Archive for August, 2015


August 31, 2015

Wall Street Journal on August 28, 2015, published a commentary by Dick and Liz Cheney on the dangerous surrender of US leadership by the Obama administration. Excerpts below:

In 1983, as the U.S. confronted the threat posed by the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan explained America’s unique responsibility. “It is up to us in our time,” he said, “to choose, and choose wisely, between the hard but necessary task of preserving peace and freedom, and the temptation to ignore our duty and blindly hope for the best while the enemies of freedom grow stronger day by day.” It was up to us then—as it is now—because we are the exceptional nation. America has guaranteed freedom, security and peace for a larger share of humanity than any other nation in all of history.

Born of the revolutionary ideal that we are “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights,” we were, first, an example to the world of freedom’s possibilities. During World War II, we became freedom’s defender, at the end of the Cold War, the world’s sole superpower. We did not seek the position. It is ours because of our ideals and our power, and the power of our ideals.

No other nation, international body or “community of nations” can do what we do. It isn’t just our involvement in world events that has been essential for the triumph of freedom. It is our leadership. For the better part of a century, security and freedom for millions of people around the globe have depended on America’s military, economic, political and diplomatic might.

In the 1940s American leadership was essential to victory in World War II, and the liberation of millions from the grip of fascism. In the Cold War American leadership guaranteed the survival of freedom, the liberation of Eastern Europe and the defeat of Soviet totalitarianism. In this century it will be essential for the defeat of militant Islam.

Yet despite the explosive spread of terrorist ideology and organizations, the establishment of an Islamic State caliphate in the heart of the Middle East, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and increasing threats from Iran, China, North Korea and Russia, President Obama has departed from this 75-year, largely bipartisan tradition of ensuring America’s pre-eminence and strength.

He has abandoned Iraq, leaving a vacuum that is being tragically and ominously filled by our enemies. He is on course to forsake Afghanistan as well.

He has made dangerous cuts to America’s military.

For seven decades, both Republican and Democratic presidents have understood the importance of ensuring the supremacy of America’s nuclear arsenal. President Obama seems not to. He has advocated cutting our nuclear force in the naïve hope that this will persuade rogue regimes to do the same. He has imposed limits on our ability to modernize and maintain nuclear weapons. He has reduced the nation’s missile-defense capabilities.

Allowing the Iranians to continue to enrich uranium and agreeing to the removal of all restraints on their nuclear program in a few short years virtually guarantees that they will become a nuclear-weapons state,…

Nearly everything the president has told us about his Iranian agreement is false. He has said it will prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons, but it will actually facilitate and legitimize an Iranian nuclear arsenal. He has said this deal will stop nuclear proliferation, but it will actually accelerate it, as nations across the Middle East work to acquire their own weapons in response to America’s unwillingness to stop the Iranian nuclear program.

The president has tried to sell this bad deal by claiming that there is no alternative, save war. In fact, this agreement makes war more, not less, likely. In addition to accelerating the spread of nuclear weapons across the Middle East, it will provide the Iranians with hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief, which even the Obama administration admits likely will be used to fund terror.

A vote for the Obama nuclear deal is not a vote for peace or security. It is a vote for an agreement that facilitates Tehran’s deadly objectives with potentially catastrophic consequences for the United States and our allies.

The Obama nuclear agreement with Iran is tragically reminiscent of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s Munich agreement in 1938. Each was negotiated from a position of weakness by a leader willing to concede nearly everything to appease an ideological dictator. Hitler got Czechoslovakia. The mullahs in Tehran get billions of dollars and a pathway to a nuclear arsenal. Munich led to World War II. The Obama agreement will lead to a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East and, more than likely, the first use of a nuclear weapon since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The U.S. Congress should reject this deal and reimpose the sanctions that brought Iran to the table in the first place. It is possible to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon, but only if the U.S. negotiates from a position of strength, refuses to concede fundamental points and recognizes that the use of military force will be required if diplomacy fails to convince Iran to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons.

As America faces a world of rising security threats, we must resolve to take action and shouldn’t lose hope. Just as one president has left a path of destruction in his wake, one president can rescue us. The right person in the Oval Office can restore America’s strength and alliances, defeat our enemies, and keep us safe. It won’t be easy. There is a path forward, but there are difficult decisions to be made and very little time.

America needs a president who recognizes that everything the nation must do requires having a U.S. military with capabilities that are second to none—on land, in the air, at sea, in space and in cyberspace. The peace and security of the world and the survival of our freedom depend on it. We must choose wisely.

