Iran- Whose “existential” threat?

82085793_31d5d2f1f5_2 This is the estimated range "fan" for the Iranian Shihab – 3 missile.  pl


"The scale of the US miscalculation is striking. Before the Iraq war began, its neo-conservative architects argued that conferring power on Iraq’s Shi’ites would serve to undermine Iran because Iraq’s Shi’ites, controlling the faith’s two holiest cities, would, in the words of then deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, be "an independent source of authority for the Shi’ite religion emerging in a country that is democratic and pro-Western". Further, they argued, Iran could never dominate Iraq, because the Iraqi Shi’ites are Arabs and the Iranian Shi’ites Persian. It was a theory that, unfortunately, had no connection to reality.

Iran’s bond with the Iraqi Shi’ites goes far beyond the support Iran gave Shi’ite leaders in their struggle with Saddam. Decades of oppression have made their religious identity more important to Iraqi Shi’ites than their Arab ethnic identity. (Also, many Iraqi Shi’ites have Turkoman, Persian or Kurdish ancestors.) While Sunnis identify with the Arab world, Iraqi Shi’ites identify with the Shi’ite world, and for many this means Iran."  Peer Galbraith


Galbraith’s article on Iran was originally published in the New York Review of Books and then here in the Asia Times.  It is so important that it is worth reproducing here for discussion.

There is much that could be argued with in the aricle, but, in the main it seems to capture the situation well.

IMO, the US has refused to accept the idea of sharing power in the Middle East with the Iranians.  That lies at the heart of our problem with them.  All other issues are more symptom than anything else.  As Galbraith observes we have ignored efforts on their part to draw us into a serious discussion of what are really bi-lateral issues.

We talk about Iran being a strategic threat (life-threatening to the nation) to the United States.  This is nonsense.  Unless the Shihab series of guided missile developments results in an ICBM with a six-thousand mile range fitted with warheads of city destroying yields, Iran will never be an existential threat to the US.

If it were not for the undeniable fact that an Iran equipped with their present Shihab 3 and nuclear warheads would be an existential threat to Israel, our concern over their future nuclear weapons would be no greater than our present concern over Pakistan’s weapons.  pl 

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60 Responses to Iran- Whose “existential” threat?

  1. mo says:

    re. Irans nuclear weapons and Israel. If we are to assume that Irans opposition to Israel is in support of the Palestinians how could they bomb Israel without taking out the Palestinians or for that matter the Shia Lebanese in the North. Can the radioactive footprint of a warhead really be confined to such a small area?

  2. rebel07 says:

    For a brief history lesson on how wrong the neo-cons have been from the very beginning:
    I wonder if any of the neo-cons have ever served in the military? I am not saying that they would need to in order to make good decisions regarding national security policy, I am just saying that it seems odd to me that they would use the military so frivolously. If the military is used as a first option, what other options are left?

  3. Pan says:

    While the Shahab is not an existential threat to the US, it does pose one to Israel. I’ll leave the rest for your readers to decide.

  4. chew2 says:

    Isn’t Galbraith is a strong partisan and advocate for the Kurdish cause and for the soft partition of Iraq. Hasn’t his views of the Shia and Sunnis always been shaped by this partisanship?
    Nevertheless I found this Iran article insightful and thoughtful.

  5. Binh says:

    Col wrote: IMO, the US has refused to accept the idea of sharing power in the Middle East with the Iranians. That lies at the heart of our problem with them. All other issues are more sympton than anything else.
    Exactly 110% right. I think the U.S. will either have to go to war to preserve its hegemony in the region, or reverse decades of hostility to Iran and agree to a “grand bargain” in the near future. Trita Parsi has written an excellent piece that is a good supplement to the Colonel’s analysis:

  6. al palumbo says:

    Galbraith’s been right so often it’s a shame more attention wasn’t paid to his views. But that’s par for the course, isn’t it?

  7. JM says:

    Pan: “While the Shahab is not an existential threat to the US, it does pose one to Israel.”
    A Shahab with a nuclear warhead might pose an existential threat to Israel. The Iranians are a long way from having that capability.
    And isn’t Jerusalem, what?, the third holiest site in Islam?

  8. frank durkee says:

    It seems counterproductive to push regime change at the point of a weapon, when creating openings for global interaction for the Iranians would probably produce as much , if not more movement toward change. This is an administration that really understands only “my way or the highway”. Except for the US rich it’s not working especially well. In the final analysis we in this country lack the tryannical will to break and/or destroy people, unless they are profoundly weak and despised by the majority. so we shouldn’t aqct like we do.

  9. JohnH says:

    IMHO, your conclusion is wrong. Iran is probably already an existential threat to the US and to the West. And the beauty of it, from their viewpoint, is that they need neither nuclear weapons nor ballistic missiles. All they need is sufficient fire power to withstand a first strike and then wipe out the entire Persian Gulf oil infrastructure: Saudi Arabia’s, Kuwaiti, Iraqi, etc. The West’s prosperity and primacy would evaporate within a few hours.
    If the Iranians don’t already have the capability for mutually assured destruction, they would be stupid not to try for it.
    The Revolutionary Guards have seen what happened to Saddam and the Ba’athists. As a result they might well decide to take the West down with them. After all, they would have nothing to lose, since a US attack would signal their journey to meet their maker is about to happen. Bush made a critical mistake by not sending Saddam and his cohorts to a cushy retirement…

  10. W. Patrick Lang says:

    You grossly exagerate the capabilities of the Iranians.
    Yes. The Iranians are a long way from having a nuclear weapon (of any yield) that could be miniaturized and engineered to fir on a missile of their manufactire. Presumably they would not target Jerusalem.
    Yes. If the fireball does not touch the earth the resulting fallout footprint will be very small. To do this one arranges a high airburst shot. pl

  11. Chatham says:

    And I think that at the heart of our inability to share with the Iranians is the idea that they are “the enemy”. Certainly we don’t mind strong countries with an independent streak when they’re our allies (we are able to share with Israel, as we were able to with the former Iranian regime). We get caught into a circular logic trap with countries like Iran; there our enemies because they’re “strategic competitors”, and their status as strategic competitor (instead of regional ally) depends on our view of them as the enemy.
    That is to say, we don’t look at what they might have to offer and wiegh the pros and cons of dealing with them. They are classified as the enemy, and that’s that, no matter what benefits (to the US, and also to the Iranian) might be opened up by a mere change in classification.
    I’ve long heard that Iran has one of the most pro-US populations in the Middle East. There are may goals we seem to share and the Iranian leadership has signaled its willingness to work with the US. Now all we need is some common sense in Washington.

  12. johnf says:

    >Further, they argued, Iran could never dominate Iraq, because the Iraqi Shi’ites are Arabs and the Iranian Shi’ites Persian. It was a theory that, unfortunately, had no connection to reality.
    I think he’s wrong there. And if Wolfowitz did say that, then why the hell weren’t they courting al-Sadr from the start rather than DAWA and SCIRI?

