Author Topic: US Foreign Policy & Geopolitics  (Read 307717 times)

Crafty_Dog

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Re: US Foreign Policy & Geopolitics
« Reply #1050 on: February 03, 2021, 01:51:36 PM »
Once I started to read I saw that too of course.

Looking forward to see what these authors have to say now.

Crafty_Dog

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Walter Russell Mead: Biden Bleats
« Reply #1051 on: February 08, 2021, 08:32:59 PM »
In his first major foreign-policy address as president, Joe Biden couldn’t have been clearer: There’s a new sheriff in town. Not only did his speech last week announce reversals of high-profile Trump policies; it criticized the neglect “and, I would argue, abuse,” of American alliances in the, ahem, recent past. In describing a recent phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the new commander in chief said he conducted himself “in a manner very different from my predecessor.”

The Biden team is driven by conviction. It really believes that America’s leading position in the world rests on global admiration for U.S. values. The administration thinks America’s alliance network is based on those values and Washington’s commitment to a multilateral approach. President Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, in this view, was an all-out assault on the foundations of U.S. power.


Let us hope that Mr. Biden’s leadership will strengthen alliances and rally the rattled forces of democracy against rival authoritarian great powers. But talk is easy; work is hard.

No president in recent decades made as many inspiring speeches about democracy and human rights as President Obama—and yet no administration in recent decades saw authoritarian powers make so many gains. In 2011 Mr. Obama put down a marker in Syria: “The time has come for President Assad to step aside.” A decade later, propped up by Russia and Iran, Bashar Assad is still there.


It is very well for Mr. Biden to say he isn’t Mr. Trump, but what he needs to demonstrate to the world is that he isn’t Mr. Obama. The Obama administration’s mix of tough words and fumbled deeds in places like Egypt and Syria—along with its serial failures to curb Russian and Chinese power plays from Crimea to the South China Sea—badly diminished American prestige. The prospect that the new administration will similarly dissipate Washington’s energy and credibility in empty gestures and moralistic word salads quietly worries U.S. allies (and delights and encourages American adversaries).

Mr. Biden made two clear demands in his speech, calling on Russia to release Alexei Navalny without conditions and Myanmar’s military to roll back its coup. The inevitable question: What happens now? If this turns out to be another empty “Assad must go” moment, then many observers around the world may conclude that Obama Syndrome has again taken hold in Washington. America will posture and strut, but it will not or cannot act.


And it will be hard for Mr. Biden to make these particular demands stick. With regard to the Kremlin, economic sanctions have so far done nothing to change its policy on Crimea, Syria or anything else. If anything, Moscow is more defiant than ever. Russia is escalating cyberattacks on the U.S.

When EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell defied human-rights campaigners in Europe by refusing to cancel a scheduled meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov after the Navalny arrest, Mr. Lavrov responded by treating Mr. Borrell with extraordinary rudeness. After Mr. Lavrov called the EU an “unreliable partner” at a joint press conference, the hapless Mr. Borrell learned from Twitter at a working lunch with Mr. Lavrov that Russia was expelling three European diplomats. These are not the acts of a government worried about Western opinion.

Despite Russia’s economic problems, Mr. Putin evidently believes he has little to fear from the West. Oil prices are up by more than 50% since October and are likely to rise further as the Covid-19 recession ends. Probably this will more than offset the effect of any new sanctions. Shutting down the Keystone XL pipeline while work on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany resumes sends a more powerful signal to the Kremlin about Western intentions than empty demands about Mr. Navalny.

In Myanmar, unless street protests succeed in overturning the coup, American options are limited. Beijing stands ready, checkbook in hand, to demonstrate its worth as an ally not only to Myanmar but to regimes anywhere on earth concerned about U.S. human-rights diplomacy. India and Japan view their relationships with Myanmar’s military as critical elements in their anti-China strategy. Under the circumstances, the generals may feel they have even less to fear from President Biden than Mr. Assad had to fear from President Obama.

Human rights and democracy promotion have a necessary place in American foreign policy. But it is extremely difficult to succeed at them. The world will be watching Russia and Myanmar to assess the new president’s foreign policy skills. Mr. Biden’s words must lead to deeds, and his deeds must drive events. That is how his administration can rebuild U.S. power and prestige.
« Last Edit: June 23, 2021, 12:22:57 PM by Crafty_Dog »

DougMacG

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Re: Walter Russell Mead: Biden Bleats
« Reply #1052 on: February 09, 2021, 05:44:16 AM »
"It is very well for Mr. Biden to say he isn’t Mr. Trump, but what he needs to demonstrate to the world is that he isn’t Mr. Obama."

My understanding is that WR Mead is a moderate Dem and a foreign policy expert.  A Joe Biden Presidency should be a dream come true for him and instead it is already a nightmare.  Everything has already turned in the wrong direction.

The only constraint on Putin is the price of oil and oil just went up 50%. The fascination with helping Iran, in Yemen for example, is bizarre.  Every appointee has been a China sympathizer.

Just say it, America Last.

Crafty_Dog

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GPF: Biden's China Strategy
« Reply #1053 on: February 12, 2021, 02:35:09 PM »

February 12, 2021
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Brief: Biden’s China Strategy Is Taking Shape

Shared concern over Iran's expansionist and bellicose activities in the Middle East has made Israel and Arab countries unconventional bedfellows. In this episode, Hilal Khashan and Allison Fedirka explore how Israeli-Iranian relationship lies at the heart of this regional dynamic, what that means for the future of this new alliance, and how it may affect any future US-Iranian nuclear deal.

By: Geopolitical Futures

Background: The U.S. is virtually unmatched in its military, economic and diplomatic power, but over the past five years or so, it’s had to confront the limits of its might as it tries to pressure China into doing things it doesn’t want to do. As often as not, pushing China too far goes against Washington’s own interests. The U.S.-China trade war, U.S. naval operations in the East and South China seas, and inconsistent efforts to keep friends and allies from drifting into China's orbit illustrate as much. The U.S. is now attempting to formulate a new, more comprehensive, more coherent strategy for competing with China on multiple fronts.

What Happened: On Thursday, after a two-hour call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, U.S. President Joe Biden couched his infrastructure spending plans in strategic terms, declaring that China is going to “eat our lunch.” This is some crafty messaging meant to drum up the political will needed to overcome Washington’s longstanding struggles with major infrastructure buildouts. But it is indeed a strategic issue. Meanwhile, the U.S. is ramping up targeted measures to limit exports of sensitive technologies that could empower China's own tech sector, as well as the People’s Liberation Army. The trick for Washington is to avoid inadvertently accelerating innovation in China or gutting U.S. firms that rely on Chinese consumption. A senior Pentagon official said the priority of the Pentagon's newly launched China Task Force will be tech and supply chain vulnerabilities.

There are also signs that the U.S. is preparing to dramatically increase support for domestic chipmaking operations in light of the ongoing global chip shortage — something hurting U.S. automakers — and the collective realization that it’s overly dependent on Taiwanese chip factories located an easy missile's flight from mainland China.

Bottom Line: The outlines of the Biden administration's strategy, or at least its priorities, are starting to take shape. It will still challenge China directly by, for example, keeping some tariffs around, continuing the offensive against Huawei and other Chinese tech giants, and looking for more substantive ways to defend the maritime interests of East Asian allies. But the bigger emphasis will be on out-competing China and on leveraging U.S. diplomatic strengths by finding ways to coordinate more closely with its friends and allies. It all makes sense on paper, but none of the strategy's components are easily executed.

Crafty_Dog

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Re: US Foreign Policy & Geopolitics
« Reply #1054 on: March 10, 2021, 05:03:14 AM »
   
The US’ Big Plans for the Indo-Pacific
The biggest challenge ahead is diplomatic.
By: Phillip Orchard

Over the past month, the U.S. has been rolling out a comprehensive theory of strategic competition against China, with all sorts of grand plans for how to enact it. The stated goals run an ambitious gamut, collectively making the case that stronger deterrence measures are sorely needed beyond the world of guns and bombs. Still, the dominant focus has naturally been on the military balance of power and growing concerns about Washington’s ability to sustain it.

For all its power, the U.S. military’s current force structure and posture are not particularly optimized to deter an adversary with China’s firepower, increasing technological sophistication and home-field advantages in its littoral waters. Preparing the U.S. military for the challenges posed by China will be a monumental undertaking, one in which some of the biggest obstacles, such as institutional inertia, political complications and limits on civil-military cooperation, start at home. But there's also a fundamental problem facing the U.S. abroad: It needs to expand its physical footprint across the Indo-Pacific, and it needs its friends and allies in the region – ones reluctant to put themselves in the U.S.-China crossfire – to help it do so.

More, Faster, Broader

When the dust of World War II settled, U.S. power in the Western Pacific was unrivaled. The regional base network it built during and after the war has been key to sustaining this status, with substantial forward deployments essential to making the U.S. – whose mainland is nearly 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) away from contested waters like the South China Sea – capable of functioning as a steady, credible force. But long gone are major U.S. bases in the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand. And the remaining U.S. force posture in the Western Pacific, anchored around Japan, Guam, Australia and Hawaii, could prove problematic in three main ways if a conflict with China broke out.

Key U.S. Bases and Potential New Installations
(click to enlarge)

First, the concentration of U.S. forces and assets (ports, airfields, supply depots, and so forth) in the region around a small number of large bases make the U.S. exceptionally vulnerable to China’s rapidly expanding air and missile arsenals. Moreover, the U.S. Navy's predominant operational focus on carrier strike groups makes it difficult to disperse forces quickly and widely enough to significantly complicate China's targeting plans. In a surprise attack, U.S. warships stuck in port would be big, sophisticated sitting ducks.

