Sunday, October 31, 2021

Monday in Asia November 1, 2021

. 11/1-2 (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsors: Peterson Institute (PIIE); Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), National University of Singapore (NUS). Speakers: Adam S. Posen, President, PIIE; Danny Quah, Dean, LKYSPP, NUS; Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister, Singapore; Chad P. Bown, Reginald Jones Senior Fellow, PIIE; Michael Buchanan, Head of Portfolio Strategy & Risk Group, Temasek; Muhamad Chatib Basri, former Indonesian Finance Minister; Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director, Singapore Economic Development Board; Tsai Ming-Kai, Chairman, MediaTek Inc.; Moderator: Danny Quah, Dean, LKYSPP, NUS. 

CULTIVATING CLIMATE: US-CHINA RELATIONS AND GLOBAL CLIMATE COOPERATION. 11/1, Noon-1:00pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School. Speaker: Jiaqi Lu, Predoctoral Research Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School; Moderator: Henry Lee, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School. 

. 11/1, 12:30-1:30pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Center for American Progress (CAP). Speakers: Tobias Harris, Senior Fellow for Asia, CAP; Sheila Smith, John E. Merow Senior Fellow for Asia Pacific Studies, Council on Foreign Relations. 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Biden’s New Policy On Trade With China

– Old Wine In Old Bottles

By Daniel Sneider, Lecturer, International Policy at Stanford University and APP member

Toyo Keizai, October 27,2021

After nine months of review, United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai delivered a much-anticipated speech earlier this month, touted as the unveiling of the Biden administration’s “new approach” to trade with China. Instead, to the disappointment of many trade policy experts, including backers of the administration, the senior U.S. official offered no new policies beyond vague statements.
Rather, Tai began with implementing the policies left behind by Donald Trump.

“The speech essentially affirmed the shift of U.S. trade policy on China begun under the Trump administration,” former trade negotiator Clyde Prestowitz told Toyo Keizai.

“It was a bit softer in tone than the Trump administration,” added Prestowitz, a prominent advocate of a tough approach to China, “but certainly not a step back to the ‘positive engagement’ policies of five Presidents. She did not really offer a policy.”

In her speech, Tai focused first on the implementation of the Trump administration’s Phase One agreement with China, a deal centered on Trump’s obsession with the outdated idea that balance of goods trade figures are the only measure of success.

Even though Biden criticized that view, Tai made it clear that the Trump tariffs imposed to enforce that agreement remain in place, with a restart of the process where American firms can seek selective exclusion from those tariffs.

The senior trade policy official expressed the intention to talk to China about its industrial policy favoring the state-controlled firms and its non-market practices, none of which was addressed in the Trump policy. But she offered no concrete path to such negotiations. And while there was a nod to the need to coordinate with allies in Europe (but not Asia), the outlined policy remained anchored in the unilateralism of the previous administration and a similar ‘Buy American’ strategy.

“There was nothing new and we seem to be doubling down on ineffective policies,” commented Brookings Institution expert Mireya Solis. She points to the clear disconnect between being critical of Trump’s approach to China, and then stating that your main initiative is to see through the implementation of the flawed Trumpian agreement.

“My conclusion was that the administration’s policy, at least in the short term, will be enforcement of Trump’s phase one deal,” commented former senior official and trade policy expert William Reinsch, who hosted Tai’s speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. “This is ironic, since the question I am asked the most about the administration’s China policy is how it is different from Trump’s. The answer now appears to be not by much.”

Industrial, not trade, policy

The Biden administration is clearly imprisoned by the deep political divide in the U.S. and focused on passing bills to spur infrastructure and social welfare spending. A tough approach to China remains one of the few issues on which there is some bipartisan agreement and Biden has used the need to compete with China as a primary motivation for his domestic policy agenda.

The Tai speech also conveyed the sense that there has been shift, beginning in the previous administration and continued now, to industrial policy replacing trade policy.

“The question for Biden is not so much what to negotiate with China because it is clear that we are not going to change China’s trade and industrial policies,” says Prestowitz, whose most recent book focused on the struggle with China for global leadership.