  13. eaken says:

    Great point about power sharing, few thoughts:
    1) Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Brzesinsky accurately predicted that if Russia’s back could be broken in Afghanistan than it would have far reaching ramifications for the “reds” and communism elsewhere (Germany, Soviet Union proper, sub-states, etc.). The Russians pulled out.
    Ironically, the US has gotten (lead) itself in the same situation in the region. Pulling out is not on option and that is what they are faced with.
    Second point:
    The media keep pushing this notion that Iran has limited offensive capability while pushing this whole nuclear issue and thought that Israel will/must attack. They need to decide if Iran is a threat or not. If Iran’s military is delapidated and outdated and they don’t have the electronics capabilities, then whats the threat and why is there a need to attack?

  14. Mo says:

    Thank you for the response Colonel. I did not know that it was possible to be so precise with nuclear weapons.

  15. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I was certified as a nuclear weapons employment and targeting officer. pl

  16. Charles I says:

    A big part of the problem is what Dr.Leo Strauss called the “cult of omnipotence in his essay about the counter-intelligence state that Pat posted a while back.
    Compounded by the all too trite narcissism of these right wingnuts, which render them impervious to anything but nuclear powered cognitive dissonance. 43 is personally commanded by some god to usher in a new era of full spectrum dominance democracy in the ME. Dicky herds fish – I guess he’s as good a fisherman as he is a shot.
    This says it all. The planet is their plaything and they’re entitled. They do not have to share, or even play fair in even the most pathetic or beatific of contests. Whether or not something must or can be done, they are blindly convinced that if they CAN do it, ipso facto, thats a good thing. Q.E.F.
    But really, after all the criminality, the ditching of the constitution without a peep, a democracy blithely frittered away by Congress after the Supremes had their go at it, the utterly passive acquiescence to the most egregious and insulting dangerous bullshit, the tremendous amount of preparatory work dedicated to permanent political power, I see an Operation Northwoods as just routine war planning.
    In any event, I’m sure Israel and the “terrorists” are all planning to have their respective oars in the water come election time. And that 43 et al stand locked and loaded just waiting for their “Shalit moment”, a la the war crimes perpetrated against Lebanon last summer, as a justification for the further march of democracy through the ME – and the further smothering of it at home.
    And Pat, that’s not my little anti-American dig of the day. After a review of some case studies, Naomi Wolf posits a ten point schedule of how tyranny’s develop in ‘The end of America”. First, comes the fear mongering and demonization of the requisite other. Check! Second, comes the appearance of secret prisons and torture. Check! Third comes the establishment of surveillance regimes for the domestic population. Check! . . . Okay, haven’t read it yet, she was on Colbert last night, but i digress.
    Even without a pretext of their own Flathead design, there are so many wild cards in play that a “legitimate” one is as likely as not to present itself to them. I don’t see how they cannot have their way. They sure are used to having it now, albeit with unpredictable results that they have tremendous capacity for cramming into their paradigms, or ignoring altogether.
    America is the Shia of the Anbar conundrum – it will only share when it is forced to share and it has a government capable of such perception. This usually entails quite a bit of carnage before the utility of sharing painfully bubbles to the surface like foamy blood around a sucking chest wound – if the patient doesn’t die first. Carnage that hits home, not abroad. Carnage is already abroad.

  17. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    <"the US has refused to accept the idea of sharing power in the Middle East with the Iranians. That lies at the heart of our problem with them. All other issues are more symptom than anything else">
    Quite agree.
    This gets to the issue of us foreign policy and national strategy: global and regional. The GHW Bush-Cheney/Wolfie 1992 global dominance-hegemony strategy (remember that one?) was simply refloated in GW Bush-Cheney/Wolfie 2001-present and is essentially the present policy.
    What I do not grasp — and would welcome insights — is the advantage the US gains from such a national strategy. We know with certainty from former Treasury Sec. ONeill that Iraq was at the top of W’s agenda in 2001 at the first NSC meeting. We know with certainty the VP had an extensive global energy plan and objectives. We know with certainty from the former head of our central bank that oil was a major factor in going to Iraq.
    But Iraqi oil, such as it was under UN conditions, was flowing TO the international market and US companies WERE customers right up to the war. Same with present Iranian oil, it is flowing INTO the international marketplace.
    I think Greeenspan did not want to introduce another element to the mix: the issue of oil as priced in US dollars and that relationship to the dollar as “the” international reserve currency.
    My thought is that an attack on Iran would simply make this whole matter much more aggravated and worse and could HURT the dollar’s standing rather than help it. At what point does America’s twin deficit situation (and suicidal foreign policy) finally cause a real collapse of confidence? Yes, the markets are currently driven by magical thinking just as the flatheads are but….a reckoning can come.
    The hard issues at the moment seem to me to be: hydrocarbons, the international monetary regime and its architecture, and the state of international financial markets.
    How does a US war against Iran impact on these and our economic future and national security? Where is a national advantage for a war against Iran?
    I recall my parents talking about the Great Depression and it was tough for a lot of folks…magical thinking is not going avert the potential for a new one.
    Perhaps certain circles hope such a situation would help dissolve the United States into some “North American Union” scheme…
    for which see,

  18. Walrus says:

    Col. Lang, Thank you for posting Galbraith’s Tour de Force of where we are, and how we got there.
    We are going to attack Iran, and soon. The reason being that while it is not in America’s interests, it certainly is in Israel’s interests to have America in the same boat as it were, basking in the enmity of the entire Islamic world, just like little Israel.
    Israel’s interests are definitely NOT the promotion of democracy and free secular prosperous Islamic nations, because that will lessen Israel’s political, economic and military clout in the region.
    Nope, Israel wants to be surrounded by failed Islamic states, as ongoing proof that “Ayrabs” are corrupt, brutal, thuggish untermenschen, incapable of engaging with the West unless with an AK 47. This is the vision promoted by AIPAC and the AEI.
    It is also the reason for the ferocity of their attack on Lebanon – it was about infrastructure smashing to prevent Lebanon being seen as a relatively stable and positively desirable western tourist destination – and of course with western engagement would come understanding.
    This is the only point Galbraith just doesn’t get. The policy decisions made by the Deciderer and his Administration weren’t mere “mistakes” they were actions actively foisted on it by the Israeli lobby in full knowledge of the chaos they would cause.
    If you want proof of this, simply try and find out who gave instructions for the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and the de-Baathification of the civil service? While your at it, see if you can find out who ordered the Airforce to target Iraqi water, power and sewerage infrastructure as well? I wish you luck.
    The Israeli lobby, of which the traitorous Wurmser is a part, have ordered an attack on Iran, and Bush, and Congress, are powerless to resist. State will try, they have been trying to hold back the Israeli lobby for at least twenty years, but I don’t think they will prevail.
    Bush will attack Iran, and very soon. Logic doesn’t come into it at all, you are watching a woodenheaded President engage in suicidal statecraft, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop him. The result will quite likely be the collapse of the American economy as well as military defeat.

