The Campaign and Foreign Policy: The Balance between Obama and Romney (Part II)

Below you will find a continuation which follows our separate commentary on key issues in the campaign and foreign policy.

The So-Called “Rise of China” and Asian Policy:

Romney, as a candidate for the presidency, has shown little awareness of the complexity of our relations with the Chinese and of our long-term objective of engaging this key power in ways that reinforce cooperation and responsibility rather than antagonism. He has yet to outline a comprehensive approach to China that fully addresses all the key problems and their solution or amelioration. Again, his only “strategy” seems to be antagonisms and name calling. He also has little to say except general and uninformed criticism of Obama’s policies about North Korea, Japan, and the problem of South sea conflicts over jurisdiction to otherwise insignificant “islands.” 

Romney criticizes Obama for being “weak” on China despite the administration’s key pivot towards Asia and engagement with Chinese leaders on a multiplicity of fronts, including a trip to China by the Secretaries of State and Defense and our on-going intense economic dialogue at the highest levels.


Nor has he said a reasonable word about solving the delicate balances that exists between China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the North Korea nuclear weapons issues.  The man appears out of his depth on any and all of these issues.

President Obama has had now extensive exposure to issues related to China and Asia and made the key decision to establish an American “full court press” towards the Asia/Pacific region.  This is more than simply sending added military assets into the region. It includes significant economic and diplomatic focus and attention.  He has met with just about every key leader in the region and has made numerous trips over the last four years that have added to his understanding of the thinking and view of the decision makers in Asia. The key to his approach is to work very hard on these difficult issues and not exacerbate the existing problems and keep at the effort to seek lasting solutions.   

Middle East and Israeli-Palestine Peace:

This is an issue which will be covered in more detail in another post, but simply put; this is a major tinder box of many different elements with each country’s situation being unique and needing individual attention. The Arab Spring is right, messy, and inevitable and can’t be “controlled” by the U.S. but rather, by the citizens of each country; with help by the international community to support democratic change and protection of human rights.

Romney has closed off any meaningful effort by the U.S. to find peace in the Middle East by his quote in his infamous “47%” speech. His stance on the Israel-Palestine confrontation seems more an effort to gain votes and money from a pro-Israel conservative lobby than to seek a peaceful outcome or a just and lasting security for Israel and Palestine. His speech implies an abandonment of the U.S. supported (for a decade) “two state” solution, which is the only true basis for a lasting peace. He seems to have contracted out American policy in the Middle East to his good friend, the right wing and author of the inappropriate “red line,” demanded by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  The latter interestingly has moderated his stance at the UN General Assembly, perhaps by some observers noting the election poll ratings of Obama and the U.S. opinion polls saying a large proportion of Americans do not favor a war with Iran.

What Romney does not recognize is that his stance undermines the traditional role of honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians and the other Middle East states.  His ignorance of Middle East politics and security issues is mind boggling.

Obama has not given up on seeking peace but the elections here, intransigence by Israel (over new settlements), the Palestinians (over their Humas wing), and the upheavals in the Arab world that require massive attention has frankly put personal engagement on hold until after November. But he has said that America remains committed that Iran will not get nuclear weapons, but will not have Bibi dictate our decisions on going to, what is after all, “war” with all its consequences. Perhaps the Israeli cabinet and citizens recognize now the danger of the “red line” demands on the rightly close relations between the U.S. and Israel.         

Defense Spending and National Security Posture:

Again, here the divide between the Republican right wing, which has taken over the GOP party (including Romney), and Obama could not be greater.  The blind support for more money for defense, the stance on Iran, Middle East upheavals, attitude towards China and Russia, their reliance on “military” options rather than diplomacy, and their cozy relations with the military-industrial lobby dictate a more unstable international landscape if they were to come to power.

Here a key determinate of future effective employment of our military depends on a fundamental assessment, judgment, and knowledge of consequences – all of which is lacking with Romney and his advisers.

Obama has both supported “smart” discrete military actions and largely avoided the stupid ones. His role as Commander-in-Chief has been outstanding compared to his recent predecessor. He both listens to military advice but makes his own judgments and asks the hard questions which have proven wise in most cases, such as his leaving Iraq, his timetable for stopping military combat activities in Afghanistan, and his supervision of making the US military more shaped for future dangers rather than throwing money at projects for wars of decades ago.