“So, the question is what we are going to do about ourselves. The Chips Act hard infrastructure stuff passed by the Senate is a taste of that.”

Working with allies – not so fast

The absence of a global or even a regional trade strategy based on working with allies and partners was particularly disturbing to some observers. In the policy speech, there was only a brief mention of working with European allies in the U.S.-E.U. Trade and Technology Council to combat “non-market practices” but no mention at all of working with Japan, Korea and others on technology security and supply chain management issues.

The emphasis instead was on building domestic industrial competitiveness and defending industries such as steel and solar panels from foreign competitors.

“Mostly, the USTR is talking about continuing with the managed trade approach of the Trump administration, one that that undercuts cohesion with our allies because the purchasing commitments are discriminatory,” comments Solis, who directs the Center for East Asia Policy Studies and Japan Studies at the prestigious Washington thinktank, the Brookings Institution.

The erratic impulsive character of Trump’s Twitter-fueled trade policy is thankfully gone, but the use of tariffs as the main tool remains intact. And this extends to allies. The Biden administration has yet to lift the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, or questioned the use of Section 232 which imposed those import controls on the grounds that they threatened national security. “Allies are being told two different things --work together on China but things must be produced here,” says Solis.

Meanwhile, opportunities for collaborating with our partners in Asia that could create more effective tools for dealing with China were simply not mentioned in the ‘new’ policy. The most obvious one is the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) which China has now applied to join.

Trump withdrew from the TPP on his first day in office and a return to the TPP is considered out of the question politically since it faces opposition from both the Democratic and Republican parties. But there are other avenues for multilateral cooperation that are not so politically problematic – the priority should be forming a digital economy partnership agreement that would set market and regulatory standards for the digital economy. A kernel of such a deal has already been formed by New Zealand, Singapore and Chile, now joined by South Korea.

The lack of American leadership is a particular challenge for Japan which has made economic security a priority, aiming to protect critical technologies and diminish the risk of supply chains that are dependent on China.

There is an obvious convergence of interests on this with the U.S., Europe, South Korea and others. But the decision of Japan to move ahead with the CPTPP, hoping that the U.S. would eventually return, offers a precedent for the exercise of independent leadership.

China’s application to join the CPTPP poses a new challenge for Japan. On one hand, the Chinese decision, even it was done for purely cynical reasons to embarrass the U.S., does potentially force China to carry out reforms needed to conform to the tough global standards set by the agreement. The Chinese, however, will likely seek to gain access based on the membership requirements set for Vietnam which allow some exceptions from immediate compliance for its large state-run sector.

If China were allowed to do this, it poses the danger of watering down the CPTPP to the point where it puts no effective pressure on China to open its economy to real competition. Japan and Australia are certain to push back on this but it will be a difficult political battle.

“It will expose how much Japan and other economies are in the front lines, and we are nowhere, we are missing in action,” Brookings expert Solis told Toyo Keizai. “How long can they wait if we don’t signal that we have a pulse.”

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Monday Asia Events, October 25, 2021

. 10/25, 9:00-10:00pm (EDT), 10/26, 10:00-11:00am (JST). ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Yokosuka Council On Asia Pacific Studies (YCAPS). Speaker: James D.J. Brown, Associate Professor, Political Science, Temple University, Japan Campus; Moderator: Michael Okamoto, Director, Getting to Know Japan Series, YCAPS.

WORLD BANK MENA ECONOMIC UPDATE, OCTOBER 2021. 10/25, 9:00-10:00am (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Middle East Institute (MEI). Speakers: Ferid Belhaj, Vice President, Middle East and North Africa, World BankL Roberta Gatti, Chief Economist, Middle East and North Africa, World Bank; Paul Salem, President, Middle East Institute (MEI); Moderator: Karen Young, Senior fellow and Director, Program on Economics and Energy, Middle East Institute.