  19. Babak Makkinejad says:

    You wrote: “I’ve long heard that Iran has one of the most pro-US populations in the Middle East”.
    They were never pro-US as such but they liked & admired America. Even the Iranian government funded students for studying in the US universities (“Gotta learn from the Great Satan!”) Certainly for many young people their dream was to visit US. And Iran being an insular country of (mostly) Shia Muslims (run for & by Shia Muslims) they could not care less about the beef between Sunni Muslim extremists and the United States.
    On the other hand, that sentiment is long past, in my opinion. I think those of the Iranian people who would think about such things are no longer positively disposed towards the United States and, in fact, they expect an un-wanted war with US.
    The leadership of Iran, in my opinion, has concluded that the differences between Iran and US cannot be abridged. Their aim is now to limit the cost to Iran.

  20. VietnamVet says:

    Even Barry “Stay the Course” McCaffrey is right. “The United States is now at a crossroads. We are in a position of strategic peril.”
    This is due to a War of attrition to control the Middle East resources and protect Israel. But, none of these strategic goals has ever been marketed or sold to Americans. The crisis is a war being fought on the cheap by a cabal that can’t tell the truth. No wonder 62% of Americans say it was a mistake sending troops to Iraq.
    Iran’s problem is that it does not recognize America’s and Israel’s hegemony. Led by a school yard bully and a cheerleader, the American bombing of Iran looms ahead. Yet, even if rational heads prevail, propaganda cannot hide energy inflation, dollar devaluation, melting ice cap, rampart inequality, and the never ending wars of occupation in the Middle East. The USA is positioned on the tip of strategic dilemma and is it going to have to decide to deal with the threat by eternal death and destruction or alternatively by withdrawal, accommodation and containment.
    Even given our quixotic tilting at windmills, we cannot be the only ones to recognize the crisis; though Democrats dare not give it a name.

  21. Cold War Zoomie says:

    Thse last 6 years is a threat to my sanity.
    Stop the ride, I want to get off.

  22. JohnH says:

    PL: Are you sure?
    “Cruise missiles already pose a threat to US bases. One recent analysis determined that less than a dozen cruise missiles equipped with submunition warheads could severely damage or destroy almost an entire fighter wing parked in the open.
    ASCMs similarly threaten US
    ships, particularly in chokepoints and littoral waters.
    Iran could use a combination of ASCMs, LACMs, and ballistic
    missiles to deny the United States access to the region in a future conflict…”
    Or they could be used against other targets, perhaps against the Gulf’s oil loading facilities, which by definition have to be choke points.

  23. b2 says:

    Clifford says:
    “What I do not grasp — and would welcome insights — is the advantage the US gains from such a national strategy [global hegemony]…
    “Iraqi oil, such as it was under UN conditions, was flowing TO the international market and US companies WERE customers right up to the war. Same with present Iranian oil, it is flowing INTO the international marketplace.”
    Gulf oil was described by US official in 1945 as “a stupendous source of strategic power”. Its about *control*, not access; its about the strategic veto.
    Go back to the Second World War – the Cold War and the war against the Third World are really just a continuation of WW11. World War Two was to a large extent about control of resources. The Japs tried to seize the Dutch East Indies for oil to power the ships, vehicles, and planes of their empire (East Asian hegemony.) To fail in this is certain defeat. Planes that cant take off; ships that can sail out but no fuel to return.
    Likewise Hitler tried to control the oil of the Caucuasus for the same reason, with the same result.
    If the US attains complete regional hegemony in the Gulf it will control the oil. This gives it an effective veto over the industrialised economies (Europe, Asia). It will be another American century.
    If the US is defeated, the strategic consequences are immense. As big as Hitler’s defeat or the Japs (albeit in slower motion). America will be reduced to ‘just another nation’ while some coalition of Russia, Iran, India, China and perhaps Europe exert hegemonic influence.
    The stakes are immense and this is why there can be no withdrawal. Defeat is simply unthinkable. Attacking Iran is really a desperate maneouvre, like Hitler striking south to Stalingrad and Chechnya, but my god, what choice do we have? We *must* succeed.

  24. David W says:

    In the build-up to the Iraq war, my standard commentary was that A.) we would waste billions of dollars, thousands of American lives and deplete our military capabilities without coming close to achieving the mission’s goals, stated or otherwise, and B.) it was playing right into Bin Laden’s strategy
    Bin Laden must really be laughing his ass off now, at the thought of the US attacking Iran. Give the man his due–he seemingly estimated that arrogance, greed and hidden loyalties would goad the US into the tar pit. Attacking Iran will just sink the US in deeper.

  25. zanzibar says:

    The current environment reminds me a bit about the 70s .
    Massive deficit spending on a foreign occupation without taxes to pay for it. Enormous financial leverage in the system. Prices for food and gas rising. Health care costs escalating at enormous rates. The dollar in retreat. And the Dick&George show want a real ME conflagration to light up their world.
    Is Hillary being set up to be the next Carter?

  26. Montag says:

    Reminds me of a Science Fiction story I read which consisted of correspondence among the governmental/military authorities on Mars. They become alarmed at the first space flights on Earth, so they send a fleet of battleships to order us to stop, because they perceive our efforts to be a nascent threat to their security. But even after we remain Earthbound for decades like good little savages they still regard us as an “existential threat.” So they decide to build a larger fleet to exterminate us. The last letter in the story is from an Earth Expeditionary Force on Mars remarking at what a mess our nukes made of Mars when they materialized over their cities. Since space flight was forbidden to us, we developed teleportation devices instead. The Martians were right in the end about us being an existential threat–because they MADE us one.

  27. fasteddiez says:

    To Charles:
    RE: your quote- “This usually entails quite a bit of carnage before the utility of sharing painfully bubbles to the surface like foamy blood around a sucking chest wound – if the patient doesn’t die first.”
    That is really nice…poetic, allegorical. May I humbly submit an addendum. You come upon a patient in such a predicament as you describe; a neophyte “new meat” corpsman treating the wound (the men are not of your platoon). You notice that each time the patient’s heart beats, geysers of blood shoot up (old faithful like) from various locales in the victim’s extremities. The corpsman is on Spazz factor eight, but can get no assistance because his medical confreres are similarily indisposed. With his back to you, you tell the corpsman “Hey doc, you missed a few spots!” You want to help, you feel that your comment is not salutary, but at the same time, realistic enough to give the new guy advice on how to slow down and concentrate. The worst part is that you cannot help, because you are moving, more often that not, in a reactive, not necessarily tactical response, ordered by other neophytes, as they, like the corpsman, learn their unforgiving metier. Also, because the victim is not one of yours, and you should husband your energies for your most immediate companions. Again Charles, nice wordsmithing.

  28. ked says:

    “…my god, what choice do we have?”
    Whenever you have absolute faith that there is no alternative to a bad course of action – you are screwed.

  29. Again Paul Bracken’s 1999 book “Fire in the East” explains a different nuclear targeting strategy for South Asian nations that oppose the US. Specifically, large US military/civil deployments within the striking range of IRBM. I guess history will sort out whose right on this one.

