Saturday, February 26, 2005

Scenes from America's Ruin

Parents in California can now see the direct consequences of open door immigration in the very place where the politically correct mantra of diversity has failed most spectacularly - the schools. Those who try to fight the trend are doomed to frustration.
Harding Elementary School PTA President Meredith Brace has led a battle for several years to stop her white neighbors from transferring out of the heavily Latino Westside campus.

Now she's joining them, saying she's not willing to make her son the guinea pig any longer.

The Braces are like hundreds of other local families who, over the years, have sought transfers out of neighborhood schools that are filled with mostly poor Latino children.

"I'm gone," said Mrs. Brace, who on Tuesday requested and was granted a transfer for her first-grade son out of Harding and into the more affluent Hope School, within the nearby Hope Elementary District. "I've just got to the point where, 'Sorry guys, I need what's best for my kids and there's a school that's two miles away that offers all those things I want.' "
The assumption behind the diversity myth is that simply increasing number of people with differing ethnic and cultural backgrounds automatically improves the quality of any environment by bringing a wider variety of opinions and attitudes and traditionals. Diversity promoters liken it to a symphony in which differing instruments contribute to a harmonious whole. In fact, however, without the single-minded direction of a composer and conductor, many different instruments playing at once only results in cacophony. But diversity by itself does nothing to promote quality. And when human beings are involved increased differences usually lead to increaseed conflict.
"This is a major blow," said Santa Barbara school trustee Bob Noel. "Meredith was kind of like Supermom in terms of doing things for her school. . . . You can read racism into this, but I read more of an issue of social class. People don't want to look and see their kid is in a classroom where most of the students are underachievers and where friendship circle possibilities are very, very small because they don't speak the same language."
Mr. Noel captures the dilemma facing Mrs. Brace quite well. Certain immigrant groups - Hispanics, in particular - underperform educationally (other immigrant groups, like Southeast Asians, on the other hand, tend to overachieve). Schools whose student bodies becomes predominently Hispanic will show a significan dropoff in performance, especially when the Hispanic population is drawn from recent or illegal immigrants, most of whom do not speak English. This highlights the overwhelming importance of language in cultural cohesion - if people cannot speak each other's language, the barrier between them is greater than any wall. Language barriers all but eliminate any chance of cross-socialization between groups (difficult already between differing ethnic groups) and increase tension by exacerbating suspicion and misunderstanding. Without the chance to make friends, no child will want to remain in a school surrounded by people with whom he has nothing in common and with whom he can not communicate.

Harding is 90 percent Latino, 6 percent white. Hope is 73 percent white, 20 percent Latino. Hope families have raised enough money every year to keep on staff an array of specialists in art, music, computers and science -- all the "extras" Mrs. Brace wants for her son, who is 7, and her 4-year-old daughter.

As PTA president, Mrs. Brace said she has tried to start after-school enrichment programs in art and theater at Harding.

"We made it so affordable, $20 for a six- to eight-week session. We told everybody, 'Come on, do something extra for your kids.' We had so few people sign up, we had to eliminate a lot of the classes," she said. "I've met some very lovely people, but we have nothing in common. Every time my husband and I would go over for an event, my husband would feel like it was his first time. We haven't made any friends."

Those who have studied the educational patterns of new arriving immigrants (legal and illegal) from Mexico and Latin America would not be surprised by Mrs. Brace's experience. But the key phrase here is "we have nothing in common" - not language, not culture, not education aspiration or artistic inclination. And what happens to a country when an increasingly sizable portion of its population has "nothing in common" with the rest?

Harding parent Cristina Hernandez said she's seen the school's racial mix change, but that Mrs. Brace shouldn't give up.

"I've been here 14 years now, and all of a sudden we turned around and all the white parents had gone," she said, speaking in Spanish [emphasis mine]. "They don't want their children side by side with our children. (Mrs. Brace) shouldn't leave. She should stay and keep fighting."

Ms. Cruz cannot be bothered to speak English even while being interviewed by a reporter asking why a white parent pulled her child out of a now predominately Latino school. Is Ms. Cruz being deliberately obtuse, or just mocking Mrs. Brace? Why should Mrs. Brace keep fighting a battle that she has so evidently lost? At what price to her child?

One has to give Mrs. Brace credit. The article details the lenghts to which she went to make make the diversity experiment at Harding work:

It was about three years ago, before her son entered kindergarten, that Mrs. Brace started going door to door touting Harding's achievements, trying to convince her neighbors to join her in giving the school a try. She even took on the PTA president post before her son had entered kindergarten.