WOMEN IN AFGHANISTAN: NO HOPE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS? 10/25, 10:00-11:00am (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Middle East Institute (MEI). Speakers: Rina Amiri, Senior Fellow, Center on International Cooperation and Center for Global Affairs, New York University; Sahar Halaimzai , Non-resident Senior Fellow, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council; Nilofar Sakhi, Non-resident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council; Heela Yoon, Cora Weiss Peacebuilding Fellow, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders; Moderator: Iulia Joja, Project Director, Afghanistan Watch. 

US AIR FORCE GENERAL MARK D. KELLY. 10/25, 10:00-11:00am (EDT), Washington, DC (WEBINAR AVAILABLE). Sponsor: Mitchell Institute. Speakers: General Mark D. Kelly, Commander of Air Combat Command, United States Air Force. Location: Capitol Hill Club, 300 First St SE, Washington, DC 20003.

RUSSIAN RELATIONS WITH CENTRAL ASIA AND AFGHANISTAN. 10/25, Noon-1:30pm (EDT). Sponsor: Harriman Institute, Columbia University. Speakers: Artemy Kalinovsky, Professor of Russian, Soviet, and Post-Soviet Studies, Temple University; Nargis Kassenova, Senior Fellow and Director, Program on Central Asia, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University; Ivan Safranchuk, Director, Center of Euro-Asian Research, MGIMO; Ekaterina Stepanova, Director, Peace and Conflict Studies Unit, National Research Institute of the World Economy & International Relations (IMEMO); Moderator: Alexander Cooley, Director of the Harriman Institute, Columbia University; Moderator: Joshua Tucker, Director of the Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia, New York University.

THE EXPANSION OF THE OPIUM TRADE IN AFGHANISTAN. 10/25, Noon-12:30pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Heritage. Speakers: Lawrence Baumeister, Former Supervisory Special Agent, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; Moderator: Paul J. Larkin Jr., Rumpel Senior Legal Research Fellow, Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, Heritage.

IP INFRINGEMENT AND STATE SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY. 10/25, Noon-1:00pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsor: Hudson. Speakers: Kristen Osenga, Austin E. Owen Research Scholar and Professor of Law, University of Richmond School of Law; Kevin Madigan, Vice President, Legal Policy and Copyright Counsel, Copyright Alliance; Rick Allen, Co-Founder, Executive Producer, and Director, Nautilus Productions; Moderator: Devlin Hartline, Legal Fellow, Forum for Intellectual Property, Hudson.

FASTEST PATH TO ZERO: ADVANCED NUCLEAR. 10/25, Noon-1:00pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsors: Third Way; College of Engineering, University of Michigan. Speakers Include: Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA); Josh Freed, Senior Vice President, Climate and Energy Program, Third Way; Dr. Aditi Verma, Visiting Scholar, Project on Managing the Atom, Harvard Kennedy School; Dr. Sola Talabi, Advanced Reactor Committee Member, National Academy of Sciences. 

BANGLADESH: A DEVELOPMENT SUCCESS STORY. 10/25, 1:00-2:30pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Shahidul Islam, Bangladesh Ambassador to the United States; Dan Mozena, Former U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, 2011-2015; Farooq Sobhan, Former Special Envoy to the Prime Minister, Bangladesh; Rubana Huq, President, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association; Tamara Hasan Abed, Senior Director, BRAC; Moderator: Daniel F. Runde, Senior Vice President, CSIS.

IDENTIFYING CORROSIVE CAPITAL FROM CHINA IN THE AMERICAS AND THE CARIBBEAN. 10/25, 2:00-3:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Center for International Private Enterprise. Speakers: David Shedd, Former Acting Director, Defense Intelligence Agency; Parsifal D’Sola Alvarado, Founder and Executive Director, Andrés Bello Foundation; Jessica Ludwig, International Forum for Democratic Studies, National Endowment for Democracy. 