  30. anon says:

    Some links below about the supposed reserve currency and petrodollar angle. Important to read the interview below with Chris Cook, who has been involved in establishing Iran oil bourse.
    I am cynical enough to believe that Cheney and Bush might start a war in order to preserve “petrodollar hegemony.” The question is, are they and their advisors that economically and financially illiterate to think it would do anything good economically? Its just sutpid from start to finish.
    I am not sure that I am cynical enough to believe that they would start a war to keep their US oil and financial buddies rich. They are the only people who would take any near term hit from move away from petrodollar.
    Finally, a question about this hypothosized Russia/China threat to grab all the oil somehow. Why are we so afraid of them? Russia has the financial resources to credibly set up its currency as the reserve currency and petrocurrency of choice? How? China has shown no signs of being able to find a substitute for the US market for its goods. How will their economy be affected by a US economic and financial meltdown? Will they invade the ME and just take the oil? Would they be more welcome that we are?
    There are many technical reasons why a huge petro-euro/rouble/ etc market destroying the dollar overnight is a fantasy. Traders have to hedge. Hedging requires speculators. That requires vast amounts of liquidity that dwarfs that used in transactions on markets for real goods. Also requires transparency. How do you get that in today’s Iran? Read the Cook interview below for more details.

  31. Eric Dönges says:

    you write: “The stakes are immense and this is why there can be no withdrawal. Defeat is simply unthinkable. Attacking Iran is really a desperate maneouvre, like Hitler striking south to Stalingrad and Chechnya, but my god, what choice do we have? We *must* succeed.”
    You could work overtime to find a viable alternative energy source – we’re going to have to find one sooner or later in any case, so why not start now. This is guaranteed to be cheaper than wasting trillions of dollars on a war that you are certain to loose unless you are willing to resort to genocide, and then still having to find an alternative energy source once the easily accessible oil reserves are depleted X years from now.
    In the meantime, you could engage the Iranians with trade instead of hostility.
    For extra points, you could call Tel Aviv, read the Israelis the riot act, and broker a peace for the Middle East. Perhaps the Arabs would then stop hating you.

  32. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Thanks. The “global full spectrum dominance” scenario to control hydrocarbons and thereby maintain the position of the US dollar as the main international reserve currency would seem to me to result eventually in imperial overstretch. Bread and circuses for Karl Rove’s (and his ilk in the other party) masses may not suffice.
    Throughout history, hegemonic powers have been confronted by coalitions seeking mutual protection against the hegemon of the day: ie, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Hitler.
    Academics (not just the neocons by any means) in favor of US hegemonic policy have argued that powers will “bandwagon” with us rather than oppose us. This remains to be seen. Others write about a “center-periphery” scenario in which the US at the center of the international financial-economic system ensures the periphery joins into the game (and behaves) one way or another (another being use of force).
    I think these folks engage in magical thinking about the US as a “superpower” without really considering the fuller meaning/s of “power” in the contemporary world.
    Superficially, other major powers appear to be taking “soft” balancing positions against us. Will this morph to “hard” balancing?
    The question may be put as: Can cosmopolitan transnational elites such as those represented in the Bilderberg and Trilateral clubs “manage” the international system via US hegemony thereby lining their pockets?
    For some of these types in the 19th century, Napoleon (and France) was their tool and for some in the 20th Hitler (and Germany) was their tool.
    Zanzibar’s, observation about the long term economic consequences raise the issue of inflation-stagnation(recession) just as we saw it for a couple decades after the Johnson escallation of the Vietnam War.
    b2, from the scenario you outline, what is your sense of the question as to whether the US can get away with it? Over what period of time? What internal domestic consequences?

  33. H.G. says:

    Using Germany and Japan as examples is rather appropriate, but I doubt in the way that you meant. I don’t believe that the U.S. was an existential threat to Japan until they decided to attack us and they overreached by invading China, spreading themselves thin through the region. Likewise, Russia wasn’t an existential threat to Germany until Hitler invaded them and had the Sixth Army obliterated in Stalingrad.
    These are of course not exact comparisons to our current situation but I think somewhat similar in the following respect. Col. Lang is right that Iran is not an existential threat to the U.S., however, should we invade (or possibly “just” bomb) them that will be an overreaching misstep of such an egregious magnitude that it certainly will be an existential threat, to the U.S. as well as to the current oil-driven Western-dominated global economic and political power balance.
    I’m sure many wish they knew a way to stop this idiot Bush from choosing to go ahead with this incredibly dangerous plan. Hence all the Kremlinologist-like divining of his intentions such as Clemons.

  34. rjj says:

    Can anybody tell me ….
    What does a high airburst shot accomplish?
    How high is high?
    What are the effects on the ground?
    What are the effects on underground facilities?
    How would such an attack physically neutralize what has been defined as “the threat” ?
    What happens to the people under it?

  35. Chatham says:

    “They were never pro-US as such but they liked & admired America. Even the Iranian government funded students for studying in the US universities (“Gotta learn from the Great Satan!”) Certainly for many young people their dream was to visit US.”
    Yes, that’s what I meant. I suppose the term “pro-US”/”anti-US” is used by some to describe those who are for/against the current administrations policies. I use it to describe a general affinity for a country (and the government only in the most abstract sense).
    “On the other hand, that sentiment is long past, in my opinion. I think those of the Iranian people who would think about such things are no longer positively disposed towards the United States and, in fact, they expect an un-wanted war with US.”
    Sad to hear, though I imagine that there’s an understanding that the Bush administration doesn’t represent the US? (that’s often countered by “then why did you guys elect him?”, though hopefully in a country like Iran with some form of elections it’s easier to understand)
    I have hear anecdotal evidence that there is still a warmness towards Americans, but it’s just that, anecdotal. I was thinking about visiting Iran in the near future, although these developments seem to make such a trip seem more and more unlikely.
    “The leadership of Iran, in my opinion, has concluded that the differences between Iran and US cannot be abridged. Their aim is now to limit the cost to Iran.”
    The leadership keeps talking about their willingness to negotiate. They may believe that that is not likely going to happen, but I doubt they’d turn down an offer to do so.

  36. W. Patrick Lang says:

    A high air bust with a nuclear weapon is intended to kill and destroy through the media of blast, heat and direct radiation. Fall out is minimized because the fireball does not touch the earth and does not throw a lot of material up into the sky to drift around and fall somewhere else. The height of burst is calculated according to the yield of the weapon and therefore the diameter of the fireball.
    Deeply buried underground structures are less affected than with kinds of bursts in which the fireball touches the earth or the detonation occurs beneath the surface. pl

  37. China Hand says:

    @anon: I agree in principle with you.
    The problem is not that the people constructing this present conflict fear immediate meltdown.
    The problem is that they are willing to risk immediate meltdown to protect their own power interests; because an “immediate meltdown” would adversely affect only “the people”, while the economic and political elite would merely see their foreign credit ratings drop. Also, I think there is a considerable bit of ethno-superiority at work.
    China will, in the not-too-distant-future, be a power that controls a very large sphere of influence; once they work out their differences with Taiwan (which they probably will, provided the U.S. doesn’t provoke a war first), that sphere will include most of East Asia, from Japan down to Indonesia, and parts of Central Asia on over to the Philippines.
    Sino-Russian military cooperation has developed much, these last 10 years. The longer that trend continues, the more likely it is that China’s military will rival that of the U.S. sooner, rather than later.
    The gaps in Russian and Chinese knowledge and ideology complement each other well, and if they begin to enthusiastically supplement one another then they will create a bloc like none other ever known.
    That’s what the new-cons fear.
    Needless to say, petrodollars coupled with permanent bases in Iraq, Central Asia, Afghanistan, the Caucasus and the Balkans empower them with a lot of control over that.

