Shadow Government

Early thanksgiving for election day

Tomorrow is election day. It brings -- at last -- an end to this exhausting campaign season. A respite that I'm sure President Obama and Gov. Romney welcome more than anyone. By this point just about everyone who cares in the outcome has had their chances to pontificate, contribute, mobilize, volunteer, and otherwise do their part for their chosen candidate. Our crew here at Shadow Government has expressed our opinions.

Many have observed that this is one of the most consequential elections in recent American history, and I don't disagree. There are not just two candidates competing but two different visions over the American future, and fundamental questions such as whether our nation can still be a place of opportunity, enterprise, aspiration, upward mobility, and limited yet effective government. But without downplaying the gravity of tomorrow's vote, here I want to pivot away from any last minute campaign interventions and instead reflect on this moment in the life of our nation - at once still young yet also the oldest constitutional republic in the world. History and geography both offer some welcome perspective and, I hope, reassurances for all Americans.

First, let us take pride in but never take for granted the fact that whichever candidate loses will honor the will of the electorate. Every time an incumbent American president is defeated, he willingly steps aside and permits the greatest peaceful transfer of power in world history. Every time a challenger loses to an incumbent, he accepts the result and submits to the authority of his president. Even the most fervent partisans on both sides will appreciate that should President Obama lose, he will graciously relinquish power to President-elect Romney. And if Gov. Romney loses, he will graciously step aside and honor President Obama's second term. Americans don't have to worry about the defeated candidate mobilizing a militia of tanks in the streets, or riots in the cities, or secession. (Sure, Florida in 2000 wasn't pretty, but the fact that it was peacefully resolved further reinforces this point).

Second, while the consequences of this election are substantial, they are not existential. Our nation's current trials are severe, but we have been through worse. This is not 1796, when the question of whether our republican experiment in ordered liberty would endure was answered by George Washington's willingness to step aside and allow an election for his successor. This is not 1860, when secession and war loomed, and the nation's very existence was in peril. This is not 1940, when world war approached. And this is not any of the Cold War elections, when Americans voted not just for the man who would preside over their economy but also over the launch codes and contest with the Soviet Union that threatened global apocalypse.

Third, the very fact that we can vote and choose our leaders is a blessing that many in the world today do not know. Two days after our presidential election, the Chinese government will also begin to transfer power from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping - an outcome that is foreordained, and that 1.3 billion Chinese citizens will have no say in. Russia held its own stage-managed election earlier this year, when the only uncertainty was the final numbers in the manufactured margin of Vladimir Putin's coronation. Some 35,000 Syrian citizens have been killed by their own government for their efforts to demand accountability of their rulers and a voice in their nation's future. Many Iranians risked (or even sacrificed) their lives for the same thing in 2009. The freedom we have in the United States to choose our own leaders and know that they will honor the democratic process "has been bought with a price," to invoke the biblical phrase. Let us honor it, and be thankful, as we vote this election day.


Shadow Government

Why the Japan-China Senkaku dispute is the most explosive issue in Asia

While there is no scarcity of trouble in the Sino-American relationship, special attention should be paid to the unfolding Sino-Japanese contretemps over the Senkakus (which China and the Republic of China call the Diaoyutais). During the last few years the bulk of Washington's attention has been focused on disputes between China and Vietnam and China and the Philippines. Obviously, these are important. Manila is a treaty ally, and Vietnam is a potential strategic partner. In both cases we have dual interests in de-escalation and in helping the two countries stand up for their rights and interests.

But Japan is different. It is arguably Washington's most important ally. A successful Asia strategy is impossible without a strong alliance with Japan. Japan's location makes it essential to any U.S. military operation in Asia. Its strength and resilience make it a reliable partner. Its shared sense of interests and values cement our bond. And, Japan is still a very strong and militarily capable country.

China's incessant incursions into Japanese and disputed waters, and its bullying and badgering of Japan over the Senkakus, have prompted an unproductive nationalist response among some politicians in Japan. But it is Beijing that has created a vicious cycle. Its provocation leads to nationalism. Japanese nationalism in turn sparks strong emotions among the Chinese people. But the Chinese Communist Party also looked the other way as Japanese businesses in China were ransacked and boycotted.

While the United States affirmed that the U.S.-Japan treaty covers the Senkakus, there still is a disagreement between Washington and Tokyo over who has sovereignty over the islands. This disagreement dates back to the 1970s and is yet another manifestation of the careless and rushed way in which Washington handled its normalization with China.

Japan feels isolated, and cannot understand why Washington remains neutral over this sovereignty dispute. Japan has a point. The United States has dined out on a neutral stance -- falling back on apathy toward the outcomes of territorial disputes throughout Asia, as long as they are "resolved peacefully" -- for a long time. This position was reasonable enough when China was weak and unable to press its claims, but those days are over. Is the United States really agnostic about the outcome of territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas? Of course not. It does not want conflict, but neither does it want China to control territories that sit along important sea lanes.

Washington also wants to side with its allies. The time has come to assess how we really want the various sovereignty disputes in key waters to be resolved. The assessment should be based both on calculated geostrategic interests as well as the interest we have in supporting friends and allies.

The Sino-Japanese dispute may be the most important test for the United States in Asia in the coming year. The tension between two very powerful countries shows no signs of abating. Japan will not back down from its sovereignty claim. In this case, Beijing is playing with fire. While ambiguity is sometimes necessary, the need for clarity from the United States is pressing. As China challenges the established order -- one that has kept the peace in Asia for three decades -- the United States must take the lead in defending that order. That means standing by an ally. Perhaps even more daunting, it also means the time has come to define our preferred outcomes in territorial disputes between China and our friends.

SAM YEH/AFP/GettyImages