How Xi Jinping lost Australia

“While Australia was pivoting to China, Beijing was orchestrating its own pivot: Xi had delivered a very different address to his countrymen before his speech to the Australian parliament.

In January 2013, shortly after becoming the chairman of the Communist Party and just months before becoming Chinese president, Xi laid out plans to make China a global superpower through economic and technological might.”

“That meant going after the Western alliance —with Australia as the weakest link. So while publicly promising sincerity and trust, Xi secretly sought to squeeze the island nation.

First came the cyberattacks, with Chinese state-linked hackers going after the Australian parliament, the country’s Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian National University and numerous others.

Then came attacks on Australia’s Chinese-language media, with reports of coercion, bullying and intimidation at any outlet daring to depart from the Communist Party line.

Reports emerged that China had reached deep into the Australian political establishment, seeking to steer policy in China’s favor. Investigations found Beijing-linked businesses were the largest sources of donations with foreign ties, and the money went to both sides of the political spectrum.

The financial intrusions rattled Australian politics. In 2017, Australian Labor Party Senator Sam Dastyari was forced to resign over his ties to Chinese Communist Party-linked donors.”

“Later in 2017, China’s security chief warned Labor leadership the party would risk losing support among Australia’s Chinese diaspora community if it didn’t back an extradition treaty Beijing wanted.

And over the past 18 months, China hit Australia with a series of trade restrictions and tariffs in response to Canberra’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, which emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Meanwhile, China was also building its military might in the region, making sweeping claims to the South China Sea and squeezing Hong Kong and Taiwan — moving southward toward Australia.”

“Australia, having once extended Beijing a hand of friendship, is now back in the arms of its old associates.

Earlier in September, Canberra announced a wide-ranging security partnership with the U.S. and U.K. The pact, dubbed AUKUS, comes amid a broader Australian attempt to pivot its economy away from China.

“The level of Chinese economic coercion and cyber espionage against Australia was once unimaginable, so our security agencies have learned to consider worst-case possibilities,” said Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University and author of “Indo-Pacific Empire.”

AUKUS, he said, “is an alignment made in Beijing.”

Under the new Anglo-American alliance, the U.S., U.K. and Australia have agreed to share advanced technologies with one another, including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, quantum computing, underwater systems and long-range strike capabilities. Australia also abandoned a submarine deal with France worth more than €50 billion to acquire American nuclear-powered submarines instead.

“It’s a remarkable collapse in Australia-China relations and a massive deterioration in Australia’s security outlook that’s led to this outcome,” said Michael Shoebridge, a director at the influential Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) think tank, which receives funding from the Australian and other governments.”

The US was a world leader in vaccination. What went wrong?

“The United States started its vaccination drive with a structural advantage. It had the most generous supply of Covid vaccines, along with Israel, thanks to investments made to procure doses before the vaccines were approved for emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration.”

“Demographics may also be holding the US back to a degree. America has more young people than most Western European countries: About 16 percent of Germany’s population is under 18 versus about 22 percent of the US’s, to give one example. Children under 12 are still not eligible for vaccines in the US (or anywhere else), which may be partly depressing its vaccination share.
But there is more to the story than supply quirks or demographic trends.

Compared to a country like Portugal, now a world leader in Covid vaccinations, the United States’ vaccination rates for its eligible population are not particularly strong, either. In Portugal, 99 percent of people over age 65 are fully vaccinated; in the US, the share is closer to 80 percent. Those disparities persist in the younger age cohorts: 85 percent of Portuguese people ages 25 to 49 are fully vaccinated versus less than 70 percent of the Americans in the same age range.

Another big difference that explains that divergence is one of culture and politics. Covid vaccinations have become, like so much of America’s pandemic response, polarized along political lines. As of July, 86 percent of Democrats said they were vaccinated, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, while only 54 percent of Republicans said the same. One in five Republicans said they would “definitely not” get the vaccine.

“This political divide over vaccines has contributed to the US falling behind European countries when it comes to coverage levels,” Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told me.

There are pockets of vaccine hesitancy in Europe, especially in Germany and France, but nothing on the scale of what we have seen in the United States. In Portugal, as reflected in its exemplary vaccination rate, skeptics have a very low public profile.