  38. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    From the various points in this thread, do we sense that a US attack on Iran will include a target set which goes beyond so-called WMD related sites and the Rev Guard infrastructure?
    That is to say, will the US seek to damage Iran’s economic base: industry, hydrocarbons, and infrastructure? And to what level and for what purpose? [Remember Madeleine Albright’s little Balkan war?]
    Targeting economic infrastructure might be rationalized as causing some pain that would result in “regime change” by locals.
    Tageting economic infrastructure might be rationalized as an element of resource denial to China, for example.
    Presumably, Iran would “recover” at some point, then what? Whack them down a notch again? Pesky wogs….flatheads might say.
    A well-known inside the Beltway Neocon groupie [whom I have known for about 25 years] told a retired European (continental) military friend of mine in 2002:
    “First we are going to hit Iraq, then Iran, and then we will hit North Korea to send a message to the Chinese.” The Colonel then asked the groupie, “But will the White House actually do this?” Says the groupie, “The President is with us.”

  39. b2’s post at 9:21 pm on 9/20 brings to mind the writings of John Perkins, the author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and Secret History of the American Empire, which were published in 2005 and this year, respectively. Perkins asserts that during his 20 plus years of employment with the architect & engineering firm Charles T. Main, Inc. of Boston, he was actually a part of a deeply covert, government-guided program for selling developing countries on infrastructure projects whose primary beneficiaries were usually US-based extractive industry companies (oil, metals, etc.), and their corrupt cronies in the host countries’ elites. These projects were funded by the World Bank (which now is/was effectively under US control), and when the host countries ran into economic troubles because the purported benefits did not sufficiently trickle down to the peons and thus the tax base couldn’t support the debt, the IMF (also US-controlled) was called in to enforce the terms of the loans with draconian measures. The effect of these practices was to keep these developing countries with coveted resources economically subjugated to the USA, and Perkins asserts that this was a deliberate objective of US policy.
    In his latter book Perkins not only includes additional anecdotes from his own experience, but also those of other “economic hit men” (and women) who contacted him in response to his first book. More troublingly, the Secret History also includes the stories of some people who emerged the more deeply black elements of the government who provided intimidation services when the IMF actions didn’t work, services that included the use of violence up to and including assassination.
    I tend to be skeptical of conspiracy theories; in most cases I’m more inclined to credit plain old incompetence, mis-communication and/or unintended consequences for what goes wrong. (And also, occasionally, for what goes right.) But Perkins’ assertions seem quite plausible to me. And if he is on the level, this history that dates back world-wide to at least World War II (and much longer in areas such as Latin America and the Philippines where our hegemony predates that conflict), together with the rapid rise of economic power elsewhere in the world now that China and India have turned the development corner, could explain the push-back we’re starting to see from the likes of Hugo Chavez and the leaders of places like Singapore and Malaysia.
    If deliberately keeping the peons in their places has indeed been a cornerstone of our foreign policy these last 70+ years, in spite of our supposed ideals to the contrary the day will soon arrive, if it hasn’t already, when this will no longer work. We don’t have the national will, not to mention the fiscal resources, to maintain the increasing amount of force capability required to smack down the increasing hordes of cockroaches popping out from under the carpet who have the temerity to assert their own rights to a decent share of the world’s economic pie. Perhaps is time for a radically new approach to national strategy that takes these desires of people in developing countries into account. We’re going to need to do this anyway in order to cope with the now-emerged worldwide threats of peak oil and global warming.
    Bismarck once said something to the effect that statesmanship involved placing your ear to the ground to listen for the hoof beats of history, figuring out which direction he’s riding, jumping on his back when he comes by and hanging on for dear life. We are not now going in the direction of history.

  40. Chatham says:

    China Hand-
    China is a “rising power” in a region of “rising powers” (and risen ones, like the world’s second largest economy – Japan). It’s also, like many of the other rising ones, full of internal problems. As such, it’s not going to be controlling very much.

  41. Will says:

    In 2003 when Dumbya had his way w/ Irak, weak kneed Gorbachev was presiding over the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. Saddam had made a statement at one time that little fish could swim between the interstices of the big powers. Once the world became unipolar SH’s luck ran out.
    Today we have a resurgent Russia. If Putin were so inclined, what could he do to derail the “Chooser’s”, our modern Caligula-Nero-Commodus-ElGablulus rolled into one, from his mad plans.
    How about Putin making a state visit to Iran, attending a Caspian Sea Powers conference there, and bolstering the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) plans for Iran. All this reported at the
    Would he go beyond that and sign a defense treaty? That would stop the NeoKon plans cold or give them pause.
    Or is it in Russia’s interest to gamble that Amerika’s quest for hegemony will fail and pick up the pieces as we self-destruct due to our spineless Congress being unable to stand up to the Imperator & AIPAC?

  42. Will says:

    my bust, I know Gorby was there for the first Irak War in 91. And I do get carried away in describing George POTUS, No. 43. I just can’t comprehend how he got elected not once, but twice. But then, Larry Craig got elected even more times. (I myself was undefeated for city council, three two-year terms)

  43. isl says:

    John H:
    Destroying middle east oil does not pose an existential threat to the US, we actually get most of our oil from elsewhere. It does pose an existential threat to SUV drivers. If the US can adapt to $150 – 250 bbl oil better than our main competitors, the US could even become stronger.
    In contrast, the enormous US account deficit does pose an existential threat and makes such favorable economic adaptations unlikely, plus we start from an extreme disadvantage viz. our competitors.
    The switch out of petrodollars has and will continue happening – the dollar has dropped to 66% of central bank currency reserves from over 80 ten or so years ago, Saudi’s are no longer pegging to the dollar with the rest of the ME likely to follow, and China is focusing more on accumulating assets with its surplus (e.g., Carlyle today) than T-Bills. No one wants to hang onto devaluing dollars and war with Iran certainly doesn’t help that!
    Note, the $800 billion account deficit per year is 1/3 due to oil at current prices.
    its fun (but pointless) to imagine the geopolitical implications if the US was oil self sufficient as the Carter energy plan would have engendered by this day.

  44. China Hand says:

    I do not see the weaknesses you refer to as approaching a Chinese crisis; they are obstacles that must be overcome and I do not doubt they will be.
    At any rate, if Iraq has taught us anything it should be that it is not necessary for the Chinese to develop a military that rivals the U.S. It is enough for them only to find the means to make war too costly. Considering China’s vast human and industrial resources — and the current circumstances in Iraq — that should not be too difficult for them to achieve.

  45. Chatham says:

    China Hand-
    You, like many that take your title, may have no doubts. However the Chinese, and many that have studied the country in depth for a length of time, do. Funny that.
    What the Iraq war taught us? Tell me, who has won that conflict? The US? Saddam? The Iraqi people?

