the other hand, former US President Donald Trump exploited racism to exhilarate his rock-solid base, through agitating the political divide at home. Dusing the presidential election in 2016, he exhibited his discriminatory emotion against Mexicans and other immigrants. Even after the inauguration, he did not denounce violent behaviors by white supremacists in the Charlottesville riot. He went beyond that in the presidential in 2020 to remark something that could be taken an agitation of uprising for a notorious racist group, Proud Boys, which even upset the moderator Chris Wallace of conservative FOX News. Furthermore, Trump’s abetting for the January 6 riot just before his step down from the president was so malicious that Twitter suspended his account. The UKIP, which served as Nigel Farage’s platform in the Brexit campaign, had become too racist, particularly too anti-Islam, and that forced Farage himself to leave the party. That is what the supporters of a far right party are, which agitates political divide of the people.
In view of the trend of the Western far right that I mentioned above, the surge of Asian hate was inevitable, even without the corona outbreak. Quite strangely, so called “Japaese Trumper” insist that attacks on Asians come from blacks rather than whites. However, this is the consequence of rising interracial hatred by social divide, and therefore, their argument is completely meaningless. Generally speaking, Japanese people are highly aware of business related affairs such as economic impacts of Brexit, regarding the Euro Atlantic sphere, but not so much interested in an issue like this, which is deeply intertwined with multiple aspects, including culture, religion, and security. After all, we should not think of everything from the mindset of victimhood for anxiety of something that happens everyday, regarding Asian hate. If we thought in that way, we would fall into the same mindset as those who were infatuated with the far right, mainly white working class.
Friday, May 07, 2021
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.
Success in Afghanistan should not be defined by bringing peace or a military win (both impossible) but by avoiding government defeat at an acceptable cost. This could be done w a modest troop presence & long-term eco/mil aid, some of which should be conditioned on needed reforms. https://t.co/meBOM2vGHE— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) April 13, 2021
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.
9. This ends the US overseas operations begun in 2001 but without securing any commitments. Instead, allies and enemies will see a weaker NATO, unwilling or unable to sustain even a small presence. That will embolden others.— Tom Tugendhat (@TomTugendhat) April 14, 2021
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 .