Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I realize that I need to do some ‘fleshing out’ of my ideas about the rise of China and ‘holistic’ worldviews. A few quotes from National University of Singapore's Professor Kishore Mahbubani’s recent article in The American Interest are instructive.

It is odd: America is one of the most open societies in the world, yet when it comes to listening to the rest of the world or understanding the views of others, American instead resembles a closed society. Indian political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta once compared India and China by saying, “India is an open society with a closed mind; China is a closed society with an open mind.” The same comparison may be made between America and China.


Deng Xiaoping turned to . . . ancient wisdom to craft his famous 28 characters, which prescribed seven guidelines for China to follow: (1) lengjing guancha, observe and analyze developments calmly; (2) chenzhuo yingfu, deal with changes patiently and confidently; (3) wenzhu zhenjiao, secure our own position; (4) taoguang yanghui, conceal our capabilities and avoid the limelight; (5) shanyu shouzhuo, keep a low profile; (6) juebu dangtou, never become a leader; (7) yousuo zuowei, strive for achievements.

More later . . .

Monday, February 18, 2008


This should be the mantra of democratic societies around the world. I’ll outline a series of issues to explain how these themes relate. My proposals are not only intended to be practically useful but also politically viable. The clarity of the concepts as well as their international appeal is therefore important.

I. The viability of the US economy is an issue of strategic importance for all democracies and ought to be addressed by a “national science project”.
a. The US is not likely to reclaim manufacturing jobs that have drifted overseas and needs to leverage its position as an innovative, well-connected society by emphasizing science education at all levels of society.
b. The importance of civics education in this country is not easily disputed.

II. Oil-based economies tend to lack the civil society necessary to moderate militant passions (e.g. in Saudi Arabia, Iran) and/or to moderate authoritarian tendencies (e.g. Iran, Russia, Venezuela); the West can do the world a service by developing energy alternatives that gradually free us from dependence on oil.
a. A “national science project” would help drive the sort of innovation necessary to achieve this task.
b. A recent review (see previous post) of US efforts in Iraq gives added teeth to the idea that ‘soft power’ is necessary to cement the institutional change we seek in such countries. Organizations such as Creative Associates work to spread civics education abroad. Efforts that support the development of strong, accountable local governments should be expanded.

III. The rise of China is likely to be one of the most significant geopolitical issues of this century. The environmental challenges that we face as a planet have the potential to humble all of us enough to turn potential confrontation into cooperation.
a. Exchanges between Chinese and Western science have most productively taken place in the realm of medicine. Americans are clearly seeking a more holistic view of their own medical health. Our country could drive down its health costs by developing a culture of prevention and wellness.
b. The best opportunities for civics cooperation would take place in a context in which the wisdom of Chinese holistic traditions (as manifested in medicine and in the current purposeful progress of the society) are openly acknowledged by Americans. In such a context, opportunities would be enhanced for the United States to offer guidance to China on increased public participation in government.

IV. Take a moment to think about each item above and you'll see how global environmental challenges are relevant to each.

Conclusion: Catchiness is not a luxury but a necessity in any age. This is particularly so when interest and faith in national institutions is declining (See here to be shocked into believing this last claim.). The phrase "Civics and Science" is one example of how to encapsulate a broad range of critical issue under one slogan.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Logic (?) of the US Creed, Democratic Ideals, and Foreign Policy

I was inspired to put this together after reading a report a CNN article about the Rand Corp. review of US policy in Iraq (commissioned by the US Department of Defense). I supported the war in Iraq but feel that the strategy of our struggle against terrorism is unproductively skewed towards military tactics.

I've put together a series of interlinked statements that help to explain why I supported the war and how I think our efforts have gone awry. The arguments are political and social, as well as military [Quotes are taken from CNN quotations from the Rand Corp. report (My apologies for not looking them up myself :)].

Here goes:
(1) Every society depends, for cohesion, on a common sense of mission.
(2) The US creed “that all men are created equal” is one of the central elements to this nation’s sense of mission.
(3) This creed ultimately requires us to respect all people around the world both in terms of (a) the value of the lives and (b) their desire for self-government (Again, these requirement relate back to item #1 and are therefore pragmatic, as much as idealistic requirements.)
(4) The paradox of international politics flows from the fact that there exist authoritarian regimes and movements that can undermine societies that adhere to the ideal of “human equality”; it is not always apparent how to stop these regimes without the use of force. The use of force against these regimes contradicts item #3, the requirement that we respect the dignity of every human life (Namely, when civilians are killed in Afghanistan by US forces, our own faith in our national creed is affected.)
(5) In order to both (a) uphold our international commitments and (b) maintain our national faith in our creed, we must never allow violence to be the dominant aspect of our foreign policy.
(6) Over-reliance on violence also erodes our international relationships and exhausts our forces (which are ultimately supported by the morale and treasure of the nation entire).
(7) The attempt to implant democracy in the Middle East is an important element of the effort to spread democracy around the world. This importance is related to (a) the terrorism that has flowed from that region and (b) yes, the importance of oil to the stability of the geopolitical system.
(8) A recent report from the Rand Corp., commissioned by the US Department of Defense, highlights some ways in which we are over-relying on hard power, as opposed to soft power, in our struggle against terrorism. The report focuses on ways in which the US military is overstretching itself and ways in which we are overlooking the possibility of international cooperation to further our goals (see #6).
(9) The report also emphasizes that "Foreign forces cannot substitute for effective local governments, and they can even weaken their legitimacy," However, "when it comes to building these and other civil capabilities abroad, the United States is alarmingly weak." Therefore, "the federal government will need a dramatic increase in civilian capabilities [and] new organizational arrangements . . ." Such an effort would both (a) support the US military (see items #6 and 8) and would (b) help to spread the creed of the US around the world. Such an effort would also help to resolve the paradox contained in item #4, as it would allow us to promote democracy abroad with less reliance on the use of force.