Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The First Week of President Obama: Quick, Dull, and Authoritarian

It is too early to evaluate President Barack Obama, because it is just a week since he was inaugurated on January 20. Despite this, I would like to mention some job performances by Obama.

The New President is quick to overturn policies by his predecessor, Former President George W. Bush. However, Obama is too dull to respond crisis that requires US commitment. On the other hand, it seems to me that President Obama tries to control opinions and thoughts in order to precede his change.

Just as I mentioned in a previous post, Barack Obama was quick to nominate his cabinet staff. Few presidents were so bold to reverse their predecessors at such an early stage. Obama has announced to close Guantánamo terrorist prison (“McCain: Closing Guantanamo Bay is the easy part”; CNN; January 22. 2009), tolerate abortion (“Obama Ends Global Family Planning Restrictions”; NPR; January 23, 2009), and strengthen auto emission standards against global warming (“Obama Issues Orders Toward More Fuel-Efficient Cars”; Washington Post; January 27, 2009 and “Obama counters Bush on auto standards”; Boston Globe; January 27, 2009).

Such quick actions impress that the change has come true, and the New President is a competent chief executive. Hasty reform can bolster his reputation, if everything goes successful. However, it does not seem to be appropriate to reverse everything associated with the Bush legacy. In an interview with CNN on January 22, Obama’s presidential archrival, Senator John McCain, comments that it is easy to apologize for inconveniences caused by the predecessor Bush, and close the prison. However, McCain says that if the prisoner camp were to move into the United States, the administration would face a NIMBY problem. People do not like the “notorious” camp built in their neighborhood. See the video.

On the other hand, Obama was too dull to respond against the Ukrainian crisis. I have mentioned this in the last post. Even though it was just before his inauguration, Barack Obama showed little interest in helping people in Ukraine and Eastern Europe who were intimidated by the fierce Russian bear. They are eager to join NATO and the EU, because they want close ties with the West. Whoever the President is, it is an absolute must to demonstrate “America is always with you!” Pro-American nations in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union crave for such staunch endorsement in their pursuit for post-communist democracy and confrontation with Russian threat.

On such a critical occasion, Barack Obama went on the razzle-dazzle with popular entertainers who need no help from any leaders in the government. It is extremely regretful, and the media should have questioned his behavior, because NATO and EU expansion eastward is a key issue in US foreign policy.

In addition to quick actions and dull responses, it is a must to mention dictatorial remark by the President. Obama warned Republican Senators and Representatives not to listen to Rush Limbaugh, a popular conservative radio personality (“Obama: Quit Listening to Rush Limbaugh if You Want to Get Things Done”; FOX News; January 23, 2009). Barack Obama emphasizes that bipartisan cooperation is necessary for his economic stimulus package.

President Obama’s remark has spurred a controversy, and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tries to soothe Republican backlash (“PREZ ZINGS GOP FOE IN A $TIMULATING TALK”; New York Post; January 26, 2009). Meanwhile, Limbaugh caricatured Obama, “Now this is the great unifier. This is the man who's going to unify everybody and usher in a new era of bipartisanship and love.” (“Limbaugh Bristles at Obama Remark”; Washington Post; January 26, 2009)

No one can grade the President now. Though his quick actions are impressive, some remarks and behaviors are problematic. The media must comment them critically. We must not simply hail President Barack Obama, just because he is popular both in the United States and overseas.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Real Problem behind the Ukrainian Gas Crisis

A unilateral action taken by Russia to cut gas supplies to Ukraine on New Year’s Day has imperiled the life of nations across Eastern, Central, and even Western Europe. The map below shows considerable dependence of European nations on Russian natural gas.

Source: BBC

The EU gets a quarter of its gas supplies from Russia - 80% of which passes through Ukraine - and more than 15 countries across central Europe have been hit by the shutdown of Russian supplies (“Russian gas flow disappoints EU”; BBC News; 13 January, 2009)

In a cold weather in winter, numerous people across Europe will be frozen to death, if the supply cut continues. This crisis is more dangerous than current skirmish in Gaza. Moreover, Israeli attack is a natural retaliation against Hamas, while none of Ukrainians and East Europeans assaulted any Russians over the gas dispute. The media are unfair to blame Israel, but not Russia.