Second, if a conflict were to break out unexpectedly, most U.S. forces would be too far away to respond quickly. It would take weeks to mount a full counteroffensive. Even U.S. bases in Japan and Australia are less than ideal for flowing forces quickly to potential flashpoints like the South China Sea, much less the eastern rim of the Indian Ocean basin, where the U.S. and its allies would likely blockade Chinese shipping traffic through chokepoints like the Malacca Strait.

Third, while the U.S. Navy is unparalleled in its ability to conduct major operations in remote corners of the globe, there’s only so much firepower it can lug around. The typical carrier strike group includes three to six destroyers and cruisers, which can usually carry around 90-120 missiles each (though some are reserved for air and submarine threats). This is a lot of firepower but not nearly enough to sustain operations for long against a major adversary.

U.S. aircraft carriers and their air wings can carry an immense amount of ordnance themselves, but advances in Chinese anti-ship missiles would likely force U.S. carriers to the fringes of the battlespace, at times beyond the range of the warplanes they carry. This has rarely been a problem for the U.S. because the U.S. rarely fights major conventional powers. Against a foe like China, the U.S. would either exhaust its arsenals relatively quickly or essentially have to cede large parts of the battlespace to China until a larger response could be mounted.

The Pentagon therefore believes it needs a more dispersed, more redundant, more agile force structure operating out of a wider network of ports and airfields in the Indo-Pacific. It wants more, smaller ships complemented by all manner of nifty unmanned platforms, many of them not even invented yet. And it wants them backed by land-based firepower. For example, the Pentagon's recently proposed $27 billion expansion of what's known as the Pacific Deterrence Initiative calls for the deployment of mobile precision-guided missiles throughout the first island chain – plus supporting elements like a network of land- and spaced-based surveillance and targeting infrastructure. The U.S. at present has scant land-based firepower in the region, partly because of constraints on its missile development under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and partly because what the Navy could carry had until recently been considered sufficient.

Notably, the Pentagon is also exploring ways to get the other branches of the military more involved in the theater. (The Indo-Pacific Command is also asking for around $9 billion to redistribute more forces “west of the International Dateline.”) The big focus here, naturally, is redeploying the Marines to their historical focus – the maritime sphere – with the capabilities to move quickly to hot spots well within range of China's missile and air power umbrella. By 2030, the Pentagon hopes to stand up multiple “Marine Littoral Regiments” consisting of between 1,800 and 2,000 Marines and operating from a new fleet of light amphibious warships. Meanwhile, there's increasing awareness of the need for the U.S. Coast Guard to play a larger role in regional training and policing matters that the Navy is ill-suited for.

A Tall Order

Thus, despite already having hundreds of military installations across the world – and despite facing substantial budgetary and political pressures to shrink its global military footprint – the U.S. is on the hunt for new outposts in the Indo-Pacific. It's an open question whether the U.S. can find the new ones it needs to execute its vision for the region.

Persuading foreign governments, even historically friendly ones, to host major U.S. deployments is a big ask. There are plenty of benefits: There are major economic perks. And it's a good way to ensure that the U.S. is much more committed to the host country’s defenses, which generally become better equipped and trained. But the downsides can't be ignored: You may make yourself a target against U.S. adversaries. Any number of major political headaches are likely to pop up. You're also likely to provoke non-military retaliation. China, in particular, has proved very adept at pressuring even close U.S. allies to limit what the U.S. can actually deploy to bases on their soil. For example, Beijing pressured Seoul into barring the U.S. from installing additional THAAD anti-missile systems around its bases in South Korea.

So most countries around China's periphery are uninterested in hosting major U.S. deployments. Finding partners willing to host a bunch of U.S. precision-strike missile positions is even more difficult. The U.S. doesn't even have much in the way of land-based strike capabilities in Japan, a stalwart ally. While China has not yet succeeded in getting the Philippines to abandon a 2014 agreement granting the U.S. rotational access to a number of its bases, it did succeed in persuading Manila to drag its feet on implementing the deal and to bar the U.S. from putting artillery systems at the base closest to China's island bases in the Spratlys.

But the U.S. isn't pursuing a lost cause. For one, it doesn't necessarily need most partners in the region to host large, permanent deployments of U.S. forces. The U.S. is trying to move away from large concentrations of forces anyway. (Last November, the Pentagon even floated the idea of setting up a new, headquarter-less 1st Fleet focused on the waters around Southeast Asia.) For the most part, what the U.S. needs is access – to airfields, to ports, maintenance and logistics facilities, to prepositioned caches of supplies and ordnance – it could use to spin up quickly in a crisis. These sorts of things are a much easier ask. In fact, the U.S. already has quite a few such agreements in place, especially in the logistics realm. There are also many more subtle, small-footprint things the U.S. needs that partner governments are typically keener to support, such as jointly operated ISR facilities. Already, U.S. "technical advisers" can be found embedded with local units across the region, including recently at radar sites in Taiwan.

The U.S., moreover, appears to have options to meet at least some of its basing needs, albeit mostly in locations outside the first island chain. Palau, for example, has been publicly courting U.S. bases. (The U.S. remains noncommittal, but it is setting up a new radar system on the strategically located island nation.) The U.S. and Australia are reportedly in talks to set something up on the Papua New Guinean island of Manus. U.S.-owned islands like Saipan and Tinian could have a role too.

The white whales for U.S. defense planners are the Philippines and Singapore, perhaps the two most strategically located countries on China's periphery. Whether the basing agreement with the Philippines is ever fully implemented is anyone's guess, but it hasn’t yet been scrapped fully, and small numbers of U.S. forces have quietly operated out of the Philippines throughout the Duterte era, mostly due to the country's counterterrorism needs. Singapore, meanwhile, already functions as the U.S. military's main logistics hub in the region and recently extended an agreement to host a small number of U.S. warships on a rotational basis at its Changi Naval Base. Singapore won't accept anything bigger from the U.S. anytime soon, but likely would if push were to come to shove between the U.S. and China.

Finally, though it's looking to expand its presence in the region, the U.S. hasn't given up on its goal of seeing its regional partners pitch in substantially more. This could create all sorts of mechanisms for expanded U.S. access through, say, joint training and operations. It could also help incorporate states that are wary of the U.S. into regional defense structures. Vietnam and Indonesia, for example, are generally reluctant to do much with the U.S., but both have been quietly deepening military cooperation with India and Japan. It could also address, at least in small ways, the U.S. missile dilemma if countries build out their own arsenals (so long as they're willing to use them in coordination with U.S. operations, at least).

All this underscores that, as much as U.S. challenges in developing the force it wants in the Indo-Pacific are technological or fiscal or political in nature, perhaps the biggest challenge ahead is diplomatic. Very few countries are willing at this point to pick a side, and impressions of U.S. ambivalence toward the region's core needs and declining clout have only deepened this reluctance. Thus, in the Pentagon's view, at least, nudging countries off the fence starts with proving that the U.S. is more than capable of deterring China, more than willing to expand the scope of its partnerships with regional states beyond the military realm, and more than willing to stick it out for the long haul. It's a tall order, but the U.S. appears serious about making its case.

ccp

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us military bases
« Reply #1055 on: March 10, 2021, 06:00:30 AM »

Crafty_Dog

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WR Mead: Why the US won't leave the Indo-Pacific
« Reply #1056 on: March 16, 2021, 08:04:58 AM »
Why the U.S. Won’t Leave the Indo-Pacific
New challenges test American strategy, but the commitment is grounded in history.

By Walter Russell Mead
March 15, 2021 6:37 pm ET




The diplomatic tempo in the Indo-Pacific is picking up. On Friday the “Quad,” an informal but increasingly formidable four-power grouping consisting of Japan, India, Australia and America, held its first (virtual) leaders’ summit and issued a joint communiqué promising enhanced cooperation on issues ranging from vaccination diplomacy to climate change.

This is only the start. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are in Tokyo this week to meet their Japanese counterparts and prepare the ground for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s expected visit to Washington in April. Messrs. Blinken and Austin will continue their Asian journey to Seoul. After the Korea visit, Mr. Austin will proceed to India, while Mr. Blinken will join national security adviser Jake Sullivan in Alaska for a bilateral U.S.-China meeting. Among other topics, Messrs. Blinken and Sullivan are expected to raise questions about China’s use of trade pressure against American allies like Australia.

Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that a military showdown between Taiwan and mainland China could come “in the next six years.” At nearly the same time, Gen. Xu Qiliang, China’s senior military leader, warned the National People’s Congress that China faces a “Thucydides trap” and needs to step up its military spending and preparedness. (The phrase refers to the ancient Greek historian’s belief that Sparta’s fear of rising Athenian power led to the Peloponnesian War.) Satellite imagery showing major expansions of Chinese military facilities near Taiwan, Vietnam, India and the South China Sea suggests that Gen. Xu’s advice is already being heeded.

Assessing the nature and depth of America’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific is a life and death question for countries wondering whether to accommodate or resist China’s determination to project greater influence over neighboring states. Here a more recent historian than Thucydides can be a useful guide. In his 2017 book “By More Than Providence,” Michael Green demonstrates that the current elevation of the Indo-Pacific to the central focus of U.S. policy is no fad. American interest and presence in the region, Mr. Green argues, has been a constant—and constantly growing—force in U.S. foreign policy from the earliest years of the republic.

Mr. Green identifies historic American interests in the region as commercial, security and values-based. These are sometimes in tension—as when U.S. missionaries helped organize Chinese protests against opium-selling American merchants in the 1840s—but overall they have shaped a steadily deepening engagement.



In the early 19th century, hundreds of U.S. whalers and trading vessels visited every corner of the Pacific. From the moment the 1803 Louisiana Purchase gave America a western coastline, questions of security began to shape American diplomacy toward the Indo-Pacific. By 1842, when President John Tyler expanded the Monroe Doctrine to include the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii), the idea that U.S. domestic security required a favorable balance of power in Asia was widely accepted among Washington policy makers. Long before China emerged as a potential challenger to the regional power balance, the U.S. had built coalitions in the region against the U.K., Japan and the Soviet Union.

