The Closing of The Weekly Standard Makes Neo-conservatism’s Exile from the Republican Party Official


December 17, 2018

The Closing of The Weekly Standard

For more than two decades, The Weekly Standard was the house organ of neo-conservatism. William Kristol, one of the magazine’s co-founders and the walking embodiment of its politics, was a leading champion of the Iraq War and of Sarah Palin’s rise in national politics.

In  the pre-Trump era, especially during the George W. Bush years, he was a conservative celebrity in Washington and a fixture on Fox News. But Kristol recoiled from the ugliness and political contradictions of Trumpism, and his magazine followed his lead. In the summer of 2016, the day after the Republican National Convention wrapped up, Stephen Hayes, Kristol’s successor as the magazine’s editor-in-chief, published an article titled “Donald Trump Is Crazy, and So Is the GOP for Embracing Him.” On Friday, The Weekly Standard’s corporate owner, Clarity Media Group, decided to shut the whole thing down. The magazine’s employees were told to clear out their desks by the end of the day.

The move came a few days after the first public reports of tensions between The Weekly Standard and Clarity over the magazine’s opposition to the Trump ward shift of the Republican Party.

The magazine’s obstinance stood in contrast to Clarity’s other D.C. media property, The Washington Examiner, which has been friendlier toward the Administration. The New Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells, who wrote about Kristol and Trumpism earlier this year, thinks that the magazine’s closure is the clearest sign yet that neo-conservatism has been cast out of the Republican coalition. “Pillar after pillar of conservatism has collapsed in the face of Trump,” he told me. “But the neocons have been pretty forthright. They stood up and have argued against him.”

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Trump celebrates collapse of The Weekly Standard as the conservative magazine’s reporters lose jobs over holiday season

The question is whether the G.O.P. has any room for dissent at the moment. “Within the conservative movement and the Republican coalition, the degree of orthodoxy, obsequiousness, that this suggests—I think it’s real. I think there isn’t very much space for Trump-critical thought,” Wallace-Wells said. As the publishing industry struggles financially in the Internet age, the closure of any outlet raises questions about business models and sustainability. But small magazines have different economies than daily newspapers or big book publishers. Philip Anschutz, who controls Clarity, has an estimated fortune of eleven billion dollars. “It’s not that there’s not an audience anymore,” Wallace-Wells said. “The reason is just that an owner said, ‘Nope, sorry, I’m not doing this anymore.’ ”

https://www.newyorker.com

 

 

 

 

3 Books About George H.W. Bush’s Legacy


December 8 , 2018

 

 

Newsbook

 

George Herbert Walker Bush, who was president from 1989 to 1993, died on Nov. 30; his state funeral in Washington National Cathedral is today. As memorial services continue throughout the week, many are publicly reckoning with his one-term presidency. Some have praised his statesmanship and decency, while others have criticized his insufficient action during the AIDS epidemic and his role in paving the way for the extreme partisanship of today through campaign methods including an infamously racist ad featuring Willie Horton and aided by his chief strategist, Lee Atwater. Here are three books that discuss his life and legacy.

[Read The Times obituary of President George H.W. Bush.]

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BEING POPPY
A Portrait of George Herbert Walker Bush
By Richard Ben Cramer
192 pp. Simon & Schuster. (2013)

 

Cramer’s original opus was a more than 1,000-page-long accounting of the 1988 presidential election, “What It Takes: The Way to the White House,” in which he delved into the idiosyncrasies and flaws of George H.W. Bush, Joseph Biden, Gary Hart and three other candidates running for the presidency in 1988. In that book, Cramer “set out to write neither campaign history nor political biography,” wrote our reviewer. His main goal was to “examine what leads a person to enter the cement mixer of presidential politics and what happens to him once he does.” “Being Poppy” is drawn from those pages, isolating the story of George H.W. Bush’s candidacy into a slimmer offering.

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THE FAMILY
The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty
By Kitty Kelley
705 pp. Doubleday. (2004)

In this cross-generational family saga, “Kelley reminds readers just how long the Bushes have been with us, sweeping like cattle raiders toward the sources of power.” She opens with Prescott Bush (1895-1972), the elder Bush’s father, and then spends considerable time on H.W. and his namesake son. Kelley depicts George H.W. Bush as “hungrier for power than we remember and willing to do just about anything to achieve it,” said our reviewer, adding that “it is startling to read Kelley’s account of Bush (whose father was relatively progressive on racial issues) campaigning hard against the civil rights movement and calling Martin Luther King ‘a militant.’”

