In “Complicity in Duplicity?” MoDo has a question: Who’s cherry-picking now? Two different Rices, in two different administrations, spinning two different national security stories. Talk about false equivalencies… The Moustache of Wisdom says “China Needs Its Own Dream,” and that the so-called American Dream won’t work for China. How will its new leaders handle the dramatic growth of its emerging middle class? Here’s MoDo:
A woman named Rice in a top administration job, ambitious to move up to secretary of state, hitting the Sunday talk shows to aggressively promote a Middle East narrative that’s good for the president but destined to crumble under scrutiny.
Accusations that intelligence on Al Qaeda links in the Middle East was cherry-picked by American officials to create a convenient reality.
A national security apparatus that becomes enmeshed with the political image-making machine.
Last time it was Condoleezza Rice helping her war-obsessed bosses spin their deceptive web, as they recklessly tried to re-engineer the Middle East. This time it was Susan Rice offering a noncredible yarn as the Obama team desperately tries to figure out the Middle East.
W.’s administration played up Al Qaeda ties, exploiting 9/11 to invade Iraq, which the neocons had wanted to do all along. The Obama administration sidestepped Al Qaeda ties in the case of the Libyan attack to perpetuate the narrative that the president had decimated Al Qaeda when Osama bin Laden was killed, and to preclude allegations that they were asleep at the switch on the anniversary of 9/11. Better to blame it all on a spontaneous protest to an anti-Islam video on YouTube.
It’s remarkable that President Obama, who came to power abhorring the manipulative and duplicitous tactics of the Bush crowd, should now be vulnerable to similar charges.
You know you’re in trouble when Donald Rumsfeld is the voice of reason. “The idea of sending a United Nations ambassador for the United States out to market and peddle and spin a story that has, within a matter of hours, demonstrated to be not accurate, I think is inexcusable,” the former defense secretary told Fox News on Tuesday. “I can’t imagine.”
His imagination fails him even though he, his pal Dick Cheney and his ward W. sent then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to the U.N. to market a story that fell apart one invasion later. Rumsfeld said that if the Obama administration’s critics are right, that perhaps officials were “bureaucratic and unwilling to respond promptly to a threat report.” Like when W. was unwilling to respond promptly to that threat report screaming “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”?
There was something off-kilter about the tragic saga of Christopher Stevens from the beginning. Even for a highly regarded ambassador with a dash of Lawrence of Arabia’s empathy and mistaken sense of invulnerability, Stevens was obviously too lightly guarded in a region roiling with threats and hatred; he was in a susceptible complex without enough armed security and basic emergency equipment. Even afterward, the place was so unprotected that a CNN staffer could walk in and pick up Stevens’s private diary, which reflected the ambassador’s fear about never-ending attacks and being on an Al Qaeda hit list.
There were, after all, Al Qaeda sympathizers among the rebels who overthrew Muammar el-Qaddafi with American help.
House Republicans will hold a hearing next week and have asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to explain why the consulate was not better defended given, as Representative Darrell Issa noted in a letter, the “long line of attacks on Western diplomats and officials in Libya in the months leading up to September 11, 2012.”
Susan Rice’s tumble is part of a disturbing pattern of rushing to pump up the president on national security, which seems particularly stupid because it’s so unnecessary.
Last year, the White House had to backtrack from the overwrought initial contentions of John Brennan, a deputy national security adviser, who said Bin Laden died after resisting in a firefight and that he was “hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield.”
Now that one of the members of the Navy SEAL team, Matt Bissonette, has written a book, there are contradictory accounts, one by a Democratic White House dying to sound tough, and one by an eyewitness. Bissonette wrote that the lead commando shot an unarmed Bin Laden in the head when he peered out of his bedroom door and they shot his convulsing body again inside the bedroom. In the administration’s version, the shot in the stairwell missed.
Just so, in an overzealous effort to burnish a president who did not need burnishing — especially against foreign policy bumbler Mitt Romney and foreign policy novice Paul Ryan — they have gotten tangled in contradictory accounts about Benghazi. The administration had benefited from the impression that it had diminished Al Qaeda, even though the public no doubt appreciates that it was never going to be so simple. But, as Romney learned when he prematurely rushed to the microphone to take advantage of the crisis and mangled his facts, there is a cost to letting the political spin cycle dictate how you discuss national security.