  46. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Two reports anent US, Iran, Russia etal hydrocarbons and strategy which should be read together:
    “ISTANBUL, Turkey – A top adviser on foreign economic policy to the U.S. Secretary of State said Saturday that the Caspian region can provide Europe’s natural gas without help from Iran.
    …. Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are among possible alternatives to Iran as suppliers of natural gas, Jeffery said.
    ….Turkey and Iran are expected soon to complete an agreement to build some 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) of gas pipelines and transport up to 40 billion cubic meters (1.4 trillion cubic feet) of gas annually to Europe, through Turkey.
    The United States has criticized the timing of the move, which could strike a blow to Washington’s efforts to isolate Iran internationally for its nuclear ambitions…”
    Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to go ahead with his visit to Tehran on October 16, much to the chagrin of Washington. The visit is in connection with the summit of the Caspian states (Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Iran) that is to take place in Iran, but Putin is scheduled to hold “bilaterals” as well with the Iranian leadership. This will be Putin’s first visit to Iran.
    ….Russia couldn’t be unaware that France is playing a double game. On the one hand, Sarkozy is closing ranks with the Bush administration’s policies toward Iran. On the other hand, France is using US-French rapprochement to share the spoils of Iraq’s oil wealth with US oil interests. France’s Total and the United States’ Chevron have agreed to collaborate on the Majnoon oilfields in Iraq.
    …Looking back, the four-nation tour of the Central Asian capitals last month by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedinejad, and his meetings with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) leaders – with Putin, in particular, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan – appear to have been crowned with success. Ahmedinejad succeeded in thwarting the US stratagem of containing Iran and to encircle it in Central Asia. It was no doubt a difficult and impressive diplomatic feat for Ahmedinejad that he got the leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to agree to participate in the Caspian summit.
    Certainly, Putin’s attendance by far elevates the Caspian summit’s importance. The fact is, among all the Caspian littoral states, it is Iran that has taken a stance closest to Russia’s on the issues affecting the status of the Caspian Sea. Again, Russian and Iranian interests overlap in Central Asia and Afghanistan.
    Russia remains Iran’s main arms supplier. Russian oil companies have been marginalized in Iraq. Russia would be loath to see the Bush administration steamrolling yet another “regime change” in Iran – under whatever pretext – and thereby proceed to appropriate the oil and gas resources of the Middle East. Besides, an unfriendly, pro-US regime in Tehran (like the one engineered by the US in Georgia) would have catastrophic consequences for Russian interests in a wide arc of regions …..

  47. China Hand says:

    Chatham: What is undeniable about the Iraq war is that it has badly weakened the U.S. position worldwide. Diplomatically, economically, and (more debatably, but I find it hard to contradict) militarily the U.S. is now weaker than it was before the war. Then, of course, there are the internal social and political problems it is generating.
    Asking who “won” it is quite absurd. Nobody has won it, and it is unlikely anyone ever will. Even so, the people who have (relatively speaking) been hurt the least by it — and possibly even strengthened — are those who are most apt to support the Iranis: the Chinese, the Russians, and their allies.
    The Chinese government is far less worried about any internal crisis than acts of U.S. aggression. Yes, there are serious economic imbalances in China; but that was as equally true for the newly industrialized French, British, and U.S. cultures, as well. They weathered it without falling, and so will the Chinese.
    As for the opinions of those “that have studied the country in depth for a length of time”, you should count me as one of them. I’m not going to recite my CV, but I will say that I am fluent in the language and that my contacts in business, military, and government are wide and knowledgable.

  48. Chatham says:

    “At any rate, if Iraq has taught us anything it should be that it is not necessary for the Chinese to develop a military that rivals the U.S. It is enough for them only to find the means to make war too costly.”
    “Asking who “won” it is quite absurd. Nobody has won it, and it is unlikely anyone ever will.”
    Meditate on these two statements for a moment, if you will.
    Feel free to cite your CV. I’m referring to people who were over there since the 70’s, fluent in both reading and writing, not just conversational. If you count your self among them, then I suppose you just represent a minority view. However, I’ve run into tons of people there with “extensive” connections and “fluent” in Chinese. By there standards, I would be one of them too.
    The Chinese government is less worried about internal unrest than acts of US aggression? What do they think the US will do, invade? Help Taiwan if there is an invasion? The only real source of conflict would be Taiwan. The government is deathly afraid of any military action against the island, with or without US intervention, because failure would shake their standing at home.
    Some economic imbalances? It’s crossed the governments own red line, unrest is growing yearly, and much of the country is controlled by local fiefdoms outside of government control.
    Again, another thing to remember is that China is surrounded by other strong states, not vassal states waiting to be absorbed, and that is why even if there were no problems, there will be no such Chinese sphere of control like the one you mentioned.

  49. China Hand says:

    “Some economic imbalances? It’s crossed the governments own red line, unrest is growing yearly, and much of the country is controlled by local fiefdoms outside of government control.”
    Eh. This is obfuscation and exaggeration; Chinese government has always had a “hands off” attitude towards the local governments, and it is something they do quite well. Even during Mao’s heyday — and the gang of four — this was basically true. The “local fiefdoms” you mention are under no illusion about the post-Jiang military: if they cross it, they shall reap the whirlwind.
    As for the first part of your statement, these days it is much more applicable to the US than China.
    I’d suggest that these are useful fictions the CCP allows, rather than accurate oustiide assessments.
    I don’t know what you mean by “surrounded by strong states” — Thailand? Cambodia? Vietnam? Indonesia? Mongolia? Tajikistan? Uzbekistan? Pakistan? Or maybe you’re thinking of Taiwan and the Philippines?
    You could perhaps make the case for India and Russia (actually Siberia), but their situations are share broad similarities to China’s. It sounds like you’re really thinking of South Korea and Japan, which is hardly “surrounded”, and neither of which have the slightest interest in aggression towards China.

  50. China Hand says:

    My apologies; I failed to address this above:
    Yes. The Chinese are as worried over a conflict in the Taiwan straits as the US is. That is the most likely point of conflict between the two, and the Chinese have much less to lose from it than does the United States.

  51. Chatham says:

    China Hand-
    The Chinese have much less to lose over a Taiwan conflict? The government fears collapse may be the result of such a conflict. Tell me, what does the US have to lose?
    And the lack of control over local officials has been a problem for years. So say scholars and the government itself…but I suppose this is just more “obfuscation”? The problem isn’t whether or not they’d cross the military, either.
    Income inequality is more applicable to the US then China? Yeah? On second thought, mind posting your CV? Statements like this raise questions.
    One could make a case for India and Russia, and it would be comparable to the case being made now for China. Japan is the second largest economy, I suppose no one questions it’s importance. Do any of these seek to attack China? No, but they won’t step back and let China control a sphere of influence. Neither will South Korea, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, or Indonesia (and the Philippines will be added to that list soon, if it isn’t on their already). I suppose the hype hasn’t caught up yet with some of these other populous countries with strong economic growth. I won’t be surprised if we have India “sudden experts” extolling the power of that country in 5 years, and South Asian “sudden experts” talking about their remarkable growth in 10. Actually, it may end up being a bit sooner.
    Assuming their’s no downturn. These countries, like China, do not have a clear or easy path. Despite the hype and myopia surrounding China at the moment (similar if not the same to that around Japan in the 80’s or Iran in the 70’s), this is what happens when populous countries industrialize. And then the momentary experts come out of the woodwork, telling us how it’s because of this or that cultural value (all the books on the Japanese Samarai culture in the 80’s). Then when there’s a slowdown/catastrophe, all these “experts” disappear or move on to the next big thing (IE, where are all the Japanese experts right now? James Fallows was over there during the 80’s hype, and now he’s in China for the current hype there…so much for really being an expert on a country, eh?).
    It’s an old dance, and even with my relative youth I’ve seen the motions before. Like any hype, we are told that this time it’s for real, this time the old rules don’t apply (remember the stock market in the 90’s? The recent housing market?). The old rules do apply though, and I find that one is better served by patience and historical precedent than by momentary excitement.