Once her son started, she remained PTA president, volunteered in the classroom, boosted fund-raising efforts, and continued to hold regular neighborhood meetings to make other white families feel comfortable with the campus. While she said she's not bilingual, she used the Spanish she picked up while living in Costa Rica and Mexico to try to connect with Latino parents.

Apparently, while Mrs. Brace was willing to make the effort, the Latino parents she went out of her way to cultivate, did not reciprocate.

Some of the white families she had convinced to enroll their kids at Harding later bailed out. [Mrs. Brace] said her son has struggled to make friends.

"He hasn't been invited to a birthday party. There is absolutely no after-school interaction," she said. "For his birthday, he invited four of his classmates. Only one came."

Mrs. Brace's experience is not uncommon. Other Harding parents encountered the same problem. The article cites Brenda McDonald who has also decided to remove her child from the school.

"At Harding, the teachers are wonderful. The principal is great. It's the socioeconomic chasm. It's not a gap, it's a huge difference in the population," said Mrs. McDonald, who described herself as a middle-class professional. "We don't have a lot in common with the other families. At the same time, do I want to drive five days a week now every day for the next six years? Then again, if half of the Westside is going in that direction, maybe we can carpool."

Despite her defeat, however, Mrs. Brace continues to hold to the same PC thinking that created the situation in the first place.

"They keep telling me, 'No, Meredith, we've got to keep options open to parents or they'll leave.' It's so plain and simple. It's created such segregation. It's left us with a situation that is almost gotten beyond repair."

She said the policy allowing transfers within the district -- and outside of the district when a parent comes up with a valid reason -- has destroyed many neighborhood schools by exacerbating white flight.

With her 4-year-old daughter getting ready to enter kindergarten, Mrs. Brace had recently been courting a dozen other white families in her neighborhood who have children of the same age.

"Every single one of them is going somewhere else, and they had all looked at Harding," she said. "I said to myself, this is not getting any better, so if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. This is not the teacher's fault, or the principal's fault. They're wonderful."

For all her dedication and obvious civic-mindedness, Mrs. Brace lays the problem at the foot of the district's transfer policy which grants parents the right to decide where to send the children, instead of Washington's decision to allow millions of people to pour across the border and settle in the US without first learning our language and with no intention of assimilating into our culture. In the politically correct view of the world, Harding's white parents should be forced to keep the children in a school where they are surrounded by foreigners with whom they cannot connect.

But California isn't the only state with schools like Harding. It's happening in Nebraska, too. Nor is white flight simply restricted to the US; it's happening in Britain where the government has permitted London and other cities to be colonized by the Middle East. The long-term effect on British culture will be to dillute its essentially English quality in favor of non-English attitudes and traditions. Ethnic and cultural conflict will rise as national cohesion deteriorates. The same will happen in America, which will increasingly resemble the impoverished, conflicted, under-acheiving societies from which most of our recent immigrants come.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Warning Signs for Bothswana

Despite being often portrayed as an enclave of democracy in otherwise anarchic Africa, Bothswana's government appears to be taking a distinctly non-democractic turn. In a harbinger of bad things to come, the government has become extremely hostile to criticism - to the point of expelling critics.

A renowned academic and political commentator has been ordered to leave Botswana after writing a paper criticising the government.

Professor Kenneth Good, who co-authored the piece with a Scottish academic, was given 48 hours to get out after questioning the decision by Botswana’s president, Festus Mogae, to select his own successor.

Prof Good, an Australian who has worked in Africa for more than 30 years, has appealed against the order and will make his case in court next month.

Speaking to The Scotsman yesterday, he said: "Botswana claims high democratic credibility but behaves in this way."

President Mogae reacted to Professor Good's critique by branding the professor a "prohibited immigrant" and giving him forty-eight hours to leave the country. The professor appealed to Bothswana's high court and was granted a stay to argue his case next month.

Having obtained his reprieve, Prof Good last night went ahead with his public lecture based on the controversial paper, "Presidential Succession in Botswana: No Model for Africa".

The two main targets of the attack are Mr Mogae and the president-designate, Ian Khama.

Mr Khama is the 52-year-old eldest son of the country’s first president, Sir Seretse Khama, and is chief of the Bamangwato - the biggest clan within the majority Tswana population.

