June 02, 2004

If You're Not Winning The Game, Change The Rules

As the Tet Offensive showed, there's more than one way to win a war. Nicholas Kristof thinks we've already beaten the ChiComs:

So, 15 years after Tiananmen, we can see the Communist dynasty fraying. The aging leaders of 1989 who ordered the crackdown won the battle but lost the war: China today is no longer a Communist nation in any meaningful sense.

Political pluralism has not arrived yet, but economic, social and cultural pluralism has. The struggle for China's soul is over, for China today is not the earnest socialist redoubt sought by hard-liners, but the modernizing market economy sought by Zhao Ziyang, the leader ousted in 1989. The reformers lost their jobs, but they captured China's future.

In retrospect, the Communist hard-liners were right about one thing, though: they warned passionately that it would be impossible to grab only Western investment and keep out Western poisons like capitalism and dreams of "bourgeois freedom." They knew that after the Chinese could watch Eddie Murphy, wear tight pink dresses and struggle over what to order at Starbucks, the revolution was finished. No middle class is content with more choices of coffees than of candidates on a ballot.
I'm not 100% sold on this; I think there's a good chance a Communist government will merely be replaced by a vanilla imperialist one, but that's another topic. What Kristof argues is that the same tactics should work against Fidel and the NorKs (good name for a rock band?), among others:
So Communism is fading, in part because of Western engagement with China trade, investment, Avon ladies, M.B.A.'s, Michael Jordan and Vogue magazines have triumphed over Marx. That's one reason we should bolster free trade and exchanges with China, rather than retreating to the protectionist barricades, as some are urging.

The same forces would also help transform Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Burma, if only we would unleash them. We are doing a favor to the dictators in those countries by isolating and sanctioning them. If we want to topple them, we need to unleash our most potent weapons of mass destruction, like potbellied business executives and bare-bellied Britney Spears.
What this reminded me of, of all things, was VH-1's 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs... Ever; particularly, Toby Keith's "Courtesy Of The Red, White, and Blue." Some critic from Blender magazine (who?) was deconstructing the lyrics, sneering "'We'll put a boot in your ass / It's the American way?' That's not the American way!"

I was just afore going all Righteous Anger on the TV when he finished the thought: "We make you think that boot is cool, then we sell it to you. That's the American way!"

I had to admit the twerp had a point. For instance, I had always considered the embargo against Cuba as a punitive measure - we were trying to punish Castro for letting the Soviets try to install IRBMs that could reach the eastern half of the U.S. Now I'm starting to rethink this. It's been forty years; do you think he's had enough yet? He's still in power, he still does whatever he wants (actually, the fall of the Soviet Union has hurt Cuba's ability to project power far more than our embargo has), and the vast majority of his people have precisely Jack Shit. Why not try a change of tactics?

(hat tip: QandO)

Posted by Chris at June 2, 2004 07:46 PM

Category: General Weirdness


Posted by: Bill from INDC Journal at June 2, 2004 08:30 PM

Well, if the principle is that we're trying to unseat Fidel, and forty years of doing one thing haven't helped, then maybe we need to look at something else.

OTOH, I've come up with an entirely unrelated reason why ending the embargo is probably a bad idea. I'll write an update later today.

Posted by: Chris of Dangerous Logic at June 3, 2004 07:53 AM

The primary difference between China and Cuba is that China invited trade (more or less) on our terms. That is westerners can deal directly with Chinese citizens (with controls to be sure).

Castro refuses any such arrangement. All foreign investment goes through his government. All hiring, paying of employees, selection of contractors, etc. is done by an intermediary.

So, to trade with Cuba under these conditions would only serve to enrich and further empower him.

Posted by: Craig Howard at June 3, 2004 05:04 PM

Well, you saved me having to write an update, because that's exactly the same conclusion I came to.

Obviously, it would work the same way (i.e., not at all) for North Korea as well.

Posted by: Chris of Dangerous Logic at June 3, 2004 05:58 PM