Sadly, the GOP in Congress has been profligate in wasting billions in massive programs, which often had to be accepted to get some useful reforms agreed to. We need a president that at least is willing to question and decide and think deeply about choices and consequences. Romney even in his speeches, positions, and managing his campaign seems unable to do any of this. There should be budget cuts but they should be smart ones and that is what the Obama administration is trying to do against the current of powerful forces in Washington.


Trade and Global Economic Policy:

We will deal with this area in another post, but in sum, Romney and the GOP Platform’s domestic and international economic policy are both a disaster and will result in further deterioration in American and global economy since it is based on false economic theories that have long been proved to be fallacious and counter a growth strategy.

Cutting taxes for the rich seems to be the only basis to their economic policies and nothing else. The GOP platform even has a section asking for a Commission to examine the reestablishment of the previously disastrous gold standard for our currency that would have given gold miners and speculators control over our monetary policy and drive us into a global depression. That shows how out of touch Romney and his party are to economic realities and the need for national and global stimulus effort.

Obama is supported at home and in forums abroad a concerted global growth policy; but European leaders, including the right wing Cameron Tory party went down the GOP proposed path of austerity and the result is a second recession for the UK which thankfully America, under Obama, has avoided.  

Climate Change, Energy policy, and Environmental Issues:

For Romney it is simply “drill baby drill” as a solution to the horrific impact of global warming and its consequences that it will have to our globe. His attacks and that of the GOP in Congress has been to undermine environmental and health related rules and restraints on pollution from fossil fuels and for that matter the dangers of many chemicals that can cause serious harm to American and global health. He even doubts, despite scientific evidence, that man made pollution is to blame and even questions climate change itself…and above all doing anything about it. Case closed!

Obama recognized the criticality of climate change but has had only partial success in addressing the issue, both internationally and at home. But his efforts at bolstering “clean energy” and increasing auto efficiency will help. Internationally getting an agreement with the developing world and with countries like China, Russia and Australia remain a hope.  But to accomplish these goals requires Congress to act; and here Romney and the GOP in Congress are, as they say, “deniers.”  This has also forced Obama to sometimes retreat on promises he made and finds he is not able to accomplish his goals because of the obstruction by the GOP in Congress.   


We welcome comments! 

Whither China-U.S Relations on 40th Anniversary of Nixon’s Visit to China

One of the historic events of the 20th century was the initiation of the rapprochement with China under President Nixon with his visit to China in February 1972. This visit was preceded by secret contacts and visits by Henry Kissinger. It was a strategic initiative to both divide further the shaky China-Russia alliance and also acknowledgment of China’s growing role and power in Asia.  The deal turned out to be largely good for both sides over the long-term.

At a time when both the leadership of America will be tested in the November election and China’s own leadership will change to a new generation, there is likely to be a re-assessment within China of that relationship and also some debate in the U.S. about the so-called “rise of China.” Already some in America still want to make China an “enemy.”

The China-American relationship is even more interdependent than the Russian-American relationship. This is true both in terms of magnitude of trade and finance and in terms of human-to-human contacts and communications along a wide spectrum of subjects.  A total disengagement or a conflict that severs most or all ties would be a disaster for each side.

The recent visit of the likely next Chinese president to the U.S. and the degree that the Obama administration has been paying attention to the relationship indicates how import each side weighs that relationship.

But that relationship is not on auto-pilot.  It will take much attention and nurturing.

The issues, agenda, and the options to ensure that the trajectory remains on a positive course include the following:

Trade and Finance: Sooner rather than later there will be a need for a better balance of trade and some understanding on currency rates that will make that balance take place. Not least, China will have to address key issues like rule of law, protection of intellectual property, and investment restrictions, among many other outstanding issues. But this will not be easy and there are strong forces in both countries that support the status quo on individual outstanding questions, fearful that their economic interests will be impacted. A “grand bargain” approach might be useful in this sector.

Regional/Global Security: At some point China will decide whether it will direct its defense forces towards an aggressive forward posture or a more benign direction of adequate defense and reasonable defense establishment focused on Asia and its own defense perimeters. America will have to decide how far to go to enhance its Asian deployment and how it will be configured. The U.S. will have to think about what the Chinese reaction might be. The combination of a too aggressive stance by both sides would be the worst case outcome.

