Sunday, March 18, 2007

Circular Gratification: Vice President Cheney’s Most Recent Effort to Contain China

Vice President Cheney recently visited Asia to lend his prestige and power—two increasingly devalued commodities--to two faithful and embattled allies in his global campaign of confrontation and containment, Japan and Australia.

Japan, in particular, needed bucking up, since the Abe regime is reeling from the perfunctory US abandonment of the abductee issue in the rush to conclude the Six Party Agreement on North Korea.

The abductee issue was at the core of Abe’s North Korea policy and, indeed, Abe’s entire political identity as a principled and valued core member of the US effort to assert its interests and agendas in North Asia through confrontation-based diplomacy.

With realists in ascendance at the State Department and negotiation, conciliation, and compromise at the heart of U.S. Asia policy, Vice President Cheney brought with him a rather contrarian and dubious gift—an effort to singlehandedly will into existence another coalition of the willing, centered on Japan, Australia, and India, to take on the unenviable and almost impossible task of presenting an effective, united front against China.

The Marmot’s Hole looks at a proposal for an anti-Chinese alliance midwifed by Dick Cheney and sees an iron ring of democracies containing China.

I look at the vision of an American, Japanese, Australian, and Indian security quadrilateral and see a regional circle j**k characterized by shared press conferences, private fantasies, and shamefacedly selfish gratification.

Australia is blundering through its self-made neocolonial quagmires in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Fiji. It can’t even handle its back yard (where China is cautiously but productively fishing), let alone contribute effectively to the Ant-Chinese Superhero League that’s supposed to take the fight to the Yellow Peril.

All India wants is to play off the United States, China, and Russia against each other and reap concessions and aid from each while it concentrates on its economic development and energy security.

Indeed, Mr. Cheney's hasty initiatives in ad hoc coalition building are probably a direct response to a conspicuous piece of footsie between New Delhi and America's strategic competitors: the Russian/Chinese/Indian mini-summit in Delhi in February.

Which leaves the United States and Japan...well, maybe just Japan.

The money grafs in the story in the Australian:

The Japanese Government and US Vice-President Dick Cheney are keen to include the growing economic and military power of India in the already enhanced "trilateral" security arrangements, locking together the three most powerful democracies of the Asia-Pacific region.

Mr Cheney gave the Japanese proposal new life on his recent visit to Japan and Australia after sections of the Bush administration rebuffed the plan.

Ah, yes...emphasis added.

With the neocons in retreat on Washington and on the North Korean issue, it seems that Japan provides the vital function to Dick Cheney of providing political cover and scope for strategic initiatives that are foreclosed at home.

In this context, I am tempted to describe Japan as our “Israel in the Pacific”, exploiting relationships inside the US government to develop foreign and domestic policitical synergies that go beyond US official policy, in a manner similar to Tel Aviv's.

Now more than ever, Israel is openly and unapologetically working with elements in the Bush administration to advance a particular policy toward the Middle East—and elements within the US national security establishment are utilizing allies within the Israeli government to assist them in promoting their preferred agenda in the policy battles inside the U.S. government.

The estimable Laura Rozen, in profiling Secretary Condileezza Rice’s yearlong struggle to gain control over the Bush administration’s Iran policy, related a similar kind of back-channel initiative that, if it didn’t involve the politically sacrosanct state of Israel, might be unkindly regarded as colluding with a foreign power against the policy of the United States:

Rice knows how the system works. In February, she traveled to Jerusalem to attempt to restart the Middle East peace process. But while she was en route the neoconservative NSC adviser Elliott Abrams was, according to news reports, using contacts in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to arrange a phone call between Olmert and Bush. After the call, Olmert announced that Israel would not recognize the Palestinian unity government as a legitimate negotiating partner—an essential precondition for productive talks—and that Bush supported Israel’s stance. Her position fatally undercut, Rice returned to Washington empty-handed.

It’s one thing for a small-time erstwhile felon like Elliott Abrams to use a foreign government to promote his virtuous conspiracy against the Palestinian peace process.

But when Big Time, America’s shadow president, has to outsource his anti-China agenda to Japan and two weak and/or unenthusiastic partners in South Asia and rely on them to whipsaw the State Department, that’s a sure sign that it’s going nowhere.

Or better yet, in circles.

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