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Michael Ubaldi, April 17, 2004.

Joe Katzman gives us Sufi Wisdom on Saturday mornings. But he's even doling out wisdom in an interview from Norman Geras' weblog:

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat?

Postmodernism, especially the idea that there is no truth and everything is relative or an "equally valid narrative." It's useful to pay attention to other narratives, but if you really accept the postmodernist thesis wholesale then all that's left is naked power - and you can kiss civilization goodbye. As the famous quote goes: "Only an intellectual could be so stupid."

Ah, brilliant inanity. Joe also volunteers some astute observations on the nature of humanity's threats — he sees Islamist terrorism as an appendage, not a prime, recognizing that the Near East is only one of several challenges to face us. Read the interview for yourself.

Michael Ubaldi, April 12, 2004.

Never expect a diplomat to propose a solution: know that he'll negotiate a compromised settlement between any two parties he can. Motive and disposition are secondary concerns to the agents of the United States Department of State, who have often singlehandedly resisted efforts of Washington lawmakers and executives to depart from convention and gamble on democracy. The department has a rich history of choosing the comfort of status quo over the great unknown of progress, from opposing General Douglas MacArthur's breathtaking transformation of Japan from military dictatorship to capitalist epicenter between 1945 and 1952 (they preferred a governmental "reshuffling") to inventing euphemisms for rogue states in 2000 ("rogue states" itself a euphemism for "brutal, openly hostile dictatorship"). If you're a murderous autocrat and want to be treated as a perfect gentlemen, phone up Foggy Bottom. The department is a favorite foil of progressive rightists - and admittedly, an enjoyable scapegoat.

Which makes a report entitled Iran: Voices Struggling to Be Heard an oddity to have come from the agency whose current undersecretary, Richard Armitage, referred to the theocratic police state as a "democracy." (PDF format here.) [Normally State's reports on despots' human rights abuses are more detached.]

An excerpt:

The Iranian people have a long and sophisticated tradition of expressing their views and their feelings, whether through art, literature, film, news media or the political process. Today the courageous voices of the Iranian people are being stifled as they call for their rights, beliefs and needs to be respected. In response, the non-elected elements of the Iranian Government hierarchy are rebuffing these calls and attempting to extinguish the voices. Recent experience shows an upswing in repression by the regime, but also a determined resilience by the Iranian people as they struggle to define their own future and exercise all their human rights. For every voice that is silenced, more call out for freedom.

...Youth represents the future of Iran. Yet the regime’s vision of the future clashes with the dreams of young Iranians, who have the most to gain or lose. Their continued support for reform through whatever peaceful means available sends a clear message. They will make their voices heard.

Glad to know Foggy Bottom is offering to listen. State has made encouraging intimations before that have turned out to be chatter - but then again, State has gotten away with saying far less on the subject. This is uncharacteristic, to say the least. Roger Simon ought to be impressed. Did Michael Ledeen sneak into Colin Powell's office?

Michael Ubaldi, April 9, 2004.

Yesterday I referenced Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi's statement of resolve in the face of Iraq's continuing challenges. That statement is part of a developing national antiphony. The socio- and geopolitical transcendence of Japan is something I've been watching for a few months, now. Known well for decades as a culturally callow, pacifist nation that has relied on greater powers for protection, Japan has not only found balance on its own two legs but confidently so:

The Japanese public has traditionally had a low tolerance for involvement in areas of geopolitical conflict, particularly if there is a risk to Japanese lives. But despite the kidnapping of three Japanese civilians on Thursday, public opinion has so far supported the firm stance of Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister, that the government should not bow to terrorist demands to pull its forces out of Iraq. ...[T]he overwhelming public response has been that Japan should not cave in. An online poll conducted by the left-leaning Mainichi newspaper on Friday, showed that 70 per cent supported the government's decision to keep the SDF in Iraq, while 26 per cent thought it should leave the country.

