The BuzzTNI's Daily Media Monitor
China is copying more than Western consumer electronics and media, according to a new book by Bianca Bosker, Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China. In an excerpt run by the Wall Street Journal, Bosker explains:
To show they are making it big, the Chinese have turned to faking it big.
In recent years, some of the nation's real-estate developers and even government officials have been churning out detailed counterfeits of the West's greatest architectural hits, from Unesco World Heritage sites to Le Corbusier gems to Manhattan skyscrapers.
Paris, Orange County, Interlaken, Amsterdam—all have their doubles in China. In Hangzhou, gondolas glide through the man-made canals of Venice Water Town, which boasts its own Piazza San Marco and Doge's Palace.
Last year, developers in Huizhou unveiled a brick-for-brick replica of the Austrian village of Hallstatt, complete with its cobblestone streets, historic church and even sidewalk cafes.
Don't assume that China's reproduction of Western architecture is proof of the West's superiority—at least that's not how the Chinese see it, says Bosker. Instead, the act of recreating the icons of other cultures on their own soil is a deep seated part of Chinese nationalism:
China's emperors also used copycat buildings to convey their mastery—actual or anticipated—over their adversaries. In the third century B.C., the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, commemorated his conquest of six rival kingdoms by ordering that exact replicas of their palaces be built in his capital. Today, the ersatz Eiffel Towers and Chrysler Buildings symbolize China's power to control the world by transplanting Europe and the U.S. into its domain.
Traditional Chinese attitudes toward replication also help to explain the trend. While Americans view imitation with disdain, the Chinese have traditionally taken a more permissive and nuanced view of it. Copying can be valued as a mark of skill and superiority. The director of China's National Copyright Administration has even praised copies as a sign of "cultural creativity."
Many of the most vibrant civilizations have long incorporated other traditions for cultural inspiration. But only history will tell who is getting the most benefit from the exchange.
Many exploded in outrage yesterday at the announcement of a new medal for UAV pilots that outranks the Bronze Star. According to the Army Times:
The Distinguished Warfare Medal will be awarded to pilots of unmanned aircraft, offensive cyber war experts or others who are directly involved in combat operations but who are not physically in theater and facing the physical risks that warfare historically entails.
The new medal will rank just below the Distinguished Flying Cross. It will have precedence over — and be worn on a uniform above — the Bronze Star with Valor device, a medal awarded to troops for specific heroic acts performed under fire in combat.
Aside from the debate over what is more or less heroic—though I've never heard of a drone pilot getting shot in the face for looking around a corner at the wrong time—I can't help but feel that this medal is an effort to normalize drone operations by painting them as acts of valor.
Even if a drone pilot (recall that this person is almost always on the ground out of harm's way) were to act heroically, the already-existing Air Medal would be appropriate. Why this new special medal? It would seem the administration believes that humanizing drones via "valorous" pilots will make covert warfare of this nature go down a little easier.
Two things happened earlier this week that have very little to do with each other in reality but are nevertheless being tied together in the media and official commentary. First, on Monday the New York Times reported that the Obama administration was likely to press for a cut in the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal to “just above 1,000” deployed strategic nuclear warheads. This would represent a reduction of about a third from the limit of 1,550 set by the New START agreement.
Second, the following day North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. It didn’t take long for opponents of the rumored nuclear reductions to seize on the news as a reason to argue against them. As Senator John Hoeven said in a statement:
North Korea’s nuclear test today poses a threat to the United States and our allies, and underscores the need for the United States to maintain its strong deterrent capabilities. Yet now, even before implementing the reductions required under the New START Treaty of 2010, the Obama administration has signaled that it may be willing to reduce unilaterally the U.S. nuclear capability even further. In light of North Korea’s actions today, this is clearly not the time to diminish these critical strategic forces.
Leave aside the fact that it’s far from clear that Obama wants to undertake these cuts “unilaterally,” as Hoeven says. (The Times article reports that the administration’s preferred option would be to make them through an “informal agreement” with Russia “within the framework” of New START.) Even if the reductions were to be made unilaterally, there is no conceivable military mission that the United States could have vis-à-vis North Korea that could not be completed with 1,000 deployed strategic nuclear weapons. To the extent that the U.S. nuclear arsenal needs to be sized against another nation, that country is Russia, not North Korea. Washington and Moscow both maintain stockpiles of thousands of nuclear weapons, which are far greater than those of any other nation. In contrast, North Korea, according to estimates, has less than ten. Tuesday’s test does not change that basic calculus. To argue that it does, and that North Korea’s test should forestall any U.S. nuclear reductions, is the geopolitical equivalent of giving Pyongyang a “heckler’s veto” over our security policies.
The debate over how many nuclear weapons the United States should maintain in order to provide for its security is a complicated one. But one thing is clear: whatever the optimal number is, the way in which we go about determining it should have absolutely nothing to do with North Korea.