As citizens, we have another obligation. We have a duty to protect our ideals and our freedoms by safeguarding our history. We must ensure that our children know the truth about who we are, what we’ve done, and why it is uniquely America’s duty to be freedom’s defender.

They should know that once there was an empire so evil and bereft of truth it had to build a wall to keep its citizens in, and that the free world, led by America, defeated it. They need to know about the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11, the courage of the first responders and the heroism of the passengers on Flight 93. They should understand what kind of world militant Islam will create if we don’t defeat it.

They should learn about great men like George C. Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. We must teach them what it took to prevail over evil in the 20th century and what it will take in the 21st.

Our children need to know that they are citizens of the most powerful, good and honorable nation in the history of mankind—the exceptional nation. They must know that they are the inheritors of a great legacy and a great duty.

Ordinary Americans have done heroic things to guarantee freedom’s survival. Now, it is up to us. Speaking at Omaha Beach on the 40th anniversary of the D-Day landings, President Reagan put it this way, “We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free.”

Mr. Cheney, former vice president of the United States, and Ms. Cheney are the authors of “Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America,” from which this article was adapted; the book is being published Sept. 1 by Simon & Schuster’s Threshold Editions.

Comment: During the 20th century the United States inherited from the British the main responsibility for the defense of the West. Since the 15th century history has been a competition between alliances preeminent in seapower and those preeminent in landpower. During the past century air power and space power have been added to the competition between seapower and landpower. In the 21st century the world has entered a dangerous phase in which the great powers of Russia and China are challenging the West in addition to Islamism. No doubt the United States needs a president who recognizes those dangers. The allies of America need to be reassured that everything is done to safeguard their freedom. It is also in the national interest of the United States to remain strong in the rimland of Eurasia. From 2009 to 2015 the present administration in Washington DC has weakened American influence in one of the most vital parts of the rimland: the Middle East. The Iran deal is strengthening that Muslim regime’s threat to Israel and other Western allies in that part of the rimland (the area surrounding the Eurasian heartland). “Strategic restraint” is not the answer to the dangers presently threatening the West.


August 29, 2015

Wall Street Journal on August 27, 2015, reported that Ukraine’s private creditors have accepted a 20% write-down on the face value of their Ukrainian bonds. Excerpts below:

Ukraine said August 27, 2015, that it had secured a debt-relief deal with its creditors, a vital step toward unlocking billions of dollars in emergency financing, after months of stalemate threatened to derail its international bailout.

The agreement, which requires approval by Ukraine’s parliament, is a major success for the pro-Western government as it seeks to push through a series of politically tough economic overhauls and nurse its fragile economy to health.

But the simmering conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country continues to exact a toll on government finances, and the debt relief by no means assures economic viability for a country that has long been struggling to stay afloat.

Averting a financial tailspin in the country of 45 million people has been a priority in Washington and European capitals, which have sought to buttress the government in Kiev against an increasingly confrontational Russia.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew urged creditors to move swiftly to complete the restructuring, calling it critical to Ukraine’s future prosperity. “A strong, stable Ukraine is in the interests of Ukraine’s citizens, Ukraine’s neighbors, its international partners, and investors,” Mr. Lew said.

According to the Ukrainian Finance Ministry, private creditors including U.S. mutual fund Franklin Templeton Investments agreed to a 20% write-down in the face value of their Ukrainian bonds, and to push back maturities on government debt by four years.

The hryvnia currency rose more than 3% against the dollar, and Ukraine’s central bank lowered its key interest rate to 27% from 30%, citing reduced inflation risks just minutes after the deal was announced.

Ukraine’s bonds jumped by about 18%. The price of two-year notes increased to more than 66 cents, from 56 cents, according to data from Tradeweb, the highest level since January.

Under the bailout terms, Ukraine needed to secure $15 billion-worth of debt relief, including interest payments, from its international creditors, as well as pass the economic measures, to release the rest of the promised $25 billion in rescue money from the International Monetary Fund, Europe and the U.S.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde welcomed the deal and said Ukraine should meet the debt targets outlined in the bailout program—but only if all the Eurobond holders participated.

The conflict [with Russia] has destroyed critical infrastructure, fueled a deep recession, pushed the currency into a nose-dive, depleted emergency cash reserves and forced acute budget belt-tightening.

Besides the IMF, Kiev has the backing of Washington, the European Union and other Western allies who see Ukraine as a decisive geopolitical battleground to fend off the advances of an increasingly aggressive Russia.

