Trump’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ with China: Huntington’s Model doesn’t even work in East Asia

Image result for clash of civilizations map

This is a re-post of an essay I wrote for The National Interest a week ago.

Basically my argument is that even if you are a hawk on China and see it as an emerging competitor or even threat to the US, the clash of civilizations framework is a weak analytical model by which to understand Sino-US tension.

The big problem is that Huntington builds his civilizations everywhere else in the world around religion, but in East Asia he can’t, because that would make China and Japan – who are intense competitors – allies in a Confucian civilization. Making Japan and China allies would be ridiculous, so Huntington can’t use Confucianism as a civilization, even thought that so obviously fits his model for East Asia. Hence, Huntington falls back on national labels, identifying separate ‘Sinic’ and ‘Nipponic’ civilizations. This ad hoc prop-up of the theory undercuts Huntington’s whole point of arguing that national distinctions are giving way to civilizational ones and that therefore we should think of future conflicts as between civilizations, not nation-states. Well, apparently East Asia didn’t make that shift; conflict here is still nationalized. So

There are other issues I bring up as well, but that’s the main problem. Please read the essay after the jump…

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On the 70th Anniversary of the North Korean Communist Party, Just How Communist is North Korea?

It was the 70th anniversary of the North Korean communist party – officially, the Korean Workers Party (KWP) – on October 10. The event got lots of press for the usual military bluster, but given that the event ostensibly celebrated a communist party, I thought it a nice opportunity to consider just how ‘communist’ North Korea actually is. If you look at that pic above, it sure looks communist: red everywhere, the iconography, the Mao suit, the Soviet-esque military uniforms (complete with those ridiculously oversized hats), the party symbol, and so on. So the stalinist form is still there.

But three changes since the end of the cold war have turned North Korea into something else:

1. Monarchic Succession, an openly feudal practice

2. The Replacement of Juche by Songun, ie, the flirtation with racism/fascism in the place of socialism as regime ideology

3. The effective Collapse of the Public Distribution System and its (unadmitted) replacement by creeping marketization from below and rampant corruption.

The original post is here at Real Clear Defense. Next month I want to write on other possible interpretive frames for North Korea once one throws out Marxism – is it a mafia state, or a national defense state, for example?

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My Latest for Lowy: “On the Contemporary China-Wilhelmine Germany Analogy, part 1: Similarities”


There is so much analogizing of contemporary China to Wilhelmine Germany (here’s yet another one), that I thought a longer treatment would be in order. I wrote this originally for the Lowy Institute, whose blog I write for. I like this post, as I feel like it takes a widely thrown-around, yet poorly elaborated meme and fleshes it out. Part 2 will go up in a week or so. And yes, I know that the German flag in the pic is the modern one of the FRG, not the old black-white-red. But I couldn’t find the two of them together…

Here’s that essay:

“Contemporary China is frequently analogized to pre-1914 Wilhelmine Germany. A host of commentators have made this comparison in the past few years: Walter Russell Mead, Martin Wolf, Edward Luttwak, and Joseph Nye, and a little further afield, Gideon Rachman, and Victor David Hansen. Similarly, it is often suggested in these analogies that East Asia today is like Europe before WWI; one famous formulation has it that ‘Asia’s future will be Europe’s past.’

So in this and my next post, I want to examine the China-Germany analogy in some detail. In brief, I think the comparisons are enticing, particularly because it is hard to find a good analogy of a ‘peaceful rise,’ as China, until recently at least, seemed to be pursuing. That is, we use Germany 1914 as an analogy in part, because we can’t find others that seem to China fit well, and we routinely use analogical reasoning in social science to improve our understanding. But I also think the contrasts are stark enough that the predictive value of the analogy is weak. Ideally, this would be pursued more seriously as a full-blown research paper, so to any graduate students reading, this is a nice IR project with an Asian empirical focus.

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R2P’s ‘Time Problem’: Helping Libya, not Syria, b/c Libya Revolted First


I am participating in a scenario on what the West’s response to the Syria revolt should be. A growing number of contributors are arguing for western intervention. Proponents explicitly cite the Western intervention in Libya. I have argued against this. Another such intervention would likely split NATO, bring howls of protest from the BRICS, and the likely western interveners (US, France, Britain) are already overstretched in Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. These are good practical reasons (one can only do so much). But they do not alter the obvious moral question – why help Libyans, not Syrians, or by extension, Yemenis who are also dying in increasing numbers for an admirable effort for more democracy? It is ontologically horrific to say that Libyan lives are more valuable than those of other Arab (or Africans, East Timorese, etc). So why help Libya, but not others?

The most obvious answers are, unfortunately pretty coarse and strategic: Libya is close (Rwanda was far from NATO); Gaddafi is a western enemy already (so getting rid of him is a ‘twofer’ – saving lives and eliminating an nuisance); Libya has oil. But these aren’t normative answers which fit the R2P framework. They are more traditional national interest answers. Within a traditional national interest frame of security (realism) these are good answers. But the whole point of R2P is to get beyond that sort of crass maneuvering and suggest there is minimum moral benchmark of global treatment of civilians.  If we accept the R2P logic, then some kind of moral distinctions should be made beyond the ‘extras’ that we don’t like Gaddafi already or that his oil supplies the huge EU market.

I do realize that this holds constant the notion that the West should go in. R2P might easily be construed as a recipe for neo-imperialism under the guise of human rights, as clearly many think the Libyan intervention really is. To which I would say two things. First, hold this thought for the sake of the argument. Assume that multiple interventions are justified, but scarce resources limit how much outsiders could intervene. Second, I don’t actually think R2P has to become a neo-conservative gimmick to go back to US empire. It could, I suppose, but that need not happen. Remember that the UN Security Council, including Russia and China, voted unanimously for the R2P resolution (1674), as did the General Assembly. (Go here for all the details.)

So if we assume that an R2P moral framework fits the Libyan intervention, then the question of the benchmarks for intervention come up. I argued before that Libya was a unique moment because a potential massacre was brewing in Benghazi. But it is also increasingly clear that the Libyan rebels got help because they moved first. That is, they revolted earlier and more seriously than did other places in Arab Spring. This has generated a lot of hypocrisy criticism about why then we did not go into Ivory Coast, and won’t into Syria or Yemen. This suggest it is just western imperialism after all in Libya.

