Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Stealing Property

A headline in the Saturday Washington Post reads:

Russia’s Gazprom Purchases Siberian Gas Field From BP

The story begins:

The state-controlled energy giant Gazprom on Friday bought a vast natural gas field in Siberia from a unit of British-based petroleum conglomerate BP, continuing the Kremlin’s policy of shifting control of the country’s major energy projects from foreign to state hands.

The last part of the sentence begins to hint at what really happened, a truth that is concealed by words like “purchases” and “bought.” In fact, the Russian government and its giant energy firm Gazprom forced BP to sell, as it has forced other companies to turn valuable properties over to Gazprom and the oil company Rosneft, often through the use of trumped-up tax or regulatory issues.

Journalists should be straightforward about such things. Gazprom did not “purchase” a gas field from BP. This was no “willing buyer, willing seller” transaction. It would more accurately be described as a seizure, a confiscation, or at best a forced sale.

The Wall Street Journal used similar language. The New York Times, to its credit, was more honest and clear: Its headline read, “Moscow Presses BP to Sell a Big Gas Field to Gazprom,” and the story began, “Under pressure from the Russian government, BP agreed on Friday to sell one of the world’s largest natural gas fields to Gazprom, the natural gas monopoly, in the latest apparently forced sale that benefited a Russian state company.”

Footnote: Today is the second anniversary of the Kelo decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could take private property for the benefit of other private owners such as developers. In a stinging dissent, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote:

The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory. …Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.

The United States is not Russia. But O’Connor’s warning that “the beneficiaries [of forced takings] are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms” is certainly borne out — not just by a new Institute for Justice report on eminent domain in action — but by the actions in Putin’s Russia.

The Islamofascists’ Reign of Terror

The New York Times reports on American troops’ efforts to push Al Qaeda insurgents out of Baqaba, Iraq, and liberate residents from their strict rule:

The insurgents have imposed a strict Islamic creed, and some have even banned smoking, one resident told Capt. Jeff Noll, the commander of Company B of the First Battalion, 23rd Infantry, during his patrol through the neighborhood.

Banning smoking? President Bush is right — if we don’t stop them in Iraq, we’ll have to fight them in Manhattan, and Montgomery County, and San Francisco….

Failed States and Nutty Claims

Wow, this issue of Foreign Policy is the gift that keeps on giving. The cover of the magazine features the 2007 version of its “failed states index” and the subheading blares “Why the world’s weakest countries pose the greatest danger.” Umm, really? The greatest danger to whom? Chris Preble and I have dealt with these sorts of claims here, but I think we can all take some relief in the fact that we have successfully managed the world’s greatest dangers since the index emerged in 2005. Back then, (sub. req’d) the greatest dangers were posed by Côte d’Ivoire, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Chad, Yemen, Liberia, and Haiti, representing the “most failed states” from 1-10. Yes, the implicit claim is that in 2005 the greatest danger was posed by Ivory Coast. Thankfully, though, Ivory Coast is now only the sixth greatest danger to us.

Pardon the snark, but this is genuinely sloppy stuff.

Now Where Have I Seen *That* Before?

Kurt Campbell and Shawn Brimley have a “Memorandum” piece in the new issue of Foreign Policy magazine outlining a 1967 memo from the US intelligence community about the “Implications of an Unfavorable Outcome in Vietnam” and the lessons it can draw for the current conflict in Iraq.

Of course, a discussion of this very same topic appeared several months ago, without glossy pages and fancy fonts, in the pages of the Newark Star-Ledger.

Washington is a cruel place.

Seen and Not Seen

The Washington Post Magazine had a detailed profile of the daily activities of freshman House member Joe Courtney (D-CT).

We learn that he spends much of his time raising campaign money, even though the next election is still 17 months ago.

More interesting is how a single business in his district, Electric Boat Corp., seems to dominate his time on Capitol Hill. He meets with the company, he lobbies Democratic Party bosses on the firm’s behalf, and he makes sure to ask questions in congressional hearings related to the company.

Electric Boat makes vessels for the Pentagon and employs 6,000 in Courtney’s Connecticut district. That’s a lot of people, but there at 680,000 people in Courtney’s congressional district — what about all their interests? Does Courtney put any effort, for example, into keeping taxes low for the benefit of all the other thousands of businesses in his district?