After months of impasse, negotiations appeared to accelerate in late July, with both sides offering to make concessions. Prospects of a resolution were given a boost last month when Ukraine met the deadline for a $120 million coupon payment on its two-year bonds.

The turning point, said Ms. Jaresko, came…at San Francisco’s Hyatt Regency hotel two weeks ago,…

After leaving San Francisco, the parties spent two more tense weeks thrashing out details.

The agreement is a welcome relief also for other holders of Ukraine debt, who have been following the negotiations from the sidelines. The measures will apply to all the country’s outstanding debt.

Also on August 27, 2015, Wall Street Journal reported that Ukraine’s US-born Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko is praised for her persistence. She was personally involved in securing the debt-relief deal. Excerpts below:

After announcing a deal to help stave off bankruptcy at a government meeting Thursday, Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko received an unusual gift from her fellow ministers: a painted artillery shell casing.

Ms. Jaresko, a 50-year-old American who but only recently became a Ukrainian citizen, was being hailed as the hero of the battle to save the economy, one being waged at the same time as the country fights pro-Russian separatists in its east.

The finance minister led months of tense negotiations with private creditors, clocking thousands of miles flying from Eastern Europe to the U.S. to persuade them to accept a 20% write-down on the face value of their bonds and later repayment. The deal should help Ukraine secure further bailout funds from the International Monetary Fund.

Ms. Jaresko, born into a Ukrainian diaspora family in Illinois, arrived in Kiev two decades ago as one of a handful of diplomats charged with opening the U.S. Embassy. She later moved into the private sector, eventually co-founding the Horizon Capital private-equity fund in 2006, which focused on the region.

It was only after a revolution last year swept Ukraine’s pro-Russian president out of power that Ms. Jaresko contemplated another stint in government.

In December, President Petro Poroshenko tapped her to run the Finance Ministry, a post with notorious bureaucracy, corruption and near-empty coffers—all for a salary equal to $300 a month.

Ms. Jaresko, who speaks Ukrainian, is no stranger to the difficulties of making the case for the country: Colleagues at Horizon Capital say she spent the first year at the fund in hundreds of meetings, traveling thousands of miles to follow up on the slightest flicker of investor interest in Ukrainian assets.

Comments: This is welcome news. This blog has long argued that securing Ukraine as a state is more important than supporting Greece, although financial stability is important in both cases. Ms. Jaresko has proven to be an effective Minister of Finance and the present deal could be a turning point for Ukraine. A financially strong Ukraine is a must when taking on Russia.


August 28, 2015

On 23 August 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany concluded a treaty of non-aggression known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (hereinafter the MRP) after its signatories, the Soviet Union’s People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov and Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany Joachim von Ribbentrop. In the secret protocols that accompanied the treaty of non-aggression, the two totalitarian powers divided Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania in violation of international law into respective spheres of influence, which led to Nazi Germany starting the Second World War on 1 September 1939 with its attack on Poland. The MRP and its three secret protocols resulted in comprehensive military and economic co-operation between Nazi Germany and the USSR from 1939 – 1941. The USSR’s significant political and economic support for Nazi Germany allowed the leadership of Nazi Germany to occupy a great part of Europe and begin the widespread persecution and murder of Jews in its occupied territories. Nazi Germany’s support for the USSR made it possible for the USSR to carry out wide-spread oppression in territories occupied by the USSR.

Although the MRP and its secret protocols were well-known to the West, the USSR denied the existence of secret protocols to the MRP until 1989, because the secret protocols were considered evidence of the annexation of the Baltic states.

Remembering the MRP as well as its aftermath, the European Parliament on 2 April 2008 approved the resolution “European conscience and totalitarianism”. The resolution suggests that member states of the European Parliament declare 23 August as the European Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, to be observed with dignity and impartiality.

The European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Totalitarian Regimes was held in 2015 in Tallinn, Estonia, on August 22 – 23 and organized by the Estonian Institute of Human Rights.

On August 23, 2015, the criminal legacy of communism and Nazism was remembered during the holding of two panels.

The first panel, “Retrospective Truth and Justice” focused on the need to declare communist regimes criminal and culpable for their crimes against humanity. Participants were the Estonian Minister of Justice, Mr. Urmas Reinsalu, Mr. Juozas Bernatonis, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania, Mr. Janis Iesanieks, Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, Latvia, Mr. Robert Répássy, Deputy Minister of Justice, Chairman of the Human Rights Working Group, Hungary, Mr Wojciech Wegrzyn, Deputy Minister of Justice, Poland, Mr Gocha Lordkipanidze, Deputy Minister og Justice, Georgia, Mr Petr Jäger, Deputy Minister of Justice, Czech Republic, and Mr. Michael Kotlarik, Director General of the International Law Department, Ministry of Justice of the Slovak Republic.