I don’t think so, so this why I suggest that the timing of such crises might be a justification for deciding in which to intervene and which not. Ideally, of course, under an R2P frame, all brutal repressions would be subject to the same level of moral opposition, because any human life anywhere has the same ontological value (ie, Libyans are not ‘more’ human the Yemenis or Ivorians). This is so, but the reality of scarce resources in possible interveners means that discrimination will be made, and here is where I think timing can help to reduce the ontological awfulness of not helping Ivorians or Syrians while doing so in Libya.

I bring this up, because the debate over when to apply the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine has no good answer beyond the likelihood of mass slaughter. Nexon has done a good job of laying out all the tangled issues that justified the Libyan intervention (here and here), but he still can’t really place his finger well on anything that might be coherently called an ‘Obama Doctrine.’ The problem with the ‘mass slaughter’ benchmark is that it too places an uncomfortable value on life – ‘more’ is more important than ‘less.’ That is probably right, but leaves several obvious problems: how many is ‘more’ (1,000, 10,000, 100,000)?; there are lots of slaughters globally (Darfur, Rwanda), so how do we choose (if they have oil or not?!); any high benchmark of deaths is cold comfort to the ‘few’ people who are nonetheless being machine-gunned in Syria.

So it occurs to me that one benchmark that might help is the ‘first mover one. Libya gets help, because at the time of the revolt, other repressions (Yemen, Syria) weren’t so bad at the time. This has three advantages. First, it lessens the awful moral choice of saying the Syrian lives are less valuable than Libyan lives. Second, is responsive to the context of these sorts of repressions. Instead of placing all possible repressions against one another and saying which one, why not look at them sequentially in a time series. The West cannot do everything. Even if the West wasn’t in Iraq or Afghanistan, it would still be impossible to go everywhere there are truly awful repressions. Three, it helps lessen future repressions by drawing lines that other potential repressors will have to think about crossing, even if we couldn’t intervene anyway because we are overstretched from the first one.Ie, there is a potential signaling benefit for others from helping from the first mover.

So if we accept that R2P really is a global public good, and not just a western interventionist plot, then the issue of when to deploy it comes up. Using the time sequence logic sketched above seems like a good first cut, and a far better than saying R2P kicks in only when other more important, but unstated, interests, like oil or alliances, coincide. And Libya seems to meet that. There isn’t that much oil or other western interest there; Robert Gates admitted that much.

My Expatriate Tax Day Horror Story: Expats Can’t E-File! Hah! – 2011 UPDATE


Writing about Libya so much can be depressing (although if you haven’t read this yet, you really need to). So here is a bit of humor for a change. In 2.5 years of blooging, this re-posted entry below has proven to be one of my most read links. So on this tax day, when you are suffering from repeated robo-rejections from the hideous, dysfunctional, infuriating IRS e-submission system, I sympathize. The ‘error codes’ absolutely make my blood boil. They’re a perfect instance of eveything we hate in government – haughty, soulless, uninformative, disinterested, time-consuming – it’s like a federal, e-version of going to the DMV. Here is a brief 2011 update (I still couldn’t e-file myself):

a. I think I know how the IRS will fill the massive US budget hole – taxing foreign spouses! Hah! What a great gimmick! Yes, Uncle Sam is so rapacious and desperate for cash now that my wife, with no US address, income, citizenship, property, or assets of any kind, still needs to file a 1040. Can you imagine being a foreigner and reading the 1040, much less the guidebook for it, and understanding your obligations when you sign it? That’s just laughably surreal. Most Americans can’t make heads or tails of it. Good lord….Ridiculous.

b. Despite falling under the foreign earned income tax exclusion and having no US accounts, income, etc., I still couldn’t figure out the form tangle and had to fall back yet again on a tax-preparer, even though I am not supposed to even pay US taxes(!). Such a simple process failure just screams tax reform, which both Obama and Ryan thankfully seem to support. Paying $200 a third party in order to not pay the first party has ‘disintermediation’ wirtten all over it.

——–    REPOSTED FROM TAX DAY 2010  —————

Most people loathe the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the wrong reason. We all need to pay taxes. Taxes are, as the IRS’ building declares, the price of civilization. And that’s true. If you like roads, bridges, ports, military security…basically any public good you can think of, then we need the IRS.

The real reasons you should resent the IRS are actually reasons to loathe Congress. Recall that Congress makes the tax law. Those reasons are:

1. Philosophical: Democratic theory demands that laws be understandable and hence ‘follow-able’ by the general public. You know the speed limit, because you see the road signs and you passed a driving test that insures you can read the road signs. Even if you break minor laws – jay-walking, e.g. – you still know that you are cheating and that you are culpable. The problem with the IRS/tax code is that it is NOT understandable. In fact the tax code is so indecipherable that a staggering 89%  of Americans must hire a third party to do it for them. So the tax code fails a basic democracy test: can the general populace know and follow the law as ‘regular Joe’ citizens? Clearly not.

2. Pragmatic: The IRS is absolutely awful at the implementation of the tax code. The forms are long, abstruse, and unreadable. Look at the length of just the directions book for the basic 1040 form. 175 pages! Wth is gonna read all that lawyer-y, jargon-y c—? Well, no one of course. So 9 out of 10 of us pay a transaction fee to have someone else obey the law on our behalf.

Ah, but you say, ‘Kelly, you don’t live in the US, you have no fancy stock portfolio, and you have a low paying academic job (hah!), so doing your taxes can’t be that hard for you.’ *Sigh* You’d think so, but even expats must get a tax attorney. I don’t know one American in Korea who does his taxes himself. Imagine that: how awful is the tax code when I still can’t do my taxes myself, despite a foreign residence and no US income at all?!

Below is the cut-and-paste of the IRS’ soulless-robotic rejection of my effort at e-filing. Note ‘error codes’ – a nice faceless government term sure to enrage the tea-partiers even more – 0022 and 0016. Hah! How can I provide a US state and zip, when I don’t live in the US! LOL.

