Chas Freeman on Nixon, China, and ‘The Week That Changed the World’

From The Quincy Institute/Responsible Statecraft:

The tension and curiosity was palpable here in America when President Richard Nixon touched down in China with an entourage of government officials and press on February 21, 1972.

The reason was clear: the country had been fighting a war against communism in Indochina for the last seven years and this would be the first time in more than two decades that the United States would be engaging the Chinese Communist Party publicly, and in China. Most Americans — including the press — hadn’t a clue of what China was actually like beyond the politically-driven, exaggerated Hollywood caricatures of the Chinese people. As veteran journalist Dan Rather later put it, it was a bit “like leaving earth and going deep into the cosmos to some distant planet.”

On that plane was Chas Freeman. At the time he was a foreign service officer working for the U.S. State Department’s China Desk. Fluent in several languages, he was tapped to be the principal American interpreter for Nixon. Leaving from Washington on Feb. 17 and traveling to Hawaii, Guam, then Shanghai, Air Force One landed in Beijing (then still pronounced Peking), and was greeted by China’s premier Zhou Enlai. Famously, First Lady Pat Nixon wore a bright red coat, some saying it was chosen because of the color’s Chinese symbolism for luck, others reporting it was planned to contrast with the expected sea of gray and black suits on the tarmac.

From Nixon immediately grasping Zhou’s hand (the premier had been slighted when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles refused to shake his hand years earlier), to the timed state dinners and speeches for American nightly news, everything was staged for peak visual consumption. It was a spectacle, but one that had serious strategic significance — this detente had been calculated to serve as a wedge between Communist China and Communist Russia on the chessboard of Cold War politics. Nixon had also hoped to gain leverage with China over the North Vietnamese in Washington’s ongoing war in Indochina.

Nixon proclaimed it the “week that changed the world,” and in many ways it did, explains Freeman, who sat down with us recently to talk about his experience as an interpreter during this audacious moment. The “Shanghai Communique,” the tangible outcome of the visit, was a joint statement affirming the detente and movement toward normalization, and set the tone of understanding for the next several decades on the Taiwan issue. Here, the United States underscored support for the “One China policy” and strategic ambiguity. They both agreed that neither party would pursue hegemony in the region and would oppose any third party’s effort to do so — very clearly meaning Russia.

“It was an almost unprecedented instance of American initiative and statecraft,” Freeman said of the trip, referring to the planning, execution, and accomplishments. Too bad it didn’t last. He talks about this — and that warm furry hat — in his interview below:

Anatol Lieven: Freeze NATO Expansion Now or Risk War (VIDEO)

From Responsible Statecraft.

The Russians want NATO to close its doors to Ukraine and all further expansion into Eastern Europe — this is the red line Moscow as declared. Quincy Institute senior fellow Anatol Lieven talks here about why the U.S. and NATO must decide whether denying Russia is worth the bloody conflict that it might cause. He also talks about the imperative of revisiting the Minsk II agreement, resolving the Donbas dispute, and Ukraine neutrality as a longterm solution.

He also explains why he believes negotiations should take place between the U.S. and Russia only, how Europe is divided, and the consequences of U.S. military intervention (directly or indirectly) in anticipation of, or after a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Bi-Partisan Coalition Urges Biden To Resist Calls for Military Action Against Russia

Reprinted from Responsible Statecraft (Quincy Institute) with permission.

A coalition of both conservative and progressive foreign policy organizations have delivered a letter to the White House, asking the president to pursue a broad diplomatic path with the Russians in the much-anticipated U.S.-Russia talks on Monday and in NATO meetings later next week.

The letter, which was signed by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, asks the White House to pursue the Minsk agreements which would “demilitarize the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine and guarantee meaningful political autonomy to the region while retaining Ukrainian sovereignty over the area and its borders.” QI fellow Anatol Lieven has detailed the agreement and the promise it would hold for peace in the region here.

De-escalation is key, wrote the signing organizations, which also emphasized the need to stop NATO expansion and resist calls to send U.S. troops to defend Ukraine.

Continue reading “Bi-Partisan Coalition Urges Biden To Resist Calls for Military Action Against Russia”

Loosened Rules on Drone Strikes Recall Vietnam ‘Body Counts’ (video)

From Responsible Statecraft:

Investigative journalist, author, and Iraq veteran Jack Murphy sat down with the Quincy Institute’s Adam Weinstein to talk about U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan, and how loosened rules of engagement led to an accelerated number of strikes, unacknowledged civilian deaths, and moral injury among soldiers and veterans.

Murphy, who served as a Sniper and Team Leader in 3rd Ranger Battalion and as a Senior Weapons Sergeant on a Military Free Fall team in 5th Special Forces Group, recalled to Weinstein, an Afghanistan War veteran, how by 2018 the rules of engagement were loosened to the point where anyone on the ground who fit the “criteria” were vulnerable to a strike. Watch here:

The Taliban had been dismantling cell phone towers for years, so insurgents and civilians used walkie-talkies to communicate, he noted. “The ROE (rules of engagement) could be met by seeing someone speaking on a radio, carrying a radio, just touching a radio at some point.” There was no human intelligence or friendly forces on the ground, everything was communicated by surveillance drones monitoring potential targets via cameras. Once these “eagle scans” identified targets, they would call in the armed drones for the strike itself.

