China's Prize and Britain's Austerity

Former–Czech President Václav Havel and South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu join forces in Friday's Washington Post to defend jailed Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Liu Xiaobo (Havel and Tutu are the honorary co-chairs of the organization that represents Liu as his international legal counsel). Writing from experience, they say, "We have seen this before: in the dark days of apartheid, under the long shadow of the Iron Curtain." All Liu asked for, the author claim, was for Beijing to "honor rights enshrined in the Chinese Constitution."

Havel and Tutu declare that Liu's prize should not have been "a moment of shame or insult" but one "of pride"—and China can still seize the opportunity to turn things around. Rejecting the idea that awarding a Chinese citizen the peace prize is part of the long list of wrongs China has suffered at the hands of the West (for more on that, check out Pierce Brendon's article in the latest issue of TNI), they call on the People's Republic to "show the world that it has the confidence to face criticism and embrace change." (Havel and Tutu also make the perhaps-imprecise assertion that the Middle Kingdom is looked upon today "more than at any other time in history" as a world leader.) 

Also in the Post, Jack Goldsmith, a law professor at Harvard, calls the national classification system "broken." He says Bob Woodward's latest book, Obama's Wars, contains way too much classified info. And it's not just that the book spilled secrets; "overclassification is rampant," too. The whole thing is making the classification system a joke, according to Goldsmith. And this even as the Obama administration "is engaged in an unprecedented number of prosecutions of lower-level officials" for spilling the beans, top-level leaders leak information like a sieve. So leaks are bad. But Goldsmith doesn't say anything about how to fix the system.

Retired Air Force general  and visiting Duke professor Charles Dunlap Jr. has an op-ed next to Goldsmith's on air strikes in Afghanistan. Since air strikes were limited in June 2009 (not to be confused with the huge spike in air raids this year in Pakistan), Dunlap says, "Afghan civilian deaths have skyrocketed" by 31 percent. So more Afghan civilians are being killed and America is losing its chance to kill the enemy. In fact, Dunlap writes, air strikes rarely cause civilian casualties, and reinstating the bombing tactics could help save civilian lives and the lives of U.S. soldiers as well. He thinks Afghans aren't supporting the Taliban because of civilian deaths, but because they hate the presence of foreign troops.

In other commentary, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal react to Britain's new fiscal austerity with a grave warning and disappointment, respectively. (You can find Jacob Heilbrunn's and Christopher Preble's takes on London's defense cuts here and here.) Times columnist Paul Krugman calls austerity "a dangerous fad" that is not based on historical reality and compares it to Herbert Hoover's failed efforts to combat the Great Depression. The British program "is bold," but "boldly goes in exactly the wrong direction." Matt Yglesias concurs, calling Cameron's economic initiatives "excessive and unlikely to work." But The Economist's Free Exchange downplays Krugman's warning that the UK could turn into 1937 America or 1997 Japan. 

The Journal's editors, meanwhile, give Prime Minister David Cameron "two cheers" for chopping spending and making "an honest stab at welfare reform," but wish he would have looked to Margaret Thatcher "as his role model." In other words, they want to know why he's cutting the defense budget and raising taxes to along with the rest of the program. Over at Shadow Government, Tom Mahnken shares the Journal's worry. But Kori Schake sees little to quibble over, noting that the British reductions will not hamper their current defense commitments or, more importantly, "their willingness to fight." She says the defense cuts get rid of a number of major programs, but the slashing is based on reasonable projections of what will remain important for fighting future wars.