Mr Khama’s mother, Ruth, was an English secretary when she married Seretse Khama after the Second World War. The British Labour government of the time, embarrassed by an inter-racial marriage, banished the couple from Britain to what was then the Bechuanaland Protectorate. However, Seretse Khama became head of government and was knighted when Bechuanaland became independent Botswana in 1966.

Until a few months ago, Mr Khama was head of the 10,000-strong Botswana Defence Force. He was appointed to parliament by Mr Mogae without an election and elevated to vice-president without any consultation of parliament. Under the Botswana constitution the vice-president automatically becomes president when the president steps down, which Mr Mogae plans to do by 2007.

Prof Good said Mr Khama had no ministerial experience or educational credentials, adding: "His temperament and actions are autocratic and prone to order-giving, rather than debate and argument, the stuff of democracy."

He said a recent decision, in defiance of a government task force decision, to move the establishment of Botswana’s second university to the large village of Serowe, the "capital" of Mr Khama’s cattle-rearing Bamangwato clan, from the major diamond mining town of Selebi-Pikwe, is "seen by many as a portent of things to come".

The elevation of Mr. Khama - first to parliament and then to vice president - by President Mogae without election or parliamentary approval, cannot be interpreted as anything other than a threat to Bothswana's democractic process. Mr. Khama's military background adds a distinctly sinister overtone to the manuever. Hypersensitivity to criticism - and the silencing of critics - usually signals a leadership with malign plans. The list of African governments overthrown by military leaders is long and depressing. Bothswana looks to be in distinct danger of joining the general trend.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Japan's Elderly Turn to Dolls for Companionship

Japanese toy makers are moving to exploit a need made increasingly evident by Japan's demographic decline:
As Japan produces fewer children and more retirees, toymakers are designing new dolls designed not for the young but for the lonely elderly -- companions which can sleep next to them and offer caring words they may never hear otherwise.

Talking toys have become such a hit that some elderly people have embraced them as substitutes for the children who have grown old and deserted entire neighborhoods in the rapidly greying country.

The Yumel doll, which looks like a baby boy and has a vocabulary of 1,200 phrases, is billed as a "healing partner" for the elderly and goes on the market Thursday at a price of 8,500 yen (80 dollars).

About 8,000 Yumel dolls, designed by toymaker Tomy with pillows and bedding maker Lofty, have already been sold in less than three months in limited marketing in sleeping sections of department stores.

"Toymakers are targeting senior citizens as the number of children is falling. We are also striving to attract them," said Osamu Kiriseko, who headed the Yumel project.

Another toymaker, Bandai, in November 1999 launched the Primopuel doll which is meant to resemble a five-year-old boy who needs the same sort of attention, asking to be hugged and entertained.

Like the denizens of most other wealthy, industrialized nations, the Japanese are failing to reproduce themselves. The Japanese fertility rate has decline to an average 1.38 children per Japanese woman with the result that, according to the AFP, Japan's population grew by a paltry 0.05 percent in 2004 and will likely decline in 2005, the first time since such records were kept. The drastic decline in young Japanese has produced significant changes in the traditional way of Japanese life.

Traditionally, the eldest son was expected to live with their parents as they grew older and many young Japanese still stay at home for financial reasons as Japan has some of the world's highest rents.

But the custom is fading out in the younger generation as more Japanese singles choose to live independently and favor careers and lifestyles over the pressures of having children and taking care of their parents.

The Japanese are also famous for their longevity, with more than 23,000 people aged 100 or over.

The absence of children and grandchildren and the general segregation of the elderly from families has resulted in the sad acceptance of artificial substitutes for human company.

Some 500 customers have sent in comments since October, many of them hailing the changes to their lives since Yumel entered the picture, with a 95-year-old woman the oldest respondent.

"Thank you for giving me a heart-warming baby. I'm no longer alone," an 82-year-old woman wrote while another senior woman said she was raising the doll "as my own child".

Of course, elderly Japanese are hardly alone in their want of attention - as a visit to any senior care facility (or assisted living facility, or, more crassly put, old age home) in Europe or America will easily prove. But with its burgeoning elderly population, Japan points to a seemingly inevitable future for all developed nations, in which fertility rates continue to decline even as lifespan increases. Politicians across Europe and in Washington have noticed the demographic trends and their negative long-term effect on social welfare and entitlements programs (like social security in the US). But the social effects of a swelling population of increasingly frail and socially isolated elderly population remain under-estimated.

