US Foreign Policy Strategy: Don’t Watch the Hand

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the hand.jpgIn recent days, i attended an off the record discussion with several senior Obama administration officials involved in international “stuff” — some foreign policy, some commerce, some defense and intelligence sector deal-making.
One of the most interesting comments made to a question I posed probing the administration’s strategy in Asia, was “Steve, don’t watch the hand!”
What this person was saying was ‘don’t get lost in everything going on at the surface’ in US-China relations or US-Japan relations, but rather look at the other many bits and pieces of America’s engagement in the Asia Pacific that are enhancing US leverage and generating a greater sense among Pacific Rim countries that America is there, engaged, and preempting China from enjoying monopoly status.
This is interesting framing — but this also means that America is adopting more of a piecemeal strategy in Asia, driven more by deals like a US-South Korea free trade arrangement or arms sales to some countries than by reconstructing the U.S. as an unignorable, consequential heavyweight.
I recently spoke at a forum organized by the US Embassy in Japan and Department of State in cooperation with Aoyama Gakuin University and Sophia University in which some very capable international affairs students from Japanese universities all around the country participated in forums on the US-Japan security relationship, on immigration issues, climate change, terrorism, and other issues.
In my session, we polled the 27 students in our group on certain key questions — and their answers seem to underscore the broad doubts about America’s staying power and profile in the region.
Here were the questions and responses:

1. In order to assess how much confidence you have as Japanese citizens in Japan, do you think that Japan should be a permanent member of the UN Security Council?

16 yes — 11 no

2. Can you, without any hesitation, proclaim that you are pro-United States?

20 no — 7 yes

3. Even though you may not have thought former Prime Minister Hatoyama did his job effectively, do you sympathize with Hatoyama’s overall goals [particularly in adjusting US-Japan relations and moving Futenma out of Okinawa]?

18 yes — 9 no

4. In Japan’s diplomacy, do you think that Japan should maintain an equal distance between the United States and China?

8 yes — 19 no

5. In the current US-Japan alliance, do you think the relationship is lopsided and should be changed [with more empowerment of Japan in the alliance]?

23 yes — 4 no

Toshihiro Nakayama, a professor at Aoyama Gakuin University and fellow at the Japan Institute for International Affairs, was my partner in this program and organized these excellent questions.
The candor of the students was refreshing. While clearly concerned about too much of a tilt toward China, they too felt heavily burdened on some fronts by Japan’s relationship with the U.S.
These questions are just a snapshot of a small group — but they indicate the importance of America reinventing its engagement in the region and demonstrating more flexibility than previously shown about what a partnership with Japan actually means.
So, while we may not want to be too distracted by “the hand”, it’s important that the moves the United States is making on other fronts in the region include renegotiating our social and security contract between Japanese citizens and the security architecture we are clinging to.

– Steve Clemons

Comments

29 comments on “US Foreign Policy Strategy: Don’t Watch the Hand

  1. Mr.Murder says:

    Nucor Yamato remains a major employer here, supporting an area of subservice and post production manufacturing.
    Bill Clinton was then a Governor and he pulled off a major haul in landing the steel company here. Had the economy developed better during the years after his Presidency, similar deals would come though.

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  2. JohnH says:

    Good for you, Nadine. You provided the exception that proved the rule that not talking to your enemies does not work.
    Sad you could only provide a single example, and none in the last half century, when not talking to enemies became SOP for the US and Israel.

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  3. nadine says:

    You challenged me to provide an example where not talking to enemies solved something. I provided one.

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  4. JohnH says:

    Nadine’s solution: never talk to anybody, because there is a military solution to every problem–except in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine…
    But it’s the Israeli/neocon solution to everything–all out war, all of the time. But most of the time the result is nothing more than a quagmire that saps a nation’s vitality, impoverishes its people, and ultimately proves counterproductive and stupid.

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  5. nadine says:

    “What did Obama gain? Nothing! ” (JohnH)
    Thank you. I rest my case. So let’s run down the list: Engagement with Iran, solving Mideast peace, outreach to Muslim world, reset with Russia, new humble stance with Asia: 0-0-0-0-0. Epic fail.
    “Why won’t you answer my challenge: show me when not talking to your enemies ever solved anything.”
    Sure. That’s easy. World War II. The Allies refused to talk with the Axis but pursued total victory.

