قرار «خطة العمل الشاملة المشتركة»: معالجة ردود الأفعال، وتقييم العقوبات

كاثرين باور, پاتريك كلاوسون, و مايكل سينغ

في 11 أيار/مايو، خاطب پاتريك كلاوسون، كاثرين باور، ومايكل سينغ منتدى سياسي في معهد واشنطن. وباور هي زميلة “بلومنستين كاتس” في برنامج مكافحة الإرهاب في المعهد، ومستشارة سياسية بارزة سابقة لشؤون إيران في “مكتب تمويل الإرهاب والجرائم المالية” التابع لـ “وزارة المالية” الأمريكية. وكلاوسون هو زميل أقدم في زمالة “مورنينغستار” ومدير الأبحاث في المعهد، ومؤلف الدراسة التي صدرت مؤخراً باللغة الانكليزية بعنوان، “القضايا التكتيكية المحيطة بالانسحاب الأمريكي من الاتفاق النووي مع إيران“. وسينغ هو زميل أقدم في زمالة “لين- سويغ” والمدير الإداري في المعهد، وقد شغل منصب مدير أقدم لشؤون الشرق الأوسط في “مجلس الأمن القومي” الأمريكي في الفترة 2005 – 2008. وفيما يلي ملخص المقررة لملاحظاتهم”.

پاتريك كلاوسون

في إيران، كما في بلدان أخرى، غالباً ما تكون السياسة محلية. وعلى الرغم من عناوين الأخبار، لا يركّز الشعب الإيراني ولا النخب السياسية على «خطة العمل الشاملة المشتركة»، المعروفة بالاتفاق النووي، الذي قررت إدارة ترامب الانسحاب منه مؤخراً. وبالنسبة إلى النخب، تنطوي القضية الجوهرية على تحديد مَن سيخلف المرشد الأعلى الحالي، آية الله علي خامنئي، أو أي كيان سيقوم بذلك. وفي الواقع، عند وفاة خامنئي، سيصبح النظام عرضة للمعاناة. ويرجع ذلك جزئياً إلى أن خامنئي لم يسمح ببروز أي خليفة له.

وفي الواقع، سيكون «الحرس الثوري الإسلامي» الإيراني المستفيد المحتمل، مما قد يقود الجمهورية الإسلامية نحو توجه أكثر عسكرياً وعلمانياً، على غرار النماذج القديمة التي وضعتها سوريا البعثية، والعراق البعثي، ومصر الناصرية. وبذلك يمكنها أن تنتقل من نظام سياسي أيديولوجي إلى نظام عسكري فاسد يدّعي التمسّك بالتزاماته الثورية – ويقوم بممارسة الاعتداءات في الخارج لتبرير وجوده. ويشير المقال الافتتاحي الذي نُشر مؤخراً على نطاق واسع تحت عنوان “دفاعاً عن رئيس عسكري”، إلى التأييد الشعبي لهذا التغيير في نموذج القيادة، كما توحي الهتافات في ألعاب كرة القدم بقبول واسع لهذا المفهوم.

لقد أصبح «الحرس الثوري الإسلامي» حالياً كياناً قوياً من خلال ممارسة قوته من دون كلل – وتحديداً توسيع نفوذ طهران في الشرق الأوسط. فسواء في العراق أو سوريا أو لبنان أو اليمن، بإمكان إيران أن تشير إلى سياسة النشاط الإقليمي باعتبارها أعظم نجاح لها منذ الثورة عام 1979. ومن مزايا نموذج «الحرس الثوري»، تكلفته المنخفضة نسبياً، لا سيّما عند مقارنته بالنموذج الأمريكي في مساعدة الحلفاء. ففي العراق، يغطّي «الحرس الثوري» تكاليف وجوده من خلال الكسب غير المشروع وأنشطة أخرى تحقق له الكسب المادي.

وبناءً على ذلك، لن تؤدي العقوبات المفروضة على سوق النفط الإيراني إلى جعل طهران “تجثوا على ركبتيها” [تنحني طوعاً]. وعلى الرغم من أن العقوبات ستقلّص بالتأكيد الصادرات الإيرانية، إلا أنّ الارتفاع المحتمل في أسعار النفط سيكون له أثر تعويضي، وقد يترك الإيرادات على ما كانت عليه قبل العقوبات. ومع ذلك، فبصورة عامة، لا يزال الاقتصاد الإيراني ضعيفاً. ومع استمرار هبوط الريال (“التومان”) الإيراني، وتحمل الإيرانيين العاديين العبء الأكبر، تَحوّل الاهتمام الشعبي إلى مشاكل البلاد المالية ومصادرها. ومن جهته، سعى «الحرس الثوري» إلى تحويل أي تركيز عن الفساد والمحسوبية المستشريَيْن، وهي اتهامات ردّدها أفراد معتدلون مثل الرئيس حسن روحاني. إلا أن إشراف روحاني نفسه على الاقتصاد، منذ أن أصبح رئيساً عام 2013، كان فاشلاً ولم يتمكن من الوفاء بوعوده. فبدلاً من أن تسهّل «خطة العمل الشاملة المشتركة» تحقيق مكاسب مالية، أدّى الفساد المحلي والتخبّط البيروقراطي إلى إحباط آمال النمو المالي والاستثمار الأجنبي. بالإضافة إلى ذلك، أضعفت الأزمة المصرفية المحلية الحالية ثقة الإيرانيين في قدرة قادتهم على إصلاح الضرر الاقتصادي.

