Everyone is focused on Syria.  Literally, everyone.  To be honest though, was anyone surprised?  I wasn’t.  Syria’s best bet would have been to lay low and stay off the radar.  Instead, they became a very convenient way for President Trump to prove he was serious about the Middle East, show President Xi he was comfortable with military action, and distance himself from Russia.

If the video doesn’t make you say “‘Murica!” and love the Navy, you need to check your little red book at the door 🙂

But why is no one focused on this?

North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile,” the statement read, according to CNN. “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”

On top of that, President Trump says he is not afraid to act alone on North Korea.

None of this is accidental.  If you care about human rights, North Korea routinely ranks lower than even Syria.  It imprisons its own people on a massive scale, has massive issues providing enough food and medical care, yet finds the money and effort to build nuclear weapons.

From cartoonmovement.com

China has chosen to do nothing about North Korea because the country is convenient for them.  Not only does North Korea routinely rattle Japan, but they keep South Korea (with a very capable military) totally focused on the peninsula and not on China’s repeated expansion elsewhere.  With the rest of the world willing to condemn North Korea but take no actions, China is sitting pretty, able to continue expanding in the East and South China Seas, as well as in their western territories, while cheaply distracting Japan, South Korea, and to a lesser extent, the US.

Until now.

President Trump’s willingness to go it alone hits the soft underbelly of politics with China:

  • It would unite Japan and South Korea in a conflict.  China has always cited past Japanese aggression whenever it conducts diplomatic talks with South Korea.  A conflict would put Japan and South Korea working together, something that would likely bolster the stalled improvement of relations between both countries.
  • It would give China a massive immigration crisis.  There are easily over 200,000 people imprisoned in camps, and most of the ~25 million people in North Korea live in dirt-poor conditions.  China has always been a destination for illegal immigration, and if the North Korean state collapses, you would likely see a massive migration north.
  • It would create a low cost competitor.  When East and West Germany reunited, there was a massive economic boom in East Germany.  Although it’s likely the South Korean economy would take a bit of a hit, China is much more vulnerable, having based a large amount of its economic growth on low cost manufacturing.  An open North Korea would be a magnet for manufacturers and would likely tank the Chinese economy.
  • It would damage China’s reputation.  Asian culture in general is much more concerned about ‘saving face‘ than Western cultures.  China is trying to prove it is an international power, but to have the US walk in and clean up problems in its backyard is damaging to that image.
  • It puts the fight where China doesn’t want it.  China stations its best military units near Taiwan and (increasingly) in the South China Sea, and believes that in a fight there it will win.  Putting the fight squarely in their backyard, and with a combined South Korea and Japan, places them at a significant disadvantage.

We can joke all we want about North Korea being the short bus of nations, but a fight there would be nasty, and the humanitarian reconstruction afterwards would be massive.  Syria’s end state won’t change the map much, but Korea’s end state could significantly change the balance of power in that region.

Trump’s pivot to the Pacific has already begun.


This post represents only the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other federal agency.

Feel free to check out my blog, and donate to Da Tech Guy! 

The Terracotta Warriors from the creation of China
The Terracotta Warriors from the third century B.C. underscore the longstanding power of China. (Photo by Chris Harper)

For the United States to have an effective policy with China, Americans have to stop buying iPhones. Or Apple has to move some of its production facilities from China. And a whole lot more.

The trade imbalance between the two countries is so out of whack, amounting to a deficit of more than $300 billion a year for the United States, that the American government cannot put any significant pressure on China. Moreover, the Beijing government owns more than 7 percent of the U.S. debt. China has a lot of leverage.

Sanctions and tariffs usually don’t work. It would help if Apple would move its production plants from China to South Korea, for example, but educating consumers about the implications of buying Chinese products might also work.

After visiting and teaching in China during the past two years, I offer a few insights:

–President Xi Jinping is the most powerful, politically savvy and intelligent leader in recent history.
–The pivot toward Asia under the Obama administration has been laughable, including alliances with some dreadful regimes in Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines.
–China’s so-called “belt-and-road” program to build infrastructure from mainland Asia to Europe has been a resounding success despite U.S. naysayers. For more about the economic plan, see https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/asia/china-s-infrastructure-play
–The presidential election has made the United States a laughingstock among Chinese.