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DESTINY AND POWER
The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush
By Jon Meacham
836 pp. Random House. (2015)

Meacham gained unprecedented access to the Bush family patriarch for this biography, in which he covers 41’s personal life — including the tragic death of his daughter from leukemia as a toddler — as well as his political career. Both of our reviews, though largely positive, wrote that Meacham’s biography was sometimes too forgiving of its subject’s flaws and controversial decisions, such as his nomination of Justice Clarence Thomas. Still, the book broke new ground, particularly in reporting Bush’s criticisms of Dick Cheney, whom he credited for his son’s administration’s harsh rhetoric against foreign nations. “But the pleasures of this panoramic book (it clocks in at 800-plus pages) have little to do with the news it breaks,” wrote our reviewer. “They’re about psychological portraiture, enabled by the artful use of Mr. Bush’s diaries — they’re surprisingly rich — and the author’s many probing interviews with Mr. Bush over the years.”

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A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A3 of the New York edition with the headline: Here to Help; Three Books on the Legacy of George H.W. Bush. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

 

 

Euphemisms in geopolitics


November 29,2018

Euphemisms in geopolitics

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International relations is premised on a handful of theoretical frameworks. They explain how nations relate with one another and provide an understanding of human events that take place around the world. The most familiar of these frameworks is the realist paradigm. Realism is easy to grasp – states behave rationally, and are calculative and egoistic. Realism obscures any state behaviour based on morality.

It is time for Malaysia to articulate its own narrative to describe the reality of geopolitics. We should call a spade, a spade. I applaud Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad for his speech at the recent UN general assembly when he called for nations to recognise Palestine and “stop Israel’s blatant atrocities”. Mahathir did not say “aggression” or “hostility”. Contrary to realist euphemisms, Mahathir re-introduced unambiguous truisms on the world stage. Up till then, the US narrative had dominated, especially since the notorious “undemocratic” 2000 election. What we need now is an alternative global dialogue. The views and aspirations of the developing and third world nations should be given a prominent platform.

The current ambivalent narrative is really an apology for an underlying reality. To put it simply, the ongoing discourse detailing global conflicts has been accepted as normal, even sophisticated. The following are common phrases we read on a daily basis explaining regional unrest. “Pushing back against Iran’s regional ambitions” is one example that appeared in a recent Washington Post article. It described America’s “pushing back” strategy, and Iran’s “ambition”. Another is the headline in a leading Asian weekly. It reads “The China Threat Cannot Be Ignored”. This refers, obviously, to the so-called China “threat”.

Mass media and the academia are overflowing with realist overtones in analysing world politics. We can accept, to a certain degree, that the media uses catchy headlines to attract readership. However, these realist concepts (ambition and threat) hide reality. The world of analysis has instead been dominated by US parlance. A more poignant narrative has to be re-introduced which includes the words “imperialist” and “imperialism”.

21st-century international relations is characterised by fear and distrust. This has resulted in a feeling of insecurity between states. China, for example, invokes feelings of trepidation for many countries in the South China Sea region. Its rapidly expanding navy is considered threatening to many regional states. This feeling is exacerbated by China’s bold economic designs such the Belt and Road Initiative.However, since there is no world government, when one nation accumulates power other countries feel insecure. As a result, they are compelled to do the same. What emerges is a “security dilemma”.Classic realism accepts this as a fait accompli. There is no issue of whether it is right or wrong. It just is. Describing such a situation as a “dilemma” suggests a mood of predicament and difficulty. Due to this security dilemma, all countries are in a state of political conundrum.

The current debate on the international stage suggests constant tension between the powerful and the less powerful, i.e. an asymmetric dilemma. There is tension between equal powers as well, a symmetric dilemma. However, the narrative always avoids what is really at play: abject bullying.Global geopolitics reflects states’ behaviour based on fear, reputation and national interest.

I take issue with the concept “national interest”. Given the current state of international politics, we should be reading more about imperialism as a motivating factor. National interest is the kid gloves that academia and diplomats love to wear. The ongoing Yemen war illustrates my point.We are made to believe that the humanitarian disaster in Yemen is the result of a Sunni-Shia conflict among Muslims. However, it is more complex than that. It is not just about petty Muslims fighting over sects. Since September 2014, the civil war between the Houthi rebels in the north and the Yemeni government has escalated into a free-for-all onslaught by several players. The Arab coalition, made up of nine countries, the US, UK, France and Iran are involved in a proxy war over Yemen. What began as an internal civil war exploded into a complicated web of international intrigues, lies and imperialist aggression.

