Chinese Democracy

by Henry on March 2, 2007

“Brad DeLong”: on China and Jeff Faux:

In general, we have a choice between policies. We can eliminate or sharply restrict trade with an odious regime–as we do with Cuba–in the hope that it will put pressure on it for reform. We can encourage the maximum possible trade with an odious regime–as we do with China–in the hope that the more economic, cultural, and political contact there is the more we strengthen the forces over there that we like. Which of these policies we follow will have impacts on domestic income distribution–but much smaller impacts than do our educational, social insurance, and tax policies which do much, much more to move wealth and opportunity down or up the American income distribution. I tend to be on the side of free trade abroad and social democracy at home. But I am not sure that I am right. I am sure, however, that painting the issues as Davos plutocrats (and their water carriers) and commissars-turned-capitalists on one side and America’s working people on the other doesn’t move us forward at all.

I don’t agree with Brad that ‘painting the issues as Davos plutocrats … doesn’t move us forward at all.’ The consonance between mainstream political opinion on China and the interests of American businesses hungry for access to the Chinese market surely reflects in part the efforts of think tanks and politicians who depend on aforementioned businesses for funding and donations. But I do agree that there’s more to the story. The most interesting piece I’ve read on this recently is James Mann’s “long article”: (behind paywall) in the current issue of _The American Prospect_.

Mann’s piece is an extract from a forthcoming book, where he argues that U.S. officials “carry out policies based on premises about China’s future that are at best questionable and at worst downright false.” Simply put, he sees little evidence that China is ever going to liberalize its internal politics. The conventional wisdom is that increased trade with China will push China to ease up on domestic internal repression and perhaps eventually become a democracy. According to Mann, this became instilled as part of the US government consensus during the Clinton administration, when Clinton wanted cover for his decision not to use trade as a lever to improve human rights in China, and fixed upon the policy of “integration” and unrestricted free trade with China as an alternative. It was politically convenient rather than true (I’d be interested to read Brad’s response to this claim based on his time in the administration; I suspect that he disagrees strongly).

Mann says it is completely unclear how integration is supposed to lead to political freedom in China. This is a bit unfair – there is a widely accepted argument in the political science literature on the topic that economic growth plus a strong middle class make the transition to democracy more likely, and more easy to sustain when it happens. Still, it’s far less clear whether outside action is likely to help this happen or not. The best cases of democratic transition aided by strong external economic ties are arguably Spain, Portugal and Greece in the 1970s, and several countries in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s. In both cases, the key variable wasn’t so much integration into the global trade regime, as strengthening ties (and eventual integration) with an international structure (the European Union) that has both economic and political dimensions.

This leads to the second, and in my opinion, stronger, part of Mann’s argument. He claims, with some justification that the full integration of China into the world trading system is undermining international norms that would otherwise promote democratic transitions.

Will it have been a success for the U.S. policy of integration if, 30 years from now, the world ends up with a Chinese regime that is still a deeply repressive one-party state but is nonetheless a member of the international community in good standing? If so,l that same China will serve as a model for dictators, juntas, and other undemocratic governments throughout the world — and in all likelihood, it will be a leading supporter of these regimes. Pick a dictator anywhere today and you’ll likely find that the Chinese regime is supporting him. It has rewarded Robert Mugabe, the thug who rules Zimbabwe, with an honorary professorship, and his regime with economic aid, and, reportedly, new surveillance equipment. … If China maintains its current political sysem over the next thirty years, then its resolute hostility to democracy will have an impact in places like Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia. … Thus, when America’s leading officials and CEOs speak so breezily of integrating China into the international community, listeners should ask: If China remains unchanged, what sort of international community will that be? Will it favor the right to dissent? Will it protect freedom of expression? Or will it simply protect free trade and the right to invest?

This is something that I’ve been worrying about for a while. The argument that more free trade etc are necessarily going to promote political liberalization doesn’t have much empirical evidence to my knowledge to support it. It’s a version of what Albert Hirschman calls the _doux-commerce_ thesis. It may be true, but equally, it may not. There’s a second argument – that integration into an international community which involves both economic _and_ appropriate political norms promotes democracy – which seems to me to have somewhat (but only somewhat) better empirical support. If you care about the spread of democracy, integrating China into the world trade regime without any political conditions attached is a bet that the first argument is right. It’s also a bet that a powerful autocracy well-integrated into the global economy isn’t going to use its position to disrupt efforts to apply economic pressure to nasty regimes. I’m more convinced by the second argument, which suggests that integration of non-democratic states into the world economic regime should go hand-in-hand with political commitments. Ideally, these would start with increased labour standards (specifically: protection of the right to organize, which is a key element of the creation of an independent civil society) and gradually work out from there to a broader set of political commitments. This certainly isn’t an easy populist solution, because it suggests that countries which are willing to make these commitments should be given full access to free trade, and ideally rather fuller access than they have under the current multilateral regime (the arguments that we’ve had in “comments threads”: about Turkey and the EU are relevant here). But it seems to me the right call.

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03.03.07 at 1:34 am



Brad DeLong 03.02.07 at 5:53 pm

All right, all right, it moves us forward a teeny-weeny-weeny-teeny-weeny bit…


Daniel 03.02.07 at 5:54 pm

I demand that this post is retitled “Chinese Democracy“. In related news, Jamie makes a couple of good points about the potential effects on us and our money if China does become a democracy.


Brad DeLong 03.02.07 at 5:56 pm

So, Henry, you approve of the trade embargo against Cuba until it allows private property, the formation of unions, and multi-party elections?




Hidari 03.02.07 at 5:56 pm

‘its resolute hostility to democracy’.

As opposed to whom, precisely?


engels 03.02.07 at 5:58 pm

I second #2. And I further demand that Harry’s minimum income post below be entitled The Notorious B.I.G..


A. Y. Mous 03.02.07 at 6:03 pm

>> If you care about the spread of democracy,

I don’t. And a goodly lot us don’t. But, we don’t have a choice, do we?

>> I’m more convinced by the second argument, which suggests that integration of non-democratic states into the world economic regime should go hand-in-hand with political commitments.

Why? Can’t you just pay (or get paid) for goods and services and be done with it? After all, the converse worked out well for the west. Political influence without commensurate economic advantages.


Alex R 03.02.07 at 6:16 pm

I learned a new term today: the “doux-commerce thesis”. It’s a thesis that I agree with, if I understand it, except that I believe that it applies much more to possible violent conflict between the trading partners than internal repression within any trade partner.

In other words, strong trade ties between China and the rest of the world may or may not promote political liberalization within China. But they very strongly discourage armed conflict between China and the rest of the world — too many people inside and outside of China have too much to lose. (You could call it the “make-money-not-war” thesis.)

As China grows in economic and military power, I don’t think one should discount this as a benefit of open trade, or as a potential cost of weakening trade relationships…


abb1 03.02.07 at 6:27 pm

This post is a joke, right?


Larry M 03.02.07 at 6:29 pm

Let’s see, which nation is a bigger supporter of represive non-democratic regimes – China or the United States?

I mean, it isn’t really even close. The world would be a FAR better place if China was relatively more powerful internationally, and the United States less powerful.


Grand Moff Texan 03.02.07 at 6:40 pm

I am sure, however, that painting the issues as Davos plutocrats (and their water carriers) and commissars-turned-capitalists on one side and America’s working people on the other doesn’t move us forward at all.

OK, we’ll just talk about that elsewhere, shall we?

Actually, it’s silly to paint Davos as so exclusive (as was done in the 2004 election). If Davos is so exclusive, why are there so many cheap package deals going there from the UK? Next you’ll be telling me Acapulco is a hip-hop-happening joint.


Steve LaBonne 03.02.07 at 7:45 pm

The world would be a FAR better place if China was relatively more powerful internationally, and the United States less powerful.

Well, you’ve got to hand it to Bushco, their feckless squandering of military and financial assets has brought that day measurably closer.


Rich Clayton 03.02.07 at 8:37 pm

Not really disagreeing with you Henry, but has the political science literature on the democratizing consequences of economic growth really reached on consensus on the “growing middle class” thesis? My impression was that there is still some debate over the relative importance of genuinely “middle class” (professionals, small business owners, etc.) demands for democratization as opposed to working class organization. My sense is that for most cases of democratization, the evidence lends better support to the latter: ie that to the degree economic growth creates conditions conducive to worker organizing, the resulting organizations (unions and labor parties) push for and increasingly have the leverage to get democratization.

As I say, this is not to dispute anything in your post, so much as to point out that the failure of the US et al to incorporate the ILO core conventions in an enforceable way into (nearly all) trade agreements is itself a major reason why China’s economic liberalization may not generate political liberalization.


radek 03.02.07 at 9:04 pm

there is a widely accepted argument in the political science literature on the topic that economic growth plus a strong middle class make the transition to democracy more likely, and more easy to sustain when it happens

To second Rich Clayton above, the most obvious counterexample is Singapore. In fact it could be that economic growth is just used to “buy off” the middle class and the poor – get them to put less pressure on the government to democratize. Of course at least one necessary condition for this to be the case is that the growth trickles down to the masses and is not coopted by the party elites. But China (like Singapore before) seems to have been at least partly succesful at this, as evidenced by the emergence of the middle class itself.

And the post above about the world being a better place under Chinese rather than US leadership… oof… that’s when I wanna get my flyswatter out.


abb1 03.02.07 at 9:22 pm

China’s international behavior recently has been so much better – remarkably better – than that of the US, that the idea of a two-party system being somehow superior to one-party system seems completely ludicrous. Go ask around whose regime most people feel is more odious.


Steve LaBonne 03.02.07 at 9:27 pm

that’s when I wanna get my flyswatter out.

I take it that’s what you use in lieu of an argument, when you’re fresh out of the latter?


radek 03.02.07 at 9:31 pm

No actually it’s what you use to swat flies.


Larry M 03.02.07 at 9:35 pm

Well, you’ve got to hand it to Bushco, their feckless squandering of military and financial assets has brought that day measurably closer.

That is the only silver lining from the last 6 plus years.


Henry 03.02.07 at 9:50 pm

dsquared – title changed, as per popular demand.

Brad – I’ve no principled objection to sanctions against Cuba to bring about democracy. Cuba isn’t the worst dictatorship in the world by any stretch, but it’s still a dictatorship, and one that isn’t particularly pleasant to live in. I get the sense though that the current US sanctions regime is less about democracy, and more about restoring property to the oligarchs who got kicked out way back when, which is something that I’m disinclined to support meself, for obvious reasons, but I blogged about my opposition to the “EU’s decision to end sanctions against Cuba and contacts with the opposition”: a couple of years ago; this seemed to me to be pretty cynical.

larry m, I don’t know what planet you’re living on, but it doesn’t bear much resemblance to mine.

Rich, radek – fair enough – I should have said something like “there’s fair support in the literature for this argument, but some countervailing points of view too.” Must dig out Przeworski and Limongi’s survey article, which I remember as being the best summary of the literature, albeit somewhat out of date now … The most interesting recent take on this is the Acemoglu and Robinson book, which I would like to do a review of one of these days when I have time and have sorted out my thoughts on it.


abb1 03.02.07 at 10:07 pm

Dictatorship plutocracy is better than two-party bait-and-switch plutocracy because at least it’s honest: you know for sure who to hate and don’t end up hating half of your fellow countrymen – a neat way to absolve the plutocrats in power of almost any responsibility and pressure.


radek 03.02.07 at 10:08 pm


the Przeworski article you might be thinking could be this:
(democracy not more likely with higher per capita income, the history of the stability of regimes matters)

or possibly this:
(only reason democracies have higher growth is because they tend to have slower pop growth)

I’m reading the Acemoglu and Robinson book right now and it is really realy good, though it takes’em a while to get going (at the beginning it seems like they haven’t made up their mind whether they want the book to be for a popular audience or for people with some background in the area).