Thanks to the help of her European fellows, Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko of Ukraine managed to reach an agreement with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia on January 18, to start gas flow again. Quoting a Russian paper, Moskovsky Komsomolets, the Christian Science Monitor concludes this conflict as the following in its blog.

No matter what turn the Russia-Ukraine gas conflict takes, the West will always act in accordance with its friend-foe system, where Russia will always be a foe. To the West, Ukraine is a country of the ‘victorious orange revolution,’ while Russia is ‘the cradle of Putin’s authoritarianism.’ Like almost all EU countries, Ukraine is an energy consumer, while Russia is a member of the rival “suppliers club. (“Russian gas post-mortem: Was it Princess Leia vs. Darth Vader?”; Global News Blog; January 19, 2009)

A 5th degree black belt judoist intimidates a Ukrainian princess?: Prime Minister Timoshenko and Prime Minister Putin signs a 10 year gas supply deal on January 19 in Moscow (Christian Science Monitor)

Things are not so simplistic. Europe feels disgusted with pushy diplomacy by Russia and poor governability of Ukraine (“Ukraine's pro-Western progress set back in gas crisis: analysts”; EU Business; 15 January 2009). In the aftermath of the Orange Revolution in 2004, Ukraine was a brilliant show case of Western styled democracy to former Soviet republics. Successful incorporation of Ukraine into NATO and the EU has been a vital agenda for the West.

However, Ukrainian politics has been paralyzed by continual conflicts between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko. Also, corruption is serious.

Katinka Barysch, Deputy Director at the Center for European Reform, comments "The idea that the Orange Revolution would lead to a direct path towards democracy and free-market values has fallen apart," and "There is an impression that Ukraine is not a very well-run country and that certainly isn't to Ukraine's advantage when it comes to EU and NATO integration."

Ukrainians suspect that Russia conspires to decouple Europe and Ukraine with serious drawbacks caused by the gas crisis.

It is a pity neither President George W. Bush nor President-elect Barack Obama has taken any actions to deter Putin’s dangerous ambition. Particularly, I am appalled that Obama went on the razzle-dazzle with show biz stars in such a critical moment.

The Ukraine issue is beyond gas and energy. It is our imperative agenda to prevail democracy in order to make a secure and civilized world.

A Tribute to President Bush: With Real Action Heroes

This video is dedicated to President George W. Bush who is leaving the White House soon.

Thank you, and God bless you!

Along with real action heroes!

Monday, January 19, 2009

The West and New Capitalist Motherlands ―― Russia and China

While American conservatives worry about President-Elect Barack Obama’s new socialist motherland America, new capitalist motherlands of Russia and China pose far more critical challenges to global security. The clash between our liberal capitalism and their illiberal capitalism will be no less important than threats of Islamic radicals. President Bush has made substantial efforts to tackle dangers posed by Muslim terrorists, but it seems that the Russo-Chinese challenge has been left unconstrained. It is becoming increasingly important to understand the nature of their defiance to our liberal world order.

Bobo Lo, Director of Russia and China Programme at the Centre for European Reform in London, examines foreign policy of Russia and China in “Ten things everyone should know about the Sino-Russian relationship” (Policy Brief; Centre for European Reform; December 2008). He was the Deputy Head of the Mission at the Australian Embassy in Moscow. Lo articulates that Russia and China have contrasting national interests and values. Also, he insists that the Russo-Chinese partnership will not harm Western interests, because both nations are more interested in engaging with the West than with each other.

Lo criticizes neoconservative agenda that Western liberal democracies unite against the rise of Russo-Chinese authoritarianism. He even makes an analogy between this agenda and Marxist slogan of united international proletariats. To the contrary, Lo says that Russia and China do not share common interests in authoritarian alliance.

Let me review 10 points mentioned by Bobo Lo. He admits that bilateral economic relations are expanding, and security cooperation is developing rapidly. However, Lo points out that Russia is just one of the markets and natural resource suppliers for China. For Russia, China accounts for a tiny portion of its total amount of trade. Also, in security, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is not enthusiastically endorsed by the government of both countries.