Though it does not come as a surprise that the regime in Pyongyang just completed its third nuclear-weapons test, it certainly does not make anyone feel better. Initial confirmation of North Korea's third nuclear test came when international monitors detected an unusual seismic event that registered 4.9 on the Richter scale.
President Barack Obama labeled the test a "highly provocative act" and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared the test a "grave threat." What is making some people stop and take notice though is that China, arguably North Korea's only ally, has joined the chorus to condemn this latest test. Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi called in North Korea's ambassador to explain how "strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed" to the test China was. This comes at a time when there appear to be more and more voices within China calling for a reexamination of its current policy towards a country that it believed was once as close to it as "lips and teeth."
There was widespread speculation that North Korea would conduct this particular test prior to the inauguration of the new South Korean president Park Geun-hye on February 25. This would serve not only as a sort of final thumb in the eye to current President Lee Myung-bak, whose more hard-line tactics have engendered some extreme hyperbolic vitriol from Pyongyang, but would also not totally hamstring president-elect Park when she takes office from considering new negotiation tactics with her neighbor to the North.
Yet shouldn’t this latest nuclear provocation make us all stop and take a beat? Whatever the international community is, or isn’t, doing with regard to North Korea simply isn’t working. U.N. Security Council resolutions, sanctions and being made into an international pariah have done very little to stop one of the world’s most dangerous nuclear provocateurs. What is more, they keep getting better at it, or so it would appear. This test seems to be larger than those of 2006 and 2009, and this comes on the heels of the December 12, 2012 Unha-3 rocket launch of a long-range ballistic missile.
We need to collectively put on our creative-thinking caps to come up with a more effective policy towards North Korea. Our current playbook is growing increasingly tired.
Last Friday, MSNBC’s “The Cycle” co-host Krystal Ball attempted to take on the argument that, as she puts it, “if you feel any differently about the drone program under President Obama than you would have under George W. Bush, you are an utter, hopeless hypocrite.” In response, she makes the following case:
I voted for President Obama because I trust his values and his judgment and believe that he is a fundamentally responsible person. Without gratuitously slamming an ex-president, I think Bush displayed extraordinary lapses in judgment in executing his primary responsibility as commander-in-chief and put troops in harm’s way imprudently. President Obama would have exercised better judgment and he has exercised better judgment. . . . So yeah, I feel a whole lot better about the program when the decider is President Obama.
Ball’s position may not be hypocritical, but it is completely wrong. It is at least logically consistent in that if you believe that one president has exercised better judgment than another, there is some reason for you to be more comfortable with the first one having certain powers. But what Ball apparently fails to realize is that when you agree to trust one president with a kind of power, you are necessarily entrusting all of his or her successors with that power. At some point in the future, the United States will probably elect a president whose judgment Ball thinks is faulty. If, say, Sarah Palin or Herman Cain were elected in 2016, there is no mechanism by which Ball or anyone who agrees with her could conceivably “withdraw” the powers Obama has exercised in overseeing the drone program.
This only becomes clearer when you look at the analogy Ball uses to make her point. In her words:
How would you feel about a Madeleine Albright panel on women and body image? OK. Now, how do you feel about the Larry Flynt panel on women and body image? Uh huh. How do you feel about your kid in Dr. Ruth’s sex ed class versus Todd Akin’s? Do you feel differently about Warren Buffet penning standards for financial ethics versus Bernie Madoff? Of course you do. Because you’re normal.
Of course, the reason this analogy breaks down is that in each of these cases, there is no reason why the first of these things ever has to imply the second. They are all totally independent of each other. Conversely, in the case of the drone program, granting power to Barack Obama necessarily means granting it to future presidents for whom one has not voted and whose judgment one does not trust.
For what it’s worth, this writer agrees with Ball that President Obama has generally shown better judgment than Bush did on foreign and defense policy. But that’s beside the point. The debate about whether we are comfortable with the drone program and its resulting impact on executive authority should be independent of who happens to be the current resident of the White House.
At the American Conservative, Scott Galupo calls out one of the more obnoxious recent tics in our foreign-policy discourse. He quotes this line from James Inhofe at Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing:
The question I’d like to ask you and you can answer for the record if you’d like is, why do you think that the Iranian foreign ministry so strongly supports your nomination for Secretary of Defense?
As a second example, he quotes Lindsey Graham, who criticized the looming sequester by saying, “I'm sure Iran is very supportive of sequestration.”
On a substantive level, this seems deeply confused. The defense sequester would have all kinds of negative consequences for our military, but even after sequestration, the U.S. military would still absolutely dwarf Iran’s in terms of both their respective budgets and capabilities. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Washington’s ability to achieve any of its potential future military goals vis-à-vis Iran was seriously put into question by the sequester.
