House Republicans Can Show Leadership With Defense Spending For Pacific Forces

The most memorable Christmas for many of us occurred in 1991 when the Soviet flag that had for decades flown over the Kremlin came down. I suspect every living room in the nation had a television set turned on and though muted with folks all about as the holiday unfolded, watched as the world changed. It was far more than symbolism as the flag slipped away.  It was further confirmation of the continuance of massive changes that would move faster and reshape a once superpower where millions of people were caught up in the darkness of totalitarianism. Many have looked at the collapse of the USSR and asked with hindsight what we missed when thinking long-term about the next global challenges to be faced after the collective emphasis on fighting the Cold War was removed.  We should have focused on China.

9/11 shook the foundations of the American psyche, it was obvious we were not an insulated nation from the storms of the world.  But then with recklessness, we misapplied our outrage with the absurdity of an invasion of Iraq. Terrorism was a real and thorny issue to deal with, but there must always be pragmatism built into the construction of foreign policy.  After all, there were many reasons that President Bush (41) did not remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein following his ouster from Kuwait.  Some argued that it would have run counter to UN agreements, others that the Arab allies would have left the coalition, but Bush and his advisors knew a vacuum of power in Iraq would prove highly troubling. What Bush knew then is what we all would come to agree with in the decades that followed. We spent so much time chasing the wrong goals for eight years under President Bush (43). We should have focused on China.

From the Cold War to the terrorism that consumed much of the bandwidth of some pols and state department staff there simply was not enough thinking about the next large global approach that needed to be considered.  The last (roughly) 500 years of Atlantic-dominated power from Western Europe to the Americas was giving way in varying ways and at varying speeds to the energetic and highly competitive nations and people of Southeast Asia. Over the years trade routes and supply lines and military threats have increased.  The interconnected nature of the world has increased, and with it has the threats to world economic stability should military strife occur. While President Obama was pivoting his administration to a new reality in that region, he was followed in the White House by a failure of monumental proportions in international relations at every turn starting in 2017. 

Over the past weeks, reports of a new emphasis on preparations for military assets and requirements designated for the Pacific forces have been coming from the Defense Department.  More of the details of what is being sought regarding defense funding caught my attention with a news report from Politico.

Alongside President Joe Biden’s budget request for next year, the Pentagon will submit a new $15.3 billion plan to fund Pacific forces, according to an unclassified version of the report obtained by POLITICO. That’s more than twice what DoD asked for last year, $6.1 billion, and a significant boost from what Congress authorized, $11.5 billion. The money will go toward buying missile defense systems, radars and space sensors, as well as increasing exercises and training.

The report warns of China’s rapid military buildup, and the increasing pressure on countries in the region to bend to its will. It follows a concerted push by the Pentagon in recent weeks to expand American military influence in the region, including a flurry of new deals with regional partners. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently traveled to Manila to announce an agreement with the Philippines giving the U.S. increased access to bases there, and the Marine Corps in January activated a new base on Guam.

The need for more defense funding is never a popular issue on my side of the political aisle. But alongside the correctness of trade agreements with other nations in the region (which also gins up misplaced angst from my side) and the strengthening of resolve from the US by aligning with nations for security deals we can and must send the correct message about the needs of the international community.  At a time when many scholars are asking if the mindset of the American Century is passing away it could be argued that with this new test of commitment and purpose, the US can renew its centrality to a world that needs a democratic-based adult on the world stage.

The question that will be answered, in part, by House Republicans who are blustering and threatening all sorts of things relating to our federal budget is if they will demonstrate our understanding of this global moment in Southeast East by placing our resources behind what we should have focused on since the Soviet flag came down from over the Kremlin. Last fall in the midterms, House Republicans had outlined a number of policy aims, with one being about investing in an efficient, effective military. What that meant was not outlined, but now might be the time for the House GOP leadership to commit to standing alongside liberal democracies and committing themselves to international law and rules of conduct.