And Japan's people, minus the incoherent few, are accepting their prime minister's vision of the world's third-largest economy assuming a similar ranking in military and political responsibility:

The consensus is that the Japanese public has become much more realistic about the threat of global terrorism and more willing to accept that Japan needs to play a role in preventing acts of terrorism. "Japan has become considerably more mature" in its view of the world, says Mr Nakatani. "The Japanese public is becoming much more internationally-minded. The North Korean situation is discussed daily on talk shows and even the US election have become a topic," says Mr Toshikawa.

Japan is fast becoming a trustworthy, capable ally; a partner to America in protecting the world's democratic nations while cultivating new ones. Koizumi's leadership and his people's trust deserve our thanks and appreciation. The irony of Japanese involvement in Iraq should not be lost, either. Their benevolent foreign ambitions are the sole product of America's own gamble at democratization in post-militarist Japan sixty years ago - an undertaking that at the time, in its own ways, was not beyond doubt.

Michael Ubaldi, April 9, 2004.

Glenn Reynolds has begun a rolling entry trading thoughts and links about the observed scale and significance of military action in Iraq against al-Sadr's gangs and the Sunni terrorists in Fallujah.

As the situation progresses, one question remains very relevant: now that the shock of open combat has subsided and Allied troops are only gaining ground, was this indeed a spectacular strategic failure of the authoritarian forces once latent in Iraq? This is not Tet; this is neither "anarchy" nor "chaos"; the perpetrators are not popularly supported. Allied troops are in fair control of the tempo of events. Most importantly, they have a undeniable justification to do militarily what has been difficult politically for nearly a year. At its inception, the Coalition Provisional Authority gave all those in and around Iraq the chance to contribute to a life better than anything a collective people in the Near East had ever known; it was expected that the old guard and fresh opportunists would resist but in the least free part of the world, where rule of the strong is still tradition, that final rejection has been a spasm of violence. By conspicuously embracing violence, the enemies of Iraq have invited military reprisal. Moqtada al-Sadr has forfeited any pretense of cooperative intent, and the Saddamite throwbacks in Fallujah have marked their wolves' den for a smoke-out. If the Allies are determined and thorough, these remnants of Iraq's bestial will won't have much longer to mock the rise of Iraqi liberty.

IRAQIS WEIGH IN: Zeyad's been near despair for days, though in his skepticism lies some wisdom we ought to consider. Alaa recognizes this as the inevitable battle of cultures: one of peaceful liberty and one of forceful compulsion. Ays echoes Alaa's condemnation of the insurgents as "thieves" and "idiots." Omar, as usual, shares my optimism. God bless him - bless them all.

APPLIED SCIENCE: Wretchard is optimistic, too, and offers some solid reasoning as to why:

We are seeing hostage taking tactics plus a few symbolic types of seizures by the Madhi Army. Painful to see, but objectively it is greasy kid stuff. The only really sustained fighting is in Fallujah involving a Marine brigade. So this gives you the measure of the enemy combat power. They have to find some more. Therefore their basic hope is to start a panic, get a bandwagon going. Ergo this hostage routine and symbolic seizure routine. Raise up all Iraq. Uh, huh. That's easier said than done. That fits in just fine with intel and planning cycle, to get the Mahdi Army in a self-identifying process. Knowing what to hit is, with the US forces available, 95% of the problem. The rest is relatively straightforward.

A few other comments. During Iraqi Freedom, there were severe logistical problems. The tail stretched back to the Gulf. Aircraft flew thousands of miles. Now the US has dozens of airfields and bases. Logistically, personnel are the easiest of all the move. It's equipment that takes time. We could ship more troops into Iraq, but there's no sign of that and that is information in itself. What is the Press metric for stretched? Look at the air support used in Fallujah. Single aircraft strikes. Well, well within the envelope. That indirectly says a lot about how confident CENTCOM is. When you can tattoo the enemies nose with artistic punches you are in no real trouble. Not saying things are easy, that people aren't dying or getting maimed. But the forces in Iraq are pretty cool. Cooler it seems than we bystanders might be.