GUNS, GUERILLAS, AND THE GREAT LEADER: NORTH KOREA AND THE THIRD WORLD. 10/25, 4:00-5:30pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Wilson Center (WWC). Speakers: Benjamin R. Young, Author, Assistant Professor in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Virginia Commonwealth University; Jean H. Lee, Senior Fellow, Wilson Center (WWC); Hazel Smith, Professorial Research Associate, Korean Studies, School of Oriental and African studies, University of London; Moderator: Christian F. Ostermann, Director, History and Public Policy Program, Wilson Center (WWC); Moderator: Eric Arnesen, Professor of History, GW; Moderator: Gregg Brazinsky, Fellow, Wilson Center (WWC), Professor of History and International Affairs, GW. PURCHASE BOOK:

HONG KONG GOES CARBON NEUTRAL. 10/25, 5:00-6:00pm (PDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI). Speakers: Kam-sing Wong, Secretary for the Environment, HKSAR Government; Moderator: Patrick Suckling, Non-resident Senior Fellow, Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI). 

US-JAPAN RELATIONS IN THE POST-COVID WORLD. 10/25, 5:00-6:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Reischauer Center, SAIS, Johns Hopkins. Speaker: H.E. Koji Tomita, Japan’s Ambassador to the United States. 

DISCUSSION WITH UN'S SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF IDPS. 10/25, 7:00-8:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University. Speaker: Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, United Nations. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

Democracy is all about history


History is not about feelings. It is about what happened. 
We must take responsibility for our history.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Democracy is messy

Your brain on authoritarianism: 
The inside forces that drive people to turn on democracy
WBUR, This program aired on October 5, 2021

Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale. Author of several books, including "Our Malady" and "The Road to Unfreedom." (@TimothyDSnyder)

Lisa Feldman Barrett, professor of psychology at Northeastern University. Chief science officer for the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital. Author of “7 1/2 Lessons About the Brain." (@LFeldmanBarrett)

Interview Highlights

On the history of philosophical thought and democracy

Timothy Snyder: "We don't even need 2021 to tell us. There's a long tradition of philosophical thought about this. From Plato, who has Socrates say that none of us is self-sufficient, all the way up to Rousseau, who has a book called Emile about how you have to educate people to work in public. We've known for a very long time that if you want to have a complex form of politics, the kind that you described in your introduction, you have to have individuals who are educated in a certain way, and who are aware of what they are doing, who have a kind of reflectiveness.

"Democracy's about reflection. It's about seeing the world, it's about self-correction. Which means that it's not at all the default form of politics. Historically speaking, it's quite exceptional. And I think one of the problems we have in America is that we've kind of come to think that freedom just means, 'Whatever I happen to think, whatever I happen to be convinced of, whatever I feel like doing at this very moment.' And that notion of freedom is highly manipulable by larger forces, by media, especially by social media. And that version of freedom is probably incompatible with democracy. Because it makes reflection something that we just don't do."

On the 'most important purpose' of our brains

Lisa Feldman Barrett: "We don't have brains because brains are rational. They allow us to be rational and controlled in some deliberate way. That's not really the pinnacle of brain evolution. We have brains because brains are important for regulating bodies. And if you look all the way back to the dawn of when brains evolved, they evolved for the ... most important purpose ... to really regulate the systems of your body. So your brain, you can think is running like a budget for your body, all the systems inside your body.

"So right now, as we're talking, as our listeners are listening, there's a whole drama going on inside each of us that we're really largely unaware of because our brains are basically taking care of regulating our hearts, our lungs and so on. We can talk about it as a body budget, and the brain doesn't budget money. It's budgeting glucose, and salt, and oxygen, and water and so on to keep us alive and well. And the two most expensive things your brain can do is move your body around, like when you're exercising or just dragging yourself out of bed in the morning.

"And learning something new, particularly in conditions of uncertainty. And so learning something new, something unexpected, particularly when circumstances are uncertain, doesn't have to be a bad stress. Because a bad stress just means that your brain is preparing your body for a big metabolic outlay that isn't replenished after the fact. But you know, people who exercise every day know that if they replenish what they spend, it's just a good investment. And so education can be that as well."