The Pacific was also the primary focus of the American missionary movement, the largest, longest-lived and most consequential foreign policy intervention by civil society in U.S. history. Missionaries preached more than the gospel, though the large and rapidly growing Christian presence across much of Asia today testifies in part to their success at that task. Funded by grass-roots contributions from believers across the country, they also promoted education for women, introduced modern medicine and agricultural techniques, built colleges, and began the tradition of inviting Asian students to continue their education in America.


The picture wasn’t always a beautiful one. Racist attitudes and the U.S. colonial venture in the Philippines left a complicated and sometimes bitter legacy. But if Americans haven’t always been noble or wise in their Pacific policies, they have always been engaged.

That is unlikely to change today. The region is more central to U.S. prosperity and security than ever. Seeking a balanced and secure regional order—without war traps, Thucydidean or otherwise—is a challenging task. America and its allies are sure to make some mistakes.

But if allies sometimes doubt U.S. wisdom, the American commitment to the region is so deeply grounded in history and the structure of U.S. interests that walking away from the region is the one thing Washington is least likely to do.

Crafty_Dog

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Re: US Foreign Policy & Geopolitics
« Reply #1057 on: March 16, 2021, 08:34:18 AM »
second post

I have very high regard for George Friedman, but some of his recent ruminations have left me with some doubts-- though there are some good points in it, this one here strikes me as naive about the extent of Chinese aggressive intent.

====================

March 16, 2021
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China’s Strategic Standpoint
By: George Friedman
One of the hardest problems of foreign policy is developing an accurate evaluation of a potential adversary’s intentions and capabilities, which are frequently separate realities. I discussed this recently in a piece that pointed out the degree to which the United States misinterpreted the Soviet Union’s intentions and capabilities. The Soviets were focused on reconstruction after World War II, something that required decades of work. A war that would devastate Western Europe gave them no incentive to start a war. The United States, meanwhile, was obsessed with counting equipment, not evaluating the ability of the Soviet logistical system to support a massive offensive. The U.S. focused on worst-case intentions and capabilities. The real ones were very different.

This was in part due to another miscalculation: the underestimation of Japanese capabilities in World War II. Washington knew war was likely and so had a plan designed to counter it. But planners underestimated the degree to which the Japanese understood the war plans and the flexibility of naval planners in declining combat on American terms. They also underestimated Japan’s naval command and failed to understand the actions that aircraft carriers made possible. They understood the intent to fight but not the intent to define the battle and the hardware needed to do so.

During the Cold War, the U.S. was on the defensive against a Russian attack that never came. Similarly, during World War II, Washington saw Japan as utterly dependent on raw materials from the south and assumed a direct thrust southward. It could not conceive that Japan would launch an indirect attack. In both cases, the U.S. ignored reality. Russian constraints militated against offensive war. Japanese constraints militated against direct attack. The U.S. had vast resources and could survive the misunderstandings, but the constancy of miscalculations in other wars such as Vietnam and Iraq indicate a central problem of military planning. If the U.S. ever faces China, nothing is more important in understanding how China sees its strategic position, or precisely how China’s strategic position will compel it to act.

China has two core problems: maintaining unity and preventing social instability. Events along the border with Tibet and in Xinjiang, and lesser events in Inner Mongolia must be contained. At the same time, the economic divide between coastal and western China that fueled Mao’s revolution and has still not been resolved must be managed. One element of this management is economic growth. The early years were explosive since development was measured from Mao’s economic disaster. Since about the mid-2000s, growth has been increasing, but it has led to tensions in the Chinese economic elite. China’s primary strategic focus is internal.


(click to enlarge)

China has therefore tended to focus inward, but what complicates this is that domestic consumption cannot yet maintain economic growth and that access to global markets is a strategic imperative. China depends on access to sea lanes connected to its eastern ports. Ideas about overland transport to Europe, the much-heralded Belt and Road Initiative, have not yet matured as an alternative.

Access to global oceans is still the foundation of Beijing’s strategy, just as Japan’s access to raw materials was its. The two strategic problems have important things in common. China must enhance its naval power, which, whatever Beijing’s intent, makes other Pacific powers such as the U.S. extremely anxious. The most important element of this is the vast American alliance system of formally and informally hostile countries to China: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia and India. It constitutes a massive strategic alliance but also a very significant economic alliance involving key Chinese trading partners.


(click to enlarge)

This creates a long stretch of chokepoints that could block China’s access to the oceans and thus hurt domestic economic development and potentially generate social unrest. The United States has not blocked China’s access, nor has it threatened to. But China must consider what is possible, and the capability the U.S. has is a profound threat to China. From the U.S. point of view, moving eastward from the Aleutian-Malacca line would give China entree to the Pacific, which would threaten fundamental U.S. interests. The U.S. cannot abandon the alliance. China cannot accept the threat.

China cannot afford to engage U.S. forces directly. Its own navy is untested in war and has only exercised in fleet-counterfleet operations. China might well defeat the U.S. fleet, but it can’t be certain it would, and defeat would be catastrophic to the regime. In addition, the U.S. has vast resources and capabilities. In looking at U.S. warfighting strategy in the past, initial defeat can generate a massive counterattack. So unless the U.S. seems intent on blockading Chinese ports, the risk of war is too great.

But China also must see the U.S. as averse to war, and the appearance of the Chinese might be enough for the U.S. to decline a larger conflict and withdraw forces on the blockade. A secondary Chinese strategy, then, could be to demonstrate an appetite for combat in an area that is not critical to the United States and might not trigger a response. The idea has been bandied about that China might invade Taiwan. This would be militarily and politically unwise. Amphibious operations are complex, and are won or lost by vast logistical efforts. Reinforcement and resupply would be vulnerable to U.S. anti-ship missiles, submarines and air power. The Chinese must assume that any invasion would likely be defeated.

Even so, China must demonstrate its military will and capability without risking defeat. In other words, it must attack a target of little value and assume the U.S. would not risk combat at a location where Chinese forces have concentrated. But this strategy has two problems too. First, the U.S. will recognize the ploy and might choose to engage to deter greater combat. Even if Washington wanted to decline, its allies may raise enough hell that it may not be able to. This dovetails into the second problem: The members of the alliance are also vital trading powers. One of the paradoxes of the Chinese position is that those that pose the greatest strategic risk are also essential elements of the Chinese economy. Seizing an island off of Taiwan might trigger a U.S. response, but it would convince the alliance members of Chinese danger and force them, with U.S. support, to take economic action.

China must maintain economic growth to maintain stability. It cannot take actions that would make this difficult. Nor can it tolerate the possibility of U.S. naval action that would cripple the Chinese economy. China’s current economic situation is satisfactory. Certainly, a war would not improve it. It is running a risk of U.S. action that would also cripple it. The key Chinese solution is to seek an accommodation with the United States on outstanding economic issues, being aware of the fact that the U.S. has no appetite for war and will initiate only under significant pressure from China. China must weaken the anti-China alliance by making it clear that it has no intention of waging war and that it will align its economy with others. In other words, China must decline combat and make economic and political peace – without appearing that it is doing so under duress.

China is a great power. But all great powers have weaknesses, so their competitors must understand these weaknesses. Fear and prudence make powers concentrate on strength and neglect the weaknesses, and in doing so tend to magnify the power of a competitor. Accurate and dispassionate analysis is needed to avoid overestimation and underestimation and thus miscalculation.

DougMacG

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Re: WR Mead: Why the US won't leave the Indo-Pacific
« Reply #1058 on: March 16, 2021, 08:53:38 AM »
I like WRM a lot for his analysis and advice on foreign policy, but to predict that a country falling into the leadership of the Biden crime family, Kamala Harris and AOC will honor the wisdom of  "commitments grounded in history" is somewhere between wishful, hopeful and naive. Our security initiatives so far in the first hundred days have had more to do with individual gender modifications than dealing with global security threats.  This crowd is more likely to defund the military than to counter the national security threat that is China, IMHO.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2021, 09:13:39 AM by DougMacG »

Crafty_Dog

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George Friedman: Poetry and Geopolitics
« Reply #1059 on: March 19, 2021, 08:31:12 AM »
Poetry and Forecasting
Thoughts in and around geopolitics.
By: George Friedman

Earlier this week, I wrote an analysis about China’s strategy, the kind of piece that is what is expected in this industry. I end the week with thoughts that are explicitly geopolitical but are foundational to writing.

Geopolitics is about nations and strategy. My approach is to use geopolitics to forecast events. But underlying this is a view of the world that may seem out of place in the world of power politics: the consideration of our relationship to the future and the language that must be used to think of the future. The consideration of the future is what I do, but sometimes it can be done only from a different perspective – sometimes even from a different language.

All of my work, my passion, is to know the future, the one thing that the gods have been said to deny us. That my life’s work is pure hubris is true. Hubris is defined as excessive pride. In my case it is not pride in what I have done, but rather pride in thinking that it is possible to do it, to know what will happen by knowing how things work.

We expect scientists to know how things work, and we include in scientists social scientists, with whom I am grouped, and which I deplore. The work of social scientists is to make great things small, and beautiful things banal. I try to avoid that trap by thinking of the world as vast and overwhelming, and trying to glimpse its directions. But to forecast is to be poetic, for poets have done some of the finest forecasting, having seen the world not only clearly but in proportion – which is much harder to do.

Heinrich Heine was a German-Jewish poet who wrote in the mid-19th century. Of Germany’s future, he wrote:

"Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder is of true Germanic character; it is not very nimble, but rumbles along ponderously. Yet, it will come and when you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world's history, then you know that the German thunderbolt has fallen at last. At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll."