There though it’s about cost of repression, inequality, the ability to coordinate a challange to the regime, middle class, how much of the economy is land based and most importantly the committment problem on the part of the elites in ensuring a more equal income distribution.
I think China though may be in a similar position as Singapore – low repression costs, the gov has solved the committment problem (through sustained broad based growth over the last two decades). The factors which could push for democratic pressures would be a growing middle class (but the effect of this is ambigous), the heavy reliance on land (but that has been partially solved) and perhaps growing inequality (but this paper

argues that inequality may not be growing as much as you’d think).

If there’s political pressures for a regime change (not necessarily for a democracy, but just the allocation of political power between various interest groups) it will probably come from the difference in goals/outcomes of the rural vs. the urban.


radek 03.02.07 at 10:10 pm

The Przeworski article I linked to above is essentially a follow up to the Limongi and Przeworski article Henry mentions.


Larry M 03.02.07 at 11:23 pm


Hmm. Let’s try some metrics (in each case we are comparing the United States to China):

(1) Which nation gives more military aid to Undemocratic nations?
(2) Which nation gives more economic aid to Undemocratic nations?
(3) Which nation has more military bases in Undemocratic nations?
(4) Which nation has more troops in Undemocratic nations?
(5) Which nation is responsible for more causing more deaths outside their own borders over the past 30 years?
(6) Which nation has engaged in more agressive wars over the past 30 years?

I’ll admit that the last two aren’t strictly related to the question of support of “spead of democracy,” but on the broader question which nation is doing more harm in the international arena.

And I’ll certainly concede that domestically the United States is a far freer place, but then that isn’t the issue at hand.

But what’s truely depressing is the large number of people who “get it” with regard to the monstrosities of the Bush administration, but still believe in the United States “spreading Democracy.” Here’s a little clue – if you expect that the United States will do ANYTHING that will effect the “spread of Democracy” (in a positive way) in our lifetimes, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.


Steve LaBonne 03.02.07 at 11:36 pm

What Larry said. I despise the corrupt, despotic Chinese government (and the US business interests that suck up to it so assiduously). That doesn’t change any of the facts about international behavior that Larry cited. Now, we’ll have to see what happens as their thirst for oil increases. But up till now, there’s no way any unbiased observer can possibly conclude that China is anywhere near in the same class as the US as a threat to world order and to other countries’ autonomy. As an American I’m ashamed to have to admit that, but it’s the honest truth.


radek 03.03.07 at 12:20 am

Those are not relevant metrics. Even if they were:

(1), (2) might just, possibly, maybe, perhaps, have something to do with the fact that US is a developed nation and China is still a relatively poor nation which only recently went from being a net recipient of foreign aid to a net giver.

(3), (4) basically restate the fact that US is still more of a global superpower than China so it’s a circular argument. Presumably were China’s international power to increase you’d see 3 and 4 go up. And ummm, the US does have bases in the undemocratic countries of Cuba and Venezuela but does that really mean anything? Base in a country does not equal support for the country’s government. Even if, the number for US is pretty low, mostly a few middle east countries for strategic reasons like Egypt, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain (at least a few years back).

(5) Hmmm, yes, Tibet is within China’s borders. But again, this could be due to the fact that China is not yet a superpower, while US is. We’re comparing US as world policeman with China as hypothetical world policeman here.

(6)First again, “Aggresive” is a red herring here. What were the agressive wars of US in the past 30 years – Grenada, Panama, Kosovo, maybe bombing Libya, first Gulf, second Gulf… out of these Panama and Kosovo were definetly “pro-democracy”, Grenada was arguably “pro-democracy”, first Gulf was if not pro-democracy, it was pro-state-sovereginty and the second Gulf, well, that one was a total fup. Point is “aggresive” does not equal “anti-democracy” necessarily. But again this isn’t the relevant comparison. Think of what kind of aggresive wars China would wage if it wasn’t constrained by US militatry. Goodbye Taiwan, at the very least.

I can agree to the statement that China hasn’t caused THAT MUCH international trouble since the 80’s (aside from lobbying the occasional missle over Taiwan) but that’s probably more due to resource constraints and the fact that they are NOT the superpower yet- you’re reversing your causality.


Steve LaBonne 03.03.07 at 12:35 am

Well, the US HAS been causing THAT MUCH international trouble since the Spanish-American War, so your special pleading is decidedly unimpressive.


radek 03.03.07 at 12:37 am

To give a more precise answer to #2 and #3 above, the nondemocratic countries US gives aid (economic and military) to are

Egypt – slightly under 2 bill $, pretty much as a payment/bribe for Camp David Accords. Most of this is spent on French military equipment.

Pakistan – .7 bill $ or so, most of it military aid, for obvious reasons

Sudan – half a bill $ in humanitarian aid

Jordan – half a bill $, about evenly split between economic and military (see Egypt above)

and that’s basically it, except for a few poor African countries receving humanitarian aid that can possibly be described as “imperfect democracies” (the most imperfect being Ethiopia)

Now, for all those above, there’s either a damn good reason (they’re fighting a war along with US or as payment not to attack their neighbors) or its humaniterian aid. And the magnitudes aren’t that big given a US Gdp of 13+ trillion $. Obviously I’m leaving out Iraq.


Steve LaBonne 03.03.07 at 12:39 am

To forestall the obvious rejoinder, of course it used its muscle occasionally in positive ways during that interval (WWII being the only completely unambiguous example) which hardly excuses the track record overall.


Steve LaBonne 03.03.07 at 12:45 am

Your list of corrupt, undemocratic US clients is laughably incomplete since it omits past aid to countries like the Shah’s Iran (to namke just one there have been plenty more), as well as current military support for eg. Saudi Arabia.


engels 03.03.07 at 12:50 am

Radek – Why on Earth do you think that the fact that the US is much more militarily powerful than other States provides any kind of mitigation of the harm it has caused? Do you, analogously, think that it is a legitimate plea of mitigation for someone who has just beaten a passer by to death with a big stick, that he was the only one with a big stick?


Steve LaBonne 03.03.07 at 12:53 am

“The strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must.” Empires have much the same attitude in any era. Some have at least been less hypocritical about it than the US.


radek 03.03.07 at 1:05 am

His question used the word “gives” not “has given”. Obviously cold war politics change the equation (it would’ve come out to about.9 bill$ per year for the Shah) as they did for China and USSR. Current military support to Saudi Arabia consists essentially of having military bases in Kuwait.

current US bases in non democratic countries:
Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Singapore, Qatar

until recently you could throw in
Kyrgyzstan (which democratized)
Uzbekistan (but US forces left after last flawed election)

and I’m obviously excluding Cuba. But like I said above this is essentially a silly criteria.

From here


Larry M 03.03.07 at 1:18 am


I could go on for pages on the flaws in your argument (like Kosovo for example – a pro democracy intervention? Oh, you slay me), but let’s just jump to the bottom line. Even you are forced to admit, grudgingly, that “I can agree to the statement that China hasn’t caused THAT MUCH international trouble since the 80’s.” But you just assume that that is all going to change when China gains more power. Based upon what, exactly? That we are the “good guys” and they are the bad guys? Get it through your thick skull – WE AREN’T THE GOOD GUYS.


Larry M 03.03.07 at 1:26 am

And as for your unstated assumption that the United States is actually a force for good in the world – over half a million dead Iraqis would beg to differ. Oh yeah, they can’t – we murdered them.


radek 03.03.07 at 1:43 am

Engels, I was responding to larry’s comment in 9, which basically says China would make a much nicer world cop than US, which is to put it in academic terms, crazy talk. He was referring to today. Then he posted some criteria which I thought were not very good but even on which US doesn’t come out as bad as one would think (not much foreign aid to undemocratic countries, not many military bases in undemocratic countries, etc.).

This isn’t to deny or whitewash nasty stuff US has done in the past, mostly during the Cold War, mostly out of a mix of screw ups and the fact that for any nation sometimes “reasons of state” will trump humaniterian/democratic considerations. We can discuss US policy during the Cold War era (and I’m sure we disagree very much on it) some other time. But between the end of Cold War (1991 or so) and the present mess in Iraq it is crazy to say that US supported non-democratic regimes to a greater extent than China.

But you just assume that that is all going to change when China gains more power. Based upon what, exactly?

Uh. The internal policies of the Chinese government with respect to dissent within their own country? The rhetoric of Chinese official and generals who can’t wait to be let off the leash with respect to Taiwan?


engels 03.03.07 at 2:49 am

Well, Radek, I thought #9 raised two questions. (i) Who’s been a better “global citizen” up till now and (ii) should we fear the rise of Chinese power in relation to the US? If your argument is that although the US has had a poorer record, this is because of its having had much more opportunity for wrongdoing, this might be relevant to the second question, but it’s not relevant to the first.

It seems a little strained to take the point of #9 as being that China would make a “nicer World cop” than the US. A more natural (and charitable) reading would be that we ought to prefer a multipolar world in which US power is severely constrained by that of other states. That’s not “crazy talk” at all.

And you’re right, I think ‘a mix of screw ups and the fact that for any nation sometimes “reasons of state” will trump humaniterian/democratic considerations’ is a risible attempt at an apologia for US conduct in the Cold War.

Finally, I don’t get why you are talking about the US’s record in between 1991 and 2003? Is there any particular reason why you think we should zero in on these years?


Larry M 03.03.07 at 3:32 am

(1) I had a long response on the world cop issue prepared, but engles mostly covered it. We don’t need or want a world cop, and China will never have the strength to be one. In fact, I think that we need to constantly hammer home the fact that the very concept of ANY nation being a global cop is an obscenity. And, yes, a multipolar world would indeed be much better.

(2) As for your answer to my question, it’s unconvincing to say the least. There is, as far as I can see, dubious beliefs about the peaceful nature of democracies to the contrary, no evidence that the internal characteristics of a government have any bearing on how they conduct themselves in the international arena. As for Taiwan, China (with some reason) sees Taiwan as part of their nation. There is no evidence – none at all – of Chinese territorial ambitions outside of Taiwan. Now in a perfect world I’d like to see Taiwan remain independent, both because I am obviously no fan of the Chinese government and because I detest war, but if I have my choice between China gaining Taiwan, and the United States continuing its immoral and destructive quest for world domination, well it’s an easy choice.

Ultimately this isn’t about any liking on my part for the government of China – it’s about the horribly destructive role that the most powerful rogue state in history is playing on the world stage. Please wake up, people.


Larry M 03.03.07 at 3:35 am

Your answer = Radek’s last paragraph in #35.


abb1 03.03.07 at 7:29 am

And I’ll certainly concede that domestically the United States is a far freer place, but then that isn’t the issue at hand.

Nonsense. When comparing freedoms, the country with (by far) the highest rate of incarceration in the world shouldn’t be even allowed into the competition, let alone lauded as a ‘freer place’.

WASHINGTON – More than 5.6 million Americans are in prison or have served time there, according to a new report by the Justice Department released Sunday. That’s 1 in 37 adults living in the United States, the highest incarceration level in the world.

It’s the first time the US government has released estimates of the extent of imprisonment, and the report’s statistics have broad implications for everything from state fiscal crises to how other nations view the American experience.

If current trends continue, it means that a black male in the United States would have about a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison during his lifetime. For a Hispanic male, it’s 1 in 6; for a white male, 1 in 17.

Surely any reasonable person would prefer accessing google thru proxy to being locked up in jail.


Bruce Baugh 03.03.07 at 7:46 am

On the other hand, suppose we look at the part of the world China has had influence over so far. What about the treatment of Tibet or the Uighur, for instance, suggests a Chinese-dominated world would be one with more official commitment to fairness? Where is the message “we’d be better for the global environment” in projects like the Three Rivers dam?

The fact that something has spoiled in my refrigerator and smells bad is entirely compatible with and independent of the fact that the neighbors’ cat had a hairball on the steps outside and it smells not so good out there. No matter how thoroughly I deal with one mess, the other will still be there.


Sebastian Holsclaw 03.03.07 at 7:51 am

“China’s international behavior recently has been so much better – remarkably better – than that of the US, that the idea of a two-party system being somehow superior to one-party system seems completely ludicrous. Go ask around whose regime most people feel is more odious.”