The second panel (discussion), “Responsinility for Communist Crimes”, focused on measures to prevent the rise of Communism and Nazism in the future. Moderator was Mr. Toomas Hiio, Estonian Institute of Historical Memory and panelists were Dr. Neela Winkelmann, Platform of European Memory and Conscience, Dr Pawel Ukielski, The Institute of National Remembrance, Poland, Tunne Kelam, MEP, member of the Foreign Affairs committee and subcommittee of Security and Defense, Estonia, Mr Aron Mathe, Office of the Committee of National Remembrance, Hungary, Mr Rafal Rogulski, director, European Ntwork Remembrance and Solidarity, Poland.

A Joint Statement of the Conference for the Day of Remembrance for Victims of Crimes Committed by Totalitarian Regimes was made and contained a call for investigation of past crimes committed by Communist regimes. Excerpt below:

-The basis for conciliation and building a future is justice. The competence of the existing supranational courts does not include the investigation of past crimes committed by Communist regimes and the punishing of those guilty of them. We find it necessary to investigate the possibilities of a supranational co-operation in order to give consideration to forming a special institution to investigate the crimes of totalitarian regimes including Communist regime crimes, like the crimes of the Nazi regime were condemned and the guilty parties were punished. It is important to form an expert working group to study the issue.

-We find it necessary to stress that public access to archives containing information about the crimes of all totalitarian regimes must be ensured in all countries.

-We call for the governments of all European countries to provide both moral and material support to the investigation of the history of totalitarian regimes thus preventing manipulation of historical facts and to the introduction of the results of those investigations.

Comment: One can only support the idea of supranational co-operation in order to form a special institution to investigate the crimes of totalitarian regimes including Communist regime crimes. It is necessary to condemn both Communist and Nazi crimes. An expert group is certainly needed to study the issue. The European Union should put pressure on Russia to release information on Soviet crimes. All European countries must be prepared to provide moral and material support for the creation of a working group and a special institution to investigate Communist crimes.


August 26, 2015

The Wall Street Journal on August 25, 2015, published a commentary by Gary Roughead on US and Russian Arctic energy policy. Excerpts below:

Russia is taking the lead in Arctic offshore oil production. Russia began producing offshore oil at the Prirazlomnaya field in the Pechora Sea in 2014, and last year it delivered roughly 2.2 million barrels. Gazprom Neft expects to more than double oil production this year from the country’s only offshore Arctic oil project.

China isn’t far behind. Between 2009 and 2013, Chinese companies—mainly the big three, China National Petroleum Corp., Sinopec and China National Offshore Oil Corp. (Cnooc)—were the largest buyers of international oil assets. Several of these acquisitions were made with the Arctic in mind, such as Canada’s Nexen and Russia’s Yamal LNG. Early last year, Cnooc obtained an exploration license for Iceland’s Dreki region in the Norwegian Sea. The company is also expected to be involved in Norway’s 2016 licensing round in the Barents Sea.

Russian and Chinese activity goes beyond a scramble for resources. Russia has added a 6,000-soldier permanent military force, including radar and sensing networks, in the Arctic’s northwest Murmansk region. Russia recently submitted a large extended continental-shelf claim for the Arctic, which, if accepted, will give Russia rights to seabed resources beyond its 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. China’s maritime activity in the region has increased, and it is making significant investments in Arctic research, infrastructure and natural-resource development. Although not an Arctic nation, China sees the value in building modern icebreakers to support its activity in the polar regions—north and south.

The dominant posture Russia and China are assuming with regard to Arctic oil and gas stands in contrast to the U.S. After holding a record-breaking lease sale in the Chukchi Sea in 2007, (and collecting billions of dollars for federal coffers), the federal government has failed consistently to demonstrate it has the political will and agency know-how to allow Arctic offshore oil-exploration to move forward.

Alaskan energy production from the outer continental shelf can come online in 10 to 15 years, when experts predict shale-oil production in the lower 48 states will plateau and crude-oil production in the Gulf of Mexico will begin to decline.

But the dithering must end soon. According to a recent report by the National Petroleum Council (NPC) and a diverse group of government regulators, nongovernmental organizations, environmentalists, industry leaders and Alaska Native representatives, the federal government needs to facilitate exploration in the offshore Alaskan Arctic now. Failure to act immediately risks a renewed reliance on imported oil and jeopardizes America’s global competitiveness, leadership and influence in the Arctic.

