Google Didn’t Kowtow and Neither Should You

By John R. Bolton |  Wall Street Journal Asia

Google’s threat to withdraw from China has attracted considerable attention in business circles and the critical but arcane world of cyber warfare. But the unfolding story also has far broader implications for how U.S. businesses approach the Chinese market and for the U.S. government, which has often failed to vigorously assert U.S. political and economic interests. Far from being a retreat, Google’s move may represent an aggressive corporate step forward in insisting on reciprocal fair dealing.

Although there have been prior examples of corporations leaving China, Google’s is the most noteworthy potential precedent because of its global prominence. China’s apparent hacking into Google’s email system also raises broader questions about the country’s inadequate protection of intellectual property and what place the rule of law actually has among Chinese policy-making priorities, political as well as economic. Human rights, freedom of religion and ethnic discontent all cloud China’s reputation as a “responsible stakeholder” in world affairs.

Nonetheless, the lure of China’s market has quieted many complaints by foreign businesses loathe to provoke Beijing or cede such a potentially huge market to competitors, either domestic or foreign. Inevitably, the refrain is that “China will soon be the world’s largest economy,” and firms are simply expected to bite their tongues and plow ahead.

For years, U.S. administrations of both parties have held much the same view. Analysts and “experts” repeatedly advise not to “press too hard” on China on (a) currency manipulation; (b) North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program and proliferation generally; (c) domestic human-rights policy; (d) Tibet; or (e) [fill in the blank] because “China will not be pleased.” Of course, this is a prescription for doing nothing to change undesirable Chinese policies, and indeed implicitly encourages Beijing to continue them.

These widespread strategies of appeasement simply give China what it wants for free. Bringing China appropriately to diplomatic battle on any given issue can hardly be worse than surrendering without a fight, which has occurred all too often in recent years. If fear of retaliation over the immediate issue in dispute—or in a perhaps completely unrelated area—inhibits the U.S. from objecting to unsatisfactory Chinese policies, China will simply proceed to have its way. This analysis is not a criticism of China, which forthrightly does what it can get away with, but of limp-wristed American policy.

Take, for example, China’s massive store of U.S. government debt, the current all-purpose reason not to rouse the slumbering Chinese dragon. China’s holdings should not inhibit Washington from strongly asserting U.S. views, whether on North Korea, human rights or trade. If Beijing actually acts in a way that exacerbates the looming debt problem, it would only be making concrete what we already know, and should already be resolving on our own—which is that our growing public debt is unwise and unsustainable. China already runs its own considerable economic risks as a U.S. creditor. It may be China that is the paper tiger—but how will we know, if we never test it? (Ironically, the U.S. should be delighted that China worries about exploding U.S. government budget deficits and the risks of massive inflation. Too bad the Obama administration doesn’t have Beijing’s acuity, but perhaps China will save us from our own misdirection.)

China’s advocates make a critical mistake trying to justify the country’s aberrant commercial behavior. Businessman Tang Jun, for example, recently questioned Microsoft’s position against piracy of its intellectual property by telling the Washington Post that “in a lot of other countries that can work. But China is a very unique country.” Unique in saying that stealing intellectual property is the norm in China and must be accepted? Hardly an “open for business” sign or the reputation that any country, no matter how large its market, should want.

Supineness only convinces Beijing that a “take it or leave it” approach will work in more and more circumstances. Here, Google’s conduct in the immediate future is critical: If Google can negotiate satisfactory protections for its operations in China and decides to remain, then its hard line will have proven successful. But if Google cannot get essentially what it wants, and nonetheless remains in China, that will be the worst signal of all. Google must remember never to make threats unless the company is fully prepared to carry them out.

The U.S. government and American businesses should do what they naturally do elsewhere: defend their own interests vigorously. Make deals in or with China when they meet the tests of satisfying those interests, not out of generalized fear of retaliation or lack of cooperation from Beijing down the road. In reality, Beijing is more likely to respect a determined interlocutor, business or government, than a weak-willed one. It is incomprehensible that Americans have not appreciated and acted upon this lesson in recent years. Perhaps Google is about to educate us.

Iran’s Election Process a “Sham”

John R. Bolton |  Politico

Iran’s “democracy” under the Islamic Revolution of 1979 is a wondrous thing, as the June 12 presidential election and its riotous aftermath proved.