“We don’t need to convince people to get vaccinated,” Gonçalo Figueiredo Augusto, who studies public health at NOVA University Lisbon, told me over Zoom. “People want to.””

20 years, $6 trillion, 900,000 lives

“between direct ground troop assaults (up to and including the assassination of Osama bin Laden), targeted drone strikes, and a greatly expanded system of intelligence sharing both among US intelligence agencies (like the CIA and FBI, which famously failed to share intelligence before 9/11) and with foreign intelligence agencies, al-Qaeda’s operational capabilities have been badly degraded, especially when it comes to attacking the US.

This is not merely because of successes in the US-led war on terror. ISIS, a group that emerged as a direct result of the war, became a more effective recruiter of young aspiring militants than al-Qaeda, especially in 2014 and 2015. But it seems fair to credit at least a good share of the group’s weakening to US actions.”

“Let’s suppose for the sake of argument, though, that al-Qaeda was capable of more attacks on the scale of 9/11, and that absent the war on terror, the US would have lost 3,000 people (the approximate death toll on 9/11) annually due to al-Qaeda strikes. That amounts to some 60,000 lives saved to date. Whoa, if true.

But even with that degraded capability, global deaths from al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Taliban attacks have not fallen since 9/11. While al-Qaeda’s ability to attack America has been badly degraded, its operations in countries like Yemen, Syria, and Libya are still significant and deadly. ISIS’s attacks, and those of the pre-conquest Taliban in Afghanistan, were even deadlier.”

“The Costs of War Project estimates that between 897,000 and 929,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and other post-9/11 war zones. These are conservative figures; they exclude, for instance, civilian deaths in countries like the Philippines and Kenya that have seen drone or special ops engagements but for which reliable civilian death figures are not available. It uses only confirmed deaths that are directly due to the wars, rather than estimated deaths using mortality surveys”

“Crawford and Lutz estimate that 15,262 American military members, Defense Department civilians, and contractors have died in these conflicts — a much lower toll.”

“The most comprehensive attempt I’ve seen of a cost-benefit analysis of counterterrorism policies is in the book Terror, Security, and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security, a 2011 book by political scientist John Mueller and engineering professor Mark G. Stewart.

They estimate the cost of a 9/11-scale attack at roughly $200 billion, both in economic costs in rebuilding, health care for survivors, and reduced business activity in the wake of the attack, and, more important, in the lives of those lost. To calculate the latter, they use a measure known as the value of a statistical life. The idea is to use, for instance, the extra wages that workers in especially dangerous jobs demand to be paid to estimate how much the typical person is willing to pay to extend their life.

In Mueller and Stewart’s book, they put the value of a statistical life in the US at $6.5 million (that’s actually lower than the $7 million a recent review of studies found). Using that, the gross cost of the war on terror falls to “only” about $13.9 trillion.

That implies that for the war on terror to have been worth it, it had to have prevented more than 69 9/11-scale attacks over the past two decades, or about 3.5 attacks every single year.

More plausibly, the war on terror could be justified through, say, the far greater number of lives saved through aid to the Afghan health system.

Here, too, though, the necessary number of lives saved needs to be enormous to justify the costs. At a total cost of $13.9 trillion and a value of $6.5 million per life saved, the entire effort would have had to save at least 2.1 million lives to have been worthwhile.

There’s simply no evidence suggesting that the war on terror, or the public health programs launched as part of it, saved that many lives on net. The only estimate I’ve seen in that territory is the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon telling his colleague Jonathan Rauch that he “guesstimates that U.S. activities [in Afghanistan] saved a million or more lives.””

“It is also important to think of the opportunity cost of the war. Coincident with the war’s launch was the initiation of PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. That program, then and now, buys and distributes massive quantities of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV and AIDS in developing countries, and promotes condom distribution and other prevention measures.

One influential study of PEPFAR’s impact found that in its first four years, in 12 specific focus countries, the program reduced the death rate from HIV by 10.5 percent, resulting in 1.2 million lives saved, at a cost of $2,450 per death averted. It is truly one of George W. Bush’s great achievements.

That implies that the US, by expanding funding for HIV treatment and in other cost-effective areas like malaria prevention, could save 2 million lives at a cost of more like $5 billion, or less than one-thousandth the cost of the war on terror.

