Thursday, July 31, 2014

Is China a Carbon Copy of the Imperial Japan?

I was startled to hear Chinese President Xi Jingping’s controversial speech of “Asia for Asians” at CICA (Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia) this May (Chinapresident speaks out on security ties in Asia “; BBC News; 21 May 2014). The underlying idea of this speech overlaps the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, insisted by wartime Japan. In view of regional concerns with Chinese maritime expansionism and growing self-assertiveness, Xi’s “Leave Asia for Asians” speech is understood negatively in the global community. There are so many points in common between wartime and current Asian powers. Let me talk of them.

In terms of geopolitics, both wartime Japan and current China are anti-West. Wartime Japan tried to expel European and American influence from Asia in the name of decolonization and liberation from White dominance. However, the Imperial Japan, itself was a colonial empire, and Asians found no fundamental differences between White sahibs and a Yellow sahib. Today, China also explores to establish their sphere of influence in Asia by ousting US presence in the region.

More importantly, both wartime Japan and present day China are autocracies to defy liberal world order, and exploring to found an axis against democratic nations. Japan allied with fascist Germany and Italy, while China plots to make the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS, and CICA raise voices against Western democracies. Japan’s wartime axis with Germany and Italy was not well coordinated for joint strategy and operations, and China has not made successful axis to stand against the United States and its democratic allies. Nor do both Asian powers advocate universally acceptable values for global public interest.

It is quite noteworthy that Asians do not welcome the rise or advance of both anti-West autocracies. The fall of Singapore may have impressed Asian people, but when the Allied forces launched counter offense under Douglas MacArthur and Lord Louis Mountbatten, they did not fight side by side with Japanese troops to bounce back white sahibs. Likewise, China’s “Asia for Asians” initiative causes high alert among Asian neighbors, particularly those having territorial clashes over the East China and the South China seas. Also, as Asia is politically and culturally diversified, none of regional organizations will be platforms for Chinese predominance (Don'tbet on China's 'Asia for Asians only' vision yet”; Strait Times; 30 May 2014). Today, white ruled colonial empires have gone, and Asian nations shall not be interested in a Chinese-led Asia to oust American influence.

Rather than well being of Asian nations, both autocracies are expanding southwards, in quest of natural resource. Wartime Japan wanted oil, tin, rubber, and other mineral and plantation products in South East Asia. Today, it is widely understood that China’s territorial claims in the East China Sea and the South China Sea are based on its quest for oil and gas in those waters. Their calls for Asian unity to expel the West are strongly associated with their appetite for natural resource.

Quite ironically, Chinese fishery boats dash themselves to attack Coast Guard ships of their maritime neighbors to claim Chinese territorial rights on south sea islands. Attacks like these are pre-modern like Kamikaze raids to US warships by the Imperial Japan. Is China really a carbon copy of wartime Japan? Interestingly, Former US Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank Curtis Chin also compares current Chin to wartime Japan (“Xi Jinping's'Asia for Asians' mantra evokes imperial Japan”; South China Morning Post; 14 July2014).

In view of Asian alert to China’s aggressive behavior, I have to cast doubt whether China has any credential to blame Japan on wartime history. In my eyes, it is China that acts unprecedentedly similar ways to those of the Imperial Japan. China may want to behave as a winner of World War II continually, but remember the vital point. It is not the Japanese public that lost the war, but wartime fascism. If China really were to act as a winner of the war, bear this in mind!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Understanding Sunni-Shia Differences to Analyze MiddleEast Affairs

I was surprised to hear that there were virtually no differences between Sunni and Shia as they were both Islam, in s special report of Iraq in “News in Depth” on NHK TV on June 21. That is merely a wishful thinking of passive pacifism. In present day political contexts, the Sunni-Shia division poses critical impacts to national and ethno-sectarian clashes. However, it is not of so much use to argue theological detail for strategists and students of foreign policy. Therefore, I would like to talk about basic historical background and religious behavior.