First, only candidates screened and approved by the mullahs in the Guardian Council could run–in this case, exactly four presidential candidates out of nearly 500 who applied. Second, Iran’s highest official is not the president but, rather, the supreme leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Third, Iran’s election officials are not independent but rigorously controlled by the supreme leader. Fourth, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and other security forces stand ready, willing and able to preserve public safety if the “wrong” candidate appeared to win or protestd in defeat.

And fifth, whoever won wasn’t going to change Iran’s 20-year campaign to acquire deliverable nuclear weapons or its role as the central banker for international terrorism. The supreme leader and the IRGC control Iran’s foreign and national security policies, under both “reformist” presidents like Seyed Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) and incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad alike.

Credulous foreign reporters missed all of this, partly because they spent their time talking to middle-class Iranians or Iranian ex-pats who think like them rather than doing hard investigative work to understand what was actually afoot. Perhaps these reporters never covered elections in Chicago. Some commentators predicted that President Barack Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo would benefit Iranian “moderates,” and some compared the main challenger’s wife to Michelle Obama. Even Obama, self-referential as always, was caught up in the rapture, citing his Cairo speech as signaling “the possibility of change” in Iran.

Oh, well. There are, of course, two possibilities. One is that Ahmadinejad got 63 percent. The second is that he stole the election from Mousavi or at least provided himself ample insurance. The Associated Press first reported that Ahmadinejad was heading for “a surprise landside.” Reuters then reported that “the scale of his first-round victory stunned his main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi.”

In fact, what was stunning was that the Western media fell for the whole charade, although it was par for reporters whose political bias frequently obscures reality, whether in Iran or America. It was also par for Obama’s style of governance, which views speech making as a relaxing, convenient substitute for presidential action.

The media’s endlessly incorrect narrative about struggles between “moderates” and “hard-liners” within the Islamic Revolution of 1979 will doubtless continue, because abandoning it now would be admitting the intellectual poverty of three decades of Western reporting. It would have been easier if outsiders had from the outset understood the debate between the regime’s moderates and hard-liners this way: Hard-liners like Ahmadinejad want to continue Iran’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and boast about “wiping Israel off the map.” By contrast, the moderates want to continue Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs but remain silent, thus more effectively deluding many willing Westerners.

Make no mistake, as the post-election demonstrations have demonstrated, there is enormous opposition to Iran’s existing government structure, and indeed to the entire Islamic Revolution of 1979. Young people (those under 30 constitute approximately 70 percent of the total population) are unhappy and know they could have a different life if freed from harsh clerical rule. Economic grievances are massive, after 30 years of theologians mismanaging the economy. And ethnic discontent (only about 50 percent of the population is Persian) is widespread.

But giving effect to this discontent was never in the cards in the June 12 election, which was intended to bolster the Islamic Revolution, not to undercut it. Outsiders, including Obama, conflated the seething national discontent with the sham election process and simply misunderstood what was actually happening. Such dramatic misperception of political reality inside Iran, does not, needless to say, bode well for overall U.S. policy toward Iran’s nuclear and terrorist threats.

In fact, with careful outside support, the post-election outrage in Iran, with time, could grow sufficiently to reverse the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and replace it with a system of representative government. What may be the most positive outcome from what the defeated Mousavi called this “dangerous charade” is that Iranians–and Westerners–will now realize there can be no true democracy as long as the Islamic Revolution remains in power.

Instead of continuing to play by the mullahs’ rules, Iranians across the board must resolve to change not just the rules but the entire system, overthrowing the Revolution and its superstructure and creating institutions that truly allow for representative government. That would be “change” we could believe in.

Dealing with Somalia and Its Piracy

John R. Bolton |  San Diego Union-Tribune

Somalia’s turmoil is yet another compelling example that the rest of the world will not stand idly, waiting for America to solve its domestic problems.

Recent dramatic increases in piracy along the coast of Somalia, plus the near collapse of Somalia’s government, highlight the continuing instability throughout East Africa. African Union leaders are holding emergency meetings on Somalia, but unfortunately, from Zimbabwe to Sudan, disarray threatens even governments that have so far escaped crisis. Although President-elect Barack Obama wishes to focus on our current economic downturn, Somalia’s turmoil is yet another compelling example that the rest of the world will not stand idly, waiting for America to solve its domestic problems.

Unfortunately, neither the African Union nor the United Nations seem able to deal with Somalia’s instability or the threat of high-seas piracy. In fact, too many statesman and analysts are insisting that the two problems be solved together, thus guaranteeing that neither one will be addressed effectively. Even more unfortunately, the Bush administration accepts this linkage, and recently advocated two resolutions in the U.N. Security Council, one to insert a peacekeeping force into Somalia to stop the ongoing, multi-sided civil war, and one to authorize the use of force against the pirates, both at sea and against their land bases.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent visit to New York to advocate these resolutions had all the trappings of her tireless “legacy project,” designed to burnish her reputation in history as her tenure as secretary winds down. Ironically, the Security Council outcome is likely to have the opposite effect.