  52. China Hand says:

    The old rules certainly do apply; the problem as I see it is that your arguments are based not on the old rules, but the new ones: socio-economic and analytical theories that came into vogue in the post-war era, and which have been hyped well beyond the boundaries of reason this last decade.
    I am not suggesting that because of some set of cultural values China will excel, nor have I suggested that China is going to dominate the world. China will, however, become a superpower (as will Russia, and — eventually — India); and U.S. policy, as currently exercised, has determined to forcefully not let that happen. Should the U.S. follow that down to conflict then there is no question that it will lose.
    We could spend days debating whether or not the CCP could weather a war or whether the internal divisions would break their system apart; there is evidence that says both yes and no. All we would get from it is a clear demonstration that you are basing your arguments on a thoughtful but very weakly supported opinion. My experience inclines me to see things differently, and so I have come to very different conclusions.
    In this vein, I think Kiracofe’s articles are interesting. They are consistent with my own ideas and do nothing I can see to support your own counter arguments.

  53. DH says:

    China Hand, will you please comment upon this article?
    “Lester Thurow of MIT has recently published an analysis of official Chinese claims to 10% or higher annual industrial growth rates, finding these incompatible with the objective evidence of such indices as electricity consumption as well as with the historical evidence of development elsewhere. He estimates that the real growth rate is between 4.5% and 6%, neither of which will give China a superpower economy in the present century. [International Herald Tribune, Aug 21, 2007]
    And this is to take no account of the ecological devastation being produced in China by uncontrolled and corrupt industrialization and development. Corruption tends to be the engine of development in China, and essential to it.
    Such growth forecasts also tend to ignore the massive, backward, impoverished, and socially and politically restless Chinese agricultural population, and the likelihood – I myself would say the certainty – of a major and possibly revolutionary political crisis in China in the foreseeable future. This would derive from the inadequacies, corruption and ideological/political illegitimacy of a self-perpetuating ruling class, whose only claim to authority is its bureaucratic descent from the catastrophic Chinese Communist regime of Mao Zedong.
    On the other hand, the Chinese government is seeking economic influence wherever it can find it, whether through foreign investments in advanced countries, financed from the overflowing funds furnished China by the trade indebtedness of the United States, or by its massive purchases of raw materials in resource-rich countries, preferably in places underdeveloped and generally unregulated.
    This creates influence but also dependence and resentment, and eventual backlash – as is apparent already in some African countries, exploited and then abandoned by the Chinese, where local industry has also been destroyed by the cheap Chinese imports that were part of the Chinese economic embrace and program of resource exploitation.
    What does this globalization reveal about China itself? A remarkable series of articles by a senior correspondent of Le Figaro newspaper in Paris, François Hauter, formerly stationed in China, attempts to answer that question (among others). He writes about the two Chinas that coexist, the modern China displayed to foreigners and the hidden China where, he writes: “nothing has changed in a quarter century.” ”

  54. zanzibar says:

    The Asia Times article you linked to is very interesting and adds a dynamic that I did not contemplate. What will the role of Russia be in the event of a US military strike on Iran? Russia has been reasserting its power. There have been recent stories about reactivation of their strategic forces as well as tests of fuel bombs – what was the purpose? Putin has also consolidated the energy industry in Russia and Gazprom has become a formidable player controlling 25% of gas supplies to western Europe. Now working towards formation of a gas cartel. In this context the only thing missing is an overt strategic military alliance with Iran reminiscent of cold war blocs.
    I am also puzzled by the new direction of France. Maybe its just short term opportunism or are they feeling left out of the western alliance and seek a larger role suitable for their ego?
    A few months ago I would have said that Russia will sell Iran down the river as part of a tradeoff but now I’m not sure. They want to be a serious energy hegemon in the vein of Saudi Arabia and use that power for their own strategic purposes – that may be in direct conflict with the DC elites and the Cheney neocons in particular.

  55. China Hand says:

    Sure; but my apologies: I must be brief.
    The article is long on Western ideology and very short on an understanding of Chinese (I would say even Asian) culture and history.
    First, I know a few Taiwanese and Chinese entrepeneurs who have worked in Africa, and a few African diplomats who work over here; my sense is that the relationship is developing rapidly and happily.
    Mao is hardly seen by the majority as “disastrous”. The article seems to suggest that the CCP legitimacy is in question because its authority derives from Mao while its economic reforms represent a fundamental break.
    Except that if the Chinese were as critical of of Mao as the author evidently is (“disastrous”, “catastrophic”), then the reforms and adjustments made these last 30 years would reinforce the bureaucracy’s legitimacy, not weaken it. Mao’s legacy is instead more widely debated and nuanced, and perceptions of the ruling party’s economic and bureaucratic authority reflect that.
    So I would suggest these internal pressures don’t play out in the way the author suggests.
    Thurow’s article I find questionable on a few points. He writes “What are the chances that [Hong Kong’s economy shrank while Guangdong’s grew]? Very slim.” Yet just after “the handover”, management and investors from Taiwan and Hong Kong flocked to China and mostly wound up in Shanghai, Guangdong and FuJian. It is very easy for me to imagine both of those numbers being correct.
    Similarly, Thurow writes “There is an equally simple reason that neither of these predictions is likely to be realized. It simply takes more than 100 years for a large, less economically developed country to catch up with the world leader in per capita income.”
    I would simply say that “catching up with the world leader in per capita income” is not the Chinese estimate of Superpower status. As your source mentions (and as I have pointed out elsewhere on this blog), there are “two chinas”: the traditional, land-based economy and the urban, technology-based economy. The government is being very careful about how the two influence each other. Free marketeers would like to argue that this is somehow a a “price” the Chinese peasants are paying, but at the same time acknowledge that the urban life awaiting Chinese peasants is a miserable one.
    The entity that negotiates these two worlds is the CCP.
    Is it or is it not 10% growth? Frankly, I don’t care; that’s a debate for accountants and tax collectors. What’s undeniable is that the growth is revolutionary in its scale and having a tremendous impact on the world around us. Will it slow down? Probably. Will it fall apart? I see no symptoms of that.
    Finally, it seems to me that Thurow’s article fails completely to account for the rise of Taiwan and Hong Kong. Both share all of the technology and sophistication of any western country, and only 25 years ago both rapidly started to emerge from a position very like China’s. China is larger, and so taking longer. It also started a little later.
    Asian population densities pose tremendous problems. Taiwan is dealing with them relatively well; China seems to be doing even better. That is why I am skeptical of economists and analysts who try to reduce standard-of-living metrics to things like GDP and per capita wage earnings.
    The ecological problems — which I agree are dangerous and frightening — are but one more symptom of this; yet Europe and the US cannot offer any real help: their own solution has been to export the dirty stuff abroad. So in this instance, the Chinese are attempting not only to catch up but to actually surpass the West. If Chinese policy closely follows Hong Kong and Taiwan then we should expect the worst, both for them and the rest of the world.
    Basically, I see the Pfaff article as pointing out that China is a very crowded and volatile place that encompasses what are to Western eyes extreme differences; from this, he concludes that the “post-communist” bureaucracy is out of control and the poor can only be miserable. I would contest, however, that traditional lifestyles in China are not all that unpleasant, that the best way to deal with volatility is to remain adaptive, and with overcrowding is to maintain a sense of unified purpose. Throughout these last few decades of development the CCP has remained tightly focused upon these goals. So where Pfaff appears to see corruption and weaknesses I rather see suppleness and strength.
    Is the place cruel? Undeniably. Is it more cruel than the U.S? Again, that is a debate.