Think about that. The most obvious constituency to efile  – expatriates – can’t, because the IRS computer program refuses to accept foreign addresses on the 1040. And yes, even my tax attorney in the US couldn’t make it work. She had to email me the return, which I then had to snail-mail back to the IRS in the US. :))

On top of that, I could not use the EZ forms. I had to use the complete ones…

You gotta love the government. If you ran a business this way, you’d have been eliminated long ago.

Dear Free File Taxpayer: #2

The IRS has rejected your federal return. This means that your return has not been filed.

Here’s the reason for the rejection:

Error Code 0010: This is a general reject condition relating to the data that is in the Form and Field indicated.

Error Code 0022: The state abbreviation is invalid. The state abbreviation must meet these conditions to be valid: the state abbreviation must be consistent with the standard state abbreviations issued by the Post Office; and the state abbreviation cannot be blank, it must be entered.

Error Code 0016: The ZIP code is invalid. The ZIP code must meet these conditions to be valid: must be within the valid range for that state; cannot end with ’00’ with the exception of 20500 (the White House ZIP code); must be in this format ‘nnnnn-nnnn’ or ‘nnnnn’; and the ZIP code cannot be blank, it must be entered.

Error Code 0457: On Form 2555, the total of max. housing and foreign earned income exclusions (Line 43) from all Forms 2555 must equal housing/foreign earned income exclusion amount on the Other Income Statement (Line 21) multiplied by negative 1 (x-1).

Error Code 0463: On Form 2555 or 2555EZ, Taxpayer foreign street address and city must be completed. Country Code must have an entry with a country code.

Next steps:

Sign into your Free File return at to fix this problem and e-file again, or print the return to file by mail.

You can get more information about handling rejected returns in the FAQs found at

To track your return status, go to

This email was generated from an automatic system, which is not monitored for responses.

On the Kim Family Succession in North Korea


Kim Jong-Un (right), the now annointed successor to Jong Il (left)

As usual, Scott Snyder and Ruediger Frank have the best commentary on the succession and it importance for all Korea. Start with them before me.

I would just add a few points.

1. Much of the discussion about NK focuses on its supposed irrationality and unpredictability. I remember reading somewhere that Paul Wolfowitz was once asked which country on earth he feared the most, and he answered NK, because it operated so far outside international norms on just about everything – besides its regular asymmetric strikes against SK (like the Cheonan sinking, KAL 1987 bombing, or the bombing of the SK cabinet in 1983), it also engages in proliferation, drug-trafficking, insurance fraud (as a gimmick to raise money), and dollar counterfeiting. And of course, George Bush put NK on the Axis of Evil, even though it has no connection to Islamic radicalism at all, precisely because of the fear of irrationality linked to WMD. Increasingly though, I don’t buy this, and I think the succession demonstrates that NK is in fact somewhat predictable. I argued this a few weeks ago in Seoul, and the recent family succession, I believe, reinforces this.

While it is true that NK is nasty and does seem to cheat on all sorts of norms, they do this so regularly now, that its cheating is in fact predictable. This feels rather strange of course. Cheating is supposed to indicate unpredictability; but what if you cheat all the time? That too is regularity, right? As I argued in the link above, the Cheonan sinking does actually fit a pattern of asymmetric outbursts from NK in past, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise, however awful it was. Similarly, the succession happened much as the last one did – from father to son – and lots of analysts, both Asian and Western predicted it, both then and again this time. And then those predications came true. So while it is unfortunate for the long-suffering North Koreans, and its does not bode well for better NK behavior in future, it was not unexpected. I am not fully convinced by this position myself; erratic and weird still seem to be the best words to describe NK. But its also not the case that we can’t make fairly educated guesses about NK’s future.

2. In line with point 1 is the likelihood that Kim III probably won’t change much. Indeed, he sent a huge signal to the whole world by his dress in last week’s coming out party-parade that he is not a Gorbachev. Just about everyone noticed that he looks strikingly like Kim Il Sung (Kim I). Note the hair style, NK lapel pin, Mao outfit, and, quite honestly, the obesity (presumably to signal stolidity and robustness, although it is a good bet too that he is party-boy like his dad). The speculation is endless that he might actually change stuff, but if NK is more predictable than we think (point 1 above), and if he is consciously cloning himself on Kim I, then it is a good bet that business as usual will roll on. In fact, given his youth and, hence, possible longevity, he could give the NK system a new lease on life, just as Bashar al Assad did when he took over Syria. Like NK, Syria is corrupt, isolated and broke, but the sheer energy of a younger dictator has helped hold Syria together and forestall the endless speculation, endemic to any dictatorship, of palace coups and such. If Kim III can hang on through the early years, which will be the toughest, as factions maneuver for influence in the nouveau regime, then we might be looking at a semi-stable NK for another few decades.

3. Finally, I can’t pass up noting the sheer ideological ridiculousness of a communist monarchy. Nothing demonstrates the ideological bankruptcy of NK as much as a family succession. That is a feudal practice, of course, which is exactly the type of thing communism was supposed to eliminate as backward and repressive. Marx and Lenin, we all know, were bitingly harsh in their critiques of feudalism. One of Marx’ most mean-spirited comments was his famous complaint of the ‘idiocy of the peasantry,’ meaning that they stood outside of history as passive, uninformed spectators mired in ignorance. And of course, the primary historical claim of just about every Marxist theorist and leader was that history moved in stages and the communism was the next one after capitalism. When Khrushchev said ‘we will bury you’,’ he meant exactly that these large Marxist-metaphysical forces of History were working against capitalism, no matter what it did to stop, and that communism was the inevitable future. This is why leaders like Stlin and Pol Pot were so harsh on their feudal-agricultural communities; they were ‘behind’ in the marxist historical mechanic. Even Mao had the sense to avoid the ‘familiazation’ of the CCP (his wife didn’t last too long) and famously criticized Confucius as a feudal reactionary. Yet here we have a communist regime openly going back to a pre-capitalist mode, not moving forward into the post-capitalist era as its own ideology says it should. One wonders how in god’s name NK ideologues must work to square this blatant neo-feudalism with regime ideology. It just baffles the mind.

