William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, has the best public relations operation around: in spite of the fact that his puny little magazine has significantly less readers than Antiwar.com, and regularly loses millions, he is the liberals' favorite conservative, and thus gets touted by ABC News (where he once served as the "conservative" counterpoint to George Stephanapoulos) and the New York Times. This is a natural reward for an ostensible conservative who endorsed John McCain for President, whose magazine cheered when the Clintonistas prosecuted Microsoft, and is now thundering about "the profound national humiliation that President Bush has brought upon the United States." How did Bush do this? Before the most recent issue of Kristol's mag even came out, ABC News breathlessly reported that Washington was all atwitter about the Standard's broadside, "A National Humiliation," that "left Bush officials frothing." Powell was so perturbed that he was moved to dismiss the article, written by Kristol and foreign policy super-hawk Robert Kagan, as "absurd." ABC confides that, "privately, Bush administration officials were even more firm. One senior Bush official told ABCNEWS, 'The editorial is just bulls t. The conservative critics are going to be proven wrong when the crew comes out of this safely and we hope very soon, with the flights not restricted, with our China policy still intact and with the U.S. still firmly on the side of security in the region." Well, maybe and, then again, maybe not. But Kristol's arguments, as usual, are very useful, for he exemplifies more than any other figure the right's obsession with China what can only be called an obsessive hatred. Only one other well-known conservative even rivals him in this area but we'll get to that later.
Kristol and Kagan rip into Bush from the word go:
"The profound national humiliation that President Bush has brought upon the United States may be forgotten temporarily when the American aircrew, held captive in China as this magazine goes to press, return home. But when we finish celebrating, it will be time to assess the damage done, and the dangers invited, by the administration's behavior."
Readers of this column know that I am hardly a fan of George W. Bush, but even I have to ask: The administration's behavior? But what about the Chinese? It was, after all, their "behavior" that brought down the spy plane. Many trace Kristol's vitriol to the Bush-McCain split in the GOP and the swift rejection of his application for a job with the new administration but that is less than the half of it. Kristol's real problem with the Bushies, and with Colin Powell in particular, is ideological. Kristol and Kagan, as I noted in several previous columns, have long proclaimed that nothing less than "world hegemony" (albeit of a "benevolent" sort) must be the goal of US foreign policy, and it is little wonder that the diplomatic solution so far pursued by Team Bush is viewed by them as a sellout. As the anointed mouthpieces of the Donald Rumsfeld-Paul Wolfowitz-neoconservative axis within the administration, their withering critique of the President's handling of the crisis is a public declaration of war not only against the President but against Colin Powell, the man Kristol once urged to run for President.
In the world inhabited by Kristol and Kagan, the US spy plane was on a "routine mission" of eavesdropping on telephone conversations, intercepting email, and picking up other electronic communications, when it was rudely interrupted by Chinese fighter jets. There is some dispute, of course, about what happened next, but to the ideologues of Imperium over at the Standard "it doesn't matter." Like Zeus, lord of the heavens, the US has the unquestionable right to listen in to the conversation of ordinary mortals, and, not only to eavesdrop, but to directly intervene with a thunderbolt or two if and when this divine right is ever questioned. The Chinese planes, avers the Standard, were "unusually aggressive" and the cause of the alleged collision was the "extremely dangerous maneuvers of the Chinese pilot." But if Chinese reconnaissance planes were 70 miles off the California coast, should the behavior of American pilots be described as "aggressive" if they engaged in maneuvers designed to drive the intruders away? I hope American fighter planes would be aggressive in warding off such an outrageous and obvious threat do I really want Jiang Zemin reading my email? but any maneuvering engaged in by them could only be fairly described as defensive, i.e. responding to Chinese aggression.
Is a double-standard at work here? Not to Kristol and Kagan, who liken the incident to a run-of-the-mill traffic accident: "There are common sense rules of the road for how the game is played. The Chinese pilot was recklessly violating those rules, like the guy who tailgates two inches off your bumper going 75 miles an hour. In circumstances such as these, it doesn't matter who bumps whom. Blame for the accident falls on the one who deliberately created such a dangerous situation."