As widely known, the origin of sectarian chasm dates back to the dispute between the 4th caliph Ali and Muawia. After the death of Ali, the Rushdyn was replaced by the Umayyads which was founded by Muawia. Since then, the Muslim minority objected to the Umayyad rule to insist that only Ali’s successor be the legitimate heir of caliph throne. It was this religious minority who founded the Shia sect, while the majority has become Sunnis. The landmark of the Sunni-Shiite chasm is the Battle of Karbala in 680. Upon request from Shias in Kufa, located in current south central Iraq, Ali’s second son Hussain ibn Ali stood up against Umayyad caliph Yazid I, that resulted in an annihilation on Hussain’s side.

The Battle of Karbala had deep psychological impacts on both sects, and reinforced Shiite identity. The first point is close relations between Shia and Iranian ethnicity. According to Shia, Hussain married Shahbanu, a daughter of the last Sasanid Persian king Yazdegerd III to give birth to the 4th imam Ali ibn Hussain Zayn al-Abidin. Therefore, from Shiite interpretation of Karbala, Hussain’s successors in the early Middle Age were also descendants of the Sasanid royal family. Even though Iranians had been ruled by Arabs, Turkics, and Mongolians, until they found their own Safavid Empire in the 16th century, they maintained their national identity through devotion to Shiite belief. In order to restore the Iranian nation since the Arab conquest of Persia, the Safavid dynasty made Shia Islam as the state religion. Outside Iran, Shias are distributed in the Gulf area, southern Iraq, Lebanon, Hazara habitats in Afghanistan, etc. People in those areas are culturally and spiritually tied with Iran. For example, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani of Iraq was born in Iran, and his surname is related to the Sistan area in the south east of Iran.

The second point is a mindset of the oppressed. Today, Sunnis account for 85% of the total Muslims in the world, while Shias accounts for 15% (“The Sunni-Shia Divide”; Council on Foreign Relations; 2014). The most symbolic event to show this is the Day of Ashura when Shias mourn for the martyrdom of Hussain standing against overwhelming power of the Umayyads in the Battle of Karbala. In order to share pains and grieves with Hussain and his loyalists, Shiite males whip their bodies by themselves to bleed. Ritual is not just a ritual. It shapes mindsets of community or sect members. The choice of sect is the choice of the way of life. The annual ritual reminds Shias of their religious devotion through pain and plight, and their historical position as mostazafin, which is Ruhollah Khomeini’s favorite word meaning the oppressed.

In view of basic understandings of Sunni-Shiite relations, one of the key foreign policy focuses is the recent rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. As widely known, Iran is a Shiite theocracy, while Saudi Arabia is a monarchy of Wahhabist, ultraconservative school of the Sunni. This May, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal invited Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif to discuss Gulf security and Syria (“Saudi Arabia moves to settle differences with Iran”; Guardian; 13 May 2014). Will the relationship of both countries improve dramatically? This is unlikely. For Saudi Arabia, “It is therefore prudent for them not to draw Iran’s ire,” as Iran is a powerful neighbor (“What’s going on between Saudi Arabia and Iran?”; Jerusalem Post; June 11, 2014). The problem is, Iran’s Shiite missionary ideology provokes socially and economically marginalized Shias in Saudi Arabia’s oil rich Gulf area. Those mostazafins are displaced and live in poverty, while Sunni majority oil dominates oil business (“Iraq conflict reignites sectarian rivalry in Saudi Arabia”; Baltimore Sun; April 27, 2006). While Israel regards Iran’s nuclear attack as the primary threat, Saudi Arabia is more concerned with Iran’s vision of Shiite hegemony (Next Test for Obama: Soothing the Saudis”; Los Angels Times; March 24, 2014).