On the hardships of American life, and the importance of monitoring brain health

Lisa Feldman Barrett: "In addition to all the political uncertainty and the difficulties that come from economic hardship and so on, there is also day to day ambiguities that are built into American life, and that make our body budgets just a little harder to keep in balance. Like the casual brutality of everyday life where people speak to each other in ways that you don't know if those harsh words are a greeting of friendliness, or a threat to your physical well-being. And we can't use salty words on air, so I won't give you specific examples.

"There is a certain degree of social isolation that everyone is experiencing, even people who are very wealthy. And you know, we are social animals. We evolved to have socially dependent nervous systems. So you don't manage your body budget on your own. Other people metaphorically make deposits and withdrawals. And one thing that seems important here is that when you join a social movement, you surround yourself with people who are like-minded. Who think the way that you do. Whose behavior is very predictable to you, because you're predictable to them.

"And that actually gives your body budget a bit of a break. It makes it just easier to get through the day when other people are very predictable to you. Because in the end, the best thing for a human nervous system, for your body budget, is another human. But the worst thing also is another human. And being around people who are unpredictable or who believe things that you don't believe ... you pay some metabolic taxes for that. And it doesn't really matter how monetarily impoverished or enriched you are. You'll pay that tax."

On the benefit of making eye contact and talking with each other, despite differences

Lisa Feldman Barrett: "We have this amazing capacity, when we talk about connecting with each other, that's not just a metaphor. So when we're in the same room with each other and we are communicating, our breathing and our heart rates can synchronize, our movements can synchronize. We regulate each other's attention by eye contact. Making eye contact can actually make someone pay more attention to you. It can direct what they pay attention to and so on.

"So in a very real way, we are the regulators and caretakers of each other's nervous systems as much as our own. And this is really important. Because it means that we are even for the briefest moment, creating a social reality that is different from one where everyone is in their own little sort of informational silos.

"And I just want to make a point. We haven't really talked about social reality and then what that is. But almost everything we're talking about here, democracy, the presidency, politics and so on. This is in the domain of social reality, where a group of people basically by collective agreement claim, make up a reality and then it becomes true. Like we impose the function of currency on little pieces of paper and then poof, those little pieces of paper have value, to trade for material goods.

"So much so that they influence people's actual [reality]. And so when people talk to each other and when they communicate with each other, that is the basis of a more robust social reality. When a president all of a sudden starts doing something that's different than other presidents did, and the public who elected that president don't do anything, or implicitly agree that it's OK. Then in fact, by definition, it becomes OK because the rule is defined by social reality. And the only antidote there is for people to actually communicate with each other."

On the role democratic institutions have in pushing back

Timothy Snyder: "We've identified, let's say, three problems. Social media, wealth inequality, the lack of a welfare state. If we solved all of those problems, would Americans all be perfect angels of democracy? No. But would America be a sounder democracy? And would people in general behave better? In general, have more time for one another? In general, be better listeners? And in general, be more open to the facts? Yes, in general, they would be.

"So I would say first, let's do all the things that we know would work and then confront the issue, which I agree ... exists of bad will. I mean, of course, there are people who don't like democracy. Of course, there are people who love authoritarianism. One of them was just the president of the United States. We got to watch it for four years and we're still watching it.

"So of course, there's also a moral side to this. And when one speaks of institutions and one speaks about neurological structures, there's still something left over, which is ethics. Democracy is also an ethic. I also think democracy leads to good outcomes. I have an ethical commitment to democracy. I think everyone has the right to be represented. And we can't leave that aside. That's of course, also part of the picture."

Monday Asia Events October 18, 2021

MEI DEFENSE LEADERSHIP SERIES WITH NATO MENA DIRECTOR GIOVANNI ROMANI. 10/18, 10:00-11:00am (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Middle East Institute (MEI). Speaker: Giovanni Romani, Head of Middle East and North Africa, Political Affairs and Security Policy Division, NATO.