  56. DH says:

    China Hand,
    “Is the place cruel? Undeniably. Is it more cruel than the U.S? Again, that is a debate.”
    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. My biggest question about China is if there is a natural tendency toward acceptance of authoritarian rule. I think there can be as many shortcomings to excessive personal liberty as to living under relatively benevolent authoritarianism. This article considers the possiblility that democracy isn’t necessarily inevitable in a developed country.
    “China and Russia represent a return of economically successful authoritarian capitalist powers, which have been absent since the defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945, but they are much larger than the latter two countries ever were. Although Germany was only a medium-sized country uncomfortably squeezed at the center of Europe, it twice nearly broke out of its confines to become a true world power on account of its economic and military might. In 1941, Japan was still behind the leading great powers in terms of economic development, but its growth rate since 1913 had been the highest in the world. Ultimately, however, both Germany and Japan were too small — in terms of population, resources, and potential — to take on the United States. Present-day China, on the other hand, is the largest player in the international system in terms of population and is experiencing spectacular economic growth. By shifting from communism to capitalism, China has switched to a far more efficient brand of authoritarianism. As China rapidly narrows the economic gap with the developed world, the possibility looms that it will become a true authoritarian superpower.”
    Also, here is an interesting article about some problems with Afro-Sino relations.,1518,484603,00.html

  57. Chatham says:

    “My biggest question about China is if there is a natural tendency toward acceptance of authoritarian rule. I think there can be as many shortcomings to excessive personal liberty as to living under relatively benevolent authoritarianism.”
    It’s impossible to sum up the feelings of 1/6 of the worlds population. The impression I’ve gotten from people in the big cities is ranges from anger to complacency. I wouldn’t say anyone loves the party, some think it’s better than the alternatives (which they seem afraid of), some dislike it but are afraid of it, and some outright denounce it (got this from cab drivers, who often don’t care). I’m sure you can find some who like it, but I doubt that’s many people.
    As to your article, I would say it’s completely correct in saying there’s two China’s – the sprawling cities of the east with built up city centers (and plenty of slums, just not heavily frequented by foreigners), and the undeveloped countryside with most of the people. How many foreigners see the countryside? Hell, even going to a large city that’s not one of the handful of tourist haunts is considered amazing now. When talking about the countryside, we’re talking about an area where even many Chinese I know say they don’t understand, and have little contact with. And if I remember correctly, the breakdown of country to city dwellers is something like 850 million to 450 million. Thought the urban poor are often grumbling, one can only imagine what the 850 million in the countryside who have to face the problems of pollution and corruption without any benefit must feel.
    Another thing to watch is the the new upper class. A few are often nudging the limits of government criticism (and criticism in general – I get the impression there’s a lot of emotion there seeking an outlet).
    As a whole, though, the impression I got from the Chinese upper class (I suppose they would be middle class here in the states) is one of caution – there’s a lot of change going one that they don’t really understand (and who does?) or see the end point too, so they try to make the most of things and hope for the best.
    To answer your question – despite all the talk of the “cultural differences” and that “the Chinese are just like that”, I wouldn’t say that there is a greater acceptance of authoritarianism there than elsewhere (just as we can see now that the Japanese and Germans weren’t more prone to authoritarianism). It seems to be as a result of circumstance, and not one that they’re happy about.
    Oh, and it is a more cruel than the US.

  58. DH says:

    Thanks for your insights, China is a fascinating topic. If you have any favorite aricles, please send them my way.

  59. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    The old Russian eagle’s two heads face West AND East. The early post Cold War saw Russia exploited in a free for all signed off on by Russian “Westernizers.” Putin’s circle appears more level headed,thinks in strategic terms, and adds a strong “Eastern” dimension to policy.
    Russian academic and political circles I talk with follow US elite opinion carefully. They noted the Council on Foreign Relations study that reeks of the Cold War.
    They have read Brzezinski’s books and notice the geopolitical narcissism of his Jamestown Foundation and its Flathead-Neocon linkages.
    They have examined the public White House national strategy statements, particular as they relate to Eurasia, and so forth.
    So is it any wonder Russia is developing the Asian dimension of its global strategy?
    “We have recently come to the greatest dawn in Russian-Chinese relations,” Putin told Chinese President Hu Jintao at two-way talks here Saturday – words reinforced by four billion dollars in new bilateral trade deals this year alone.
    He assured his Chinese counterpart that whoever takes the reins of power in Russia’s March 2008 presidential vote, “there is no doubt that Russian policy toward China will not change in the coming years.”
    On his way to Sydney, Putin oversaw a billion-dollar deal to sell arms to Indonesia, and on Friday he signed an agreement that will let Russia buy an estimated one billion dollars’ worth of Australian uranium a year.
    Top officials from Russian state gas giant Gazprom were also on hand looking for new resources and markets.
    “It’s no secret that we want to be the biggest supplier of natural gas to the Asia-Pacific region,” Gazprom deputy chairman Alexander Medvedev said.” ETC. From AFP story:
    Per France, Sarko and his circle are French Neocons which is why they are so tight with the US Neocons and assorted Flatheads.
    Meanwhile, the blood and treasure meter is running on Iraq and I suppose will on Iran. At this time, I foresee no significant change in US foreign policy by whomever takes the White House in 08. The policy will be essentially drawn from such proposals as found in:

  60. Chatham says:

    I’ve yet to find good and informative blogs on China like this one and Juan Cole’s are for the Middle East. There seems to be too much background noise; it’s easy for people to go over there, live well, and call themselves experts. If you are interested, I found the article below very interesting, and though I don’t agree with the author on everything I think it’s better than most I’ve found. Have a look:
    Indeed, it is a fascinating subject. If you have any other articles to share as well, I’d be happy to look at them.

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