Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Black Days for the Dalai Lama

...courtesy of the Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement

Amidst the horrific violence of the last few days, somebody’s been working overtime to marginalize the Dalai Lama and undercut him as the leader of the worldwide Tibetan movement.

Not just the Chinese.

I’m talking to you, Tsewang Rigzin.

Tibetan unrest in China is not just a problem for the PRC. It’s a major problem for the Tibetan emigre movement, which is threatening to fissure because of conflicts between moderates and militants.

And if things end badly, the question will be, did the militants fatally miscalculate the cost of confrontation, not only to themselves but the Dalai Lama?

Finally, this side of the story is starting to trickle into the Western media.

From the UK’s Daily Telegraph :

"There is a growing frustration within the Tibetan community, especially in the young generation," Tsewang Rigzin said. "I certainly hope the Middle Way approach will be reviewed. As we can see from the protests here and all over the world, the Tibetan people remain committed to achieving independence."

The Middle Way is the Dalai Lama’s incremental approach of engagement with China, leading to autonomy, not independence.

As for Tsewang Rigzin, expressions of individual militancy are only part of the story.

Tsewang Rigzin is president of the Tibetan Youth Congress.

The Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) describes itself as the largest Tibetan emigre NGO, with 30,000 members and over 80 chapters.

It’s pretty militant.

Its Secretary for Cultural Affairs, Lhakpa Tsering, set himself on fire in Mumbai in November 2006 to protest Hu Jintao’s visit—an interesting nugget that the Washington Post’s Rama Lakshmi failed to share with her readers when she quoted Tsering’s emotional account of a phone call from Lhasa during the current unrest.

Actually, he set his pants on fire, which makes it sound somehow different, eschewing the whole-body suicide approach for a badly burned leg. He’s got a picture of the event on his blog.

The TYC’s stated “sole objective” is to “restore Tibet's lost independence .”

More importantly—and for some reason inexplicably unaddressed in the Telegraph article or, as I can determine, any other Western coverage of the unrest—the Tibetan Youth Congress is a founding member of the Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement (TPUM), which has called for “direct action” inside and outside Tibet in the cause of Tibetan independence.

Tsewang Rigzin was elected president of the TYC in December 2007. TPUM was formed in January 2008.

Its manifesto is a piece of defiant oratory:

It is time for Tibetans to take control of our future through a unified and coordinated resistance movement. We must now proclaim to the Chinese and to the world that the desire for freedom still burns in the heart of every Tibetan, both inside Tibet and in exile. In particular, the time has come for Tibetans in exile to boldly demonstrate that even after 50 years, we long to return to our homeland. A return march from exile in India back home to Tibet is being organized and will revive the spirit of the 1959 Uprising.

The 2008 Olympics will mark the culmination of almost 50 years of Tibetan resistance in exile. We will use this historic moment to reinvigorate the Tibetan freedom movement and bring our exile struggle for freedom back to Tibet. Through tireless work and an unwavering commitment to truth and justice, we will bring about another uprising that will shake China’s control in Tibet and mark the beginning of the end of China’s occupation.[emph added]

As an entity, the TPUM has been MIA since the Tibet unrest erupted.

Perhaps its leaders have made the expedient calculation that, since that Tibet is in the grips of a real uprising, the best way to avoid alienating Western support with expressions of radical militancy--and deny the Chinese government a very real and effective propaganda target--is for the TPUM to fade away.

Thanks to the TPUM disappearing act, TPUM principals are available for quotes, but only as leaders of their constituent NGOs.

However, now that TPUM members are going on record with the Western media dissing the Dalai Lama, a critical examination of their role in the current unrest inside China, and, more importantly, the merits of the TPUM strategy should be forthcoming. Maybe.

Of course, if the whole thing turns into a bloody fiasco, the TPUM--or its real story--may never resurface.

Given its stated commitment to direct action—not only direct action in principle, but direct action to disrupt the Beijing Olympics, something that has to occur on a pretty tight timeline—one has to wonder if the TPUM was involved in orchestrating the March 10 protests in Lhasa that sparked the confrontation and demonstrations throughout the Tibetan ethnic areas of the People’s Republic of China.

The press has not explored the possible TPUM connection, even in light of the report of two European tourists concerning a large, organized demonstration in Lhasa’s main Bokhara Square on March 10--several hundred monks appeared at 6:00 pm to form a ring around the police in the sqaure-- that triggered a violent Chinese security reaction and subsequent rioting at the same time the TPUM was organizing a protest march to from Dharamsala to Indian border with Tibet.

It should be said that TPUM members haven’t taken responsibility for the protests and unrest inside China. Beyond its manifesto calling for an uprising, the TPUM's main public initiative has been an abortive attempt for a non-violent march from Dharamsala to the Indian border. And ample resentment exists throughout the Tibetan areas to make it plausible to conclude that many of the protests erupted spontaneoously.

AP reports that B. Tsering of the Tibetan Women's Association disavowed any guiding role for emigres in the unrest:

Despite China's charge that the Dalai Lama and his supporters planned the uprising, the protests in Tibet and cities around the world were spontaneous — organized by local Tibetan groups and their sympathizers, B. Tsering said.

"If this continues I'm afraid the Tibetan people might lose control. It could get difficult," she said. "Lots of demonstrations are decided on by the young people and we can't control them.

Nevertheless, she took the rather contradictory step of defending and explaining activities inside China that emigres are supposedly not involved with :

TIBETAN exiles in India have accused the Chinese Government of distorting the nature of the protests in Tibet.

The president of the Tibetan Women's Association, B. Tsering, said the Chinese Government had released misleading images to the world's media that portray the Tibetan protest as violent.

The Tibetan Women’s Association is a founding member of the TPUM, something the Sydney Morning Herald and the AP both neglected to report--or were not told.

I guess, as far as press availabilities are concerned, the TPUM is as of now the uprising that dares not speak its name.

More believably, in line with Western reports of violence, rioting, and looting in Lhasa, and in contrast to the possibly self-serving narrative of Tsering, the Dalai Lama stated in his press conference:

"Please help stop violence from Chinese side and also from Tibetan side."

Regardless of what the TPUM did before its fadeout, and even if the TPUM just a collection of big-talk and little-action emigres, rest assured that the Chinese media will be happy to connect the TPUM dots as they see fit...once they’ve dealt with their primary political foe, the Dalai Lama.

On March 17 I wrote:

Assuming that TPUM has thought this thing [trying to get an Olympic boycott] through, the conclusion would be that they are consciously trying to elicit Chinese over-reaction, exacerbate the crackdown, and alienate more and more Tibetans from the idea of accommodation with the PRC.