Those effects are not likely to be salutary. In current medical practice, as the final years of life are extended, the cost of caring for the elderly rises sharply due to failing health, susceptibility to infection, mental deterioraton and general frailness. As the number of such dependent elderly people rise, the strain on national economies will begin to show. An ever higher percerntage of young workers will be lured into the elder-care industry, whose financial cost will consume an ever greater portion of national income. Financial resources devoted to elder-care will produce significant returns for the overall society (unlike, say, investing in schools or new factories or scientific research). Many welfare states - particular those in Europe - will eventually founder on this merciless equation. This will leave many national governments desperate for a solution. Government administered efforts to boost birth rates, dating back as far as Augustus Caesar (see previous posts) have historically proven ineffective. A sensible policy - as argued by FuturePundit - would be to invest in medical technologies that not only increase lifespan, but seek to prolong relative youth and health, thus reducing the long-term cost of old age and its burden on the national economy. But funding for such longevity research remains scant in Washington - muck like long-range thinking.

The dearth of young people will also undermine economies as the number of workers and entrepeneurs dwindle. In order to forestall these consequences, the US and Europe are trying to offset the decline in their native birth rates by importing young people from the Third World. Unforunately, the cultural consequences of doing so have proven highly divisive. In Europe, a large percentage of Muslim immigrants refuse to assimilate and segregate themselves into hostile, isolated enclaves - a breeding ground for Islamic fanaticism and violence. In America, Spanish-speaking immigrants pour into the country overwhelming established neighborhoods and threatening to bifurcate the US along linguistic and racial lines. The trauma caused to American and European culture from immigration is unlikely to be mild.

Unlike Europe and the US, Japan shows no intention of turning to immigration to bolster its supply of young people. The Japanese prize their culture and ethnic identity, both of which they feel would be lethally compromised by admitting non-Japanese to the society. Thus far, this policy has not serious erroded Japanese economic strenght or industrial might, largely because the Japanese have turned their technical and scientific prowess toward increased automation, reducing the need for new workers. Robotics has become "a key long-term economic strength with Japan possessing 410,000 of the world's 720,000 `working robots.'" Refusing immigration has ensured, however, that Japanese culture - if not as dynamic as America's - at least remains Japanese.

Not surprisingly, literacy in Japan is better than 99% of the population, the HIV infection rate is low, and crime, though rising, remains a fraction of that in the US, particularly violent crime. The dearth of Japanese babies, however, remains unmitigated. The Japanese may ultimately perfect automated companions who will shower aging Japanese pensioners with attention, but those machines will not solve the basic problem - a lack of new Japanese.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Property Rights Imperiled

The legal arguments heard before the US Supreme Court on Tuesday in Kelo vs. City of New London have far more importance than the mainstream media imparts to them. At question in this case is the right of private property - not its use, but its very possession - by private citizens.
Residents trying to hang onto their homes in a working class neighborhood of New London, Conn., are waging a battle in the Supreme Court over their city government's attempt to seize property for private economic development.

Susette Kelo and several other homeowners filed a lawsuit after city officials announced plans to bulldoze their residences to clear the way for a riverfront hotel, health club and offices. The residents refused to move, arguing it was an unconstitutional taking of their property.

Eminent domain was originally conceived to empower government to acquire property for use in projects of clear national security or infrastructure importance - highways and railroads being two examples. But various municipal governments have siezed on eminent domain to accomplish by fiat what they could not achieve by persuasion.

The court said in 1954 that it is legal for urban renewal to encompass non-blighted commercial buildings in a blighted neighborhood. In 1984, the court upheld Hawaii's land reform law that broke the grip of large landowners, with property being taken and then resold to others.

More recently, many cities and towns have been accused of abusing their authority, razing nice homes to make way for parking lots for casinos and other tax-producing businesses.

The seven property owners on the side of Kelo are the last remaining of more than 70 families whose homes and businesses were targeted for demolition several years ago by the city of New London, Connecticut, to make room for a 90-acre private development. The story of one of the owners, Susette Kelo, is representative. Kelo, a nurse, bought and painstakingly restored a home that initially was so run-down that she needed to cut her way to the front door with a hatchet. After she had achieved her dream home, she was informed in November 2000 by the local government that her home was condemned, and ordered to vacate within 90 days. She and the other owners remain in their homes only by the grace of a court order, which prevents eviction and demolition until their appeals are exhausted.

