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.


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.

The Unlikeliest McCainiac

A friend pointed out Arnaud de Borchgrave’s early February UPI interview with Singapore’s elder statesman Lee Kwan-yew. It’s a fascinating piece, thanks in no part to the breadth of the issues discussed but also the frankness of the discussion. Lee’s thoughts on Taiwan, the decline of “statesmanship,” new technologies, and capitalism are sure to provoke, but I was interested in his pick for president in 2008:

Of all the candidates who will inherit the [Iraq] problem, I prefer John McCain. He will see this thing through. Walking away from it would also have disastrous consequences. If Afghanistan is a failed state, it’s not your fault. No one has ever made sense out of it. But if you leave Iraq in its present state, you will have even bigger problems throughout the entire Middle East. The Shiites will get together. The Iraqi Shia will become dependent on Iran, and the Iranians will have mastery of that critically important Gulf area.

Massive “Clash of Civilizations” headfake or a real endorsement? You tell me.

While I’m not sure of McCain’s relative prowess in building a stable Iraq, and I dislike some of his recent rhetoric on the subject, I tend to agree that we have a moral duty to try and fix Iraq and that a quick withdrawal abdicates that duty. It’s just too bad for McCain (or Obama or Hillary) that Iraq doesn’t have its own Lee Kwan-yew to run the place when we need. I’ve a feeling that Iraq will need a period of efficient soft authoritarianism (think MacArthur in Japan) before democracy can truly flourish along the Tigris and Euphrates.

Anyways, read the rest of the interview with Lee — it’s highly recommended.

The General Election Unfolds

Reading through a post-Potomac primary write-up in the International Herald-Tribune, a short quote from Sen. Barack Obama leapt out at me:

“We are not standing on the brink of recession due to forces beyond our control,” Obama said. “The fallout from the housing crisis that’s cost jobs and wiped out savings was not an inevitable part of the business cycle, it was a failure of leadership and imagination in Washington.”

Presumably, when Barack Obama condemns Washington, he means the Bush administration. Such criticism may be deserved, but it begs the question, is a United States Senator not a part of Washington? During the three years he represented Illinois in the senate, why wasn’t Sen. Obama’s “imagination” great enough that he could offer legislation to avert the crisis? Why wasn’t his “leadership” sufficient to pass bills to soften the blows? In fact, Obama’s reaction to the subprime crisis is characteristic of his career as a national politician. On this and a myriad of other issues, the senator’s legislative history falls short of his rhetoric.

Now, it might be that Obama, like a great many of his generation, believes in an imperial presidency. (Certainly President Bush, to the nation’s detriment, has assumed himself to be this kind of president in foreign affairs and law and order.) What good, they might ask, could a single senator do? Yet that hasn’t stopped other young senators from amassing impressive legislative records, precisely because they recognize their constitutional duty: to make the laws that govern the country. And on that score — the very reason he should be a senator — Barack Obama fails to impress.

An uncharitable assessment — and as a Republican I feel it a duty to offer him one — might be that Sen. Obama has maintained a low legislative profile for the sake of running for president, which he has arguably been doing since the day he was sworn-in to replace Sen. Paul Simon and started writing The Audacity of Hope. By not taking any great stands for or against legislation, by working as a junior co-sponsor for noncontroversial legislation, and by not spending any political capital, he reduced the ammunition that opponents could use against him in the campaign. Thus, by being no walk, Barack Obama could make the focus of his campaign all talk.

Obama’s national legislative record, even on presumably friendly sources like Wikipedia, is remarkably thin. Even his great “accomplishment” of opposing the war in Iraq isn’t truly part of his record since Obama wasn’t even a senator during the votes on the war, so his criticism has the wonderful benefit of hindsight. Ross Douthat rightly calls this “Obama’s glass jaw,” but Sen. Hillary Clinton, for all her effort, has failed to land a blow there. The closest she came was during the New Hampshire debate outburst when she rightly condemned invoking change-as-rhetoric instead of change-as-action, but in that case she attacked John Edwards instead of Obama.