[This approach] would also involve abandoning the moral high ground that the Dalai Lama has assiduously cultivated for fifty years...

What’s happened since then?

The Chinese have seized on the riots to discredit the Dalai Lama.

By linking the Dalai Lama to the unrest—which he opposes (and the Chinese know he opposes)—the Chinese are forcing the Dalai Lama either to repudiate the Tibetan militants and split the emigre Tibetan movement, or endorse the insurrection and permit the Chinese to portray him as an impotent captive of extremist forces.

For those unfamiliar with the Chinese pattern of denunciation, polarization, division, and destruction this is a classic tactic--call it Police State 101--intended to isolate the target of a purge by forcing him to denounce his associates—or force the target to incriminate himself by not forswearing alliance with a vulnerable, isolated, and discredited element that the Chinese government is about to land on like a ton of bricks.

What does the Dalai Lama do? Support the militants? Or denounce them?

What he does is search—desperately--for the third or middle way out :

"I say to China and the Tibetans — don't commit violence," the Nobel Peace laureate told reporters. ...

He said that "if things become out of control," his "only option is to completely resign."
"If the Tibetans were to choose the path of violence, he would have to resign because he is completely committed to nonviolence," Tenzin Taklha said. "He would resign as the political leader and head of state, but not as the Dalai Lama. He will always be the Dalai Lama."

In case the point needs to be driven home with a 50-pound sledge, the Dalai Lama’s threat to resign is not meant to intimidate the Chinese. There’s nothing the PRC would like better than to see their Nobel Peace Prize-winner adversary sideline himself from Tibet's political struggle.

It’s a statement to Tibetan militants that the Dalai Lama refuses to be stampeded from his advocacy of non-violence and engagement with the Chinese government on an autonomy platform.

Interestingly and I might say somewhat pathetically, the Dalai Lama is still trying to define Tibetan dissent as a non-violent movement and create political space for himself by questioning whether the undeniable violence is being stirred up by outside agitators—the Chinese:

It's possible some Chinese agents are involved there," he said. "Sometimes totalitarian regimes are very clever, so it is important to investigate."

Given understandable Tibetan anger against the occupation being manifested in dozens if not hundreds of outbursts, the Chinese will have no shortage of atrocity tales and photographs to brandish without fomenting incidents or generating forgeries .

In fact, they’ve probably already got enough material.

From Xinhua :

Thirteen innocent civilians were burned or stabbed to death, [Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Tibet autonomous regional government] said, adding that calm had returned to Lhasa.

On Friday, violence involving physical assault, destruction of property, looting and arson broke out in urban Lhasa. Rioters set fires at more than 300 locations, including 214 homes and shops, and smashed and burned 56 vehicles.

In one case, a civilian was doused with gasoline and burned to death by rioters.

Sixty-one members of the armed police were injured, including six critically. Rioters beat a police officer into a coma and cut a fist-size piece of flesh out of his buttock, he said.

Wonder if the 2008 Lhasa riots will follow the 18th century War of Jenkin’s Ear into body-part historiography as “The War of the Policeman’s Buttock Chunk”.

But to return to the TPUM and its previously announced strategy, I see it borrowing from the Chinese playbook by advocating polarizing actions that undercut the middle ground out from under people that might be interested in appeasing the PRC, or at least repudiate the moderates willing to put up with Beijing's prolonged and cynical effort to "negotiate" the emigre movement into exhausted impotence.

However, if they hope to exploit the unrest inside the PRC to advance an alternative to the Dalai Lama's peaceful engagement, the TPUM isn't dealing from a position of sufficient strength to benefit from polarizing the Tibetan community, or "energizing the base" as American politicians might say.

Instead, it is in danger of making the critical and perhaps fatal error of dividing its own forces instead of the enemy’s, thereby weakening its own already precarious position instead of strengthening it.

The most immediate result of Tibetan militancy will be to unite the Chinese and isolate the moderates on the Tibetan side, while undermining the political standing of Tibet’s most effective political figure, the Dalai Lama, as spokesman for a unified, internationally popular political and diplomatic movement.

That’s bad politics and dumb tactics...and it's exactly what the Chinese have been trying to accomplish for the last five decades.

The worst case is that the Tibetan unrest and toothless Western censure unite Chinese elite and Chinese public opinion in favor of another one of those major security actions against Tibet’s isolated people and fragile institutions that seem to happen every twenty years.

This one might end up destroying the Dalai Lama’s authority as a leader, encourage the Chinese to further interfere in Tibetan politics and culture by aggressively inserting itself into the search for the next reincarnation, split Tibetan Bhuddism between a PRC-sponsored Dalai Lama in Lhasa and an untested child in Dharamsala, redefine the emigres as a collection of secular, angry--and vulnerable--dissidents, and put the Tibetan regions securely under Beijing’s thumb for another generation.

That’s a potential win big enough to compensate for some embarrassment at the Olympics.

Don’t be surprised if the Chinese invoke the Global War on Terror, that magic elixir of oppressive state power, to justify going after TPUM, Tibetan monks, and any other source of actual or potential resistance.

Heck, it’s already happening, as the Tibetan Women’s Association’s B. Tsering realizes:

"One of the most disturbing realities is that China is now trying to give the picture that Tibetans have adopted terrorism to raise our issues," she said.

Ya think?

An eagerly draconian Chinese response may elicit ever more powerful resistance from the Tibetans, insurrection, and even independence.

But the alternative is that the Chinese successfully mobilize their power to quash political and religious opposition inside Tibet, resulting in the discrediting of the independence movement and the political destruction of the TPUM.

Especially if the West, already committed to supporting PRC sovereignty over Tibet, finds even less reason to support Tibetan dissidents if the Dalai Lama is out of the picture.

The persona of the benevolent and moderate Dalai Lama is critical to the fortunes of every Tibetan emigre group.

With Tibetan activists now looking more like Steven Seagals than Mahatma Gandhis and the Dalai Lama threatening to resign, how to keep the West's goodwill is probably the topic of some anxious discussion at TPUM headquarters.

I wonder if Nancy Pelosi and Richard Gere will be as eager to go to bat for Tsewang Rigzin as they now do for the Dalai Lama.

In my previous post, I wrote:

If world opinion starts to regard direct action in Tibet as a Buddhist intifada led by confrontational hotheads, with monasteries and nunneries filling the role of extremist madrassahs, then the international opinion that stands between China and the most brutal public security and occupation measures may crumble and leave the Tibetan independence movement worse off than it is now.