What justifies this treatment of Kelo and the other owners, who simply want to be free to live on their own property? The seizures and transfers, the government says, are in "the public interest"--because they will lead to more jobs for New London residents and more tax dollars for the government. This type of justification was given more than 10,000 times between 1998 and 2002, and across 41 states, to use eminent domain (or its threat) to seize private property. The attitude behind these seizures was epitomized by a Lancaster, CA, city attorney explaining why a 99¢ Only store should be condemned to make way for a Costco: "99 Cents produces less than $40,000 [a year] in sales taxes, and Costco was producing more than $400,000. You tell me which was more important?"

Urban development plans may be useful or necessary - though in many cases they are neither, serving only to benefit those who have financed local politicians - but should they trump the property rights of private citizens? And if so, at what cost? Private property acts as a curb on government power. It's diminishment represents a dangerous expansion of state power over the citizen. Salzman and Epstein rightly conclude:
If the Supreme Court rules against the property owners in Kelo, then no one's home or business is secure. As Dana Berliner, an attorney for the owners, explains: "If jobs and taxes can be a justification for taking someone's home or business then no property in America is safe. Anyone's home can create more jobs if it is replaced by a business and any small business can generate greater taxes if replaced by a bigger one."
A victory for the town of New London might convince muncipal politicians that they need only the flimsiest excuse for ridding themselves of undesirable residents. Wealthy municipalities might decide to purge themselves of less advantaged neighborhoods by demolishing them in favor of higher tax-paying luxury developments. The same could prove through for neighborhoods and communities that support political parties opposite to that which controls city hall. Municipalities could achieve political conformity by simply replacing neighborhoods that vote the wrong way.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

African Immigration at all Time High

The US is drawing more immigrants from Africa today than at the height of the slave trade [registration required].
Since 1990, according to immigration figures, more have arrived voluntarily than the total who disembarked in chains before the United States outlawed international slave trafficking in 1807. More have been coming here annually - about 50,000 legal immigrants - than in any of the peak years of the middle passage across the Atlantic, and more have migrated here from Africa since 1990 than in nearly the entire preceding two centuries.

New York State draws the most; Nigeria and Ghana are among the top 20 sources of immigrants to New York City. But many have moved to metropolitan Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Houston. Pockets of refugees, especially Somalis, have found havens in Minnesota, Maine and Oregon.
Of course, today's African immigrants come to the US willingly and not in chains. Most come to the US seeking financial opportunities, and like many other immigrant groups send money home - more than $1 billion annually, according to the Times, which naturally appends a leftist spin to the figure.
'Basically, people are coming to reclaim the wealth that's been taken from their countries,' said Howard Dodson, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in Harlem, which has just inaugurated an exhibition, Web site and book, titled 'In Motion,' to commemorate the African diaspora.
The demographic effects of mass immigration from Africa insofar as they further fracture US society do not interest the Times, except where they affect traditional racial politics.
To many Americans, the most visible signs of the movement are the proliferation of African churches, mosques, hair-braiding salons, street vendors and supermarket deliverymen, the controversy over female genital mutilation and the election last year of Barack Obama, son of a native Kenyan, to the United States Senate from Illinois. Especially in New York City, the shooting deaths of two unarmed African immigrants, Amadou Diallo from Guinea in 1999 and Ousmane Zongo from Burkina Faso in 2003, come to mind.


Sylviane A. Diouf, a historian and researcher at the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center and Dr. Dodson's co-author of 'In Motion,' said that Americans have a more positive view of immigrants in general than they do of American-born blacks. Referring to African immigrants, she said: 'They are better educated, they're here to work, to prosper, they're more compliant and don't pose a threat.'

Dr. Dodson added, 'They're not politically mobilized as yet and not as closely tied to the African-American agenda.'
In short, the new immigrants have yet to be recruited by the progressive left and used as more pawns in the game of racial-identity politicking. Progressives may be frustrated with their efforts to indoctrinate these minorities, however:
The influx has other potential implications, from recalibrating the largely monolithic way white America views blacks to raising concerns that American-born blacks will again be left behind.

'Historically, every immigrant group has jumped over American-born blacks,' said Eric Foner, the Columbia University historian. 'The final irony would be if African immigrants did, too.'
Those numbers reflect only legal immigrants, who have been arriving at the rate of about 50,000 a year, first mostly as refugees and students and more recently through family reunification and diversity visas. Many speak English, were raised in large cities and capitalist economies, live in families headed by married couples and are generally more highly educated and have higher-paying jobs than American-born blacks [emphasis added].
Does one sense here an oblique suggestion by the Times of why American-born blacks have failed to acheive a higher standard of living?

