Looking for Responsible Realism on China

Ross Douthat sums up the thesis of Elbridge Colby’s book, Strategy of Denial:

Only China threatens American interests in a profound way, through a consolidation of economic power in Asia that imperils our prosperity and a military defeat that could shatter our alliance system. Therefore American policy should be organized to deny Beijing regional hegemony and deter any military adventurism – first and foremost through a stronger commitment to defending the island of Taiwan.

Douthat describes this as a “realist’s book,” and in some respects that may be true, but it is hard to ignore how dangerously oblivious to certain realities China hawks like Colby are. As I have mentioned before, he and other advocates of a “stronger commitment” to Taiwan tend to ignore the danger of nuclear escalation that comes with such a commitment. They don’t seem to take seriously how much more important Taiwan is to China than it is to us. They consistently misjudge how the Chinese government perceives U.S. actions in the region, and they don’t appreciate how the policies they support are encouraging China to increase its nuclear arsenal.

The strange story about Gen. Milley’s efforts in the fall of 2020 and again in early 2021 to defuse tensions and reassure China that the US was not going to attack them is relevant here. Last year, the Chinese government was apparently fearful of a possible American attack in the months leading up to the 2020 election, and evidently they were concerned that Trump might also try something during the transition. This shows us how easily Washington’s attempts to send “messages” through displays of military strength can be misinterpreted and create a crisis where none would have existed otherwise. Ethan Paul reviews the evidence and concludes:

Regardless, what this series of events does demonstrate in dramatic and frightening fashion is how easily signals between Washington and Beijing were and can be misinterpreted, and how this could bring us to the brink of conflict at any time. Not only should these revelations spark concerns about the deficiencies in current crisis management and military-to-military dialogue mechanisms – the two militaries spoke for the first time during the Biden presidency only weeks ago – but it should also lead to a rigorous debate about the path the United States and China are currently headed down, and a reconsideration of whether this serves any reasonable definition of American interest.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

A Dangerous Fixation on Denuclearization

A new Chicago Council survey finds that the public is overwhelmingly in favor of negotiating a peace agreement with North Korea, but only if North Korea disarms:

For example, 76 percent of Americans support negotiating a formal peace agreement with North Korea to officially end the Korean War if North Korea suspends its nuclear weapons program. If North Korea is allowed to keep its nuclear weapons, support for such a deal drops to 24 percent.

North Korea isn’t going to give up its nuclear weapons, so making a formal peace agreement contingent on that is a good way to guarantee that there will be no peace agreement. Since North Korean nuclear weapons are going to be with us for the foreseeable future, it would make a lot more sense to stabilize the relationship with a formal peace agreement. The U.S. has spent the last 15 years trying to cajole North Korea into giving up its nuclear deterrent, and this fixation on compelling their disarmament has left us with a much better-armed North Korea and no peace treaty. We have had things in the wrong order all along. The US, North Korea, and South Korea need to agree on peace first, and then it may be possible to have a more productive negotiation on arms control.

Most of the public has internalized the official line that there will be no diplomatic progress with North Korea on other issues until they give up their weapons:

Another possible step is for the two countries to establish diplomatic relations. But only a minority support taking this step if North Korea continues to develop its nuclear weapons program. And if North Korea does continue to build its nuclear weapons program, 70 percent favor isolating and pressuring North Korea with economic sanctions.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

Twenty Years After 9/11, ‘The Only Way To Effectively Counter Terror Is To End War’

As the United States on Saturday commemorates the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks with plenty of patriotic zeal but perhaps too little introspection, peace advocates have marked the occasion by reflecting on the costs and bloody consequences of the so-called “Global War on Terror” as they reaffirmed that the best safeguard against further terrorism – as many warned at the time – is ending war and respecting human rights.

A sobering assessment 20 years after the 9/11 attacks lays bare a never-ending war abroad, an erosion of civil liberties and deadly neglect of dire social needs at home, and the further enrichment of corporations and wealthy investors – perhaps the only winners of perpetual conflict that progressive critics have long deemed unwinnable by design.