Well, straight from China Matters’ lips to Barbara Demick’s ear.

In the print edition of the March 18 LA Times, “Years of Grievance Erupt into Outrage”, Demick writes:

The...Dalai Lama is revered as a god-kind by Tibetans, and insults toward him elicit a visceral response—not unlike the violent response of some Muslims to perceived slights against Muhammad.

Heckuva job, Tsewang.

As a footnote to this post, I’d like to thank Helena Cobham for taking on the job of analogy cop by gently but firmly by pointing out that my equation of the Intifada in Gaza and unrest in Tibet in my previous post is only useful as a discussion of tactics. The overall situations, legally, demographically, and in terms of acknowledged international standing differ markedly in the two instances.

Somewhat more bombastically, Bernard at Moon Over Alabama questioned some of my assertions and observations. I think he’s off base in his criticisms, but he did perform the valuable service of documenting the degree to which the NGOs that make up the TPUM have been playing footsie with the neocons in the US government and taking democracy promotion money.

Now that the protective aura of unity and moderation with which the Dalai Lama was able to envelop the Tibetan emigres for so many years is being slowly stripped away, a more critical and investigatory approach toward the Tibetan independence movement may be forthcoming in the international media.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tibetan Intifada?

Tibetan regions of the People’s Republic of China are experiencing a level of unrest that hasn’t been seen for twenty years.

Anti-China and/or pro-independence demonstrations have occurred far beyond Lhasa and the Tibet Autonomous Region. Thousands of monks have reportedly demonstrated at the Labrang Monastery, a major Yellow Hat temple in the Amdo Tibetan ethnic region, a.k.a. Gansu, not too far from Lanzhou.

This is a major public order crisis for the People’s Republic of China. The genie of Tibetan insurrection has to get put back in the bottle before dissidents get emboldened and the PRC’s rule over a quarter of its landmass starts to look less like occupation and more like counterinsurgency.

Holding on to political power is the one task the Chinese Communist Party is purpose built to accomplish. One of its critical arenas has been Tibet, which has endured invasion, occupation, the deaths of perhaps a million of its citizens and a brutal, fifty-year effort to fragment Tibet's political, ethnic, and cultural identity.
The CCP will attack Tibetan dissent with a grim combination of determination, desperation, and relish, and deploy every police, military, political, propaganda, informational, and diplomatic resource it possesses, even as the government struggles to maintain the smiley face China Rising facade for the Olympics and the international community.

The question that is roiling the Chinese government and, perhaps, the Dalai Lama’s government in exile in Dharmsala, is whether this represents a change in tactics, a new upsurge in militancy, and/or a challenge to the leadership of the Dalai Lama in Tibetan affairs.

Early reports on the violence trotted out the “ethnic powder keg” line, linking the disturbances to the Chinese beating a couple of monks in Lhasa, then reaping the whirlwind of outrage.

However, in an otherwise favorable posting on Students for a Free Tibet (hereinafter SFT), I was interested to read a criticism of Barack Obama’s statement of support for the Tibetans because

Senator Obama misses the significance of March 10, 1959; in addition to being when His Holiness the Dalai Lama fled into exile, it was when Tibetans across Tibet rose up against the Chinese occupation of their country. So while we appreciate Senator Obama’s support for Tibetan autonomy, we would be much happier if he recognized and supported what Tibetans are literally dying for in the streets: independence.

I have to admit that I wasn’t aware that March 10 is officially Tibetan National Uprising Day, usually commemorated by remarks by the Dalai Lama and demonstrations protesting the Chinese occupation.

And this year March 10 served as the occasion for activism inside Tibet as well.

As a European traveller’s account linked by SFT makes clear, the unrest in Lhasa was triggered by a demonstration, silent protest, or whatever you want to call it in Lhasa’s main square on March 10:

The day seems to be silent and peacefull, even boring. Until 6 o´clock. then 100s of Tibetans gather together on the Bakhor Square. They form a strong, silent, peacefull circle around the police who keep the middle of the square open. Soon they call for backup. Undercoveragents, not so difficult to recognize film the whole happening. Especially the faces. This is one method to create fear. Suddenly there is panic. 6 or 7 monks are arrested and driven away.

So obviously something was planned.

Which brings us to the imposingly named Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement.

In January it issued a fire-eating manifesto that stated in part:

The Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement is a global movement of Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet taking control of our political destiny by engaging in direct action to end China’s illegal and brutal occupation of our country. Through unified and strategic campaigns we will seize the Olympic spotlight and shine it on China’s shameful repression inside Tibet, thereby denying China the international acceptance and approval it so fervently desires.[emph. added]

We call on Tibetans inside Tibet to continue to fight Chinese domination and we pledge our unwavering support for your continued courageous resistance. [emph. in original]
The explicit political platform for the time being is:

1. Cancel the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and never again consider China as a potential host country of the Olympic Games until Tibet is free. [emph. in original]

The signatories to this declaration are the Tibetan Youth Congress, Tibetan Women’s Association, Gu-Chu-Sum Movement of Tibet, National Democratic Party of Tibet, and Students for a Free Tibet, India.

As I understand them, these are legitimate NGOs with significant standing inside the emigre Tibetan movement. (I would welcome knowledgable comments as to whether I am misinterpreting or overstating the standing of the Tibetan People's Uprising Movement, hereinafter TPUM).

A February account of a training session indicates that some members of the Dharmsala establishment are supporting TPUM so this is more than a fringe group of hotheads:

Besides the heads of the five Organizations, the 3-day workshop was also deliberated by Mr. Karma Yeshi, Member, Tibetan Parliament in Exile and Editor in Chief, Voice of Tibet, Ven. Lobsang Jinpa, Editor, Sheja (Tibetan Newsletter), Mr. Tendor, Deputy Director, SFT Headquarters, New York and Mr. Lobsang Yeshi, Former Vice President, Tibetan Youth Congress. The training subjects include the Importance of Co-ordinated Movement, Contemporary Chinese Political Scenario, Strategy and Vision, Situation inside Tibet, Olympic politics, Media and Messaging, Non-Violent Direct Action and Fund-Raising Strategy.

I think one can also take it as a sign of the movement’s importance that their website, which is certainly blocked inside China, is apparently being disrupted at its source by the Chinese.

The links I’ve provided above get you to the archived pages, but I’ve been unable to access the home page, getting the “This page cannot be displayed” error message. If the Chinese really are hacking the TPUM site, or even just launching a denial-of-service attack, that will provide ample food for thought for people concerned about Chinese cyber warfare intentions.