More on Asian Multiculturalism: 5 Masters Theses to be Written



If you don’t know anything about this topic, start here.  This is outside my normal area of interest – foreign relations – but I double majored in political theory in grad school, and PNU just had this big multiculturalism (MC)conference, so its on my mind. On MC specifically in Korea, my previous thoughts are here and here.

1. Northeast Asians (NEA – Chinese, Koreans, Japanese) strike me as quite nationalistic, and nationalism up here is still tied up in right-Hegelian, 19th century notions of blood and soil. In China, the Han race is the focus of the government’s newfound, post-communist nationalism. In Korea, it is only the racial unity of minjeok that has helped keep Korea independent all these centuries. In Japan, the Yamato race is so important that even ethnic Koreans living there for generations can’t get citizenship and there’s no immigration despite a contracting population. MC in NEA faces huge political opposition that the already existing multiculturalism of South and Southeast Asia (SEA) don’t face.

2. SEA is where the real action is on this question, and it is not all clear to me that it has been really successful. In the discussion of last week’s conference, I warned the other participants to look at the ethnic conflict that can come from multiculturalism – Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines. Japan saw this and decided to risk a general social decline from ageing and low births, rather than to chance renewal through immigration, because it might lead to ethnic conflict. Really successful MC is rare outside the 4 classic immigration countries (US, Canada, Australia, NZ), and SEA’s MC is more often associated with separatism and ethnic violence than with growth and social harmony.

3. I wonder sometimes how much MC is just an academic fad that Asian countries are mimicking, because they feel like it shows how modern they are if they worry about the same things that western intellectuals and societies do. I have a very deep suspicion that emulation from a desire for foreign respect plays a big role, because the central foreign policy goal for Asian elites is to be accepted by Western elites as equals. In order to be equals, they have to look like and act like equals. As the post-modernists would say, equality with the West will be created by performing as the West does. So Asian mimicry of the MC discourse of western political has nothing to do with functional utility of MC in Asia, and everything to do with capturing respect by acting as already respected  actors do. Besides the cloned MC discourse in Asia, here are two other examples of this emulation phenomenon:

3.a. Western clothes and music, for example, carry much of their cachet in Asia, because they signal modernity in cultures with long, old, highly conservative patriarchal traditions: in the New York and LA Asians see on TV, white people wear designer clothes and go to clubs (think Sex and the City or Friends). Hence if Asians do that too, they are also modern.

3.b. The Asian regionalism discourse in Asian IR is wholly abjured from the empirical reality of persistent Asian nationalism and talk-shop regional organizations. Asian organizations are many but shallow; they don’t actually integrate their members. Yet Asian elites talk about the integration of Asia, even though there is really no evidence for that. ASEAN is 2/3 the age of the EU, but has done maybe 10% of the integration work that the EU has done. Instead, the real explanation for the Asian regionalism discourse in Asian IR is mimicry out a desire to look modern: if the Europeans are regionalizing, and they keep telling us about it, then this is an important ‘modern’ or ‘civilized’ discourse we need to elaborate too, even if it is wholly fanciful and unempirical. (The same thing happened in Africa; the African Union cloned the EU explicitly to make Africa look more like European and hence ‘modern’ or ‘civilized.’ But like Asian regionalism, the AU has gone nowhere, because African citizens don’t actually want it.)

4. I am not convinced that Asians, especially in NEA, really want this. NEA states are in an interesting pre-MC position. That is, Japan, Korea and China (less so) have essentially ethnically homogenous populations that feel that they are a unique people represented by their own national states. MC, by contrast, assumes a universal-generic, non-ethnic state which umpires among different cultures doing their own thing; Canada is the best model of this. So a good question is whether NE Asians want that. The academic discourse may say they should (otherwise they are racist), or that it will happen whether they want it to or not. But that is scholasticism and elitist arrogance. There is a critical democratic choice question that MC routinely avoids in claiming, simply, that MC is inevitable. The better question is whether citizens want their countries to multiculturalize. And I think the answer to that is pretty obviously ‘no’ in most places. I dare say most French would – if offered the choice strictly on its own merits – prefer a France without its Muslim population; Americans would likely say the same thing about the illegal Hispanic population. Hence for ‘pure’ Asian states, the question is whether their demos actually want to open the doors when so many other countries have come to regret it.

5. The big difference between the US debate on immigration and the of Asia (and Europe) is over legality. The US shows its far greater willingness to multiculturalize insofar as it willingly accepts lots of legal immigrants ever year. It strikes me as amazing that resistance to illegal immigration would be read as racism, but that is how far along the US is on the MC route. By contrast Asians are still debating the value of legal immigration. Illegal immigration is not tolerated and punished swiftly with uncontroversial, widely-accepted deportation.

AZ’s Immigration Law is Only ‘Harsh’ if You’ve Never Lived Abroad


Last week’s big PNU conference on multiculturalism in Korea got me thinking about the new Arizona immigration law that allows police to demand valid identity paper on reasonable suspicion.

As with so many other debates in the US, the new one on Arizona’s ‘racist’ immigration law is ridiculously uniformed by practice in other places. Usually this iconic American ignorance of the rest of the world rebounds to the disadvantage of the US Right. Conservatives, absolutely bedazzled by American exceptionalism, refuse to see how Bushism alienated the world and forced Americans travelling to say they were from Canada. But on illegal immigration, it is really the US Left that is benighted, willfully refusing to see the rule of law problem of 10-20 million undocumented people running about. For example, Chait will tell you how your concern for about unlawful migration is really just racism. How cynically, smugly condescending of the race-obsessed American Left to share its moralism with you racists thinking about law and documentation.

