Japan’s tense neighborhood

The Weekly Standard

Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan
Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force base on Okinawa shares a runway with the civilian planes on this island about 1,000 miles southwest of Tokyo. When the American-made Japanese F-15s scramble, as they often do these days, the civilian traffic awaiting takeoff pulls over to a side taxiway. It must be a pretty decent air show for those with a window seat.

The F-15s scramble in pairs, perhaps a minute apart. Two flights of two roared off as I watched from a balcony at the base HQ, then another pair 20 minutes or so later. Most likely, they were off to intercept traffic inbound for airspace over Japan’s Senkaku Islands, to which China has laid a territorial claim that both Japan and its powerful ally, the United States, categorically reject. Planes from the Chinese mainland have repeatedly been probing to test the Japanese response. Scrambling to meet the provocations has been more or less a daily affair since last year. More Japanese F-15s are redeploying to Naha Air Base to meet the mounting demand. Continue reading

Finding a place for atrocity prevention amid new security challenges

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

This post was co-authored with Lee Feinstein, founding dean of Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies.

When we recently set out for meetings in London, Berlin and Brussels on improving transatlantic links on atrocity prevention, foremost in our minds was concern about the dramatic return over the past 18 months of first-tier international security challenges. The rise of ISIS against the backdrop of civil war and humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, the new adventurism of the Russia of Vladimir Putin, and the daunting challenge of the Iranian nuclear program combine to take up a lot of space in the in-boxes of senior policymakers in North America and Europe.

Atrocity prevention, by contrast, is a long-term project and one that is generally not foremost on the minds of senior officials, except in times of dire crisis. In fact, the threat ISIS posed to the Yazidi community in Iraq last year did rise to the crisis point, and senior leaders in the United States, Europe and the region agreed that emergency military action to prevent a massacre was necessary. But even here, the lens through which many policymakers focused on the problem was not so much atrocity prevention as the need to develop a strategy to counter the advance of ISIS. Continue reading

Snowden and the opposite of blowback

The Briefing

The Washington Post carried a truly revelatory story by Greg Miller in its December 29 editions, although the story perhaps failed to generate as much attention as it should have. Some of the neglect may have been a product of its publication between Christmas and New Year’s, but a larger share is surely attributable to the inconvenience of its content. The headline was “Backlash in Berlin over NSA spying recedes as threat from Islamic State rises,” but, as they say, that ain’t the half of it.

The critical detail is that the German government has been passing names, email addresses, and cell phone numbers to US intelligence in order to track and investigate German citizens who have gone to the Middle East and may have joined al Qaeda or the Islamic State — with a key question being whether they intend to return to Germany and perpetrate attacks there.

Miller’s account cited senior German and US officials anonymously, which is unsurprising given the sensitive nature of the activity. Nevertheless, it seems a fairly authoritative indication that far from having deteriorated as a result of the furor in Germany over the Snowden revelations about US snooping, intelligence cooperation between the two countries is closer than ever. Continue reading

Obama’s health-care legacy will survive even if the Supreme Court guts Obamacare

New Republic

he first time the Supreme Court took a case on Obamacare, most supporters of the law responded with derision. Who could take seriously the argument that the “individual mandate” was unconstitutional? In fact, the conservative Supreme Court majority could—though Chief Justice John Roberts ultimately spared the law by reconstruing the penalty for failing to comply with the mandate as a tax within the power of the Congress to impose.

This time, however—now that the Court has decided to hear a challenge to the subsidies available for insurance purchased on the federal exchanges—the reaction among supporters has been different. “Panic” might go a little too far—until you reckon in the equally urgent calls among supporters for everyone not to panic. Continue reading

Big Sticks

Columbia Magazine

Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama
By Stephen Sestanovich

When Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency in 1963 after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, his top priority was the large-scale program of domestic-policy reform that he would call the Great Society. As his term progressed, however, he found his attention and that of his advisers increasingly commanded by the war in Vietnam. In Stephen Sestanovich’s telling in Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama, while Johnson was deeply skeptical about the utility of increased US involvement, his advisers largely were not: they unanimously favored escalation, differing only on the degree. Thus, the leader of the free world ended up feeling trapped in a policy he didn’t really believe in, one that would ultimately consume his presidency.

The intimate relationship between presidents and their closest foreign-policy advisers is Sestanovich’s subject in Maximalist. This is not a conventional history, nor a diplomatic history, but an extended interpretive essay. The questions Sestanovich asks are straightforward and revealing: What did these presidents want to achieve in office with regard to national security and foreign policy? To what extent did events and external circumstances constrain them? How did their closest advisers influence them? And finally, were they successful, in achieving their objectives and in doing well by the country they led? Continue reading

Maybe the center can hold

Weekly Standard

There seems little doubt that 2014 will go down as a truly horrible year for American foreign policy. From the Russian seizure of Crimea and further irregular incursions into eastern Ukraine, to the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, to a worsening security problem in Afghanistan ahead of an anticipated U.S. drawdown, to the rise of fringe political parties in Europe, to Iran’s onward march to a nuclear capability, to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa—combined with an American public portrayed by pollsters as weary of the burdens of U.S. global leadership as well as a solidly bipartisan majority in Congress for sharply declining spending on national security—well, it’s been quite a pile-on for the “world’s sole superpower.”

