For The Good Of The Nation, Keep Edward Luttwak Off The Oped Pages

by admin on December 30, 2013

970321-N-2619S-002If an editor wants to publish a tough red-meat, anti-China Op-Ed, a veritable constellation of excellent contributors are available.

But Edward N. Luttwak is not one of them.

His piece in the Wall Street Journal is so weak it cannot stand unaddressed–and the idea that his work might impact national policy should frighten everybody.

To give you some context, Dr. Luttwak is a frequent contributor to our national debate. I’d characterize his work as, in essence, the grand old T-72 tank of the American Op-Ed page. His works–which initially look daunting –are stamped out in great numbers, but, under technical review, they wilt–revealed as shoddy and poor performing.

The good doctor’s current China piece is a variant of a book he has been shopping around town lately. In the Op-Ed, he offers a relatively interesting grab-bag of ideas–that China gains more from taking a conciliatory route to global dominance, and that recent Chinese provocations are less a product of Chinese national policy but stem from individual actions taken in the name of a strategically insensitive government that has a, um, er, uh…a policy of rewarding individual initiative spurring diplomatic crises.


But then, rather than dig into his immediate topic in more depth, Dr. Luttwak aims even higher (hmm…didn’t most average T-72 drivers have a habit of aiming a little too high?) and tries to tie his disparate observations to a majestic and sweeping grand-policy narrative.

That’s where his tracks come off.

Here’s what he wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

“…The inescapable conclusion is that since 2008 China’s leaders have abandoned the “peaceful rise” policy that Deng Xiaoping launched in 1978 and senior strategist Zheng Bijian spelled out in 2003. To rise economically, China needed a receptive world environment in which its exports, imports and incoming investments would be unimpeded. Deng’s policy – threaten nobody, advance no claims and don’t attack Taiwan – was brilliantly successful, as the U.S. actively favored China’s economic growth and other countries followed suit, to the great benefit of the Chinese people, and us all.

Everything changed after 2008. Interpreting the global financial crisis as a harbinger of collapsing American power, Beijing abruptly revived its long-dormant claim to most of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, rebuffed friendly overtures from Japanese politicians and instead demanded the Senkakus, and declared ownership of vast portions of the South China Sea hundreds of miles from any Chinese coast but well within the exclusive economic zones of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam…”

Oh goodness…where to start?

I wonder…Does Dr. Luttwak even realize that China declared sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracels in February 1992, and sized Mischief Reef in the mid-90’s?  Or that the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995-6 even happened? (Oh, but policy changed in the mid-’90s, he says)

OK, what about that EP-3 incident in 2001? Or that Chinese were violating border agreements by shooting up Vietnamese fishermen in 2005? Or that the Chinese government was placing a claim on Arunachal Pradesh as early as 2006–well before the economic crisis began?

I should blame the Wall Street Journal fact-checkers…but, to be honest, they never should have seen this piece. No self-respecting scholar would have offered such twaddle–in fact, Dr. Luttwak’s omissions and misrepresentations are so egregious that they border on academic misconduct. At best, this is sloppy scholarship, and something that Dr. Luttwak’s CSIS supervisors should address.

Maybe–hopefully–Dr. Luttwak’s book is better.

But before we go claiming that China, due to their history, is strategically “autistic” and unaware of the “other” or of how other countries perceive them, I’d say this–China has gotten quite a lot from pushing crises riiiiight up to the breaking point.  They have, in their border regions, repeatedly engaged in brinksmanship, deriving profit from crisis, and walking it back. That, to me, is pretty darn sophisticated strategy–and it is a strategy more common to rising powers than we’d really like to admit.

I mean, it’s sort of like intellectual frauds and glib DC policy fabricants…until somebody really fact-checks ’em, they’ll always push for more power and influence.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

chris mahoney December 31, 2013 at 5:51 pm

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