When you step back and think about the cost of the war on terror and all the possible benefits that could have come from it, you would be hard-pressed to arrive at a place where the benefits outstrip the costs. Indeed, the former never comes remotely close to the latter. The war on terror was as wasteful, and morally horrific, on the balance sheet as it was in the collective memory.”

Nuclear subs and a diplomatic blowup: The US-France clash, explained

“lays the groundwork for Australia to acquire at least eight nuclear submarines with support from the US and the UK. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it also marks the “first major initiative” of a tripartite new security agreement among the countries under the acronym AUKUS (pronounced AWK-us, according to the AP).

“This initiative is about making sure that each of us has a modern capability — the most modern capabilities we need — to maneuver and defend against rapidly evolving threats,” President Joe Biden said in Wednesday’s joint announcement with Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The AUKUS submarine deal replaces a previous agreement between France and Australia for France to deliver 12 non-nuclear submarines.”

“In public remarks..French officials, including Le Drian, have not held back their shock at Australia’s decision to turn to the US and the UK. “We had established a trusting relationship with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” Le Drian said on Thursday, according to Politico.”

“French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to withdraw his country’s ambassadors to the US and Australia in response to the pact marks a surprising breakdown in France’s historically close relationship with the US — but Australia’s decision to look to the US for its submarine fleet is less surprising.

Specifically, China’s military buildup, and its quest for dominance in the South China Sea — a major trade route for Australia — made the French submarines obsolete before they were even delivered. Because the US-made submarines rely on nuclear power, they have a far greater range than conventional submarines, don’t require refueling, and have better stealth capabilities — meaning they can stay underwater for months at a time without being detected, Australian National University researcher AJ Mitchell explained in the Conversation this week.”

“In addition to the advantages of nuclear submarines, Australia’s previous deal with France — a $66 billion submarine contract, finalized in 2016, that would have provided Australia with 12 conventional, diesel-powered Barracuda submarines — has been rife with difficulties.”

“On top of cost overruns and delays, there were other issues as well. Shortly after Australia and France reached the agreement in 2016, the French shipbuilder, then called DCNS, revealed it had been hacked and documents related to a separate Indian submarine project exposed. And while France’s submarine technology — conventional, diesel-powered attack vessels that could be switched to nuclear power — may have made sense when Australia’s relationship with China was less contentious, that relationship has soured recently due to China’s aggressive foreign policy in the Pacific and elsewhere.”

“Australia and the US reportedly conspired to keep the developing deal from France, even as officials from both countries met with their French counterparts. Biden discussed the future of their alliance with Macron in June, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken made no mention of the pact when he met with Le Drian that same month in Paris.

Australia also hid its plans from France when Morrison and Macron met in June, although Morrison says he did raise concerns about the viability of diesel-powered vessels, according to the Hill. Australia’s defense and foreign ministers even met with their French counterparts late last month and issued a joint statement about furthering their defense cooperation, specifically citing the submarine program.”

The Afghan refugee crisis has revealed the artificial limits of America’s will to welcome

“The US has made a distinction between Afghan refugees and the other vulnerable populations arriving at America’s doorstep. And it’s a false one.

Afghans fleeing Taliban rule have so far occupied a unique space in the immigration policy debate. In a climate where immigration has become a political wedge, there has been overwhelming bipartisan support for resettling at least some of them in the US: Polling has shown that 76 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats back resettlement efforts for Afghans who aided US troops. When it comes to other asylum seekers, the numbers are starkly different. For example, 64 percent of registered voters believe Biden needs to institute stricter policies at the southern border.

What makes Americans sympathetic to Afghan refugees compared to other people seeking protection? Some rightly feel a moral responsibility to protect those who were forced to leave their home due to their government’s ill-conceived and failed nation-building efforts, especially those who worked alongside American forces.

But what may also be a factor is that the Afghan war was also the kind of faraway conflict typically associated with the sort of refugees the US has historically admitted, like Somalis fleeing ongoing civil war in their home country.

Complicating this idea, however, is the fact that the kind of persecution and peril Afghans face in their home country is markedly similar to that faced by asylum seekers arriving on the US-Mexico border. Those from Central America’s Northern Triangle — Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala — are fleeing brutal gang violence, extortion, and government corruption, which are compounded by poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and climate-related issues. The same is true of many other groups as well, like the thousands of Haitians gathered in Del Rio, Texas.