Yes, but what if you've been eavesdropping on the guy's cell-phone conversations with his mistress, intercepting his mail, and making obscene phone calls to his rebellious teen-aged daughter, all the while sitting in your car right outside his house? Are you then surprised that he comes out after you, and, after a car chase, corners you on a dead-end street and hauls your ass out of the drivers seat? Blame for this "accident" falls on the one who deliberately created a dangerous provocation dangerous, most of all, to himself.
In their consistently absurd attempt to portray the Chinese as the aggressors in their own sphere of influence a mere 70 miles from their shores Kristol and Kagan portray this incident as the prelude to an attack on Taiwan. In the morally and logically inverted world of the Weekly Standard, those who defend their own shores are the aggressors, while the poor put-upon crew of the spy plane was just conducting "routine" business-as-usual. It is, of course, "routine" for the US to consistently violate the sovereignty and dignity of other nations: Bill Clinton's rape of Yugoslavia (and, I hear, a few others) comes immediately to mind. Oh, those crafty Chinese, who "want the United States to get out of the South China Sea. Why?" According to the Standard, it's because they're getting ready to invade the separatist province of Taiwan. There is, however, a much simpler explanation, and that is rising resentment of a foreign policy that considers the Pacific Ocean an American lake. How anyone could be so ungrateful as to resent American hegemony, especially when it is so damn "benevolent," Kristol and Kagan do not want to understand.
In a day-by-day analysis of the Bush administration's response, the Standard says that, at first when Bush was "visibly angry" the Bushies seemed to be "holding firm." It was only when the whole matter was turned over to Colin Powell that the sellout began. How? By expressing any sort of "regret" over the death of Wang-Wei, the Chinese pilot who went down in the collision, Powell was supposedly engaging in what was understood by "the whole world" as "a partial capitulation to the Chinese demands for an apology." Oh horror of horrors, he even "used the word 'regret' twice," and worse, "removed the issue of blame" by calling the collision a "tragic accident." There is no tragedy allowed for in the worldview of these proud self-described "hegemonists" only victory and defeat, masters and slaves, superpowers and the completely disempowered. The former like the US are allowed to enforce a 200-mile defense perimeter, within which all foreign military aircraft can and will be intercepted, while the latter China, and other second, third, and fourth-class powers are allowed a meager 12 miles for a thin ribbon of breathing space. These are the real "rules of the road."
The amazing argument at the core of the Standard's jeremiad is the idea that this is all some kind of ritualized "humiliation" visited on us on account of the peculiar sadism of the Oriental mind:
"The broader purpose of the Chinese demand was to inflict upon the United States a public international humiliation. This, of course, is the flipside of China's face-conscious culture. In such a culture, to lose face is not only embarrassing. It is dangerous. It is a sign of weakness that invites repeated exploitation by those who have witnessed it."
In describing their caricature of Chinese culture and isn't the desire to save "face," otherwise known as preserving one's dignity, a universal human trait? Kristol and Kagan are projecting their own attitudes onto an entire culture. This sadomasochistic concept of foreign affairs, which divides the world between the Hegemon and the hegemonized, resembles nothing so much as Kristol and Kagan's own widely touted thesis.
But it wasn't just Powell who was selling out, according to the Standard. Dubya showed troubling "signs of cracking" when, in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, he declared that "our prayers go out to the pilot, [and] his family." He also repeated the "r"-word, regretting that "one of their airplanes has been lost." If anyone is "cracked," it's Kristol and his copilot, who seem to believe that simple expressions of human sympathy are an affront to the cold majesty of American predominance. To any ordinary human being, such an expression is reassuring in a leader: it affirms their humanity. But to the acolytes of the S&M school of foreign policy it's a worrisome sign of a possibly fatal "weakness." Yes, the air is pretty rarefied up there on the neoconservative Olympus, and quite possibly a little too thin. Taking on themselves the role of Chinese mandarins or, at least, their own rendition Kristol and Kagan interpret the rules of "face" as they supposedly apply to international affairs:
"This defeat and humiliation, as another president once said, must not stand. Whether or not the American hostages are released, President Bush and members of Congress must begin immediately taking steps to repair the damage already done. It is essential that the Chinese be made to pay a price for their actions. Angry words and congressional resolutions of disapproval are now worse than useless. Unless backed by deeds, they will only confirm Beijing's perception of American weakness."
