Your Depressing News for the Day

by Dave Schuler on April 15, 2014

There’s a pretty depressing article on the status of diplomacy in the Far East at FP:

This means that both Japan and China have an interest in seeing the United States face a binary choice between supporting Japan and stepping back from confrontation with China. Tokyo wants Washington to prove unambiguously that it will not sacrifice Japanese interests in order to avoid a rift with Beijing. Beijing wants to show Japan-and the rest of Asia-that America is no longer willing to defend their interests against China’s growing power.

Of course Washington wants to avoid that choice, and it seems to think it can. In Washington, they seem to assume that if shots are fired, China would back down rather than confront the United States militarily. If that’s true, the United States would not have to choose between fighting China and abandoning Japan.

It ain’t necessarily so. Read the whole thing.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

jan April 15, 2014 at 11:01 am

“Of course Washington wants to avoid that choice, and it seems to think it can. “

Obama’s foreign policy has boiled down to crossing fingers and hoping everything will turn out all right, without the need to make a decision or flex any muscles/options on the part of the U.S. While it’s in nobody’s best interest to be so confrontational that war seems to be waiting on the doorstep of every solution to a global problem, I believe it also serves little purpose to have no guidelines, limits or purpose in exercising one’s foreign policy. IMO, that’s how we have evolved and are currently seen by both our friends and foes around the world — limp and floundering.

TastyBits April 15, 2014 at 11:04 am

While conducting a show of force, a US destroyer was buzzed by a Russian fighter multiple times. China backing down is as delusional as Russia backing down.

Oh wait, who could have seen this coming?

While I am on the subject, my hawk friends should research US military troop strength during the Cold War vs today. Compare Europe numbers vs total numbers. Find out how many tanks are in Europe today.

These are open source numbers, and while you may not know them, every US adversary does. It is a little difficult to bluff when everybody can see your cards, but bury your head in the sand if it makes you feel good. You will have lots of company.

steve April 15, 2014 at 12:09 pm

This has been coming for a long time. Most of Asia seems to still hate Japan for what they did in WWII. Most of Asia is worried about China as it asserts itself. We have a declared alliance with Japan. We have already chosen sides. If China faces economic problems, I would expect them to turn to foreign policy provocations to keep the current regime in power. I dont see many god options for us here. The recent attempts to work more closely with China should pay off in the long run, but if the current regime has a short term problem, I think they wont worry too much about maintaining a close relationship with us.

That said, I think they have to be aware of what a loss of trade would mean to their economy.

Steve

TastyBits April 15, 2014 at 2:03 pm

@jan

The proper response to a fighter buzzing your destroyer once is a warning, and the second time is to shot it down. The proper response to a second fighter being sent is to destroy an air base. For people who make judgements based upon power, you need to use overwhelming power to get their attention.

Shooting down the Russian jet would have earned Putin’s respect, but I have yet to see any hawk call for that course of action.

In the real world, you do not get to pick the reality you like. In the real world, flexing muscles does not do anything. In the real world, you kick the shit out of somebody, and if you really want to make a point, you kick the shit out of somebody in overwhelming disproportion to whatever they did.

When you intend to send a show of force, you had better damn well know who is going to be showing whom is the forceful party. The US could have sent the whole 5th fleet, but if they are going to let Russian jets buzz them, the Russians are the big dogs.

Thanks Sen. McCain. Any more great advice.

If you want to run with the big dogs, you can’t stay on the front porch, but be warned, not all of the big dogs are nice. Now, make your choice. Putin ain’t on the porch, and he ain’t one of the nice dogs.

jan April 15, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Tasty,

My comments above are generalized — nothing to do specifically with the Russian plane buzzing an American destroyer.

IMO, though, body language in people can thwart or invite unwanted attacks. The same, IMO, holds true for foreign policy relationships, especially when it comes to the messages exchanged between foreign leaders. In other words, you have to say what you mean, and mean what you say. In the case of this country, tough speeches, drawing red lines, vague threats of “consequences” are harmful to a nation’s credibility if you don’t follow through. Like a wise neighbor once said, “less said is less mended.” In the case of Obama, he talks a lot, and little is either true or acted upon.

Furthermore, I don’t think ‘strength’ necessarily has to be demonstrated through the use of war planes and war-like tactics, as McCain is so fond of doing. Instead, a country can be strategically strong in how smart it structures it’s alliances, military options, treaties, or extends aid to others in trying to keep ahead of simmering problems, rather than always seemingly surprised by them. Never under-estimating shrewd foes is another leadership quality, deterring unwarranted confrontations of those testing the waters of our convictions by pushing the envelop of their own fortunes, like what Putin is doing. Finally, spending time pulling one’s own country together, rather than pettily trying to pry it apart with mountains of fabricated social issues, creates solidarity and civic unification — inherently making a country appear cohesive and thus fortified, and not one to be frivolously messed with.

TastyBits April 16, 2014 at 6:33 am

@jan

I have stated before President Obama’s bowing and much of his understanding of how the world works is silly and childish, but many of his political opponents do not have the will to do what is required to carry out the policies they promote.

Of all the US allies, I am not sure who is worth a damn. Angela Merkel is supposed to be the tough one, but that is like the bravest of my two dogs. They are ready to tear apart anybody until the door is opened.

The US does not have the military strength to threaten a Russian or Chinese defensive position. Airpower does not win wars. The objective is controlling territory, and this is done on the ground.

The West has de-fanged itself, and it does not understand how power works. It does not understand that power is the basis for all interactions, and when faced with someone like Putin, they misjudge him at each step.

Being compared to Hitler should have stopped him instantly, but Putin does not change. They know this must bother him, but they create reasons why he does not change. Each new action is followed by, “nobody could have seen this coming.”