Idealism vs. Realpolitik

President Bush opened his week-long visit to Europe with a speech that featured - along with the usual bromides praising "trans-Atlantic" cooperation - a surprising broadside against Russian President Vladamir Putin, with whom Mr. Bush will meet later in the week.
But the speech, the start of a five-day journey to Belgium, Germany and Slovakia, was most striking for his toughest words yet about President Vladimir Putin's rollback of democratic reforms and crackdown on dissent in Russia. Bush is to meet with Putin on Thursday in Slovakia's capital, Bratislava.

"We recognize that reform will not happen overnight," Bush said. "We must always remind Russia, however, that our alliance stands for a free press, a vital opposition, the sharing of power and the rule of law - and the United States and all European countries should place democratic reform at the heart of their dialogue with Russia.
Russo-American relations, which seemed strong at the start of Mr. Bush's first term, have been deteriorating steadily over the last year. Mr. Putin's undeniable power grab, which drastically concentrated power in the Kremlin, threatens to return Russia to an authoritarian state. Russian democracy isn't nearly dead yet, of course, but the political winds blowing from Moscow promise only more centralization of political power and fewer local elections. This does not mean a return to the days of communist totalitanianism, but it doesn't augur well for the establishment of a European style parliamentary democracy either. Washington has watched these developments warily, but its criticism has thus far been restrained for fear of jeopardizing good relations with Moscow.

The Russians, on the other hand, have a far less sanguine view of Washington's motives. American intervention in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine - not to mention the 1999 bombing of Serbia, with which Russia has strong ethnic and historical bonds - has convinced the more reactionary Russian politicians and bureaucrats that the US plans to encircle Russia by extending the NATO alliance right up to Russia's border, depriving Moscow of historical allies and buffer states. Many Russians see this as a symptom of American triumphalism resulting from Russia's loss of the Cold War - and their resentment is palpable.

Last year's Ukrainian election debacle particularly infuriated Moscow, which considers Ukraine part of its historic hegemony. Putin personally backed Victor Yanukovich, the pro-Russian establishment candidate, who "won" the first - and very clearly rigged - ballot. This exploded in Putin's face when Europe and the US vociferously protested the election, aiding the reformers protesting the elections outcome. In the face of international pressure, a new election was called and Victor Yushchenko, the reform candidate, won. To the surprise of no one in the Kremlin - and as if to justify the worst of the reactionaries' conspiracy theories - Yushchenko has today called for NATO membership for Ukraine.

The question for the Bush administration - and more broadly for succeeding American administrations - is how to draw the line between promoting American ideals (like democracy) and not alienating strategic allies who adhere to contradicting standards of behavior. The Russian trend toward dictatorship - the historical norm for Russia - cannot be described as a good thing either for Russians or Americans. However, with no credible Russian democractic opposition anywhere in sight, the US has little sway over Moscow politics. Moreover, American overatures toward former Russian satellite states has tempered any American influence in Moscow with suspicion and resentment.

This may explain Russia's stubborn refusal to cease cooperation with Iran on nuclear power plants. The Russians cannot be unaware of Iran's clear intention to use that technology to create nuclear weapons, but they are equally aware that providing this technology to Iran spits in America's eye. So, too, for Russian weapon sales to Venuzala, a nation smack in the middle of America's immediate sphere of influence, and Russia's assistance to Iraq on the eve of the 2003 American invasion. Russia no longer has the strenght or influence to confront Washington directly, but it still has means and motive to play passive-aggressive foreign policy with Washington all over the world.

Yet, Washington needs Moscow. Russian cooperation in America's (very sloppily named) War on Terrorism remains vital for both information sharing and controlling Russia's poorly managed military arsenal. But Russia's tactical geographic positions, bordering China could make it a potent ally of the US in any future squabble with Bejing. The Chinese are keenly aware of this, and anticipating a future conflict with their former Cold War ally America, have sought mightily to woo Mosow over the past decade. Also, Russian oil and gas reserves could prove vital to the US should Islamists manage to topple the House of Saud in Riyadh. The Bush Administration, incidentally, has suffered no indecision with regard to the House of Saud, which has been a primary source of financing and protector of the Islamist extremists now waging war against the US. Washington has resisted any attempt to condemn Saudi Arabia or see relations strained (despite Saudi complicity and lack of cooperation) lest an threatened or offended Riyadh respond by cutting off the flow of oil to the US. The economic consequences of such an act are too devastating for the US to contemplate, thus Washington glosses over the problems in its relationship with the Saudi Kingdom.