But the more basic point is that rhetorically, this is a dangerous way of arguing with and smearing one’s political opponents. Galupo gets it exactly right when he says, “This is childish.” To suggest that either Chuck Hagel or those who support sequestration are somehow advancing the goals of Ayatollah Khamenei is insulting both to those people and to the intelligence of anyone listening.
It’s also worth noting briefly that this whole line of argument implies a zero-sum attitude that provides a recipe for constant hostility. To continue using the Iranian example, if there is ever to be a diplomatic deal regarding Iran’s nuclear program, it is going to have to involve some level of concessions from both sides. On the American side, that might include accepting a degree of very limited enrichment (subject to stringent international monitoring) and, as the process moves on, gradual sanctions relief. These are both things that the Iranian leadership would “support.” But if those concessions are opposed on the grounds that Iran supports them, a deal will only become less and less likely—even if that prospective deal is in our national interest as well as Iran’s.
There are plenty of good reasons to oppose either Chuck Hagel’s nomination or sequestration. But as far as this line of thinking goes, Galupo is dead-on when he says, “It’s fair to say that ‘Iran likes it’ belongs in the same file as ‘The terrorists will win.’”
The Arab world, with its culture of honor and great linguistic diversity, is a font of creative insults. An Iraqi diplomat, in the days before the 2003 war, famously yelled to his Kuwaiti counterpart, “A curse on your mustache!” One Lebanese artist illustrates expletives with lovely calligraphy, such as this, from when he bumped into an older man, who said, “may your heart go blinder than it already is.” But Egyptians take the cake with phrases like “May God destroy your house, and the house of those who bore you.”
Two other delightful Egyptian creations: “You son of a shoe,” and “He deserves to be hit with sixty shoes.” The association between feet and filth became widely known in the west in 2008, when Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi launched his loafers at George W. Bush in a gesture of anger that resonated through the region.
Now Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has gotten the same treatment. While on a historic visit to Cairo—the first by an Iranian leader in thirty years—several Salafi men slung their shoes at him. It was the culmination of a visit which showed the depth of distaste for Iran in the Arab world, in particular in religious Sunni circles. Ahmadinejad got a stern talking-to regarding Iran’s regional role from the head of the al-Azhar university, and his convoy was attacked. Several months ago, he had been insulted by Mohamed Morsi himself, who thrilled the Iranians by attending the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement—a summit they had hoped would show their international legitimacy in the face of Western pressure—only to use it as a platform to denounce Iran’s ally, Syria.
It’s no coincidence that Bush and Ahmadinejad both got the boot during trips to the Arab world. Both have a similar misperception of their state’s role and reputation in the region. Bush and the neoconservatives behind him thought that an attack on Saddam would see American troops “greeted as liberators,” in his vice president’s words. Ahmadinejad and his onetime friend, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, have tried to brand the Arab uprisings as an “Islamic awakening” against Western oppressors, and suggested that the solution is to make a united, non-Western Islamic community a new pole of international power:
The valiant revolutionary nations of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, as well as other awakened and combatant nations, should know that the sole means of deliverance from the oppression and guile of the United States and other Western hubristic powers is to establish a global balance of power conducive to their interests. Muslims must put themselves on equal footing with major world powers in order to be able to seriously resolve their problems with the world devourers. This cannot be achieved except with the cooperation, understanding and solidarity of Islamic countries.
Hardliners within Iran’s government are sometimes—appropriately—called neoconservatives. The neocons of the United States and the Islamic Republic both believe that there is a popular yearning (for liberal or Islamic society) that constitutes an inevitable historical force (toward liberal or Islamic democracy) that will bring about rapid social changes (the end of illiberal or un-Islamic regimes) and transform the world order (to make an American Century or to make a Middle East in which Iran is a key leader, not a pariah) if it is backed by force. Both must oversimplify the region’s complex dynamics. Both have seen their plans for the Middle East fail, and both weakened and isolated their nations in the process. Sometimes the truth hits you like a shoe in the face.
The state of Virginia is known for many things. Ham, wild ponies, the Blue Ridge Mountains and Jefferson himself all have a place in its storied history. If Virginia Del. Robert G. Marshall has his way though, a new asset may tack itself onto that list: the Commonwealth's own currency.
When Marshall first introduced the notion that Virginia should mint its own "lifeboat" currency a few years ago, many simply considered it a misfire from a hyperconservative member of the state legislature. Yet since the financial crisis, many critics in the state worry the Fed has pumped too much money into circulation. (Apparently) they feel the need to take matters into their own hands to avoid Virginia becoming a small, postwar Germany. It should be noted that the Fed has tripled the amount of money in circulation since 2008 in an effort to buoy the economy, but inflation remains below 2 percent.