The Yemen war is not only based on religious grievances. The narrative has failed to highlight economic and political issues. Realism has sustained the discourse which highlights phrases such as “fighting for freedom”, “liberation of the true Islam” and national interest. Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the chaos and launched several attacks on Houthi rebels whom they consider infidels. But this situation does not justify billions exchanged in arms sales between US-led bullies and the coalition of Arab states. The US and Arab bombing campaigns in Yemen have created a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations recognises this but till now remains emasculated. Trade sanctions on Iran are another act of imperialist bullying.US imperialist designs are clear in the events following Donald Trump’s exit in May from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or the Iran nuclear deal).

This resulted in the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran. It was engineered to cripple its economy. European, Japanese and South Korean companies who are heavily invested in Iran are very dependent on the U.S financial system. So they are in a dilemma over whether to pull their businesses out of Iran or face the wrath of Trump.Earlier this year, Japan needed to “seek exemption” from the US in order to continue importing oil from Iran. The tables are turned now as a former imperialist power (Japan) has to seek permission from a neo-imperialist superpower (the US). Japan was worried because putting the brakes on all Iranian oil exports would result in a loss of around 165,481 barrels per day.In August, Iran’s investment contracts with European, Japanese and South Korean banks were suspended. The US had obviously denied Japan’s request. While China and Russia are still committed to their deals with Iran, the rest have halted their interaction. This is classic imperialism at work. Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, yet the US threatens others who continue to uphold JCPOA. Not only is Iran’s access to foreign financial services and facilities targeted, nations who are committed to business deals with Iran are also punished. Financial strangulation has become the imperialistic arm of US power politics.In July, Malaysia reaffirmed support for the JCPOA. Predictably, on September 14, the US treasury imposed sanctions on a Thai aviation company (My Aviation Company Ltd, Bangkok) which was acting on behalf of Iran’s Mahan Air.

The US claims the latter was ferrying troops and supplies into Syria. Mahan Travel and Tourism is based in Malaysia.In response to Trump’s recent bellowing to the UN Security Council (when he said Iran would “suffer consequences”), Mahathir declared that “smaller nations like Malaysia will suffer”. He said “we have no choice and if you do not obey them, they will take action on your banks and currencies”.

It is clear that Malaysia now joins an elite list of nations that are the object of US imperialism.While I offer no concrete solutions to the growing economic and financial war waged by the US, I suggest we re-evaluate how we look at current affairs. The inter-connectedness of the global financial system is the new imperialistic “soft power” weapon. Trump has proven to be the heavy-handed emperor. He has successfully manipulated credible powers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, punishing them for remaining in the JCPOA.Trump is the embodiment of a new archetypical leader popularly referred to as the “strongman”. In reality, the US has reached the pinnacle as an imperial power, par excellence. What Lenin wrote decades ago is now a reality: capitalist competition has transformed into a monopoly; a monopoly of trade, commodities, services and most crucially, ideology.

Mahathir –The Amateur Eugenicist and Equal Opportunities Racialist, Prime Minister, and UMNO Dissident


May 27, 2017

Mahathir Mohamad

Image result for Doctor in the House Mahathir

 

Once one of the world’s most controversial leaders, the 91-year-old is spending his retirement trying to overthrow his successors

Lunch with the FT: Mahathir –The Amateur Eugenicist and Equal Opportunities Racialist, Prime Minister and UMNO Dissident

by Jamil Anderlini@www.ft.com

A “Japanese-style” bakery on the fourth floor of a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur is a curiously nondescript place to be meeting the last of the great Southeast Asian authoritarian leaders. I text a Malaysian friend to tell him where I’m having lunch with 91-year-old Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the autocratic Malaysian Prime Minister for 22 years who, long after he left office, still likes to meddle in politics. The puzzle is quickly solved: “Hahaha, it’s his restaurant!” Apparently it is just one in a chain owned by the man who still likes to be referred to as the “father of vision”.

At exactly 12.30pm, Mahathir himself appears at the top of a nearby escalator, surrounded by his escort of several plain-clothes policemen and dressed in his customary colonial-era grey “bush jacket” with matching trousers. His arrival causes a stir among passers-by in the mall. One even comes into the bakery so she can take a selfie with him. The only people who don’t seem excited are a man and a woman sitting at a nearby table working on laptops. They look to me like Malaysian state security agents. When I ask Mahathir later, he suggests they could be.