One would expect Sen. McCain, the likely Republican nominee, to zero in on Obama’s weakness. Instead, McCain has trotted out right-wing memes to attack Obama. From the same IHT article:

“I respect him and the campaign that he has run,” McCain said of Obama, after a question about his decision to focus on Obama and his message of hope in his victory speech on Tuesday night. “But there is going to come a time when we have to get into specifics, and I’ve not observed every speech that he’s given, obviously, but they are singularly lacking in specifics.”

“It’s not an accident that he has, I think, according to National Journal, the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate,” he said. “I have one of the most conservative.”

This sort of attack is likely to fail for several reasons.

Firstly, thanks to the dominance of conservative themes during the past 30 years, most voters under 50 have little concept of “liberal” as a “tax-and-spend” “big government” philosophy, to use a pair of Reagan-era talking points. Think about it: they didn’t suffer through the Johnson-Nixon-Carter years of liberal intervention policies, so for them, “liberal” doesn’t resonate as a negative label.

Secondly, for many people, “liberal” has actually become a positive label, not because they support high taxes and the welfare state, but because progressive politicos, especially on the Internet, have framed the term to mean being anti-Bush and anti-Iraq War. Many of my moderate friends started calling themselves “liberals” for this reason, even though actual progressive policies would leave a sour taste in their mouths. The Obama campaign is seemingly aware of this, and that’s why his speeches are stripped bare of “specifics” that could scare away the I-hate-the-GOP-now-but-I’m-not-really-a-leftist-types. (See Sullivan, Andrew.)

Finally, about those specifics: it may upset Sen. McCain that Obama talks in vagaries, but he needs to realize that he’s not running against a politician so much as a brand name. As Patrick Ruffini observed in an excellent post:

Most campaigns never get beyond talking issues. The sophisticated ones run on attributes in the foreground (cares about people like me) tied to issues in the background (a health care plan). The Obama effort seems to be something wholly different. The campaign and its marketing seems designed to evoke aspirational feelings that have virtually no political meaning whatsoever. This is what great brands do. They evoke feelings that have virtually zero connection to product attributes and specifications. … [italics in original]

Accordingly, the relative inertness of the Obama campaign is key to its marketing strength. Barack Obama equals good politics the way Nike equals good shoes, and McCain’s success will depend on getting some people to believe that McCain is Adidas to Obama’s Nike — that is to say, to prove himself an acceptable alternative to the “buyer.” However, thus far, the McCain campaign has failed to demonstrate it can properly brand the senator as a national candidate. After all, unlike the primaries, you cannot win the general election just because you’re the last man standing. You need a bigger appeal.

In conclusion, if Sen. McCain runs against Obama in the fall, he must frame the discussion as a contest between a man who brought change to American politics and a man who has merely talked about it; between a man who offers results and a man who offers hope of results; and between a man who came to Washington to work and a man who came to Washington to run for president. If, on the other hand, McCain resorts to sticking Obama repeatedly with the “liberal” label or attacking positions that have broad popular support, he will lose.

And massively so.

Foreign Views of the Candidates

Though it doesn’t mention China, this Drudge-linked AP article on foreign views of the candidates has some amusing and interesting quotes, such as the German reaction to Barack Obama:

“Der schwarze Kennedy,” some German admirers are calling him: “The black JFK.”

“He is young, charming and sexy!” the mass-circulation newspaper Bild gushed. “Obama is now the ideal projection screen for hopes and expectations in Europe” and the U.S. alike, said Christian Hacke, a professor at the University of Bonn.

No telling whether or not Obama will work “I am a jelly donut” into his speeches.

Japanese media are closely tracking both Obama and the woman they refer to simply as “Hillary,” and focusing on the possibility that either could make history.