I guess the currently ongoing genocide in Tibet doesn’t count for anything…..oh that is right you probably buy Chinese propaganda about that not being ‘international’. And in recent comments I had been worried that abb1 wasn’t totally nuts.


abb1 03.03.07 at 8:28 am

Ongoing genocide in Tibet, Sebastian? Yeah, spike it up, man, show ’em, bastards.

What are we talking about here? There is no doubt whatsoever that China has been a remarkably restrained and responsible state, especially in the recent years; even most of the mainstream US commentators routinely admit that much. You would really have to drive yourself into Dick-Cheney-style frenzy to deny it.


soru 03.03.07 at 10:29 am

And, yes, a multipolar world would indeed be much better.

Do you normally consider war to be better than peace as soon as you come across some clever-sounding euphemism for the word ‘war’?

The world has been multi-polar many times in the past: the result were not pretty, including the slave trade, both world wars, the holocaust, competitive imperial expansion, and democides too numerous to mention.

Do you have a mechanism in mind by which things would turn out better this time?


david 03.03.07 at 11:11 am

“Panama..definitely pro-democracy [intervention]”

Radek, can I borrow your fly-swatter?

As to aid to unfree countries, aid to Colombia might be seen as aid for unfreeing — it’s what the aid does as much as it is where it goes that ought to be measured.


Brett Bellmore 03.03.07 at 1:42 pm

“Nonsense. When comparing freedoms, the country with (by far) the highest rate of incarceration in the world shouldn’t be even allowed into the competition, let alone lauded as a ‘freer place’.”

I’m quite opposed to our war on some drugs, which is mainly responsible for our high rate of incarceration. However, it should be pointed out that the US does NOT have “the highest rate of incarceration in the world”. Not while there are countries out there, like Cuba, where to be a citizen is to be incarcerated… because the whole country is effectively a prison camp.

Can’t get higher than 100%, you know.


Don Quijote 03.03.07 at 2:09 pm

On the other hand, suppose we look at the part of the world China has had influence over so far. What about the treatment of Tibet or the Uighur, for instance, suggests a Chinese-dominated world would be one with more official commitment to fairness?

Suppose we look at the part of the world (Central America) that the US has had complete and total domination of for the last century, and see how it fares?

Overlooking the Death squads of the 70’s and 80’s, the civil wars of the 60’s, the Dictatorships of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, how are the fine people of these countries doing? are they well educated? reasonably well-off (how would their standard of living compare with that of any of Eastern European countries)? what is their life expectancy? what is their child mortality rates? how free are their peoples?

Looks like living a century or more under the American Boot hasn’t been all that great for them.

So how exactly is China supposed to be worse than the US?


Marc 03.03.07 at 2:35 pm

There is a particular strain of foolishness endemic in this thread. A lot of people here appear to be motivated by white-hot hatred of the United States.
I despise Bush too, but the Chomsky-like picture of the US as a force of pure evil is even less accurate than simply thinking of the US as a shining city on a hill that can do no wrong.

And carrying water for despicable regimes like the one in China (remember the students in TS?) carries this hateful irrationality to absurd heights. You can loathe the US with all of the passion that some of the folks here do and still be able to see that a world dominated by China would be a truly nasty place. Or you can simply froth venom and believe that nothing can be worse than the Great Satan (TM).


abb1 03.03.07 at 3:23 pm

Um, Brett, the word ‘incarceration’ has the meaning, you know. Throwing around phrases like “to be a citizen is to be incarcerated” or “ongoing genocide in Tibet” makes you guys, as Marc could say, appear to be motivated by some kind of white-hot hatred or something. Let’s be rational, please.

Marc: remember the students in TS?

Funny, though, that according to wikipedia:

Although the initial protests were made by students and intellectuals who believed that the Deng Xiaoping reforms had not gone far enough and China needed to reform its political systems, they soon attracted the support of urban workers who believed that the reforms had gone too far.

Obviously there are many more urban workers than students and intellectuals, so, why don’t you hold your venom and think about this one for a few seconds.


Larry M 03.03.07 at 3:59 pm

Marc, I can see that you are pretty slow so I’ll put it in all caps. NO ONE HERE IS SAYING THAT A WORLD DOMINATED BY CHINA WOULD BE A GOOD THING. But that isn’t a likely prospect, to say the least, for a whole host of reasons.

On the whole multipolar vs unipolar thing, that’s really all that defenders of the United States have left. Color me unconvinced. Corrolation does not equal causation. There are a whole host of reasons why, the actions of the United States apart, the number of wars occurring world wide has declined. I’d say the top two reasons are (1) the ease of asymetrical warfare (which obviously favors the defense, and hinder aggressive warfare), and (2) the fact that most of the countries that can afford to establish effective militaries (i.e., Europe), after two horrifc world wars, have decided that peace is better than war. As for this notion that the dominant role of the United States somehow keeps other nations from going to war, I’m just not seeing it. It’s just a fallback fiction to justify empire for those who are smart enough not to believe the obviously false shining city on a hill crap.

As for the whole “Chompsky vision is absurd” nonsense, one doesn’t have to buy into the whole thing, some of which is indeed exagerated, to see that the role of the United States in international affairs is monsterous. I used to buy at least some of the bullshit, but, if you apply the same standards to the United States as are applied to other nations, we have done horrible, horrible, unforgivable things. At base is the obscene notions that the rules are or should be different for the United States. Once you peel away that lie, it’s impossible to avoid getting fairly close to the Chomsky position.


engels 03.03.07 at 4:00 pm

A lot of people here appear to be motivated by white-hot hatred of the United States.

Whereas you appear to be motivated by a white-hot hatred of people who criticise the US.


Tom G. 03.03.07 at 4:08 pm


I believe Marc’s point was that the actions of the Chinese government in TS were despicable.

Are you contesting that? Or merely accusing him of falsing representation the occupation of the people there?



radek 03.03.07 at 4:21 pm

This thread started out interesting.

It reminds me of that quip that when you meet someone claiming to be Napoleon Bonaparte the last thing you wanna do is get engaged in an argument over cavalry tactics at the battle of Austerlitz, since that in some way legitimizes their claim to be Napoleon. It is my personal weakness that I enjoy talking about cavalry tactics in general too much.

Sure. And US was just as bad as USSR during the cold war and we’d all be better off if it was still a “multipolar” world with USSR a strong counterbalance to the evil imperialistic American devil. Ave Ceasar, morituri te salutant!

And abb1, your quoted statement doesn’t even make sense. I’ve defended Wiki in the past but there’s some topics where you gotta be careful. It appears contradictory. At best it says that the TS protests where… protest by “urban workers” who thought there was too much democratic reform…and the crack down came because the Party wanted to democratize more then the “urban workers” would let it…uh………….
that is the stupidest thing you’ve said since your claim that the people in Soviet gulags “deserved it”. Wait no. That was still more stupid.

I know a couple people who were actually present at TC at the time (they claim to have “grown up” since, which is probably how they managed to wind up here) and sorry, it was about democratic reform, straight up. The tactic of bringing in “urban workers” or “true proleterians” (i.e. paid thugs or released criminals) who are supposedly pissed off in the spirit of true working class conciousness bravely manifesting itself, at the trouble causing students and intellectuals or “counter revolutionary” goes back… well, in fact it goes back to the Ochrana days.


Larry M 03.03.07 at 4:25 pm

Just to further clarify, I’m more willing to believe that, occassionally but not usually, our motives in intervening are more or less “noble.” But in some ways that almost makes it worse. Look at Kosovo, for example. We exchanged one type of ethnic cleansing for another (there was a substantial number of Serbs living in Kosovo. Was. Well, there are still a few, but I wouldn’t want to be a Serb in Kosovo right now). And we didn’t exactly establish a Democracy. More like a Kleptocracy, and even that’s generous. And our methods? Pretty forthright bombing of civilian targets in Serbia. Very nice.

And that’s one of the more idealistic interventions.

Right now Americans – citizens, not just our leaders – are more likely to sanction torture and killing civilians than most nations. That says it all.


Larry M 03.03.07 at 4:26 pm

More willing than Chompsky, that is.


engels 03.03.07 at 5:11 pm

Radek – Please address the arguments people have actually made instead of the straw men in your head. Would the world be better off if there were a significant counterbalance to US power? It is not “crazy” to ask this question, and doing so is not analogous to declaring oneself to be Napoleon. If you think it is, then you really are an idiot.


hidari 03.03.07 at 7:19 pm

I’m not going to join in this discussion because it’s just developed (or regressed) into one of THOSE kind of debates, but one tiny factual point:

‘Uzbekistan (but US forces left after last flawed election)’.

No. The Americans were kicked out: they did not leave voluntarily.


Brett Bellmore 03.03.07 at 9:13 pm

“Um, Brett, the word ‘incarceration’ has the meaning, you know.”

Yes, and a country which doesn’t permit people to leave meets that meaning, IMO. People don’t leave Cuba on rafts because it’s cheaper than taking a ferry, you know. They’re staging jail breaks.


engels 03.03.07 at 9:21 pm

What about a country that won’t let its own citizens visit their families in another country – Cuba, say? Would that country be “effectively a prison camp” too, Brett?


Donald Johnson 03.03.07 at 9:43 pm

I think I’m with Bruce Baugh. You can take a very low, basically Chomskyan view of US foreign policy (don’t know if Bruce goes that far) without thinking China would behave better if they had our power. I’d expect China to behave very badly given their behavior in Tibet, plus the fact that they were buddies with Pol Pot and from recent reports, have started propping up dictators in Africa in time-honored Western fashion. Sounds a lot like us.

I also think Chomsky would expect a superpower China to behave badly, because that’s consistent with his general attitude towards empires.


abb1 03.03.07 at 9:44 pm

Pure ideology in general is not a good a thing: pure liberalism, pure egalitarianism, pure nationalism – yeah, they are all despicable and irrational and all that. And that’s up to their people to figure it out and fix it.

Now, what’s really-really bad and despicable indeed, it’s when they become expansionist and militaristic, and start going around forcing others to accept their great ideas. And I just don’t see either China and Cuba doing it at the moment. Cubans used to do a little bit of it, but not any more, and they don’t have any resources anyway. And China looks very much like an introvert.


engels 03.03.07 at 9:53 pm

Donald – I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I don’t think there are many people here who think that a Chinese superpower would behave better then the US. That is not the same thing as believing that if China or any other country were more powerful in relation to the US that might be a good thing. I don’t know whether I believe this or not, but I don’t think you can settle the issue by labelling it “madness”, or by appealing to homespun wisdom about your neighbour’s cat.


engels 03.03.07 at 10:14 pm

But since you mentioned it

The fact that something has spoiled in my refrigerator and smells bad is entirely compatible with and independent of the fact that the neighbors’ cat had a hairball on the steps outside and it smells not so good out there. No matter how thoroughly I deal with one mess, the other will still be there.

Fine: but I still can’t help feeling there’s something distinctly whiffy about someone who always seems to be taking potshots at his neighbours’ cats, yet never seems to get around to cleaning out the old refrigerator.


abb1 03.03.07 at 10:30 pm

China is a superpower. They have 1.3 billion people, nuclear weapons with ballistic missiles and a $10 trillion economy (PPP) (vs. USA’s $13 trillion). That’s a superpower, without a doubt. It’s just that they choose not to behave like a superpower. And that’s why it seems rather odious to call it “an odious regime”.


engels 03.03.07 at 10:35 pm

Okay, I should have said that nobody here apart from abb1 thinks that a Chinese superpower will behave better than the US. Also, I think most people here apart from abb1 probably agree that the current Chinese regime is odious.


Brett Bellmore 03.03.07 at 10:49 pm

“What about a country that won’t let its own citizens visit their families in another country – Cuba, say? Would that country be “effectively a prison camp” too, Brett?”