There are two regional tests of China’s international position. One is dealing wisely with the nuclear threat of North Korea, and the second is a peaceful dealing with Taiwan and negotiated settlements of its boundary conflicts with its neighbors. The North Korean nuclear issue has at the moment the greatest need for resolution but the newly installed and untested North Korea leader remains a problematic factor.

– Role of China in World Affairs: China wants a greater role in world affairs in keeping to its enhanced economic power and size.  It already has a veto in the UN Security Council where it seems to exercise its vote in support of the worst nations on the globe. It has senior positions in the World Bank and IMF but not at the top of either one.  Despite being the world’s second economy it probably won’t gain such a role until it changes its discriminatory trade, business, and financial policies.  It undoubtedly would like to see its citizens in these positions and also in other international organizations.

The problem remains that it is not playing, frankly, a fully “responsible” role yet on the global stage as indicated by its veto of sanctions against Syria, its support of the regime of Sudan with its massive violation of human rights, and support of other authoritarian regimes around the world.

So long as this posture continues, China is unlikely to assume a significantly more prominent role in international organizations nor be invited to be part of the most inner circle of global decision makers except on an ad hoc basis where clearly necessary. 

Its own domestic authoritarian and bad human rights record will also hold back its acceptance into the top elite levels of entirely accepted and respected world leadership.  Here other nations need to urge China’s new leaders to consider the advantages of being a reliable “responsible” leader given what it has to gain. The “proof of the pudding” will be when it disassociates from the marginal countries with abhorrent behavior at home and abroad and focuses on cooperation with the responsible and democratic nations that make up the vast majority of the world’s economy, resources, population, and growth. Its dependence on and support of the nasty marginal states is not in its interest and will harm its “rise” to true global leadership.

It is likely that key decision by China’s leaders will be seen in the next couple of years. America can do a lot to advance a positive outcome. First, we need a more intense public diplomacy effort, especially sending American students and professionals on visits to China and making “person-to-person” contact beyond existing levels. We not only need to change the attitude of the Chinese political leaders but of the engaged and growing educated grassroots leadership to convince them that friendship with America is better than enmity. Second, we need to engage China more on solving global challenges like climate change, ocean conservation, nonproliferation, global humanitarian efforts, and support of a global growth strategy.

The stance that America takes will be a key element in their own perception of the gains of acceptance verses a direction of enmity. We have a lot at stake and need to establish an intense full court task force of our top leadership to work on this issue. The good news is that President Obama, judging by his recent actions, recognizes this challenge, which is more than can be said to those seeking his office or, for that matter, the GOP leadership in Congress.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

China’s Incoming Leader Meets President Obama: The Challenge of Shaping the Future

There is much importance in the visit of the Chinese Vice President and soon to be leader of China, Xi Jinping, to the White House.  The transition to a new generation in China has much significance since there is currently a debate in powerful circles in China as to the tack to take with the United States and the role that a “rising” China should take globally.

There are two main arguments being made among the Chinese elite. The first is that China should continue its economic and political reform efforts and that cooperation with the international community and an increase in China’s influence and soft power is the preferred option. The other, backed by some nationalists and military factions, is to push for a more aggressive stance towards America and seek a “rightful dominant” position in Asia. It views American increased focus on Asia, including increase in military presence, as a threat that needs response.

The second option, from any clear analysis, would lead to not only confrontation but also many negative responses from the Asian nations and from the other global powers.  It would threaten China’s own economy, which in large measure depends on trade and economic cooperation with a wide range of countries and institutions. China gains significantly from inward investment, education abroad of its students, and generally more open global engagement abroad, especially in its drive for modernization in science and technology. An aggressive stance could threaten all of this.

More fundamentally, the new leader and his colleagues need to make a choice that the best future for China in both the short and long run is to become a cooperative, positive force on the global stage.  This is the case that Obama must make to Xi and back it with indictments and a comprehensive strategy on the part of the U.S. to shape that outcome. It also needs other nations to approach China in the same hopefully concerted way. This is just the time and place to start that dialogue and to gage if it is one that the new leaders can embrace.