“The idea since the country’s founding—’You can’t become president if you’re not a white man’—has already been destroyed,” the Mainichi newspaper said in an editorial.

Notice that the Japanese media talks about Hillary Clinton the same way the Chinese do. Maybe it’s an Asian thing, but to be fair, Hillary bills herself (pun not intended) as “Hillary!” not “Hillary Clinton!” And Hillary! can be happy that the rest of Europe is reportedly Hillaryphilic:

But in Europe, where some see Obama as untested, support for Clinton is widespread, and nostalgia for her husband’s charisma runs deep. When scandals rocked the Clinton White House, most Europeans responded with a Gallic shrug.

“Nobody in Europe ever took Bill Clinton’s problems in office seriously,” said Patrick Dunleavy, a political scientist at the London School of Economics. “Nobody could ever understand why Americans were so upset. Bill Clinton was always a fantastic presence in Europe.”

The Republican presidential hopefuls, by contrast, are not highly regarded in Europe: Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are seen as too religious, and the 71-year-old McCain as too old.

To Britons, history’s most popular postwar presidents were Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton because of their perceived levelheadedness and intelligence, said Dunleavy. The most despised? President Bush and Ronald Reagan “because they were seen as erratic and unpredictable,” he said.

Once again, the cliched “It wouldn’t be a big deal in France” meme is trotted out in defense of Clinton. It may be true but it doesn’t mean it’s not a tired comparison. Moving on, while there’s no question that Reagan was disliked by the European left for the strategic arms build-up in 1980s, I’m not sure that he was regarded as unpredictable. As for Bush, I agree that Europe’s impression of him involves one of those two synonyms. (P.S. Professor Dunleavy — unpredictable and erratic mean the same thing.) That said, two things puzzle me about this portrait of Europe’s perceptions of the American presidents.

Firstly, was Carter so beloved across the Atlantic when he was actually president? I’m not in a position where I can research this on a database, but I’m leaning towards “no.” With his charity Carter was for years the model ex-president, and his Nobel Peace Prize win showed how much his politics are in line with Europeans today, but other than being preferred to Reagan in the 1980 election, I can’t remember massive Carter support in the early 1980s. Is this a case of hindsight altering reality or am I missing something?

Secondly, as much as movement conservatives complain about Mitt Romney being a late-blooming conservative, it’s curious that Europeans apparently take him at his pro-evangelical word. Except for the last 2 or so years he’s spent running for president, Romney has been remarkably mum on religious matters. So I can only assume that the Europeans believe Romney is sincere (and therefore Hugh Hewitt’s trust in him is well-placed), or else Europe has a Mormon problem.

The Transliteration Election

Americans may not know it, but the presidential election does get covered in the Chinese press. It makes sense when you think about it, since the American president holds considerable influence over China and the rest of the world, so the Chinese media (which is, in many cases, an extension of the government), actively scrutinizes the main candidates.

But whenever the Chinese media covers American politics, there’s an important decision to make, and it’s how to transliterate the names of various political figures. President Bush, for instance, sees his name transliterated as 布什 (Bushi) or semi-derisively as 小布什 (Xiao Bushi, “Little Bush”), since his father is Lao Bushi (老布什, “Old Bush”). This transliteration is limited somewhat by the rigid structure of Chinese. While an American who knows no Chinese can be taught to understand the name “Hu Jintao,” it’s difficult for non-English speaking Chinese to understand foreign names unless they are rendered using Chinese initial and final sounds.

