Category: Foreign Policy (Page 1 of 11)

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Trump: Neither isolationist nor interventionist

At China.org.cn, I analyze Trump’s foreign policy and why it doesn’t fit into traditional frames of reference:

The discourse over whether Donald Trump is “anti-interventionist” or a militant warmonger is misguided. Trump is neither, and yet he’s also both. Indeed, he has put forward arguments — contradictory as this may sound — for both ways of thinking.

The media and ideological analysts like narratives, and this has led them to seek to place Trump in one or other ideological camp. For instance, after he made noises that suggested he favored isolationism, many Americans on that side of the political spectrum considered Trump as one of their own.

A cohort of academics involved in international relations studies, including Professor Daniel Drezner of Tufts University, argued that Trump’s self-proclaimed anti-interventionism should be understood as “realism;” meanwhile, most respected realist scholars, such as Harvard’s Steven Walt, argued Trump wasn’t a realist at all.

The latest shot in the academic debate comes from George Washington University professor Henry Nau, who argued in The American Interest, just in time for Trump’s inauguration, that his traditional nationalism represents a dire threat to the longstanding American policy of “nationalism of internationalism,” which Nau defines as “intervention abroad to defend democratic allies, defeat terrorism, and trade freely.”

Embedded in his argument, however, some assumptions, derived from the view that Trump is an isolationist, simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. America will fall apart, Nau argues, if it reverts to “fighting terrorism at home because the United States is no longer willing to fight it on the ground abroad.” (“Fighting terrorism abroad” so Americans don’t have to face it at home is a neo-conservative argument for sending troops to Iraq or Afghanistan to fight ISIS, al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups).

It’s a misnomer, however, that Trump doesn’t want to send American troops abroad to fight terrorist and insurgent groups. After all, he’s repeatedly said he wants to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS in Syria. In March, he even paid lip-service to the need to send in up to 30,000 ground troops.

Read my full article: Trump: Neither isolationist nor interventionist

Trump applies the lessons of Iraq backwards

The false choice between “intervention” and “restraint”

A survey by the Charles Koch Institute and the Center for the National Interest is being touted as showing Americans want “restraint” in their foreign policy. According to the write up, 52 percent believe that U.S. foreign policy has made America less safe over the past 15 years, and twice as many want the U.S. to pull troops out of Europe compared to those who want to increase troop levels. (60 percent chose to keep troop levels the same or had no opinion.) Daniel DePetris a fellow at Defense Priorities, an organization that advocates for a “more prudent, restrained foreign policy that assesses the world as it exists,” writes this means “Americans want restraint.”

His view is supported by a growing trend towards anti-interventionist sentiment amongst Americans over the years, illustrated in Donald Trump’s campaign promises to renegotiate trade deals and demand changes to America’s defense treaty obligations with his allies, and playing down the threat of Russia—even to the point of denying that Russia hacked into the DNC’s and Hillary Clinton’s servers (while saying on the trail that Russia should hack Hillary’s server).

There’s one narrative about Barack Obama’s presidency that he intervened in too many countries—causing Libya to become destabilized, fueling war in Syria, and inflaming relations with Russia.

On the other hand, there’s another opposite narrative about Obama that Obama wasn’t interventionist enough. By staying out of Syria, ignoring ISIS until it was too late, and failing to see the threat of Russia (remember he would have more “flexibility” in dealing with Russia after his reelection, he told Dmitry Medvedev), he projected “weakness” and emboldened America’s enemies.

Donald Trump buys into both narratives. Even as Trump has put Article 5 defense of NATO allies into question, he has also called for “bombing the shit” out of ISIS in Syria and invading to steal Iraq and Syria’s oil. Barack Obama smartly didn’t send large numbers of ground troops to Syria or Iraq to get stuck in another quagmire. Trump has said about sending troops, “We really have no choice. … I would listen to the generals, but I’m hearing numbers of 20,000 to 30,000.”

The lesson in Iraq should be that wars in unstable Middle Eastern countries are rarely quick and easy. Trump has apparently not learned that lesson. Instead, he appears to buy into into the argument that Obama was “weak” for either not overthrowing Assad or not taking on ISIS with a ground war.

A related lesson should be to not overreact to terrorist attacks. For all the attention to ISIS, there have been no attacks directed by ISIS in the United States and only five attacks inspired by ISIS between October 2015 and July 2016, resulting in 53 of the more than 16,000 murder that occur in the country every year. The amount of Americans who would be killed directly in battle and indirectly as a result of massive American war in Syria could easily exceed the number killed by terrorism each year by many factors.