I have lived in other countries for 6 years and counting (about 1/6 of my life), and I simply accept it as routine that I can be stopped by the police and demanded for ID. In Germany, I had to have my ID card at all times; in Russia, I had to carry my passport at all times (rather risky, that). In Korea, I must carry my alien ID card at all times too. I do, and I certainly don’t howl and complain about it. I get asked for it, as well as a copy of my visa, all the time – in hospitals, on the internet, by government officials, cops, etc. Since when did non-citizens carrying proper ID become ‘racist tyranny’? Do US liberals really believe that? Do we really want 15 million illegals running around the US without documentation?

I went through the legal immigration process; let them do it too. Yes, it is a pain. Yes, I pay the Korean government a lot of money for some silly stamps, and I wait forever in some stuffy room for a bored bureaucrat to glare at me. But it’s not ‘orwellian racial profiling.’ Come on already. You’re a guest in someone else’s house. You know the rules are going to be a little tougher. And you should accept that, because you choose to go there. That is their system. You must respect it; you can always leave.

Ultimately, immigrants are guests, and it is our responsibility to follow our hosts’ rules. If you don’t like those rules you – a guest – don’t have the moral standing to criticize. We immigrants take what the residents dish out. It’s their system to set, not ours. And it is extraordinary bad faith to name-call our hosts racists. That is offensive to very people we want to allow us in the door. It’s both stupid and rude.

If you think the US rules are burdensome or racist, try living in Asia or Europe! Dual citizenship is nearly impossible. The Korean government makes me renew my visa every year – even though I am long-term employed resident foreigner with property, education, and all that. They make money off the foreigner population by requiring annual visa renewals, but it is also a way to check up on us that we aren’t screwing around too much.

So where in god’s name did ILLEGAL immigrants in the US get the gumption to expect they shouldn’t have to demonstrate who they are to the lawful authorities? If anything the moral posture should be reversed. Illegal immigrants should bend over backward in thankfulness that Americans are so tolerant they even look the other way on rampant illegality. If I were a publicly known illegal immigrant in SK, I would last about 5 minutes before being shoved onto a plane. If that constitutes ‘racism’ and a ‘police state,’ then you can understand why the Tea Party movement hates the government. By law the government is supposed to deport illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration is a misdemeanor, and repeated attempts are a felony. Yet 15 million people function everyday outside the basic rule of law. That is not ‘victory against racism;’ it is a massive failure of the US justice system.

The heart of the US Left’s critique of Bush – which I accept – is that he violated the rule of law with torture. But that means the Left, and America’s Hispanics, must acknowledge the same on this question. If you want different immigration laws, then change them through the policy process. But the current regime of ‘purposive unenforcement’ is incompatible with political order.

I shudder to say it, but the US Right is correct on this one.

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…


PNU Multiculturalism Conference: How ‘MC’ is Korea Really? (Not Much)

New Image

Multiculturalism is growing issue in Korean life because of Korea’s severe demographic slow-down and aging. I have written about this before here. The following is my discussant response to a paper on the confused Korean administrative response to Korea’s growing non-citizen population. Multiculturalism is growth area in Asian studies; there is a good dissertation here waiting to be written. Email me if you want the paper on which this post is based. The conference is today.


“This paper provides a valuable first overview of the emerging Korean policy response to the oft-declaimed ‘multiculturalization’ of Korea. Chung provides an impact assessment of various policy tools with which the Korean government is experimenting. She finds that Korea is increasingly treating its foreign population as a resource to be cultivated and exploited through outreach, where in the past the Republic of Korea Government (ROKG) viewed the foreign population more as a burden or necessary evil to be managed. In the jargon of public administration, this is her identified switch from policy instruments stressing ‘negative coercion’ to ‘affirmative non-coercion.’ She also notes the ‘experimentation,’ if not disorganization and bureaucratic turf-conflicts, that characterize the administrative response. I have four comments.


1. Organizational Theory: Bureaucratic Failure

The experimentation and gradual drift of the ROKG toward more positive interaction with the resident foreigner population strikes me as typical bureaucratic behavior in response to new and awkward issues. An organization’s first, pathological response is to punish and sanction what it does not understand. Only as anomalies and policy failures accumulate are new methods tried. In the language of social science theory, Chung has uncovered classic institutional behavior, and I think a future version of this paper would benefit from some comparison of Korea with other, traditionally non-immigration states’ public policies on multiculturalism (MC). Japan would be a fine East Asian example, particular as the contrast would be quite stark. Japan remains in Chung’s first stage of sanction and punishment; ethnic Koreans, e.g., despite decades of residence in Japan, are excluded from Japanese citizenship. Japan has clearly rejected multiculturalization in the last generation, even as its demographic crisis accelerated into absolute population contraction in the last few years.


2. Non-Korean Multiculturalism Experience: Unused Western theory

I wish Korean MC theory would more clearly use the pre-existing Western theory and policy experience. My sense of the media debate and policy response in Korea is that Koreans see this as some radically new issue. And Chung’s work clearly demonstrates the organizational and policy ad hocery and confusion of the last decade. But obviously this debate is not new in the classic immigrant countries – the US, Canada, NZ, and Australia. And European countries face the same dilemma Korea does: they have a strong national sense of distinction and find the ethno-religious pluralism of sustained immigration a major social challenge. So there is a lot of experience out there among Korea’s OECD peers that I think is not being utilized.


3. Low Empirical Multiculturalization of Korea

I believe we can explain Korea’s generally disorganized response – regardless of its improving intentions – because the issue of multiculturalization is not, in fact, as pressing as is made out to be in the Korean media. In a population of 50.2 M, only 1.14 M are not Korean citizens. Of those 1.14 M foreigners are 400k ethnic Korean ‘returnees’ and 100k USFK soldiers and affiliates who live in artificially Americanized and short-term circumstances. In short, the ethnically distinct population of long-term resident foreigners is only about 600k. That is awfully small number. And how many of them actually intend to stay and settle in Korea? Very few I imagine. There are of course issues of racism in Korea, and Koreans remain deeply attached the romantic-organic notion of the minjeok that makes it tough for long-term resident foreigners to join the community. But still, as a public policy issue, Chung’s finding of experimentation and ad hocery should not surprise us given the statistical tininess of the cohort examined.