The right is as bad as the left. Sending warships, setting up tripwires, creating sanctions are supposed to send a message that the US is serious, but as soon as a warship is buzzed, nothing happens.

Without a serious military buildup, empty military threats are worse than pretending like you can do something. The redline thing was stupid, but so are shows of force and muscle flexing.

I doubt the Republicans/conservatives would be willing to spend the amount of money it would take. If so, they would have done it under President Bush after 9/11.

Hence, President Obama has made some silly, some childish, and some stupid mistakes, but overall, he really has few options. He does not have the might to backup threats, and he does not have allies with any understanding of reality or any backbone.

You can disagree with a president’s foreign policy philosophy, but you never “takes sides against the family”. If he/she is that bad, he/she needs to be impeached and removed. I did not like what the Democrats did to President Bush, and frankly, I believe they were bordering upon treason.

This does not mean that you need to become a cheerleader. I had to take on one of those, and I think I am turning out more right than wrong.

Finally, a president’s foreign policy is your country’s foreign policy, and your country’s foreign policy is your foreign policy. You do not need to like it, but you argue against the country’s foreign policy. It is not as pleasurable, but it is more patriotic.

Ben Wolf April 16, 2014 at 7:28 am

The proper response to a fighter buzzing your destroyer once is a warning, and the second time is to shot it down. The proper response to a second fighter being sent is to destroy an air base. For people who make judgements based upon power, you need to use overwhelming power to get their attention.

And what is the proper response when your fighter is shot down? You’ve argued that some people only understand overwhelming power, which means we can perfectly predict their responses. If the correct response to being buzzed is to shoot down a plane, then the rational response from the power-minded is to blow up the destroyer that shot down your plane.

If the response to the destruction of your destroyer is to obliterate an air base then the rational response of the air-base owner is to blast something of even greater value.

Your argument assumes that both parties think in precisely the same way but the other party will draw an entirely different, submissive conclusion. Which means they don’t think in the same way, that the party which escalates with each offense is in fact the one which only considers power, and the one which backs down thinks in broader terms.

Dave Schuler April 16, 2014 at 8:08 am

To Ben’s analysis I would add that we don’t need to demonstrate strength. We have strength. Demonstrating it is superfluous. We could demonstrate resolve but in the absence of actual interests that resolve would always be in question.

What is really needed to defuse the situation in Ukraine is a demonstration of European strength and resolve, both of which are seriously in doubt.

TastyBits April 16, 2014 at 8:50 am

@Ben Wolf

Most in the West do not understand how raw power works. There is always a calculus that occurs, but your rational calculation is the one that is done in a parlor.

First, it depends upon where the incident occurs, upon whom it occurs with, and upon what issue it occurs over. In the case of the US destroyer and the Russian fighter, it was not in Russian territory, and it was not over Russian controlled territory.

The Russians were being intentionally provocative, and they knew there was a risk of the plane being shot down. To the Western mind, this is irrational. One does not intentional risk a human life or escalating violence, but to a power based mind, this is the most rational decision.

The loss of a plane and pilot vs gain of an opponent flinching is overwhelming. If the plane had been shot down, the US would have made a no-apology apology, and that would have been the end. Putin, the Russians, the Chinese, and the other power based actors would have gotten the same message.

The problem with sending a destroyer into your adversary’s backyard is that he may send a fighter to buzz your ship, and if you are not willing to shoot down his plane, you look weak and stupid.

I do not advocate shows of force or muscle flexing because I know the US does not have the will to follow through on the actions. As such, I do not criticise President Obama. I do go after the delusional hawks who have no better understanding of power than President Obama.

Once you throw away your template and adopt mine, you will rarely be one of the many who never saw it coming. It will all make perfect sense.

Dave Schuler April 16, 2014 at 9:09 am

The Russians were being intentionally provocative, and they knew there was a risk of the plane being shot down.

or, alternatively, it was just a hotshot Russian fighter jockey hotdogging around. They have them, too.

TastyBits April 16, 2014 at 9:11 am

@Dave Schuler

If you do not have the will to do what is necessary, you do not have the strength. It does not matter how large a military you have. If you lack the will to use it, it is worthless.

Sending a destroyer or the entire 5th fleet was dumb. The US does not have the will to use it. The fighter could have bombed the destroyer, and if Russia apologized, the US would have accepted. The US may even have paid damages to the pilot for emotional harm caused by his blowing up a US ship.

In my opinion, territory in Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are historically Russian controlled. If they want to be independent, they are going to have to defend themselves, or they can become the client-state of a larger country.

Poland can defend itself. They have fought and controlled some of this territory. The other middle European countries have various histories, and none of them were aligned with Russia until post WW2.

Europe has choices to make, and I do not see any reason to defend them gratis any longer. Ass, grass, or gas everybody has got to pay.

In the case of Japan, I am more willing to work with them.

I will reiterate: I have a few quibbles with President Obama’s handling of foreign policy, but overall, I think he is muddling through the best he can with the cards he was dealt.

Dave Schuler April 16, 2014 at 9:17 am

Sending a destroyer or the entire 5th fleet was dumb.

That’s my position.

I also think that there are some who don’t understand the difference between offensive and defensive moves. When you have assets in theater, leaving them there is a defensive move. When you move assets into the theater so that they’ll act as a “tripwire”, that’s an offensive and provocative move.

TastyBits April 16, 2014 at 9:21 am

@

or, alternatively, it was just a hotshot Russian fighter jockey hotdogging around. They have them, too.

Then, we would do them a favor by helping to instill discipline into their ranks. In the military, you follow orders.

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