Opinion

The Great Debate

Addressing China’s ‘soft power deficit’

Xi Jinping (L) met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Feb. 14, 2012.  REUTERS/Jason Reed

As Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares for his landmark summit with President Barack Obama in California Friday and Saturday, the critical mission of improving China’s image in the world could well be uppermost in his mind.

The central challenge that Xi faces here is that China’s soft power – its ability to win the hearts and minds of other nations and influence their governments through attraction rather than coercion or payment – has lagged far behind its purposeful hard power built on its growing economic and military might.

This “soft power deficit” could prove a real headache for the new Chinese president, for there is increasing international concern, suspicion and even outright hostility as China’s global role expands. In the United States, for example, public favorability toward China fell by over one-fifth in one year recently – from 51 percent in 2011 to 40 percent in 2012, according to Pew Research Global Attitudes Project.

At a time of continued economic uncertainty in the United States, issues such as China’s alleged currency manipulation, the mammoth size of the U.S. trade deficit with China and the large U.S. financial debt held by China, not to mention alleged Chinese cybersecurity attacks on American businesses and government offices, has taken its toll on U.S. public opinion.

Petraeus: A loss of real military standards

 The sudden departure of General David Petraeus from the CIA probably tells us more about the state of our nation than it does about Petraeus. President Barack Obama should not have accepted his resignation.

We now seem to care more about the sex lives of our leaders than the real lives of our soldiers. We had years of failed generalship in Iraq, for example, yet left those commanders in place. Petraeus’s departure again demonstrates we are strict about intimate behavior, but extraordinarily lax about professional incompetence.

“A private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war,” Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling wrote in the Armed Forces Journal in 2007.

Obama’s power grab at the Pentagon

President Barack Obama’s decision last week to cut the defense budget by $487 billion over the next 10 years was met with cries of derision from his critics (“inexcusable,” said GOP front-runner Mitt Romney) and shrugs of acceptance from his supporters. The reduction’s two headlines: 1. One hundred thousand troops are being chopped from the Marine Corps and Army; 2. The entire U.S. foreign policy focus will begin to shift from the Near East to the Far East (anxieties about China having replaced—or at least settled alongside—our permanently ingrained fears of Middle Eastern terror). The cuts themselves, though, are less significant as fiscal policy than as a statement about President Obama’s relationship with the Pentagon: Barack is taking it over.

That President Obama wasn’t really in charge of the Defense Department might come as something of a shock. He is, after all, the commander in chief. But considering the size of the nation’s defense apparatus, it shouldn’t. The Pentagon has become the 51st state—America’s largest bureaucracy, employing three times more people than the population of Vermont and Wyoming combined. Its capital is the Five-Sided Puzzle Palace, as my journalist friends fondly call it, where 23,000 work daily. Its other residents are the 3.2 million military, intelligence and civilian personnel who live inside its borderless confines around the globe. And since the attacks of September 11th, the influence of the Pentagon’s constituency has grown exponentially, its budget increasing from $295 billion to $549 billion, sucking up some 54 percent of federal tax dollars.

The Pentagon has found plenty of ways to spend all that cash. In 2011, the DoD blew $20.2 billion on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan, equivalent to the entire NASA budget. There are more members of the U.S. military bands—and more sailors on a single aircraft carrier—than in the State Department’s entire foreign service. Up close, the largesse of the Pentagon is hard to miss as well: When top generals visit a country overseas, they often travel in their own private jets, with an entourage of dozens. Top diplomats fly commercial, business–or first-class, if they’re lucky. (Meanwhile, in Foggy Bottom, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton forbade business-class travel for State officials traveling to Afghanistan in 2010, citing budgetary concerns, department officials have told me privately.)

Iraq, America and hired guns

Here is a summary of America’s future role in Iraq, in the words of President Barack Obama: “Our commitment is changing — from a military effort led by our soldiers to a diplomatic effort led by our diplomats.”

And here is a note of caution about that promised change: “Current planning for transitioning vital functions in Iraq from the Department of Defense to the Department of State is not adequate for effective coordination of billions of dollars in new contracting, and risks both financial waste and undermining U.S. policy objectives.”