First, Rice’s proposal for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia went nowhere, and rightly so. The suggestion ignored Somalia’s unfortunate 1993 experience in “nation-building,” where “peacekeepers,” including U.S. forces, deployed under vague and conflicting mandates, faced numerous militia forces and warlords in shifting coalitions and rivalries. This wrongheaded humanitarian intervention ultimately resulted in the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” tragedy for American troops in Mogadishu, and the collapse of the entire U.N. effort. Naive and ill-planned, assertive multilateralism so proudly touted by the new Clinton administration, arguably worsened conditions in Somalia, turning U.S. and other international attention away from the problem rather than trying to address it more pragmatically and incrementally.

U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-moon himself argued against Rice’s proposal for U.N. peacekeepers, making one of his strongest statements in his two years in office, especially noteworthy because he was critical of a U.S. initiative. Ban rightly said “if there is no peace to keep, peacekeeping operations are not supposed to be there.” This is basic U.N. peacekeeping doctrine, fashioned by hard experience over many decades, including past efforts in Somalia, not the ritual incantation of soothing but treacherous mantras such as the “responsibility to protect.”

Second, Security Council Resolution 1851, authorizing force against the Somali pirates, is largely blue smoke and mirrors. It applies only to cases where the collapsing interim Somali government has notified the U.N. secretary general in advance of potential military action! Given the Somali government’s fragility, the odds of its being able to keep such a request secret are negligible, thus guaranteeing that the pirates will be long gone from any location targeted for military force. Better that this resolution had not been adopted, since without it nations could act on their own without any U.N. or Somali government role. Fortunately, the resolution does not purport to preclude other approaches, so we are left free to do just that.

Neither of Rice’s proposals was serious in the Somalia context. The plain if highly unpleasant truth is that elements for a lasting Somali political settlement do not currently exist, and will not for some time. Conflict and anarchy have lasted too long for that. The experienced U.N. mediator, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, is doing what he can to facilitate political reconciliation, piece by fractious Somali piece, but his work will not be advanced by massive outside “humanitarian” intervention, or yet another misplaced exercise in nation-building. Instead, piracy and terrorism are Somalia’s most tangible international threats, and must be addressed immediately.

Ironically, Western military authorities, including Washington, are reluctant to take on the pirates, in part because they fear accusations of violating the pirates’ human rights! Even more paradoxically, NATO officials contend that the pirates are part of a larger societal problem that cannot be addressed in isolation.

This, of course, is a radical departure from America’s attitude toward piracy 200 years ago. Then, worldly wise European governments were content to pay tribute to North Africa’s Barbary pirates, but the young United States decided to use force to stop attacks on its commerce. America was right then, and it would be right today to use force to destroy the Somali pirate bases and ships.

Hopefully, our NATO allies would also participate, and perhaps others such as India and China, demonstrating that this is not another example of dreaded American “unilateralism.” Obviously, we must be deeply concerned not to endanger the innocent, since the pirates, terrorists that they are, will try to use civilians as shields. But avoiding the hard reality that force is required will simply extend the pirates’ threat into the indefinite future by allowing them sanctuaries.

Ridding Somalia of pirates would by no means solve all of Somalia’s problems, but it is the absolutely necessary first step. Concurrently and thereafter, Ould-Abdallah and others can work on a Somali political settlement, with support from the outside world. Trying to have the outside world resolve the anarchy in the first instance, however, would simply prolong the agony.

The Hidden Security Risk

John R. Bolton |  Washington Times

Defense contracts to foreign firms should be limited.

Defense procurement issues are typically matters of eye-glazing complexity and obscurity. Military and corporate jargon, proliferating acronyms and impenetrable regulatory structures dissuade even knowledgeable foreign affairs devotees from paying much attention.

Every so often, however, a military procurement controversy spotlights a more salient national security issue in ways potentially critical to long-term American defense. Just such a moment now confronts us in the controversial Air Force decision awarding a massive aerial-refueling tanker contract to a foreign-dominated consortium.

There is no doubt that many, perhaps even most, arguments about preserving the “defense industrial base” are simply poorly disguised arguments for protectionism. But not all of them.