“I’m followed everywhere — it has become normal for me,” he says, claiming he is regularly harassed on the orders of the current Prime Minister Najib Razak. Mahathir helped him to power in 2009 — but now works tirelessly to evict him from office.

For more than two decades, Mahathir bestrode the world stage like an Asian colossus, with his fiery speeches on world events and his theory of “Asian values” which emphasised respect towards authority and collective well being above the “western” concept of individual rights. When he stepped down in 2003, Malaysia was seen as a shining example for other emerging markets, having weathered the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s rather better than most of the “tiger” economies.

Where contemporaries such as Marcos of the Philippines and Suharto of Indonesia were toppled in popular uprisings, Mahathir was able to hand Malaysia over power to his anointed successor. His supporters like to point to his victory in five elections, each with a near two-thirds majority, and to contrast this with the current state of democracy. But Mahathir himself persecuted opposition parties and dissidents — and today many believe he is simply unable to relinquish power.

Despite pledging to retire quietly and stay out of politics, he was instrumental in removing his handpicked successor, Abdullah Badawi, and replacing him with Najib. Now Najib is at the centre of global investigations into alleged corruption, involving billions of dollars siphoned out of 1MDB, a state investment fund Najib himself set up. Once again, Mahathir is  the chief critic and crusader. He has even established his own political party in an attempt to topple Najib in parliamentary elections to be held before August next year.

Image result for Mahathir, Badawi and NajibNajib Razak (left), Badawi and Mahathir (right)

“When you have a prime minister who is corrupt, then you can be sure that a country cannot be anything else but corrupt,” he says in a soft, slightly quavering voice. “From a country which was quite well admired as a model of how a developing country can achieve growth, we became known as one of the 10 most corrupt countries in the world — that is how much change took place under Najib.”

We’re sitting in a cordoned-off area at the back of the bakery, surrounded by empty tables. The waiter approaches shyly, clearly in awe of my companion, and asks what we would like to eat. I turn to the proprietor for a recommendation. “I’ve tried most of the things,” Mahathir says, unconvincingly. “I’ll have the chicken tortilla.” Since I’m in Malaysia, I order beef and chicken satay sticks. We both order water — his warm and mine cold.

After training as a medical doctor and several false starts in politics, Mahathir rose rapidly through the ranks of the ruling party on a platform of ethnic Malay nationalism. Named Prime Minister in 1981, he was an unabashedly and increasingly authoritarian leader who was accused of emasculating the courts and constitutional monarchs and of crackdowns on the free press and political opponents. In the late 1990s he had his own deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, jailed on charges of sodomy that many believe were trumped up to discredit a rival and challenger.

Yet for much of our lunch he seems more genial great uncle than ageing autocrat. He chuckles regularly, leavening the impact of his often outrageous opinions. Things become a little tense when I confront him about his legacy, though. Wasn’t it his own concentration of power and his personalisation of politics that paved the way for Najib to act with the impunity he accuses him of?

“Don’t compare me with Najib!” he says with a flash of his famously fiery temper. “I allowed a lot of things to be done — even people to challenge me in my party. Najib expels those people. Anybody who does not agree with him he will expel.”

I start to point out he did the same in his time but he ignores me. “And I don’t steal money. I was happy to live on my salary, which to me was quite substantial, more than enough for my needs.”

Kit Siang and Tun Dr. Mahathir–No longer political foes, how convenient

When I recount this statement later to a diplomat and a western businessman who have had dealings with Mahathir, both react with spluttering laughter. But both also acknowledge that corruption in Malaysia is now far worse than in the past and that Mahathir himself, while sometimes accused of nepotism and corruption, was always more interested in power than money.

As the food arrives I ask him the secret to his longevity. “Everybody asks me that question,” he chuckles again. “It’s nothing very special — I never smoked and I don’t drink and when it comes to eating, I don’t overeat,” he says, while chewing a small mouthful of burrito. “I’m basically a creature of habit — I do practically the same thing every week, every day of every week: I go to the office, I meet people, I write, I read and of course I give lectures.”

He is also an avid user of social media and blogs prolifically against Najib. Have his attitudes to free speech changed since he was regularly named one of the world’s top 10 enemies of the press?

“As a politician I’ve been called all kinds of names. Your enemies, your opponents are not going to praise you — to justify their existence they have to demonise me and I demonise them also,” he says. “Freedom has limits,” he continues, in a statement that could be his mantra. “Free press is not absolute. In this country we say clearly if you start stirring up racial hatred then we will put a stop to it, we might even close down your paper because these things can only lead to a lot of riots and bloodshed.”