Rather, Lo argues that both Russia and China are keenly interested in developing relations with the West, despite bitter rhetoric against American hegemony. Both Russia and China trade more with the West than each other. In addition, both Russia and China see the West as a model for their economic development despite recent financial crisis.

As the Chinese economy has been growing rapidly since late 1980s, the relation with Russia is becoming increasingly unequal. Though Russia has recovered from disruptive economy during the Yeltsin era, its economy is dependent on natural resources, and technological lag lowers its global competitiveness.

Lo also points out that Russia and China are competitors as well as partners in Central Asia. Sometimes, they unite against the West, while they confront each other in some cases.

The most importantly, Bobo Lo argues that Russia and China have different visions of the world. While Russia envisions its unique role to bridge the East (China) and the West (the United States), China regards Russia as a secondary great power along with Japan, India, and the EU in a world of rivalry against the United States. While Russian nationalism is confrontational to the West, China emphasizes “peaceful rise” or “harmonious world”. China is so cautious that it does not pursue a multilateral order so as not to provoke its indispensable partner, the United States.

A former Australian diplomat in Moscow, Bobo Lo presents invaluable insights on the nature of the Russo-Chinese challenge. Particularly, different visions of the world between Russia and China are important. However, his viewpoints seem to be quite liberal. Whatever their intentions are, both nations develop critical arsenals to defy American or Western supremacy. Russia has deployed Bulava SLBM while the United States has stopped producing new nuclear weapons. China succeeded in anti-satellite missile test.

Remember! Germany under Otto von Bismarck kept friendly relationship of common German blood with Britain under the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dynasty. However, Kaiser fought against Britain, with forces built up by Bismarck. We have to be careful to the Russo- Chinese challenge.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Meeting with a CSR Official of ACCJ

It is a long time since I posted the last article to this blog. I have been suffering from cough and sore throat these days. I had an important business to advance my advocacy activity during this long halt to publish Global American Discourse.

I met an official who is in charge of corporate social responsibility (CSR) at the American Chambers of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) on January 6. As a matter of fact, I know very little about CSR. I learned this word when I joined a social networking service, called the Fundraising Net, this autumn. This SNS is sponsored by the Society of Endorsing Activities by Citizens (SEAs). I told this frankly to Ms Patricia Bader-Johnston, who spared time to see me on that day.

Ms. Bader-Johnston outlined the structure of social activities by ACCJ. I hope this post will be of some help for those who seriously consider launching their own public interest activities. She told me that ACCJ’s social activities are classified into two categories, that is, government relations and CSR relations. Government relations section invites top officials, experts, and businesspersons from Japanese public and private sectors, in order to discuss US-Japanese relations from global, bilateral, and domestic perspectives. CSR relation section focuses on more civic oriented initiatives. ACCJ has been engaged in global warming, labor diversity, and some Japanese domestic issues such as youngsters out of regular style employment. According to Ms. Bader-Johnston, domestic problems like this are somewhat similar to those in the United States and across the globe.

ACCJ welcomes voluntary speakers who set their own agenda for the panel discussion. Therefore, I would like to recommend those who are interested in CSR assistance by ACCJ to contact the person in charge.

One word she said, SRI (Socially Responsible Investment), is impressive. Actually, SEAs often mentions something similar to this concept. I agree that too many NGOs and civil societies are hostile to business and the global economy. They forget that their prosperity depends on liberal order of global political economy.

If you have a message to the public in Japan and across the globe, why don’t you tell it to ACCJ? You can find some ways to develop your involvement to the world.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

President Bush and His Legacy for America and the World

President George W. Bush will complete his two term presidency on January 20. Some people applaud an Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at President Bush. It is utterly stupid to “bow down and praise such one.” George W. Bush has tackled to resolve critical issues which his predecessor Bill Clinton left unsettled, including Iraq and Al Qaeda. Also, Clinton shares some responsibilities with Bush, regarding recent global economic crisis. Without understanding Bush presidency, we fail to evaluate the incoming president Barack Hussein Obama. Those who do not simply want to hail the messiah to laud Obama “our savior, our savior”, let’s explore America in the Bush era.

David Frum, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, points out eight achievements Bush has made (“Eight Facts That Burnish Bush’s Record”; On the Issue; December 2008).