The U.S. recently assumed a two-year term as chairman of the Arctic Council, the world’s primary intergovernmental forum on the region. The council focuses on a broad range of issues but not on defense and security. The U.S. can use its chairmanship to take a leadership position on shipping, resources and fisheries standards and practices. It can also set the stage for constructive regional engagement and cooperative investment to enhance overall maritime domain awareness in the Arctic, including joint search-and-rescue and environmental responses.

The U.S. should also use its leadership role to ensure responsible energy exploration and production in the region…

Mr. Roughead, a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former chief of naval operations (2007-11), is a visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Comment: Mr. Roughead in his article concluded that:

we will cede this critical strategic region to others with grave economic, security and environmental implications for generations to come.

It should be noted in relation to the Russian threat in the Arctic that Putin has added a 6,000 permanent military force to the Murmansk region close to northern Scandinavia. Finland has a fairly good defense in the Arctic while Swedish forces are weak. Other influential Arctic nations such as Canada, Norway and Denmark would benefit from a strong US leadership in the Arctic Council.


August 22, 2015

August 2015 has been a time of trouble for China’s regime. Devaluation and falling values on the Chinese stock market is only one aspect. Then there are the deadly explosions at a warehouse storing dangerous chemicals in Tianjin that killed over a hundred people, cost billions of dollars, and have raised serious questions about China’s industrial safety and emergency preparedness. Local land and waterways may be polluted for years to come.

Even if one cannot compare the Soviet Union in the 1980s and China in 2015 there are signs of trouble on the Chinese mainland. The long term American policy should be is to aid a democratic takeover in Beijing. This can be undertaken in many ways without damaging the present relations with China.

One way is to contributing to weakening the China communist party elite by putting sanctions on overseas bank accounts, properties, travel, and children of the political elite. The Chinese come to the United States for more than education. A targeted campaign of sanctions against China’s rich and their children is one way to promote the growth of democracy on in China.

Another democracy building effort could be to identify and help young freedom minded leaders of China. They could be brought to the United States on study tours and they could be encouraged to form networks with counterparts in America. Agents of change in the Chinese leaderships should be encouraged not only in America but in the rest of the West.

The great American advantage of world leading information and cultural influence and intelligence ought to be put to better use. Corruption and misdeeds in China ought to be better monitored and tracked. If the information is spread as widely as possible this would weaken the Communist party hold over China. When corruption and misdeed in Peking is better known in the West this information will after a while spread also in China. Information is knowledge-power and power of the people.


August 20, 2015 on August 19, 2015, reported on US senator and former presidential candidate John McCain slamming Russia over its increased military activity in the Baltic region on a visit to Stockholm. Excerpts below:

John McCain spoke to reporters on August 19 on his brief visit to Stockholm with Republican party colleague John Barrasso and Democrat senator Sheldon Whitehouse. Top of the agenda were environmental issues, IT security and Russia.

“We underline our concern for Russia’s activities in the region and its military build-up,” McCain told Swedish media after he met Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Sverker Göranson.

“We all need to understand who [Vladimir Putin] is and what he wants. He wants to restore the Russian Empire,” said the 79-year-old war veteran, who has been a member of the US senate for the state of Arizona since 1987.

McCain has long advocated a more aggressive approach towards Russia…

The two countries have enjoyed a strained relationship in the past year, with Sweden’s security service Säpo stating that Russia posed the biggest intelligence threat to the Nordic nation in 2014.

Earlier this year in June, a report for the US-based Center for European Policy Analysis (Cepa) claimed that some 33,000 Russian soldiers rehearsed a military takeover of the Baltic Sea area on March 21st to 25th, including practising the seizure of the island of Gotland off Sweden’s east coast.

The revelation followed an incident last September when two SU-24 fighter-bombers allegedly entered Swedish airspace in what the former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt called “the most serious aerial incursion by the Russians” in almost a decade.

The following month a foreign submarine was spotted in Swedish waters, although the Swedish military was unable to determine where it came from.

Sweden has announced it would be stepping up its military power, including stationing 230 Swedish troops on Gotland from 2018.

Commentary: It is important that the dire situation in the Baltic area is noted in the United States. The suggested stepping up of Swedish military expenditure is too small. The Swedish center-left government is endangering Sweden’s security by only improving the Swedish military slightly. It is impossible to defend the island of Gotland with only additional 230 troops. If Russia occupies the Aland archipelago between Sweden and Finland this would pose a great risk to the Stockholm area. This danger has been identified by highly placed politicians in Finland.


