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The Prize for Fencing Stolen Goods

Prize-awarding committees sometimes use their decisions to make some sort of political or policy statement. The committee that bestows the Nobel Peace Prize seems to have done so with increasing frequency in recent years, giving the prize to recipients who represent current aspirations more than past accomplishments. One risk of this practice, beyond any controversial or questionable aspects of the particular statement being made, is that it debases the award itself by moving it farther from any connection with actual accomplishment. Those who award Pulitzer prizes have now done so by giving this year's prize in the public service category to the Washington Post and Guardian US for publishing purloined secrets about the National Security Agency. And the Pulitzer people have done so for motives less noble than those of the Nobel people.

The Rand Paul Threat

Sen. Rand Paul should be pleased by the wilding that conservatives have attempted against him in the past week. Paul is attracting numerous brickbats from the likes of Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, Bret Stephens, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, and Rep. Peter King. The attention suggests that his opponents are worried—worried that Paul may be making friends and influencing people both inside and outside the GOP.

Lowry weighed in to accuse Paul of "dewy-eyed foolishness" and "blame America first libertarianism." Stephens complains that he might well lead the GOP to a "landslide defeat." And King says his views are "disastrous."

What's all the fuss about? 

The proximate cause of the latest fusillade against Paul are his recent comments about the possibility of the containment of Iran. To even suggest that containment might be a viable strategy is apparently heresy inside the GOP, or at least that's the way it's supposed to be. Paul himself says that he wasn't endorsing containment, in a Washington Post op-ed. He says he hasn't precluded anything. "Nuance," he says, is what he's after. Connoisseurs of the Bush presidency may recall that 43 famously declared, "I don't do nuance." Look where that got him.

China's Stealth Fighters: Ready to Soar?

The test pilots of China’s state-run Shenyang Aircraft Corporation have been joyriding in a high-tech new aircraft. Does China already have a multi-role fighter in the works to challenge the F-35? Or is this new aircraft really “all about the program?” Chinese military research and development is notoriously secretive, so Chinese and international People’s Liberation Army (PLA)-watchers were surprised by the October 2012 appearance of the J-31, a fully-fledged, advanced fighter prototype, deployed by the Shenyang Aircraft Company. It’s similarity in shape to the F-35 is noteworthy. In recent months there has been a great deal of speculation about successful Chinese espionage against the F-35 program, although most of it has focused on the appearance of certain sensor systems on China’s prototype air-superiority fighter, the J-20. The J-20 might very well have been influenced by the F-35, but the J-31 almost certainly was.

What To Do After Peace Process Failure

Now that Secretary of State Kerry's attempt to breathe life into the diplomacy known as the Middle East peace process has been widely pronounced—even by those who appropriately salute his efforts—to be a failure, different quarters are chiming in with recommendations for what to do next about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some suggestions are helpful; others would only help to perpetuate the Israeli occupation and lack of an agreement, and may be tacitly intended to do just that.

The New York Times editorial board proposes that the United States, as a last act before ending this phase of its active diplomacy on the problem, post on the international bulletin board its own sense of what the principles of a final settlement ought to look like. This is probably worth doing, and it has the merit of reflecting the fact that the basic lines of a feasible two-state solution have been apparent for some time. Perhaps this would help to clarify who is resisting such a settlement and who is not. This has been tried before, however, most notably with the Clinton parameters, and it was insufficient to push the process over a finish line.

The Aboutalebi Affair in Context

The Obama administration has to perform a balancing act in handling the Iran account. One one hand it has the task, along with its diplomatic partners, of completing negotiations with Iran of an agreement to place unprecedented limits on the Iranian nuclear program to assure that it remains peaceful. Although the negotiators still have to iron out many details, this is actually the more straightforward part of the act. The negotiations are on track, Iran is abiding by the terms of a preliminary agreement, and there is clear shape to a prospective agreement that would support nonproliferation goals as well as drawing down sanctions that have been damaging to the United States as well as to Iran.

Should Gorbachev Be Tried For Treason?

In the early 1990s, the Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky wrote a diverting book review in the New Republic about Mikhail Gorbachev. His take was that Gorbachev, if I recall correctly, had to be an American agent. Who else would have so incompetently allowed the work of decades to crumble almost overnight?