Considering the nature of Tehran’s Shiite theocracy and politics of its Arab neighbors, it is too optimistic to assume dramatic reconciliation of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Nor should we expect Iran to act as the regional guard. Sunni Arab emirates embraced the Pahlavi Iran as the guard, because it was a secular and enlightened state, and a vital ally of the United States. Unfortunately, Iran today is an odd man out in the Gulf like China is in East Asia. Current Saudi Arabia behaves like Britain appeasing Nazi Germany. Had America been more Wilsonian, Neville Chamberlain would have stood much firmer against Adolf Hitler’s ambition. In present days, Saudi Arabia feels itself less and less secure in view of Obama’s engagement with America’s adversaries. Basic understanding of culture and religion is so crucial to analyze current foreign affairs.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

American strategy to overturn Obama’s failure in Iraq

The Obama administration is forced to overturn the complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011, due to the rapid advancement of the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) early June. Apparently, President Barack Obama and his cabinet members made a wrong strategic assessment of Iraq. In an interview with Larry King on February 11, 2010, Vice President Joseph Biden commented optimistically that Iraq would move toward a stable democracy without gun fights. See the video below.

However, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) warned of radical Islamist attacks to the United Stes and Britain long before the ISIS thrust this June, as they monitored telegraph messages among ISIS, tribal leaders, and Baathists (“Washington and London Ignored Warnings about the ISIS Offensive in Iraq”; Daily Beast; June 24, 2014). More importantly, some Republican senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham warned of Sunni militant uprisings without residual US forces after 2011 (“GOP on Iraq: We told you so”; Politico; June 13, 2014). In the Morning Joe on MSNBC on June 13, McCain even demanded that Obama’s national security team resign, and they be replaced by experts such as General David Petraeus, General Jack Keane, and Former Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Furthermore, he mentioned that residual forces were necessary in Iraq as in Japan, Germany, and South Korea to maintain post occupational stability. See the following video.

Let me examine why things in Iraq have developed so destabilized, and explore strategies to defeat the ISIS and stop geopolitical rivals like Iran and Russia, primarily based on the panel discussion by Senator John McCain and Retired General Jack Keane at the American Enterprise Institute on June 18, because they are the most influential and well-versed policymakers on Iraq as seen in the surge in 2007. With residual forces, McCain argued that the United States could have deterred the rise of insurgents, and even steered Maliki to form an inclusive government to overcome ethnic and sectarian differences. In a recent article, Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations also comments that Iraqi security could have been more stabilized with at least 10,000 military advisors, and America would have exerted more diplomatic influence on Maliki to run more ethnically and religiously balanced government (“Obama’s Iraq”; Weekly Standard; Jun 23, 2014). Apparently, Obama hardly had any intention of driving Iraq to evolve into another Japan or Germany.

How can the United States and the Iraqi government bounce back ISIS and their allies? It is vital to split the insurgents. ISIS is allied with Ansar al Islam, a coalition of Sunni Arab tribes, and ex-Baathists, as the Maliki administration is heavily dependent on Shiites. They are not necessarily cohesive, and it is necessary to explore true causes of non-ISIS militant uprisings, according to Hassan Hassan, Research Associate at the Delma Institute of the United Arab Emirates (“More Than ISIS, Iraq’s Sunni Insurgency”; Carnegie Endowment for international Peace -- Sada Journal; June 17, 2014). The strategic priorities are to defend Baghdad and to launch counter offenses against terrorists. Despite the striking advancement into the Iraqi territory, General Keane commented that ISIS had no “force generation (ARFORGEN)” to capture Baghdad as it was a sprawling city. On the other hand, they are founding the largest realm of Islamic extremism in history from Syria to Iraq. Keane mentioned that they could attack Europe and the United States directly from this safe haven. McCain said even Stalin didn’t pose such threats. Therefore, both panelists stressed the danger of Islamic terrorists.

American option is limited as war weary public shall not approve of sending ground troops. However, Keane says that the United States can help Iraq by the following ways. First, American advisors can provide intelligence service to know the location of the enemy, and give information about Syria and northern Iraq for the Iraqi federal government. Also, American advisors can help Iraqi planning to defend Baghdad and launch counter offenses against insurgents. In addition, American special forces must attack critical targets and terrorist leaders to help the Iraqi security forces. Furthermore, American air operations must be coordinated with special forces on the ground that speak local languages. Though the air campaign is critical for limited and targeted attacks on the ground, Keane stressed that US air power not act as a Shiite air force.