This author's own thoughts are in line with those expressed by Democratic Caucus chairman Mark Sickles of Fairfax at the proposal: “Are we seriously going to spend taxpayer resources studying a replacement to the world’s backbone currency? Are we descending into la la land?”
And yet, however scary, Virginia is not alone. Four other states have bills pending this year, as distrust with American institutions that safeguard the economy grows. As of now, Utah is the only state that has approved a law recognizing nontraditional currency. States do not have the constitutional authority to print money, but Marshall has found a potential loophole in Virginia that could enable the minting of silver or gold coins.
While a gold Virginian coin of Thomas Jefferson riding a wild pony (eating ham?) in front of the Blue Ridge Mountains would have its place as a certain collector's item, this proposal's only merit is that it illuminates just how completely trust in the Fed has eroded. Introducing various state currencies for lack of faith in the well-established greenback sends a potentially dangerous message to countries and investors around the world who have come to rely on the U.S. dollar.
As he settles into his new office at the State Department, John Kerry has already begun to move on what he has said will be an early priority: reinvigorating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Reuters reports that Obama is not underwriting a strong push, that he will “proceed cautiously and let Kerry . . . take soundings for any fresh effort. That could allow Obama to avoid investing too much personal capital in a fresh effort until there was a prospect of real progress.”
This soft approach will not succeed. It might not even get far enough to be a failure. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are in a position to seek peace. The critics of Netanyahu’s 2009 speech offering a two-state solution are in the ascendancy in Israel, and the ongoing instability in the neighborhood gives few a desire to allow the Palestinian Authority more sovereignty. Meanwhile, Palestine continues live under two governments, leaving nobody with the authority and deep legitimacy needed to make, on behalf of the Palestinian people, the wrenching concessions on issues like the right of return that will be a component of any major deal. The Israelis don’t want to talk; the Palestinians can’t talk.
Any peace bid in this context would be troubled. The United States is an outside power in the Levant; it is easy for us to want peace when we aren’t accruing most of the costs of a deal. It is a bit naive to believe that such a state, however strong, could settle a foreign conflict rooted in incompatible interests on its own. Still, Washington has the ability to shape the discussion and cajole the two sides back to the table, provided both know that they will face the wrath of the president if they impede talks. Obama is not making such a threat, and Kerry, for all his gravitas, lacks the power to do so. Worse still, progress in the peace process would create new domestic pressures which Kerry would struggle to manage without his boss’s support. There is a danger that Kerry’s first big initiative will thus fail, weakening him and diluting America’s diplomatic power. A few bridges with Israel might burn, which could have knock-on effects on the dispute with Iran; a failed negotiation could spark an intifada.
We can only hope, then, that this is merely a pro forma peace push, and that Kerry has the judgment to discreetly fold a bad hand rather than betting big on a bluff. The secretary of state is one of America’s most powerful officials, and accordingly can resolve many matters without involving the president. The peace process, however, is not such a matter. The president must take leadership, indicating that he considers it a central priority and empowering his lieutenants to act boldly on his behalf. Otherwise peace will remain stuck in neutral.
Over at National Review, Michael Walsh makes a very weird argument against Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense:
His appointment would be “historic,” like everything else about the Obama presidency. Of course, in Hagel’s case that very “historic” element — that the former grunt would be the first enlisted man to head up DOD — is the same thing that ought to have disqualified him in the first place.
Daniel Larison rightly fires back, making the obvious rebuttal:
There is a perfectly good argument that military service in itself doesn’t prepare someone to run a large government department. Walsh doesn’t make that argument. He doesn’t even try. It is preposterous to say that military service—at any level—disqualifies someone from being Secretary of Defense.
There have been a lot of arguments made against Hagel since his name was first seriously floated for the position. Some are perfectly sensible—for example, that there were arguably better candidates out there, such as Michele Flournoy, John Hamre or Ashton Carter. Others—that Hagel supposedly is an “anti-Semite” or an “isolationist”—are frivolous. But the idea that previously being an enlisted man in the army “ought to have disqualified” Hagel from being nominated is perhaps the dumbest one yet. It’s akin to saying that former congressional staffers should be constitutionally banned from ever running for Congress, or that no one who has been a junior analyst at Goldman Sachs should ever be allowed to be Goldman’s CEO.
To be sure, as Larison points out, there is a case to be made that previous military service does not in and of itself prepare one to run the Department of Defense. But that is a far cry from saying that this service ought to be disqualifying. That is the point that Walsh makes, but he doesn’t even really try to make a substantive case for it. The closest he comes is when he says in a throwaway line that Hagel’s “view of the military was through the wrong end of the telescope.” The implication, one assumes, is that having witnessed combat firsthand might make Hagel more hesitant to recommend using armed force. In which case, that may well be a reason for hawks and those who cheer continued American interventions abroad to oppose Hagel. But it shouldn’t be for the rest of us.