4. Korean Democratic Consensus for Multiculturalism?

There is a democratic theory problem in the discussion of Korean multiculturalism that I believe is frequently overlooked. It is not clear at all to me that Korea wants to be ‘multiculturalized.’ Before we engage in the normatively self-congratulatory discourse of Korean’s imminent multiculturalization, we should discern whether the median Korean voter actually want this. To be honest, I am not sure. My sense is that Koreans have a strong sense that they have suffered from invasion and turbulence so often in their national history, that they very much want this tiny sliver of land in the world to be theirs and manifestly culturally Korean. At the very least, the multiculturalization of Korea, whether in social science theory or public administration, should proceed on the basis of a deep democratic consensus for this change. I would like to see far more polling data that substantiates that a durable majority of Koreans do in fact want the major socio-cultural shift implied by sustained immigration. Japan again is a good Asian counterfactual. Its citizenry reject MC, even though the demographic argument for immigration is quite strong.

Part 2 is here.

Stand with “South Park” vs Sharia Orwellianism


By now you know that not even “South Park” is immune from salafism’s insistence on terrifying and alieanting the rest of the world. You may love or hate the show, but the defense of free-speech is a central values breakpoint between liberal modernity and reaction, between the best traditions of the West and the worst of Gulf Islam. This is an important part of the battle of ideas in the GWoT, as is defending the Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the Mohammed cartoonists in Denmark. Ali, herself a terrible victim of this paranoia, has a nice summary of the explicit free-speech threat of Muslims exporting sharia onto non-Muslims.

Everyone with a blog should do as Jon Stewart did on April 22 and explicitly defend the right of free speech, especially the right to ridicule and mock religion. Religions as a body of thought deserve as much scrutiny as any another paradigm, intellectual system, or philosophy. And religion certainly needs this criticism if it is not just to be superstition and received ascientific silliness, repackaged as ‘time-honored tradition,’ and codified by some book written a long time, then repackaged as ‘divine revelation.’  Even the faithful know this in their heart of hearts. Consider this counterfactual: if your friend told you that snakes could talk, that people came back from the dead, or that bushes burned without disintegrating, wouldn’t you be pretty incredulous – unless you heard it at Sunday school? I never had a teacher in my Catholic grade school who could answer that one, which was a pretty big let down.

If you don’t know the story of Augustine’s conversion to Christianity, it is an object lesson in this healthy interchange between religion and criticism. Read the Confessions for the whole story, but the short version is that the young Augustine found Christianity ridiculously primitive, intellectually soft, and superstitious. Trained in Greek philosophy and the high Latin of the great Roman authors, he found the writing of the New Testament poor and unconvincing. The story of how Augustine still came to Christianity and helped drag Christianity into a meaningful interaction with Greek philosophy is intellectual gripping, spiritually provocative, and more likely to convince you of Christianity’s veracity than any of the Palin-esque, family values TV preachers who masquerade today as authorities on Christianity. (If you want a 20th century version of this back-and-forth, read about CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein’s lengthy discussions of Christianity.)

The point is that religions, most especially today Gulf Islam (and American evangelical Christianity), desperate need their Nietzsches, South Parks, Hirsi Alis, and Christoper Hitchens to force them to stay up to par. Defending “South Park” is not just about free speech. It’s also about the larger point made by the New Atheists in the last 10 years: that religion must find a way to live in a the modern, plural, ‘impure’ multicultural, scientific, democratic world. If it can’t, if it simply lashes out to demonize (Benedict XVI) or butcher (salafism) its opponents, then trained people will never take it seriously. And that is the greatest ‘disrespect’ the faithful should really fear – when even the mildly educated think you’re like the Raelians or something – simply ridiculous and unworthy of meaningful consideration.

Addendum: It should be noted that the Islamic prohibition against imagery of Muhammad is far less totalist than the Gulf Sunni salafists would have you think. Shi’ites don’t care a whit, and Southeast Asian Sunnism was pretty lenient on this too until Saudi oil money and clerics start bringing the ‘pure’ (i.e., ‘arid-as-the-Gulf-desert’) version of Islam in the last generation. ISLAM DOES NOT HAVE BE MONOPOLIZED BY THE JIHADIS.

Foreigners Should Not Intervene in Korea’s Multiculturalism Debate

This an unpublished letter to the editor at the Korea Times.

The poor treatment of Bonojit Hussain ( is a sad commentary on race relations in Korea but is no crime and certainly not a ‘human rights’ violation. Mr. Hussain should do all us foreigners here a favor and drop his complaint:

1. Racism is not a crime, and neither is stupidity. Open societies like Korea do not criminalize thought, even repugnant foolishness. Mr. Hussain was not physically assaulted, and his Korean harasser is entitled to his beliefs and prejudices. It makes a mockery of the notion of ‘human rights’ to charge a drunk ajeossi on a bus for 60 seconds of vulgarity. Racism is overcome in the marketplace of ideas not by an orwellian ‘opinion police.’ The US went down this road into the political correctness wars of the 1990s, and Mr. Hussain’s home country, India, is balkanized by exactly such racialized law-making. We should hardly encourage that among our hosts.

2. We foreigners are guests in someone else’s house. The Korean harasser’s behavior was improper, but we foreigners do not have the moral standing to take legal action on our hosts’ opinion of our presence. As voluntary guests, there are limits to our claims against our hosts, and exaggerating racist vulgarity as a human rights violation certainly crosses them. Barring physical intimidation, we have no claim to an ‘appropriate’ Korean opinion. We have chosen to come to Korea. We are not a conquered or coerced population (like Canadian francophones or Native Americans) with a moral claim to special rules, much less a ‘human rights’ committee. It is part of our duty as willing guests to absorb Korean ambivalence, and occasional resentment, about our presence with aplomb and restraint.