Nazi Germany’s thunderbolt shook the world, and Heine sensed this was coming a century before the sound could be heard. How could Heine have done this? What did he know that others didn’t? He knew the German soul, its energy, rage and self-certainty that made Germany what it was. He read what Germans wrote and he believed them, while others patronizingly brushed them aside. He also knew that humans do not believe what they see when it seems incredible. And Heine knew that the most common thing is the most incredible thing. When I look back on my life, I understand that the enemy of truth is the certainty that what is now will also be later, and all that contradicts it is a fool’s prattle.

Rudyard Kipling also foretold the fate of his own country, and the reason for its fate.

"Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!"

Britain was built on its navy. It was an island that lived or died by the sea. He saw that the navy would disappear, and while the island might survive, its glory would disappear. It once ruled the world and now it hopes that Scotland will retain union. Kipling warned of a nation drunk with power whose wild tongues congratulate themselves instead of seeing themselves in the hands of God and not of kings. Kipling loved England with a passion, but he had been out in the colonies and had seen the self-glorification that was gnawing at the foundations of the empire. Those colonies are no longer British, and Britain’s navy is a shadow of itself. Kipling forecast it because as a poet he could see the British soul far more clearly than others could. He could sing the song of the recessional as a warning and a certainty.

Both saw greatness in the souls of their countries, and both dreaded what it portended. Greatness brings pride, pride brings catastrophe, and the proud don’t listen. Sometimes the warning is given in general. Sometimes a reader is invited to believe the words written speak specifically to them. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the American author, wrote:

“It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for the food of his affections and spiritual life upon another; each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his object.”

He is the quintessential American thinker, and in recent months I have come to depend more on his guidance on love and hate and our public life. We cannot live without love, and we cannot live without hate. Each is tied to the other. It is comforting that he makes no forecast. He is not Heine or Kipling. He is an American, comfortable with the linkage of the extreme, and I think he sees it as the engine of the country.

My work is based on what must be done and what can’t be done. But the hardest part of my work is to understand the soul, and how it forces things to be done. In the past few months, I have been drawn to the problem of the soul more than before, to understand why Kipling felt pride and Heine felt philosophy could guide you. Hawthorne makes it clear that the soul, at least the soul of Americans, is at war with itself, which paradoxically stabilizes them. German and English smugness destroys them.

It is possible to forecast and absurd to think otherwise. Each of us chooses a path that we think will bring us somewhere. We know what we will do, but the world and our own virtue determine how it comes out. Millions of people are together more predictable than one. If we could listen to a Heine, a Kipling or a Hawthorne it would be easier. But we don’t listen and we don’t believe that it can be understood. And we find poetry alien.

There is, however, one forecast that is certain, courtesy of Homer:

"Any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we're doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again."

That doesn’t seem to be connected to submarines or the South China Sea or the war in Yemen or inflation, but it is. Once that is understood, the rest seems to follow.


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Stratfor: US Foreign Policy & Geography
« Reply #1061 on: March 21, 2021, 04:23:03 PM »
China, the U.S., and the Geography of the 21st Century

undefined and Senior VP of Strategic Analysis
Rodger Baker
Senior VP of Strategic Analysis, Stratfor
9 MIN READAug 21, 2020 | 10:00 GMT





Pedestrians stand on top of a world map at a monument commemorating the Age of Exploration in Lisbon, Portugal.
Pedestrians stand on top of a world map at a monument commemorating the Age of Exploration in Lisbon, Portugal.

(Frédéric Soltan/Corbis via Getty Images)

“Each century has had its own geographical perspective.”
Sir Halford J. Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction (1919)

The geographical perspective of the 21st century is just now being formed. And at its heart is a rivalry between China and the United States to succeed Europe’s 500-year centrality in the international system, which will be framed by a shift in global economic activity and trade, new energy resource competition, a weakening Europe and Russia, and a technological battle to control information. The new map of the next century will extend to the ocean floor for resources and subsea cables, to space where low-Earth orbit satellites drive communications, and into the ill-defined domain of cyberspace.

Who Sits at the Pivot to the New Geography?

As the 21st century dawned, Europe’s centrality to the world system was already beginning to fade, despite the economic heft of the European Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union left a weakened Russia and several newly independent or restored states, significantly reducing the chances for major conflict in Europe and curtailing fear of a Eurasian heartland power. China stood on the verge of a massive economic boom, having recovered from the global strictures following the Tiananmen Square incident. Trans-Pacific trade had already overtaken trans-Atlantic trade several decades earlier, and the U.S. “victory” in the Cold War left the United States an apparently unchallengeable global hegemon.

The Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, the global financial crisis in 2007-2008 and the current COVID-19 pandemic have all blunted that sense of American invincibility. But it can still be argued that the United States has emerged as the pivot of the world system for this new century — the crossroad between Europe and Asia, between the Atlantic and Pacific. The United States, while managing social and political instability at home, remains the largest single economic or military power on the planet. And despite laments to the contrary, there is still a robust innovative culture and even a manufacturing base.

Across the Pacific, China is proffering itself as the heart of 21st-century geography. Its Belt and Road Initiative connects a massive pool of resources, human capital and consumer markets in Europe, Africa and Asia by land and sea. Its trade and transit arms reach across the Arctic, Pacific and Indian oceans, and spiderweb across Asia and Europe. China’s centralized government and economic model, emerging military might and massive population position it as the peer competitor to the United States. Increased economic and military power brings with it political sway, and China is actively seeking to reshape global norms and regulations to better fit its geopolitical perspective and interests.

Competition, But Not a Cold War

China and the United States are in a contest for the central role in an international system, in a world where, despite resurgent economic nationalism, true decoupling will be difficult, if not impossible. The Cold War splitting of the world into blocs was facilitated by a unique moment in history — the emergence of an existential rivalry at a time when the international system itself lay in rubble following decades of war across Europe and Asia. In excluding the Soviet Union and its allies from the new economic system, the United States was not necessarily decoupling with Russia, but was merely omitting it from a new financial architecture.

There is no such crisis to facilitate an easy breaking of economic bonds with China. While the United States has grown accustomed to using sanctions as an economic tool of political coercion, it has mostly been against much smaller and often marginalized nations — and success of this sanctions-heavy strategy has been mixed at best. China and the United States have complex and tightly integrated economies, from $650 billion in annual trade to reciprocal portfolio holdings and investments, sourcing of materials, and parts and labor in supply chains. It is not simply a few threads to cut, it is a complex tapestry that resists rending.

Unlike the calamity of World War II, the international system is only fraying at the edges now, not completely unraveling, despite the economic and pandemic crises of the last two decades. The United States and its partners may cut some strands with China, focused mainly on high-end technology over national security concerns, but it would take decades of concerted effort and economic pain to tease apart the bulk of trade ties. Supply chains will be reformulated, technological competition will begin to fragment cyberspace, and competition for critical raw materials will increase, but there is little room for the complete decoupling of major economies, despite current U.S.-Chinese frictions or fears of a no-deal British exit from the European Union.

Shifting Geographic Perceptions

In noting that each century has its own geographic perspective, British geographer Sir Halford J. Mackinder made an important observation in his book, Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction, published in 1919: While geography may not change much over time, the way people perceive and interact with it does. Technology, economic structures, and evolving social and ideological concepts all play a major role in our interaction with the physical world. The shift from wind to coal to oil had a major impact on not only the perception of distance, but the relative importance of certain geographical locations and routes. As we work to define the 21st-century geography, it is useful to look at the past, recognizing that it is the human interaction that provides perspective and defines the significance of geography at any given time.

Writing at the close of World War I, Mackinder defined the geography of the newly dawned 20th century as one centered on the “Heartland” of Eurasia, and on a contest of power between that continental heartland and the insular maritime powers around its periphery. Mackinder argued that technological innovation, particularly rail, would allow a heartland power to tie together the resources and population of what he termed the World Island (Europe, Asia and Africa). With its internal lines of communication protected from seapower, the heartland would then rally its resources to outproduce and outcompete the maritime powers. The ambitions of Germany and the Axis powers in World War II, and the Soviet Union in the Cold War, both seemed to confirm Mackinder’s assessment and thus defined the geopolitical contours of the 20th century.

The next century’s geographical perspective is just now being formed. And at its heart is a rivalry between China and the U.S. to succeed Europe’s 500-year centrality in the world system.





The defining geographic characteristic of the 19th century was the impact of the industrial revolution on socio-economic patterns and international trade, with a surge in urbanization, the specialization of production and expanding supply lines for raw materials and markets. But the groundwork for the global cataclysms of the 21st century was also being set in motion. Continental-maritime rivalries between the United Kingdom and Russia played out in the Great Game, and global exploration filled in much of the remaining empty space on maps, leaving little buffer space between nations. As the century drew to a close, early signs of a future challenge to Europe’s centrality were appearing. The United States shifted radically from a continentalist to an internationalist position, highlighted in the 1898 Spanish-American War, and Japan overturned the old continental order, supplanting a waning China as the central power in Asia. 

We could walk back further, seeing the massive surge in trans-Atlantic trade in the 18th century as defining a new center to an emerging world system, with vast Atlantic replacing the closed Mediterranean as the central connector. What preceded was the 17th century, defined by the Peace of Westphalia treaties and the emergence of the modern state, with sovereignty over people, economics and territory. And before that was the 16th century, which saw the emergence of the interconnected world writ large — made manifest not so much in European conquest, as perhaps in the massive Japanese invasion force trying to push through Korea at the end of the century, armed with European arquebuses in an attempt to overturn a Chinese world order.