Spurning a competitive bid by Boeing, the Air Force awarded the contract to the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. (EADS) and Northrop Grumman, a U.S. firm. Boeing is now protesting the bid decision before the Government Accountability Office–and a decision is likely just days away.

There is no doubt that many, perhaps even most, arguments about preserving the “defense industrial base” are simply poorly disguised arguments for protectionism. But not all of them. That is why, for example, we have restrictions on arms exports: to ensure that critical technologies are not sold to potential adversaries. One could argue persuasively that there are too many restrictions, but there is no serious analyst who has ever argued for no restrictions.

Obviously, the critical analytical task is where to draw the line. Manufacturing military uniforms abroad is one thing. Manufacturing nuclear weapons is something else.

Sweeping too broadly justifiably raises concerns about an under-the-table industrial policy that acts as a hidden tariff barrier against the disfavored. Sweeping too narrowly, however, risks the unintended transfer abroad of key technologies or placing at risk our supplies of critical national security assets at decisive moments. Unless one is prepared to argue that everything our military and intelligence services require can be outsourced abroad, there is no way to avoid drawing this line.

Through ad hoc decision making over many years, however, the line, if ever clear, has been completely obscured. One compelling example is our imminent dependence on Russian rocket boosters for access to the space station, which is made particularly acute as the space shuttle fleet rapidly approaches the end of its life span. How we reached this breathtaking dependency follows no coherent story line, but its conclusion is clear. Why we would want to do this to ourselves yet again is beyond explanation.

The most sensible line to draw is around those technologies essential to America’s massive force-projection capabilities, the sub-nuclear military attribute that justifiably distinguishes the United States as the world’s sole superpower. No other NATO member, except Britain and France in limited ways, has such a capability, and outside NATO, only Russia currently has it to a significant extent. Central to sustained force projection is the ability of U.S. air and naval assets to range around the globe–attacking far-away targets; inserting, supplying and protecting friendly ground forces; and acting as a critical deterrent to possible threats.

And central to these global capacities is the seemingly prosaic task of keeping our air and naval fleets safely refueled. The U.S. Navy over the years shifted from sail to coal to oil, and now to nuclear power for many of its blue-water ships, reducing the need for refueling stations around the world. Our air assets, however, do not have that flexibility. Aerial refueling is the blue-sky equivalent of nuclear propulsion for our blue-water navy.

There is no justification for putting this unimaginably important capability at risk by manufacturing critical elements of it abroad. It is not enough to say that EADS is largely owned by allies of the United States, because we may well differ with allies on key issues of national security. Consider, for example the widely differing views between America and “Europe” on Arab-Israeli affairs, on NATO expansion, on Iran’s nuclear program, or on a host of other issues. Moreover, Russia is a five-percent owner of EADS. For those who may have forgotten, Russia is not a NATO ally. Finally, of course, ownership structures in EADS may change, and not necessarily for the better.

The United States simply cannot risk being denied full access to the aerial-refueling planes and spare parts at times of risk. And yet that is precisely the outcome we will face if awarding the tanker contract to Northrop/EADS is sustained.

To be sure, all American defense firms, including Northrop-Grumman and Boeing, have had to compete recently in the increasingly incoherent procurement system. It is no disparagement of any private firm to say they had little choice in the matter, since they are not policy-makers in the domestic-vs.-foreign manufacturing debate, but instead they are policy receivers. How they or others responded to or fared in past procurements is not an answer to the current dilemma.

It is, in fact, only a decision like that on the aerial-refueling tanker that highlights how completely out of sync procurement has drifted from what should be fundamental politico-military priorities. With so much at stake, the decision America faces is not limited simply to the outcome of the current tanker competition.

We need instead a complete and coherent reappraisal of our military procurement policies on the domestic-versus-foreign issue. This reappraisal should proceed whether or not Boeing’s current bid protest succeeds, but it will be especially important if the protest fails. At that point, a decisive shift in the security of our force-projection capabilities will take place, which cannot be corrected for years or possibly decades to come. Whether originating in the Administration or in Congress, this reappraisal needs to begin immediately.


Reasserting the Complexity of “Conquests and Cultures”

By John R. Bolton

Review of Conquests and Cultures by Thomas Sowell.

With a title like Conquests and Cultures: An International History, one might expect Thomas Sowell’s latest effort to be filled with grand theories and all-encompassing explanations.  One might even expect that, as the last volume of a trilogy, this work would be the omega word on the entire subject of culture and race, migration and conquest throughout history.