A ROADMAP TO END THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC. 10/18, 11:00am-Noon (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsor: International Monetary Fund (IMF). Speakers: Elizabeth Schulze Multi-Platform Reporter, ABC News; Gita Gopinath, Chief Economist and Director, Research Department, IMF; Ruchir Agarwal, Senior Economist, Research Department, IMF.

IRANIAN PUBLIC OPINION AS RAISI TAKES THE STAGE. 10/18, Noon-1:30pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Future of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council. Speakers: Nancy Gallagher, Director, Center for International and Security Studies, University of Maryland; Kevan Harris, Assistant Professor, Sociology, UCLA; Azadeh Zamirirad, Iran Researcher and Deputy Head of the Africa and Middle East Division, German Institute for International and Security Affairs; Moderator: Barbara Slavin, Director, Future of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council. 

CHINA’S WAR ON RELIGION. 10/18, Noon-1:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Hudson. Speakers: Xiaoxu Sean Lin, Director of Communications, Falun Dafa Association; Robert A. Destro, Professor of Law, Catholic University; Nury Turkel, Senior Fellow, Hudson; Moderator: Nina Shea, Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson.
MAXIMIZING MILITARY POWER BY MINIMIZING BUREAUCRATIC BARRIERS. 10/18, 2:00-3:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Atlantic Council. Speakers: Gen. James L. Jones (Ret.), Executive Chairman Emeritus, Atlantic Council; MajGen Arnold Punaro (Ret.) , CEO, Punaro Group; Frederick Kempe, President and CEO, Atlantic Council; Moderator: Missy Ryan, Staff Writer and Pentagon Correspondent, Washington Post.

THE MOSAIC APPROACH: A CRITICAL MINERALS SUPPLY CHAIN REPORT. 10/18, 2:00-3:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Wilson Center (WWC). Speakers: Peter Harrell, Senior Director for International Economics and Competitiveness, White House National Security Council; Jane Nakano, Senior Fellow, Energy and National Security Program, CSIS; Moderator: Duncan Wood, Vice President for Strategy and New Initiatives, Wilson Center. 

FUTURE FOREIGN POLICY SERIES FEATURING REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO. 10/18, 3:30-4:30pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsor: Atlantic Council. Speakers: Hon. Joaquin Castro, Member, United States House of Representatives; John Hudson, National Security Reporter, Washington Post; Emma Ashford, Senior Fellow, New American Engagement Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security; Moderator: Aude Darnal, Associate Director, New American Engagement Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. 

COVID-19 IN CHINA’S TWITTER DIPLOMACY' WITH GUEST SPEAKER WENDY LEUTERT. 10/18, 4:30-6:00pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University. Speaker: Wendy Leutert, GLP-Ming Z. Mei Chair of Chinese Economics and Trade, Columbia University. 

JAPAN UNDER PRIME MINISTER KISHIDA: THE LDP PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION AND THE UPCOMING HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ELECTION. 10/18, 4:00-5:00pm (PDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Freeman Spolgi Institute for International Studies, Stanford University. Speakers: Rieko Kage, Professor of Political Science, University of Tokyo; Dan Smith, Gerald L. Curtis Visiting Associate Professor of Modern Japanese Politics and Foreign Policy, Columbia University; Moderator: Kiyoteru Tsutsui, Director of the Japan Program and Deputy Director of Shorenstein, Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University. 

THE FUTURE OF THE U.S.-ROK ALLIANCE. 10/18, 5:00pm (PDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Korea-Pacific Program, School of Global Policy and Strategy, UC San Diego (UCSD). Speakers: Ko Yunju, Director General, North American Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea; Stephan Haggard, Professor and Director, Korea-Pacific Program, School of Global Policy and Strategy, UCSD. 

A GEOECONOMIC ALLIANCE: THE POTENTIAL AND LIMITS OF ECONOMIC STATECRAFT. 10/18, 6:30-7:30pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: United States Study Centre (USSC) Australia. Speakers: Dr. Stephen Kirchner, Director of International Economy, USSC; Christine McDaniel, Senior Research Fellow, Mercatus Center; Dr. Ben Herscovitch, Research Fellow, Australian National University; Moderator: Susannah Patton, Research Fellow of Foreign Policy and Defence, USSC. 