Unfortunately, there are a number of obstacles that stand in the way. First, Xi is still an unknown quantity.  Recent actions, in which he must have participated, have also brought into question which direction China will head. The recent veto with Russia of sanctions against Syria is just one example, as are its sometimes authoritarian actions against its own people, and also its “friendship” with such bad actors as the Sudan, Burma, and Iran. Its trade and financial policies are very protectionist and that issue must be addressed. Frankly, that will take time and we’re likely to see only gradual improvements given the balance of forces internal to China. We may see actions in both directions over the short term given the balance of forces at work in China. 

China has serious internal economic and political problems which are likely to be given priority by the new leadership, which is better educated than in the past. One decision that China needs to make is what, if any, role it wishes to play in getting the global economy back to a growth path. It could help via investment and support of the IMF, the World Bank, and even the European Central Bank’s efforts to stabilize the European economic crisis. All in China’s interest.

President Obama has taken a firm stand on China’s protectionist policies but he has also made dealing with China and Asia a very high priority – as he should. Sadly, he is somewhat defensive in response to the wrong-headed onslaught from the right wing Republicans running for his job and GOP leaders in Congress. There appears not to be a single thoughtful and comprehensive intelligent set of policies from this motley group.  Indeed, the GOP stance has already set Chinese observers on edge and encouraged the Chinese own right-wing elements to call for a more aggressive stance. Fortunately, Obama knows all this, which is more than can be said for his Republican opponents.

This meeting is important but it is only the first stage of engagement with the new Chinese leadership. We will see both ups and downs over the next decade they will be in power. Forces and events greater than either China or the U.S. that will call for cooperation will certainly intervene. There is need to discuss climate change and what we can do to assist China’s horrific health, human rights, and poverty problems.  Not least on that agenda will be North Korea, Taiwan, and the Afghanistan/Pakistan/India/Iraq joint conundrum. Syria is likely to be discussed and the Chinese will want to know America’s military intentions in Asia and we theirs.

There is plenty of room on both sides for creativity in shaping their relationship if they want to see a peaceful and productive rise of both sides to a “win-win” strategy and a stable and secure global environment. We will keep a close watch on developments on this site and welcome comments.

 By Harry C. Blaney III.

Creating Enemies: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

There was an earlier comment to my post on ” China: an Indispensable Enemy?” It said: “Wrong. China surely has been behaving like an enemy and should be viewed as such. It’s time to quit pretending they’re not a hostile power.”

That short and brutal comment said, in effect, that we should create China as an “enemy.” Let’s be clear China is neither a shining light of democracy nor totally committed to a benign policy of engagement with the rest of the world. But at the same time, it is not a committed “enemy” or even fully a “hostile power.”

In fact, there is a internal debate in China about its role in the world and long-term relations with the West. There are those in China, like our blog commenter above, who also wish to create an “enemy” out of our country. They too are the “right wing” of their country.

But there are many within China, common citizens as well as key leaders who recognize that an antagonistic stance towards the world is not in China’s interest.  Increasingly as more and more Chinese experience the world and study abroad in the United States, they realize that such a negative stance does more damage to China’s place in the world than any gains following a conflict.

As we learned during the Cold War, policies of unremitting hostility lead only to death and destruction. In the case of the Soviet Union, forbearance, patience, and seeking areas of mutual cooperation and advantage especially in the areas of arms control and non-proliferation, resulted in avoiding an outright war and all its horrors. George Kennan the former Ambassador to Moscow who wrote the famous “X Article” for Foreign Affairs on how to deal with the former Soviet Union, made it clear that containment, and later in life constructive cooperation was the best approach. He was right.

The lessons here are a good option for America in dealing with China.  They are competitors clearly, but for this we have ourselves largely to blame as Secretary Hillary Clinton noted when she said: “If we stand on the sidelines and just complain and try to oppose whatever China is doing….and don’t deal with our own issues at home, I don’t know what the future will hold.” (Clinton in an interview with historian Michael Beschloss.)  Those who vote against an added stimulus, who don’t want to be taxed to advance productivity or put Americans back to work are the real enemies of American leadership and growth.

