Shadow Government

China's ADIZ Escalation: Brace for the New Normal

China's unilateral declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over waters and islands claimed and administered by both Japan and South Korea has prompted protests from Washington, Tokyo, Seoul, Canberra, Taipei, and other regional capitals. Statements by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel asserting that Beijing's announcement will have no impact on U.S. operations were appropriate. The decision to fly two B-52s from Guam through the area was also a necessary demonstration that U.S. deeds would match U.S. words.

What comes next is also important, though. First, the administration must take a clear-eyed view of why Beijing took this provocative step. It is possible that the Chinese were responding to Japanese public debate about the right to shoot down Chinese drones if they hover over the disputed Senkaku Islands (called the Diaoyu Islands by the Chinese and seen in the photo above). It is possible that the move was a nationalist play by Chinese President Xi Jinping to consolidate conservative control for economic reform measures after the Third Plenum. But it's also possible -- I would argue probable -- that the ADIZ comes out of a playbook developed by China's Central Military Commission under Xi's supervision that anticipates and is readying for confrontation with Japan and other maritime states in the East and South China seas. The People's Liberation Army's new "Near Sea Doctrine" and Xi's recent statement that the PLA must be ready to "fight and win wars" need to be looked at in a new and much more serious light. This is not a one-off, but part of a long-term Chinese strategic view toward the offshore island chains in the Pacific that must be recognized as a major challenge in Washington.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will not be able to ignore this issue when he travels to Japan, China, and South Korea next week, of course. His message in Tokyo must reinforce the U.S. commitment to Japan and dissuade China, including explicitly reiterating that Article V of the U.S.-Japan security treaty applies to the Senkakus. In Beijing he should not expect Xi to reverse the ADIZ announcement, nor should he legitimize the ADIZ announcement by discussing how it might be safely implemented. Instead, he should make clear that China has overplayed its hand and then encourage Xi to think about how to undo the damage to Chinese interests. This message will be far more credible if the administration is coordinating regional responses so that the array of opinion against China is unmistakable.

The United States has many areas of mutual interest to address with Beijing, ranging from Iran to North Korea, but this most recent provocation will require sustained effort beyond the appropriate and necessary statements and deployments of U.S. military assets we saw this week.

Photo: JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

Memo to Ben Rhodes: The Bush Administration Ended 5 Years Ago

Commenting on last weekend's Iran deal, today's New York Times reports:

White House officials suggest that the president always planned to arrive at this moment, and that everything that came before it -- from the troop surge in Afghanistan to the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden -- was cleaning up after his predecessor.

Let's consider that claim. Is it really credible that the last five years of American diplomacy have been little more than a mopping-up operation by Team Obama of its predecessor's mistakes? According to presidential aide Ben Rhodes, for whom the 2008 campaign never ended, the answer is apparently yes:

"In 2009, we had 180,000 troops in two wars and a ton of legacy issues surrounding terrorism," said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. "So much that was done out of the box was winding down those wars. We've shifted from a very military face on our foreign policy to a very diplomatic face on our foreign policy."

Set aside the fact that, during George W. Bush's administration, the United States was attacked on its soil for the first time since Pearl Harbor by a terrorist network that continues to actively target the American people -- events now known as "legacy issues surrounding terrorism."

If President Barack Obama wants his diplomacy to be judged against that of his predecessor, it is worth an honest look at Bush's own scorecard. It certainly included its share of stumbles and setbacks. But set aside the ideological blinkers, and it appears that the Bush administration conducted some rather credible diplomatic footwork. This included:

  • Assembling a coalition of 50 countries for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan
  • Assembling a coalition of 49 countries for the war in Iraq
  • Working with allies to induct seven new members from Central and Eastern Europe into NATO in 2004
  • Standing up a Proliferation Security Initiative bringing together approximately 100 countries to halt the illicit trade in nuclear weapons components
  • Negotiating and enacting 13 bilateral trade agreements, as well as concluding two more, with South Korea and Colombia, approved by Congress after Bush left office
  • Breaking open a far-reaching strategic partnership with India by successfully negotiating an unprecedented approval for India's civilian-nuclear trade with the 35-nation International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.

It would be unfair to Obama to benchmark against eight years of his predecessor's diplomacy when he has had only five -- particularly given the historical trend of second-term presidential activism in foreign policy. But American statecraft under Obama has seemed mainly to involve delivering a set of well-written speeches while pivoting toward America's adversaries and away from its friends.

Obama's diplomatic record is patchy, to put it mildly. It includes:

  • Failure to negotiate a follow-on force agreement with the Iraqi government in 2011, leading to the total withdrawal of U.S. forces and Iraq's descent into political violence
  • Impending failure to negotiate a follow-on force agreement with the Afghan government, which as in Iraq could lead to the squandering of a decade's worth of sacrifice at considerable detriment to U.S. interests
  • A diplomatic "reset" with Russia that has freed that country to directly undermine U.S. interests by arming Bashar al-Assad's regime, blocking sanctions against both Syria and Iran at the U.N. Security Council, blackmailing Ukraine into walking away from the path to Europe, and deepening the Russian army's occupation of Georgia
  • A self-declared "pivot" to Asia that has left many of America's friends and allies in the region doubting whether the commitment of resources and high-level attention matches the country's rhetoric
  • A sleepwalking approach to the Arab Awakening that has accomplished the neat trick of alienating both allied Arab regimes and the Arab street, earning America even more enmity (if that was possible) across the political spectrum in pivotal countries like Egypt
  • A diplomatic agreement on Syria that transformed Assad from the target of military attack to a partner in peace even as his army continued killing his fellow citizens, making a mockery of American "red lines" and leaving America's allies incredulous
  • A diplomatic agreement with Iran that does little to diminish its latent nuclear capacity or its state sponsorship of terrorism, producing the sharpest break in American relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia in a generation.

Bush's critics at home and abroad charged his administration with contempt for allies, undue deference to China's authoritarian rulers, and naiveté in seeking a disarmament deal with North Korea. Obama's critics at home and abroad charge his administration with contempt for allies, undue deference to Russia's authoritarian ruler, and naiveté in seeking disarmament deals with Iran and Syria. Maybe not so much has changed after all, Mr. Rhodes.

Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images