RETHINKING JAPAN’S RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC. 10/18, 8:00-9:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. Speakers: Kenji Shibuya, Director, Soma COVID Vaccination Medical Center, Soma City, Fukushima, Research Director, Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research; Moderator: Christina L. Davis, Director, Program on U.S.-Japan Relations; Professor of Government, Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Responsible Statecraft

Has neo-Orientalism killed our ability to sense the limits of Western influence?

The failure of Afghanistan should open our eyes to the fact that we don’t really know other countries and cultures at all.

by Anatol Lieven, senior research fellow on Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

Quincy Institute, SEPTEMBER 28, 2021

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed his conviction that the people of Iraq would welcome “liberation” by the United States and Britain. He refused to listen to warnings that Britain’s imperial record in Iraq would in fact lead them to regard British military intervention with instinctive distrust and hostility.

Yet Blair was also the first British prime minister to apologize in public for the crimes of the British empire. As with Western liberal internationalists in general, this acknowledgement of past national sins did not qualify in any way Blair’s assumption of the right to lecture other nations on their sins, tell them how they should be governed, and invade them in the name of building democracy. This combination of attitudes is inexplicable in rational terms — but makes perfect sense as a manifestation of secular religion. In a religious context, how often have loud public confessions of personal sinfulness provided the justification for ferocious condemnation of the sins of others? 

This combination is to be found in those American liberal internationalists who have acknowledged and apologized for systematic American support for savage Middle Eastern dictatorships — only to demand that people in the Middle East trust their promises that this time, a U.S. administration is really, truly sincere about bringing democracy to the region. Why on earth, on the basis of all past evidence, should any Arab or Iranian trust such promises? Indeed, on the basis of their past record, would you buy a used car from these drummers for democracy?

Blair’s combination of ideological fanaticism and the total historical illiteracy on which it depends was starkly revealed in his July 2003 speech to the U.S. Congress justifying the invasion of Iraq:

“Ours are not Western values. They are the universal values of the human spirit and anywhere, any time, ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same. Freedom not tyranny. Democracy not dictatorship.” 

This belief permeated the rhetoric of the Bush administration after 9/11, the U.S. National Security Strategy of 2002, and the “Freedom Agenda” for the Middle East. In the words of that NSS:

“The great struggles of the twentieth century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom – and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise…People everywhere want to be able to speak freely; choose who will govern them; worship as they please; educate their children – male and female; own property; and enjoy the benefits of their labor. These values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society…”

In a somewhat less blatant form, this continues to form the core ideological doctrine of most of the Western media and vast range of Western institutions, including those aid ministries engaged in promoting “governance reform” elsewhere in the world. 

The denial of the importance of local histories and traditions, as well as the lessons drawn from the imperial history of the West, is intrinsic to the American and European sense of ideological mission in the world, which underpins their claims to global and regional hegemony. It is also to some extent intrinsic to how the Western bureaucracies concerned operate. Bureaucracy, as well as ideology, demands universal templates, universally applicable. For the bureaucracy to function smoothly (as opposed to the achievement of actual change), local expertise is more a hindrance than a help. 

Furthermore, the fact that in many parts of the world, the priority of personal safety (known in British officialdom as “The Duty of Care”) means that Western officials can barely travel outside the capital cities, or even outside their own embassies and international hotels. After a couple of years, having failed to develop any serious knowledge of one society, they hop on to try to implement identical programs in another society — which they also fail to study. The result: programs that have only the most tangential relationship to local reality, and consequently, don’t stand the remotest chance of even limited success.

For example, British officers and officials working in Helmand province of Afghanistan were on the most part completely ignorant of the local Battle of Maiwand in 1879, in which Afghans defeated a British army. Every Helmandi knew of this battle, and most were convinced (absurdly, but still) that a key motive for the British military presence today was to get revenge for Maiwand.