On the other hand, Trump takes the critique of Iraq and applies a broad “anti-interventionist” messages to parts of the world that are comparatively safe—namely Europe and Northeast Asia. Because Russia isn’t invading Poland, we should pull back from NATO. But America’s commitment to NATO hasn’t cost the U.S. anywhere near as much as its previous attempts to bomb the shit out of the Middle East and destroy terrorism have. NATO expansion, I have argued, unnecessarily lead to Russia feeling antagonized, and NATO countries could contribute more, but that implies reforms, not scraping the project. Trump’s plan amounts to pulling down your umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re not getting wet.

The American public is fickle and poll questions are not made for capturing nuance. Politicians will use any kind of argument they can think of to hit the other party; hence Republican House Majority Leader Paul Ryan praising Obama’s Russia sanctions while slamming him for doing too little, too late—while ignoring that his party’s leader wants even less to be done. The solution, then, isn’t a false choice between “intervention” and “restraint” but a smarter foreign policy. Trump, as it stands, espouses the wrong answers for both sides of the equation.

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Don’t listen to the false prophets of humanitarianism

Must be hearing how Middle East civil wars are exactly like Jews being persecuted by Nazis in Europe during the 1930s?

I wrote on Quillette, why that is a lie. An excerpt.

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Read the whole thing here.

 

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When terror hits home

As a student of political science, and as a researcher in intelligence, I am no stranger to the concept, history, and effects of terrorism. It has been widely researched, and in recent years has become a staple in the education of any person with the remotest interest in international affairs. Certainly it is a centerpiece of tertiary education in political sciences. However, being Australian and having been educated in New Zealand, terrorism has always been a remote practice, removed from my everyday life. That changed this week.

I must first admit that I was slightly behind the times when I woke up this morning. As a full time PhD student that also works twenty hours a week and reviews books in her ‘spare time,’ I rarely have enough hours in the day to complete my work AND keep up on current affairs beyond my express area of research. See, my gym session with the trainer this morning was an hour earlier than usual, so I had a little time on my hands afterward; I decided to get a coffee and some breakfast. As is my custom when I have the time to do this, I asked for the paper to read. When it was delivered to me with my glass of orange juice, all I could do was stare.

Terrorist plot foiled, seven arrested, Christmas Day explosions planned. Headlines I’ve seen before, as I’m sure many have. But this time, the plot that was foiled? Was in my city. My home. Several full colour photos dominated the multiple page spread; Flinders St Station, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Federation Square. I was in two of those places just two days ago, and across the street from the other. Doing my Christmas shopping, glaring at the horse-and-buggies, laughing with my sister. My sister, who it occurred to me this morning, had we been in the wrong place at the wrong time, could have been killed. By terrorists. In AUSTRALIA. In Melbourne. In our home city.

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Will Donald Trump start a “Clash of Civilisations” in Middle East?

(Originally published by the Centre For Land Warfare, New Delhi, India. Republished here, with added links.)

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Taiwan will suffer most in any Sino-American brinkmanship

So, once again, as usual, Donald Trump when faced with allegations about Russian hacking in his election, quickly gave an interview to Fox News about Taiwan. That helped in diverting much of the traffic towards the issue, in a communication diversion strategy that Trump has mastered since he decided to stand for election. The interview itself was obviously incoherent, and Trumpian…as in he said a lot of things, half said even more, and almost all of them contradictory. Typical example being he claimed Obama’s policies were a failure, but simultaneously claimed that President Obama has been a terrific president. If any observer was watching for signs of Trump’s pivot towards centrism, this is as good as it gets.

However, the important part was his comments about One China policy. Trump said, he understands completely what a One China policy is, and why US governments have followed it for over forty years, but he fails to comprehend why it should be continued if there’s no deal with China. “I fully understand the ‘one China’ policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘one China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade,” Trump told Fox, as reported by Reuters.

(For a Military comparison, check GlobalFirePower)

Well, that’s a bold statement, because for a start, he doesn’t understand One China policy. And, a deal is already in place. The deal is so the planet earth doesn’t look like a sequence from Fallout 4. But on the other hand, he cleverly didn’t say that he wants to topple the One China policy and chart a new US foreign policy towards China. It’s like an art of saying things, without saying things; kind of like thinking out aloud, wondering, what does it matter if the policy is overturned. If the Chinese administration was looking for hint, this is it. Let me explain.

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The long legacy of the Nanjing Massacre on Asian politics

“When will Japan’s war with China become history?”

Today, as with every December 13 for the past four years, Chinese officials gathered at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and rang the bell for the up to 300,000 killed by Japanese imperial soldiers who invaded and captured Nanjing in 1937.