James Fallows reports that inside China, main foreign media websites aren’t blocked, but any page with the words Tibet are.

SFT reports that all Youtube is blocked, a recognition of the utility of video in breaking down censorship (no keywords to catch) and the extensive use of Youtube by emigre Tibetans.

TPUM's key public March 10 action was to be a march to the Tibetan border from India, something that was quickly squelched by the Indian authorities with the arrest of 102 people.

One doesn't have to choose between the local powderkeg and outside agitator narratives to wonder if there was any coordination and planning between the demonstrators inside and outside Tibet.

The Dalai Lama himself, in this year’s March 10 message, explicitly supported the Beijing Olympics, which puts him at odds with TPUM:

I have, from the very beginning, supported the idea that China should be granted the opportunity to host the Olympic Games. Since such international sporting events, and especially the Olympics, uphold the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, equality and friendship, China should proveherself a good host by providing these freedoms. Therefore, besides sending their athletes, the international community should remind the Chinese government of these issues. I have come to know that many parliaments, individuals and non-governmental organisations around the globe are undertaking a number of activities in view of the opportunity that exists for China to make a positive change. I admire their sincerity. I would like to state emphatically that it will be very important to observe the period following the conclusion of the Games. The Olympic Games no doubt will greatly impact the minds of the Chinese people. The world should, therefore, explore ways of investing their collective energies in producing a continuous positive change inside China even after the Olympics have come to an end.

The Dalai Lama is, as usual, right.

The possibility that the current Tibetan unrest will dim the luster of the Beijing Olympics is already making Chinese go nuts on the message boards (see Rebecca Mackinnon here), eliciting the extreme Chinese chauvinism and defensiveness that makes any kind of rapprochement with the Tibetan government in exile almost impossible.

Which brings us to the question, what is TPUM thinking?

Did they want to provoke a crackdown that would create a groundswell of Western support for boycotting the Beijing Olympics?

Certainly, if anti-Han activism in Tibet and abroad turns the Olympics into a humiliating diplomatic and public security ordeal, instead of a triumphant coming-out party, the Chinese are going to take out their frustrations on dissent in Tibet.

Assuming that TPUM has thought this thing through, the conclusion would be that they are consciously trying to elicit Chinese over-reaction, exacerbate the crackdown, and alienate more and more Tibetans from the idea of accommodation with the PRC.

In other words, think of Tibet as the new Gaza.

The occupying power games the political/diplomatic system to counter criticism, but relentlessly extends its military and economic reach inside the territory. The occupied turn to militancy. They attempt to create an atmosphere of intense bitterness and anger on the ground through direct action and by the creation of a new generation of militants in religious schools.

The objective is to marginalize moderate and co-optable forces, make a successful occupation impossible militarily, politically, and socially, and finally compel the oppressor to give up and withdraw.

An interesting idea, except it hasn’t worked in Gaza, even with sub rosa aid from Iran.

With the Tibet independence forces actively opposed by India and the United States and just about every other government I can think of, I wouldn’t think that such an approach would succeed in Tibet.

And it would also involve abandoning the moral high ground that the Dalai Lama has assiduously cultivated for fifty years, turning an esoteric religion and feckless ruling class into beacons of righteousness and hope.

A posting on SFT makes a tortured attempt to reconcile the looting of shops and attacks on Han Chinese in Lhasa with principles of non-violence. But there’s something about an overturned burning car that says “angry rioter” instead of “nonviolent martyr”, and I’m sure that the PRC will be able to come up with some atrocity photos of some beaten up, burned, and/or killed Han shopkeepers if they need to.

If world opinion starts to regard direct action in Tibet as a Buddhist intifada led by confrontational hotheads, with monasteries and nunneries filling the role of extremist madrassahs, then the international opinion that stands between China and the most brutal public security and occupation measures may crumble and leave the Tibetan independence movement worse off than it is now.
Photos from http://www.france24.com/ via Students for Free Tibet blog

Monday, March 10, 2008

How Long Can the PPP—and Pakistan—Survive the Zardari Follies?

China Matters looks at what delayed the formation of Pakistan’s new ruling coalition for almost a full month.

It’s not Musharraf, or the United States...though they’ve been doing their best.

They key factor has been the ambition of PPP co-chairman (and widow of Benazir Bhutto) Asif Zardari.

Zardari has been scheming feverishly to assert control over a PPP hierarchy that despises him so he can claim the prime minister post—and the independent reserves of power and influence that office will provide him.

Zardari's evolving power struggle with PPP elder Amin Makhmood Famin appear to have played a significant role in dictating the terms and timing of the PPP's March 9 joint announcement with Nawaz Sharif's PML-N.

China Matters sees trouble ahead for any political force that Zardari feels can eclipse him—such as the lawyers’ leader Aitzaz Ahsan or the PML-N’s Nawaz Sharif.

China Matters also sees problems for Pakistan, as Zardari’s personal weakness and opportunism encourage foreign manipulation of Pakistan’s fragile and threatened democracy.

There is one thing that should never be underestimated in Pakistani politics.

The opportunism, mendacity, and hamfistedness of Bhutto widower and PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari.

OK, that’s three things.

Three things that Pakistan's enemies, allies, and interested parties from Islamabad to Washington, Beijing, Riyadh, and New Delhi will all be keen to observe and exploit as Zardari extends his control over the PPP.

Here’s Time Magazine reporting on the historic coalition pact between Zardari’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N:

Zardari agreed that the new parliament would pass a resolution within 30 days of convening to reinstate dozens of judges fired by Musharraf after he declared emergency rule on Nov. 3.

The leaders agreed that the judiciary would be restored "as it was on Nov. 2," suggesting that ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry would return to his post.

But Zardari muddied the issue by saying that the current justices would not be "disturbed."

"I think we'll have to take a...stance on this whereby we have a collective wisdom and accommodate everybody," Zardari said.

Zardari’s main problem is that he is profoundly uncharismatic man trying to exercise charismatic control over a mature, energized party that craves competent, democratic leadership instead.

Given the opportunity to rally the troops during a speech to the newly-elected PPP Members of the National Assembly, Zardari managed to avoid every issue of importance—such as the question of who was going to be prime minister—for a cringe-inducing session of Who’s Your Daddy?

The session included the public belittling of a party stalwart who had once neglected to give the PPP’s current jefe his proper due.

Bring on the Chair of Shame!

