Jeremiah Wright, House Divider

A short video of a rant by Barack Obama’s pastor Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright has been making the rounds in the right-wing blogosphere.* While Wright has been on the radar screen of many an Obama critic for months now, it’s rare that we get to hear him in his own words. And what ugly words they are.

It’s troubling at first considering that Wright trots out the kind of religious identity politics that racist cult leader Louis Farrakhan and the black religious left made famous, but it moves from disturbing to ludicrous when Wright compares Sen. Obama to other blacks to illustrate how “privileged” Hillary Clinton is. Despite Wright’s laundry list to the contrary, Obama is half-white, the family wasn’t poor — and for that matter the senator himself isn’t poor — and while Obama was raised in a single-parent household, his was a uniquely international, multiracial childhood — one in which, again, contra Wright, acceptance came more naturally. To hear Wright speak, however, it sounds like Obama grew up the son of a welfare mother in the projects.

While sadly amusing, this may also be the more racist, more divisive aspect of Wright’s rhetoric, since instead of embracing and endorsing Sen. Obama as a welcome bridge between races and generations, Wright employs his own one drop rule and vulgarizes Obama into a common black man victimized by rich white men. No respect is paid to the reality of Obama’s white mother and the white grandparents who raised him, nor does Wright seem cognizant of the modern American cultural milieu, which has progressed to the point where a “black president” is not only possible but, if the predictions hold, likely.

Overall, Wright’s speech is divisive and nasty, and if I were Barack Obama, “preaching” like the above, taken with the fact that Wright said of Louis Farrakhan,

His depth on analysis when it comes to the racial ills of this nation is astounding and eye opening. He brings a perspective that is helpful and honest.

and the fact that he further presented a “lifetime achievement” award to Farrakhan in late 2007

would be enough to drive me from Rev. Wright’s congregation. Not so with Sen. Obama, and his unwillingness to rebuke Wright — he merely says he doesn’t agree with all of Wright’s opinions — makes me think that the dream many have for a post-racial politics to emerge from the Obama candidacy is a false hope.

It further begs the question, who is the real Barack Obama?

Update:  Can you guess the uplifting phrase in Wright’s post-9/11 sermon?  How about “God damn America”?  Obama says this was just Wright trying to be provocative.  Pat Robertson’s PR guy better write this phrase down to use next time ol’ Pat opines on supposed Godly displeasure with His creations that leads to natural disasters.

* Liberals aren’t linking to it yet because they’re too busy complaining about McCain’s endorsement by Christian fundamentalist loon John Hagee. But John Hagee isn’t McCain’s pastor, and no amount of blogging by the left will prove that he holds sway over McCain the way Wright has influenced Obama.


Thought for the Day

Among international couples I’ve known here in China, two observations hold as the relationships develop:

  • Either the Chinese partner becomes progressively better in his/her partner’s language (usually English), or
  • The foreign partner becomes progressively better in Chinese.

Rarely do both partners improve their foreign language skills during the relationship.  Why?

Stereotypes with Chinese Characteristics

One classroom lecture that I’ve repeatedly used and refined during my time in China has been an exploration of student understandings of stereotypes and the propagation of stereotypes among the Chinese urban middle class. What stands out during the lesson is the degree to which some kinds of imagery — the Arab terrorist, the black athlete — have become so globalized that many Chinese sound exactly like their American counterparts when discussing people from different backgrounds.

I generally begin this lesson by defining the word stereotype and inviting students to offer stereotypes, positive and negative, of men and women. This makes things lively at the start, especially in classes with a strong mix of male and female students. From there we move on to stereotypes of people from different parts of China.

I asked the students to complete sentences such as the following:

  • Dongbei people are …
  • Beijing people are …
  • Hong Kong people are …
  • Xinjiang people are …

Not surprisingly, Dongbei people — in Tianjin at least — were painted in colorful but positive terms, but people in the capital were ripped on heavily, while those from Xinjiang came in for the most negative stereotypes (“monstrous,” “dangerous,” “terrorists”). This impression of Uighur people is worrying to me since, of all of China’s minority groups today, they have the greatest chance to face discrimination in society, and when stories like this one go flickering into the public consciousness, the stereotyping verges on becoming a permanent fixture in Chinese thought.