Henry 03.03.07 at 11:03 pm

abb1 – you’ve been responsible for some quite breathtakingly idiotic comments around here – this series is up there with them. I’m (somewhat reluctantly) banning you from commenting on my posts in future. Somewhat reluctantly, because I don’t think that you’re a classic troll – I imagine that you actually believe what you write, more or less. I did entertain the theory for a little while that perhaps your comments were an extended put-on by a right-winger – they’re so _exactly_ a fit to a not very smart conservative’s mental model of a cliched lefty would say. But I think that you’re what you seem to be. So it isn’t because you’re insincere that I’m banning you – but the occasional comments where you have something interesting and useful to say are vastly outnumbered by the ones where you don’t – and endeavour through repeated comments to drag debate towards your agenda, which isn’t to my mind a very interesting or helpful one. Simply put, there’s a hell of a lot of noise, and not much signal. This isn’t a blanket ban at CT – you can still comment in other CTers threads if they’re willing to tolerate you. But I’m pretty tired of it myself. Enough said.


Adam Kotsko 03.04.07 at 1:08 am

We at The Weblog welcome abb1’s comments.


Kestutis Misevicius 03.04.07 at 1:16 am

Uh, abb1’s said plenty of questionable stuff, but there’s a whole brigade of right-wing/libertarian commenters on this site who routinely say far, far more objectionable things, and as far as I can tell, you have yet to publicly ban any of them yet.

Beating up on the left-wingers while letting everyone else spout off about whatever they like, apparently to maintain some idea of balance, is deeply, deeply uncool.


Henry 03.04.07 at 2:15 am

as should have been apparent if you had read the comment, this has nothing to do with balance. It has to do with what I perceive as a minimal quality of comments and contribution (cf Chris Bertram’s post on our comments policy from a while back). My position is that if someone says a lot of stuff that I disagree volubly with, but has some interesting arguments, I’m disinclined to ban him/her for that unless he/she is obviously trolling. I’ve banned people on both sides of the political spectrum for doing this. If someone, of whatever political colour, consistently spouts off about stuff that they don’t know anything about, and makes ridiculous arguments that simply don’t accord with a minimal degree of knowledge of the facts (e.g. in abb1’s case, comments that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist, that an international organization that he acknowledges he knows nothing about is part of the Vast Capitalist Conspiracy, just because, and so on), I don’t see that there’s anything useful being added. And this nonsense has a marked tendency repeatedly to derail comments threads. This isn’t about balance – I don’t especially care whether abb1 is on the left or on the right. It’s about maintaining minimum standards of intelligent conversation.


Claire M. 03.04.07 at 2:27 am

We at Life and Times of Big Calabaza have no minumum standards of intelligent conversation. abb1, I encourage you to visit.


david 03.04.07 at 3:12 am

Brett Bellmore thinks that Cuba is a big giant prison. Abb1 thinks that China’s not odious and deserves major props for its restraint. Not clear why one or the other is a higher noise to signal ration — your comment, Henry, does seem to focus on the “you’re a conservative’s vision of a lefty”. (Whatever the merits of the thread and Abb1’s participation, its nice that someone gets US prison statistics up when freedom’s become an issue).

Outside of the second part of comment 48, it’s hard to see what you are calling breathtakingly idiotic about Abb1 in this thread, and even that is hardly more idiotic that assuming the Panama intervention was pro-democratic in intent. You may be right about the thread-hijacking, but its hard to know where to place the blame for that on this thread — and I know enough of the past history to understand your frustration — just saying, it’s not crazy to think it’s the left part that’s motivating the banning.


Donald Johnson 03.04.07 at 3:36 am

I’ll come to abb1’s defense too, if it will do any good. He says things I disagree with, but no more so than quite a few others and I like to see at least one person far enough to my left so I can pose as the moderate centrist who avoids the extremes of the center left and the far far left.

In this thread he’s said some interesting things, but takes his argument too far, IMO, for the reasons I already stated. But it’s at least arguable that if China had our power they’d be a bit more introverted and not as intrusive into other people’s business as we have been (though when they have stuck their noses in, the results have been things like support for Pol Pot and the conquest of Tibet). So maybe they’d do this sort of thing less often than us. I’ve heard others (real historians, I think) say that China has been an introverted power for most of its history.

But it’s not my blog.


Anthony Paul Smith 03.04.07 at 3:43 am

I’ve always found Unfogged deeply politically un-agreeable. Either it’s upper class white folks talking about “those crazy religious people” or “my wonderful Hispanic nanny who I don’t think of as Hispanic at all” or “fucking left wing fucks! should just pull themselves up by the bootstraps and stop whining by way of puppets!”. No good I tell you, no good. Abb1, you are welcome at an und fur sich as well.


Anthony Paul Smith 03.04.07 at 3:45 am

Wow. Party foul!!!!!!!

This is Crooked Timber. Well, here it’s just ‘Well we are all intellgent, obviously the choice is to bomb!” and then after the bombing “Oh shit. Looks like I made a boo-boo. Better post something about how I was wrong, that should help!”


seth edenbaum 03.04.07 at 4:01 am

This from the grand poobah of a site where one of the contributors lived for years, happily one assumes, in a country where they arrest you for chewing bubble-gum. I won’t even go into examples of logic (on Israel for example) that people would want to dsipute.

How ironic that from being the one commentor on this site with actual ties to what used to be called the working class I’m now the only one actually involved in trade deals with china.
DeLong’s defense of passive economic internationalism in the face of chinese economic nationalism is absurd. As absurd as his defense of NAFTA. And as to whether “free trade” even exists, I go with Dean Baker on that one.

H. Farrell you’re being an idiot


Sean Carroll 03.04.07 at 4:26 am

Blog comment sections would be better if people banned more freely. The blogosphere as a whole is a free-speech zone, not each individual blog. The people who do the hard work to post have every right to try to keep the comment threads focused, interesting, and enlightening, and if that requires the occasional heavy hand of moderation, so be it. (And it need not be due to any single comment; the accumulated effect matters.) If the targeted commenters have something that simply must be said, let them put it on their own blogs.

Of course, now this thread is going to be about nothing but banning, which is too bad.


seth edenbaum 03.04.07 at 4:51 am

in case I get a come back on this point:
“actual ties to what used to be called the working class”

I can’t speak for anyone’s childhood, but I’m speaking about my adult life, and I’ll say my point stands.


CR 03.04.07 at 5:20 am

It is a bit frustrating that the argument that tipped the scales toward the banning of abb1 was his/her effort to complicate a bit the standard issue US reading of the TS revolt and massacre.

But everything that I read – and I’m not an expert, just an amateur – indicates that the story of the June 4th Movement and the suppression of it was quite a bit more complex than “they wanted democracy, votes and Levi jeans, and the commies ran them over with tanks.”

From an interview with Wang Hui in One China, Many Paths (2003):

“In 1989, why did the citizens of Beijing respond so strongly and actively to the student demonstrations? It was largely because of the adventurist reforms to the price system that Zhao Ziyang had twice imposed, without any benefit to ordinary people. Their earnings suffered from the agreements they were forced to sign by factories, and their jobs were at risk. People felt the inequality created by the reforms: there was real popular anger in the air. That is why the citizenry poured onto the streets in support of the students. The social movement was never simply a demand for political reform, it also sprang from a need for economic justice and social equality. The democracy that people wanted was not just a legal framework, it was a compreshensive social value” (64-65).

Most everything that I’ve read on the subject heads in the same direction, or at least toward some picture of TS that is vastly more nuanced than the conventional wisdom over here would suggest.

So… those of you who’ve banned abb1… and those of you who’ve piled on vs. his / her “idiocy” aren’t just arguing with him / her, but with a fairly wide body of work on the subject….

I think this was a mistake. abb1, you’re also, of course, welcome over on Long Sunday, where I’ve just posted some of the above…


Matt S 03.04.07 at 5:27 am

As a resident of China, I can attest that the lack of freedom here is a wee bit more insidious than having to use a proxy server to access Google. Even the most ardent pro-Communist Party Chinese person would admit that.


seth edenbaum 03.04.07 at 5:28 am

There’s always Kwangju.
And I was banned by Long Sunday ages ago.
It’s a point of pride for me


SG 03.04.07 at 9:37 am


Noam Chomsky has written a few articles about American academics’ responsibility for the evil things that the US does oversees. One of his central points is that US academics debate the merits of how the US exercises its power overseas to influence other nations’ political and economic system, and have quite heated debates about it, but they never question the USA’s right to do that. He is rather critical, I recall, of the position. You (and a few other people commenting in this thread) would be well served by reading some of those articles, thinking about exactly what you are defending in this post, and asking yourself what you are achieving.

As for banning the only commenter who bothered to bring anything resembling facts to the debate? Brilliant.


Brett Bellmore 03.04.07 at 12:33 pm

“Brett Bellmore thinks that Cuba is a big giant prison. Abb1 thinks that China’s not odious and deserves major props for its restraint. Not clear why one or the other is a higher noise to signal ration”

Well, for one thing, I DID point to the fact that people risk their lives on home made rafts on a regular basis to excape Cuba, because they can’t leave legally. In some places that would be considered “evidence”.


engels 03.04.07 at 2:17 pm

Ok, Brett, let me put it another way: do you even give a flying fuck about the fact that Americans are being prevented by their own government from visiting their families in Cuba?


Adam Kotsko 03.04.07 at 2:35 pm

Even if Cuba is a giant prison, I’m sure that people can tell the difference between being in Cuba generally and being in a literal prison — you know, the kind where you’re kept in a smallish room.


mikexcite 03.04.07 at 2:43 pm

If it’s not too late to comment on the original point, I am living in China and would like to read analysis and predictions that deal with actual conditions here, rather than trying to cram it into a political science model.

I strongly agree with “But they [increased international ties] very strongly discourage armed conflict between China and the rest of the world—too many people inside and outside of China have too much to lose. (You could call it the “make-money-not-war” thesis.)” From here in China, the idea of a war over Taiwan in the near future is laughable. Most of the factories I know are Tawainese owned and operated. Many others are American-owned (usually operated by Chinese proxies). In many respects, the saber-rattling over Taiwan seems really empty, considering the economic consequences if it was acted on militarly.

As for the larger arguement, could I be so bold as to summerize? There are two issues–China’s internal reform and its foreign policy. As the example of the US shows, a county can be very free internally and still not actively support freedom internationally.


radek 03.04.07 at 6:36 pm

Engels (way back) – I think it makes sense to focus on the period between the Cold War and the second Iraqi war because, obviously, during Cold War different rules applied. I’m not gonna bother spelling out for you why this was so. The other end point – I will happily concede, nay, even argue myself, that the Iraqi war was a prima facie case of “US behaving badly”. But I disagree with the Chomsky view of the world; take away Bush, take away the threat of the Soviet Union (and before Nixon, China itself) and the US looks like a relatively benign “empire” (which it ain’t in any case). And I think I’ve invested quite a bit of time in serious argument, replying to larry’s little list, to which he replied with snark.

Re: calling Panamanian intervention “pro-democratic” idiotic – this is the kind of delusion I was walking about. Before intervention Panama was non-democratic. Now it’s democratic. Is there point here?

re cr at 78: Alright, that makes more sense. Usually any mass anti-government movement will represent a wide variety of interests. Students and intellectuals might join because of lack of political and civil rights. Workers will join because of economic conditions. There will be pro-democracy leftists and pro-market liberterians (think of the Solidarity movement). None of this has a bearing on whether the Chinese regime was repressive at TS (and now) or not.

re:banning abb1. I actually like abb1, even though (or maybe because) he says crazy stuff all the time. And he, unlike some other people on here who say crazy stuff all the time, has a sense of humor. Don’t think he should be banned. In general I don’t like banning unless someone says some really messed up stuff.