An irony of Mahathir’s new life as a dissident is that he has had to form alliances with the parties he once suppressed. When I put this to him, he responds nonchalantly.

“What happened in the past no longer matters; I am prepared to work with them and they are prepared to work with me because we have the same objective — overthrowing the government,” he says.

In contrast to the boom times of the 1980s and 1990s, today Malaysia is often used as an example of the “middle income trap” — where a country reaches a moderate level of prosperity but then struggles to raise living standards further. Its current per capita gross domestic product is just over $10,000 — only one-fifth the level of neighbouring Singapore.

“When I stepped down, the country was well on track to become a developed country by the year 2020,” he says, with some justification. “Of course they [his successors] are quite unable to achieve the objective.”

The economic success of authoritarian governments in Asia was once regarded globally as an attractive alternative to both democratic western capitalism and Soviet-style socialism. Mahathir, along with his rival, the late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, were the strongest advocates of this idea on the world stage. But, in the wake of democratisation in places such as Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan, and in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, autocratic Asian exceptionalism has lost much of its allure.

Today, countries such as Malaysia are often seen as evidence that authoritarian systems are quite well-suited to advancing from agrarian to industrialised economies, but that transforming into an innovative high-tech economy requires more freedoms and protection of the rights of individuals, including freedom of speech and ideas. This matters because of the implications it holds for China — a rising superpower that is only now reaching the level of development Malaysia achieved by the end of Mahathir’s tenure.

Mahathir does not acknowledge the link between freedoms and innovation — “From middle income to move up to higher income is much more easy and possible than from a low income level,” he insists — and, with my attempts to get him to accept some responsibility for the current state of the nation seeming fruitless, I urge him to eat the food, which is getting cold. He picks suspiciously at half his chicken burrito and eats two or three french fries while I chew on the dry and unappetising satay sticks.

We turn to the topic that made Mahathir one of the most controversial figures on the world stage. In preparation for our meeting I have read his 1970 book The Malay Dilemma, in which he comes across as an amateur eugenicist. I wonder if he would like to retract things he wrote, such as that there is “no reason to believe understanding and sympathy are strong Chinese traits”, or infamous anti-Semitic remarks about Jews’ features and their ability to “understand money instinctively”.

I’m expecting him to be embarrassed about or to disavow things he wrote nearly 50 years ago, but no. “Other people, you can criticise them, you can say nasty things about them. . . and nothing happens to you. Why is it that the Jews are so privileged?” he asks. He has, he says, no problem with being described as anti-Semitic.

While Malaysia has almost no Jewish citizens, around a quarter of its population of 30 millon are ethnically Chinese, and prospered under colonial rule but have subsequently suffered from official discrimination. The bumiputra (sons of the soil) affirmative action laws that Mahathir strengthened in office heavily favour Muslim Malays and indigenous tribes people living in Malaysian Borneo, which together make up about two-thirds of the population.

One of Mahathir’s quirks is that he appears to be an equal opportunities racialist. He is highly critical of ethnic Malays for what he perceives as their laziness, poor time management and a penchant for inbreeding.

“Even though you give the contract to a Malay, he’s not able to carry it out and eventually he goes to the Chinese,” he says. “The Chinese are a very dynamic people and despite having to cater to affirmative action the Chinese in Malaysia have done much better than the Chinese in the Philippines, in Indonesia or Thailand, which shows that they are a very resilient people who can survive under any condition.”

It is, though, a testament to Malaysia that it avoided the anti-Chinese violence that occurred elsewhere in the region in the Asian financial crisis. But Mahathir has no doubt that China is the biggest long-term threat to regional stability. “With the changes in [its] leadership, we see more ambitious leaders coming in and maybe they like to flex their muscles a bit and that is very worrisome,” he says. “Without actually conquering the countries they have managed to increase their influence over many countries in Southeast Asia, even in South Asia.”

He also foresees a clash between rising China and the US-dominated world order. “They’re not really communist but they are not democratic; they are inclined towards totalitarianism and obviously this conflicts with western ideas about implanting democracy in the countries of the world,” he says.

By contrast, he dismisses the threat to the region from radical Islamist extremism. “We have evidence that some of the followers of Isis are here [in Southeast Asia] but we don’t regard them as being Islamic fundamentalists or doing all those things because of Islam — it is political,” he says. He blames western meddling and relentless conflict in the Middle East for terrorist activity originating there.