Zardari’s entire speech, the participant said, revolved around him and how he felt alone in the prison when none of the PPP colleagues came to visit him in the prison.

At one stage, the PPP chief called Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar from the back row and asked him to be seated in the front. A chair was brought especially for him.

Zardari narrated a minor incident which took place in one of the trial courts during hearing. He said he had asked Mukhtar whether he has come to see him but Mukhtar replied that he was here to meet his leader Benazir Bhutto.

When a few years later Mukhtar was jailed, Zardari asked him who is his leader now. “You,” he replied.

The participants were surprised to hear this and several other small stories, which Zardari told them.

A senior party leader told this correspondent that Mukhtar was one of the most vocal opponents of Zardari when he was the PPP secretary-general. He openly criticised Zardari for bringing down the PPP government in 1996 due to his shenanigans.

It is quite probable that this touching scene was choreographed by Zardari and Mukhtar in advance to symbolize that the proud and disdainful PPP hierarchy was being brought to the heel of Zardari, once despised as a corrupt and feckless interloper.

The Western press has extensively reported that Zardari finally endorsed PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif’s demand that the pre-November 3 judiciary be restored.

This is bad news for Musharraf.

He had deposed Pakistan’s Supreme Court because he suspected that they were poised to disallow his re-election as president (Musharraf defied the constitution by standing while still in uniform).

The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has been under house arrest since November. Musharraf went the extra mile by denouncing Chaudhry as the “scum of the earth”.

If the pre-November 3 Supreme Court goes back to work, there’s no reason to believe they’ll be interested in bending their interpretation of the constitution for Musharraf’s sake.

Musharraf is currently huddling with his advisors and deciding exactly how to convince the United States that an ex-military officer with popularity under 20% who has fomented a political and constitutional crisis is the only person to lead Pakistan’s democratic society and professional military--even when the ruling coalition is prepared to openly move against him and the armed forces appear to be safely in the capable hands of Army Chief of Staff Kiyani.

When one looks at the numbers—and the disposition of political forces inside Pakistan—it’s hard to understand why it took Zardari a month to figure out he should back the judges.

The Terror Free Tomorrow foundation did a poll just before the elections. It called the vote within the margin of error. So its numbers are pretty good.

Here’s what it said about Chaudhry vs. Musharraf.

Musharraf’s favorable rating: 30%; unfavorable 62%.
Chaudhry’s favorable: 61% unfavorable 20%

At the time of the poll, 70% of respondents wanted Musharraf to resign.

24% said they would vote for a party led by Iftikhar Chaudhry. Even though he was a) under house arrest b) had no party c) had never stated any intention of starting a party.

To hammer the point home:

Musharraf is extremely unpopular.

His continued efforts to cling to power are the leading cause of political instability inside Pakistan.

The pre-November 3 judiciary is widely respected.

Restoring the judiciary and allowing it to rule on Musharraf’s presidency is the clearest and most logical way to a) get rid of a profoundly unpopular politician b) return Pakistan to constitutional and civilian government c) create a civilian political regime with broad popular support.

The only reason that this supremely logical and popular move hasn’t occurred already is because of Asif Zardari.

Zardari, in his own way, epitomizes the rot at the heart of the PPP just as Musharraf symbolizes the rot at the heart of the Pakistani government.

Both of them distort the political process in order to preserve their positions and advance their interests.

Difference is, of course, Musharraf may very well be on his way out.

Zardari, on the other hand, isn’t going anywhere—except, quite possibly, the prime minister's office or even the presidential palace.

Formation of the ruling coalition in the National Assembly has been held up for several weeks because of Zardari’s maneuvering.

On the one hand Nawaz Sharif refused to bring his PML-N into the coalition unless Zardari agreed to call for restoration of the judiciary.

Conceding this point to Sharif was virtually inevitable. Sharif wasn’t going to back down—restoration of the judiciary, in addition to being wildly popular, is at the core of the PML-N platform and its new, progressive political identity.

If the PPP entered the government with Musharraf and the new hack judiciary with the PML-N on the outside of the tent pissing in, the PPP wouldn’t just be unpopular. It would be in a weak government vulnerable to dissolution of parliament and a new election--and at the mercy of the PML-N at the next poll.

On the other hand, there was the United States, which had engineered Benazir Bhutto’s return so that the PPP would cohabit with Musharraf and provide a popular foundation for his presidency. The U.S. was adamantly opposed to a coalition with the PML-N on Sharif’s terms, since restoration of the judiciary would clearly lead to Musharraf’s downfall.

Zardari spend a month anxiously vacillating between the priorities of his patron and the demands of his powerful coalition partner.

The media reported that Zardari was lukewarm on the issue of the judges because he had just used the post-November 3 judiciary to get his corruption cases thrown out and didn’t want to risk a return to legal jeopardy.

Even Zardari did not hide his emotions against the judges...He explained to journalists that he was against the restoration of those judges as these very people were sitting in courts when he, along with his spouse, was being hounded and wronged in jail and put on trial....

Zardari was told that it was not an ordinary show of bravery, defiance and commitment shown by these 60 honourable judges, who had preferred to get themselves jobless and go to jails instead of falling in line as Musharraf wanted them.

But Zardari was not convinced with the logic as he had only one thing on his mind: why was he not given justice by these judges? Sources said similar concerns of the PPP were conveyed to the PML-N...

The Nawaz camp is said to have developed a strong belief that if ministers and civil servants were not doing their duty, then courts should have the legal right to intervene and provide justice to the downtrodden people... But, sources said, this logic and reasoning had little impact on the mind of Zardari.

These remarks provide a window on Zardari’s reflexive sense of victimhood, entitlement, and hurt pride—and his solipsistic conflation of the party and himself--honed during the years when his corruption and poor judgment were blamed for the collapse of the PPP’s fortunes.

But as a policy position, I don’t buy it. I think Zardari was looking for excuses to justify his vacillation on the issue of the judges and avoid antagonizing the United States. (I think Zardari's hostility to the judges also reflects his jealousy of the lawyers' movement as an independent font of power and legitimacy, and reveals his willingness and intent to move against it if and when it appears vulnerable--CH 3/11/08)

Finally, he jumped to Sharif’s side, with an apologetic wink (hey, we’ll accommodate everybody!) to the United States.

Doubtless the precipitating factor was the unremitting militancy of the lawyer’s movement. The lawyers promised a Black Flag week of marches and confrontation to commemorate the anniversary of Musharraf’s first move against the judiciary.

The lawyers’ movement is led by Aitzaz Ahsan, head of the Supreme Court Bar Association, who is also one of the most renowned and respected members of the PPP.