Henry 03.04.07 at 7:07 pm

david – the point of the not-very-bright conservative’s fantasy of a left winger analogy is that the arguments abb1 makes aren’t very good ones, nor do they seem based in very much in the way of actual political knowledge. We have had the occasional commenter who seemed like a left winger’s fantasy of a right-winger (e.g. most recently the rather hilarious aaron) – if any of them had hung around as much as abb1 has, I’d have banned them from my threads too (aaron seems to have disappeared, with some encouragement). Brett Bellmore is someone who very often makes hackish arguments, but sometimes has real ones. I’m prepared to tolerate the hackish ones, while being rude in response as I see it appropriate, for the good points. As Sean Carroll says, it’s the accumulation rather than the specific which is at issue here.

anthony paul smith – you seem to be engaged in an argument with the CTites in your head rather than the actually-existing ones. I’m sure you’re winning the fight though; one usually does under these circumstances.

cr – I’m banning abb1 for general lousiness of commenting over time, rather than for specific offenses in this thread (your ‘things are more complicated than they seem’ argument seems to me to be fair enough, but not where abb1 was going). The fact free stuff in this thread was his lengthy defence of the bogus assertion that China was recognized by most serious commenters to be a responsible and upstanding member of the international community, his hilarious assertion that the US wasn’t more free domestically than China was because of its domestic incarceration rates (hint: the reason that China’s prison population appears comparatively low is because the statistics they provide “don’t cover a large chunk of their actual prison population”: (I’m sure there are a few others). There are serious arguments that you can make against my claims – engels and larry m (in his later criticisms) seem to me to make such arguments – but these claims by abb1 aren’t serious, or useful, or at all connected to reality. That the US’s international behavior is often pretty nasty does not evidence provide that a grim autocracy, with pronounced revisionist tendencies in its local sphere of influence, is likely to behave any better – and China’s most recent policy initiatives of propping up a variety of extremely nasty dictators suggests to me that it would be likely to be worse if it ever achieved the kind of global position that the US has now.

seth – not for the first time, I’m not getting the connections that you’re trying to make. I’m happy to take it on faith that they exist and are important for you.

sg – things “resembling facts” is _exactly right!_ Congratulations.


seth edenbaum 03.04.07 at 7:29 pm

“China’s most recent policy initiatives of propping up a variety of extremely nasty dictators suggests to me that it would be likely to be worse if it ever achieved the kind of global position that the US has now.”

It won’t ever achieve that position. And the US has propped up plenty of nasty dictators, in the 70’s that number greatly outnumbered those supported by the USSR. The danger from the PRC is that it will become a version of Singappore on Steroids.
Singapore where John Holbo lived happily, or so I assume since I have no memory of him saying anything to imply otherwise.
But Singapore is a financial haven and nothing else and China has a much more complex economy and therefore a much more complex politics.

You defend intention. But courts consider only action at trial. Consideration of extenuating circumstances comes after the verdict.


radek 03.04.07 at 8:31 pm

the US has propped up plenty of nasty dictators, in the 70’s that number greatly outnumbered those supported by the USSR

Huh. 70’s you got Chile, Argentina, Paraguay (these three were US-backed but the amount of military aid was small), Guatemala (until Carter), maybe Nicaragua (definetly not after Carter), Persia, Jordan, Zaire, Pakistan, S. Korea, Indonesia, Singapore (if you’re gonna count it, West-allied but no military or economic support) (the last three experiencing very high growth in per capita incomes) – there’s a few iffy ones in Africa where both USSR and USA funded various factions, and maybe I’m forgetting something in Latin America.
This is more of a list of US-allied “nasty dictators” rather than US-propped up “nasty dictators” though.

On the USSR side you got Cuba, Peru, later Nicaragua, Angola, Ethiopia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Mongolia, Laos, Cambodia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Guinea, Sierra Leone, maybe Algeria, maybe couple other African countries and of course all of Eastern Europe (6 countries) which I’m not gonna bother enumerating. And that’s pretending that present day countries like the Ukraine, etc. don’t enter into the calculation.

I’d say about half of these are USSR-allied “nasty dictatorships” (Vietnam, middle east, maybe couple others) and half (definetly EE) are USSR-propped-up “nasty dictatorships”.

Add to that China, N. Korea and Albania and for sake of argument forget about Yugoslavia.

I’m not gonna add my comment, folks can draw their own conclusions.

This guy really should get some kind of a prize:


seth edenbaum 03.04.07 at 8:41 pm

And since I’m commenting in sets of two:

People on this site expended a lot of energy defending the various Lancet studies. Has the leadership of the PRC done anything as irresponsible, destabilizing, stupid and simply destructive to human life as the current US administration?


seth edenbaum 03.04.07 at 9:21 pm

As’ad AbuKhalil

All US newspapers today are carrying a version of this: “China will boost military spending by 17.8 percent this year.” I don’t understand the hue and cry. Compare that to US military budget. In fact, the Chinese military budget is around 4 times only of the Israeli military budget.

I’l let someone else deal with Radek.


paul 03.04.07 at 11:32 pm

“Right now Americans – citizens, not just our leaders – are more likely to sanction torture and killing civilians than most nations.”
Except, of course, China. Which is rather the point in this discussion. Frankly, it’s hard to believe that a nation which butchers religious dissidents and sells off their organs is being lauded for its superior incarceration policies.

The more general response is as follows: First, would adding a Chinese “pole” to international relations improve US behavior? Given that everyone appears to concede the America’s worst behavior arose during the cold war when it was faced with a rival power, it would appear not.

Would China’s behavior as a world power be better than the existing international influences it would displace? Judging by China’s existing internal (or “internal”) behavior in Tibet and Xinjiang and it’s external behavior in the Sudan, Zimbabwe, the worst bits of Africa generally, Iran and North Korea (just off the top of my head) it appears not.
Therefore an undemocratic China growing into a respected and powerful member of the international community would likely make the world a worse place, which is, I think, where Harry started.


John Quiggin 03.05.07 at 12:56 am

Radek, I think you can reasonably make the point that “in the 1970s” should read “until the Carter Administration”, since there’s no doubt that Carter moved the US away from what had been a bipartisan policy of supporting dictatorships. That said, your list is so incomplete as to be useless. What about Greece, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Brazil, for example?


Don Quijote 03.05.07 at 1:24 am

The more general response is as follows: First, would adding a Chinese “pole” to international relations improve US behavior? Given that everyone appears to concede the America’s worst behavior arose during the cold war when it was faced with a rival power, it would appear not.

US behavior pre-cold war was nothing to brag about, does the conquest and occupation of the Philippines, the Sandwich Islands, the creation of Panama by ripping it out of Colombia or the various Banana Wars pre-WWII ring a bell?

Post Cold War, it seems that we have managed to bomb the Balkans, invade Panama, invade Iraq twice destroying it in the process, invade Afghanistan and it sure looks like Iran is in our sights.

The Cold War makes a good excuse for all sorts of deplorable foreign policy, but really it’s just an excuse, US foreign policy has always been pretty damn deplorable.


engels 03.05.07 at 1:34 am

take away Bush, take away the threat of the Soviet Union (and before Nixon, China itself) and the US looks like a relatively benign “empire”

…and if my grandmother had balls, she’d be my grandfather. Why are you entitled to “take away Bush”? And of course you can’t ignore what the US did during the Cold War when evaluating its behaviour as a superpower. The idea that everything the US did during that time can be excused as legitimate defensive action in response to an external “threat”, from the USSR, belongs in the realm of Cold War ideology, not serious discussion. And what about US imperialism/expansionism prior to WW2?

As for your list, I’m not going to go through it in detail as I’m not sure what will be settled by totting up the number of “nasty dictators” on either side, but apart from the fact that it’s full of omissions (Brazil? Saudi Arabia?), and leaving aside your bizarre suggestion that GDP growth somehow makes up for large scale human rights violations (now where have I heard that one before?), you have failed to distinguish between allies of the USSR and allies of China. They may all be Commies to you, but for the purposes of IR, after the Sino-Soviet split, this is actually pretty crucial, so this alone makes your list pretty much useless.


SG 03.05.07 at 1:55 am

Henry, good work completely ignoring my point. Your post read like a disagreement between neo-conservatives. “hmm, bomb or boycott? Me, I prefer the boycott.” Nowhere did you consider the possibility that the US simply doesn`t have the right to tell other countries how they should govern themselves.

Has it occurred to the commenters foaming at the mouth about China that the people of China might have other priorities in their development? Has it occurred to any of you that the rest of the world might have a different view of US “liberation” than you do? How do you know the Chinese even want your help? Or that your “help” will ever truly “help” them? Has it occurred to you that the Chinese might hate the US precisely because of its imperialist history more than they hate their own government, and that they may not be wrong?

Can I assume that when China becomes a bigger economy than the US, and its elite start talking about intervening in the US political system to liberate its gulags, protect the world from global warming, prevent further meddling in the middle east, or assure equality for blacks, you will all applaud and it won`t even occur to you that the Chinese don`t have the right to interfere?

Didn`t think so. Do you think black americans would have welcomed Chinese intervention in the 50s to end segregation? Doubtful. Why assume any different from the Chinese? To do so marks you with the same arrogant American exceptionalism which characterises your political opponents. How do you think the rest of the world refers to “American exceptionalism”? Not politely, I can assure you.


seth edenbaum 03.05.07 at 2:34 am

Again, look up the The Kwangju massacre.


Henry 03.05.07 at 2:48 am

sg – given that I’m a non-American who didn’t mention at any point, either directly or indirectly, “US liberation” and who is substantially unenthusiastic in general about US interventions abroad, I would recommend that you stop talking smack, and actually engage in, like, arguments that are in some way remotely connected to the discussion, rather than posing daft rhetorical questions and then answering them entirely to your own satisfaction.


paul 03.05.07 at 2:53 am

“leaving aside your bizarre suggestion that GDP growth somehow makes up for large scale human rights violations (now where have I heard that one before?)”

Probably here,
“Has it occurred to the commenters foaming at the mouth about China that the people of China might have other priorities in their development?”

I don’t think your list of post-cold-war atrocities provides a useful comparison with atrocities during the cold war, but in any case it ignores the burden in this discussion. Those who favour the growth of an undemocratic China suggest it will perform an affirmatively useful counterbalancing role – that requires that they show either that China itself will do good things in that role, or that US behaviour will be improved by it. Demonstrating, even had you successfully done so, that the US is always bad doesn’t clear that hurdle.

A side note – a read a lengthy article about the musical version of Chinese Democracy in a Hong Kong newspaper, allowing the journalist to make a lot of “it is never going to arrive”-style statements that would have been impossible had he been talking about the political version.


roger 03.05.07 at 4:18 am

A long way up in this post, soru posed a good question – one that I think is more realistic than the hypothetical that China is going to be the world’s only superpower and how would we feel about that. Myself, I think a multipolar world would be better in every way, but Soru is right that the Cold war was no model of peace and bounty. I think we can throw out the slave trade and other examples from a time before being a world power actually came with the technology to be one.

At the moment, China is certainly abetting the U.S. in its lone power role – I think we would have been out of Iraq in two years if it weren’t for the Chinese central bank. But China has traditionally been astonishingly uninterested in areas beyond its traditional ambit. That is changing in some ways. Myself, I think that’s great – it is great, for instance, that China can operate as a balance against the suspicious U.S. stance against Iran, for instance. Still, I think soru’s right that the models of past multipolar worlds doesn’t give us much to work with in the way of the environmental tasks ahead, the need for real disarmament by all nuclear powers, cooperation on bringing affluence to ldcs, etc. It looks like huge changes in the way we live are just ahead of us – forced upon us by what is, practically, the seizure of the atmosphere by the great polluting powers. But the current models are dead ends.


paul 03.05.07 at 4:25 am

But Roger, do you actually see China, governed as it presently is, acting as a positive force for environmentalism, disarmament or equitable distribution of wealth? It’s internal record on each of those fronts is terrible, and, as the original post mentioned, its external overtures seem to have been almost universally self-serving and objectively harmful.

I’m not sure what “balancing America’s suspicious stance on Iran” does to offset any of that. Are we talking about suspicions that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, or suspicions that they can’t be trusted with them? Where does disarmament fit in?


seth edenbaum 03.05.07 at 4:50 am

Auto emissions standards for new cars in China are at what will be Clifornia’s level in 2020.
try this too.


paul 03.05.07 at 5:12 am

Ah yes Seth, how could one forget the “Model Village Project”, which for some reason reminds me of a similar project in medieval Russia.