This leads him inexorably to his well-publicised conspiracy theory about September 11 2001. Based on conversations with a janitor from the Twin Towers and on inconsistencies that he argues exist in official accounts, Mahathir insists the attacks on New York and Washington, DC were a “false flag” operation carried out by the US government, or perhaps Israel. He presents me with what he appears to think is his best evidence, namely that Arabs are customarily too disorganised to organise such an attack. “They are not the best of planners as I know,” he says.

I just don’t know where to start with this. So I point again to his pile of cold french fries and suggest he eat more. “No, no I don’t eat much. As I told you I am a small eater, I can survive with little food,” he answers politely.

A small crowd of people gathers in the mall to have their picture taken with him. Most appear to be ethnically Chinese. In a last-ditch attempt to elicit some self-reflection from him I ask for his greatest regret. “Perhaps,” he pauses and his tone turns wistful. “A lot of people told me that I should not have stepped down, so [another pause] sometimes I regret that because I’m not very good at choosing people, choosing my successors or encouraging my successors.”

As he stands up, he shares a final thought. “There were lots of accusations against me of being a dictator and all kinds of things. But I don’t think if I did so many things wrong people would ever want to take pictures with me or shake my hands.”

He walks over to his fans to pose patiently for photos. I look on, wondering how it is that nostalgia for authoritarian anachronisms so swiftly sets in.

Jamil Anderlini is the FT’s Asia editor

The Two Levels of Russia’s South China Sea Policies


March 29, 2017

Image result for asia-pacific bulletin
Number 376 | March 28, 2017

ANALYSIS

The Two Levels of Russia’s South China Sea Policies

by Alexander Korolev
Image result for The Russian Navy in the Asia- Pacific

Russia’s policies regarding the South China Sea (SCS) dispute are more complex than they might seem. Moscow’s official position presents Russia as an extra-regional actor with no stakes in the dispute. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Russia “had never been a participant of the South China Sea disputes” and considers it “a matter of principle not to side with any party.” However, behind the façade of formal disengagement are Russia’s military build-up in the Asia-Pacific region, and the multi-billion dollar arms and energy deals with the rival claimants. These factors reveal that even though Moscow may not have direct territorial claims in the SCS, it has strategic goals, interests, and actions that have direct bearing on how the SCS dispute evolves.

One-fourth of Russia’s massive military modernization program through 2020 is designated for the Pacific Fleet, headquartered in Vladivostok, to make it better equipped for extended operations in distant seas. Russia’s military cooperation with China has progressed to the point that President Putin called China Russia’s “natural partner and natural ally.” The two countries’ most recent joint naval exercise – “Joint Sea 2016” – took place in the SCS, and became the first exercise of its kind involving China and a second country in the disputed SCS after the Hague-based tribunal ruling on China’s “nine-dash line” territorial claims. However, Russia’s relations with Vietnam are displaying a similar upward trend: Russia-Vietnam relations have been upgraded to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” comparable to the Russia-China relationship. Russia and Vietnam are developing joint gas projects in the SCS, and Moscow also is trying to return to the Cam Ranh naval base and selling Hanoi advanced weapon systems that enhance Vietnam’s defense capabilities.

Moscow’s actual behavior, therefore, hardly conforms to the neutrality of its official statements. The simultaneous enhancements of military cooperation with both Beijing and Hanoi – two of the major direct disputants in the SCS – make Russia’s intentions hard to interpret, and require a more holistic framework that encapsulates different levels of Russia’s foreign policy interests. Great powers play multi-level foreign policy games that may overlap in specific issue-areas. For Russia, the SCS issue is where two levels of its policies – systemic anti-hegemonic balancing and non-systemic regional hedging – intersect.

The first level – systemic balancing – is driven by the global power distribution and perceptions of major threats. As a systemic balancer, Russia challenges the US-led unipolarity in multiple ways, as evidenced by its policies in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria. The drive to balance the system leader (the United States) makes Russia seek alignment with China, which, like Russia, also challenges American unipolar dominance and perceives the US “Pivot to Asia” as a major threat to its security. Thus, Russian and Chinese assessments of external threats coincide in that both countries consider US policies – NATO’s eastward expansion in the Russian case and the “Pivot to Asia” in the Chinese case – threatening. The pressure originating from the US-led international system and the resultant incentives to resist it generate a strong bottom line that pushes Russia and China together. From this perspective, the SCS for Russia is a part of a bigger global game that dictates that Russia does not go against China’s interests, but rather provides some tacit, if not open, support.