During this election cycle, the main candidates* have had their transliterated names mentioned repeatedly on the air and in print. Hillary was already famous in China because her husband was loved by the Chinese, but the others have new names and new transliterations. Let’s take a look at how the names of the frontrunners are commonly rendered in Chinese:

  • Hillary Clinton: 希拉里 (Xilali — sounds like She·la·lee)
  • Barack Obama: 奥巴马 (Aobama — sounds like Au·bah·muh)
  • John McCain: 麦肯 (Maiken — sounds like My·kin)
  • Mitt Romney: 罗姆尼 (Luomuni — sounds like Low·moo·nee)

Let’s also throw in the also-rans:

  • Rudy Giuliani: 朱利安尼 (Zhulianni — sounds like Jew·lee·ahn·nee)
  • John Edwards: 爱德华兹 (Edwards — sounds like Ay·duh·wah·zuh)

Now, let’s review these transliterations, one by one. Just like in America, Hillary is usually referred to her by first name instead of her last name. First, we should note that “Hi–” is a sound Chinese doesn’t do well. For instance, Hillary’s name begins with the same sound as the transliteration for Hitler (希特勒, Xitele), and a few of my students have mashed her name and his together — something which would no doubt amuse the “Hitlery”-bashers on the right.

Obama, in contrast, has a name that sounds unusual even in Chinese, since the character used in his name transliteration aren’t often used together. Unlike his name in English, Chinese speakers often draw out the vowel sounds in his Chinese name, making it more distinct. The closest sounds to Obama’s name may be the Chinese transliterations of Osama bin Laden and BMW — Aosama (奥萨马) and Baoma (宝马), respectively. It’s not bad to be compared to a BMW, and as for sounding like Bin Laden, I’m ready to cut Chinese some slack for any mistakes they might make.

McCain, the Republican front-runner, has a Chinese name that sounds similar enough to his real name, but this transliteration could still give him problems, since, to Chinese ears, Maiken sounds like the names for McDonald’s (麦当劳, Maidanglao) and KFC (肯得其, Kendeqi) put together. In China, the beginnings of words may be combined as shorthand; hence 美国 (Meiguo, America) and 欧洲 (Ouzhou, Europe) are often combined as 欧美 (Oumei) to mean “the West.” While McCain’s transliteration might be a fitting representation of America’s contribution to global culture, being called President McKFC doesn’t seem all that … presidential.

Romney’s name transliteration sounds a bit like someone saying Romney with a bad cold. When drunk. I have nothing more to add.

As for the two former candidates, though he’s already dropped out of the race, Giuliani had about the most direct transliteration, with both the sounds and the syllables well-represented. Edwards’ Chinese name, on the other hand, is a mess — it has an extra syllable and the wrong sounds, thanks to Chinese problems with r and blends like dw and rd. Finally, both names are a mouthful to say, and Chinese newsreaders may feel like they’ve dodged a bullet since Giuliani and Edwards left the race.

The overall winner of the transliteration election is Barack Obama. Why? The transliteration is good and has few negative connotations besides the obvious one pointed out above. While the rhythm of his name changes a bit in Chinese, it remains euphonious. The best reason for the win is that Obama’s name is just fun to say in Chinese. It’s not enough to make me vote for him,** but it’s enough to make me smile.

* Sorry, Ron Paul gets no love in the Chinese press.

** The Obama campaign can breathe easy because I’ve decided not to vote for his opponents, either.

And Then There Were Three?

Along the lines of Prof. John Ikenberry calling for a American-European alliance that dictates the rules of the game during China’s rise comes a New York Times Magazine article (h/t Rebecca MacKinnon) that envisions a tripolar world divided between the US, Europe, and China in the coming decade.

The author, foreign policy scholar Parag Khanna, offers this slightly awkward sketch of what he calls the “Big Three”:

The Big Three are the ultimate “Frenemies.” Twenty-first-century geopolitics will resemble nothing more than Orwell’s 1984, but instead of three world powers (Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia), we have three hemispheric pan-regions, longitudinal zones dominated by America, Europe and China. As the early 20th-century European scholars of geopolitics realized, because a vertically organized region contains all climatic zones year-round, each pan-region can be self-sufficient and build a power base from which to intrude in others’ terrain. But in a globalized and shrinking world, no geography is sacrosanct. So in various ways, both overtly and under the radar, China and Europe will meddle in America’s backyard, America and China will compete for African resources in Europe’s southern periphery and America and Europe will seek to profit from the rapid economic growth of countries within China’s growing sphere of influence. Globalization is the weapon of choice. The main battlefield is what I call “the second world.”