Influences on 21st-Century Geography

The United States and China will sit at the forefront of the 21st-century geography, with the United States remaining a traditional maritime power, as China works to bridge a continental and maritime role. Europe and Russia will both retain power and influence, though to a lesser degree, and while they may lean toward the larger poles, they will not fall into locked alliances. Russia may align with China, but Chinese initiatives in the Arctic, Central Asia and into the Indian Ocean and Middle East are all encroaching on areas of traditional Russian interests. While Europe and the United States may align on many issues, Europe is also increasingly integrated into transcontinental land-based trade routes and at odds with the United States on regulatory fronts, from taxation to cyberspace to environmental regulations.

The formative technologies of the 21st century will also include another shift in energy, leaving some areas less important, and others emerging as the center of resource competition, including on the seafloor and potentially in space. Localized power production, whether through wind and solar or through nuclear microreactors, will open opportunities in disconnected areas, from the Arctic to the highlands of Indochina. Agricultural sciences will further change the relationship between populations and land, adapting to changing climatic patterns and urbanization trends. Biomedical technologies will mitigate some of the demographic challenges of aging populations, overturning traditional economic models that preference the continued enlargement of labor pools. Space will become the new battleground for competing routes of information flow, and competition will extend into the physical infrastructure and the ethereal concepts of cyberspace. Hypersonics will further decimate the impact of distance, and the expansion of autonomous weapon systems will again alter the geography of war.

This emerging geographical perspective of the 21st century is still slightly out of focus. But what is certain is that it will revolve around China and the United States, locked in competition for that pivotal position in the world system.

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Stratfor: Challenging the Inevitability of the Liberal World Order
« Reply #1062 on: March 21, 2021, 05:34:07 PM »
third post of the day

Challenging the Inevitability of the Liberal World Order

undefined and Senior VP of Strategic Analysis
Rodger Baker
Senior VP of Strategic Analysis, Stratfor
10 MIN READJul 26, 2018 | 08:00 GMT





This picture shows a session of the U.N. General Assembly from June 13.
This picture shows a session of the U.N. General Assembly from June 13. Institutions like the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and others represent the liberal world order -- a global system that is not as inevitable as first believed.

(DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

HIGHLIGHTS
In contrast to the ideas of some of its proponents, the liberal world order is not the destiny of all societies around the world.
Those seeking to implement such an order have failed because they often don't recognize realities on the ground, occasionally leading to chaos.
Acknowledging that the liberal world order is not inevitably for all of humanity is critical in improving our understanding of the world.
The liberal world order is neither inherently universal, nor is it the inevitable path of societies across the globe. Like the ideals of democracy it embodies, the liberal world order — for us, a Western-oriented financial and trade system that emerged following World War II and which prescribes democracy as the sole path for all societies — is a political construct that has evolved and developed in a certain place and at a certain time. Such historicization is not to argue against the liberal world order's merits nor deny its problems and challenges. As Winston Churchill intoned in 1947, "No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

But even democracy itself evolved out of a particular strand of Western philosophy, and its application has been far from equal across place and time. But just because a Western-oriented liberal model has driven the trends of globalization, political development and economic growth for nearly the past century — and particularly since the end of the Cold War — doesn't mean it will continue in perpetuity. Even a brief look at history emphasizes the frequency and scale of changes that have rocked the world system, so there should be little expectation of linearity moving forward.

The Big Picture
At the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama famously declared "the end of history" as he predicted the eventual triumph of a liberal world order. But in the quarter-century since — and especially in recent years — the prospects for the ultimate victory of such an order appear dim amid the challenges posed by local circumstances. Ultimately, recognizing geopolitical realities and the fact that the liberal world order is not inevitable for everyone is essential to understanding the world.

Divergent Views on Globalization
In October 2017, I wrote about competing views of globalization from Asia and Europe in the context of travels through several countries in the year since the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. In brief, the piece laid bare the very distinct views between Asia and Europe regarding Trump, globalization and the trend of future history. Europe perceived Trump as an ahistorical figure who was crashing against the inevitable progress of the liberal world order and globalization, as well as the universal integration of economic, political and regulatory norms. In Asia, there was a sense of uncertainty, but not nearly as much surprise at the notion that nations and nationalism retained their currency and that conflict and confrontation remained the norm.

Since that time, I have been back through Europe and Asia, including a visit to the middle ground in Kiev. Regardless of the intended topic of discussions, the question of the liberal world order and its challenges always took center stage. Without doubt, Trump's words and actions did much to shape these discussions, but thinking back, the questions were, in general, universal. The questions centered on the structure of international relations, trade flows and regulations, and the ability to predict the interests and behavior of others in order to make effective decisions. In all, they were questions about the direction of the future.

The divergent viewpoints, however, did not stem so much from the differences between East and West as they did from the differences between — for lack of a better term — classes. The globe's larger metropolitan areas, especially the great capitals, as well as coastal and trading cities, share similar beliefs and concerns — to the extent that there is often a greater convergence in views among the denizens of London, New York and even Shanghai than between such urbanites and their compatriots in the suburbs or hinterlands. For evidence, look no further than the voting patterns in the cases of Brexit and the election of Trump, in which the metropoles defended a concept of an international liberal order, while the "rest" reasserted local and national self-interest.

The globe's larger metropolitan areas share similar beliefs and concerns – to the extent that there is often a greater convergence in views among the denizens of London, New York and even Shanghai than between such urbanites and their compatriots in the suburbs or hinterlands.





When Ideals Bump Up Against Reality
If I were to list some of the greatest challenges to the liberal world order, I would not necessarily start with individual leaders or their autocratic tendencies. Without question, individuals matter, as they can shape perceptions and policies alike. But more often than not, they are a reflection of pre-existing underlying trends that they proceed to exploit and magnify. I, instead, would begin with an exploration of the deeply ingrained concept that the liberal world order is universal and inevitable.

At its most extreme, the liberal world order, whether represented by EU leaders in Brussels, the World Trade Organization or even the United Nations, denotes the subservience of national and regional self-interest to a rules-based global order that assumes a universality of application and applicability. Commendably, it attempts to relegate conflict and competition to the dustbin of history, but it does so by ignoring certain underlying truths: That place matters, that opportunity is not equally bestowed by nature across the globe and that — for good or bad — societies, morals and norms evolved differently in different places as organized people interacted with their local geographies.

The near religious zeal for a universalist and inevitable principle of world organization is not a new phenomenon, particularly in Western societies. We have seen it before, from the spread of Christianity to the "white man's burden" of "benign" imperialism, from the enlightenment to the drive for science to eliminate religion and from the idea of civilization always advancing toward perfection to assertions of democracy as the desire of all mankind.

When the ideal is assumed to be the only path, the actions of its proponents often have the reverse effect, as the putative standard bearers of civilization fail to recognize the realities that lie beneath. The challenges to European solidarity have not fostered understanding among EU leaders regarding the different and complex conditions on the Continent but rather convinced them to double down on integration; such action has served to delegitimize — even if unintentionally — the concerns of many in Europe who see their personal experiences in a very different light.

This is the second issue, because the very "success" of globalization, technological development and internationalization of trade has come at a high cost. The belief in abundant opportunity became a core element of the Western myth that spread abroad as the liberal world order took hold, but the so-called "hollowing out" of the middle class reflects the social limits of the current model. At the heart of the issue is the perception of a breakdown in the relatively new idea (in historical terms, at least) that individuals can always improve upon their parents' economic and social standing.

The very "success" of globalization, technological development and internationalization of trade has come at a high cost.





Sir Halford Mackinder, one of the founders of the discipline of geopolitics, pointed to this very risk when Europe contemplated how to rebuild society and the global order amid the wreckage of World War I. In his 1919 book Democratic Ideals and Reality, Mackinder cautioned that "as long as you allow a great metropolis to drain most of the best young brains from the local communities," it will lead to class divisions as village- and town-dwellers lose the opportunity for advancement and young people migrate to large cities.

These new metropoles, however, do not result in a flourishing of diverse ideas but a convergence, as the new elites attend the same schools, enter the same professions and begin espousing the same politics, Mackinder notes. The author goes on to warn that if the divisions between the metropoles and their host countries continue, "it is quite inevitable that the corresponding classes in neighboring nations will get themselves together, and that what has been described as the horizontal cleavage of international society will ensue." In extremely simplified terms, it points to today's split between extreme globalism and rising nationalism.

A final challenge to the liberal world order comes from the rise of the rest, particularly China. In 1900, the American geopolitician Alfred Thayer Mahan witnessed the imperial competition over China but predicted that a unified and economically advanced China might eventually emerge. If it did so, he argued, it would be best to ensure it had Western values. "If the advantage to us is great of a China open to commerce, the danger to us and to her is infinitely greater of a China enriched and strengthened by the material advantages we have to offer, but uncontrolled in the use of them by any clear understanding, much less any full acceptance, of the mental and moral forces which have generated and in large measure govern our political and social action."

While the language reflects a different time — one of empire and the assertion that the West is politically and socially superior to the East — the concept is little different than the assertion today that China needs to play by the West's rules of global trade and commerce. Global integration and trade has opened the way for China, India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and even Africa and Latin America to achieve rapid advancements in economic activity, technological development and social mobility. And because of this success, these countries are now asking why the globe's internal system is underwritten by a narrow set of Western values and why they must adhere to such alien concepts if they wish to participate and compete in the world order.

A Not-So Universal Model
Western philosophy, it turns out, is not universal. The idea of linear growth and a constant advancement toward some ideal may be common in the West, but Asian philosophers, for example, have often perceived a world that moves in cycles rather than toward any conclusion. When economic power, political influence and military and cultural "soft power" begin rippling back across the globe instead of traveling in a single direction, a rethink of the system's core concepts is in order.

Today, most would look askance at anyone who asserted that there is a clear racial order to the world in which Europe and America must guide and teach the rest. There would be equal opposition to ideas that Western empires must re-establish themselves to rule the global order, control distant populations and better utilize the world's economic resources and manpower. If we asserted that there is still a white man's burden, or that there is a single religion that must be imposed on the world — whether Christianity, Islam or Hinduism — we would be swiftly rebuked. Even so, there is surprise when peoples who did not participate in the Western world order during its formative years, or help draft its guiding principles, documents or regulations, challenge the system.