Tragically but also comically, in the way of the world, the only good news of 2014 has been the absence of still more bad news. Fareed Zakaria, one of the Obama administration’s more tenacious sympathizers, took to hisWashington Post column on August 7 to herald “Global Success Stories” in Indonesia and Mexico. He of course promoted it on Twitter to his half-million followers. That happened to be the very day the president was announcing a military strike on ISIS targets to prevent the slaughter of thousands of Iraqi Christians and Yazidis holed up on Mount Sinjar. The juxtaposition led Rosie Gray of BuzzFeed to weigh in with a classic put-down: Linking to Zakaria’s exercise in self-promotion—“Wherever you look the world seems on fire. But some of the most populous nations are making amazing progress”—she tweeted, “not now, Fareed.” Continue reading

The 2014 midterms don’t mean anything

New Republic

The political media’s handicapping of the November 4 midterm election has contributed to the impression, fostered by many partisans and commentators, that the stakes have never been higher. Jonathan Capehart, the liberal Washington Post columnist, says he wants to “warn” Democrats that “President Obama will be impeached if the Democrats lose control of the U.S. Senate.” Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma believes a GOP Senate will finally blow the lid off “the greatest coverup in American history”—that is, Benghazi.

In fact, the stakes rarely have been as low as they are this year—even if Republicans do win back the Senate.

The 1994 midterm election produced dramatic political change: a Republican House majority for the first time in 40 years and a GOP Senate majority for the first time since 1986. GOP losses in the 1998 midterm, despite retaining the House majority, cost Newt Gingrich the speakership and delivered a rebuke to the party’s effort to oust President Bill Clinton for his sexual adventurism. Continue reading

Russia as a regional power

The Weekly Standard

It’s hard to look on the bright side of the dismemberment of a sovereign state by force of arms. But because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing threat Vladimir Putin intends to pose to eastern Ukraine, the Obama administration must now face international reality free of one of its more cherished illusions: that Russia is a partner in the pursuit of commonly desired outcomes.

Obama scoffed mightily in his reelection debate with Mitt Romney when the GOP candidate described Russia as America’s biggest strategic challenge. Called out on the remark in light of Russia’s move on Crimea, Obama was once again dismissive of the Romney perspective. He referred to Russia as merely “a regional power,” implicitly rebuking his defeated opponent even in light of current circumstances for overstating the danger Russia poses. The president’s point dovetailed into broader Democratic criticism of hawkish Republicans for the supposed desire of the latter to revive a Cold War mentality in dealing with Russia. Continue reading

Book review: ‘The Road to Global Prosperity’ by Michael Mandelbaum

Wall Street Journal

Some books are as noteworthy for what they represent as for what they say. Such is the case with Michael Mandelbaum’s “The Road to Global Prosperity,” a concise, insightful and readable stock- taking of the state of globalization roughly five years after the financial crisis began. As one reads through Mr. Mandelbaum’s 180-odd pages of text and especially his 400-plus footnotes identifying the sources on which he has drawn, one gets the distinct impression that the book doesn’t just present Mr. Mandelbaum’s ideas but encapsulates a particularly influential view of the world.

The magazine Mr. Mandelbaum cites most frequently is the Economist. The newspaper whose reporting he relies on most heavily is The Wall Street Journal. The columnist on whose insight he draws most frequently is Martin Wolf of the Financial Times. The institutions most conspicuous among the reports he cites are the Council on Foreign Relations and the Peterson Institute for International Economics. When he cites Paul Krugman, it’s not the New York Times’s GOP-basher calling for trillions more in economic stimulus but the more thoughtful winner of the Nobel Prize discussing the difficulties of currency union in Europe.

What we have in “The Road to Global Prosperity,” then, is very much an establishment view of the international economy. The core belief of the members of this globalization establishment is that the purpose of the modern state is the promotion of economic growth. Mr. Mandelbaum writes: “Between 1971 and 2011 economic issues—above all, the health of the global economy—replaced matters of war and peace as the major focus of national leaders because economic matters came to have greater effects on the countries they led.” Continue reading

Crimea and punishment

The Weekly Standard

It’s time for a reset for U.S. policy toward Russia. The original Obama reset has now run its course, and President Vladimir Putin has thoroughly dashed all hope of Russia emerging as a partner of the United States and a constructive contributor to a liberal international order. The armed takeover and annexation of Crimea and the threat of further military incursion into eastern Ukraine have established beyond doubt that the United States needs to approach Russia first and foremost as a security challenge.

The Obama reset was, in my view, worth a try, whether one was optimistic about the prospects for Russia as a responsible member of the international community, as were most Obama administration officials, or pessimistic, as were most internationally minded Republicans. The reset really was as clear a test of Russian intentions as one could imagine. If, indeed, it was the case that relations between the United States and Russia had turned sour as a result of unnecessarily antagonistic Bush administration policy or rhetoric, the reset provided an opportunity to put hard feelings aside and get down to constructive business. Continue reading