Taste For Freedom in China Directly Challenges Autocrat Xi Jinping

There comes a time when autocrats and their tired regimes become a focal point of disgust and derision by the people being controlled. A time when the masses of people say there must be something better, or at least conditions not as oppressive and numbing to the soul.  Everyone desires freedom, even if their entire life has existed under a footprint on their brow, as the human spirit knows what it needs.

This morning the first news story I heard from NPR was the reports of protesters who have staged significant marches by gathering in at least eight major cities in China to bring loud and burly attention to the strict anti-Covid measures that have been enacted for months. The protests this weekend erupted after a fire broke out Thursday and killed at least 10 people in an apartment building in the city of Urumqi with the concern being registered by the populace about whether firefighters or people trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other restrictions.

That aspect of the protests was not what stunned me as they have been brewing and simmering within China for some time. Rather what took me aback was the protestors calling out China’s leader and telling him to resign and even calling for an end to one-party rule. In a video of the protest in Shanghai, verified by the Associated Press, chants against Xi, the most powerful leader since at least the 1980s, can be heard without equivocation. “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!” While I know the Iranian women who are bravely protesting their own backward and male-dominated government are absolutely profiles in courage, I must place the courageous ones calling for a direct challenge to the ruling Chinese Communist Party on the same par.

History long shows that there comes a time when people just strike out at the nut that has long been in place and when the shell seems more brittle than once assumed there is an attempt by the eager people to make for a larger crack and then more and more until the shell is removed. I was one of those hopeful for a sea change with the Arab Spring in 2011 when a series of countries made an uplifting challenge to the ruling governments by calling for democracy as they envisioned it, human rights, and religious tolerance.  The fight is always uphill in such cases and the failure of Egypt’s short-lived experiment in democracy, for example, is a classic example.

Every nation has its own dynamics at play and there are no playbooks that guarantee any degree of success for such movements. Given China has a bloodthirsty desire for not only power but also revenge for those who cross it means that no one can pretend the current protests and tongue-lashing of Xi Jinping will have much short-term impact.

But that does not take away the feeling of some hope at the fringes with the simmering discontent in China at not only repressive state policy but an economy that is stagnating.  What is now happening does plant new seeds for continued rebellion in the near future.  That is the main worry for autocrats.  That is why they bluster so and turn to tanks and guns.  That is all they have and while that power is often overwhelming and the factor that prevails for the time being, there is one very important thing a bullet can not stop.

Once the yearning for freedom is tapped into and vented if only slightly, it does not then slink backward and stay dormant.  It continues in new ways and grows among more people.  It was reported today that protesters spoke out about the ‘must never talk about topic’ of the 1989 bloody and violent government crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests. Those protests decades ago are surely part of the energy and forerunners of what erupted today in cities across China. What follows is likely to be harsher crackdowns and repression for protestors as the Covid restrictions ease. But what concerns an autocrat late at night is the protestors who want a taste for more freedom of expression and concrete changes. And are willing to make their case even under a repressive regime. Tick, tock, tick……

Poke In The World’s Eye: Uyghur Dinigeer Yilamujiang Lights Winter Olympic Flame As Genocide By China Continues

Let me start with a fact that the vast majority of the nations in the world agree is taking place as I write.

China is carrying out a genocide in Xinjiang.

I applaud the actions of President Joe Biden for clearly demonstrating that such evil in the world must be called out, and never rewarded. I strongly support the decision of the United States to take a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in China. There is no way to not stand up in opposition to Beijing’s internment of nearly one million Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.

So it was a gigantic poke in the eye of the world community that China’s President Xi Jinping selected Dinigeer Yilamujiang, who is originally from Xinjiang, to play such a most prominent and troubling role in lighting the cauldron. If something can be expertly spun, creatively sold, or handsomely packaged, it can be sold and bought by others.