3. Korea is scarcely a ‘multicultural’ society, and we have no right to demand or describe it as such. For all the talk of ‘globalizing’ Korea, Korea is still quite ethnically homogenous. Over 97% of the ROK population is Korean. Over 90% of the foreigners here are other East Asians who blend in more easily. Most others, such as the hagwon teachers or US military, are transients. Hence, Koreans expect us to either assimilate or leave at some point. There is no permanent, unassimilated minority here that demands a multicultural restructuring of Korean society (as there is, for example, in India or Switzerland). More importantly, it is not at all clear that Koreans want their country to be a multi-culture. And this we must respect. This is their country, and we must honor and abide by their choices. It is terrible bad faith for us to come voluntarily and then promptly demand multiculturalism as our due. It is not; the burden of obligation lies the other way. It is our responsibility to integrate, learn Korean (god help us), eat our kimchi, and otherwise behave well, including respect for our hosts’ ambivalence on the foreigner question.

As Koreans accustom themselves to non-Korean faces, attitudes will change. But we may not demand that change, nor try to shame our hosts into it. Polyethnicity is a change for them to make at their own pace and in their own way. As a democracy, any shift toward multiculturalism in Korea must have public opinion support. It cannot be the product of lawsuits by guests. Koreans may get there, but then again, they may not, and they may not want to. However the debate ends, it is not our place to intervene.

More Cairo Fallout: Zionism Must Remain as Liberal as Possible

The bedrock of Israel’s claim to moral superiority in the Middle East (ME) is its liberal democratic pluralism. It is the only ME state ranked ‘free’ by Freedom House. This separates it from the dictatorships, openly islamist governance of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Gaza or the pan-Arabist nationalist narratives so common elsewhere. In a neighborhood filled with illiberal, particularistic ideologies rooted in the conservative communalism of race or religion, Israel has hewed to a liberal universalism. This morally elevates it above its neighbors and appeals to the West, to whom liberalism is modern, and Arabism and Islamism feel like 19th century reactionary throwbacks.

Yet this is only partially true, of course. Israel too has a nationalist-religious narrative – Zionism, the restoration of Eretz Israel. This narrative is well-known, but its formal proclamation as Israel’s legitimation would be problematic. That would place Israel’s intellectual justification in the same particularist/communalist realm as its neighbors. Instead of a liberal, open state contending with reactionary aggression, de jure Zionism would make the Middle East into a competition of religio-nationalist projects, in which one is triumphant through force of arms.

Arab and Islamist ideologies claim Palestine as national soil or holy ground. Western liberalism finds this reactionary and distasteful. To the extent that Israel argues for and practices a liberal use of this space (as it does, e.g., in permitting free worship for all in Jerusalem), then the West will sympathize with its attempt to defend liberalism against reaction. But if Israel overindulges a soil/blood/religion narrative too, then western sympathy diminishes. If Palestine is read as sacred Zion, holy soil, by Jews, then the conflict slides easily toward a religious or cultural contest in the vein of a clash of civilizations.

Clearly the settler movement endorses exactly this sort of thinking. For them, Eretz Israel is a holy and nationalist project. But more disturbing is when such logic is directed as justification at Americans who should not be expected to support a religious, nationalized project. This violates our liberal values, and opens the door for Arabists and Islamists to ask why we prefer the Jewish religio-national project for Palestine over their own. The answer, of course, is greater cultural and religious affinity between Americans and Israelis, as well as more political comfort with Israel over its (dangerous and badly governed) neighbors. But if we openly assert this, then we lose all moral claim to arbitrate neutrally the Arab-Israeli dispute. Then we become a partner to one side in a particularistic cultural showdown, rather than a defender of liberal universalist values. This is exactly the suspicion that Obama worthily tried to overcome in Cairo.

I am thinking here of M Peretz’ and Netanyahu’s rejection of Obama’s Cairo speech. Peretz is miffed that Obama did not validate the zionist narrative of Israel’s foundation. Obama sought “to diminish the determination of the Jewish people through the ages, and especially since the age of nationalism in the mid-nineteenth century, to reclaim their homeland, to bring its very earth out of desolation and restore its dispersed sons and daughters to Zion–all this not as a reparation [for the Holocaust], but as a right.’ And Netanyahu: “The right to establish our sovereign state here, in the Land of Israel arises from one simple fact: Eretz Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish People.” To boot, Netanyahu wants the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state.

Yet Obama is exactly right to reject such illiberal logic. To endorse such conservative romantic metaphysics would be politically disastrous and violate core American liberal beliefs. It is exactly this sort of rhetoric, even from the avowedly liberal New Republic, that convinces Arabs and Muslims that Israel is just another religio-nationalist project they must contend with their own. This sort of ‘holy soil’ rhetoric fires the conflict, not softens it.

We all know that Israel was founded in great part on the intellectual basis that Peretz and Netanyahu describe. But this sort of religious nationalism no longer commands normative respect in the West. The reason the West today prefers Israel to its neighbors is its liberalism – civil rights, elections, religious freedom not its Zionism (except for the US religious right). So every time Israeli leaders and defenders wander into zionist, antipluralist territory about the Jews’ ‘right’ to Palestine – well, then Westerners just can’t go down that road.  Invoking divine rights, national privilege from time immemorial, Moses, or God to claim territory is exactly the same logic Muslim ideologues use to denote parts of the world as ‘Muslim lands,’ which may therefore be purged of non-Muslim influences. The claim that Israel must be ‘Jewish’ has never been demanded of the Palestinians before. It is creepy, because it implies demographic control measures should Israel’s Jewish majority status be jeopardized. The US can hardly be expected to support such language.

Hence, the dilemma seems to be to square the zionist desire to have a de facto Jewish state with the liberal need to have Israel be a de jure pluralist democracy. This problem is similar to Quebec’s desire to be both liberal and francophone. An open constitutional declaration of a Jewish national-religious state would make Israel into a more liberal, Jewish version of Iran. But Judaism could heavily influence national life if Jews were a strong majority within a liberal democratic frame, as is the francophone case in Quebec. The best way to achieve that is to cut the occupied territories loose as soon as possible and keep the overt zionist jargon under wraps. Israel can be a Jewish-majority state, as the US is a Christian-majority state or Quebec is a francophone society, but Israel should never seek to constitutionally be a ‘Jewish state.’ This is what religious ideologues in places like Saudi Arabia or Calvin’s Geneva do. Zionism needs to try to be as liberal as possible. If not, Israel is just another competing tribe in the factionalized Middle East, with no principled claim on Western support.