Now Russian legislators are hoping to punish Gorby, as he used to be known in America, where he was always far more popular than back home. Flush with victory in Crimea, several Duma members apparently want to put the old boy on trial. Yevgeny Gydorov, a Duma member of the United Russia party, apparently believes that Gorbachev may have been an American spy. And the Guardian reports that Ivan Nikitchuk, a Communist Party deputy, wants him to go on trial. Lawyers, not historians, need to investigate why the USSR went poof. Nor is this all. It's time to ferret out domestic enemies. He says, "The fifth column in our country has been formed and works in the open, funded by foreign money." Maybe Gorbachev was on Ronald Reagan's secret payroll?

The Folly of the Pollard Ploy

Although it looked for a time, after the latest breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” that the notion of trying to buy some cooperation from Benjamin Netanyahu by freeing the spy Jonathan Pollard had expired along with talks, it appears that a stake still has not been driven through this really bad idea. It should be. Pollard's record has not changed. He was responsible for one of the most voluminous thefts of U.S. secrets ever. He is nobody's patriot, having been paid handsomely for his betrayal and having tried to peddle his pilfered secrets to other governments in addition to Israel's.

And please, let us not hear any more the gratingly oxymoronic comment that leniency should be shown to Pollard because he was “spying for an ally.” Label Israel however you want—and there are good reasons, including ones involving misuse of U.S. secrets, to question the label “ally”—but espionage is a hostile act. Insofar as anyone acts this way, they are not acting as an ally.

To release Pollard short of his duly pronounced sentence would be another blow against public understanding of the reality that it is impossible to have any effective program of national security without secrets. That understanding already has been weakened lately with the badly inappropriate lionization of another wholesale stealer of U.S. secrets, most of whose disclosures have had nothing whatever to do with the privacy rights of American citizens on whose behalf he claimed to be acting.

A Peril to the Iran Nuclear Deal

There exists, right now, a problem with one side's obligations not being fulfilled as provided for under the preliminary agreement, known as the Joint Plan of Action, that Iran reached with the United States and its negotiating partners (the P5+1) last November. This lack of fulfillment endangers the process of negotiating a final agreement. It is an understandable source of consternation to the other side, which will increasingly doubt the first side's ability and willingness to make good on its commitments, including in any final deal. Hardliners on the second side will pounce on any non-fulfillment of the terms of the JPA as a reason to scuttle the whole process.

Letter: Taiwan Responds to Famularo and Giles

Many points in Julia Famularo and Terri Giles’ April 1 essay “Double Down On Taiwan” are clearly beneficial for Taiwan and in fact are top priorities of President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration, including the promotion of regional peace and stability, strengthening the U.S.-Taiwan economic and security partnership, seeking meaningful participation in international organizations, and continuing the promotion of democracy, human rights, and media freedom in Taiwan.

Unfortunately, there are issues with several statements made in the “Preserve Democracy, Human Rights, and Media Freedom in Taiwan” section of this essay.

Of particular note is the assertion that “Taiwan is being pressured into backtracking on civil rights and liberties.” According to Freedom House’s 2014 Freedom of the World Report (also cited in Famularo and Giles’ essay), Taiwan “remained one of the best performers in Asia in 2013, as its civil society gained additional ground in influencing political debate and government policy.” Taiwan’s legislature has a deserved reputation for lively debate, but less known is the fact that its citizens are some of the most tuned-in and passionate of any democracy around the world. Protests such as the “Sunflower” movement and the “Anti-Media Monopoly Movement” are not signs of a backtracking democracy; in fact, an engaged and motivated civil society has helped Taiwan forge one of the most robust democracies in the world.

Contrary to certain claims concerning the Cross-Strait Trade in Service Agreement (TiSA), relevant government agencies have jointly organized over 110 forums with relevant industries and business leaders, and the Legislative Yuan has held 20 public hearings. The government has also budgeted US$3.2 billion to help affected business sectors stay competitive.

NATO Expansion and the Road to Simferopol

Beyond the policy issue of what to do now to bring the crisis with Russia over Ukraine to as much of a satisfactory conclusion as may be possible, we ought to reflect on our own role—the role of the West and especially the United States—in paving the road toward this crisis. To do so is not to minimize the direct responsibility of Vladimir Putin's government for what Russian armed force has done, and for the disingenuous aspects of what that government has said. Nor does it negate the role of dysfunction in the Ukrainian political system. But a significant part of this story is how the West cornered the Russian bear before the bear bit back.

More specifically, an important element in that story was the eastward expansion of NATO into what had been the Soviet empire, as well as talk about expanding it even further to embrace Ukraine and Georgia. We should not only understand the importance of that development for getting to the current crisis, but also what that development exhibited about American habits of thought and action in foreign affairs. It exhibited several such American tendencies, which also have surfaced in other ways and on other issues.

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April 18, 2014