August 15, 2015

A book published in 2014 — Back from the Dead: The Return of the Evil Empire — exposes how America’s political leaders and intelligence agencies were caught off-guard as Vladimir Putin brought back the USSR, invaded Ukraine, and now threatens the world with a conflict that Putin’s apologists say could go nuclear. The book is published by America’s Survival, Inc. (ASI). Excerpts below from the publisher’s presentation:

The fall of the Berlin Wall misled many into thinking the Soviet KGB was dead. But infiltration of the West continued through “cultural Marxism,” and penetration by enemy agents, while the KGB, now called the FSB, looted Russia, consolidated its power, and rebuilt the Russian military, including its nuclear forces. America’s survival hangs in the balance.

Author Cliff Kincaid, founder and president of America’s Survival, Inc. (ASI), is a journalist and media analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area for almost 40 years and contributes one of the chapters in the new book. Other experts have contributed chapters.

In reaction to assertions by some American conservatives such as Patrick J. Buchanan that Vladimir Putin is a Christian leader, Kincaid has said that “We expose these claims as Russian disinformation, perhaps the greatest deception of all time.” The book describes in detail how Putin is using the Russian Orthodox Church as an ideological front in his war on the world, and how the Roman Catholic Church has failed to confront this evil. The book also examines how the KGB/FSB secretly manipulates Islamic and Palestinian terrorist groups and even the Iranian regime.


August 14, 2015

Wall Street Journal on August 12, 2015, published a reviewby Willard Spiegelman of Mario Vargas Llosa’s latest book, “Notes on the Death of Culture” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 227 pages, $ 23.00). Excerpts below:

What most surprises in Mr. Vargas Llosa’s “Notes on the Death of Culture” is not his lament for present conditions (“stupidity has become the ruling value of postmodern life, and politics is one of its main victims”) or his prediction of future calamity (“the risks of nuclear weapons, the bloody madness of fanaticism and the erosion of the environment”). Rather it is the book’s elegiac tone, conveying a sense that, where once we had giants of intellect, sensibility and creativity, we now have purveyors of spectacle, foolishness and debasement.

Mr. Vargas Llosa’s often outsize claims are the musings of a wise old man, a self-professed dinosaur who has at least a modicum of faith that “dinosaurs can manage to survive and be useful in difficult times.” Part of “Notes on the Death of Culture” is a memoir looking back at the author’s salad days in Peru, France and England, when Western culture and society seemed poised on the brink of greatness. Today, he believes, television pundits have replaced Edmund Wilson; literature lite has trounced the masterpieces of modernism; and sports, celebrity and mass media have drained us of all intelligence.

People used to be more serious, Mr. Vargas Llosa believes, more committed to the life of the mind. Art was supposed to make you think, to humanize and elevate you. Then a crisis occurred—call it by any one of several names: postmodernism, commodity fetishism, deconstruction, fundamentalism—and everything went bad.

Mr. Vargas Llosa begins with reflections on T.S. Eliot’s “Notes Towards a Definition of Culture” (1948), another assessment of imperiled tradition. Eliot was obsessed with decline even at the start of his career. In 1921 he identified a mid-17th-century “dissociation of sensibility” that separated thought from feeling. William Butler Yeats had the same suspicion: “Things fall apart.” But fables of loss tell us more about their makers than about the world. Eliot and Yeats needed theirs to produce “The Waste Land” and “Prufrock,” “The Second Coming” and “Sailing to Byzantium.”

For Mr. Vargas Llosa, degeneration is a compelling reality, not a poetical myth. Old news, one might say. But he writes clearheadedly and intelligently, with a journalist’s eye and an essayist’s confident familiarity.

Here is a partial list of what he fears, dislikes or cites as symptoms of our malaise: Julian Assange (“the Oprah Winfrey of the information world”); the disappearance of the physical book and the proliferation of the e-reader; advertising and fashion; “quantity at the expense of quality”; piracy and the violation of copyright; sports as “a pretext for irrationality”; the artist Damien Hirst and his shark in formaldehyde; Islamic veils and headpieces; masturbation workshops in public schools; pornography that undermines the mysteries of sexual romance; politicians who are photographed with athletes and entertainers instead of scientists and playwrights.