Returning to the lecture, one thing I added tonight was a group quasi-experiment in which the students were shown a series of photos and asked for their impressions. Since our reactions to the appearance of strangers can be influenced by the stereotypes we subscribe to, this was another way to gauge the prevalence of certain stereotypes among my students. That said, this wasn’t a truly scientific survey,* and I “rigged” things a bit when choosing the nine images shown in the collage below by making sure some photos were out-of-character for the person depicted:

stereotypes collage

These images are all famous people save one (the Sikh in the center left), and except perhaps for young Michael Jackson (top center), none of them are recognizable to most Chinese. What reactions did the students have?

  • Ted Bundy (top left): “intelligent,” “businessman,” “lawyer”
  • Michael Jackson (top center): “poor,” “good at sports”
  • Gov. Bobby Jindal and family (top right): “happy,” “Middle Eastern,” “not American”
  • Sikh man (center left): “Bin Laden,” “Arab,” “oil merchant,” “terrorist”
  • Kristen Kreuk (center): “model,” “actress,” “mixed”
  • Kim Jong-nam (center right): “rich,” “countryside person,” “taxi driver”
  • Augusto Pinochet (bottom left): “Nazi,” “strong man,” “Japanese”
  • Cindy McCain (bottom center): “businesswoman,” “serious,” “kind”
  • Bobby Bowden (bottom right): “government official,” “intelligent,” “European”

To analyze the responses a bit, I created this segment of the lecture expecting the Sikh to catch most of the negative comments, since Westerners also mistake Sikhs for Muslim fundamentalist Arabs and thereby transfer negative stereotypes from Arabs to Sikhs. Furthermore, I deliberately included a friendly-looking Ted Bundy, so as to further underscore the point of the dangers of stereotyping, and the students fell for my “trap.” The other results are across the board, and the reactions to Bobby Bowden and Kim Jong-nam made me laugh. Lastly, while liberals may be heartened by my students’ reaction to Pinochet, China throws a wrinkle into the mix because being Nazi-like is not always negative here.

But that’s a subject for another post.

* A scientific survey would probably involve individual testing and ask respondents to simply note whether they had good feelings or bad feelings about the person they were looking at.

The Polish Lobby?

Adam Blickstein writes that the Clinton campaign found time to remember the Katyn Massacre — the Soviet mass murder of 20,000 Polish POWs during World War II — just before this week’s Super Tuesday II primaries. The campaign, naturally, made no attempt to connect the dots, but Blickstein and others note that the sizable Polish-American populations of Ohio and Pennsylvania (the latter state will feature in the next set of electoral contests) may have invited just such ethnic politicking.

This is not the first time American politicians have crafted foreign policy to appeal to Polish-Americans, of course. Reagan’s embrace of Pope John Paul II doubtless helped him make inroads in the Midwest, while President Clinton’s push for Poland’s membership in NATO in the mid-1990s was arguably influenced by domestic concerns.

As The New York Times reported in 1996,

White House officials tried to portray the speech [endorsing NATO expansion] as only partly campaign related, saying the President wanted to influence a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in December. The ministers are to set a date for a NATO summit meeting in late spring or summer that will select the first new nations to be added to the alliance and begin the process of negotiating their entrance.

But the officials also acknowledged that the President was delivering his speech in a part of the country with a sizable number of residents who emigrated from Eastern and Central Europe. And Mr. Clinton’s focus on ethnic voters was only underscored when he went from the speech to lunch at the Polish Village Cafe and ingested stuffed cabbage, pierogis and sauerkraut.

Together with the assault on Serbia in 1999, the eastward expansion of NATO was one of the foreign policy moves responsible for alienating the Russians from the US. Since our relationship with Russia should be more important than our relationship with Poland, this policy choice went against American national interest as defined by realists.

In light of the long-term linking of American foreign policy to Polish-American support for American politicians, no doubt Mearsheimer and Walt will be hard at work on The Polish Lobby after completing The Cuba Lobby, The Mexico Lobby, and The Armenia Lobby as follow-ups to The Israel Lobby.

Oh, no, wait, none of those other lobbies involve Jews. My bad.

Lowering Standards at The Atlantic?