A lot of people in Iraq are scared. But I have a feeling among those most worried are the various strains of thugs who are beginning to realize the folly of their overconfidence - lost in the orgy of slaughter, they bet everything in a contest they can't possibly win. Strategic vacuity is our enemies' Achilles' Heel, and our forces had best exploit it.

Michael Ubaldi, April 8, 2004.

How's this for a politician? He'll head out the door when his work is done:

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said on Thursday he would complete the rest of his term to September 2006 but wanted to step down then if his economic reforms were completed.

"I must grit my teeth and battle on for another two years. When the reforms I have aimed at are realized, my duty will be completed and at that time I want to be liberated from the post of prime minister as soon as possible," he wrote in an e-mail magazine published on Thursday.

For a relatively popular prime minister in Japan's de facto ruling party, those are strong words. Koizumi had some more strong words to offer on Iraq.

Michael Ubaldi, April 2, 2004.

Back in September, I noticed reports of Japan's economy reversing years of stagnation and decline. Obstacles remained, principally that of the will of Japanese lawmakers to enact market-friendly reforms or at least not strangle the private sector with tax hikes. Seven months later, Japan's economy is playing virtuoso. The Nikkei recorded the highest fiscal gains in 31 years on Wednesday, household spending is up while unemployment is down, Boeing is deepening ties with Japanese suppliers, and analysts believe the good times will not only continue but broaden to affect the entire market. And reform is still on Tokyo's mind:

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's government has promised to overhaul the world's second largest economy by slowing the expansion of public debt, abolishing regulations and accelerating the disposal of 31.6 trillion yen ($303 billion) in bad loans held by banks.

When supply-side economists tell us that "a rising tide lifts all boats," our picture is usually a domestic one. But this is a universal adage: at the same moment America rises to 20-year economic heights, Japan's markets are looking up - and that's awfully coincidental for dumb luck. What can we expect? If politicians on either side of the Pacific leave entrepreneurs free to innovate, our two countries could become a very successful duo, indeed.

Michael Ubaldi, March 30, 2004.

What's better than freer trade with a foreign country? Freer trade with the second largest economy in the world:

Japan and the United States signed a revised tax treaty Tuesday aimed at encouraging trade and investment between the world's two largest economies.

"The new U.S.-Japan treaty will significantly reduce existing tax barriers to investment and trade in both directions,'' U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow said in a statement.

The treaty, which will take effect in July, eliminates or reduces withholding taxes on dividend and interest payments by subsidiaries to parent companies in the other country.

As usual, the Republicans are showing Democrats how free trade and corporate taxation are done. We may never know if the signing of the treaty was timed to compete with John Kerry's recent statements on trade and corporate taxation — nor does the agreement appear to be grabbing many headlines — but politics aside, this is good for business as the lowering of taxes can only increase market activity. And if it wished, the White House could preserve momentum from this accomplishment and tackle Kerry on his own issue: So the Democratic candidate wants to lower the corporate rate from 35% to 33.25%? Fine — the House of Representatives can oblige Mr. Bush by introducing legislation to cut by that 5-percent amount. Congress or the president can increase the drop for the double-benefit of aiding business and discovering just how serious Kerry is on principle (and how serious Senate Democrats are in supporting their candidate's platform). Or the GOP can keep the reduction in Kerry's proposal and watch to see if the Senator will vote against it. In fact, has the Democratic presidential candidate's generic centrist appeal invited another round of earnest tax reforms? Why don't we talk supply-side, Senator?

EDUCATE YOURSELF: Not sure about jobs coming from and going to countries abroad? Ask Pejman.

Michael Ubaldi, March 26, 2004.