Zardari recognized that the PPP’s political future was grim if he got on the wrong side of Nawaz Sharif, Aitzaz Ahsan, and the lawyers’ movement.

And his personal political future would be bleak as well.

Because Zardari has managed to antagonize many of the cadres inside the PPP during his protracted and divisive effort to assert control over the party after the election.

After the triumph in the February elections, the consensus choice of the PPP elders for prime minister was Benzair Bhutto’s second-in-command, the respected Amin Makhood Fahim.

Zardari promptly muddied the waters by initiating a whispering campaign against Fahim, encouraging some of his cronies to throw their hat in the ring, moving to stack the PPP’s Central Executive Committee (which might have been responsible for the choice under normal party rules), and then threatening to end-around the CEC by choosing the PM in consultation with the newly elective National Assembly members instead.

Zardari’s clumsy attempts to orchestrate the selection of the prime minister brought his leadership—bestowed by Benazir Bhutto’s will instead of a party democratic process—into question:

From The News:

ISLAMABAD: Delay in naming the prime minister by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is sickening for a predominant majority of its MNAs-elect and testing their patience level."We were never in such a state of indecisiveness, in such a spin," one of them remarked to The News.

"I don't know what fear Zardari has in his mind in declaring Amin Fahim as the PPP nominee when the Makhdoom's loyalty to the party has been undoubted. He should come out of his hangover of being inferior to Amin Fahim spiritually in Sindh," said one of them.

Zardari’s stated motives rang alarm bells.

Zardari let it be known that he wanted a PPP man from Punjab to hold the prime minister’s job—despite the fact that the PPP’s base and much of its leadership, including Fahim, is in Sindh.

Of course, one reason for the Punjab qualification might simply be to disqualify Fahim.

But one report speculated that Zardari wanted to be prime minister (first he needs to win Benazir Bhutto’s empty seat in a soon-to-be-held by-election) and that he made the calculation that creating a conflict between four competitors would make it possible for him to leapfrog over Fahim and the others in three months’ time.

Zardari had told the Sindhi MNAs for the first time since the race for the slot of the prime minister started that in the first three months, he had decided to bring a prime minister from the Punjab....

Zardari said he understood that the people were strongly talking in Sindh that the prime ministerial slot was their right. Keeping their aspirations in view, Zardari said he had decided to first bring a prime minister from the Punjab for only three months and then he would elevate himself to the post.

As the News pointed out, this was Zardari’s third U-turn on the issue of the prime ministership in 60 days—hardly an inspiring performance.

Another theory was that Zardari, a Sindhi, covets the presidency and feels it wouldn’t be acceptable to have both top spots of PM and president held by a Sindhi.

In any case, Fahim was furious, called in a reporter from The News, and unburdened himself in an interview entitled “I am being humiliated, betrayed” .

Maybe Zardari hadn’t foreseen this virtually inevitable eventuality.

From The News :

Zardari, they claimed, read Fahim's interview with a sense of “disbelief”.

The PPP leaders believe that if the diehard loyalist from Sindh is ignored, as indications have started becoming clearer, the party might face an immediate split, as Fahim did not seem to be in a mood to give up so easily, at least this time.

But actually it looks like Zardari went out of his way to provoke Fahim so that he could have a pretext to ostracize a respected and established rival high inside the PPP.

When Zardari and Sharif announced their coalition agreement on Sunday, Fahim was conspicuous by his absence—apparently because Zardari decided to freeze him out of the discussions and failed to notify him of the meeting .

Nawaz Sharif exploited the fissure between Zardari and Fahim to denounce Fahim and put himself forward as the protector...of Asif Zardari, his political rival! as the story entitled Sharif assures Zardari of support to foil plots makes clear.

It looks like Zardari has exploited Sharif’s muscle to keep him in the PPP’s driver seat.

And Sharif--who previously stated his preference for Aitzaz Ahsan as prime minister--apparently is happy to back Zardari for now.

PPP sources...feel confident that the signing of the March 9 historic Bhurban Accord by Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari has not only given a phenomenal boost to the stature of both leaders but it has also helped the latter have firm control over his party facing threats of division.

Not only that the Amin Fahim factor has been controlled significantly but external efforts to create a rift in the party have also faced a serious dent. “Now Asif Ali Zardari is in a comfortable position to name anyone for the office of prime minister,” a party source said, adding even if he himself wants to become the prime minister he would enjoy smooth sailing.
[emph. added]

I wonder if publicly humiliating a PPP elder for the sake of a crude, barely disguised power play is going to boost Zardari's stature a great deal.

Clearly, Zardari doesn't care what he does to the PPP as long as he can enter the promised land of the prime ministership and use its good offices to consolidate his personal power and influence.

Heckuva job, Asif.

Zardari, having done a good job of alienating the PPP leadership, can’t afford to have Nawaz Sharif and Aitzaz Ahsan’s hands against him as well--for now.

The next question will be whether Zardari acts on his ostentatious contempt for the judges and tries to undercut Aitzaz Ahsan, whose personal popularity and claims to moral leadership both inside and outside the PPP easily eclipse Zardari's.

Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif, although he must believe he is the ultimate target of Zardari's machinations, must be smiling like the cat that swallowed the canary as he contemplates Zardari’s personal vulnerability and his dependence on the relationship with the PML-N.

Zardari's political weakness, paradoxically, made it possible for him to heed Pakistan’s popular will and defy the United States.

Zardari might make it through the next few months and perhaps even make it into the prime ministership or the presidency with Sharif’s help.

Or he might renege on his promise about the judges, provoking Sharif to pull out of the coalition and bringing down the government.

Or he might try to neutralize Sharif through a political, administrative, or judicial vendetta that destroys Pakistan's short-lived civilian polity.

But, given Zardari’s shortcomings of leadership and character, the February 18 elections might well turn out to be the last high-water mark of the Bhutto dynasty in the PPP, as well as in Pakistani politics.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

China Jumps Off the Iran Sanctions Merry-Go-Round

China’s response to the new UN Security Council sanctions on Iran provide a useful perspective on Chinese policy and its movement toward a new, post-Bush and post-terror alternative doctrine for managing international crises.

The story of the Iran nuclear crisis can be summed up with the acronym SSDD:

Same Sanctions Different Day

There is certainly a feeling of deja vu as months of concerted flailing by the United States have only served to produce another inconclusive Iran sanction.

It’s a reflection of what might be called the post-Cold War, post-veto United Nations environment.