Obama’s Grand Slam in Cairo also Illustrates the Lack of Secular Politics in the Middle East

He certainly is talented! I have been in Korea since August 2008, so I have not seen many Obama speeches. I am just floored by the difference with W. No wonder the press is swooning. Unlike the faux-authority projected by Cheney’s crossed hands and low voice (he was just too wrong too many times), Obama has the magic in that imperious, super well-educated look when he lifts his chin, creases his brow, and narrows his eyes. He must have been a great lawyer to see in court; he reminds me of my best grad school teachers.

1. I am intellectually pleased at how well my predictions of the speech fared. I got most everything right, both in the topics he selected and how he treated them. He did engage in lots of praise of Islam that will make Bushies, neo-cons, and evangelicals squirm. As I suspected he threw in the PBUH and references to Islamic scientific achievements. This laid the groundwork for the criticisms, so it was necessary, and thankfully there were no real eye-rolling sycophancies. But I do think calling the Koran ‘holy’ all the time did not project the political secularism needed to encourage religious pluralism in the ME, and the line about ‘battling negative stereotypes of Islam’ was a lame multicultural sop to the Muslim identity politics that lead to Durban II and the bogus, free speech-squelching notion of ‘islamophobia.’ I expect the Fox News-set will harp on that one. On the up side, Obama added a few extra themes: women’s rights, democracy, and development.

2. Just about all his comments were right.

As I argued, but hardly expected in the speech, Obama referenced Japan and Korea as examples of modernization without cultural loss.

He identified the war of necessity in South Asia and admitted that Iraq was a war of choice, while also noting that Iraqis are better of without Saddam. He didn’t apologize for Iraq, which would have set off a national-conservative backlash at home, but he seemed to imply it was an error. Very smooth.

He noted the concerns over women’s rights and modernization, but rightfully blew threw that reactionary posture pretty fast to say what needed to be said: that the ME is falling behind the rest of the world and that this feeds both poverty and radicalism.

He basically dumped ME peace back in their hands by saying we can’t do it for them. He said lots of right things about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He attacked Muslim anti-semitism and Holocaust denial and openly declared the illegitimacy of the Israeli West Bank settlement to an Arab audience. Nice! And he backed that with a subtle and correct shot that too many Arab regimes don’t really care to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Also correct.

He even had the courage to touch on religious tolerance in the Muslim ME, which I think is a critical breakpoint with the West. The defense of the Copts was an important gesture, particularly to western Christians who think the Islam demands wide latitude for its practitioners in the West while denying it in the ME (basically accurate).

He also went to bat for the freedom agenda – important because it signals a continuity of US commitment to democracy across quite different administrations. Unfortunately he passed on singling out his host Mubarak, exactly the sort of US-supported ME despot that fires al Qaeda.

Finally, did you catch the subtle end of Bush-era grand strategy: “no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other”? That is pretty much the end of regime change and preemption.

3. I can’t say he really missed much. But for the PC bit about stereotypes and the missed swipe at Mubarak, this was pretty much a grand slam.

4. I was pleased with the audience reaction. At no point did it get nationalist, islamist or otherwise jingoistic. They applauded not only at the complements, but also the criticisms. Very good.

5. But there is an important and deep political theory insight to be gleaned from the language of the talk. It was not intentional but should be revelatory to secular westerners unaccustomed to ME political discourse. Obama’s constant reference to Islam and his use of religious quotations and invocation of Islamic and religious values was a deep indication of the cultural cleft between the West and Islam, albeit more between secular Europe and the religious ME. And I suspect that an upper class secular Democrat like O found it somewhat uncomfortable to be constantly referring to ‘faith.’ To this day, I admire Howard Dean’s response to G Stephanopoulos’ mandatory and obnoxious question about the role of religion in his politics. Dean simply said there was no role.

Yet Obama can’t talk that way in the ME for two reasons. First, Islamism as a social movement has exploded in the ME since 1967. The ME is alive with religion in the way of Massachusetts Bay Colony or the Amish. Islam is in the middle of a ‘great awakening’ period, and the language of religion is spilling into all areas. Hence the upsurge of Muslim identity politics and discovery of something called ‘islamophobia,’ which here is defined so broadly as to include just about any criticism. So Islam must be genuflected to and wrapped into any serious socio-political discussion in the ME. For contrast, look at Southeast Asia where is Islam is more secular.

Second, Islam has become the shield for opposition in the ME, just like Orthodoxy was in the USSR. Islam has become the channel for political resistance to atrocious government of the ME, and so it has become increasingly politicized. Politicized religion is almost always apocalyptic and absolutist, and the contemporary ME is no different. New ideas, policy proposals, criticism must invariably cite koranic verse and treat it as font of authority – as O did last yesterday. (For parallels, think about how the US right uses the writings of the Founders and Framers as touchstones for just about everything, or the way the Soviets and Chinese used to comb through Marx for quotations to support whatever new policy they wanted to pursue.)

This more than anything else betrays the bankruptcy of politics in the ME. It badly lacks a public-spirited, nondenominational language of citizenship. It is trapped in the religious and chronological parochialism of a 1400 year old revelation. This both cripples and exacerbates politics. Cripples, because the Koran (and the hadith) hardly fit the needs of social phenomena like the discovery of the New World, industrialization, space travel, or globalization. (Think of the ridiculous anti-modern intransigence of the Haredim.) And it exacerbates politics by injecting religion at every turn and so constantly raises political difference to the level of religious confrontation. Part of this is inevitably parochialism. If the Koran is the basis of wisdom and the good life, then how to deal with non-Muslims? As an example of all these problems cumulated, look at Saudi Arabia. It has no constitution, because it claims the Koran is that, and hence has all sorts of ‘religious’ problems over what should be simple technical issues questions like women drivers or proper license plates. By contrast political theory in the West has long strived to build a public-spirited universalist language (Habermas and Rawls spring to mind). This helps western democracies build citizenship across religious cleavages and also ties them internationally to each other better than any other ‘family of nations.’