And what is the second world? Khanna explains:

Second-world countries are distinguished from the third world by their potential: the likelihood that they will capitalize on a valuable commodity, a charismatic leader or a generous patron. Each and every second-world country matters in its own right, for its economic, strategic or diplomatic weight, and its decision to tilt toward the United States, the E.U. or China has a strong influence on what others in its region decide to do. Will an American nuclear deal with India push Pakistan even deeper into military dependence on China? Will the next set of Arab monarchs lean East or West? The second world will shape the world’s balance of power as much as the superpowers themselves will.

The second world isn’t exactly new terminology, mind you. Recall that the “old” second world was the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations, while “third world” was the term used for the minor powers manipulated by the first world West and second world Soviets. By eliminating the third world from the equation, the author suggests rough parity between the powers at the two tiers. This is problematic because his second world powers are a mix of developing and developed countries, resource-poor and resource-rich countries, and failed states and stable states

Moving on, Khanna seems to be asking the same question as Ikenberrry, can the US dictate the rules of the game in the future, and comes up with a very different answer:

The self-deluding universalism of the American imperium — that the world inherently needs a single leader and that American liberal ideology must be accepted as the basis of global order — has paradoxically resulted in America quickly becoming an ever-lonelier superpower. Just as there is a geopolitical marketplace, there is a marketplace of models of success for the second world to emulate, not least the Chinese model of economic growth without political liberalization (itself an affront to Western modernization theory). As the historian Arnold Toynbee observed half a century ago, Western imperialism united the globe, but it did not assure that the West would dominate forever — materially or morally. Despite the “mirage of immortality” that afflicts global empires, the only reliable rule of history is its cycles of imperial rise and decline, and as Toynbee also pithily noted, the only direction to go from the apogee of power is down.


I believe that a complex, multicultural landscape filled with transnational challenges from terrorism to global warming is completely unmanageable by a single authority, whether the United States or the United Nations. Globalization resists centralization of almost any kind. Instead, what we see gradually happening in climate-change negotiations (as in Bali in December) — and need to see more of in the areas of preventing nuclear proliferation and rebuilding failed states — is a far greater sense of a division of labor among the Big Three, a concrete burden-sharing among them by which they are judged not by their rhetoric but the responsibilities they fulfill. The arbitrarily composed Security Council is not the place to hash out such a division of labor. Neither are any of the other multilateral bodies bogged down with weighted voting and cacophonously irrelevant voices. The big issues are for the Big Three to sort out among themselves.

Note the essential difference between Khanna and Ikenberry: whereas Ikenberry stresses the importance of international institutions, Khanna takes a more traditionally realist approach, arguing that the three powers themselves will set the agenda and, in Bushisan terms, be the “deciders.” Not surprisingly, the piece downplays the importance of international institutions when Khanna turns to making recommendations for future US policy.

In fact, neither a Clinton, Obama, McCain, nor Romney administration would set policy based on all of Khanna’s ideas, but some hold promise He argues that America should revitalize her diplomatic corps, taking the Pentagon’s regional organization structure as a model to follow, and greatly increase the number of Foreign Service Officers and Peace Corps volunteers. So far so good. Next up he argues that American private philanthrophy should lead an expansion of American foreign aid, a laudable notion until one considers exactly how the government could bring this about. Khanna also, in true Westphalian style, asks America to shave the moralist edge off of her international politics, something which simply won’t happen. For instance, even though a President Obama would be loath to use military force to “bring democracy” ala Bush in Iraq, that doesn’t mean he will stop using the language of democratization or human rights when dealing with foreign countries.