As for the auto emissions, I’m tempted to rely on outcomes rather than “glorious comrade leader declares clean air for all in five year plan” style propaganda releases. Here are the outcomes:

“Fuel consumption of China’s auto products is 10-30 percent higher than comparable products from overseas. The emission of pollutants from automobiles made in China is about 15-20 times greater than comparable foreign vehicles.”

You’ll want to remember that one of the key aspects of that whole “not a free country” thing is that you can’t believe everything they say. I don’t doubt you remember that in relation to US government press-releases, so why the free pass for the People’s Daily?


paul 03.05.07 at 5:19 am

In response to sg’s comments on Chomsky’s views on the responsibilities of US academics: I note that the explicit reasoning behind Chomsky’s focus on US wrongdoing is that he, as an American, should criticise his own country and let others criticise theirs. This division of labour appears to have broken down a little in respect of, well, almost every other country in the world, and particularly in relation to China.


seth edenbaum 03.05.07 at 5:33 am

“Ah yes Seth, how could one forget the “Model Village Project”, ”

What an asshole.
The woman behind those projects lives in NY. I met her years ago. She’s no more cynical about China than she is about the US. But yes, the government of China is more serious than the Bush administration, in almost every way. They’re scared about the environmental situation. Bush doesn’t give a shit.

I’m not defending the PRC from anything other than cheap generalizations.


roger 03.05.07 at 6:08 am

Paul, I think trying to make a nation wholly good or wholly bad is a habit that has come out of WWII and the Cold War, but that really doesn’t fit most nations or situations. I think that in the multipolar world, one can have a self-interested, even evil motive for checking an action by another nation that should – from the point of view of justice – be checked. Environmentally – China is in a place where, on the one hand, it is tempting to shuffle costs onto the environment to grow – like the soviet union did, or like the U.S. did unthinkingly until the seventies – but, on the other hand, it has the most to lose too. I can’t imagine that the Chinese leadership dreams of a china in which each person uses as much energy, on average, as each american – I think they know they can’t afford that system. Again, I don’t think this is cause the Chinese leadership is good, but they might be in a situation where they have to opt for the good, defined as the more environmentally responsible. Same with India.

I think these are topics that make the multipolar world worth looking at. At the same time – paradoxically – I think the international system is crazy in trying to enforce a uniform set of rules regardless of geography or level of development. I think Jeff Faux is totally right to emphasize that, much more than China, the U.S. should be concentrating on Mexico, even to the extend of trading privileges that would cut down the percentage growth in trade with China and shift trade advantages to Mexico. In the same way, I think the people in the EU countries are right to want to limit the growth of the EU. I don’t take the multipolar world as a synonym for the fading away of the nation.


SG 03.05.07 at 7:08 am

Henry you said

I’ve no principled objection to sanctions against Cuba to bring about democracy

which might as well just be “I have no principled objection to spreading starvation and sickness if it will make people in other countries think just like me”.

Exactly how is this different to the neo-con model of spreading democracy?


seth edenbaum 03.05.07 at 3:25 pm

But he has a principled objection to even an academic boycott of Israel even though Israel can “never be a full democracy” as I’ve been hearing it argued for years bcause of the need for a jewish state.

That argument comes from its defenders


Henry 03.05.07 at 6:08 pm

sg – come off it. If you want to fight it out over who gets third prize in a schoolboy debating competition, I could just as easily accuse you of having no principled objection to millions of people being killed or dying of starvation thanks to their own leaders – as long as it’s their own dictators who are doing it to them. Not to mention your presumed oppposition to sanctions against apartheid-era South Africa.

And seth – even by your own ever decreasing standards of incoherent argumentation and straw-man bashing, this is a fatuous claim. My objections to the academic boycott of Israel were and are pragmatic – they don’t hurt the people who are actually carrying out the building of settlements etc. Go back and read the “post”: Properly, this time. And while you’re at it, perhaps you can start to boycott yourself (or tell your customers that they should boycott you), as you are a US-based ‘artist’ who clearly hasn’t done enough to stop the Bush administration launching its war. By the standards you’re setting, you clearly are responsible – and deserve to shoulder your full share of the blame. Go to it!


Glorious Godfrey 03.05.07 at 6:15 pm

Assuming that the thread is not dead already, I’d point out that referring to Cuba and China in abstract terms i.e. in the way it is being done here, as if they were two comparable “odious regimes” which America and/or the West have just happened — by some unexplained historical vagary — to approach differently, is glaringly disingenuous.

Cuba was a de facto American protectorate that fell into the sphere of influence of its biggest rival. The punitive character of the trade embargo and the consensus around it can only be fully understood against that backdrop. At the height of McCarthyite lunacy and hubris there was some talk of “having lost China” to the red hordes, but never during its long period of weakness in the 19th and early 20th century was China as closely tethered to the US as Cuba.

I’m pointing out the obvious, yet again. But it’s funny that nobody mentions that.

In more general terms, it is to be noted that the extension of political asylum to dissidents from other countries has traditionally been the prime tool used by sovereign states to indicate to other sovereign states that they are deemed to be unsavoury. It was not just a Cold War thing, e.g. the Mexicans received a lot of refugees of the Spanish Civil War and nobody holds it against them in Spain today.

Other stuff was (is) more paternalistic in tone and was (is) reserved for the swarthies.

Assuming that you’re just a soul whose intentions are good, the provision or withdrawal of aid are not necessarily illegitimate tools. Aid. Trade is a more complicated matter altogether.

BTW, shouldn’t those Chinese labour standards be ideally discussed at the WTO, rather than in the morally clear (nay, crystalline), bilateral fashion that seems to be assumed here?

Soru makes a very important point: a multipolar world order is fraught with dangers. But it is going to happen (or it’s already happening, even) at any rate. I guess that re-establishing prudence and the search for stability –no more “destructive chaos”– as guiding principles of international politics would be a good idea. Giving to all important players a voice in international fora –said fora would have to matter two shits— wouldn’t hurt. Insisting on stronger and more accountable international financial institutions would be necessary too.

That’s all terribly generic, simplistic stuff, of course. But we’re still gazing at the mess which the Bushite rampage is leaving.

This would be bound to have some influence, however modest, on China’s internal political evolution. I can imagine that the development of a civil society in the Middle Kingdom could be hampered by the fact of always having been at war with Oceania…


Glorious Godfrey 03.05.07 at 6:30 pm

I’d also like to give props to abb1 for being a consistently entertaining poster.

And what’s with this disdain for trolls? Aren’t we entitled to our mountain caves, to the occasional morsel of mucilaginous abuse? “Good” trolling i.e. covering oneself in shit for one’s own and other people’s entertainment, is a fine art indeed and the only creative endeavour I’m capable of.


seth edenbaum 03.05.07 at 7:30 pm

“as you are a US-based ‘artist’ who clearly hasn’t done enough to stop the Bush administration launching its war.”

Oh lovely. I’m a citizen just like any other. I argue and I vote, and I’ve marched and will again. I have an FBI file, thanks to my parents, and I’ve been a tradesman not an academic for my adult life (not art but construction work.) Now I’m an importer, among other things, with a hobby.

You banned Abb1 because he pisses you off, but you want to argue that you did so for reasons objectively beyond reproach. People don’t buy it and that bothers you. Like DeLong, you want to be part of the “reality based community” that has never and will never exist. You have biases like everyone. You slip from “reason” to your definition of “reasonableness” without noting the difference. You have a variety of Lieberman’s Disease and rather than trying to understand why it’s so common, (it’s epidemic these days) you pretend you’re immune as Lieberman does. But no one is. You protest too much, that’s why some people think you’re American.
That applies to your arguments on Israel as well. I counted 5 posts at CT on the boycott. Read the comments on the others.
The largest obstacles to a boycott are the strong professional and social connections between Israeli and western academics:
social proximity. You know the concept.
You accuse me of oversimplifying by oversimplifying my arguments. You accuse me of making intellectually vulgar arguments by resorting to them.


radek 03.05.07 at 8:09 pm

John Q, you’re right that I missed some. For one, SA definetly belongs in there. Greece democratized in the early 70’s so it slipped my mind. Brazil went back and forth but I don’t think there was a significant level of US involvment there. Ditto for Turkey (we’re not talking Truman here). But maybe. On the other hand I don’t think you can lay the blame for Franco and Salazar at the US’ feet (France and England if anything). However even if you add all those in, the statement to which I was responding:

the US has propped up plenty of nasty dictators, in the 70’s that number greatly outnumbered those supported by the USSR

is still blatantly false. More to the point “propped up” implies that the regime in question would not have been able to survive without substantial US aid, without substantial use of US military force, or the threat there of. Otherwise the definition is being stretched to the tautological point where any non-leftist regimes is de facto being “propped up” by US.

I think Shah’s Iran, Guatemala, SA, possibly S. Korea qualify for “propped up”. Later maybe Grenada. But Pinochet, Argentinian and Paraguyan Juntas, Turkish generals, Greek colonels (again we’re not talking about Truman), Franco, Salazar and most of the others ran the show on their own while the US turned a blind eye (this is related to the point raised above about whether trade and aid sanctions are legitimate ways of excercising pressure). When these dictatorships fell there was no US tanks in the streets of Buenos Aires or Athens. The US was perfectly happy to work with democracies which replaced right wing dictatorships as long as these democracies were not trying to become clients of Moscow.
On the other side of the ledger you got Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, etc. (yes I know all those weren’t in the 70’s. But the “threat there of” definetly was). Quite obviously, when the USSR fell it took pretty much the whole show down with it (some exceptions like Cuba aside) which very strongly suggests that these regimes were “propped up” rather than USSR merely turning a blind eye. Of course this is just plain common sense and knowledge.

The bottomline in regards to other posters on this thread is that if you seriously think that during the Cold War US was the bad guy, or “just as bad as USSR” you’ve got serious problems, willful ignorance being the least of them. Civility precludes me from enumerating others. (Note this isn’t addressed to John Q)

Same thing, to a lesser degree, applies to people who view the present situation with China and US in an analogous way.


roger 03.05.07 at 8:37 pm

Radek, your argument doesn’t make much sense. Just as bad is relative to … what? If you lived in Brazil – and here is the tape showing LBJ’s complicity in the coup that overthrew Brazil’s democratically elected government in 1964 – you’d have every reason to think the U.S. was worse. If you lived in Prague, you’d have every reason to think the U.S. was better. But of course it isn’t even that simple – the rich in Brazil loved the Americans, the communist bureaucracy in Czechoslovakia loved the Russians, etc. The better or worse argument can’t be relative to such a universal standard that it includes nobody, and if it is to a statistical standard in which you add up countries and casualties (oh, we overthrew less democracies! we are the winner!), then of course we get into questions of governance – like who votes on this standard? Who gave LBJ the right to decide he’d sacrifice a few thousand Brazillian lives in the noble struggle against communism – or the tens of thousands of lives in Columbia, a country which has rightwing paramilitaries with whom the U.S. has been involved since the fifties? I don’t think they had a vote on it in Brazil. I don’t think they even voted on it in the U.S.A.

The level of abstraction of these arguments is a symptom of their futility. List of countries and casualties counts disguise the question, why, making it appear some kind of chess game. In reality, American self interest in Latin America was supporting coups and overthrows long before the communists – there was a whole freebooter culture in the 1800s – and the threat of communism was, when looked at in terms of time and place, most often the threat of unionizing a severely harrassed and underpaid work force (as for instance in Guatamala in 1956) or other threats to American investment.

If American hyperpower is nearing the end of its cycle, if there is a multipolar world coming, lets try to avoid the Manichean rhetoric that killed so many people the last time.


radek 03.05.07 at 9:37 pm

Roger, sure, 1964. Also I do agree that making these kinds of lists disguises these questions, hence the second part of my post. I’ll stick by my assertion however that USSR was worse on pretty much any serious scale one can establish.