Fortunately, however, Mr. Sowell has no such illusions either about history generally or his particular subject of inquiry.  He warns at the beginning that, “Those who yearn for the certainties of doctrine or the elegance of abstract theoretical models will not find them here.”

The tacit premise underlying much of the enormous range of data filling nearly 400 very readable pages is the rebuttal of Marxist-Leninist theories of imperialism, and the larger, more amorphous and more trendy concept of Western exploitation of the rest of the world.  Mr. Sowell writes not about philosophy, but about history, and history that sweeps over centuries and continents, with grace and clarity.

Mr. Sowell examines virtually the entire development of four cultural groups, the British, the Africans, the Slavs and Western Hemisphere Indians, and in particular the relationships of these groups with outsiders bearing different cultures and stocks of human capital.  He also explicates the manifest influences on these divergent cultures of geography, such as access to bodies of water and the consequent reduction of costs for trade and manufacture, religion, science and technology, and many other factors, which have combined in a multitude of ways over the course of time.

In some cases (such as the British and the Romans), the groups being studied were the subject of conquest, while later (as in the acquisition of the British Empire), the groups were conquering others. At times, conquest brought increased economic activity and enhanced human capital to the conquered (Britons and Romans again, and Western Europeans to Eastern Europeans in this century), while in other instances it brought disease and destruction (Europeans and the Aztecs and Incas).

Mr. Sowell’s point is neither to defend nor criticize conquest in the abstract, but to underline that interactions between cultures are complex and multifaceted, and often occur without any specific intent to do harm that is later inferred by would-be theorists of exploitation.

Moreover, and of critical importance for this book, Mr. Sowell insists on decoupling responsibility for what happened “then” with prevailing conditions in later historical periods.  While both Marxists and Western-guilt theorists–and their disciples like President Clinton–are ever at the ready to apologize and even require reparations for centuries-old wrongs, Mr.  Sowell takes a different view.

For example, after characterizing the “biological, social and cultural havoc” wreaked by Western Europeans on Western Hemisphere Indians, Mr. Sowell immediately observes that, “All this is wholly different from saying the present-day descendants of these indigenous peoples are worse off than if the Europeans had never come.” Understanding history is much less enjoyable than assessing blame and quantifying damages, but Mr. Sowell reminds that history and culture are too complicated to be manhandled into preconveived categories of good guys and bad guys.

One of the striking aspects of a book that will be read largely by intellectuals is the way Mr.  Sowell deftly places this class in a properly limited historical niche.  He obvserves, correctly, that “Modern Western industry and commerce developed when the intelligentsia were a small and relatively uninfluential group.”

He is correct too in targeting the left-leaning education of the leading classes in the newly independent former colonial states as one of the worst legacies of European colonial rule.  But Mr. Sowell is also on to a larger insight about the relationship between ideas and history, arguing that it “has been one of reciprocal interaction, rather than one-way causation, so that no formula can substitute for an investigation of the specifics of this interation in particular times and places.”

Thus, Mr. Sowell feels perfectly comfortable arguing, based on a huge empirical record, that the Western concept of freedom, “is an ideology rooted in history rather than in purely intellectual exercises.” Similarly, he concludes that slavery “did not exist because of racial or other ideologies,” but that the “differences between the subjugated people and those who subjugated them were more likely to be military, geographical and cultural, rather than racial.”

If true, as the evidence shows, Mr. Sowell’s assessments give the lie to the entire basis for the apologetic mentality. Are Western Europeans, for example, now to apologize to the Slavs (from whence the term “slave” was derived) for the continuous export of slaves through Dubrovnik and Venice over the centuries because the geography of southeastern Europe made it vulnerable to such exploitation? Given that, as in the British case, different cultures have been, at different times in their respective histories, both conquerors and conquered, the apology business is ultimately both impossible and unproductive.

It is, of course, the Marxist view of history, and especially its theory of economic determinism elaborated in Lenin’s Imperialism, that is least able to resist Mr. Sowell’s onslaught.  Aside from devastating critiques of the “evidence” on which Lenin based his conclusion, Mr. Sowell makes a significant contribution by his simple opposition to the very intellectual totalitarianism of Marxist-Leninist ideology itself, and its explanations for the arrangements of class and culture in the 20th century.

That will be infuriating enough to the apologists and guilt trippers of the intellectual class and their political fellow travelers. Even more infuriating will be Mr. Sowell’s conscious decision not to propound an alternate ideology for the fallen Marxists to deconstruct.  Nonetheless, it is precisely Mr. Sowell’s acknowledgment of cultural complexity and ambiguity that makes his trilogy so informative and important.