The second level – regional hedging – is motivated by domestic and regional considerations and materializes in a combination of policies aimed at diversifying Russia’s regional links and averting potential instability that could affect Russia’s economic interests in the Asia Pacific. It also heads Moscow’s commercial desire to profit from energy, infrastructure, and arms deals. By strengthening connections with Hanoi, including arms exports, military-technical cooperation, and joint energy projects, Moscow creates a more balanced power-and-interest configuration around the SCS, and simultaneously diversifies its portfolio of Asian partners, with Vietnam also serving as an inroad to the ASEAN community. This explains why Russia, while not opposing China’s policies, also appears sympathetic towards Vietnam’s concerns in the SCS. The intersection of the two levels creates the intrinsic ambiguity of Russia’s SCS policies.

The main implication of this “two-level game” is that the nature of the SCS dispute for Russia, as well as Russia’s corresponding policy responses, is a variable rather than a constant: the more the SCS dispute deviates from a regional issue of sovereignty into the realm of China-US confrontation, the more Russia’s behavior in the region carries the features of anti-unipolar balancing. Conversely, the less the United States is involved, the more Russia’s policies in the area remain aloof from the system-level balancing and the more likely they are to carry features of regional hedging.

So far, the aforementioned two layers of Russia’s policies in the SCS have worked well without contradicting each other:

Vietnam has benefited from cooperation with Russia not only because such cooperation is valuable in its own right, but also because given the closeness of China-Russia relations, it provides an extra gateway for improving relations with China, which Hanoi values. Unlike relations with the United States, partnership with Russia provides Vietnam with needed access to advanced arms and energy technologies while simultaneously helping to avoid being locked between the hammer and the anvil of China-US competition. Plus, Hanoi has long experience using Russian arms and military equipment.

Russia’s policies also resonate with Beijing’s strategic calculations. While the Russia-Vietnam strategic partnership with its strong military component may look anti-China, in reality it works for Beijing’s interests because it helps to prevent the consolidation of a Hanoi-Washington alliance. While being unhappy about Russia’s arms transfers to Vietnam, Beijing recognizes that a decline or termination of such transfers would result in Hanoi shifting from its current policy of diversifying military contacts, to a stronger lean towards Washington; this shift would close the US-led containment ring around China. Therefore, despite the emphatic resistance against the internationalization of the SCS dispute, Beijing accepts Russia’s greater involvement as well as Russia-Vietnam military cooperation.

Russia, by engaging both China and Vietnam, realizes its regional and global goals. It increases its stake in the Asian balance of power, slows down the US-Vietnam entente, and shapes the SCS dispute so that there is more room for multilateral negotiations. For Russia, maintaining the status quo, however imperfect it is, is better than dealing with a victory of one party over another.

About the Author

Alexander Korolev is a Research Fellow at the Centre on Asia and Globalisation in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, of the National University of Singapore. He can be reached at akorolev@nus.edu.sg.

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Anwar Appeal Loss–Serious Setback for Malaysian Opposition


December 19, 2016

Anwar Appeal Loss–Serious Setback for Malaysian Opposition

Anwar Ibrahim’s December 14 failure of the final appeal to overturn his sodomy conviction and a five-year jail term is regarded by critics as little more than a subterfuge to keep him in prison for at least another 16 months and blocking him from competing in the next general election, which must be held by the middle of 2018.

Malaysia’s opposition believe the next polls are their best chance to unseat Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is mired in a huge financial scandal involving the state-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd. and an unaccounted US$1 billion found in his personal bank account. The US Justice Department in July detailed the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund, which is believed to have lost RM50 billion through theft and mismanagement.

The last time Anwar emerged from prison on what human rights organizations called trumped-up charges of sodomy and corruption was in 2004. He immediately galvanized the opposition, which made dramatic gains against the ruling Barisan Nasional in 2008 elections and won a majority of votes in 2013, although gerrymandering and the first-past-the-post electoral system kept them in opposition.

Hun Sen and Mahathir

The ruling is thus a blow to Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat and a nascent coalition that includes his old boss Mahathir Mohamad. The coalition is showing unexpected strength, particularly in Johor, the home base of ousted former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, analysts say. Mahathir’s new Parti Pribumi Bersatu was formed after the former prime minister was also driven from the United Malays National Organization.