The choice for the US comes down to applying President Bush's idealistic devotion to spreading democracy at the risk of alienating strategic allies like Russia, or playing Cold War style politics in which the US pointedly overlooks the nasty flaws of certain allies in order to construct a better worldwide defense against a more dangerous threat to the US itself (namely: China). If Bush Administration continues to chide Russia for its authoritarian leanings, war in Chechnya, and pushing the borders of NATO (an outdated alliance in any event) closer to Russia, it will be in keeping with the president's expressed Wilsonian idealism. It may, however, drive Russia deeper in China's embrace and produce a Russian foreign policy based on antagonizing the US. Promoting democracy is a noble and moral proposition, but the rising power of China represents a long-term threat to both the US and democratic nations collectively. Sabotaging alliances that could contain China is not in America's long term interest. Reality often demands trade-offs. During the Cold War the US allied itself with many questionable regimes in order to contain and ultimately defeat communism. Depsite the claims of some neo-conservatives, history is not dead, and the compromises necessary to advance American interests have not disappeared.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Transatlantic Tensions

In today's Guardian, Niall Ferguson points out that despite the gushing rhetoric from Washington and Brussels, differing priorities and interests will keep the Europe and the US from a real rapprochement. Ferguson correctly notes that the fall of the USSR removed the essential glue that bound the two sides together - fear of Soviet invasion. At present, Europeans see no immanent physical threat from abroad. Thus they can afford to indulge in empty-headed pacifism and look nervously on American military supremacy, idiotically hoping for a counterweight to America, even if that balancing power turns out of the China, a nation ruled by brutality and force. Without a common menace to united America and Europe, internal factors spur both sides to move apart. Immigrantion, Ferguson argues provides one force propelling the separation:
Perhaps more importantly, large Muslim populations (especially in France and Germany) have subtly shifted European attitudes towards the Middle East, the world's geopolitical hub. Traditional Arabophile tendencies on the part of European diplomatic elites have been reinforced by politicians fearful of alienating Muslim constituents if they adhere too closely to the US. In some quarters, European hostility to Israel has become more strident, sometimes (at least to American ears) even anti-semitic.
More corrosive to the long-term future of Euro-American relations is the China question. Ferguson correctly notes that the US has willingly allowed China and other Asian nations to bankroll its heavy borrowing. If the Asians who have so generously underwritten America's massive deficits decide to look elsewhere for a better return on their investments (say, Europe), the US economy will feel the pinch.
It is not widely recognised that the US is currently being subsidised by foreign monetary authorities, mostly Asian. Central banks, led by the People's Bank of China, are financing about 75%-85% of the US current account deficit. In essence, the Chinese are buying dollars and US bonds to prevent their own currency appreciating against the dollar, which would in turn hurt exports.
Europeans looking to hobble the US have spotted this opportunity and will likely make the most of it.

The irony is that just a few months before Bush's visit to Brussels, a European statesman went on a little-reported trip to Beijing. President Jacques Chirac was there ostensibly to promote trade and cultural exchanges with France. But Chirac surely had a rather grander design in mind. He knows that talk of transatlantic rapprochement amounts to little more than empty rhetoric. He also knows that Europe has an opportunity to woo China from the American embrace.

Today, as in 1972, the international system has a triangular shape. Then it was the US that outwitted the Soviet Union by making overtures to China. Perhaps it is now Europe's turn to outwit the US by doing the same. Or has George Bush already booked his flight to Beijing?

This explains why the EU plans to drop its arms embargo against China, despite US fury. Europe pays lip service to human rights and the spread of democracy whilst practicising realpolitik in favor of its perceived interest. Washington did the same, very successfully during the Cold War. The Bush administration, however, prefers Wilsonian idealism, which may alientate many states that the US could otherwise bring into an alliance against China. Many in Europe have decided that China is a better long term bet than the US. Given the economic, scientific, educational and foreign policies now in vogue in Washington, one can see why the Europeans are wooing the Middle Kingdom. It also belies the any claim of morality in foreign policy.