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  6. JohnH says:

    What did Obama gain? Nothing! Because he didn’t offer anything. Oh sure, he could have applied more pressure to support the Greens, but that would have been counterproductive, a phenomenon you obviously don’t understand. Your mantra is “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” which works as long as one of them doesn’t blow you up!
    You also support the newly coined Israeli phrase, “when force doesn’t work, use more force.”
    But why spend time pointlessly debating the stuff that Obama supposedly gave up in return for nothing?
    Why won’t you answer my challenge: show me when not talking to your enemies ever solved anything.

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  7. nadine says:

    I told you what Obama gave up to “engage” our enemies. (I could add, he’s given up lots of US credibility along the way). I asked you to tell me what he got back in exchange.
    So tell me, what did Obama gain? Name me one thing he gained. Give me one reason not to think that Obama’s foreign policy is an epic fail

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  8. JohnH says:

    Obama’s not talking to enemies has accomplished every bit as much as Bush’s, or as much as Likud/Kadima–zero.
    Nadine, name me something that not talking to enemies has accomplished.
    Not talking to enemies is simply an expression of arrogance. “Ha, ha, we’re so powerful we don’t have to talk to you.” It may be satisfying for the wounded egos of the arrogant, but it accomplishes nothing.
    Rather, it masks a total lack of sincerity about solving problems, letting them fester until they become no-win situations.

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  9. nadine says:

    Well, JohnH, suppose you list the achievements of Obama’s “talking to enemies”. I can tell you what he’s given away. That part is easy – missile defense in Eastern Europe, support for Iran’s greens or Lebanon’s March 14 party, any non-fake attempt to get Iranian sanctions.
    But trying to see what Obama got back, that’s the tough part.
    If Ahmedinejad and Putin had picked Obama between them, they could not be more pleased with him. He gives away US power and prestige every day — Russia has just openly engaged Hamas, they have no fear of US displeasure these days — and pleads for “engagement”. All across the Mideast, Iran is rising, moderates are falling, and US allies are hedging their bets.
    Obama is the most incompetent President in American history. Unless (& it’s possible) he is really trying to make America weaker and poorer and without allies.

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  10. JohnH says:

    Who’s calling for surrender? Since when has talking to your enemies and negotiating with them become “surrender?”
    (Nadine reveals her intellectual vacuum.)

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  11. nadine says:

    There’s a bigger problem with surrendering to our enemies! It does work! For them. Not for us. But that’s how you like it, isn’t it, JohnH?
    If you notice, Hamas is now saying they have been secretly contacted by the Obama administration (who knows, maybe through Mark Perry), but were asked to remain silent. You talk with these terrorists, not only do they not become moderates, they use the contact to blackmail you.
    Lots of Democrats are now asking, where is the adult supervision over Mideast policy in the Obama administration?

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  12. JohnH says:

    Nadine is a big advocate of failed strategies. The only problem with not talking to your enemies is—it doesn’t work!
    Go Nadine! You just keep cranking out stuff to help Israel self destruct.

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  13. nadine says:

    I see Mark Perry is busy at work shilling for Hamas and Hizbullah at Foreign Policy again. Now he makes the most of a “Red Team” (=devil’s advocate) memo at CENTCOM to pitch the case that the Palestinians should be handed over to Hamas and the Lebanese to Hizbullah, and that CENTCOM secretly agrees with him.
    Note how he stresses that the CENTCOM Red Team calls Hamas and Hizbullah “pragmatic and opportunistic.” Remember how Perry explained, right here at TWN, that Hizbullah and Hamas had to be constantly marketed as ‘moderates,’ even when they weren’t, for PR purposes? Perry takes his own advice. Really, Ahemdinejad and Nasrallah should keep Perry on retainer, he’s proving invaluable to them:
    “While it is anathema to broach the subject of engaging militant groups like Hizballah* and Hamas in official Washington circles (to say nothing of Israel), that is exactly what a team of senior intelligence officers at U.S. Central Command — CENTCOM — has been doing. In a “Red Team” report issued on May 7 and entitled “Managing Hizballah and Hamas,” senior CENTCOM intelligence officers question the current U.S. policy of isolating and marginalizing the two movements. Instead, the Red Team recommends a mix of strategies that would integrate the two organizations into their respective political mainstreams. While a Red Team exercise is deliberately designed to provide senior commanders with briefings and assumptions that challenge accepted strategies, the report is at once provocative, controversial — and at odds with current U.S. policy.
    Among its other findings, the five-page report calls for the integration of Hizballah into the Lebanese Armed Forces, and Hamas into the Palestinian security forces led by Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Red Team’s conclusion, expressed in the final sentence of the executive summary, is perhaps its most controversial finding: “The U.S. role of assistance to an integrated Lebanese defense force that includes Hizballah; and the continued training of Palestinian security forces in a Palestinian entity that includes Hamas in its government, would be more effective than providing assistance to entities — the government of Lebanon and Fatah — that represent only a part of the Lebanese and Palestinian populace respectively” (emphasis in the original). The report goes on to note that while Hizballah and Hamas “embrace staunch anti-Israel rejectionist policies,” the two groups are “pragmatic and opportunistic.”
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/06/29/red_team?page=full