I consider myself a fan of The Atlantic, but this post by James Gibney is simply disgusting (emphasis added):

John McCain and others often cite U.S. bases in Korea and Japan as a model for a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq. This rape case, which the Japanese authorities dropped because the family of the 14-year-old junior high student didn’t want to pursue charges, is a reminder of one of the less savory dividends of U.S. bases in your backyard. U.S. military personnel have been raping Okinawans for the last 60-plus years.

Soldiers have often had a bad track record with women, and Japan’s behavior during World War II is proof of that (even if the Japanese don’t admit it), but Gibney crosses the line between saying rape incidents are a problem that causes tension between the US, Japan, and Okinawa* and arguing American soldiers are predisposed to rape. By the Gibney standard, news stories like this should lead us to oppose efforts to send UN Peacekeepers to Darfur.

Gibney’s main point is to use the Okinawa rape case as an anti-Iraq War talking point, and he pushes his argument further beyond the pale by “admitting” in the next paragraph that not all American soldiers are sociopaths. There are numerous reasons against being Iraq, but our soldiers will rape the local women and some of our soldiers are sociopaths aren’t among them. Faulty reasoning got us stuck in Iraq, but bad faith arguments won’t get us out. James Gibney should be ashamed.

(h/t to Marc Danzinger, who is an Atlantic fan no more)

* Note that one of the reasons the Okinawans are so vigorous in protesting transgressions by American personnel is that many Okinawans consider themselves a separate people from the rest of the Japanese, so the Japanese government’s endorsement of the Okinawan deployment is seen as an extension of Japanese domination of the Okinawan people. This fact is rarely mentioned in media discussions of the US presence in Japan.

Andes Crisis Escalation

Chavez makes good on one of his threats and thus brings the Andes closer to war:

Venezuela’s military said it started sending 10 tank battalions toward the border and activated its air force and navy. Military analysts estimate such a mobilization could include more than 200 tanks.

Reuters reports that during a meeting with Ecuadorian President Correa, Chavez declared,

“Our movement is totally defensive, fortifying our border posts due to the threat. … They are war, we are peace[.]”

And freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

If Washington really wants to avoid a war in the region, they should encourage the Colombians to back down from their own extreme positions and not to follow Chavez’s lead.

On the Proper Use of Kryptonite

Frank Rich winds down an editorial damning GOP nominee John McCain with faint praise by noting (of Democratic contender Barack Obama),

What repeatedly goes unrecognized by all of Mr. Obama’s opponents is that his political Kryptonite is the patriotism he offers in lieu of theirs. His upbeat notion of a yes-we-can national mobilization for the common good, however saccharine, speaks to the pride and idealism of Americans who are bone-weary of a patriotism defined exclusively by flag lapel pins, the fear of terrorism and the prospect of perpetual war.

I first clicked through to the article after seeing this bit quoted approvingly to try and figure out what Rich was trying to say.

The problem with this turn of phrase “his political Kryptonite is the patriotism he offers in lieu of theirs” is that when we say X is somebody’s Kryptonite, we mean that X is his/her weakness. This is the standard usage since the phrase came into fashion during the 1990s, and thousands of examples can be found from Googling the phrase. As one can glean from the excerpt I quoted, though, Rich’s usage of the phrase goes against the actual meaning. He ought to have written, “Obama’s concept of patriotism is his opponents’ Kryptonite” or something along these lines. I am inclined to disagree with that assertion, of course, but at least that formulation would be correct.

Thus concludes my editorializing on the dangers of op-ed writers trying to sound hip.

Update:  Daniel Larison already noted Rich’s Kryptonite flub and has substantive analysis of the column as well.

The Hegemon’s Prerogative

Chris Waugh makes the following observation about global defense spending figures compiled by SIPRI:

America wins with a whopping 47.77%, UK comes a very, very, very distant second with 4.83%, France third with 4.61%, then 4.2% followed by China on 4.1%. Of course, these figures are not presented in numerical order, and there could be other countries that should be inserted in the gaps, but still: Do you see why I don’t take any American complaints about China’s defence spending even remotely seriously? Do you see why such complaints send my hypocrisy detector way off the scale and into rehab?

Chris, with all due respect, is both right and wrong in this analysis.