Also, for what it’s worth here’s Wiki
Recently declassified CIA documents provide evidence that not only was there U.S. knowledge of the coup even prior to its occurrence, but also that the U.S. positioned military ships off the coast of Brazil ready to engage in the coup if the Brazilian military found itself in need of support in a program called Operation Brother Sam. Such support was not needed as the military had little difficulty in ousting Goulart on its own. [1] [2] Extensive preparations by CIA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had included training of Brazilian right-wing officers at the School of the Americas, and promises of military equipment and funding post-coup. Additionally, the CIA had funneled money into several hundred anti-Goulart political candidates beginning as early as 1962. Audio tapes of presidential meetings during the administration of John F. Kennedy show that Kennedy began planning for such a coup by mid-1962.[3]

Ironically, the military junta would eventually enter into talks with the Soviet Union concerning possible plans to improve Brazil’s infrastructure in exchange for preferential relations.

The two sentences I highlighted are pretty much the reason why I was weary of including 1970’s Brazil in the list of US-“propped up” regimes. And yes, I’ve read other sources than Wiki.

As an additional aside, I have no problem with a multipolar world. But I think it’s important to ask what kind of a multipolar world. If Europe decided to up its military spending, coordinate its members and act as a balance to US interests that might (probably would) be a positive development for the world as a whole though it may hurt narrowly defined US interests. I even wouldn’t be that bothered if Japan shed off its pacifism and decided to play more of a role. But Europe and Japan are democratic, fairly non-belligerent states with a good record on human rights (again Europe, post Colonial period). China is a different story.


SG 03.06.07 at 1:32 am


Not to mention your presumed oppposition to sanctions against apartheid-era South Africa

Except that South Africa had a coherent, broad opposition movement in daily conflict with the government, which asked political movements it was in contact with in countries from the same political grouping (the commonwealth) to agitate on their behalf internationally. Clearly not the same thing, and incidentally (oh how coincidental) one of the few sanctions regimes that really worked. I wonder why?

Of course you move on to the great neo-con debate strategy, accusing me of being in league with dictators who kill millions. I could point out that there is a death toll associated with withholding development in a nation like China; but you obviously need to live in a fantasy world where imposed conflict to resolve ideological differences can be done without harming anyone, so I won`t try to pull you off your cloud. Tell me, do you share that cloud with Donald Rumsfeld or does he have his own?


SG 03.06.07 at 1:43 am

And Radek, what is this?

“I have no problem with a multipolar world…”

Does it sound just a little, tiny bit insufferable?

“Oh yes, I don`t really mind if those darkies have a bit of political power, but I do have to ask which ones exactly… and I would much prefer if Europe took the task. I wouldn`t even mind that much if an Asian country took it on, but only if it was Japan. You know, because they`re more like us and all that.”

I am sorely disappointed by the strain of western exceptionalism going on in this thread, and really rather surprised.


roger 03.06.07 at 2:31 am

Radek, the paragraph about relations with the Soviet union is puzzling. In the 1970s, the U.S. actually floated the soviet union with our grain sales and our extensions of credit – and no less a conservative than Ronald Reagan reversed Carter’s restrictions on agricultural sales to the S.U. and made it a campaign issue. So, am I supposed to think the U.S. was on the Soviet side?

In terms of military budgets – the U.S. budget should surely collapse to somewhere around the Chinese budget – that is, fifty billion per annum – in our best of all possible multipolar worlds. The one thing America shouldn’t be doing now – and of course, it is – is trying to pursuade Central European countries to let us use them to install an anti-ballistic missile system. This is not helpful.


Henry 03.06.07 at 3:02 am

sg – um no. NB the conditional _if_ we want to get into a schoolboy debating contest bit. What I’m actually saying is that your accusation is precisely the same rhetorical move as that made by the neo-cons whom you (and for that matter,I) dislike. Stare not into the abyss too long and all that.

Seth – if I could actually discern your arguments, perhaps I’d be doing a more accurate job of caricaturing them. They seem to me to be less arguments as I understand the term than repeated references to your various one-sided feuds elsewhere on the Internets, irrelevant proclamations of your working class street cred, and ad hominems that are less insulting than just plain weird. What relevance _on earth_ does the fact that my co-blogger, John Holbo, lives in Singapore have to the price of a pint? Does the fact that I – or you – associate with people who live in the US mean that we can’t criticize the US government? (or I guess it would have to be that we can’t criticize the Canadian government for the analogy to work). And as for abb1 – if you think that the propositions that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist except in the mind of right wing Jews, or that authoritarian China is a freer society than the US because of flawed incarceration statistics are real world arguments, then be my guest. You have your own blog, and you can entertain them there. I’m of the opinion that these claims are obviously flat out wrong, and a waste of time – you can view this as evidence of my horrible biases if you like, but I can’t say that I’ll be especially fussed.


radek 03.06.07 at 3:51 am

sg, you are certifiable idiot. Obviously the criteria is domestic democracy and respect for civil rights. Throw in India in there if you’d like. I’ve got nothing more to say to pitiful schmuck like you.


SG 03.06.07 at 4:48 am

Henry, when you said “no” did you mean “no” you don`t share a cloud with Donald Rumsfeld, or “no” he doesn`t have a separate cloud?

You are talking like a neo-con, conditionals or not. You claim the right to transform other peoples` political systems even if those people have given little evidence that they want a change; you ignore the possibility that those people might know what is best for them; and you advocate thuggish methods (in your case sanctions) to do it. This is exactly what got all those people dead in Iraq. The only difference is that the neo-cons are a little more brutal. Big deal. Their fundamental error is their belief that they know best, not that they used bombs instead of sanctions.

Radek: I may be a certifiable idiot, but at least I know how to use pronouns, plurals and prepositions. Being unable to do so doesn`t make your argument less insufferable though.


seth edenbaum 03.06.07 at 4:59 am

Asked about his country’s very low position in the 2004 Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (the present prime minister’s father) lashed out at western journalists and defended Singapore’s model of press control.

“You are not going to teach us how we should run the country,” a foreign correspondent was told by Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s strongman since 1959, in response to a question about Singapore’s disastrous position – 144th out of 166 countries – in the Reporters Without Borders ranking. “We are not so stupid, we know what our interests are and we try to preserve them,” said the so-called theoretician of Asian values in defence of the government’s restrictions on free expression.
Information minister Lee Bon Yang had this to say about the Reporters Without Borders ranking: “This index is largely based on a news media model that favours the press’s role of criticism and opposition (…) We have a different model in Singapore. It has been developed in particular circumstances and allows our media to contribute to our nation’s construction.”
Singapore’s low ranking was due to the complete absence of independent newspapers, radio stations and TV stations, the application of prison sentences for press offences, media self-censorship and the opposition’s lack of access to the state media.”

China is too big to follow this model, but it’s related. And it’s an interesting thing to think about. It would be nice to have some discussion by someone who actually lived there.
On this site this is all I found. And it’s not by Holbo.

And between living in China and living in Singapore, I’d pick China hands down.

We all live our lives in shades of grey


roy belmont 03.06.07 at 7:37 am

1. “I highly doubt that the amount of irrational anti-Jewish and anti-American hatred in the UK is anywhere near the scale of anti-’Islamofascist’ movement in the US (not to mention Israel)”
2.”I don’t think anything is wrong with Zionism as such;”
3. “I don’t think political Zionism is based on this concept. I am not an expert, but I thought the original idea was pretty much a reaction to European anti-semitism (exemplified by the Dreyfus affair) – a perfectly healthy nationalist reaction, IMO.”
4. “I said that Islamophobia is very visible in the mainstream and anti-Semitism is not there at all and I’m still saying that.”
5. “There’s no such thing as ‘conspiratorial bigotry’. Either you vilify a large group of people based on what they are or you don’t. I don’t see W&M doing anything like that…”That’s as close to a denial of the existence of anti-Semitism in abb1’s comments here I could get to in a half hour or so of looking.
Of course he’s never denied it. He’s a rational sort of person, with largely humane and compassionate views of the world. At least his online presence is. It is a very dangerous thing to oppose with rational speech such perfidies as the branding of Walt/Mearsheimer as anti-Semitic. And how safe it is to pretend there’s nothing behind those accusations but justifiable concern caused by a history of unfair persecution.
Much mockery is still made of those of us who see the child’s damage in the rampaging young man, the sadistic parents in the bent and feral predator, the awful environment in the cynical and cruelly unfeeling – they all have cause, their sickness all has origin, they were all innocent, once.
Squishy liberal “understanding”.
Yet this is precisely Israel’s place in the world now – the viciousness, the slaughter, the inhumanity, the desperate manipulation the psychotic over-reaction and delusional rationalizing – it’s inextricably woven into the unnapproachable horrors of the Holocaust and centuries of irrational persecution the Jews endured.
What Israel does now is supposed to be acceptable, understandable, forgivable because of that, it’s because of what happened, and we have to remember, keep remembering how bad it was.
Well yeah, okay, it was bad – but it’s bad now, too, and it’s getting worse rapidly.
The best weapon against anti-Semitism is not polite ignorance and wimpish look-the-other-way acceptance – it’s truth, honest appraisal, and a demand for integrity from all concerned. Even from the most damaged, even from the most legitimately retaliatory – I don’t care how bad your childhood was, I don’t care how much you suffered – dude, you can’t do that.
There’s a bizarrely parallel aspect, in the way you’ve continually reminded abb1 of his “place”, and forced him to inhibit his outrage and contain his objections in politesse, that you might, at your leisure, consider.


Glorious Godfrey 03.06.07 at 12:15 pm

A term that’s conspicuously absent in this thread is “nationalism”. It’s only used once in a context directly related to the topic of the thread.

Which is sort of funny, because nationalism provides the main ideological justification of the undemocratic but no-longer-quite-communist Chinese leadership’s rule.

There’s something questionable about most talk of how sanctions might encourage a country like China to improve its institutions and, more generally, about any consideration of China’s rise to great power status just as a “problem”.

I guess I’m not making a profound pronouncement if I point out that the viability of a political regime in any country is largely dependent on support for that regime on the part of that country’s denizens, not on the regime’s inherent moral legitimacy.

The unwillingness to acknowledge the new status of a country of China’s size and pedigree can only fuel Chinese nationalism. To all appearances, the current Chinese leadership stands to benefit therefrom.

Sadly, what passes for mainstream discourse on China’s future role in America and most of the West for that matter is in no small measure vintage neocon bullshit. It’s dangerous.

Nobody is pretending that all regimes are created equal in this thread, I reckon. Democracy is the least bad form of government and so on. But a country’s sensible restraint of its nationalist impulses and due consideration of other countries’ sensibilities are just as important in international relations as the quality of that country’s institutions and, yes, its internal human rights record.

The Chinese regime certainly falls well short of any standard one may care to establish in that regard, but they are not the only ones, by a long shot.

Which brings me to radek’s remarks on Japan. Sorry, but until the Japanese get their shit together and start acknowledging their war crimes, making the prospect of true reconciliation with Korea, China et al. a realistic prospect, I’ll regard the notion of Japanese rearmament with suspicion.

Obviously, the Japanese would be encouraged to come clean if what they rightfully perceive as wrongs done to them (i.e. the nuking) were addressed by an American apology. I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Concerning the notion of more European assertiveness on the international stage: it wouldn’t be bad if Europe spoke with the semblance of a common voice. However, the authority attached thereto will always be lessened by the continent’s chequered past.


SG 03.07.07 at 2:15 am

Glorious Godfrey, I avoided using the word “nationalism” or the phrase “national self determination” because I thought it might be on the nose with some of the readers here, but I mostly agree with you about the role of nationalism in causing nations like china to resist foreign pressure for reform. I think nationalism also plays an important role in establishing viable governments in developing nations, which is probably why the left used to(?) support national self determination for countries whose leadership might otherwise seem odious.

I`m not sure that I agree with you about Japan having not acknowledged their war crimes. A few scholars of Japan seem to think this isn`t the case, and point out Japan`s repeated apologies and admissions in the 70s and 80s as proof of this. The controversy was reunited after Iris Chang`s book and with the Yasukuni Jinja issue, but I think the issue is more nuanced than you suggest. For example the Japanese government generally takes responsibility for starting the war, admits to the Comfort Women issue, supports scholarship on Japanese atrocities, and acknowledges past crimes, as well as having apologised.