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  14. nadine says:

    I see Mark Perry is busy at work shilling for Hamas and Hizbullah at Foreign Policy again. Now he makes the most of a “Red Team” (=devil’s advocate) memo at CENTCOM to pitch the case that the Palestinians should be handed over to Hamas and the Lebanese to Hizbullah, and that CENTCOM secretly agrees with him.
    Note how he stresses that the CENTCOM Red Team calls Hamas and Hizbullah “pragmatic and opportunistic.” Remember how Perry explained, right here at TWN, that Hizbullah and Hamas had to be constantly marketed as ‘moderates,’ even when they weren’t, for PR purposes? Perry takes his own advice. Really, Ahemdinejad and Nasrallah should keep Perry on retainer, he’s proving invaluable to them:
    “While it is anathema to broach the subject of engaging militant groups like Hizballah* and Hamas in official Washington circles (to say nothing of Israel), that is exactly what a team of senior intelligence officers at U.S. Central Command — CENTCOM — has been doing. In a “Red Team” report issued on May 7 and entitled “Managing Hizballah and Hamas,” senior CENTCOM intelligence officers question the current U.S. policy of isolating and marginalizing the two movements. Instead, the Red Team recommends a mix of strategies that would integrate the two organizations into their respective political mainstreams. While a Red Team exercise is deliberately designed to provide senior commanders with briefings and assumptions that challenge accepted strategies, the report is at once provocative, controversial — and at odds with current U.S. policy.
    Among its other findings, the five-page report calls for the integration of Hizballah into the Lebanese Armed Forces, and Hamas into the Palestinian security forces led by Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Red Team’s conclusion, expressed in the final sentence of the executive summary, is perhaps its most controversial finding: “The U.S. role of assistance to an integrated Lebanese defense force that includes Hizballah; and the continued training of Palestinian security forces in a Palestinian entity that includes Hamas in its government, would be more effective than providing assistance to entities — the government of Lebanon and Fatah — that represent only a part of the Lebanese and Palestinian populace respectively” (emphasis in the original). The report goes on to note that while Hizballah and Hamas “embrace staunch anti-Israel rejectionist policies,” the two groups are “pragmatic and opportunistic.”
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/06/29/red_team?page=full

    Reply

  15. drew says:

    I’d be interested in the responses if question 2 were not rigged
    with the “without any hesitation” language. A) I am not pro-USA,
    “without any hesitation”, and that’s probably true for a majority of
    Americans (or a hypothetical Jefferson), who embrace constitutional
    skepticism about our government and its foreign entanglements; B)
    Japanese nationalism and a cultural affinity for ambiguity would
    seem to guarantee a negative vote on that question.
    I don’t see any sort of reasonable negotiation with these former
    adversaries and client states as being possible, unless we’re willing
    to just come home. Negotiating from a position of “you need us to
    house our military in your country to protect you” distorts the
    discussion. It’s a different story if we say, “Well, then, perhaps we
    should just bail and let you handle it and save ourselves a few
    $billion.”

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  16. Don Bacon says:

    Perhaps these students — gasp — fail to have “the traditional Japanese suspicion of China.” One clue: Twenty of them are not pro-US.
    I mean, one might say that the French have a traditional suspicion of Germany, but look at them now. As the USA sinks in debt and China exerts its proper place in Asia, Japan WILL sidle closer to China. As the song says, it’s just a matter of time.
    These students probably grasp the new Asia, despite our druthers. Give them some credit for independent thought.

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  17. JohnH says:

    This pro-US, pro-China discussion assumes that those are the only two positions. What about the self-interested position of playing the two competitors against each other for the best deal at any given moment?
    Unfortunately for the US, China is bankrolling US imports, so I assume that Chinese financial might would also tilt the odds toward China in most competitions.