Just as it was on 9/11, Afghanistan is again ruled by the Taliban. The U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, opened in 2002, still holds dozens of men, many of them imprisoned without charge or trial for over a decade. Much of Iraq, whose 2003 invasion was sold on a pack of lies, has been destroyed not once, but twice, by U.S.-led wars whose toxic detritus is still killing and poisoning people years later. More than 900,000 – and possibly many more – civilians have been killed in at least seven nations in the name of countering “terrorism” – a tactic, not an enemy.

Continue reading “Twenty Years After 9/11, ‘The Only Way To Effectively Counter Terror Is To End War’”

Watch Out for ‘Blobaganda’

Ross Douthat suggests that defeat in Afghanistan will have adverse consequences for the U.S. elsewhere in the world:

Mattathias Schwartz has written an interesting account of his experience in the foreign policy “Blob” and how “blobaganda” gets produced:

To understand how blobaganda works, you have to look for what isn’t there. Not much airtime is given to dissent from what’s often called “the rules-based order” or “the liberal international order.” These terms sound technical and boring and unobjectionable; perhaps that is by design. In plain English, “rules-based order” has effectively come to mean “war is good.” The foreign-policy establishment is ideologically committed to the faith-based proposition that America can use force against a country thousands of miles away and, if not remake it in our own image, then at least leave it better than we found it. “Liberal” and “rules” are strange words to apply to campaigns that rely so heavily on drone strikes and covert CIA operations. At one event hosted by the Blobosphere, I remember one of my peers raising his hand to ask how we could convince the American public that it was worth going to war to defend Montenegro, as we are obliged to under Article 5 of the NATO treaty. The room turned and looked at him as if he’d gone insane.

Schwartz’s account gets at some important aspects of what critics mean when we talk about the “Blob.” He stresses the role of social pressure and conformism. Control over who gets to participate in the conversation is an essential part of that. If you are an aspiring analyst and would-be policymaker, you learn quickly not to stray outside the lines of acceptable opinion, and those lines are drawn very narrowly. If you happen to go outside of them, you can expect to be denounced and marginalized.

The clubbishness and groupthink that critics deplore as flaws are features to those that are members in good standing. Holding all the same main assumptions about the US role in the world is the way to gain entry and it serves as a marker of status for those that belong. Schwartz writes:

But as I learned from the five years I spent inside the bubble of the foreign-policy establishment – all the off-the-record gatherings and the cozy meet-and-greets I attended –  the neutral deliberations that take place behind closed doors occur within carefully managed boundaries. You can’t work in Washington and not cross paths with smart, influential people who have been paid substantial amounts of money from a foreign-policy think tank, or the powerful dons who sit on one of their boards. If you have control over who’s in the room, and who gets to sit onstage, there’s no need to script the action. The ideologically correct opinion will organically percolate through the network. This is known as social contagion, and it goes a long way to explaining why America’s leading foreign-policy experts keep producing disasters like Afghanistan.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

Conflicts of Interest: White House Slams the Door on Diplomacy with Iran

On COI #160, Kyle Anzalone discusses deteriorating US ties with Iran. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned the window for negotiations with Tehran would soon close, not long after the US announced a new round of sanctions. Israeli officials, meanwhile, have vowed to step up efforts to confront the Islamic Republic. Together, the aggressive US and Israeli policies are likely to kill talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal. 

Kyle updates the August 29th US drone strike that killed seven children in Kabul. The Pentagon released details of the strike, revealing the military was unsure of who was driving the car hit in the strike, as well as what home it was bombing. The corporate press, however, has already lost interest in the story, all but ensuring families of the slaughtered Afghan children will never see justice. 

Kyle breaks down recent news from Ethiopia. Several massacres have been reported by various local groups as fighting rages on between the government and rebel forces in Tigray. The US has sanctioned an Eritrean official for alleged war crimes in Tigray, and there are reports out of neighboring Sudan that dead bodies are washing up on its shores – casualties of the Tigray war. Tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan are also on the rise after the Sudanese government reported a shipment of guns that arrived from Ethiopia.

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