American Dual Containment in Asia


Last month I published an article in Geopolitics entitled “American Dual Containment in Asia.” In brief, I argued that a double containment of both Islamic fundamentalism and of China is the likely US strategy in Asia in the coming decades. The containment of salafism in the Middle East is bound to be hard and violent (as it already is), because Al Qaeda and associated movements are so genuinely revolutionary and dangerous. The containment of China is likely to be soft until the Chinese decide just how much they wish to challenge the reigning liberal democratic order. In the last year, many seem to fear that China is ramping up in this direction. Hence my prediction that India will be a pivot in this containment line. It is a unique ally for the US, because it is worried about both China and Islamic fundamentalism, and because it is democratic. In this way, it is unique among American alliance choices. Here is abstract:

“US grand strategy after 9/11 turned from post-containment drift to preemption. But the costs are high – suspicion of American power, hedging by traditional allies, expensive, go-it-alone ventures like Iraq. Tried-and-true containment better reflects American values. While forward in the world, containment is also defensive. It reassures skittish partners and reflects liberal, anti-imperial US preferences. In Asia, containment would deter the primary contemporary challengers of US power – radical Islam and Chinese nationalism – without encouraging a Bush-style global backlash. In a reductive analysis of US alliance choices, this article predicts a medium-term Indo-American alliance. India uniquely shares both US liberal democratic values and the same two challengers; it is the likely pivot in a US-backed neo-containment architecture in Asia.”

Here are the relevant graphs that, I hope, make the argument clearer:

Graph 1. Contemporary Revisionists to the ‘American System’













Islamist-Jihadist Networks,

Iran ?



China ?

Rogues (Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela)



The good news above is that just about everyone accepts the international status quo – roughly, the liberal international political economy led by the US (what Ikenberry calls “the American system”). While al Qaeda is clearly a scary revisionist – i.e., the they want to dramatically rewrite the international order by refounding the caliphate, e.g. – they are also pretty weak. The only powerful revisionist is China, and no one knows yet just how much she seeks to change things. This is good for the US, insofar as it backstops the international order, and it is also good for the many states in Asia and Europe that function within that order. Although the internal challenges to the liberal order are growing (i.e, the Great Recession), there is currently no powerful and revolutionary external challenger like the Nazis or USSR were.


 Graph 2. Contemporary US Alliance Picks










Great Britain/NATO








Japan/East Asia




Israel/Arab clients









This graph tries to reductively explain the appeal of India as an alliance partner. It uniquely shares the both the geopolitical interests of the US in Asia; that is, it is worried about both Islamism and China. And it shares our liberal democratic values. Russia is an obvious point on shared interests – the ultimate driver of alliances of course – but it is so erratic and semi-dictatorial, that is still distasteful despite the ‘reset.’

The most controversial part of this analysis is certainly my open claim that China will be a target of US soft containment, and maybe hard in the future. I should say here that I do not want this. I am very aware of the self-fulfilling prophecy problem; i.e., if we openly come out and say China is an enemy or threat, then by doing so, we make it into one. And certainly articles like mine are exactly what the Chinese declaim – a not-so-secret effort by US analysts to keep China down and such. And see Barnett on why I am completely wrong, if not dangerous, about China. But as an empirical prediction, I do think it holds. China’s growth and current values (populist nationalism, deep historical grievance, residual communism) are just too rapidly destabilizing, and I think Barnett doesn’t give nearly the necessary attention to the security dilemma problems China creates on its periphery. (IMO, Barnett overfocuses on China and G-2 coziness, while missing the nervousness in places like Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Indonesia.)   For my own writing on why I think the ‘China threat’ school is likely to win this debate, try here.

Finally, I should say in fairness that my own perception of China-as-threat has declined somewhat, in part because I visited the place. This strikes me as natural; closeness and exposure frequently breed understanding, and I like to think that all the nice Chinese scholars and hospitality I experience were in fact real. But the liberal values of academics exposed to new ideas and travel as a professional requirement hardly apply to populations and elites, especially those as nationalist as China and the US. The misperception likelihood is huge here; remember the Bush 2 administration came in ready to take on China until 9/11 happened. This will likely reassert itself as American dependence on Chinese financing grows and as the GWoT (hopefully) winds down. (Another problem here is the peer-review process. Articles take years to between the first inspired write-up and the end-point of publication. Reviewers send you back to the drawing board, and the pipeline effect means that even after final acceptance you may wait a year or more to see it in print.)

Ground Zero Mosque & Koran-Burning: the Xian Right Learns ID Politics

no_mosque_at_ground_zero_22 danish_cartoon_protest

Just about anyone with a website has already commented on this. There is no doubt the Christian right has responded as predictably and disturbingly as one might expect. I have only a few thoughts.

1. The Ground Zero ‘Mosque’ is probably a bridge too far at this point. In his fumbling way, I think Obama got it right. The community center should be permitted legally as an expression of religious freedom, but so many Americans, especially Christians, find it uncomfortable at minimum, terrifying at worst, that it is probably not a good idea at the moment. It is clear misstep in a country still trying to come to grips with 9/11, Iraq, the GWoT, etc. And the hysterical reaction from the US right over it should be an obvious red-flag to Islam generally that it desperately needs to conciliate the rest of the world rather than insist maximally on its rights – an obvious lesson that should have been learned in Europe, India, or after Durban II. To many Americans, Ground Zero is practically holy ground (rightly or wrongly), and it is indisputable that its perpetrators acted in Islam’s name. It is also clear that the US is spending a great deal of blood and treasure pushing back on radical Islam, and that many Americans want to see a pleasant, conciliatory face on Islam before they can swallow something like this. So long as global Islam’s image is dominated by this guy, Muslims in American should really be working bottom-up outreach, demonstrating on 9/11 in solidarity with the victims rather than openly testing the patience of the majority culture, by blaming it on a few bad apples and dismissing the rest of the discussion as islamophobia.

