As a Jew who escaped Nazi Germany as a child in 1935, I have a lifelong interest in the ways nations deal with their pasts. I am closely following developments in Japan, in particular the moves to revise Japanese textbooks in a nationalistic direction, the debate about the implications of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, and, above all, steps to turn Japan’s military from a strictly defensive one into one with “normal” capabilities. Abe is hardly the first or only public leader to move in this direction. As Jacob Heilbrunn, the editor of the National Interest,points out, “Nationalists in Japan have never really conceded that Tokyo did anything wrong before or during the war. . . . You will be hard-pressed to find much, if any, mention of Japan’s wartime alliance with Nazi Germany. . . . Japan emerges as a power that was simply trying to defend its own interests. . . . Nationalists also bridle at the moral guilt that outsiders have tried to affix to Japan, whether it is the 1937 invasion of Nanking, which they argue has been falsely turned into a genocidal act, or the use of so-called ‘comfort women’ in Korea.”
In a recent essay in the New York Review of Books, Alan Rusbridger, the editor of TheGuardian, employs three arguments to justify his publication of leaked documents whose release has caused major damage to the national security of the U.S., the U.K., and their allies, according to their governments. The U.S. director of national intelligence has stated that the leaks have done “huge, grave damage” to intelligence-gathering efforts. NSA Director Keith Alexander has argued that revelations have caused “significant and irreversible damage to our nation’s security.” And the director of the Government Communications Headquarters (the NSA’s U.K. counterpart) recently testified that the leaks have been “very damaging” and will make the job of pursuing terrorists “far, far harder for years to come.”
Rusbridger’s first argument, a libertarian claim, is contradicted by his second. The second claim, a liberal communitarian argument, leaves a major question unaddressed. And the third argument is so specious that one must wonder if Rusbridger realized his case was unconvincing and ended up grasping at straws.
Recent news reports indicate that a major stumbling block in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the insistence by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on maintaining a military force on the border between the future Palestinian state and Jordan, along the Jordan Valley.
This demand, and the fact that Secretary of State John Kerry seems to support it, so infuriated Mahmoud Abbas, head of the P.A., that Abbas went over Kerry’s head and appealed directly to President Obama. My suggestion for a way out of this impasse, which follows below, makes sense only once one realizes why both sides feel so strongly about this matter and why they both have good reasons for feeling this way.
Israel sees this force as necessary to prevent the new Palestinian state from turning into a Hamastan and to ensure, as Jackson Diehl put it in The Washington Post, “that the post-occupation West Bank does not become another Iranian base.” As Netanyahu recently said, “We don’t want to see rockets and missiles streaming into a Palestinian state and placed on the hills above Tel Aviv and the hills encircling Jerusalem. If Israel does not maintain a credible military and security presence in the Jordan Valley for the foreseeable future, this is exactly what could happen again.”
Making more explicit that which is viewed by many as an implicit understanding between China and the United States regarding the status of Taiwan would constitute a major step in defusing tensions between the two powers. The governments of both China and the United States have already shown considerable restraint in this matter, ignoring demands from Chinese who wish to use force to “reclaim” Taiwan as part of the mainland and from Americans who call for recognizing Taiwan as an independent nation. These measures of self-restraint should be made more explicit, by letting it be known that as long as China does not use force to coerce Taiwan to become part of the People’s Republic of China (as it did with Tibet), the United States will continue to refrain from treating Taiwan as an independent state.
True, the way Taiwan is treated is currently a much less pressing issue than settling the differences about the status of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and other territorial matters concerning the South China Sea and the various re drawings of Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ) in the region. However, if one seeks to resolve simmering conflicts and to draw on such resolutions to build constructive relations between China and the United States based on mutually assured restraint – rather than containment or a Cold War-style arms race – clarifying the status of Taiwan could serve as a major step forward.
Transparency is the Vitamin C of politics. It does some good under some limited conditions, but can cause harm if used as an alternative medicine when real treatments are needed. Though always popular, transparency has been much in the news recently as the solution to that which ails us. The real treatment is more regulation.
The cost of healthcare is rising? The ACA requires hospitals to publicly report how much they charge for each item and procedure in the hope that consumers will use this information to “buy” less costly treatments. Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United opened the floodgates for the flow of contributions by interest groups to politicians’ campaign chests? Anti-corruption supporters have latched onto the ruling’s upholding of political-spending disclosure requirements as the best means of keeping special interests in check. NSA surveillance programs are viewed as overreaching, ensnaring millions of Americans and tapping the personal cell phones of the leaders of friendly nations? The Obama Administration has promised to be more transparent about why these programs are needed and how they really work.