Nothing in the Standard's editorial, as far as I can see, rules out any form of retaliation, including an outright invasion: by the logic employed here, to rule anything out would itself be seen as a sign of "weakness" that will only embolden the Chinese to engage in further "aggression." Oh no, we don't want war, they aver, but if we don't begin the cycle of revenge and retaliation anew if, in short, we don't restart the cold war, this time with China as the main antagonist then war in "inevitable." "Needless to say," Kristol and Kagan write, "we do not seek war with China. That is what advocates of appeasement always say about those who argue for standing up to an international bully. But it is the appeasers who wind up leading us into war."
China, an "international bully"? Was it China that bombed a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan just to get Monica Lewinsky out of the headlines? Gee, I could've sworn that was Bill Clinton. Now, I could be wrong, but I don't think those were Chinese bombs raining down on Belgrade, pulverizing their own embassy. Again, I'm willing to be corrected, but I seem to recollect that Bill Clinton had something to do with all that. Are Chinese soldiers stationed all over the globe, does the Chinese navy patrol the oceans, thousands of miles from home: do they unseat and install the rulers of small countries virtually at will? Does Beijing enforce crippling "sanctions" on "rogue" nations, covertly and overtly seeking "hegemony" on every playground, from Colombia to the Middle East?
The neoconservative view of the US as a hegemonic power is a theme that was widely denigrated on the right, especially by those rebels against convention who called themselves "paleoconservatives." The idea that we had to dominate the world, said their leader, Patrick J. Buchanan, was an example of "hubris": the US must be "a republic, not an empire," as he explained in the title of his famous book. Under the aegis of this post-cold war insight, Pat and the paleos raised the banner of a "new Americanism," one that sought to reclaim the Old Right's legacy of anti-imperialism and restore the Old Republic. Buchanan opposed the Gulf war, the Kosovo war, and hotly contested NATO expansion: for this he was denounced as an "isolationist," and worse, and excoriated by Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard crowd for being an "America-Laster" and born-again "peacenik." But now that it has come down to China as the preferred bogeyman in a new cold war, I am sorry to report that Buchanan has been recruited into the neoconservative ranks.
As one of the guests on today's Crossfire [April 10], Buchanan underwent an on-air conversion or, rather, re-conversion joining with liberal Democratic congressman Robert Wexler, of Florida recount fame, in an effort to paint the Bushies as "soft on China." Asked about Kristol's Weekly Standard piece, Pat answered: "I think Mr. Kristol's exactly right on that." His usually calm demeanor gone, in a paroxysm of emotion he declared: "If they smack you across the face, you smack 'em back twice." But who smacked whom first? Isn't the specter of US military intrusion into the South China Sea a slap in the face, not only to the Chinese but to the Vietnamese and all the nations of the region? While Taiwan's current government may welcome US intervention although there was a demonstration on Taiwan against the US the other day this is hardly a universal sentiment.
I have a theory about Pat Buchanan: there are really two of him. What really came out on Crossfire, and on an earlier episode of The McLaughlin Group, was Buchanan the emoter, as opposed to Buchanan the thinker. For Buchanan the writer of books is very different from Buchanan the commentator and public figure. Sitting at his desk, pounding out A Republic, Not an Empire, his comprehensive history of American foreign policy that became a bestseller and the center of a furious controversy, Buchanan was able to think clearly and lucidly about the consequences of our foreign policy of global intervention. But in the glare of the public spotlight, his reason leaves him, and emotions take over. How else could he evade the trenchant question posed by the heroic Novak (who is a consistent noninterventionist): "Do you really want another cold war, Pat?" Pat looked flustered. He got angry, and started bellowing about "Communist China" and how "all Asia" will see that we have been "humiliated" and are therefore "the declining power." Earth to Pat Buchanan: America is not in Asia. Why, then, should we aspire to be an Asian power, let alone the predominant one?