American Muslims need to pick their battles just like any minority; civil rights movements for blacks and homosexuals have showed us that Americans will accommodate. Acceptance will come, but not by pursuing CAIR-style grievance politics that sees racism everywhere. I think most Americans are still waiting for the debate inside Islam on what caused 9/11; this would really prove that Islam accepts pluralism in its heart, not just when some firestorm occurs on CNN. But you only get that from americanized Muslims like Foud Ajami or Fareed Zakaria who are effectively isolated from the discussion. It is outsiders like Olivier Roy, Bernard Lewis, R M Gerecht, Ann Applebaum, or  Christopher Caldwell who have really exposed the pathologies behind 9/11 with no clear response from folks like Tariq Ramadan or Feisal Abdul Rauf, much less the reactionary clerical elites in Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. Instead, the critiques are just ignored, as were the Arab Human Development reports earlier this decade. Just like Germany had to examine the Holocaust eventually, Islam needs to look inside 9/11 for a good house-cleaning before westerners will really be comfortable. Consider this counterfactual: if CAIR had organized a ‘Solidarity with America’ march on 9/11 every year or some analogously Oprah-style outreach, then I can’t imagine anyone would care now. But instead of introspection and an admission that pathologies deeply rooted in Islam created 9/11, the response of the US Muslim community has been quiescence or CAIR-style identity politics. I criticize America’s Christian right paranoia regularly on this site, but it is also willful ignorance to pretend the US is not a Christian-majority country, and as the Koran-burners show, they have learned identity politics too. How ‘bout everyone cool it on the religion for awhile?

2. The Koran-burning is the revenge of identity politics on the left. They are loopy and dangerous, but they also teach you just how dangerous stoking identity politics is. And for this you must blame the Left in the end. Starting in 1970s, civil rights-era equality was out, and identity politics was in. Non-white minorities in America were trained in multiculturalism by US universities and told to press group-fashioned political claims built around race or gender. The result was political correctness, in which free speech was assailed as permitting ‘disrespect.’ And no concept is more abused by ethnic ideologues than ‘respect.’ What better way to embarrass and delegitimize your critics than to easily cast them as ignorantly disrespectful of your culture, which you can casually invoke by just your last name. If they are racist, then you hardly need to listen to them, a tactic first rolled out against Daniel Moynihan’s famous DoL report 45 years ago. ‘Respect’ is wonderfully indefinable and elastic, its lack implies racist, vulgar stupidity, and it provides an easy out from the hard criticism liberal free speech permits. Pretty quickly, Israel’s defenders learned this; there is no better way to discredit Israel critics than anti-semitism charges. And Islam learned this too at Durban II. Now at last, white Christian Americans are learning this language as well. Regularly assailed as redneck racists, the easy answer is to adopt the pose of the opponent and ‘discover’ prejudice in the liberal anti-Christian media, e.g. This is why Fox News has such a siege mentality tone to its reporting, like the ‘war’ on Christmas. Here is a nice summary of how religious groups get trained to frame their demands as ‘rights’ they deserve as ‘victims’ of never-ending ‘prejudice’,’ i.e., free speech. But to be fair to the US right, it only went down this route after the ‘ethnicization’ of left-wing politics in the US in the last three decades. And for that blame the explosion of ethnic identity studies on US campuses.

Illiberal Zionism Update: Beinart Nails It



Peter Beinart is exactly the sort of liberal necessary to win the GWoT. He correctly realized that the American right is not credible in its claims to defend Western liberalism against salafi illiberalism, because too much of the GOP base is too illiberal now and sees the GWoT exactly as Bin Laden does – a theological clash of civilizations – only they are on the other side. The increasingly Christianized and fundamentalist (Protestant mostly) GOP wants to ‘win’ the GWoT as a triumph of Christianity and/or American power. They are, as Walter Russell Mead correctly notes, ‘Jacksonian Zionist,’ not liberal. No Muslim, correctly, will believe US power to be neutral, serving universalist liberalism, when Bush needed to be told that the GWoT had biblical justification and Sarah Palin insists that Israel be allowed to do whatever it wants in the Occupied Territories.

In the same vein, he makes a good case here for the growing illiberalism of Zionism and the increasing inability of liberal countries to support its religio-nationalist, rather than liberal, opposition to Islamism and Arab authoritarianism. I made exactly the same point a year ago. (It is always nice to be confirmed in one’s prejudices I suppose, but Beinart does a better job of it than I did.) Sullivan adds his usually biting and gloomy commentary.

All sides seem to be sliding toward a clash of civilizations paradigm. All the more reason for the US to focus on the battle of ideas against salafism and get out of the Middle East in the medium-term

Sharia Orwellianism Update, or Why the GWoT Rolls on and on…

Yet another attack on a Mohammed cartoonist in Europe, complete with violent, alienated, unintegrated Muslim youth screaming ‘Allah akhbar’ at bewildered Europeans…


The relevant context is here and here.

This sorta stuff just makes my blood boil, because it lays so bare the splits between western liberalism and Middle Eastern salafism. This pretty much tells you why the war on terrorism continues, as does the West’s concern about Islam, despite Obama’s election. And it should make pretty clear why it is important to fight the GWoT and win it.

If you haven’t seen the original Mohammed cartoons, here they are. If you are ‘offended,’ then I am elated. Liberalism is good for you. I am proud to re-post them. Go surf someplace else…