Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
June 7, 2013
Mr. President: It is not difficult to find historical examples of conflict between an
existing power and a rising aspirant; in the twentieth century, the British-German
rivalry and its disastrous consequences spring immediately to mind. A Harvard study
exploring the issue found that in fifteen such cases, eleven resulted in conflict. So the
meeting with Mr. Xi in the plush surroundings of Sunnylands is extremely important.
China's outreach has focused on soft power with the notable exception of its
borderlands' disputes. Thus aid is almost always economic, and development
projects are designed not just to benefit the recipient but also with a view to securing
resources for its own burgeoning economy. It has been a successful formula and one
we ourselves might find fruitful.
Our military strength is unsurpassed and so the temptation to use it is much greater.
But military aid, and even worse, military intervention do not improve the lives of the
people; in fact quite the contrary. Thus various polls confirm our low standing among
people across the developing world. To put it bluntly, we are not loved.
The current 'tilt' to the Pacific, the wooing of Burma, have the potential of
misunderstanding and perceived threat. The wooing of Burma, by the way, potentially
compromises our general stance on human rights for there is irrefutable evidence of
ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims. Moreover, Burma, like Mexico, can never
escape the geography of a superpower across its northern border casting an
inevitable shadow of influence.
One way to clear misperceptions is to lay down the broad strategic framework on
which policy rests. If both sides are able to do this frankly, then potential areas of
conflict so identified can serve advance warning. In addition, and perhaps more
importantly, laying out strategy provides context within which future actions can be
observed; thus the possibility of misunderstanding and false threat perception is
The real question is whether this is an iron-hand-in-a-velvet-glove meeting, where we
attempt, to secure another vote on Syria isolating Russia further in order to help the
losing rebels, to isolate Iran, and, to lay down the law in the Pacific.
One hopes not. For the adroit and patient Chinese will wait, they will bide their time,
and deliver an eventual answer not to our liking. Let us hope instead the olive branch
extended by them with regard to the Trans Pacific Partnership just before this meeting
will be accepted in the spirit it was intended. And that the meeting results in a clear,
broad understanding of each other's strategic framework and consequent policy.
Conflict is not in the interests of the Chinese -- they have a formidable development
task ahead of them if they are to bring up the standard of living in the countryside to
urban levels. Neither is it in ours. One can only hope reason prevails. It will have to
if we are to beat those alarming 11 out of 15 odds noted in the opening paragraph.