Like Eliot, George Steiner and other diagnosticians of decline, Mr. Vargas Llosa implicitly commits himself to Matthew Arnold’s definition of culture as “the best which has been thought and said.” Culture, for him, involves elites, although he seems to forget that Shakespeare, Verdi and Dickens—to take only a trio of obvious examples—wowed the masses with their entertainments. He also seems not to notice that what Plato said of writing (that it will deaden the mind by reducing our capacity to remember) is close to what he is himself saying about the noxious effects of viewing a screen instead of reading a book.

Diagnosis is one thing, remedy another. How can a society tolerate a group whose basic mode is intolerance or an ideology that might undermine democratic heterogeneity? He does not say. Celebrity culture, “branding,” the dumbing down of education: These and other usual suspects come in for condemnation. How we might replace them with something better is a question he does not address.

In his role as worrier, Mr. Vargas Llosa is not alone. Here’s another: “A multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and, unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor.” That’s William Wordsworth in the preface to “Lyrical Ballads” (1800). “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Even a dinosaur will derive some solace from this truth.

Mr. Spiegelman is editor in chief of the Southwest Review in Dallas.


August 12, 2015

Washington Times on August 10, 2015, published a review by Joshua Sinai of IIan Berman’s new book, “Iran’s Deadly Ambition”. As the United States-led European coalition has reached a diplomatic deal with Iran, with a reduction in economic and military sanctions in return for a supposedly verifiable cap on Iran’s nuclear program, opponents of such a deal are concerned that the Obama administrationand its allies just don’t “get” Iran’s real agenda for reaching such a settlement. Ilan Berman’s “Iran’s Deadly Ambition: The Islamic Republic’s Quest for Global Power”, (Encounter Books, $ 23.99, 256 pages), is an attempt to show what Iran is really up to and provide a “corrective.” Mr. Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C., has written extensively onIran, and is the author of the 2007 book “Tehran Rising: Iran’s Challenge to the United States.” Excerpts below:

Written as a polemic to expose what the author sees as the nefarious intentions of Iran’s worldwide ambitions and the likely consequences to Israel’s security if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons as a result of such a flawed deal, Mr. Berman’s analysis is sound in much of its diagnosis. To understand Iran’s true intentions, Mr. Berman points out, it is first necessary to understand what underpins its global agenda. This is based on three primary fronts.

The first is sectarian in nature, as Iran “views itself as the vanguard of the so-called Shia Crescent in the Middle East and the ideological champion of the interests of the beleaguered Shia minority in the Sunni-dominated Muslim world.” This agenda is expressed in Tehran’s active sponsorship of its Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist proxy, which not only operates in Lebanon and conducts cross-border warfare against Israel, but also operates in neighboring Syria where its forces support the beleaguered Assad regime in the country’s protracted civil war.

The second front for Iran’s worldwide ambitions is pan-Islamist in nature, with Tehran’s leaders, spearheaded by Ayatollah Ali Khameini, believing they are fulfilling Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s revolutionary agenda to spread their version of Islam “as the natural ideological leader of the Islamic world and the rightful inheritor of the mantle of the Prophet Muhammad.” This is expressed in Iran’s attempt to establish its own “security condominium” through its activities to dominate geostrategically important Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon,Syria, Iraq, Yemen and others, “thereby becoming the region’s geopolitical center of gravity.”

In its third front, Mr. Berman writes that “the Iranian regime has embraced the language of Third World populism, using it in its efforts to enlist countries [and their local ‘popular’ movements] in Latin America and Africa in a shared revisionist agenda on the global stage.” It is in this front, in particular, where Iran directly threatens the United States, for example, by supporting anti-American regimes such as Venezuela and Bolivia.

Although, overall, the book does a masterful job of deconstructing Iran’s ambitions, Mr. Berman gives too little attention to what actually occurs on the ground. This is particularly the case with his analysis of Iran’s intervention in Syria, where one might disagree with his description of Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad, as “locked in a protracted war against his own people,” since much of the insurgency against his regime is being directed by the Islamic State and al-Nusra forces — which the United States is currently directly opposing, as well. This is not intended to justify the Assad regime’s brutality against the Syrian people, but that the true genocidal nature of the jihadi opposition to the regime needs to be highlighted as well.

What makes Mr. Berman’s book especially noteworthy, however, is his discussion of the dilemmas facing Western countries in their dealings with Iran, namely, whether their “outreach toward Tehran makes good strategic sense.” As he writes, “For nearly a quarter-century, Western capitals have been awash in hopes that, with the proper mix of economic and diplomatic incentives, it might be possible to alter the Iranian regime’s aggressive, revisionist worldview.”