NPR’s Emily Feng recently reported:

“Since 2017, authorities in Xinjiang have rounded up hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic minority group, and sent them to detention centers where they are taught Mandarin Chinese and Chinese political ideology. Camp detainees have reported being forced to work in factories during their detention or after they are released. The children of those detained or arrested are often sent to state boarding schools, even when relatives are willing to take them in.”

Meanwhile, at the opening ceremonies, Russian President Putin and Xi sat together and surely were smirking. How could they not as the song Imagine, made famous by John Lennon, played to a choreographed scene in the arena? Hubris and irony competed for attention.

The list of atrocities China is engaged in today can not be forgotten with a truly impressive and technologically driven opening ceremony. While the LED show was dazzling for viewers, human rights abuses by China were taking place against Tibetans’ culture, religion, and language; Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms; and the continuous undermining of the democratic-island of Taiwan. 

Oh, yes, less we forget following the flame lighting Bejing….the genocide in Xinjiang.

The People’s Republic of China and the repressive government might think holding hands with Russia’s Putin and showcasing an axis of power while putting forth a global PR effort at the Olympics will turn the page.

But the world community has access to news and reporting about the genocide within China. In two weeks the Olympic flame will be doused, but the knowledge of the crimes continually perpetrated by China will not be forgotten.

And so it goes.

Defending Reporters In Hong Kong

The right of reporters to do their job and the fundamental importance of the work they do are guiding principles of Caffeinated Politics. It is not enough for anyone to pick up the newspaper off the front steps of their home and think they are doing enough to promote the work of journalists. We all need to be mindful that the trend of intimidation against journalists is gaining steam.

Today that fact is reported from Hong Kong.

Citizen News, a small online news site in Hong Kong known for its in-depth coverage of courts and local politics, said it would stop publishing on Monday night, deepening concerns about the collapse of the city’s once-robust media.

Just days earlier, another independent online media outlet, Stand News, closed after hundreds of police raided its offices and arrested seven people. Two former senior editors at Stand News and the publication itself were charged with conspiracy to publish seditious materials.

The latest closures are the final chapters in the demise of independent media in Hong Kong, a city that once had some of the freest and most aggressive news media in Asia. Now, as Beijing continues a sweeping crackdown on the city, the journalists who once covered the city’s protests and politics are increasingly either under arrest or out of work, without anywhere to publish.

“What’s happening is not just another closure of a media outlet,” said Lokman Tsui, a former journalism professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “This is part of a larger project by the government of dismantling all critical media, of all independent media in Hong Kong.”

Let us be clear about what is at stake. The reporters and press in Hong Kong are able to help maintain the city’s endowed civil liberties, including rule of law and free speech. That is in very sharp contrast to China’s tightly controlled press and lack of open and accessible reporting and distribution of information to the citizenry. 

That fight has been a losing one over the past year, but that does not mean the international resolve should cease at pressing China on their totalitarian actions and dismal record on press freedom.

And so it goes.

Biden On The World Stage Makes America Proud As He Pushes Democracy

The autocratic moves and tendencies of the previous White House administration, along with the kindred moves in nations from Hungary to Brazil have left many worldwide rightly concerned about the condition of democracy. Illiberal democracy has long been a theme on this blog.

Thy most important message that President Joe Biden pushed as a candidate was his desire to return to normalcy with our domestic politics, and a turn towards the proper role our nation has long played on the world stage. International alliances and working friendships among nations are at the heart of our diplomatic efforts. As he urged in the race for election we must address a very serious worldwide battle of democracy versus dictatorship, freedom versus authoritarianism, and human rights versus oppression.

There was no way not to be pleased and reassured over the past days as Biden has proved to be a truly powerful and passionate champion of democracy. While China tries to put forth a message that democracy is not the way for nations to grow and prosper, and Russia looks backward with wistful memories of an empire that fell, the economic powerhouses of the world understand that they are at a better place now with Biden being a strong advocate for democracy.