President Obama’s recent Asian excursion underlines how poorly the United States is doing. The Chinese made him disembark from the back of the plane. The government restricted his access to the media, and officials got into a shouting match with his aides. The president then got dissed by the government of Laos and the Philippines.

These incidents don’t bode well for any resolution to China’s desire to control economic and military sway over the South China Sea—an issue that does matter. That route controls access to billions of dollars in fishing, minerals and petroleum for a range of Asian countries.

The most recent U.S. policy has been to confront Chinese vessels—an approach that is likely to heighten tensions rather than lessen them.

Neither presidential candidate offers much hope in dealing effectively with China. Clinton is likely to continue gunboat diplomacy, while Trump wants tariffs against Chinese products. These inept approaches are troubling because China is the leading competitor of the United States for the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of the rest of the world.


Christopher Harper, a recovering journalist with The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and The Washington Times, teaches media law.

 

 

 

 

By Steve Eggleston

In case you haven’t heard, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), unanimously reported favorably out of committee a bill that supposedly gives Congress a “right of refusal” on any agreement between the civilized world and Iran on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

My immediate reaction, in the comments section of the Hot Air post, was that this is the “logical” extension of the 2011 cave on the debt ceiling to foreign policy. To wit, it’s a changing of an active Congressional approval to one of active Congressional disapproval in order to con those of us outside the DC bubble.

Andrew McCarthy has a longer explanation of this. As part of this, he links to the text of the bill itself, and a read of it is quite discouraging. Indeed, it’s nothing more than Kabuki theater.

The big item that is part of Corker’s bill is that it completely accedes to the notion that whatever agreement is reached is not only is an “executive agreement”, but one that requires no actual Congressional approval, much less the 2/3rds approval by the Senate a treaty requires. In fact, the bill explicitly allows for the waiving of all the sanctions against Iran if there is no action taken by Congress. In that respect, it’s worse than the various iterations of the “fast-track” trade negotiation authority that had existed for nearly the last 4 decades. Fast-track at least required the active approval of Congress.

With that said, given there wouldn’t be 2/3rds of Congress willing to override a Presidential veto of a maintenance of sanctions, it really doesn’t matter. According to the Congressional Research Service (courtesy the Federation of American Scientists), all of the statutory sanctions can be waived, and many of them outright terminated, by Presidential authority. In fact, the “prohibition” on those waivers during the Congressional review period specifically doesn’t apply to those made by mid-May, and arguably any made prior to the submission of a final agreement to Congress.

One could point to the fact that Congress would get semi-annual reports on Iran’s compliance with a nuclear deal, with an expedited consideration of a reimposition of sanctions as punishment for non-compliance, as a “positive”. However, given the punishment would require 2/3rds of both houses of Congress (after an Obama veto) to happen, and thus wouldn’t happen, it is equally meaningless.

By Steve Eggleston

In an interview with the Associated Press, former Polish President Lech Walesa said of the world and the American role in it, “(T)he world is disorganized and the superpower is not taking the lead. I am displeased.” Walesa, who led the Solidarity movement that led to the end of Communism in Poland, knows a thing or two about leadership. After all, unlike the “peaceful transition” the AP article insinuates, his Solidarity movement was brutally repressed by the Polish Communist leaders in the early 1980s.

Now, why would Walesa say the US is not taking the lead? Among the many reasons, there are several just related to Poland. One of President Barack Obama’s first foreign policy actions was to cancel a European missile shield that would have been based in Poland at the insistence of Russia. Never mind that Russia is prohibited by treaty from having missiles that target Europe, and that the shield was designed more for protection from missiles launched from Iran.

Obama’s promise of more flexibility vis a vis Russia in his second term is rather disturbing to Poland. Going back through history, not only did the former Soviet Union dominate a nominally-independent Poland after it (re)seized eastern Poland following World War II, but before World War I, it directly ruled Poland as a part of the Russian Empire.

Obama’s and Secretary of State John Kerry’s rudderless reaction to Russia’s seizure of the Crimea peninsula and designs on other parts of Ukraine bear that out. Like Poland, Ukraine was forcibly annexed into the pre-World War I Russian Empire, and Russian President Vladmir Putin has expressed a desire to recreate that version of Russia.

One more thing – the AP story notes that Obama didn’t meet with Walesa on his previous trip to Poland. Something tells me that, even though the purpose of the June trip is to mark the 25th anniversary of Poland’s emergence from Communism, Obama will duck Walesa again.