Though the ideals of the liberal world order may be noble, it is important to recognize that the world isn't united and that different core worldviews have emerged over time as different peoples engaged with their geographies. Religions might assert universal truths, but there is no universally correct way of doing things in the political order. There is no irresistible march of history toward progress or liberal democracy, just as the future history espoused by Marxists proved to be an analysis, not an inevitability. Acknowledging this is key to understanding the world and, accordingly, how efforts to achieve goals such as the liberal world order may occasionally lead to division, separation and chaos.

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George Friedman: Russia, China, America, and the First Shots
« Reply #1063 on: March 23, 2021, 08:02:02 PM »
March 23, 2021
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Russia, China and the United States: First Shots
By: George Friedman

Any time there is a new U.S. president, major powers set out to test him and lay the groundwork for future bargaining in potential conflicts. Occasionally, the United States opens the bidding. Such was the case when Washington, through its new secretary of state, Antony Blinken, accused Beijing of human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and of various cybercrimes. Beijing responded by calling Washington an enormous human rights violator, adding that it does not speak for the world and should not claim to. This is the tone for a showdown, not for a pleasant introduction.

All this took place ahead of a meeting that was doomed to fail. Before the meeting could take place, Blinken and Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, spent time in South Korea and Japan, both of which oppose China and, despite being longtime allies, have specific gripes with the U.S. (Seoul over the cost of hosting U.S. troops and Tokyo over enhancing its military to face China.) Both meetings went well. Elsewhere, talks were held with the Quad, a security dialogue comprising the U.S., Japan, Australia and India, all of which are naval powers hostile to China. In other words, the U.S. held a series of meetings with its anti-China allies just before it met with China.

As the talks were in the process of collapsing, President Joe Biden was asked in an interview whether Russian President Vladimir Putin was a killer. He said he was. It’s not something you normally say about the head of a major power, even if it’s true. Biden had plenty of time to recant his statement had he wanted to, but he didn’t. The Russians were upset and recalled their ambassador. Putin essentially said, “it takes one to know one.”

I see this as Biden beating China and Russia to the punch. He and his team wanted to let them know – and, indirectly, let the American public know – that he’s not going to be a weak president. Russia’s and China’s responses, of course, were meant for the United States – as well as for U.S. allies who might doubt its strength.

In diplomacy, talk is cheap, and opening acts such as these matter little. Some have said it sets the tone for the next four years, but it doesn’t. It sets the stage for the first month, after which everyone, having the opportunity to sniff and growl at each other, settle into reality. And reality militates against drastic action. The U.S. is China’s biggest customer, which Beijing cannot afford to lose. It is much easier to acquire needed goods in other markets than to sell in other markets. As for Russia, it could pick a fight in, say, Ukraine or Moldova, but doing so would create its worst-case scenario: NATO, Germany and other countries amassing forces in Eastern Europe. So let’s rule that out too.

Russia’s and China’s options are obviously more complicated than what I lay out here, but they are also hemmed in by these realities. The meetings held by the U.S. prior to the meeting with China were meant to remind the Chinese of as much, that it should not overestimate its strength or underestimate its strategic isolation. Calling Putin a killer was meant to warn Putin against covert operations, and to let him know that Washington knows how weak Russia is and doesn’t care what Russia thinks.

The risk is that Biden is wrong and that Russia and China are not as weak as he thinks. In my view, they are in no position to challenge the United States or attempt military action. But it is one thing to write and another to bear the burden of action. The question is what sort of action the Russians and Chinese might take. The logical solution is to form an alliance. The question is what it would look like and whether it would matter.

An economic alliance would be ineffective. Russia and China trade with each other without friction. Neither would have a sufficient market to support the other’s needs. There is a symmetry in that Russia needs Chinese consumer technology and China needs Russian raw materials, but each is already getting what it needs and providing what it can manage. An economic alliance would perhaps formalize existing relations and perhaps increase trade but would not make either invulnerable to third-party pressures.

A military alliance is similarly problematic. Neither Russia nor China can support the other’s strategic needs. The primary threat to China is naval. Russia’s naval capacity is limited, and its major Asian port, Vladivostok, requires passage through maritime routes that are controlled by Japan and the United States. Russia would be contained by the same coalition threatening China. The threats to Russia are primarily terrestrial. China’s ability to send forces to areas of Russian concern is limited, and Russia has no pressing need for additional ground troops. There are areas in which one could help the other, such as military hardware or cyberwarfare, but that isn’t a real alliance.

Could a Russo-Chinese alliance launch a naval assault in the east and a ground attack in the west simultaneously? Perhaps. But doing so, while politically shocking, would not weaken either front because it would be engaging naval forces not needed in the west and ground forces not needed in the east. It may also fail. If it succeeded, it would trigger existential (nuclear) choices or create unshakeable anti-Russia and anti-China alliances.

The more logical and less risky move is for China to reach a political and economic agreement with the United States, and for Russia to do the same, at least with Europe. But to do this, each must be convinced that the U.S. is not interested in a settlement. Showing a lack of interest is the foundation of any bargaining position. The best read is that the U.S. knows that bargaining is coming and is therefore posing as hostile to it. The Chinese have called the Americans’ bet. The Russians shortly will. At any rate now is the time for insults and threats, before we get down to business that may fail regardless of all this.

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Re: US Foreign Policy & Geopolitics
« Reply #1066 on: March 27, 2021, 06:37:30 AM »
Agreed.

I forget all five strands of American foreign policy, (Jacksonian, Wilsonian, Isolationism?  Real Politik? and) but one of them, the Wilsonian has been about America as a moral force. 

On the insignia of our Special Forces, it says "De Opreso Libre".  I may not have the spelling exactly right, but a key point here is that the American soldier needs to believe in what he is fighting for-- freedom from oppression.  This is secret sauce a Green Beret can call upon when he goes into the field to help a people, a movement. 

This is why we won over the Soviet Empire.

This is why speaking out about the oppression of Hong Kong and the Uighurs is part of a continuum of American foreign policy.

If I understand this piece correctly, the Progs, including our current Commander in Chief, now would now have us fight on behalf of exporting woke-ism.  This is a sea change!  Twenty years in Afpakia must go on , , , until  , , , exactly what?  That they are woke enough to take up the Prog approach to male and female?

A considerable part of the fighting tip of our military is legacy, with a large percentage of that being of Southern tradition.  What happens if/when that lineage walks away?  Will be be protected by pregnant women fighter pilots righteously enabled by the maternity flight suits that our Commander in Chief has called for? Trained at Fort Kamala (formerly known as Fort Bragg)?


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Re: US Foreign Policy & Geopolitics
« Reply #1067 on: March 27, 2021, 09:30:51 AM »
Agreed.

I forget all five strands of American foreign policy, (Jacksonian, Wilsonian, Isolationism?  Real Politik? and) but one of them, the Wilsonian has been about America as a moral force. 

On the insignia of our Special Forces, it says "De Opreso Libre".  I may not have the spelling exactly right, but a key point here is that the American soldier needs to believe in what he is fighting for-- freedom from oppression.  This is secret sauce a Green Beret can call upon when he goes into the field to help a people, a movement. 

This is why we won over the Soviet Empire.

This is why speaking out about the oppression of Hong Kong and the Uighurs is part of a continuum of American foreign policy.

If I understand this piece correctly, the Progs, including our current Commander in Chief, now would now have us fight on behalf of exporting woke-ism.  This is a sea change!  Twenty years in Afpakia must go on , , , until  , , , exactly what?  That they are woke enough to take up the Prog approach to male and female?

A considerable part of the fighting tip of our military is legacy, with a large percentage of that being of Southern tradition.  What happens if/when that lineage walks away?  Will be be protected by pregnant women fighter pilots righteously enabled by the maternity flight suits that our Commander in Chief has called for? Trained at Fort Kamala (formerly known as Fort Bragg)?

The vast majority of military recruits into combat arms come from the southern states and the intermountain west. Texas has produced the most SEALs out of any state.

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Zero Hedge: Serious Read: Biden's last throw of the geopolitical dice
« Reply #1068 on: March 28, 2021, 04:58:27 AM »
Some big sweeping statements in here and some jumps in logic, but overall I found this to be a deeply provocative piece:

https://www.zerohedge.com/geopolitical/bidens-last-throw-geopolitical-dice?utm_campaign=&utm_content=Zerohedge%3A+The+Durden+Dispatch&utm_medium=email&utm_source=zh_newsletter

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Re: Zero Hedge: Serious Read: Biden's last throw of the geopolitical dice
« Reply #1069 on: March 28, 2021, 08:43:04 AM »
Some big sweeping statements in here and some jumps in logic, but overall I found this to be a deeply provocative piece:

https://www.zerohedge.com/geopolitical/bidens-last-throw-geopolitical-dice?utm_campaign=&utm_content=Zerohedge%3A+The+Durden+Dispatch&utm_medium=email&utm_source=zh_newsletter

Yes, thought provoking.  Except in opposition to the US, I don't see the Chinese and Russians as allied.  The analysis counts Africa and concludes it's more than half the world's people.  But I think the Chinese push in Africa is for access to resources, not to numbers of people.

Post-Putin Russia may be vulnerable to China's domination, but I don't see the ego of Putin succumbing to that role.  Nor vice versa.  Xi sees Russia for it's natural resources, not as anything close to an equal partner.

On the other side, the rise of China has helped build the anti-China coalition.  India is seeing that light, and Japan, Australia, certainly Taiwan.  Southeast Asian states along with South Korea are needing to choose:  https://www.dw.com/en/south-korea-struggles-to-choose-between-us-and-china/a-55172936

The fall of Europe and the loss of Europe hurts us.  Worst is the loss of having the US on our side.