At this point in 2018 “you’re going back to Vietnam-era body counts…the metric for success is the number of strikes you’re doing, the number of people you are killing every day. And if commanders on the ground know that, they’re going to do things to make themselves look as good as possible. That means, at least in this case, striking people whether they are armed combatants or not.”

“It’s a very Orwellian, dystopian kind of way to think about it,” he continues. “You have this sort of unblinking eye, this surveillance eye hovering over population in Afghanistan, waiting for them to ‘fuck up.’ I think that a lot of the animosity that the people had for us.”

He and Weinstein talk about the trauma among drone operators. Following targets on the ground, close enough to see whether they are wearing eyeglasses, for hours and days on time, then striking them, watching their bodies get picked up, and the family grieving — it takes a toll. “There’s a significant moral injury that these people incur, especially when they are part of lethal strikes that they feel are immoral or unethical,” Murphy contends.

A lot of these feelings, he said, have been resurrected with the withdrawal and the war in Afghanistan now in the rearview mirror. Many veterans are now asking “what did it all mean? What was it for?”

RIP: Mark Perry, an Extraordinary Journalist in Extraordinary Times

Our colleague and friend Mark Perry passed away today after a battle with lung cancer, his son Cal Perry announced on Twitter earlier this morning. It is devastating news to so many because Perry had been a staple in Washington foreign policy/military journalism and activism circles for decades and had fostered quite a collection of friends, compatriots, sources, and colleagues over the years. If you put them all in a room right now it would likely be a motley assemblage, ranging from active duty and retired Pentagon officers, to Arab-American friends from his time in Beirut, to peace activists, watchdogs, mavericks, and journalists – all shaking their heads in shock and regretting they hadn’t had just one more conversation with him.

We were lucky at the Quincy Institute to have him on our side, if even just for a short while, working as a military analyst for the last year. He penned some of our best stories at Responsible Statecraft. He was “part time” but he put in full-time work because this was his milieu – researching, cultivating sources, and getting under the surface (and skin) of the Pentagon world, whether it be budgets and strategy, or meta stories like U.S. wars in the Middle East or the advancing Cold War with China. He was absolutely a stickler for facts and loved history, and learning from it. He took nothing at face value and was a true skeptic and iconoclast – no one got respect until they earned it.

His career trajectory was nothing but colorful – he was the director of Conflicts Forum, which brought him to Beirut, where he lived for some time. He worked with Vietnam Veterans of America and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. He was an unofficial advisor to PLO Chairman and Palestinian PresidentYasser Arafat from 1989 to 2004. He was a prolific writer, publishing several books, including “Four Stars: The Inside Story of the Forty-Year Battle Between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and America’s Civilian Leaders,” “Partners In Command: George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace,” “The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur,” “Grant and Twain: The Story of an American Friendship,” and the latest, “The Pentagon’s Wars: The Military’s Undeclared War Against America’s Presidents,” which he published in 2017.

It was about that time that I met Mark and soon had him writing for The American Conservative, where he was a regular contributor on military/war issues for the next two years. He not only elevated our national security coverage but he helped me behind the scenes, editing and fact checking. I trusted his judgment, and basked in his encouragement. Long after we both came to QI/RS, I continued to consult with him on stories and authors – we called him my “BS meter.”

Mark’s truth-telling spirit, journalistic integrity, and views on non-interventionism brought him right into the orbit of the left-right coalition on realism and restraint, and his experience and wisdom were a good fit in a Washington arena where memories can be long or short depending on political convenience. He reminded folks of mistakes in hopes that they may not happen again. He tore open wounds so that we would remember the blood. He tried to heal with the facts in hopes that they would win over hyperbole and demagoguery.

His work, unfortunately, is not finished. He leaves a hole, in our hearts and in our project. Again, we have only benefitted from the short time he was here. Please take the time to read his work, here and here. Our condolences go out to his wife and children and grandchildren, who he spoke about often (otherwise he was quite private, and humble), and to all of the comrades he collected, along the way.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is Editorial Director of Responsible Statecraft and Senior Advisor at the Quincy Institute. She was formerly an editor at Antiwar.com and The American Conservative. Reprinted from Responsible Statecraft with permission.

Panel: What’s a State-Sponsored Assassination Between Friends? Reckoning With the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi (video)

On the eve of the second anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, QI and Showtime Documentary Films hosted a discussion about the implications of the assassination for U.S.-Saudi relations past, present, and future.

The discussion also offered a sneak peak at Showtime’s Kingdom of Silence, the upcoming documentary that provides an in-depth look into the Washington Post journalist’s life, work, and murder against the backdrop of complex U.S.-Saudi relations.

Journalist Lawrence Wright and Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman, both featured in the film, joined with Quincy Institute’s Annelle Sheline, in a conversation moderated by Responsible Statecraft’s Kelley Vlahos about the important questions the film raises – the future of the U.S.-Saudi relationship in the era of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s consolidation of power.