And like Ikenberry, Khanna has an overly simplistic view of Chinese realpolitik. Consider this passage towards the end of the piece:

Fifth, convene a G-3 of the Big Three. But don’t set the agenda; suggest it. These are the key issues among which to make compromises and trade-offs: climate change, energy security, weapons proliferation and rogue states. Offer more Western clean technology to China in exchange for fewer weapons and lifelines for the Sudanese tyrants and the Burmese junta. And make a joint effort with the Europeans to offer massive, irresistible packages to the people of Iran, Uzbekistan and Venezuela — incentives for eventual regime change rather than fruitless sanctions. A Western change of tone could make China sweat. Superpowers have to learn to behave, too.

China, in his view, would happily take the quid of technology in exchange for the quo of altering its foreign policy. The problem with this concept is that technology exchanges aren’t useful until a country’s industrial and economic base reaches the point where it could actually utilize advanced technology. If we, say, gave China advanced smokestack scrubbing technology, it could be utilized in large-scale manufacturing enterprises in Shanghai and Shenzhen, but wouldn’t make its way into the countryside factories which are seeing the biggest growth in recent years. Similarly, cheap electric cars might make Beijingers thrilled but people in small cities and the countryside are going to stick with gas engines. At the same time, the raw materials China imports from the illiberal regimes it supports have the end effect of fueling the development of the overall industrial superstructure within the country, and China wouldn’t give up access to these resources without resource alternatives. “Clean technology” isn’t enough.

(The above having been said, I think the best way to put pressure on China wouldn’t be to criticize Beijing directly but to widely publicize — in English and in Chinese — the misdeeds of its client states, especially whenever China hosts the head of state of a country like Sudan. China has already shown itself sensitive to the public image of its foreign allies. Consider that a few years ago, when Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov came to visit Beijing, China temporarily blocked all Internet searches for Uzbekistan to keep curious Chinese in the dark about Karimov’s misdoings.)

Lastly, I’d like to note Khanna overstates, understates, or ignores a few key points during the article:

  • He ignores Western Europe’s demographic crunch, which will necessarily shrink European power and/or radically alter the character of Europe in the next two decades.
  • He understates Russia’s expansion of economic and military power and self-esteem under Putin, who seems likely to call the shots from afar in the decade ahead. It’s hard to imagine a situation where Russia, even a shrinking Russia, willingly subordinates itself to China or the EU.
  • He understates multilateral Europe’s love of multilateral institutions; even if the UN may not be the best way to solve a problem, the first instinct of Europeans will always be to turn to the UN or similar institution.
  • He overstates Chavez’s power in Venezuela; in fact, all mentions of Venezuela have a “pre-referendum” feel to them.
  • He ignores the biggest problem that Africa faces in the long run, namely, the wave of instability that follows as Islam moves south. The creation of two African Unions — one of them Islamic in character — or no workable African Union at all seems far more likely than establishing an EU-style African Union in the near future.

These criticisms aside, Khanna’s article is a strong companion piece to Ikenberry’s and a sobering preview of the challenges America faces in the decades to come.

Update: Khanna’s piece has not surprisingly elicited further reactions from the China blogosphere.

Professor Michael Pettis of the China Financial Markets blog posted a negative critique of Khanna’s article that is a bit snarky but definitely solid. Most importantly, he expands upon the critical issue of demography in Europe — and China:

… If we assume that the six great or potential powers of the world are China, Europe, India, Japan, Russia and the US, it seems that all of them with the exception of India and the US have very serious demographic problems that will seriously undermine their future growth. Take Europe for example. I don’t have the figures in front of me, but today Europe’s population is, I think, about 15% greater than the US. By the middle of the century it will be about 15% smaller, and its median age will have risen from a couple of years more than the US to about 12-16 years more. Projecting the differential per capita growth rates over the past few decades into the future (I know, I know, but what is a more plausible alternative?), Europe’s GDP, which is today larger than that of the US, is likely to be only two-thirds or less than that of the US – and when I ran these projections a few years ago I did them on a per-capita basis, not on a per-worker basis, which would have been much worse..