I only wrote briefly about the danger posed by totalitarian China yesterday - today, Beijing issued a statement of the kind that only strongmen make:

China, in its strongest statement yet on the political crisis convulsing Taiwan since its controversial election, warned on Friday it would not stand idly by if the situation on the island spirals out of control.

Analysts said the strong words were aimed at preventing Taiwan independence backers from pushing their agenda after Saturday's narrow re-election of President Chen Shui-bian in a contest immediately rejected by the opposition.

"We will not sit by watching should the post-election situation in Taiwan get out of control, leading to social turmoil, endangering the lives and property of our flesh-and-blood brothers and affecting stability across the Taiwan strait," Beijing's policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement.

China may simply be taking the opportunity of Taiwan's civil unrest to remind the democratic island and its allies that from Beijing's window, there's a land-bridge connecting Taiwan to the mainland. What if the Chinese are serious - incredibly so, against an American opponent that is superior even with its current military obligations? President Bush has engaged in his share of realpolitik appeasement - though the White House is nowhere near Jacques Chirac's eager coziness with the Red menace as of late. The first betrayal of democratic peoples is one of strategic, diplomatic necessity; the second, amoral, materialistic gluttony. In April of 2001, Bush warned China that America would do "whatever it takes" to defend its Pacific ally. That promise is even more important today - as Victor Davis Hanson writes in National Review, "It is never wrong to be on the side of freedom — never." Ultimately, the president understands this. For China's sake, this had better be a lot of hot air.

ATTABOY, CHEN: Taiwan's president told China to pound salt:

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council and Nationalist Party spokesman Alex Tsai Cheng-yuan said in separate statements that China should stay out of Taiwan's domestic affairs and any attempt to interfere would turn the island's residents against the mainland.

Because if you haven't got free will, what have you got?

Michael Ubaldi, March 23, 2004.

My buddy Paul phoned me just after five o'clock this evening - did I want to go see The Passion, he asked? Though having been reluctant, staying home from the movie until invited, I did. And for a hesitant viewer, I'm astonished by my affirmation. I have two observations on Gibson's film, one which should be appreciated in later years as an intense, literal devotion to the Crucifixion. First, those who found the movie anti-Semitic or distasteful are likely just revolted by the New Testament itself, as Christ's persecution would have been the work of any people he'd been born into. Second, those who found the movie barbarously violent - specifically, the scourging scene indulgent - need to remind themselves of the realness of brutality as best any of us living in relative safety can. Either of these groups may end up confused in our times.

Michael Ubaldi, March 23, 2004.

If North Korea plays true to a dictator's form, Japan will act in the only way a rich democracy can - by purchasing the means to defend itself:

Japan decided officially Friday to introduce a missile defense system aimed at shielding the country from attacks using ballistic missiles or weapons of mass destruction. The Cabinet and the Security Council, Japan's top defense policy board, decided to start buying the system from the United States next year.

Prime among the reasons for adopting the system is North Korea, which is developing nuclear weapons and a ballistic missile delivery system.

It's the least the United States can do for a fresh declaration of support from a steadfast wartime ally:

As the law was to expire on Nov. 1, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its two ruling coalition partners submitted a bill to extend the period of the MSDF's dispatch by a further two years to exclusively help Washington's anti-terrorism campaign.

"Terrorists have not finished their operations," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said. "You cannot say goodbye by citing a time limit at a time when countries are joining hands to combat terrorism."

Week after week, month after month, Koizumi's Japan, by accepting an increasing level of military, political and humanitarian responsibility is moving in exactly the opposite direction as Spain. That means, of course, that Japan is ever-closer to the United States. John Kerry might call it fraudulent, but such common purpose between two of the most powerful democracies is worth a dozen cheap, fragile treaties with countries whose leaders will turn at the first sign of danger or difficulty. One can only hope that Japan's traditionally pacifist, arguably squeamish public will better come to appreciate their prime minister's vision than the Spaniards did theirs.