Monday, May 4, 2009

The Chiran Threat

Hillary Clinton has long been known as one of those people who has no “internal editor” with which to sort things out before she expresses them out loud. She always says exactly what's on her mind – even if that makes her sound like she's _out_ of her mind, like the howler about dodging bullets in Bosnia. And all of this, in turn, made it seem a bit startling when she was selected, by Barack Obama, to occupy the highest diplomatic post in the country. If there is one thing diplomats are known for – other than being “high born”, having an elite education, being immaculately dressed and coiffed, and not being the brightest lights on the tree, it's never – but never – saying what they really think (or, in the event they're not thinking, which is highly likely, to never admit it).

But there's a hidden plus to all this, which is that, in the arcane, murky world of diplomacy and international affairs, it is usually impossible to get a straight answer about anything. But with someone like Hillary at the helm, we can count on the occasional random, impulsive statement falling from her lips like a dead bird falling from a tree – and when it does, we might gain some actual insight, in spite of the best efforts of the diplomatic community, into what is really going on. A recent example is Hillary's statement about increasing Iranian and Chinese influence in Latin America. Well, to begin with, what are Iran and China doing mucking around in Latin America anyway? Haven't they heard of the Monroe Doctrine? But in any case, she is quoted as saying they have made “quite disturbing” gains in the region, as a result of – guess what – Bush administration policies. Here, at last, is some recognition of the Law of Unintended Consequences. (But don't expect anyone to apply it to current Obama administration policies.) So Iran and China are building “very strong economic and political connections” down there, taking advantage of the vacuum created by our attempt to isolate Venezuela and Cuba in particular. This, in the way of defending the Obama administration's more proactive approach – which, as I just said in a previous post, I basically agree with.

But here's what's interesting. She more or less paints a picture of China and Iran acting as a team – or at least symbiotically. And this statement, rather than causing the diplomatic community to all nod in agreement, has apparently caused some dismay. “Several experts [sic] on Latin America said they were puzzled that Clinton would group the countries together, given that Iran is seen as a security threat while China has focused on economic ties.” Well, to begin with, it's just possible that Hillary has made her own assessment of the situation and realized that Iran is about as much of a “security threat” to the U.S. as Mali is. On the other hand, she knows all about China's “economic ties”, since she was a key player in their infiltration, er, occupation, er, “aquisition of trade resources” in places like Long Beach, California. And the “experts” regard China as, at this point, extremely careful to maintain at least a normal working relationship with the U.S. -- the reason being (my words, not theirs) that China is scared shitless that one more shove is going to send our economy into the biggest cesspool of all time, and they'll be stuck with a very large pile of worthless paper. Iran, on the other hand, would like nothing more than to see the U.S. rendered weak and helpless, and therefore unable to continue its support of Israel or to act as Israel's surrogate in the Near East.

So with these dramatic differences in motivation and agenda, why would Hillary lump the two together? I imagine it's because she knows something the rest of us don't know, and that the rest of the administration would rather not think about, namely that in the long run Chinese and Iranian interests are, indeed, quite compatible. To begin with, it's fairly clear that Iran is China's leading surrogate in the Near East, which means that any enemy of Iran's is an enemy of China's, and that means Israel. So China chooses to expand its own (mostly economic, but potentially military) empire either directly or through its surrogate – and just as we do, the tactics change depending on which it is. China uses a relatively “soft”, gradual, non-threatening, economic approach when it's operating under its own flag, but it gets much more militant, assertive, and radical when it can send its crazy, out-of-control surrogate out ahead like a point man. We ought to understand this strategy since we use it all the time ourselves! In fact, it's the soul of diplomacy – you do “jaw jaw” and “war war” (Churchill's terms) in alternation, or simultaneously, as the situation requires. What has the experts “puzzled” is that Hillary has – inadvertently, of course! -- spoken the truth, or at least “a” truth.

Of course one might question the real danger represented by, for example, a new Iranian embassy in Nicaragua. One might question the need for _any_ Iranian embassy in Nicaragua, for that matter – but really, in the scheme of things, how much of a hazard to our interests does this represent? Iran is hapless enough on its own turf; how is it supposed to have any mastery over anything in Latin America? But the fact that they are down there is an irritant, and simply being an irritant is good enough for starters, when you're Iran or some similar place. They get to make friends and influence people right up to the Rio Grande, while we continue to throw our weight around with things like the “War on Drugs”, which is only of interest to the Latin American governments that we bribe enough to get them interested. Economically, China is best off if we're neither prosperous nor dead – just chronically ill. And anything that stimulates us to keep up the “War on Terror” -- which is really just a war on our own feverish imaginings – helps to accomplish that purpose.

No, think of it as a chessboard, with China as the black queen and Iran as – oh, let's say, one of the black knights. That combination can really make you crazy, especially in the middlegame -- and Hillary, to give her credit, realizes this. Not only that, but she's let it slip. We now have official acknowledgment, from “the highest levels”, that China and Iran are the terrible twosome... and this time I don't think it's anyone's imagination, like the “Axis of Evil”. I think they really are ganging up on us – finding and exploiting all of our many Achilles' heels... and giving Hillary a chance to justify her position to boot!

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