The conquest of the Republic of China’s capital six months after the Second Sino-Japanese War started inspired joy and complacency in Japan. Just weeks earlier the Japanese had completed their capture of Shanghai, a three month battle. Nanjing fell in less than two weeks. General Iwane Matsui was confident that taking Nanjing would result in China’s surrender. (It didn’t, and the war went on for seven more years before Japan surrendered.)

Upon victory on December 13, soldiers committed random acts of violence throughout the city. Civilians fleeing were shot in the back. Homes were invaded, women raped and then stabbed. Pregnant woman were bayoneted in the stomach. Dead bodies were thrown in rivers. Much of the city was destroyed by looting and arson.

Japanese soldiers rounded up masses of men on the grounds they were suspected of being soldiers. Some soldiers had indeed thrown off their uniforms and tried to blend in with civilians, but many more of those taken out to be executed had never fought in the first place. Hundreds of POWs were tied up and shot to death by the Yangtze River on December 18.

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Taiwanese are becoming more pro-independence–with or without Trump’s call

Having analyzed the dynamics of how the precedent-breaking phone call between Donald Trump and Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen played out between the U.S. and China, I now place my gaze on Taiwan itself.

In my observations visiting the island during the cross-straits meeting in 2015 and interviewing academics, I found Taiwanese youth especially likely to be pro-independent, and moreover the ethnolinguistic divides that used to animate their parents’ politics in the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War are becoming less intense.

I wrote about it in detail for Red Alert Politics:

For all the focus on how Donald Trump’s phone call with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen has outraged China, the point of view of the country whose leader was on the other side of the phone has been neglected.

The Taiwanese people have lived for centuries in the shadows of foreign powers, having faced colonialism, invasion, and martial law, before winning democracy. Now, they face missiles pointed at them from an ascendant Communist state intent on eventually conquering them.

For Taiwan and its new pro-independence president, speaking directly to America’s incoming leader was a bold display of its autonomy in the face of Chinese threats.

It wasn’t an overnight shift in Taiwanese policy, but rather the culmination of a trend that has been underway for years. And Taiwanese millennials have played a significant role in that change.

Millennials helped propel Tsai to a resounding 25 percent victory in January’s general election and gave her Democratic Progressive Party its first legislative majority in history.

Read the rest: What Trump’s call meant to Taiwan’s “strawberry generation”

China is laughing at Trump’s Twitter feed

After phone call with Taiwan’s president, Trump tweets undiplomatically

Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s president Tsai Ying-wen upended 37 years of precedent in U.S. foreign policy and potentially raised tensions with China, but his tweets afterwards didn’t help matters.

Since the phone call made the news, Trump tweeted, “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME” in an attempt to deflect some of the responsibility, and then added, “Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.” (Taiwan’s government said that both sides agreed to the call ahead of time and agreed that Tsai would formally initiate the call, according to the Straits Times.)

What these tweets show is Trump is ignorant of world affairs and doesn’t give much consideration to how his words could affect foreign relations. Does he not know the rest of the world can read his Twitter feed, too? More likely he just doesn’t care.

Since 1979, the U.S. has had diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. China demands that any country with whom they have diplomatic relations not recognize Taiwan as an independent country. While America continues to have under-the-table relations with Taiwan, America doesn’t openly recognize Taiwan as a country and doesn’t have an official embassy on the island. (The American Institute in Taiwan, technically a non-profit organization, serves the functions of an embassy.)

To call Tsai the President of Taiwan is taken by many in China as to imply that Taiwan is a sovereign nation.

Next he tweeted about the fact that America sells weapons to Taiwan. (He could have also mentioned the fact that his company is trying to develop hotels in Taiwan.)

Of course everyone knows that Taiwan has a defacto president and that America sells them weapons–he’s not sharing confidential information. But such comments and actions could unnecessarily provoke China. He could start a conflict through his own ignorance.

Moreover, the DPP, which supports greater autonomy from China and pushes for formal recognition of independence, could use Trump’s ignorance to push for its own agenda. A DPP legislator praised the call as a breakthrough in the Straits Times.

His tweets were widely shared on China’s Weibo microblog:

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Assorted geopolitical thoughts from yours truly

Sorry, I’ve been busy with research and writing. But I took some time for an update on five important developments, which you might have missed. As the world is busy with the disillusioned illiberal democracies, here are some other updates you should be reading about.

  1. India-Iranian geo-strategic convergence. India recently started a naval port in Iran. Details here.
  2. Brexit is turning out to be a geopolitical struggle between EU and UK, which might get nasty.
  3. What does Suez crisis tell us about declining hegemons and rising peer rivals, and how it is similar to South China sea rivalry between US and China? Read here.
  4. The politics of human rights is essentially politics, rhetorically espousing values. Here’s why.
  5. Finally, how threatening is EU Army for UK, US, and Russia and what does International Relations theory tell us? Read here.

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