If and when the US implodes, China will be the world's dominant economic and military power.  But the cause of this is not the success of China, the relative savings rates or the choice of currencies in transactions around the world.  The cause is from within.  The US could still compete with any of these countries or alliances if that's what we chose to do.

From the article:  "The US has, or says it has, enough gold to put a failing dollar back on a gold standard, but for it to be credible it must radically cut spending, its geopolitical ambitions, and return its budget into balance."

Fine, but this isn't that complicated and gold isn't the problem or the solution.  We are moving away from responsible governance and moving away from all forms of pro-growth polices right while our largest global competitor is moving quickly forward economically, militarily, globally.  That competitor happens to be a murderous, genocidal, freedom thwarting dictatorship.  That doesn't seem to alarm anyone. 

Don't worry about learning Chinese as we lose out to them because freedom of speech isn't part of the package.
« Last Edit: March 28, 2021, 08:45:05 AM by DougMacG »


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George Friedman on Choke Points
« Reply #1071 on: March 30, 2021, 06:23:09 AM »
   
On the Suez Canal and Chokepoints
By: George Friedman

I’ve often written about chokepoints – those narrow passageways, on land or at sea, that are essential for the movement of goods and people – in the context of waging war. They can be blocked by military means or by natural forces or, as we’ve recently seen, by human error in times of peace.

There are two types of chokepoints. There is the type that nature creates, and the type that humans construct, normally to create a route to a desired objective, a route that had not been there before. In general, those that are created by humans are less robust than those created by nature. Human-designed chokepoints are normally narrower and easier to block than natural ones because engineering is forced, by the vastness of the task, to create a passage of minimal width due to the tremendous amount of labor and cost necessary to build it. Nature is more generous.

Oil Transit Routes Through Maritime Choke Points
(click to enlarge)

The important element of a chokepoint is time. The permanent closure of a chokepoint can have extreme consequences, depending on the importance of what passed through it, and who was dependent on the things that were passed. A short closure may have limited consequences by comparison. The ease of closure and the amount of time to reopening is critical. On the whole, maritime chokepoints tend to be more significant than their terrestrial counterparts, especially because of modern economics and warfare, global maritime trade, the dependence of nations on that trade and the increased power of naval forces. In short, chokepoints are central to geopolitical thinking.

For military planners and high-level strategists, chokepoints are always close to mind. But in the commercial world, critical as business is to national interest, there has been an implicit assumption that the various chokepoints are merely geographic features that will be permanently in place. What they know perhaps in a vague sense was driven home painfully with the blockage of the Suez Canal.

The Suez Canal is an artificial passage between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. It was developed by a private corporation in which British and French interests held the majority of shares. In being the highway between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, it shortened the distance between the United Kingdom and its vast interests in the Indian Ocean basin, and between France and its holdings in Indo-China. The Suez Canal was the foundation of the European empire in Asia and its closure would have been a disaster. Securing the Suez, and its sister chokepoint at Gibraltar, was a geopolitical imperative for the empires, and shaped their strategic and commercial strategy. In World War II, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel intended to take the canal, hoping to destroy the flow of goods from India and of troops from Australia and New Zealand. In 1956, when Britain and France (aided by Israel) invaded to prevent Egypt from nationalizing the canal, the United States, hostile to British and French imperial interests, compelled them to withdraw.

The argument they made against ceding the Suez Canal to Egypt was that Egypt lacked the expertise to maintain it. The United States, having owned the more complex Panama Canal for some time, was confident it could oversee its management. The Egyptian shift to the Soviet camp undermined these efforts, and the condition of the canal became somewhat more tenuous. In 1967, the canal closed after the Six-Day War and was reopened around 1980, after the Camp David Accords. There is much more to the tale, but suffice it to say that the canal, an artificial and therefore narrow waterway, has been a geopolitical pivot since it was opened, and that the fate of empires has turned on it.

Its importance has been made clear by the Ever Given, the ship that was until Monday stuck in the canal. It created a worldwide traffic jam for cargo traveling between the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. The Suez is open for business again, but in some ways the damage is already done. Syria, for example, has announced that it is running out of oil. Other countries the world over will likely soon claim likewise for any number of other goods. Economic uncertainty, it seems, is here to stay.

Of course, no one came to blows over the Suez. But in looking at other important chokepoints, that may not always be the case. The Strait of Malacca, for example, through which passage between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific takes place, is absolutely critical for China, as are the chokepoints created by nations and smaller islands east of China. China’s fundamental fear is that the U.S. might close both Malacca and the island chokepoints, which would utterly cripple the Chinese economy.

The world is filled with these kinds of bottlenecks, with some nations more beholden to them than others. Suez has demonstrated the fragility of manmade chokepoints, but mines, submarines, cruise missiles and the like can effectively close off any chokepoint at any time, even the vast system of multiple chokepoints. Any future war will be based on this reality, as past wars were. The Suez should remind us of our vulnerability not to accident alone, but also to the nature of wars that for humans are always on the horizon.

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We Must Arm
« Reply #1072 on: March 30, 2021, 08:42:23 PM »

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Blinken Suggests China Right on U.S. Human Rights Record
« Reply #1073 on: March 31, 2021, 05:02:30 AM »
https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2021/03/30/following-alaska-fiasco-blinken-suggests-china-right-on-u-s-human-rights-record/

we are so racist that immigrants including Asians , Chinese and Indians have come to this country opened business became lawyers doctors scientists, professors, politicians,  own half the motels (think Patel - Hotel as one Indian friend told me ). in the South
 
while blacks claim they are suppressed

compare that to the Mandarin Chinese .   How many immigrants , non Mandarin , are. CCP in China

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Re: US Foreign Policy & Geopolitics
« Reply #1075 on: April 04, 2021, 11:05:02 AM »
"Turning our back on allies. W.T.F."

well yeah.

Saudis killed a Wash Post left wing journalist

That is an act of war.

if he were right wing they would be sending more military aid to SA

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Re: US Foreign Policy & Geopolitics, K.S.A.
« Reply #1076 on: April 04, 2021, 08:02:29 PM »
"Saudis killed a Wash Post left wing journalist"

He wasn't an American or a 'journalist' but he didn't deserve that brutal death - without a fair trial.  That event reveals something horrible about Saudi top leadership.  But if moral derangement is the line for the American Left in power, why do they side with the Mullahs in Iran, the world's number one state sponsor, enemy of Israel, killer of Americans, recently, by the thousands?  How do they not know Iran is the main threat in the region?  They send planeloads of cash, pave the path to nuclear arms, as Netanyahu said, then say morals guide our foreign policy.  Are they kidding?

Ally means on the same team which Saudi has been for some time now.  Maybe we should not have any cooperation with them.  Then what?  Concede the region to Iran?  That makes us safer?  How?!

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Kissinger
« Reply #1077 on: April 10, 2021, 06:57:50 PM »
a) You guys have heard me discuss my Prof Quandt's teachings of Kissinger's uni-polar and multi-polar world analytical framework.  The parts of the following piece based on that stimulate thought:

b) Kissinger is the architect of the Nixon policy that enabled China to be what it is today;

c) Kissinger has become a wealthy man advising China since Nixon left office;

d) What do we get from China and Russia in return for our new place that enables us to stop the current trend?  The UN?



https://www.zerohedge.com/geopolitical/kissinger-warns-washington-accept-new-global-system-or-face-pre-wwi-geopolitical?utm_campaign=&utm_content=Zerohedge%3A+The+Durden+Dispatch&utm_medium=email&utm_source=zh_newsletter

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Biden following Obama foreign policies
« Reply #1080 on: May 25, 2021, 08:25:01 AM »

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Re: US Foreign Policy & Geopolitics
« Reply #1081 on: May 25, 2021, 02:45:17 PM »
Wew ,

I was getting worried
this puts my mind to ease:

more diplomacy:

https://www.yahoo.com/news/white-house-biden-meet-putin-140458968.html

MSM to yak this up
Fareeeeeed will give us the Harvard or is it Yale low down
  about how Biden was so forceful with Vlad

new dawn in US Russian relations

they promise to never mess with our elections again
   

why all the
sarcasm ?

well, after getting BS fed to me for 24/7 how else can I think.

maybe they can make a deal and merge US and Russia  propaganda machines to save money
   for more spending programs and for reparations to anyone without white skin and does  and was not born with a penis.


Crafty_Dog

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Implications of the USS Reagan leaving the Indo Pacific
« Reply #1082 on: May 31, 2021, 11:09:34 AM »

The aircraft carrier the USS Ronald Reagan will deploy from its home port in Japan to the Middle East this summer to support the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week. The move came at the request of U.S. Central Command and was approved by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The Reagan’s deployment undermines the claim—made by the past three American presidents—that the Indo-Pacific is America’s priority. It also suggests that the Biden administration is conducting a phantom withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan—removing boots on the ground to fulfill a campaign promise to end “forever wars,” but replacing ground operations with other forces conducting similar missions at great difficulty and expense.

A carrier has been present in the Middle East for years, which is wearing out the Navy’s carrier force. The USS Abraham Lincoln spent more than 220 days operating in the region on a 295-day deployment that ended in January 2020, the longest of any carrier since the end of the Cold War.

The USS Eisenhower, currently operating in the Middle East, is on a “double pump” back-to-back deployment. The carrier spent more than 200 consecutive days at sea on its previous deployment. It can no longer put off repairs, and due to years of high carrier demand, the only carrier available to backfill it is the Reagan. That means the U.S. won’t have an aircraft carrier in the Indo-Pacific for months.

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The Pentagon frequently touts the Indo-Pacific as its priority theater; Mr. Austin has said, “China is our pacing threat.” Indeed, the 2018 National Defense Strategy said that if necessary, the U.S. should accept risk in the Middle East and other theaters to focus assets and resources in the Pacific.