Japan is an interesting nation for another reason though – whatever their direct culpability might have been for the war, it is clearly the case that the western powers adopted a policy of stifling trade in the years before the war, as well as putting restrictions on their naval power, opposing moves in the League of Nations and meddling in Japanese foreign policy, primarily because of fear of a rising power. Some here seem to be advocating a similar attitude towards China, but a more realistic view might suggest that the same activities risk the same outcome.


Henry 03.07.07 at 2:39 pm

roy belmont; the offending comment, which I’ve dug out from my email files, went

“The word ‘anti-semit’ currently doesn’t have much of a meaning at all. It’s simply used to insult anyone who disagrees with the wingnut apologists of the Israeli wingnuts.”

That’s a remarkably idiotic statement. For the record, I’ve blogged several times about the disgraceful way in which reasonable critics of Israel have been dubbed anti-Semites (and have banned one person who consistently insinuated this kind of slur from commenting on my threads)- but that doesn’t mean that anti-Semitism is a meaningless term. I certainly don’t believe abb1 to be an anti-Semite – but he does have a very particular talent for finding gross, offensive, and flat-out preposterous ways of presenting his arguments, which have a persistent tendency to derail debate.

Seth – fair enough – but what you’re saying now is surely rather different from your earlier implied claim that I and other CTites were somehow tainted by association because a co-blogger lived in Singapore? And while one might like to have discussion of this, I don’t think one can demand it as a right. If I was living in a semi-authoritarian country, and faced the risk of losing my livelihood, I might be circumspect in what I blogged about. Indeed, I’ve sometimes worried myself that some of the things I’ve said on the blog might get me into trouble with US authorities (as a non-citizen I’m in a more vulnerable position) – and the US, however bad it’s gotten, ain’t anywhere near the countries we’re discussing.


roy belmont 03.07.07 at 7:01 pm

Henry- I’ll concede the aptness of your quote, per your stated rationale, but it is, for all its dangers of misinterpretation and fuel for the bigots’ fire, pretty much accurate in my experience. Outside the halls of decorum, especially in the period immediately post-Iraq-invasion, any attempt to link Israeli interests with what made little sense from an American p.o.v. was assaulted with remarkably vicious intensity, and “anti-Semitic” was always the first stone cast, as it is still.
The term has thus been leached of its chastisement.
Anti-Jewish bigotry exists, and is a problem, but “anti-Semitism” is now a controlling euphemism for opposition to an amorphous, violently unethical extra-legal power that dominates American Middle East policy.
The difference between derailing and defocusing debate would be of course a matter of one’s focus, wouldn’t it?
I mean if no one’s tying those weird ends together then that will seem tangential, unless there’s some kind of consensus, which there almost is now.
You have to figure abb1’s come in for more than just the odd moderator reprimand here and there, for his position and outspokeness about it. I know I have.
The central thesis being manipulative power ungoverned by either law or ethic, and a kind of willful inertia on the part of the otherwise informed, it’s pretty easy to get pushed into cliched reaction – defense against very real attack.
A prolix call for tolerance I guess this is – abb1’s warmth is redemptive for some of us, especially contrasted with the more than few stiff-necked knee-jerk apologists for the other side who get what’s a lot more like free rein here.
Your answer to S.E. has, again, some parallels that could be disconcerting, if seen from too close-up.


Seth Edenbaum 03.07.07 at 9:21 pm

Two points-
JH has chosen to live in an authoritarian country to further his career, and to live there not as a businessman or trader but as an academic and an intellectual and even to some extent as a “philosopher.” One would assume that someone with such goals would be obliged to have a response to the behavior of the government in such a place.

The second point is something I’ve taken for granted and have had a hard time realizing that others do not. And that is that following the precedent of history I prefer barbarism to hypocrisy. Barbarism is ubiquitous to the history of the planet. Hypocrisy is not so much the invention of the modern period but seems now almost synonymous with it. One of the reasons I had no patience with leftists academics who argued against seeing beauty in the art and culture of European history is that whatever they would choose as an alternative, when it wasn’t an invented academic and sterile politically correct esperanto, was just as barbaric, but on a smaller scale.

It is possible to love Europe without loving Philip II or Louis XIV but interestingly, it makes no sense to love the culture of Germany in 1939 without loving the Fuhrer.

It is the hypocrisy of Israeli politics that makes it so grotesque as it is the hypocrisy of Singapore, an economic oasis where one can trust one’s ill gotten gains to be safe and secure in the hands of a moralizing police state. It was the hypocrisy of fascism and stalinism that made both so much more brutal, that allowed them to become no more than the sum of their brutality as I’m sorry to say Israel is little more than the sum of it’s hypocrisy.

China is a behemoth, economically and culturally. It’s both the wild wild east and the oldest continuous self contained culture on the planet. It’s government to the extent that its in control is made up of some very intelligent and very serious people and it’s culture is diverse and expansive even under duress.
Singapore on the other hand is a politics of lies and a culture of shit, and I put Israel and apartheid s. africa in a similar category.

Also with that in mind: I do not equate arabic anti-jewish sentiment with european anti-semitism, any more than I equate black racism in the US, the opinions of women who think all men are scum, of latinos who don’t like yanquis or of jews like my father (and myself to some degree) who don’t like germans much, with the history that precedes that anger.

These again are all arguments I’ve made before, here and elsewhere.


SG 03.08.07 at 2:44 am

From yesterday`s Sydney Morning Herald:

We are Jews with diverse opinions on the Middle East who share a deep concern about the crisis in the region and have formed a group, Independent Australian Jewish Voices.

Our concern for justice and peace in the Middle East is a legitimate opinion and should be met by reasoned argument rather than vilification and intimidation. In particular, we are concerned that the Jewish establishment does not represent the full range of Jewish opinion. Contrary to widespread concerns, anti-Semitism is not fuelled by Jews who publicly disagree with actions of the Jewish state.

We call upon fellow Jews to join us in supporting free debate to further the prospects of peace, security and human rights in the Middle East by signing our statement at

Dr Peter Slezak Bellevue Hill and Dr Jim Levy, Antony Loewenstein, Professor Peter Singer, Robert Richter, QC, Louise Adler, Eva Cox, Professor Dennis Altman, Professor Arie Freiberg, Ian Cohen, MLC, Professor Ivor Indyk, Moss Cass, Dr Geoffrey Brahm Levey, Professor Andrew Benjamin, Henry Rosenbloom, Professor Andrew Jakubowicz, Professor Ephraim Nimni, Professor David Goodman, Hashomer Hatzair and more than 100 other signatories

Henry, will you write to these people and tell them their opinions are “idiotic”? The worst you can say about Abb1`s comment was that it was hyperbolic, but the substance of his comments over time is obvious and valid. Your response to people who criticise your opinions is, to say the least, excessive and certainly impolite. Is it any wonder that Abb1 becomes inflammatory in response?


Henry 03.08.07 at 3:08 am

seth – you misunderstand how academic philosophy works these days – the connections to politics, except among a small group of political philosophers, is evanescent to non-existent. You might reasonably prefer that it were otherwise – but it’s hardly fair to blame John for the overall emphases of his discipline.

sg – oh dear. If you really can’t see the difference between the statements ‘the bogus accusation of anti-semitism is often used to stop legitimate debate,’ and ‘anti-semitism is a meaningless concept,’ then we might as well give up, mightn’t we? On your other ‘point,’I don’t make any particular claim towards politeness – my politeness in a given situation varies depending on my doubtless idiosyncratic assessment of the merit of the arguments being offered – but I don’t really think that you can hang the blame for abb1’s inflammatory statement on me (nor do you offer anything that even faintly resembles an argument to that effect).

roy – I agree completely that the accusation of anti-semitism is often the first stone thrown – and that it’s frequently used in a manner that is at best sloppy, and at worst vicious and dishonest. But that still doesn’t mean that it’s a concept without meaning – the force of the slur lies precisely in its reference to a very real and peculiarly nasty set of ideas and practices. Thus, claims like abb1’s are liable to inflame debate. When I said that I was banning abb1 with some reluctance, I was being quite honest. I don’t see him as being a nasty individual, unlike other people who I’ve banned (such as Dan Simon, who indeed tossed around unwarranted insinuations of anti-semitism with no mean frequency). But his crudity of comment, combined with the frequency and persistency with which he posted (I suspect that he is our most frequent commenter by a substantial percentage) meant that certain topics became impossible to discuss seriously when he was around.


Seth Edenbaum 03.08.07 at 5:34 am

“You might reasonably prefer that it were otherwise – but it’s hardly fair to blame John for the overall emphases of his discipline.”

That’s a cop-out of the highest order. If he were a mathematician or a chemist the defense could be made that the sciences are amoral (though I would not accept that argument) but the humanities at their core are concerned with questions of moral responsibility. Literature is no more or less than the questioning of rules and the risks and rewards of their abondonment. The Valve is subtitled “A literary Organ.” It’s a journal of literature. You’re puttng John Holbo in the company of de Man and Robbe Grillet, formalists who used arguments about language to elide responsibility for their pasts. As I’ve said more than once I’m in no position to be a moralist. It’s not the history that bothers me, it’s the elision. It’s not the crime it’s the cover-up. Without self-awareness, thought is no more than symptom.

And Holbo’s blog is called “The Examined Life”!!?”

I’ve never liked the Valve It’s representative of an anti-humanist scholasticism that I find deeply offensive; but I wasn’t smart enough to put 2 and 2 together. Now it just seems so obvious. Everything I railed against about Franco Moretti and the limits of academic philosophy. John Emerson should read your comment.
You’ve just blown a gaping hole in the moral discourse of that site. That John Holbo could spend so much time on Zizek astounds me.


SG 03.08.07 at 7:09 am

Henry, I can clearly see the difference. But you choose not to see the difference between hyperbole or rhetoric, or an inflamed comment in a debate, and a regular posters intention. You know exactly what Abb1`s theory is, you don`t like it and you drag out the rhetorical and inflammatory comments to defend your claim that it represents what he truly means.

You`ve distorted his quote in any case – he said “currently doesn`t have much of a meaning”, and went on to very quickly package up the reason why – that its overuse has desensitized people to its meaning. Currently there are commenters on another thread here saying the same about the word genocide, and I`m sure you don`t disagree with them. What`s the problem? The problem is you need a disingenuous argument to shake off the whole bevy of reasonable quotes that Roy Belmont raised.

I have read this blog for a while now and I am stunned at the level you dragged the debate down to on this post, and how quickly you took it there. So while you might want to claim that Abb1`s inflammatory comment on some other thread has nothing to do with you, on current performance I`m not inclined to believe you. Which I am sure you don`t care about, and will make abundantly clear through sarcasm, putting any words which imply I have a thought or an idea in quotes, and/or calling me stupid. But I don`t think that will have proven me wrong, somehow.

[HF- Comments are now closed on this post – I can’t open them either without changing CT’s basic configuration – but this is preposterously silly. I’ve made it perfectly clear why I banned abb1. He persistently makes tendentious, overstated and inflammatory comments that drag comments threads off track, and keeps them there through repetition. Look to Ingrid’s post above on Iranian women prisoners – he jumps in with a comment about why _can’t_ husbands have multiple wives. I don’t think that this is classic trolling – but it is attention-seeking behaviour and it surely screws up debate. I don’t particularly care whether you think that I am somehow responsible for abb1’s arseholery – but I will point out for general principle’s sake that in order to prove an argument wrong, there has to be an argument there in the first place. You didn’t care to grace us with such, instead making and repeating an unsupported claim which is really rather preposterous. When people have actual arguments, I usually respond to them. When people instead come in fists swinging to Fight the Oppression with innuendo and non-sequiturs I treat their remarks with precisely the amount of respect that I feel they deserve. If you want to be taken seriously here, come up with serious arguments – not cackleheaded claims that I somehow Put Bad Thoughts into abb1’s head]

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