Russian President Putin well understands his grasp at the past is futile when not having the economic means to affect change. With both the United States and Europe, combined, having $40 trillion of GDP as opposed to Russia eking out just over $1 trillion in GDP underscores the power of working democracies.

As a teenager I was very taken by the human rights component of President Jimmy Carter’s international policy. With the same focus, Biden understands the role that human rights and human dignity plays as a part of what constitutes a democracy. I cringed and was embarrassed for our nation when Trump proved to be nothing more than an enabler or apologist for thugs. How the entire brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was handled was a very dark period for our country as the world watched.

It offended me to high heaven to have Trump and his administration have no more than a flippant attitude with foreign policy. It was continuously conducted in a transactional manner. Great for the tyrants and autocrats who have favors to trade, and deals to strike for their own ends. But woe are the ones sitting in jails in Saudi Arabia and China and Turkey. Human rights never were going to fare well in that administration, one dominated by a transactional view of foreign policy.

While watching and reading the news coverage of the Biden trip, and the conversations with world leaders, I see the larger mission that is taking place. By adding to the vaccine shots that our nation will make available to a world needing them, and giving the embrace to alliances and underscoring renewed collaboration in working on pressing problems, Biden is demonstrating what a healthy democracy looks like. And acts like!

We can all thrill to the success of the mission to press forward as to why democracy is alive and vital to the world. Once again all are seeing, friend and foe alike, that the United States is again taking its role in the world seriously. Once again, the world is taking note that America wants to do good for others.

And so it goes.

Senator Ron Johnson Wants Honest Answers, And So Do We!

While we all should applaud the desire to have honest answers to questions asked it does make for snickers when that sentiment is expressed by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson.

In a desire to learn of the origins of the COVID outbreak, a scientific undertaking that has been ongoing so to allow for medical experts to better learn about the pandemic, Johnson is hoping for honest answers. The degree to which China was aware, or not, of the virus outbreak prior to their original announcement of cases is important to those tracking where this outbreak first started.

While we all agree with Johnson about the need for honest answers it does sound rather hollow given his lack of candor along with his continuous obfuscation about a raft of issues. When it comes to COVID Johnson has undermined science and medical advice so as to further conspiracy-driven ideas. He has promoted vaccine skeptics and those who are critical of masking and social distancing.

So when it comes to the Senator’s stated desire now for honest answers pardon the rest of us for snickering.

The reason for our response to Johnson is his lack of self-awareness about not wishing to find out or reveal what the citizenry, and his constituents, have a right to know.

First up, an issue that strikes to the heart of our national government, and our American ideals. Plainly put, the nation must have honest and complete answers about the deadly insurrection and riot on January 6th. We need a bipartisan commission and a commitment from Johnson that honest and complete answers will be provided.

While Johnson is in the mood for honesty, he might provide some information about his stock sales made after an intelligence meeting in the Senate. It was too cozy that senators sold significant amounts of stock before the coronavirus decimated the financial markets. The rest of the nation just rode out the calamity in the markets without inside knowledge.

It is troubling that there needs to be such a point made about the desire for honesty and the complicated relationship an elected official from our state has with this virtuous trait. For too long Johnson has deceived and manipulated the truth, and purposely misled and distorted facts for his odd and strange designs. So no one can believe that his desire for truth now is based on, well, truth.

Urban Milwaukee Published My Article Regarding Senator Bill Proxmire And Genocide

The headlines about China and genocide are more than troubling and disgusting. They also demand a response from our nation. Given the national role former Wisconsin Senate Willian Proxmire played in the passage of the Geneva Convention means we should ponder what he might argue for a response to our current situation.

I offer some thoughts,

What Would Wisconsin’s Senator William Proxmire Do About Recent Chinese Genocide?

There are times when taking a look in the rearview mirror allows for progress moving forward.

There are divided opinions about how to deal with China on a wide array of cumbersome issues ranging from trade to military maneuvers in the South China Sea. But the weighty concern of how to deal with the charge of that nation’s recent genocide on the Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang province is the one the Biden Administration will first need to engage itself. Putting it more bluntly, how can our nation work with China on any other issue when the term genocide has been leveled against them?