This move does the opposite and sends a terrible message to Pacific allies and partners: America doesn’t have the will or focus to live up to its commitments. This is more firepower for China’s diplomats, who repeat this refrain in capitals throughout the region.

And even as U.S. forces rush to leave Afghanistan, the Biden administration still intends to support the Afghan military with training and surveillance aircraft. The administration also plans to continue counterterrorism operations from “over the horizon” locations outside Afghanistan.

Neighboring countries aren’t likely to agree to station U.S. forces. Military commanders will have to rely on strike aircraft operating from distant bases in the region, requiring more refueling aircraft. And the requests for carrier presence will keep coming. The U.S. is at risk of replacing a small force inside Afghanistan with a larger force outside.

The Reagan’s deployment isn’t only a question of carrier presence in the coming months, but in the coming years. It’s up to Mr. Austin to end the circular logic that an aircraft carrier is always needed in the Middle East—to support troops on the ground, to protect them when they withdraw and to replace them once they have left. It’s the same faulty logic some use to argue that a carrier is needed to deter Iran and its proxies from attacking U.S. forces, and needed again to prevent escalation once the attack occurs, despite little evidence that carrier presence influences Iran’s behavior.

All of this is particularly salient as Mr. Austin prepares to present the Pentagon’s budget request to Congress. He is asking lawmakers to make hard choices to prepare the military for the China challenge—divesting of certain older platforms to free up dollars to invest in new equipment, for instance. This strategy is risky because it assumes America can get by with a smaller force today. But it will be doubly so if the Pentagon overburdens that smaller force with unrestrained deployments to the Middle East.

An American strategy that treats the Pacific as the highest priority will require a serious shift in mentality. Mr. Austin can start that process by canceling the Reagan’s deployment to the Middle East and showing he’s willing to follow his own advice and make hard choices. His tenure began amid questions of whether a former commander in the Middle East was suited to manage a strategic shift to the Pacific. It isn’t too late to prove the doubters wrong.

Mr. Walker is a former professional staff member on the Senate Armed Services Committee and adviser to Sen. John McCain.

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The Roots of Arab Republican Despotism
« Reply #1083 on: June 03, 2021, 08:13:27 AM »
June 3, 2021
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Open as PDF

    
The Roots of Arab Republican Despotism
In Arab republics, elections are often anything but democratic.
By: Hilal Khashan

Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad won a seven-year presidential term for the fourth time since 2000. According to official figures, Assad won 95 percent of the vote, with close to 80 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. His predecessor and late father, Hafez Assad, who ruled Syria for 29 years, won his first election in 1971 with 99.2 percent of the vote and a 95 percent turnout. Bashar’s victory is startling for a country devastated by a protracted civil war that has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced more than 60 percent of its prewar population. (His apparent near-total support among Syrians was put in doubt, however, by his admission in 2014 that millions of Syrians supported the militant groups al-Nusra and Islamic State.)

But Syria is just one example of an Arab republic in which the leadership clings to power using patriarchal governance and bogus elections. It’s a condition that’s all too common in Arab states where the people have been conditioned to have ultimate faith in their leaders.

Syria Territorial Control, June 2021

(click to enlarge)

Origins of the Problem

Unwavering loyalty to individual leaders in the Arab world goes back to the days of the Prophet Muhammad. His death in 632 caused a power struggle among his followers. Supporters of his cousin, Imam Ali, wanted his successor to come not only from his own tribe, the Quraysh, but also from his own household. Others disagreed and a succession crisis ensued, resulting in the separation of Muslims into two groups: Sunnis and Shiites.

Distribution of Shiite and Sunni Muslims
(click to enlarge)

Unconditional allegiance to a ruler has deep historical roots in tribal Arab political culture. It rests on the notion that embracing a ruler’s total power and authority provides the best defense against hostile outsiders and malevolent rivals. It involves total submission to the will of the ruler, thus denying people the ability to engage in critical and independent thinking. Islam stresses the need for a ruler to administer justice and guard the faith as he sees fit. Even though it recognizes the ruler’s duty to discuss public matters with a select group of pious and wise men, Islam does not obligate the ruler to defer to their counsel.

In medieval Arabia, Islam did not conceive of competitive elections as a means of installing rulers. But even if it had, they would not have been deemed acceptable because Islam views public expressions of will as a form of apostasy. Islam even condemns rebellion against an unjust ruler, provided he does not disavow the faith. Rebellion is seen as a form of sedition because it undermines unity among believers. In fact, many Muslim theologians and traditionalists justify obeying leaders who rise to power using brutal tactics by arguing that they can help a society avoid strife.

Cult Leaders

In the 1950s and 1960s, Arab presidents publicly presented themselves as progressives committed to modernity and establishing a civil state. In reality, they acted as cult leaders, laying the foundations of neopatriarchy and treating elections as endorsements of their power. Examples abound. Syrian military officer Husni al-Zaim staged Syria’s first coup d’etat in 1949 and promoted himself to field marshal. He hoped to become a king and placed himself in the same category as Napoleon, Hitler and Mussolini. Iraqi strongman Abd al-Karim Qasim, who took office after overthrowing the monarchy in 1958, dubbed himself the “sole leader” until a band of army officers executed him in a military coup in 1963. Hafez Assad, who ruled Syria ruthlessly from 1971 until he died in 2000, was referred to by his followers as “our leader forever.” Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser is still considered by many Arabs as the “eternal leader” more than 50 years after his death.

Tunisia’s first president after its 1956 independence, Habib Bourguiba, was referred to as the “great warrior.” His interior minister, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, overthrew him in 1987 but was forced to resign the presidency following an uprising and fled to Saudi Arabia in 2011. Anwar Sadat, who succeeded Nasser after his death in 1970, sought to counter the leftist and Nasserite centers of political power by reviving the Islamic movement and was known as the “faithful president.” After the 1973 October War, he adopted a second title: “the hero of war and peace.” Libya’s mercurial President Moammar Gadhafi viewed himself as a king of kings, essentially the leader of a sort of United States of Africa. In 2016, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi drove down a 4-kilometer-long red carpet to inaugurate a social housing project. In religiously divided and politically fragmented Lebanon, President Michel Aoun, who amid an escalating financial crisis has refused to form a Cabinet unless he dominates it, adopted the title of the “people’s father.”

Many Arab presidents have reached top office by staging coups or manipulating preexisting military regimes. But in their quest for legitimacy, they have organized elections (sometimes called referendums) and flagrantly rigged them in their favor. Nasser participated in the 1952 coup that overthrew King Farouk, and in 1954, he ousted President Muhammad Naguib and declared himself prime minister. In 1956, he announced his candidacy for president and won 99.9 percent of the vote. To give his election a pretense of legitimacy, he claimed that 94 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot. In 1965, a referendum was held on his presidency and 99.999 percent of people voted in his favor, while only 64 Egyptians voted against him. The referendum’s unbelievable outcome came after the regime introduced a land reform initiative and nationalized the economy, instantly impoverishing the entire professional class. Egypt’s current leadership has also displayed an obsession with absolute power. In the 2018 presidential election, el-Sissi won 97 percent of the vote.

In 1979, Iraqi Vice President Saddam Hussein forced Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr to resign, supposedly due to illness, and succeeded him as president. In 1995, after 16 years in office, he sought another seven-year term and won 99.6 percent of the vote. In 2002, he ran for another term and won 100 percent of the vote with 100 percent voter turnout.

In Syria, like in other Arab countries, elections mean very little because the political establishment has no qualms about rigging them. In 1973, violent demonstrations broke out in the Syrian city of Hama against a draft constitution, which the regime said was ratified in a referendum with 97 percent of voters in favor and a 90 percent turnout.

Clinging to Power

Arab republican regimes suffer from a legitimacy crisis. Republican leaders, often from the military, overthrew monarchies promising to accelerate development and defeat Israel. They failed on both fronts and continued to rule their countries through tyranny, plunging their citizens into poverty. Bashar Assad has blamed the Syrian war on a “cosmic conspiracy” orchestrated by the West and Gulf countries. He believes it’s his duty to hold on to power to save Syria from its foreign enemies. El-Sissi frequently speaks about conspiracies that aim to undermine Egypt’s stability. He emphasizes that the challenges facing society are immense and asks his people to make sacrifices for the greater good.

Efforts by Arab leadership to involve the public in their single party systems were not successful. Thus, Nasser’s Arab Socialist Union, Sadat’s National Democratic Party, Algeria’s National Liberation Front, Tunisia’s Democratic Constitutional Party, and the Syrian and Iraqi Baath parties became hotbeds of corruption and nepotism. Arab leaders fear having to face any kind of competition in elections. In 2005, for example, Ayman Nour, the leader of the opposition El-Ghad Party in Egypt, was arrested and imprisoned for four years because President Hosni Mubarak believed he would threaten the presidential aspirations of Mubarak's son, Gamal. In 2018, el-Sissi had the former Egyptian army chief of staff, Sami Annan, arrested after he announced his candidacy for president. In 1979, Saddam Hussein executed many ranking members of the Baath Party, suspecting that they might challenge his presidency in the future.

In Syria, the constitution states that presidential candidates must be at least 40 years old to qualify. However, when Hafez Assad died, the parliament amended the constitution to decrease the minimum to 34 years, the age of his son Bashar. The Lebanese constitution limits presidents to one six-year term, but parliament has amended it three times to allow incumbents to serve an additional term.

The foundation of a republican political system is that sovereignty rests with the people. In Arab republican countries, the ruling elites promulgate constitutions to promote their interests or merely for appearances. They stay in power by relying on their extended families, clans or narrow base of supporters, who share a pervasive fear of change, and by spreading rumors that chaos and strife would prevail should they lose their grip on power.

A referral is the best complime