The United States might be willing to go on the record with a veto when, particularly in matters of Israel, the sense of the UN is against it.

But it looks China has a stronger interest in upholding the image of the UN as a valid arena for crisis resolution and compromise.

Therefore, when an undesirable resolution is coming down the pipe, China concentrates on diluting and muddling it, make sure there are no onerous interpretative or enforcement elements, voting for it, then hurrying to the spin room to explain what its vote really meant.

Case in point: Resolution 1803, the third round of sanctions on Iran.

There have been some attempts in the Western press to present the vote (14-0 with Indonesia abstaining) as a sign of world resolve to pressure the Iranians for refusing to give the IAEA the answers it wants about its allegedly abandoned weapons program, or suspend uranium enrichment.

Courtesy of Xinhua, let’s see what Chinese-language coverage had to say (all translations by China Matters):

[The resolution] emphasized diplomatic efforts, resumed dialogue and negotiations with Iran...balance between sanctions and encouragement of negotiations

[There are] strict limits on targets of sanctions...sanctions are “reversible”, temporarily or even permanently if Iran takes positive steps to implement the Security Council resolution...

[D]ifferent countries have different interpretations of the resolution...roots [of deadlock] are in the severe lack of mutual trust between the United States and Iran. If this problem is not resolved, then there will be no breakthrough on the Iran nuclear question.

To increase mutual trust, the concerned parties all have to pay attention to the positive content of the resolution—promoting discussions.

As China’s permanent representative to the United Nations said...the purpose of the resolution is not to punish Iran, it is to encourage the revival of a new round of diplomatic efforts...only relying on sanctions will not resolve the problem, military action is an even less productive route.

...neither the United States nor Iran closed the door on negotiations for good [!!!—ed.]

To summarize for those unwilling to wrestle with Xinhua-speak:

The root cause of the Iran problem is distrust between the United States and Iran. The problem can only be solved by discussions between Washington and Teheran. These sanctions are face-saving bullsh*t.

Wang Guangya, the PRC ambassador to the UN, helpfully laid out the Chinese position in Xinhua’s English-language coverage as well.

Just in case anybody didn’t get the message, the article is entitled Chinese envoy: New UN resolution aims to reactivate diplomatic efforts on Iran :

On the issue of sanctions, Wang stated:

These [sanctions] "are not targeted at the Iranian people and will not affect the normal economic and financial activities between Iran and other countries," Wang said after the vote. "All the sanction measures are reversible."

Emphasis, as they say, added.

I might point out that sanctions that “do not affect the normal economic and financial activities between Iran and other countries” are not particularly effective or intimidating.

In this context, it should be noted that Stuart Levey, head of Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, has been crisscrossing the world working to convince the world’s governments and banks to tighten up financial sanctions on Iran...just as Treasury attempted, with a spectacular and, at least in China Matters, well-documented lack of success, to suffocate North Korea financially.

The North Korean sanctions failed because China refused to be intimidated by the threat of sanctions against Chinese banks—despite the demonstration project on Macao’s Banco Delta Asia—and declined to cut off North Korea’s international financial dealings.

Wang Guangya just made the announcement that China will do the same for Iran.

Business as usual, no matter what Washington says.

Big-picture-wise, I’ve asserted frequently that Iran recapitulates North Korea, not Iraq.

In other words, the Chinese, the Russians, and enough Europeans rejected the U.S. strategy of escalating pressure on, and progressive concessions by, North Korea, so the United States finally had to abandon zero-sum and switch to win-win negotiations.

Same thing with Iran.

The other powers don’t care enough about our goals to kick Teheran’s ass on our behalf.

Just the opposite, maybe.

In its Chinese-language coverage, Xinhua made the interesting choice of bookending its lead article on the UNSC vote with a piece of think-tankage by Tian Wenlin of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations entitled What the Iran Nuclear Crisis Tells Us :

Tian argues that the lesson of the Iran nuclear standoff is that imbalance in military strength is a root cause of international instability.

Looking at the four conflicts [First Gulf War, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq War], the bigger the discrepancy between US and opposing forces, the easier it is to provoke an American desire to attack...Saddam Hussein voluntarily destroyed his weapons of mass destruction, thereby allowing America to attack without worry. In the opposite example, North Korea...

On the Iranian nuclear issue, the top Iranian leadership has been completely unyielding, since they are completely clear that if they showed weakness, the United States would take an inch and want a mile, demand further concessions without end at Iran’s expense.

Ahmadinejad said, “If this question is resolved, the United States would bring up human rights. If human rights were resolved, they’d bring up animal rights.”

[Faced with Iran’s unyielding determination], the United States unwillingly abandoned its intent to attack.

China rising paranoiacs will find a goodly amount to chew on in Tian’s conclusion that military strength—specifically naval strength and aircraft carriers, lots of them!—are necessary to secure China’s economic progress.

Non-proliferation types, of course, will find interesting the unstated premise of Tian’s article--that it might be OK, or even desirable, for Iran to have the bomb so it can continue to resist US pressure.

But on Iran matters, I think the selection of the piece is more significant in that it once again places the onus for the Iran nuclear crisis on the United States.

Tian eschews the ‘nutty mullah’ narrative in favor of blaming the United States for its destabilizing overreliance on coercion backed by its military superiority.

His piece reinforces the theme in the main article that it will take U.S. engagement and concessions, and not a campaign of ostracization orchestrated by the United States and imposed through its allies to come up with a solution.

Especially, of course, since China has signaled its resolve to deploy its diplomatic and financial good offices to break any attempt to construct a meaningful U.S.-led economic blockade of Iran.

America's dubious takeaway from this round of sanctions can be assessed by exploring the key subtext to the UN jibber-jabber--the US attempt to task the IAEA with a brief to investigate discrepancies in the Iranian account of its weapons-related activities more forcefully.

Bush administration gamesmanship with the IAEA was perhaps crucial in stiffening Chinese resolve that the sanctions be meaningless.

The Bush administration, keen to orchestrate another round of sanctions and obviously unhappy with its own intelligence agencies NIE discounting Iranian nuclear weapons-related activity, had worked successfully to put Iran’s alleged weapons-related activity and intentions back on the table at the IAEA working level using the so-called Laptop of Death--purportedly smuggled out of Iran in 2004 and containing evidence of illicit nuclear weaponization activity.

The last minute presentation at the end of February by the IAEA to the international diplomatic community before the UN vote, employed Laptop material and some additional videos provided to the IAEA by the US or our friends.