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the declaration of genocide on the last day of his time in office. Many watchers of international events asked only, “What took so long?” But in the same breath, we acknowledged the lack of commitment from the Trump administration for a clear policy on human rights throughout that term.

The Biden White House has not altered the directness of that charge, namely because the facts point to China’s role in genocide. The current Secretary Anthony Blinken has expressed the same use of the term. “My judgment remains that genocide was committed against – against the Uighurs and that – that hasn’t changed,” Blinken said.

But now how does the United States follow through with this matter concerning China?

When I was in high school there was no missing where my history teacher landed when it came to genocide, or how she viewed Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire who served from 1957 to 1989. She had left Holland as a result of WWII and told her students not only about the rough seas that brought her to the United States but also about the brutal nature of war and tyranny that had ravaged Europe. She spoke very highly of our senator who championed the international genocide convention.

She made sure we were aware that Proxmire delivered speeches starting in 1967 in support of the treaty every day that the Senate was in session. As noted in the photo at the top of this article he even spoke on this topic during “pro-forma” meetings. By the time he had made more than 3,000 speeches (!) for its passage 19 years had elapsed. The turtle pacing in the chamber was due to concerns that American sovereignty might be undermined if passed. In the late 1980’s, however, the senate finally saw at least some diluted light and passed what was largely a symbolic measure, severely limiting the application of the treaty. Senator Proxmire spoke sincere and passionate words that day of passage. (I was not able to find a way to place the video itself on this site independent of the link.)

Since the first time in January 1967 that Proxmire took to the Senate floor and correctly urged passage of the treaty, there has been a long and brutal list of tyrants and dictators who have cared not about the human rights of their fellow citizens or wished to pay heed to the genocide convention. Below is a current listing from a 2021 edition of The Economist.

We have all been dismayed with the lack of power and determination to hold tyrants accountable in too many cases where mass crimes were committed. Too often we have read the news accounts where powerful countries such as China and Russia have actually undermined the process of justice. So then how does the rest of the world proceed?

One way to ensure justice is served is with universal jurisdiction. Universal jurisdiction is the ability of the domestic judicial systems of a state to investigate and prosecute certain crimes, even if they were not committed on its territory, by one of its nationals, or against one of its nationals

A prime example of what this looks like in application is with the murderous former president of Chile Augusto Pinochet. He was arrested in Britain at the request of a Spanish judge.  He died in 2006 without having been convicted.  But the entire world was given a powerful lesson in how the legal community could deal with gross violations of human rights. This process serves a role when the territorial state is unable or unwilling to conduct an effective investigation and trial.

While I never had the chance to meet Proxmire, or more importantly converse with him, I believe he can be best known for his continued push for passage of the treaty. That steely determination speaks to his core values that can then lead us to align his thinking to current events. Thus, there is no doubt Proxmire would concur with this process of universal jurisdiction as a complementary step to his decades-long mission.

When it comes to the Chinese policy of genocide against the Uyghurs there must be no wiggle room as it is essential to hold China accountable for its human rights abuses. Tying our trade policy to the human rights component of international affairs is a must. One reason is the ample proof from studies and data to show that, as an example, the majority of Xinjiang’s cotton revolves around this ethnic minority group being severely misused for state gain.

Proxmire would surely argue that our entire interaction with China should be overlaid with concerns about their acts of genocide. Whether our nation engages China on climate control or man-made islands it must be clear that stopping genocide and holding those accountable are always hanging over the table of those assembled to talk. Putting this into a concrete example John Kerry, the special envoy for climate change, was spot-on when making it clear that the United States would not trade other US interests to make progress on climate policy with China.

The issues that confront the world have morphed and become more complex since the days when Proxmire made those daily speeches about genocide. But the moral call concerning our duty to stop such behavior and hold accountable those who unleash such horror has not changed one iota.