Academia has played its own part in undermining the West’s ability to engage meaningfully with political, social and economic developments elsewhere in the world. Recent decades have seen a steep decline in history and area studies (and foreign languages in the United States and UK). Their place has been taken by disciplines based overwhelmingly on Western liberal prejudices masquerading as objective general theories, with “rational choice theory” as the crassest version of this.  

Additional pressure against the serious study of other cultures has been provided by the legions of academics who have adopted crude and conformist versions of Edward Said’s “Orientalism” thesis, whereby every Western attempt to study other cultures on their own terms can automatically be suspected of Western quasi-racist “essentialism” and denounced accordingly. This has had an especially destructive effect in the area of anthropology.

The weird thing about this is that this supposedly “anti-colonial” ideology not only denies any autonomous culture to other peoples in the world, but contains an implicit assumption that all human beings (unless warped by evil Western influences) are at heart Western liberal college professors. This is in fact a nice liberal-sounding version of the famous statement of the U.S. Marine general in Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket: “Inside every Gook there is an American waiting to get out.”

All too often, these illusions are fostered by liberal urban intellectuals and activists from the countries concerned, who have tremendous emotional and practical incentives to present their countries as intrinsically modern (with modern implicitly defined in entirely Western terms). Emotionally, this serves their own passionate desire to be part of the West and treated as equals by their Western colleagues. Practically, they soon learn that if they want Western jobs and money it is a good idea to reinforce Western ideas. As urban intellectuals, they may also be sincerely ignorant of most of their own country, as well as sincerely contemptuous of its population. 

Since such people are often the only ones to whom Western journalists and officials seriously listen, the result can be a sort of copulation of illusions. When I visited Afghanistan in 2002-2003, I was initially deeply amused to hear from newly-arrived Western officials, relying on Afghan information, that Afghanistan in the 1960s had been “a successful democracy”, with strong middle classes. The joke wore pretty thin, however, after I had heard this garbage for the third time, and realized the degree to which it was contributing to these people’s delusions about the prospects for Afghan democracy.

What has happened in Afghanistan should provide the impetus for a soul-searching debate in the West about our entire approach to programs of democratization and “governance reform” in other countries. For while the Western military effort in Afghanistan failed only relatively (in the sense that while Western forces failed to achieve their goals, they were not actually defeated), Western efforts at democratic state-building failed totally and unconditionally. There is literally nothing left of them. Nor were the Afghan classes whom we had trusted and fostered prepared in the last resort to fight and die for the system that we had jointly created.

The critical importance of local history, culture, and tradition applies both to the Western defeat and the Taliban victory. For contrary to years of self-deceiving Western and Afghan government propaganda, a central element in Taliban success was their deep rootedness in Pashtun rural culture and its core values of conservative religion, familial loyalty, and resistance to infidel occupation — including past attempts at conquest by the British Empire. This appears very clearly from Taliban propaganda, poetry, and the recorded conversations of Taliban fighters.

These values are deeply alien to contemporary Western liberal ones; but no honest person can deny any longer either the tremendous resilience and courage they gave to the Taliban struggle, or the fact that in the end, these values and those who held them prevailed over the values and the Afghan people that we had tried to foster.

The final lesson of the Afghan debacle is that while it might be possible in principle to imagine recrafting Western aid institutions and programs so as to be more appropriate to the countries that they are trying to change, this is virtually impossible in the case of counterinsurgency campaigns. The deep local knowledge required to manage the core political element of a counterinsurgency cannot be developed in advance,  and when U.S. forces have actually become engaged in a counterinsurgency, it is impossible to build up this knowledge quickly enough to shape basic policies, even if the will to do it is present in our military, civilian and academic bureaucracies. 

We should have learned this from Vietnam. If we fail to learn it from Iraq and Afghanistan, it will suggest that our political systems and political cultures have become intellectually, morally, and institutionally fossilized to a degree reminiscent of the Soviet Union under Brezhnev. We may think that democracy will save us from this fate, but democracy, like God, helps those who help themselves