It showed purported Iranian activities in the area of nuclear tipped missiles, and triggered a door-slamming fury by the Iranians.

Just when the Iranians thought that the discussion could be defined to the manageable issue of what they were or weren’t doing with their uranium enrichment program, the whole amorphous and open-ended issue of what the Iranians might have done, thought about, or intended to do with weaponized nuclear material was reopened by the United States.

The IAEA was compelled to keep the allegations on the front burner.

There was some talk that the presentation was an effort by the IAEA chief verification guy, Olli Heinonen, to undercut El Baradei and express distaste for his grandstanding, Iran-friendly diplomacy.

But I think it’s more likely that the IAEA felt it had an obligation to assess the credibility of the allegations, and also to co-opt the accusations and make sure that it kept control over the whole Iranian nuclear portfolio and out of the hands of the US even though the alleged issues—about missiles and triggers—would seem to be beyond its conventional non-proliferation brief and expertise.

The United States perhaps came out of the episode feeling rather smug that it had paved the way for the third round of sanctions.

The US had also been able to put the NIE behind it, drive the IAEA into a corner, control the public debate on Iran’s program, prevent the IAEA from ever closing the Iran case by turning the debate to virtually unprovable questions of intent, and provide an opening for the U.S. to monitor and second-guess the IAEA's work inside Iran.

But our gains look pretty minimal.

The Russians (with Chinese support) briskly 86’ed the US plan to build on the UN Security Council vote by obtaining a get-tough-on-Iran resolution from the IAEA board of directors under the pretext that the new (toothless) sanctions under UNSCR 1803 were sufficient.

So what did the Bush administration really get from this most recent round of Iran diplomacy?

It looks like what it got was a meaningless UNSC resolution that the Chinese have already pledged to undercut; continued IAEA independence and control over the Iran portfolio; a frustrated Iranian sense that the U.S. is still committed to confrontation; growing international awareness that trying to accommodate the US through the mechanisms of the IAEA is probably futile; and, I expect, an emerging global consensus that a united front is needed not against Iran but against the United States in order to pressure it to engage in meaningful direct negotiations.

For good measure, we elicit the assertion of a Chinese doctrine that it is US employment of military power—and not terrorism—that is the root cause of global instability, and that increased military investment by China is the necessary, inevitable, and justified response.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

China Hands Aren’t Very Bright: Parsing John Pomfret

...Or, How Dumb Can We Get?

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anybody who achieved notoriety in the political blogosphere quicker than John Pomfret.

Pomfret, of course, is the editor of the Washington Post Outlook section responsible for the much maligned Charlotte Allen piece about women entitled “Women Aren’t Very Bright” (belatedly retitled “We Scream We Swoon How Dumb Can We Get?”).

It’s hard to get Michelle Malkin and the Dailykos on the same page, but in Pomfret’s case they all piled on with expressions of outrage.

The estimable Laura Rozen was also compelled to put the boot to Pomfret’s slats, not once but several times, both before and after Pomfret e-mailed her his excuse/explanation “it was tongue in cheek”.

By the WaPo’s own accounting, the article garnered 1000 comments and over 10,000 blog posts.

The rule of thumb, of course, is there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Nevertheless, I imagine that smiles are getting rather forced at Castle Frankenstein a.k.a. the Washington Post as the baron observes the swelling ranks of torch and pitchfork-wielding villagers and begins to wonder if the edgy, high profile rollout of the new monster was such a great idea after all.

In the debate over whether turning over the opinion page of one of America’s leading newspaper to Allen, apparently a sloppy and cynical Kulturkampf provocateur, was a good idea or not, China Matters notes that John Pomfret is a genuine China hand.

He studied at Nanjing University in the 1980s, speaks Mandarin fluently, served as AP’s Beijing correspondent during the democracy movement, and then returned to China in the late 1990s to work for the Washington Post.

In 2006, Pomfret produced a very interesting, informative, and well-written book, Chinese Lessons.

It provides an inside look at the exciting and rather craptacular world of rising China as viewed through the lens of his enduring friendships with his Nanda classmates, who emerged from university to become apparatchiks, exiles, entrepreneurs, and academics.

They carried scars and a lot of baggage from their life under Mao:

[In 1966, one of Pomfret’s classmates] Wu came home from school and was told by his mother that he and the rest of the children would have to denounce their dad publicly as well. So that night, with their father upstairs in his room brooding, Wu and an elder brother spread large sheets of white paper on the dining room table, took out their father’s calligraphy brush and ink, and scrawled in giant characters, “Down with the Feudal Capitalist Education Line of Department Chief Wu.”...While the boys worked on the posters, [their mother] hovered nearby to ensure that her son’s wording was sufficiently harsh. “Call him a black hand,” she urged them under her breath so her husband would not hear.

Two weeks later, Wu’s mother and father were humiliated, beaten, and dragged through the streets of Nanjing. His mother died in the street of a broken neck. As for his father:

The gang returned him to the stage, which faced a hall where Wu had lectured...Lashing him to a chair, they broke his back. The students punched him, puncturing his bladder. When he fell off the chair, they jumped on him and fractured both of his legs...Two days later, he died in the hospital...

Pomfret also had to deal with his own anguish and guilt when one of his sources, an officer in the Chinese army, was detained and jailed for two and a half years, for meeting with Pomfret and passing documents to him during the democracy demonstrations.

I had been blithe, naive, and careless because underneath I never thought it would happen to someone close to me. Liu’s imprisonment was an important lesson, which came at a great price; what was worse, the price was not paid by me.

In the context of the amazing and horrific things he heard and experienced in China, it’s somewhat understandable that Pomfret might be cavalier about offending the sensibilities of the Washington Post readership.

While an individual in China can be destroyed for telling the truth, it’s perhaps liberating to realize you can publish something stupid in the United States without getting jet-planed, kneeling on broken glass, denouncing your parents, going to jail, and/or getting dragged through the streets and beaten to death.

But that, of course, doesn’t make publishing crap right.

Recognizing and enjoying the advantages of our system shouldn’t mean shortchanging a journalist’s obligations to report and edit with intelligence, compassion, and responsibility.

An anecdote from Pomfret’s book stuck with me.

One of his classmates—a journalist—has been driven into exile. He wants to return to China, has the opportunity, but his unease is palpable.

[We] went for coffee at a Nanjing Starbucks. As we savored our espressos, Song told a Taoist fable about a young boy who goes to another country to learn their way of walking. Before mastering the steps, however, he forgets his own and has to crawl home.

“Perhaps,” he said, “I am this boy.”