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  18. Dan Kervick says:

    Maybe, but that that seems unlikely to me given the traditional Japanese suspicion of China. I guess we should say that the numbers presented here don’t give us enough information to tell.

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  19. Don Bacon says:

    One can also infer, since twenty of them were not pro-US, that nineteen would be happier being closer to China than to the US. Since the students were not asked their opinion of China, I think that this conclusion is more likely.
    (Patriotism does have its limits, even with July 4th almost upon us.)

    Reply

  20. Dan Kervick says:

    “Where did the conclusion that the students are “clearly concerned about too much of a tilt toward China” come from? I see no basis for that allegation.”
    I think that inference comes from the fact that the students seem to want Japan to move further away from the US, but not so far as to be at an “equal distance” between the US and China.

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  21. Don Bacon says:

    Where did the conclusion that the students are “clearly concerned about too much of a tilt toward China” come from? I see no basis for that allegation.

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  22. Dan Kervick says:

    Actually, I don’t have any measuring stick at all, Steve, never having been a reporter. I was just sincerely mystified by your first sentence, since I don’t know how the business works. I just had to google “Chatham House rules.”

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  23. Steve Clemons says:

    Dan — thanks for your note. I’ve changed details about the gathering to protect the innocent. The meeting was basically Chatham House rules. I realize you have a different measuring stick on these things than I do. But my rendering of what was said is accurate and also protects the equities of others involved.
    best, steve clemons

    Reply

  24. Dan Kervick says:

    Steve, if the conversations were off the record, then why are you reporting the comments that were made to you?
    Or was this one of those fake off the record things, where you are told something on the record but asked to report it as off the record?

    Reply

  25. Don Bacon says:

    Ah yes, the US is cleverly enhancing its leverage by alienating Turkey, Russia and China, while putting Japan on the spot.
    The “greater sense among Pacific Rim countries that America is there, engaged, and preempting China from enjoying monopoly status” has no doubt been further enhanced (?) by the recently enacted ASEAN-Australia and New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) which includes Australia, Brunei, Myanmar, New Zealand, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. The pact will enter into force for the remaining ASEAN Parties (Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Malaysia) after they have notified completion of their respective internal ratification procedures.
    The China-ASEAN free trade area started operation this year. According to China Daily, the China-ASEAN FTA covers a population of 1 billion and involves about $450 million of trade volume. The average tariff on goods from the ASEAN countries is cut down to 0.1 percent from 9.8 percent. The six original ASEAN members, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, will slash the average tariff on Chinese goods from 12.8 percent to 0.6 percent.
    By 2015, the policy of zero-tariff rate for 90 percent of traded goods is expected to extend between China and four new ASEAN members, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.
    Don’t watch the US military hand which is stifling American economic growth, rather watch the economic ties of the Pacific Rim nations with China which are promoting Asian economic growth.
    What to look for? Additional ASEAN ties with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

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  26. nadine says:

    “US Foreign Policy Strategy: Don’t Watch the Hand”
    No, ‘talk to the hand’ is more the style of this administration.

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  27. Karin says:

    Interesting. I wonder if this maxim “don’t watch the hand” applies to US counter-terrorism policies. That Obama is tricking the world by looking like he’s even more committed to the expansion of executive power than Bush, and then he secretly reverses all of these excesses by some slight of hand. I keep hoping I am going to wake from a bad dream and GITMO will be closed, we will not be holding prisoners indefinitely without due process, we will not be engaging is targeted assassinations in a manner that violates international law and that will most likely lead to increased recruitment of terrorists…etc. Please someone tell me its all an optical illusion.

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  28. WigWag says:

    guess this post is interesting but I’m not exactly sure what to make of it.
    Steve says he was urged not to “watch the hand,” which is reminiscent of the advice that the three card Monty players received from those who were planning to part them from their money. I guess the

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  29. JohnH says:

    “Don’t watch the hand,” or listen to Obama’s speeches. Yes, indeed, it’s important to watch what the US is DOING (in places like Honduras and Colombia, etc.), not what the US says.
    And I imagine if you talked to international affairs students around the world, particularly in Brazil and Turkey, you would come away with the same message as in Japan–the need to renegotiate our social and security contract between foreign countries and the security architecture we are clinging to.

    Reply

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