The U.S. military is preparing to retaliate for the Libyan attack. But, even if Stevens is avenged, will the president get the credit he deserves if his acolytes have left the impression that they’re willing to rewrite the story for political advantage?
Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
On Nov. 8, China is set to hold the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party. We already know who will be the next party leader: Vice President Xi Jinping. What we don’t know is what matters: Does Xi have a “Chinese Dream” that is different from the “American Dream?” Because if Xi’s dream for China’s emerging middle class — 300 million people expected to grow to 800 million by 2025 — is just like the American Dream (a big car, a big house and Big Macs for all) then we need another planet.
Spend a week in China and you’ll see why. Here’s a Shanghai Daily headline from Sept. 7: “City Warned of Water Resource Shortage.” The article said: “Shanghai may face a shortage of water resources if the population continues to soar. … The current capacity of the city’s water supply was about 16 million tons per day, which is able to cover the demand of 26 million people. However, once the population reaches 30 million, the demand would rise to 18 million tons per day, exceeding the current capacity.” Shanghai will hit 30 million in about seven years!
“Success in the ‘American Dream,’ ” notes Peggy Liu, the founder of the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, or Juccce, “used to just mean a house, a family of four, and two cars, but now it’s escalated to conspicuous consumption as epitomized by Kim Kardashian. China simply cannot follow that path — or the planet will be stripped bare of natural resources to make all that the Chinese consumers want to consume.”
Liu, an M.I.T. graduate and former McKinsey consultant, argues that Chinese today are yearning to create a new national identity, one that merges traditional Chinese values, like balance, respect and flow, with its modern urban reality. She believes that the creation of a sustainable “Chinese Dream” that breaks the historic link between income growth and rising resource consumption could be a part of that new identity, one that could resonate around the world.
So Juccce has been working with Chinese mayors and social networks, sustainability experts and Western advertising agencies to catalyze sustainable habits in the emergent consuming class by redefining personal prosperity — which so many more Chinese are gaining access to for the first time — as “more access to better products and services, not necessarily by owning them, but also by sharing — so everyone gets a piece of a better pie.”
That means, among other things, better public transportation, better public spaces and better housing that encourages dense vertical buildings, which are more energy efficient and make shared services easier to deliver, and more e-learning and e-commerce opportunities that reduce commuting. Emphasizing access versus ownership isn’t just more sustainable, it helps ease friction from the differences between rich and poor. Indeed, Juccce translates Chinese Dream as “Harmonious and Happy Dream” in Mandarin. (“Green” doesn’t sell in China.)
Chinese are more open to this than ever. A decade ago, the prevailing attitude was, “Hey, you Americans got to grow dirty for 150 years. Now it is our turn.” A couple of weeks ago, though, I took part in the opening day of Tongji University’s Urban Planning and Design Institute in Shanghai and asked students whether they still felt that way. I got a very different answer. Zhou Lin, a graduate student studying energy systems, stood up and declared, with classmates nodding, “You can politicize this issue as much as you want, but, in the end, it doesn’t do us any good.” It is not about fairness anymore, he said. It is in China’s best interest to find a “cleaner” growth path.
To say China needs its own dream in no way excuses Americans or Europeans from redefining theirs. We all need to be rethinking how we sustain rising middle classes with rising incomes in a warming world, otherwise the convergence of warming, consuming and crowding will mean we grow ourselves to death.
China’s latest five-year plan — 2011-15 — has set impressive sustainability goals for cutting energy and water intensity per unit of G.D.P. All of these goals are critical to the greening of China, but they are not sufficient, argues Liu. With retail sales growing 17 percent a year since 2005 and urban incomes up 150 percent in the last decade, “the government must also have a plan to steer consumer behavior toward a sustainable path,” adds Liu. “But it doesn’t yet.”
So Xi Jinping has two very different challenges from his predecessor. He needs to ensure that the Communist Party continues to rule — despite awakened citizen pressure for reform — and that requires more high growth to keep the population satisfied with party control. But he also needs to manage all the downsides of that growth — from widening income gaps to massive rural-urban migration to choking pollution and environmental destruction. The only way to square all that is with a new Chinese Dream that marries people’s expectations of prosperity with a more sustainable China. Does Xi know that, and, if he does, can he move the system fast enough? So much is riding on the answers to those questions.