Firstly, America does spend too much money on national defense, roughly $420 billion in FY 2007, a number sure to rise in 2008, especially when taking into account defense supplemental spending, extra funds approved by Congress during the course of the year. The budget features a lot of bloat, especially in contracting and operations, and for years American Congressmen have made Pentagon spending a piggybank for pet projects.

What are Americans buying with their $400+ billion? While it’s fashionable to think that all of the Pentagon budget goes towards weapon systems, operations and maintenance is the biggest single chunk of the US defense budget, and when combined with combat pay expenses and procurement expenses to replace used equipment, it easily approached $200 billion — roughly half — of the 2007 defense budget. The War on Terror plus the Iraq and Afghan conflicts are responsible for most of the operations budget, and as most other nations have declined to deploy as many forces as the US, their operations budgets are noticeably smaller, which in turn makes the US defense budget loom that much bigger over the rest of the world.

To be fair, we cannot really compare the Chinese peacetime defense budget to the US wartime budget. But if we took most of operations and maintenance off the table, America is still spending over $220 billion a year, about five times more than the 2007 SIPRI estimate for China’s defense budget, $41 billion, and roughly four times China’s $60 billion budget for 2008. This still seems like a massive disparity, but let’s consider how many military theaters China and the US are active in, respectively. China’s primary theater of operations is Asia, with a sprinkling of deployments to protect Chinese interests in Africa. The US, conversely, has forces deployed globally, with major operations in the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. If we did some ugly math and divided the US’ spending by 5 to account for each theater of operations, then the US would be spending roughly the same amount per theater as the Chinese are spending in a single theater.* And for reasons I will explain, the strategic scope of a country’s operations matter when evaluating their defense budgets.

Why do American policymakers get uppity about a 19 percent hike in China’s disclosed defense budget?** Because US policy, post-WWII, has always been to be the militarily dominant power in as many theaters as possible. NATO was used to bolster the US presence in Europe and overpower the Soviets, while the US mostly went it alone — with some British help — in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa, while relying on Japan and South Korea for assistance and strategic positioning in East Asia (a role that may ironically be filled by Vietnam in the future). In more recent years, the Pentagon has downgraded its strategic plans from the ability to fight two major theater wars to fighting one major theater war plus a small conflict — i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan — but there’s always been a demand for enough materiel and troops to respond to any crisis, anywhere. From the perspective of the political scientist, this is the way the US performs the role of “offshore balancer” — the foreign power strong enough to prevent the outbreak of regional wars or to limit their spread. Others will see the US behaving as an imperial power, and there is merit to this argument as well, though in function the US is less a “dictatress to the world” than a global magistrate.

Returning to the main point, China is quickly achieving parity with the US in Asia, and if China continues to grow its defense budget at the current rate, then the US runs the risk of being outmaneuvered and outgunned in this corner of the world. If you are American, or a conservative-minded Japanese, South Korean, or even a nationalist Vietnamese, the prospect of China ascendant in Asia may prove troubling. If you are Russian, then you’re happy to see America’s designs thwarted in the short term but might worry about the security of the Russian Far East in the long run. If you are a center-left European, you are happy to see America begin to step down from the hegemonic stage, though you fear what would happen if America similarly disengaged from NATO. But if you’re like most people around the world, you probably think the US shouldn’t be a hegemon in the first place, so you’re likely to accuse the US of hypocrisy for demanding that China justify its defense spending increases.

Not surprisingly, I find myself in the first category of thinkers, though I have hope that economic links and America’s technological edge will enable a peaceful rise of China. I understand where critics like Chris are coming from, but it’s the hegemon’s prerogative to be jealous of its power. The US has a lot invested in the status quo, and she will not gently accede to a regional challenger unless China proves that it is less interested in upsetting the balance than in preserving the system for mutual benefit.

* Few would assert that the Chinese have designs on a global military empire, but all signs point to a Chinese desire to be the regional hegemon of Asia.

** Always bear in mind that this is the budget we know about and probably not the entire budget.

Chavez: Jaw-Jaw or War-War?

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has long been a de facto ally of the leftist Colombian FARC guerillas, and with the news that Colombia killed FARC’s no. 2 man Raul Reyes in cross-border raids on FARC encampments in Ecuador this weekend, it’s not surprising that Chavez’s talk has moved from advocacy to threats. Not surprising, but certainly troubling.

