Want to know how badly China has bungled its foreign affairs?

December 10, 2012

map east asia

The Philippines says it supports Japanese rearmament:

The Philippines would strongly support a rearmed Japan shorn of its pacifist constitution as a counterweight to the growing military assertiveness of China, according to the Philippine foreign minister.

“We would welcome that very much,” Albert del Rosario told the Financial Times in an interview. “We are looking for balancing factors in the region and Japan could be a significant balancing factor.”

The unusual statement, which risks upsetting Beijing, reflects alarm in Manila at what it sees as Chinese provocation over the South China Sea, virtually all of which is claimed by Beijing. It also comes days before an election in Japan that could see the return as prime minister of Shinzo Abe, who is committed to revising Japan’s pacifist constitution and to beefing up its military.

Anyone who knows anything about the history of World War II in the Pacific knows the brutal, almost unspeakable suffering the peoples of East Asia suffered under Japanese occupation. The Philippines alone lost roughly one million people. Many who survived were nonetheless subjected to torture and starvation, or knew those who were. That’s still in living memory for many Filipinos, making it understandable why they would fear a militarily powerful Japan, and why Rosario’s announcement is such a shocker.

Walter Russell Mead comments:

Today, the Philippines is thought to be one of the countries most subject to Chinese pressure. It has a weak economy and a small military. That a country like this is rallying against China rather than joining up with it, and doing it in such a dramatic way, tells us a lot about what is going on in Asia and the effect Beijing’s foreign policy is having on its neighbors.

China has been anything but deft in its handling of its neighbors, making aggressive claims to islands in the South China Sea, possession of which would give it control of potentially vast oil wealth under the sea bed. This, however, has also had the effect of frightening its neighbors and leading them to seek allies from amongst old enemies.

And now the Philippines, worried by Beijing’s ambitions, wants a rearmed Japan to balance China. (How soon will they be inviting us back into Subic Bay, I wonder?)

This has implications for Japanese politics, too. Japan has a general election in a few days, and the expected winner, Shinzo Abe, has advocated changing Japan’s highly pacifist, restrictive constitution to allow for greater military spending and a larger overseas role for Japan’s military. Concerns about China, where nationalist anti-Japanese protests have become a regular occurrence, and a growing approval of Japanese rearmament from her former enemies could give Abe’s party a boost, in which case we could expect to see Sino-Japanese relations become much more strained.

Obama has made a “pivot to Asia” a focus of his administration’s foreign policy. That’s actually logical (1), but no one should underestimate the challenges Washington faces there.

Footnote:
(1) Yes, I’m surprised. Given the general incompetence Obama, Clinton, and the rest of the Smart Power team have shown in foreign affairs, they’ve generally done a good job in East Asia. I’m sometimes tempted to think it’s the doing of some Undersecretary acting on his own, hoping the bosses won’t notice…

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Syria: maybe the world will get lucky and they’ll all snuff each other

December 10, 2012

The Assad family dictatorship has been pretty darned awful, but the opposition isn’t any better. The al-Nusra front, a major component of the Free Syrian Army that’s fighting to overthrow Assad, is about to be declared a terrorist organization. Given al Nusra’s involvement in the massacre of civilians and their connection to al Qaeda, you can probably see why it would be problematic for us to start giving them lots of weapons.

No problem, though. We can just arm the other rebel  groups, and everything will be hunky-dory.

Erm… Well…

Meanwhile, however, the “new opposition coalition” fighting for Syria, whose unity was solidified in mid-November, isn’t much of a step forward.  Its leader is Moaz al-Khatib, a Muslim Brotherhood member with a history of anti-Semitic, anti-Western statements, who has castigated as “revisionists” fellow Muslims (like Alawites) whose beliefs differ on the margins, and who believes that the bombing of Israelis is “evidence of God’s justice.”  Al-Khatib admires Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who encourages Muslim nations to acquire nuclear weapons and “terrorize their enemies.”  Western media naturally refer to al-Khatib as a “moderate.”

With Al-Nusra and the new opposition coalition duking it out for Syria against Iran and Assad, Greenfield puts it this way: “Syria is coming down to a race between the Iranian allied Syrian government, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda.”

Wonderful. At least we have Team Smart Power to sort all this out for us and make the savvy choices, right?

Right? smiley worried

I have no problem with playing the “Great Power” game and working to overthrow Assad, an important client of Iran and patron to Iran’s cat’s-paw, Hizbullah. Taking down the mafiocracy in Damascus would gravely weaken the influence of  the mullahs in the area around Israel. They know that, too, which is why they’ve put their elite Revolutionary Guard corps into Syria’s “internal” war. And, let’s face it, the Iranians have been at war with us since the Shah was overthrown, whether we’ve acknowledged that or not.

But, let’s be smart about it. Giving weapons to those who might turnaround some day and use them on us or our allies would be trading one hot mess for another, all in pursuit of a short-term gain. It may well be that, in light of calm analysis, our options there are limited, that there may only be a very few players we can work with. Fine. Far better be it to play the mediocre hand we’ve got and establish what influence we can with a possible post-Assad regime, than it would be to do the equivalent of drawing four cards and hoping for a straight, which is what shoveling weapons at al Nusrah or the FSA and keeping our fingers crossed would amount to.

That worked so well in Libya, after all.

Patience and restraint (and ignoring that fatuous “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine liberal internationalists have fallen in love with) here is by far the smartest use of power.

PS: “But what about Iraq?”, some may ask. “Didn’t you support intervening there?” Yep, I did at the time, and I still do. I believe the liberation of Iraq and the destruction of the Hussein regime was the right thing to do, given the totality of the strategic situation. But one of the weaknesses of the operation was our lack of knowledge about the players on the ground, and that lead to mistakes and serious problems during the occupation. Whatever we do in Syria, I’d like us not to suffer from a similar lack of knowledge.

PPS: Be sure to read all of J.E. Dyer’s post, just to see how charming our potential partners are. Two things to keep in mind: chemical weapons and “bunny snuff videos.”

via The Morning Jolt

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


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