In addition to military perspectives, American strategy must be explored from political perspectives. Iraqi neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Gulf emirates, worry American disengagement rather than “decline”. McCain told that it was presidential leadership that would persuade war weary public to accept global engagement as Harry Truman did during the Korean War. He stressed US help to Iraq was urgent because ISIS was more dreadful than Al Qaeda as to displace 500,000 people in Mosul, and execute 1,700 of them. In PBS News Hour on June 21, Gideon Rose, Editor of Foreign Affairs, pointed out that ISIS was disowned by Al Qaeda, because of the brutality. See the video below.

Currently, ISIS is richer than Al Qaeada as they took oil fields, and extort tax from the business. Furthermore, they seized money and gold from the bank when they captured Mosul. See the video below.

On the other hand, the shadow of Iran is growing among Shiites. Is it likely that the United States work with Iran? In response to Maliki’s call for the Shiite militia to fight against Sunni insurgents, Iranian proxies moved from Syria to southern Iraq. Maliki could lapse into heavily dependent on Iran (“Iranian Proxies Step Up Their Role in Iraq”; Washington Institute for Near East Policy---Policy Watch; June 13, 2014). Meanwhile, Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei condemned US intervention in Iraq when Obama announced to send 300 troops there. Some watchers see it a warning against the United States not to replace Maliki with someone else (“Iran rejects U.S. action in Iraq, ISIL tightens Syria border grip”; Reuters News; June 23, 2014). Iran’s leverage in Syria, Iraq, and Gulf Arabs, is growing. In view of this, Camille Pescasting, Senior Associate Professor at the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University, even argues that Iran may act as the Regional Guard as it did under the Nixon doctrine, since Obama is so unwilling to get involved (“Iran, the New Force for Regional Stability?”; World Affairs Online; June 2014). However, General Keane pointed out that Iran was hardly interested in driving ISIS out of the desert in western Iraq, and simply wanted to take the oil rich south. Therefore, Keane told it nonsense to work with Iran, or rely on this country for regional stability.

In addition to domestic and regional power interactions, things will be increasingly unpredictable as Maliki’s purchase of 12 Su-25 ground attack fighters from Russia. Iraq was frustrated with slow delivery of F-16 fighters from the United States. Though Iraq agreed to buy 18 of them in 2011, they acquired the first one this June (“From Iraq to Syria, splinter groups now larger worry than al-Qaeda”; Washington Post; June 10, 2014). Also, Obama ordered drones to protect US personnel on the ground who were on non-combat missions (“Iraq receives Russian fighter jets to fight rebels”; BBC News; 29 June, 2014). Russian instructors came to Iraq along with Sukhoi jets, which is an implicit challenge to the United States. In addition, there is a rumor that Iran will return some Saddam Hussein’s warplane to Iraq, mostly Russian and some French Mirage F-1s, that evacuated from US air attack during 1990-91 Gulf War (“Russian Jets and Experts Sent to Iraq to Aid Army”; New York Times; June 29, 2014). The problem is, the Iraqi armed force has been Americanized in weaponry systems and training after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Even if redeploying Soviet-made Su-25s, can Iraqi pilots use them effectively? In addition, it is quite doubtful whether old Soviet fighters can coordinate with US special forces on the ground in targeted and limited attacks.

As seen in the contract on F-16 fighters and Apache helicopters, the Obama administration withdrew the whole of US forces before building up the Iraqi security forces. McCain told the critical point that Obama was elected in protest of Bush’s long war in Iraq and Afghanistan, at the panel discussion. His non Western thoughts and backgrounds are the antitheses of traditional America. The current crisis is a result of disrespect to foreign policy continuity. Will the United States overturn this negative trend in Iraq as General Keane suggests, and not repeat the same mistake in Afghanistan?