Transparency has long been hailed as the foundation of democracy. As kids are taught in civic classes, if voters cannot find out what the government is doing—either because its actions are concealed or shrouded by the release of misinformation—how are they to judge its programs and vote them up or down during the next election? Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously declared, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”
The left's eyes are glued to New York City where the Great New Hope for progressive people just took office. The fact that Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected by a wide margin, that the support in several parts of the nation for increasing the minimum wage is considerable, and that public opinion polls consistently reveal that a majority of Americans want the government to curb inequality are all viewed as promising signs there may be a new wave of support for major social reforms. Some even see the coming of a left Tea Party that will prevent centrist Democrats and President Obama from making compromises that damage major liberal causes, in particular the protection of Social Security and Medicare as currently constituted.
Alas, Mayor de Blasio was barely in office a few hours before he made his first major mistake -- one that was far from accidental. He declared that "we are called upon to end social and economic inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love." Ending inequality was and is a good theme for running for office in liberal parts of the country, especially along the two coast lines. During an election campaign, there is an implicit understanding with the voters that you are mainly trying to show that your heart is in the right place and the general direction you plan to move if elected. Only those unfamiliar with the ways of politics (and the organized opposition) will take a candidate's statements as a binding text, as signed contract, to be implemented once in office.
One of the major recommendations of President Obama’s NSA review panel is that information about who Americans called (not what they said!) should no longer be stored by the NSA, but rather by either phone companies or a third party.
This may be good politics, but it is surely bad public policy.
As Michael Hayden, the former head of the NSA, told the BBC, this would undermine our ability to protect ourselves from terrorists and rogue nations—yet it seems necessary because unless the libertarian beast is fed some raw meat, it may devour the whole program (his point, my words). After all, the House came within a few votes of decreeing that the whole program should be defunded—i.e., killed—just months ago.
Before I spell out why we would live to regret implementing this key recommendation, let me note the irony that the same group is simultaneously calling for curtailing or terminating the use of private-sector background checks for those employed in security work, which failed to flag either Edward Snowden or Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis. Just as the group is criticizing the private sector’s security procedures, it calls for handing the very same sector a mission now carried out by the NSA! Although we have hard evidence of the damage done to national security by relying on the private sector, we do not know of a single person who has actually been harmed by NSA collection of phone records. Not one.
Originally published in The Atlantic. December 12, 2013
They are often thoughtful, nuanced, highly evocative, and exceptionally well-delivered—and worse than inconsequential. They raise expectations—a world without nukes! Ending global warming! Finally curbing gun violence!—but are not followed by much of anything. These barren speeches are one reason the public, and especially the young, are becoming disaffected from politics, bad news for any democracy.
I am not so ambivalent about Obama’s December 4 speech focusing on inequality, though perhaps not in the way one might expect. I hope it gains little traction—though truth be told, his track record means I am not losing much sleep over the matter. The speech's flaw is that it seems to align the president with the Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio wing of the Democratic Party. For though this left wing may be hot during the primaries, it is most unlikely to produce a winning candidate for the 2016 election.
Democrats seem to find it too painful to stay united, sit back, and enjoy the squabbles within the GOP. After briefly standing together to oppose the budget cuts Republicans demanded in exchange for ending the government shutdown and avoiding default, the party has returned to its traditional factional infighting between the left and centrists. The very impressive victory of de Blasio, who ran an openly left-wing campaign for New York mayor; Elizabeth Warren’s election; and several locally successful campaigns to increase the minimum wage have suddenly revived the dispirited liberal branch of the party. (The fact that the usually dour and critical Paul Krugman is rhapsodic about Obama’s inequality speech is another sign of the times.)
In responding to the ADIZ, the U.S. needs to consider carefully its position on China as a rising power.
Practically all of the scores of articles that have been published since China announced its new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) have focused on China’s moves and on how the United States and its allies – Japan in particular – have responded and should respond. Analysts have examined China’s motives, seeking to determine whether the ADIZ is defensive, meant to protect China’s sovereignty and security; offensive, meant to prepare for a land grab; a reaction meant to indicate displeasure with Japan’s recent threat to shoot down unmanned aircraft in Japanese airspace; or meant to test U.S. resolve now that it has come to be viewed as having allowed other nations to cross one red line after another. Analysts of the U.S. response have noted signs of weakness in Washington’s instructions that civilian airlines should abide by China’s new rules, and they fear that accidental clashes between U.S. military planes engaged in overflights and the Chinese fighters that shadow them may lead to a shoot-out. Still other articles examined the side effects of China’s ADIZ on Japan, which was moving away from its pacifist orientation even before this recent development.
All of these rightful concerns deal with the immediate situation. The time has now come to also explore how to address the underlying conflict on two levels: that of the status of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and that of China’s rising power and regional role. Unless this is done, the U.S. is limiting itself to dealing with symptoms while ignoring the underlying lingering tensions.