1) New Strategic partnership with India:
It presents geopolitical advantage for the United States in the War on Terror and rivalry against illiberal capitalisms such as Russia and China.

2) US-Iraqi status of forces agreement:
Iraqi parliament approved this, and a longtime enemy to the West since the 1960s has become a key US ally in the Middle East.

3) Start to promote democracy in the Middle East:
Libya stopped antagonism against the West. Saudi Arabia and Gulf states toughened regulation against terrorists’ money laundering.

4) Prevention of further terrorist attacks:
There has been no Islamic terrorist attack since 9/11 in 2001 in the United States. Also, radical Muslim attack stopped in Europe since 2005.

5) Latin America stability:
The United States helped Colombia defeat domestic insurgency, and Mexico conduct the second multiparty presidential election.

6) National prescription of drug program:
This enables the elderly to receive medications they need.

7) Nuclear power industry:
Bush endorsed to build new nuclear reactors since 1970, which cut oil consumption about 10% since 2005.

8) Muslim rights:
Only 6% of Muslims in the United States experienced verbal abuse in two months after 9/11. Furthermore, Bush appointed Muslim American, Zalamy Khalizad to the ambassador to the United Nations.

Most of them are related to Islamic terrorism and the Middle East democracy. No. 7 is the issue anyone cannot dismiss. Liberals and anti-Americanists across the globe blame the Iraq War, because they think the Bush administration invaded Iraq for oil industry. Their claim does not make sense, as oil consumption declined because of nuclear boost.

In December, President Bush visited AEI for informal conversation about his presidential job. This was moderated by AEI President-then Christopher De Muth, and published by AEI(“A Conversation with President Bush”; AEI Online; December 18, 2008).

The President talked primarily on domestic issues such as tax cuts and health care. Although the economic crisis at the end of his presidential term has pushed approval rate for the Republican precipitously downward, President Bush talked proudly of 52 month uninterrupted job growth as a result of his tax cut. Regarding his health care policy, George W. Bush trumpets his market-oriented approach, which empowers individuals to make decisions for themselves. Bush expressed his strong belief that the market represents a free society.

In foreign policy, President Bush talked about the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush articulated that the war is a struggle of ideology between liberty and hatred. This is a vital point to understand why we must defeat Islamic terrorism.

Also, Bush talked a lot on Russia. Despite differences on Georgia, the President insists that the United States and Russia share common agendas, particularly in nuclear non-proliferation. Bush stressed that United States will continue to cooperate with Russia to ensure that rogue regimes and terrorists shall never acquire raw materials to make nuclear bombs.

After leaving the White House, George W. Bush will launch an initative to promote freedom and assist community development across the globe. Bush raises a concern that America is becoming isolationist. I agree to this view. During the last presidential election, the media and voters focused too much on domestic issues while the American world order is at crossroads now. It is such isolationism that helped Barack Hussein Obama over John Sidney McCain.

This article is a must read to understand the Bush presidency, because it is entirely written in his words without ill-intentioned media bias. You don’t have to bow down and praise George W. Bush. Just read it, and think by yourself.

Contrary to widely believed, Robert Kagan, senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, regards Bush as a realist (“The September 12 Paradigm”; Foreign Affairs; September/October, 2008). Kagan points out that the Bush administration disdained rule based approach of Clintonite diplomacy, because international agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol, the Comprehensive Teat Ban Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, did not work well. Kagan says that the Bush team pursued America’s own national interests, rather than the role of hegemony.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush had changed into an interventionist. Robert Kagan comments homeland security expanded into more expansive and aggressive strategy when the Iraq War began. Unfortunately, European allies did not share America’s concern with Islamic radicals and sense of urgency to topple Saddam Hussein.

Despite the rift on Iraq, America’s relations with key allies in Europe, the Pacific, and the Middle East remain strong, as Kagan says.

The media that boosted Barack Obama are liable to report as if current president undermined America’s position in the world. This is too simplistic. Many policies during the Bush era were to resolve ineffectual outcomes under the Clinton administration. Some of them, like free trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea, are continuation of Clinton policies. I never advocate “bow down and praise” to President George W. Bush. However, a fair evaluation of Bush is absolutely essential to watch Incoming President Barack Obama. Don’t hail him the Messiah.