The article reminded me of Frederic Bastiat’s “What is Seen and What Is Not Seen.” Unfortunately, most politicians focus only on the immediate, most simple, and most visible effects of government action, and don’t have the imagination or capacity for abstract thought to recognize the unseen but much larger effects of big government.

How do we fix this bias?

And These Folks Are Our Friends…

Here’s what Anatole Kaletsky, columnist at the London Times, has to say about the task facing Gordon Brown:

The question Mr Brown must now ask himself is whether he can still allow himself to remain publicly allied to a US Administration that is so recklessly belligerent in its diplomatic conduct, so demonstrably incompetent in warfare and so irresponsibly dangerous to the peace of the world.

As the anarchy in Iraq goes from bad to worse and Washington’s only answer is to expand the circle of its aggression, clichés about the special relationship are no longer sufficient. Mr Brown must decide whether to remain a silent but active partner in this madness, whether to retreat quietly like the Italians, Poles and Spaniards or to develop a third and genuinely courageous option. This is to positively forestall further disasters by breaking publicly with the Bush Administration and trying to develop a genuine European alternative to the suicidal American-led policies, not only in Iraq, but also in Israel, Palestine and Iran.

It’s one thing to hear Dominique de Villepin or “Pootie-Poot” talking like this, but when your friends in England have thrown up their hands, it’s doubly bad news. Interestingly, both Brown and the Tory leader David Cameron have moved away from the stance of Tony Blair, with Cameron going so far as to announce that “We should be solid but not slavish in our friendship with America.”

Sometimes the best friends provide not reflexive support but constructive criticism and prudent advice. Hopefully the U.S.-England relationship will move away from the former and toward the latter.

Neocons Refocus on China

It’s easy to forget that in the early days of the Bush presidency, the neocons were lambasting President Bush for visiting a “national humiliation” on the United States in the form of his handling of the EP-3 crash off the coast of China. It actually wasn’t that humiliating, particularly in comparison to the neocons’ own pet project, but it was a stark reflection of their overarching “bring ‘em on” attitude toward dealing with the world.

There have been signs lately that neoconservative energies have once again been focused on encouraging increased politico-military ties between the US and Taiwan and poisoning the US-China relationship. Gary Schmitt today takes to the pages of the Washington Post to ring the alarm bells about China, but more notably, Therese Shaheen, an AEI adjunct fellow, former head of the US non-embassy embassy in Taiwan, and wife of Rumsfeld flack Larry di Rita, writes in the Asian Wall Street Journal wondering why the U.S. is ignoring Taiwan. (sub. req’d)

Lest anyone think that the fact that the Taiwan issue has been off the radar screen lately is a good sign, here is what Jeff Stein of Congressional Quarterly had to report about back channel discussions between the U.S. and Taiwan, some of which involved Ms. Shaheen:

Lawrence B. Wilkerson, the U.S. Army colonel who was Powell’s chief of staff through two administrations, said in little-noted remarks early last month that “neocons” in the top rungs of the administration quietly encouraged Taiwanese politicians to move toward a declaration of independence from mainland China…

The top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan at the time, Douglas Paal, backs up Wilkerson’s account…

[One] key character in the minidrama was Therese Shaheen, the outspoken chief of the U.S. office of the American Institute in Taiwan, which took on the functions of the American embassy after the formal 1979 diplomatic switch.

Shaheen, who happens to be DiRita’s wife, openly championed Chen and the independence movement, at one point even publicly reinterpreting Bush’s reiteration of the “one China” policy, saying that the administration “had never said it ‘opposed’ Taiwan independence,” according to a 2004 account in the authoritative Far Eastern Economic Review.

“Therese Shaheen … said don’t sweat it, the president didn’t really mean what he said,” Wilkerson said…

Douglas Paal was then head of the American Institute in Taiwan, effectively making him the U.S. ambassador there. He backed up Wilkerson’s account.

“In the early years of the Bush administration,” Paal said by e-mail last week, “there was a problem with mixed signals to Taiwan from Washington. This was most notably captured in the statements and actions of Ms. Therese Shaheen, the former AIT chair, which ultimately led to her departure.”

Now retired, Paal said he, too, “received many first- and second-hand reports of messages conveyed to Taiwan by DoD civilians and perhaps a uniformed officer or two during that time that were out of sync with President Bush’s position.”

If you think the “long, hard slog” in Iraq is swell, wait until there’s a shooting war in the Taiwan Strait.