Reuters reports:

“Mr. Defense Minister, move me 10 battalions to the frontier with Colombia immediately, tank battalions. The air force should mobilize,” Chavez said, adding he will bolster his military’s presence along the 1,400-mile (2,200-km) border.

“May God spare us a war. But we are not going to allow them violate our sovereign territory,” the ex-paratrooper added on his weekly TV show.

“Mr. Defense Minister, move me 10 battalions[.]” What kind of elected leader talks like this? Even Chavez’s hero Fidel, for all his faults, had a certain gravitas in the midst of bluster. Not so with Chavez, whose dangerous buffoonery continues as follows:

“This is something very serious. This could be the start of a war in South America,” Chavez said. He warned Colombian President Alvaro Uribe: “If it occurs to you to do this in Venezuela, President Uribe, I’ll send some Sukhois”-Russian warplanes recently bought by Venezuela.

He called Uribe “a criminal” accusing him of being a “lapdog” of Washington saying “Dracula’s fangs (are) are covered in blood.”

The slaying of Reyes and 16 other guerrillas, Chavez said, “wasn’t any combat. It was a cowardly murder, all of it coldly calculated.”

“We pay tribute to a true revolutionary, who was Raul Reyes,” Chavez said, recalling that he had met rebel in Brazil in 1995 and calling him a “good revolutionary.”

“The Colombian government has become the Israel of Latin America,” an agitated Chavez said, mentioning another country that he has criticized for its military strikes. “We aren’t going to permit Colombia to become the Israel of these lands. … Uribe, we aren’t going to permit you.”

“Someday Colombia will be freed from the hand of the (U.S.) empire,” Chavez said. “We have to liberate Colombia,” he added, saying Colombia’s people will eventually do away with its government.

The backdrop for all this saber-rattling is the ongoing economic turmoil in Venezuela, which has seen store shelves stripped bare despite a global oil boom that ought to leave Venezuela flush with cash. While Chavez remains more popular than he should be, the economic crunch has caused setbacks for his so-called “Bolivarian revolution,” the most prominent of which was the rejection of constitutional changes that would’ve allowed Chavez to run for president repeatedly. (He is currently term limited.)

Given the situation, the threats to use force against Colombia resemble a classic case of diversionary use of force in a democracy.* Many foreign policy scholars have asserted that elected leaders may turn to using military force during periods of low popularity. If successful, the leaders may be rewarded with higher approval ratings (e.g. President George H.W. Bush after the Gulf War), a change in the public’s focus away from negative topics (e.g. President Clinton’s Sudan bombings during the Monica Lewinsky scandal), and increased political capital to use domestically (e.g. President George W. Bush during his first term). If unsuccessful, the leader is likely to lose the next election.

In Chavez’s case, bellicose rhetoric may be all for show, but with the end purpose of heightening nationalist sentiments. By talking about war but not actually fighting, he may benefit from a “rally round the flag” effect in the population, increasing the public’s enthusiasm for his socialist agenda. The real danger here is that Colombia and Ecuador could also engage in military threats for the sake of domestic benefits, with the end result being that one or more of the parties to the dispute might fail to take Churchill’s advice that jaw-jaw is preferable to war-war.

* Though Chavez behaves like a dictator, Venezuela isn’t a dictatorship. Yet.

Update: The Colombian side is doing its share of upping the rhetorical ante:

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said the International Criminal Court should try Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for “genocide” for allegedly financing FARC, listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union. He cited documents in laptops Colombia says were recovered at the jungle camp that apparently refer to a $300 million Venezuelan payment.


At a U.N. disarmament meeting in Geneva, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos claimed the FARC were trying to acquire radioactive material that could be used to make “dirty bombs.”

Without providing details, he said the evidence was found two computers found with Reyes. Colombian officials said Monday that investigators found documents suggesting the rebels had bought and sold uranium.

These charges come close to a casus belli, and Colombia ought to come forward with all of the information it has and allow independent observers to verify the accuracy before taking any action. While I wouldn’t put aiding the FARC past Chavez, the insinuation here is that Chavez has indirectly aided the FARC in its pursuit of a dirty bomb, and it seems just as over-the-top as Chavez’s statements.