What is really tragic about Buchanan's betrayal and that's what it is is that he knows better. One has only to consult A Republic, Not an Empire, an excellent book, to see just how wrongheaded Buchanan is on this question. As Rep. Drexler sat there demanding that the US sell Aegis weaponry to Taiwan, and pledge to defend it, Buchanan said nothing. Yet, in his book, he wrote that "we should end our role" as "a frontline fighting state in Asia." While we might sell them weapons, and become "the arsenal of democracy," he said, "Asian soldiers, sailors and airmen must do the fighting." Buchanan also advocated the dissolution of all treaties that require us to go to war in case of an invasion of Thailand, Australia, or the Philippines, since "no vital interest of ours is at risk in these nations." Back in 1990, Buchanan was saying "America, Come Home," and calling on the US to get out of Korea. He ran for President three times! on a frankly noninterventionist platform. I supported him all three times, on that basis. Now, suddenly, he has done a complete about-face and, worse still, apparently sees no inconsistency.
As Bill Kristol and Pat Buchanan bitter political enemies up until this moment join hands in reviving the cold war, and ushering in a new era of conservative militarism and globalism, I can only keep myself from gagging long enough to note, defiantly, that I will never regret personally nominating Buchanan for President in 2000 at the Reform Party's Long Beach convention. Back then, he was an opponent of war and hadn't let his anticapitalist economic views dominate his thought: he opposed the Kosovo war, and valiantly opposed the Gulf war, and for that noninterventionists owe him a great debt. He was willing to take the heat, and the ensuring smear campaign, because he is a principled man. But now he has quite simply gone astray: the foreign policy scholar has given way to what?
Andrew Sullivan has a viciously inaccurate theory about this, and that is that Pat is a racist. In a snippy little item on his website entitled "A White Knight for Russia," Sullivan points to Pat's very interesting piece for the Washington Post (sharing the "spotlight," on Antiwar.com today, along with George Szamuely's article on Russia for the [UK] Observer) and snaps:
"Here comes Patrick Buchanan to the defense of his Orthodox Christian brethren. In one of the weirdest op-eds I've read in a while, Pat argues that in order to fight a war with the Chinese, we're dumb to antagonize Russia. Forget the premise for a minute the rationale is what matters. "By 2025, Iran will have as much people [as Russia]. Russians today are outnumbered by Chinese 9 to 1. east of the Aral Sea, the ratio is closer to 50 to 1," Buchanan argues. His point? Defend the white people!"
Yet race is never referred to in Buchanan's piece: it is Sullivan who comes out with the phrase "yellow peril." But no matter how much he tries, Sullivan cannot put words in Buchanan's mouth. He absurdly turns Buchanan's plea against the (quite possible) "dismemberment" of Russia into a racist screed against "Persians" (who are nowhere mentioned in the article) and "those Arabs," as well as Chinese. But Buchanan has championed the Arab cause, and, on account of it, was smeared and reviled as an "anti-Semite" by Sullivan's neocon pals. Citing demographic trends in Russia a rapid and radical decrease in the population and the rising birthrate of its neighbors doesn't make you a racist. What makes Sullivan's the weirdest op-ed I've read in a while and since my job dictates that I must read at least several dozen a day, that is saying a lot is that, in giving Buchanan the back of his hand, he is simultaneously telling us that he really agrees with Pat's "underlying point." "I see no reason to antagonize Russia," avers Sullivan but apparently he sees plenty of reason to antagonize, and smear, Buchanan.
Buchanan's Washington Post piece, "Why Rile Russia?", shows Buchanan at his best and at his worst. He is at his best when presenting the arguments against the bipartisan interventionist consensus: why extend NATO to the gates of Moscow, when there are forces in the world far more dangerous and destabilizing than the nonexistent threat of Russian revanchism? But the piece begins, and ends, with an ominous hint of possible war with China. In making his point, he proffers Lincoln's advice to his secretary of state: "One war at a time." He asks: "Why are we driving Russia into the arms of China?" But they don't have to be driven very far. The Russians, like the Chinese and like Buchanan himself opposed the Kosovo war as an intolerable and immoral violation of Yugoslavia's national sovereignty. In the Russian, Chinese, and Buchananite view, America was the aggressor in that war. Now, suddenly, Buchanan is switching sides without realizing that all the arguments used to demonize China can and will be used by the War Party to demonize the Russians. The US will wind up, in the end, with two enemies for the price of one: this is the kind of "bargain" we can do without.