Obama’s statement came in an Aug. 2 speech in which he confirmed that by the end of this month, America’s combat role would end. The 50,000 American soldiers remaining in Iraq (down from a peak of almost 170,000) would advise, train and support Iraqi security forces. By the end of next year, the last U.S. soldier would come home.

from The Great Debate UK:

The art of the dying general at 250 years old

generalwolfe1- Carl Mollins is a Toronto-based journalist who has worked at the Toronto Daily Telegram, Reuters (in London), The Canadian Press news service (in Toronto, London, Ottawa, Washington, DC) and Maclean's magazine (in Toronto and Washington, DC). The opinions expressed are his own. -

It was long ago, in 1761, when Pennsylvanian portrait artist Benjamin West moved east—across the Atlantic. Nine years later in England, he looked back west to produce a controversial but renowned portrayal of the death of British General James Wolfe during England’s seizure of Quebec from France 250 years ago, on September 13, 1759.

Attention to the picture persists nowadays, so long since the British soldiers set up what rapidly became complete English control of the Canadian colony. Perennial prints and publication of West’s art and comparable materials are reminders of what launched Canada as a country divided linguistically, in culture and politically, the situation that remains today.

from The Great Debate UK:

Wiwa v Shell: The day of reckoning

Ben Amunwa-Ben Amunwa is a campaigner with oil industry watchdog Platform, where he runs Remember Saro-Wiwa, a project that uses art and activism to raise awareness about the impact of the oil in the Niger Delta. The opinions expressed are his own.-

When the news broke of a settlement in the Wiwa v Shell case, a cacophony of responses soon flooded my inbox. Hailed as a victory for human rights by some, others felt disappointed that Shell could throw money in the face of justice. In such a high profile and emotive legal battle, holding oil giant Shell responsible for human rights abuses in Nigeria, including the execution of charismatic activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, hopes were inevitably high.

A settlement was always going to stir some controversy. Activists wanted to see Shell on trial for aiding and abetting the Nigerian military in crackdowns on the Ogoni people in the 1990s. Myself and many others travelled to New York expecting a trial, but came home empty-handed. Yet none of us had spent hours locked in settlement negotiations, nor lived with the burden of a 12-year litigation, not to mention the personal trauma of losing our loved ones to brutal violence. There is a growing consensus that the settlement is a victory in favor of the plaintiffs, and a step forward on the long road to corporate accountability.

U.S. military giant, diplomatic dwarf?

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate— Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own —

The U.S. armed forces, the world’s most powerful, outnumber the country’s diplomatic service and its major aid agency by a ratio of more than 180:1, vastly higher than in other Western democracies. Military giant, diplomatic dwarf?

The ratio applies to people in uniform (or pin-striped suits). In terms of money, the U.S. military towers just as tall. Roughly half of all military spending in the world is American. Even potential adversaries in a conventional war spend puny sums in comparison. The 2010 defense budget now before Congress totals $534 billion, not including funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. China’s defense budget is $70 billion, Russia’s around $50 billion.giant_dwarf_w350

Killer robots and a revolution in warfare

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

They have no fear, they never tire, they are not upset when the soldier next to them gets blown to pieces. Their morale doesn’t suffer by having to do, again and again, the jobs known in the military as the Three Ds – dull, dirty and dangerous.

They are military robots and their rapidly increasing numbers and growing sophistication may herald the end of thousands of years of human monopoly on fighting war. “Science fiction is moving to the battlefield. The future is upon us,” as Brookings scholar Peter Singer put it to a conference of experts at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania this month.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Garrisons and force protection crowd out other objectives in Afghanistan

- Joshua Foust is a defense consultant who has just spent the last 10 weeks embedded with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He also blogs at Registan.net. Any opinions expressed are his own. -

It is a cliché that, in counterinsurgency, one must be among "the people". In Iraq, the U.S. Army did this to great effect under the leadership of General David Petraeus, moving large numbers of soldiers off the enormous bases and into smaller, community-oriented security outposts. As a result, in densely populated urban areas like Baghdad, an active presence of troops played a significant role in calming the worst of the violence. The Western Coalition forces in Afghanistan, however, face an altogether different problem. Kabul is not Baghdad - far less of Afghanistan's population lives there than in Iraq, and the insurgency is concentrated outside the country's largest urban areas. In many urban areas-Herat in the west, Jalalabad in the east, Mazar-i Sharif in the north-a westerner is far safer in the city itself than out in the countryside.

A rural insurgency is a devil's game. It is difficult for a foreign counterinsurgent force to concentrate itself to maximize effectiveness, in part because the insurgency itself is not concentrated. When there are no obvious population clusters, there are no obvious choices for bases. Bagram Air Base, the country's largest military base, is in the middle of nowhere, comparatively speaking - dozens of miles north of Kabul, and a 45-minute drive from Charikar, the nearest city in Parwan Province. FOB Salerno, a large base in Khost Province, is miles away from Khost City, the province's capital-and the road in between is riddled with IEDs.

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