Though the US has not fought a 20-year war in the Northern Triangle or in Haiti, it has played a direct role in creating the societal ills people are running away from, meaning the moral obligation many feel America has toward Afghans ought to extend to migrants from those countries as well.

That, of course, hasn’t been the case. Often invoking racist dog whistles, Republicans have falsely painted them as criminals who threaten public safety, carriers of disease, or economic migrants who want to skip “the line” of legal US immigration. Democrats have not necessarily been much better: The Obama administration detained migrant families on a large scale and told them “don’t come” while the Biden administration has maintained Trump-era policies, effectively blocking all asylum seekers from gaining access to protection amid the pandemic despite claiming to take a more humane approach.

Afghan refugees deserve protection. But so do the other vulnerable populations arriving at America’s doorstep. The Afghan refugee crisis has clarified this in a way other recent mass migration movements have not, and it also presents a unique opportunity for the US to recalibrate its policy about who is worthy of American protection.”

After Toppling Al Qaeda, America Wasted a Staggering Amount of Money in Afghanistan

“In 2008, as part of the ongoing effort to supply the newly formed Afghan Air Force with transport planes, the U.S. purchased 20 of the Italy-made Aeritalia G-222 planes for about $486 million and had them delivered to Kabul. Unfortunately, no one seemed to anticipate that the planes would have difficulty in the dusty environment of Central Asia. Less than five years after the fleet arrived, 16 of the planes were scrapped—for six cents per pound. (The other four were put into storage at a base in Germany.)

And that’s how the U.S. military turned nearly half a billion of taxpayer dollars into $32,000 of scrap metal.”

“As of December 2019, SIGAR had audited about $63 billion of Afghanistan reconstruction spending. Of that total, it concluded, “a total of approximately $19 billion or 30 percent of the amount reviewed was lost to waste, fraud, and abuse.” An update published in October 2020 added another $3.4 billion to the amount wasted.”

Cubans Rose Up. America Should Step Up.

“Biden’s words of support for the protesters—some of whom waved American flags as they demanded “libertad”—are nice. Actions would be better. And there is plenty the U.S. could, and should, do to aid Cubans in their fight against authoritarian communism.

For starters, Congress could lift the 59-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the island country.

Some leftists blame the embargo for impoverishing Cuba, but this is misdirection. Communism has destroyed Cuba’s once-prosperous economy. Still, the trade embargo, in place since 1962, has plainly failed to accomplish its primary goal of toppling the Cuban regime. If anything, it has helped to strengthen it by giving former President Fidel Castro and his successors a way to deflect blame for communism’s failures—a strategy that Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel also deployed during the initial wave of protests in July.

From America’s perspective, what has the embargo accomplished? That it remains in place nearly three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union suggests that America has failed to learn the primary lesson of the Cold War: Economic development is the best weapon to aim at communism.”

“where is the evidence that disengagement is working? Demanding political reforms before economic changes is exactly backward—and again ignores the lessons of the Cold War.
Economic freedom is the key to other kinds of freedom. Consider what happened when the Obama administration loosened some of the rules on American travel to Cuba as part of an effort to reestablish diplomatic relations. Even with the trade embargo still in place, that slight policy change induced then–Cuban President Raul Castro to relax state controls on private commerce. While accurate figures on Cuba’s economy are understandably difficult to come by, a 2017 Brookings Institution report estimated that “the number of authorized self-employed people (cuentapropistas) rose from some 150,000 in 2008 to about 580,000 in 2017.”

Increasing entrepreneurship reduces Cubans’ reliance on the Communist state. And when people are allowed a little freedom, they tend to want more of it. ”

“calls for the White House to allow private companies to beam internet service into Cuba to circumvent the government’s blackout and help protesters organize. Technologically, this is possible: Balloons anchored miles offshore could broadcast mobile internet signals into Cuba. The same tech was deployed near Puerto Rico after two devastating hurricanes crippled the island’s digital infrastructure in 2017.

Even if Biden does nothing more than re-instate Obama’s travel and economic policies and call on Congress to end the failed trade embargo, it would signal to the Cuban people—and to the country’s potential future leaders—that the United States recognizes trade and tourism as vital economic and political lifelines for the island’s long-suffering residents. It also would remove the biggest excuse that Cuba’s government uses to distract people from the failings of communism.”