George Szamuely's spotlighted article in today's edition of Antiwar.com makes several excellent points. With his usual lucidity, Szamuely takes us through the post-cold war history of Russian foreign policy: he correctly shows how Russia gave up its empire without firing a shot, and now finds itself pressed from every side by the US and its client states in the Caucasus. The US recognition of a terrorist chieftain of the Chechens is just as outrageous as Szamuely claims, and Russia's role as the defender of the Serbs during the Kosovo war was and is admirable. Yet the opening paragraph of his article is a case study in a certain kind of wrongheadedness: "As we enter upon a new Cold War, the time has come for all those who value freedom to change sides. Today the aggressive, imperial power bent on imposing its hegemony on the world is the United States. And the power upholding the sanctity of international law is Russia."
As if opposing our own rulers' delusions of empire ever meant supporting the government of another state! Since Szamuely is not a libertarian, he has no problem with backing one government against another. The irony here is that, in this way, the cold war mentality of governments locked in struggle, rather than all governments waging a constant war on their own people lives on in Szamuely. To him, it is merely a matter of switching sides. Interestingly, after hailing Russia as the great defender of small nations and the idea of national sovereignty, he immediately goes into a description of the power behind the burgeoning Russo-Chinese alliance. But then why in that case isn't China, and not Russia, the main locus of opposition to US domination, and, therefore, the champion of "freedom" in the world? Szamuely may wax nostalgic for Slobodan Milosevic, that old Commie, but hailing the Chinese Communist Party as the great defender of "freedom" would be a little much, even for him. In an odd way, Szamuely, like Kristol and Buchanan, proves that the spirit of the cold war, far from having spluttered out, is flaring up with renewed vigor. If the cold war were truly over, then it wouldn't be either necessary or possible to switch sides. But the only "side" that noninterventionists can take is the side of peace and liberty one that necessarily sets them in opposition to most governments in the world, and makes it impermissible to act as apologists for any of them. Yugoslavia was victimized by Milosevic as well as NATO, albeit not in equal measure. To oppose the perpetual bombing of Iraq is not to support the rule of Saddam Hussein, just as opposing confrontation and war with the Chinese is hardly an endorsement of Jiang Zemin's authoritarian regime.
China, like Russia and Iraq, for that matter is a place where political and economic freedom such as exists in the West has no precedent; it is culturally alien, and if and when it takes root it will have to be at gunpoint, as in Japan. Whether or not we are prepared to go that far to enforce the rule of global "democracy," without regard for cultural or historical differences, and local variants, is a question that has bedeviled the post-cold war West. Whether we are prepared to engage in a land war in Asia, for the third time, and risk a similar (or even more disastrous) outcome, is the question we face when it comes to China. If the red flag of "Communism" is enough to turn the noninterventionist Buchanan into a raging bull, snorting with rage and lunging at the Chinese "enemy," then here is the proof that the Other Buchanan, the Buchanan doppelganger, Buchanan the Emoter, has taken over almost completely. For Marxist-Leninism is hardly the motive force that drives the Chinese; in any case, they are far too "xenophobic" (i.e. inward-looking "isolationists") to have ever taken much of an interest in promoting their own system abroad. Even during the heyday of Maoism, these alleged "proletarian internationalists" never seriously tried to export Mao's Thought, and, unlike the Kremlin, never subsidized or much encouraged Maoist revolutions in foreign countries. China's territorial ambitions are rooted in irredentism, that is, the idea that the old Chinese nation must be reunified including not only Taiwan, but the lands lost to the Russians in Central Asia. Chinese foreign policy theoreticians have yet to announce their goal of establishing "world hegemony." Yet Buchanan now finds himself aligned with those Americans who have.
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