Mr. Berman concludes that “a lasting reconciliation between the Islamic Republic and the West is not in the cards, and for good reason: Western culture and intellectual influence represents a mortal threat to the absolutist, activist political Islam that animates the regime in Tehran.”…the issues raised in Mr. Berman’s book highlight the dilemmas and conflicts that need to be carefully considered in managing the relations between the West and the Islamic Republic.

Joshua Sinai is director of analytics and business intelligence at the Resilient Corporation in Vienna, Va.


August 6, 2015

Wall Street Journal on August 3, 2015, reported on China’s bid to dominate the Western Pacific from a triangle of outposts in the South China Sea, and America’s role in answering it. There are few better vantage points than the deck of the BRP Ramon Alcaraz. Based at what was once the largest overseas base of the U.S. Navy, this frigate and a small number of other Philippine navy ships are working with the U.S. to defend Philippine territory and regional peace. Excerpts below:

Just over the horizon, China grabbed the Scarborough Shoal from Philippine control in 2012. Beijing is betting that American leaders and voters won’t appreciate the military, diplomatic and economic stakes in the conflict over rocks and islands in the South China Sea.

The Alcaraz started life in 1968 as the USCGC Dallas, a Hamilton-class U.S. Coast Guard cutter based in Governors Island, N.Y.

At some 3,250 tons and 378 feet, it is one of the two largest vessels in Manila’s arsenal.

Beijing is building military bases on artificial islands in the South China Sea, some as far as 750 miles from the Chinese coast and well within Manila’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone around Philippine shores. To date, this activity has been limited to the Spratly Islands, in the sea’s southeastern corner, where China has held various reefs and rocks for decades.

Generally overlooked, meanwhile, is Scarborough Shoal, in the sea’s northeast, which China muscled from the Philippines just three years ago. The shoal lies 120 miles west of Subic, and Philippine officials believe China plans to militarize it, too.

Chinese civilian and paramilitary vessels took Scarborough Shoal after a Philippine navy ship (the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, Manila’s other former Hamilton-class U.S. Coast Guard cutter) tried to block Chinese fishermen from poaching in the area. When a standoff ensued, the U.S. helped broker a deal: Both Philippine and Chinese ships would withdraw before an approaching typhoon. But China broke its word and stayed. The Obama administration, facing elections and distraction at home, rolled over.

Three years later, “a great deal of suffering has been inflicted,” Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario tells me. Chinese patrols now keep Philippine fishermen from waters that had sustained them for centuries.

Scarborough Shoal is almost completely submerged at high tide, but controlling it brings important benefits. By running a cordon across the rock formation’s mouth, Philippine officials note, China has captured 58 square miles of territory, including fisheries and any other resources under the surface.

Then there’s what Beijing might do above the surface. Antonio Carpio is a Philippine Supreme Court justice and an energetic advocate for Philippine rights under the international Law of the Sea. Last month he appeared with a Philippine delegation before a United Nations court in the Hague to challenge China’s dubious claim to nearly all 1.35 million square miles of the South China Sea.

Pointing to the map propped closest to his desk, Justice Carpio notes that a Chinese base at Scarborough would, along with existing bases in the Spratlys to the south and the Paracel Islands to the west, give Beijing a triangle of outposts around the South China Sea’s central shipping lanes, through which $5 trillion in trade passes annually.

With such a footprint, Beijing might create an air-defense zone that would threaten freedom of navigation over some of the world’s most important international waterways. Justice Carpio warns that a base at Scarborough could also boost China’s ability to send submarines through the Luzon Strait (between the Philippines and Taiwan) and into the open Pacific Ocean, where they would be hard to detect and possibly able to target the United States.

Mr. del Rosario, the foreign secretary, confirms this concern, as does a Philippine military spokesman. U.S. officials play down the threat but acknowledge that Chinese facilities at Scarborough could at least seek to hinder Philippine and U.S. operations at Subic Bay and nearby Clark air field, in addition to squeezing commercial and military activity at sea.

The view from Subic Bay underscores the danger of China’s nonpeaceful rise.

Mr. del Rosario counters that “the results of this dispute could affect international order.” “Forty-five percent of world trade traverses these seas, so everyone has an interest in terms of freedom of navigation and overflight,” he says. “But the overriding consideration is that the rule of law must prevail.”

China’s preferred principle is might makes right. And if the U.S. and its partners can’t exercise deterrence at spots like Scarborough and the Spratlys, China’s way could undo decades of stability in East Asia.