Bersatu, as the party is known, is also showing strength in Kedah, where Mahathir’s son Mukhriz was chief minister until engineered his ouster earlier this year, and in the East Malaysia state of Sabah, the home of Shafie Apdal, who was fired from the cabinet after he questioned where Najib got US$681 million that was deposited in his personal account in 2013.

Rafizi-Ramli

With Anwar in prison and the party’s secretary general, Rafizi Ramli, threatened with prison over violation of the Official Secrets Act, the opposition is mostly in disarray. The rural-based Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, last year split into two camps.  Nonetheless, a political analyst said, if an election is called soon, the scandal could cost an additional 10 or two seats – not enough to dislodge the Barisan, but enough to cost considerable pain.

“You can never underestimate the power of the kampong people,” a source said. “People are suffering. Things are expensive. People live on one meal a day. They are losing jobs. Mamak restaurants – the lowest denominator in the food chain – are closing down. Forget about the glut in high end property. Forget about the glut in commercial space. If interest rates keep rising – as they will with Trump’s proposed spending spree and rising yields of US dollar debt – interest rates here will go up and the property market will collapse. Finally – and I don’t say it with glee – Malaysians are having a real issue filling their stomachs. All the ingredients point towards a Malaysian spring.”

The Barisan has survived a long string of similar predictions of disaster, however, and it is likely to do so again, given its electoral organization and the money to buy votes. With the opposition also in disarray, it is neither a healthy or pretty picture.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the ruling against Anwar, calling it politically motivated and involving trumped up charges in trials that were plagued by fundamental problems in procedure and evidence.

“The Federal Court’s decision which maintains the conviction of Anwar Ibrahim is a real tragedy for justice in Malaysia,” said Phil Robertson, the Southeast Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch. “More than anything, this outcome shows that the Malaysian courts were no match for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s political vendetta against Anwar.

“With this final decision running roughshod over Anwar’s rights and sending him back to prison, Najib and the ruling UMNO party have just fired the starting gun on the expected 2018 election by permanently sidelining the political opposition’s most capable leader,” he said.

Some 400 of Anwar’s supporters gathered outside the cordoned-off Palace of Justice to get news of the ruling but were unsurprised and unfazed when they heard the apex court had rejected the opposition leader’s appeal.

“It is our time we make it matter. We’ll make sure the kleptocrat can never sleep at night,” Anwar’s eldest daughter, the lawmaker Nurul Izzah Anwar, said after she came out of the court building in the country’s administrative capital Putrajaya.

Her kleptocrat comment referred to the United States Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, which referred to a figure called Malaysian Official 1 who allegedly facilitated the 1MDB scandal that saw the state fund go in some US$11 billion in debt.  The US Department of Justice complaint said some of the money was found in the accounts of Malaysian Official 1, whom a minister had confirmed was Najib.

Unanimous ruling

Amnesty International issued a statement naming Anwar a “prisoner of conscience” and said the ruling “raises concerns about the Malaysian judiciary’s independence from political insurance.” The human rights organization said Anwar was “jailed solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, and he must be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Nonetheless, the five-man bench ruled unanimously. In its 62-page decision, the Chief Judge of Malaya Justice Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin said it was a review of Federal Court’s decision and the appellant had raised the issue of miscarriage of justice.

Zulkefli raised the point that Article 128 of the Federal Constitution does not provide the Federal Court to review its decision, thus dismissing Anwar’s application to set aside his sodomy conviction and five-year sentence for sodomizing his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan.

The other three judges present in court were Justice Hasan Lah, Justice Abu Samah Nordin and Justice Zaharah Ibrahim, while the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, Justice Richard Malanjum, was absent as he had to attend a funeral.

On January 9, 2012, the High Court acquitted and discharged Anwar of the sodomy charge on the grounds that the court could not be 100 percent certain on the integrity of samples taken for DNA testing from the alleged victim. The court had ruled that the samples could have been compromised before they reached the Chemistry Department for analysis.

On January 9, 2012, the High Court acquitted and discharged Anwar of the sodomy charge on the grounds that the court could not be 100 percent certain on the integrity of samples taken for DNA testing from the alleged victim. The court had ruled that the samples could have been compromised before they reached the Chemistry Department for analysis.

However, the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court judgment and found Anwar guilty of sodomizing Saiful and held that the trial judge had erred in his findings about the samples which were based on the evidence of two expert witnesses called by the defense.

The Federal Court said it upheld the conviction and the sentence imposed by the Court of Appeal after taking into consideration the seriousness of the offence and Anwar having allegedly taken advantage of his position as the employer of a young victim.