Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Two Communist Holdouts

Interesting news on the North Korea and Cuban front.

On Cuba, see this excellent talk by CIA Cuban expert Brian Latell on his new book After Fidel. After Fidel as pun meaning who/what comes after Fidel and being "after" Fidel. Latell says his book is the first real biography of Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, and now essentially leader of the island nation.

Raul is head of the military, interior, and communist party machine. He has allowed for fellow trusted generals capitalist enterprise. He will be the transition figure in Cuba's post-communist reality. Raul is a brutal man. It is still and will be a police state, but there will be under him a opening (slowly, very slowly) to capital markets. There will be no rioting, wasn't during Fidel's sickness. What happens after Raul and depending on how long he lives (he's 75) will be interesting. Latell suggests Raul will nominate a civilian to the presidency who will become the public face of Cuba, while Raul runs the operations behind the scenes.

I spent sometime in (for the purposes of what I am abbout to say) undisclosed Spanish-speaking country. During that time I sat in on an event where Cubans, who had been given temporary travel rights out of the country, came to speak about living in a police state. It took a long time, as you can imagine, for these people (mostly young and female) to relate their experiences. To trust that they or their families wouldn't be hurt, that the conversation wasn't being tapped, the room wasn't bugged, they could trust the strangers in the room weren't informers, etc.

And they related some really horrific stuff as you might imagine. It was sad and liberating simultaneously to see them open up with any amount of space.

I say that to make clear I am not naive as to the brutality of what will still exist in this interim period under Raul. He has killed people with his own hands and ordered the executions of many others. At the same time he is known as lovin to his family. Just so Cuba I guess--a police state where people are routinely tortured & murdered and humans have time to be with their loved ones, not everything in that world is totally evil.

But the appartus after years of oppression from within (Cuban Communist ideology) and destructive ignorant policies from outtside (US sanction) is defunct. Leftist romanticism about Fidel and Che is as useless as is something like the Helms Legislation stating that the US policy must be an immediate transfer (after Fidel's death) to democracy for US to recogninze its existence/aid. The party is brutal and it is the only thing in the meantime that keeps the country from devolving into total disintegration (Havana is probably nice in the summertime of a civil war for a terrorist don't you think?)

Raul is deeply impressed by the Chinese and we should expect Cuba in the next 10-15 years to adopt the Chinese model--economic openness/competition along with local elections within the one party system. Raul being Deng to Fidel's Mao.

And speaking of China, check this out. China appoints pro-US ambassador to North Korea. China looks more and more like they get the game. That North Korea is a dead-weight for them and worse a dangerous liability. There real 54-40 or fight line has always been Taiwan. North korea, they can be peeled away from.

The other reason for China to involve itself in the "decapitation" of Kim is to head the American cowboys off at the pass.

The British for example were working on a plan to co-opt Baathist leadership who would instigate a coup against Saddam installing Ayad Allawi (a secular Shia with Sunni links) in place in exchange for the embargo/no fly zone lifted. Still very much an authoritarian regime no doubt, just not a Stalinist type as with Hussein.

The Chinese may consider a similar operation. Getting Kim out of the way and a faceless military tribunal in his place. The Chinese of course do not want any democracy experiments on the doorstep which would result in millions of refugees--which may happen no matter what. The major X factor as I see it in this hypothetical is the truly Stalinist cult of personality that is North Korea. The leader-meme that is the religion of North Korea. North Koreans escaped to the South always have to be mentally de-programmed.

What happens when a nation needs de and re-programming?

What is operable in both these scenarios is that there is a new economic model emerging: state-led capitalism. China, Russia, India, Brazil to a degree. Correlating with that new model is a non-Western/non-American form of moves towards modern rule of law. In hicups fits and starts no doubt.

It is not the state-run hyperinflationry socialist debacles of say Latin America 70-80s. But it is not Anglo-American lassize faire either (nor yet Continental Franco-German-Scandanvian welfare model type).