Khanna will argue (and nearly does) that Europe has an almost unlimited supply of countries eager to join and, by adding them to the European stew willy-nilly Europe can keep its population and economy growing for a long time. This would require that Europe keep adding North African and Asian states to the European Union without domestic opposition, fully integrating them immediately in the Europe political and economic system, and without in any way diluting the cohesiveness and decision-making ability of the European elite. Khanna may have spent several months of those two Starbucks years visiting European countries, but I was born in Spain of a French mother and grew up primarily in Europe, and I think this is, to put it politely, highly implausible.

Read the rest.

For his part, Richard at The Peking Duck recommends the article to readers, and saves most of his criticism not for Khanna but for Hu Jintao.

Daniel Drezner’s response includes this painfully funny line:

I will heap praise on Khanna’s agent for getting the excerpt placed into the Magazine. There’s less demand than there used to be for prose stylings that read like Benjamin Barber after a three-day coke bender in Macao.

Ouch. He goes on to make the point that Khanna’s article — and I think perhaps even Khanna’s book — noticeably lacks data to back up its assertions.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum is channeling Khanna’s article when musing a new Democratic foreign policy approach. To wit:

[M]ake an appeal to national chauvinism. In the Parag Khanna piece I mentioned below, there’s a bit of discussion about how China interacts with the world, and none of it has to do with projecting military power. So what would happen if you played off that? China isn’t fighting foreign wars, they’re doing X, Y, and Z instead. And they’re winning. So we’d better get on the stick and start doing what they’re doing. [Italics in original.]

I really, really hope Mr. Drum only means we should copy China’s policy of military non-interventionism and not all of China’s foreign policy strategies.

George Will Is Grumpy

In a messy, bloggish column, George Will unloads on America’s presidential candidates. First, he rakes a few of the Democrats over the coals:

About one thing, Hillary Clinton is, remarkably, both clear and opaque: Jefferson is anachronistic. “We can talk all we want about freedom and opportunity, about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but what does all that mean to a mother or father who can’t take a sick child to the doctor?” Well, okay, what does “all that” mean to someone stuck in congested traffic? Or annoyed by the price of cable television? What does Mrs. Clinton mean?

John Edwards’s health-care agenda involves un-Jeffersonian bossiness. “It requires,” he says, “that everybody get preventive care. If you are going to be in the system, you can’t choose not to go to the doctor for 20 years.” In an ad running in Iowa, Edwards brandishes his mailed fist at Congress, to which he vows to say: “If you don’t pass universal health care by July of 2009, in six months, I’m going to use my power as president to take your health care away from you.”

What power would that be? What power enables presidents to “take” health care from people who have it by statute? This is the Democrats’ riposte to the grandiosity of the current president’s notion of executive prerogatives?

Then he rips into the surging Mike Huckabee:

Many Iowans think it would be wise to nominate a candidate who, when the Republicans were asked during a debate to raise their hands if they do not believe in evolution, raised his. But, then, Huckabee believes America can be energy-independent in 10 years, so he has peculiar views about more than paleontology.

Huckabee combines pure moralism with incoherent populism: He wants Washington to impose a nationwide ban on smoking in public, show more solicitude for Americans of modest means and impose more protectionism, thereby raising the cost of living for Americans of modest means.

The more plausible Gov. Mike Huckabee becomes as a candidate — he’s now out-polling Romney in Iowa — the more he sounds like a more articulate version of Gov. George W. Bush, circa 2000. And that should give most Republicans pause, not because of Huckabee’s religious beliefs, but because of his un-Republican vision for government. As even liberals admit, Huckabee’s a nice guy, and his heart may be in the right place, but I shudder to think about the size of the deficits and the direction our economy would take under Huck’s harder, better, faster, stronger compassionate conservatism.

h/t The Corner