A number of mutually beneficial issues exist that require American and Chinese cooperation, including global climate change, non-proliferation, and global economic prosperity. China opposes us on some issues and supports us on others. They are helping on North Korea and they voted with us in the UN on enhanced sanctions against Iran and North Korea.  But they are also exerting their own prosperity and influence. The issue is finding a way to make our relationship benefit both sides through incentivizing responsibility and cooperation on global cooperation. We can be tough on some issues and cooperative on others. Using only the stick and never the carrot creates mutual antagonism and puts us on the path to war. How stupid can a policy be that goes down that road!

China: an Indispensable Enemy?

The idea that we need an “enemy” is resurfacing amongst some military, media, and think tank types. All of whom think that confrontation with China is in America’s interest. Why?

I vividly remember going to a U.S.-Sino relations conference here in Washington during the Bush II era where a Chicago University professor predicted that America and China were heading for war and we should prepare for it.  I was seated at a table with some representatives from the Chinese Embassy including military attaches and I could feel the sense of tension and disbelief at how stupid they felt the statement was and how it only contributed to a counterproductive self-fulfilling prophecy. That may have been just what the speaker wanted.

The problem has been compounded by the unfortunate tendency for hawkish Americans to call countries that we have problems with our “enemy.”  This includes countries such as Cuba, Russia, and China. While each has serious problems in terms of democracy, governance, and an adversarial approach to the outside world, calling them the “enemy” serves no purpose except to shore up support for the equally hawkish counterparts within these countries.

Recently, Walter Isaacson, the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors that oversees US official media for foreign audiences said his organization needs more money to fight its enemies. Though he should know better, he explicitly included Russia, Iran, Venezuela and China onto this list. This is what happens when fear-mongers wave the bloody shirt to justify increased funding to their projects.  It certainly did not help our public diplomacy effort amongst those countries. Fortunately, Mr. Isaacson later retracted his maladroit statement.  He should be a leader in seeking constructive dialogue rather than confrontation.

Dealing with China is a prime example where we seriously need to do rethink our national security approach.  Our relationship with China has no silver “bullet”.  In this case, war can only serve those who desire global instability, conflict, and mutual destruction. Here is a case where total and intense engagement across a wide range of issues and differences is indispensable. Broad public diplomacy efforts, especially in multilateral venues, bilateral meetings, and wide exchanges of people, make the most sense. Continue reading

Bringing National Security Up to Date

Much is said and written, on this blog and elsewhere, about how American national security is, or may be, affected by the successes or failures of U.S. developments or the U.S. military presence in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Israel/Palestine, the Korean peninsula, Venezuela, Cuba, et al.  They and many others are important and have a bearing, some more direct than others, on our national security.  What about Europe, the land of the old and the new, stupidly and irresponsibly scorned and ignored by George W. Bush and his cohorts as they plunged our country into the depths of insecurity?

Just a few days ago, it was revealed that French President Nicolas Sarkozy plans to propose “a new security and economic relationship between Europe and Russia” when he meets with his Russian and German counterparts later this month. The immediate reaction of this reader was highly positive.  Leaving aside the several domestic and foreign disputes in which he has been involved and the consequent suspicion of his motives at home and abroad when he speaks, Sarkozy is in fact the democratically elected leader of (a) a major world military and economic power and (b) America’s oldest ally.  Most important to one who spent the greater part of his career concerned with trans-Atlantic security, however, were the eminent good sense behind the French proposal and its obvious potential for enhancing that security.  According to the story, Washington has a different view:  with a key meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on strategic doctrine scheduled for November, American officials were wary of being both pre-empted and left out.

Russian President Dimitri Medvedev has spoken, perhaps mischievously but not without some reason, of the inappropriateness of NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as vehicles for cooperation in today’s world.  The United States is, of course, prominent in both but should in no case be goaded into policy errors by tactical jibes.  One is reminded of frantic American efforts to assure inclusion in European security arrangements outside of NATO when proposals were floated forty years ago for a “European Security Conference” to be attended by Europeans on both sides of the Iron Curtain.  While our allies did not intend to cut us out of the action, in the end we succeeded in renaming the exercise a “Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe,” thereby opening the way for our participation and adding non-military cooperation of various kinds to the agenda.  An American role was a reasonable objective in the middle of the Cold War, and introducing cooperation into the package was eminently sensible.  To interfere today, two decades after the end of that war, in efforts to broaden and cement relations between Russia and the major Western European powers would be short-sighted. Continue reading