As well as a notable lack of the Anglo-American style individualistic liberalism. That force was put down at Tianemmen. Way beyond my scope but just some general thoughts: Confucian backdrop versus Western Christian/Enlightenment.

What the US desperately needs to grasp is to not see these new emerging forces as antithetical. China right now is deeply mercantilist and will do business with anyone and therefore has itself allied with all manner of irreputable regimes (e.g. Sudan). So far they don't get much heat because of anti-American animus. But that will change and rather quickly. Particularly as Chinese businessmen are seen less as enablers than exploiters in foreign lands.

The US needs the Chinese already on the ground, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the real end game of the whole operation. The US needs them to further build these markets.

But China is classically the isolated middle kindgom and that heritage plays out as a non-interference, non-ideological foreign policy. They are not looking to impose Chinese-style one party rule on the rest of the world. All they care about is security for other nations to maximize markets, keep trade routes safe and open. And just to recall they are in the midst of the largest human migration in history---from the countrysides to the urban sphere.

That is where the US needs to engage them. Even as to peackeeping roles in foreign countries. Because as soon as they are involved in such operations abroad, the information will spread back home and they will be held to a different standard domestically.

Again all of this long term vision.

What the US lacks, both in left and right discussions, is some definitions as to what is acceptable, what is not in relations to governments that have open-markets but not as free political systems as the US [The US system incidentally is far from universally free, no system is, but is free-r than most]. And the West more generally.

In other words will the US every where and at all times always having to be supporting democracy as the only guiding mission of our nation to the world? Emphasis on democracy.

Asian modernity will not be European-American modernity (politically, economically, culturally)
Islamic modernity will be different than both.

Take Vietnam as an exapmle. Iraq is often compared by Ted Kennedy-types as a quagmire, like Vietnam. The Left sees Iraq as Vietnam and similarly wants us to pull out. The right, on the Vietnam analogy sees in Iraq liberal defeatism, i.e. we always won battles in Iraq but never the war because Democratic congress/American people misled by the media lost the stomach for the fight. I still hear right-wing commentary on how we could have won Vietnam if only we hadn't given up when we did.

All of which assumes the then "loss" is irredemable. Vietnam, due to Chinese influence, is now capitalist. President Clinton toured the country. It is not anywhere near a transparent representive, rule of law system. But it does not pose a threat to the United States. China could wield its influence in North Korea to bring about the same set of scenarios. Which gives time. Time being on "our" side from an evolutionary point of view.

The tendency (not aboslute) of technological and economic connection is towards meritocracy, greater transparency, and cognitive formality (which de-centrates emphasis on local tribal mythic memes).

Will Iraq turn out this way in 20 years? Leftist arguments about how we "lost", quagmire analogies, mistakes of the administration true as to why the future Iraqi government will not more US influenced--rather Iranian (Iran as Vietnma's China). And right leaning arguments about the negative media, loser liberals, still arguing about why we didn't stay longer and win?
That's assuming the US isn't insane enough to start an all out fight with the Shia---big IF--and the US draw down to smaller numbers, less involement and continued presence in Iraq for another decade or so, but maybe at the level of only 30,000 troops or less.

Which again from the long view is what it is. Iraq as a neo-Yugoslvia, the Sunnis as the new Serbs. But from the inside it is extremely painful and brutal. The observer, long view only gives us space/reflective room so the right individuals can meditate on what their role in the actual muck itself is: aid, comfort, bridge-building, skills learning, protection of minorities, labor rights, environmentalism, justice works, etc. etc. etc.

Remember there are in the near-term only a few situations that could derail the globaliztion trend.

1. A US-Iran War
2. North Korea, Taiwan (possibility of resurgent Asian nationalism)
3. Total Dis-integration of Sub-Saharan Africa (Sunni African jihadism). The last of which is the least discussed, the least considered, and therefore the most dangerous in my mind.


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