وإجمالاً، ازداد نفوذ «الحرس الثوري» منذ عام 2013، في حين أخذ يتراجع تأثير المعتدلين أمثال روحاني. كما أن تدهور الاقتصاد سيؤدي إلى تقويض آمال الناس في التغيير من خلال الإصلاح البطيء، مما يقلل بدوره من احتمالات عودة إيران إلى طاولة المفاوضات

كاثرين باور

على الرغم من أن «خطة العمل الشاملة المشتركة» لم تكن تذكرة ذهبية، إلا أنها منحت إيران فرصة للاندماج مجدداً في الاقتصاد العالمي. وعلى وجه التحديد، مكّنت إيران من الدخول مجدداً إلى سوق الطاقة وسمحت لها بالقيام بأعمال تجارية مع كيانات أجنبية ومؤسسات مالية تنخرط في “معاملات كبيرة” مع الكيانات الإيرانية المصنّفة – والعكس بالعكس. وفي الواقع، فمن منظور العقوبات، يشير الانسحاب الأمريكي من «خطة العمل الشاملة المشتركة» إلى العودة إلى النظام الذي كان قائماً قبل التوقيع على الاتفاق النووي، وهو: حظر اقتصادي على الجمهورية الإسلامية.

وستعود بعض العقوبات إلى حيز التنفيذ بعد تسعين يوماً، ولكن بعد 180 يوماً، ستُفعّل جميع حالات الحظر التي تم رفعها وفقاً لـ «خطة العمل الشاملة المشتركة»، ويشمل ذلك الحظر على الطاقة (النفط والغاز)، وقطاع الشحن البحري، و”البنك المركزي الإيراني”. وفي الوقت نفسه، سيتم مجدداً فرض عقوبات على نحو أربعمائة شخص وكيان إيراني. وفي حين تتمتع الإدارة الأمريكية بقدر وافر من حرية التصرف، إلا أنها تواجه حالياً معضلة حول كيفية تنفيذ أحكام هذه العقوبات الرئيسية، خاصة فيما يتعلق بتفسير ما يعتبر “صفقة هامة” وشروط “تخفيض الإعفاءات بشكل كبير”.

وفي نهاية المطاف، سيتعيّن اتخاذ قرار سياسي بشأن درجة الإنفاذ. وقد أعرب الرئيس ترامب أنه يريد ممارسة “أقصى قدر ممكن من الضغط” على النظام الإيراني، ولكن قد يكون من المنطقي تأخير التنفيذ أو إلغائه – أو ترخيص بعض الأنشطة. ومن شأن ذلك أن يبدي حسن النية السياسية مع نظرائه الأوروبيين ويتجنب الدمار الدبلوماسي، لا سيّما عندما لا يكون للتنفيذ القوي أثر ملحوظ على أهداف السياسات العامة.

وستتطلع الحكومات الأوروبية إلى التقليل من تداعيات الانسحاب الأمريكي من «خطة العمل الشاملة المشتركة»، سواء بالنسبة لشركاتها الخاصة أو للحفاظ على المنافع لإيران. ولكن ليس أمامها سوى خيارات واضحة قليلة للقيام بذلك. على سبيل المثال، كانت التوجيهات الصادرة عن “مكتب مراقبة الأصول الأجنبية” واضحة، وهي أنه لن يتم العمل بالعقود التي وقّعت قبل إعادة فرض العقوبات، لأن ممارسة الأعمال التجارية بعملة غير أمريكية سيبقى معرضاً للعقوبات الأمريكية. بالإضافة إلى ذلك، فإن العقوبة التي تخاطر بها المؤسسات المالية هي ليست مجرد غرامة مالية، بل من المحتمل فقدان إمكانية الوصول إلى النظام المالي الأمريكي والدولار الأمريكي.

وبالتالي، يجب على الحكومة الأمريكية أن تسعى أولاً إلى توفير أقصى قدر من الوضوح في إعادة فرض هذه العقوبات. وفي حين قد يجادل البعض بأن ترك القوانين غامضة قد يجبر شركات معينة على “عدم المخاطرة” من خلال الانسحاب الكامل من السوق الإيرانية، إلّا أنّ هذا الاتجاه سيقوّض جهود الولايات المتحدة الرامية إلى جعل حلفائها يتفقون معها على هذا الأمر. بالإضافة إلى ذلك، يمكن أن يهدد ذلك قيام ردود فعل دولية تهدف إلى تجنّب التعامل كلياً مع النظام المالي الأمريكي، مما قد يجعل العقوبات الأمريكية أقل فاعلية عموماً على المدى البعيد. وعلى هذا النحو، يجب على وزارة المالية الأمريكية أن تؤكد أيضاً على أن هذه المحظورات لا تهدف إلى معاقبة القطاع الخاص، وأن التعاون ضروري لتحقيق أهداف السياسة الأمريكية.

وأخيراً، سيكون من المهم إدراج أساس سردي واضح للعقوبات الجديدة. وخير مثال على ذلك التصنيف الأخير لشبكة تبادل عملات قامت بشراء مبالغ نقدية كبيرة بالدولار الأمريكي بشكل مخادع لصالح «قوة القدس» التابعة لـ «فيلق الحرس الثوري الإسلامي» لتمويل وكلائها الإقليميين. وكان هذا النهج القائم على الأدلة، والمرجح أن يبقى كذلك، أفضل فرصة للعمل المنسّق المتعدد الجهات.

مايكل سينغ

أثرت ثلاثة عوامل أساسية على انسحاب الرئيس الأمريكي من «خطة العمل الشاملة المشتركة». ويتعلق العامل الأول بنقد جوهر الاتفاق نفسه، بدلاً من القلق بشأن امتثال إيران [لالتزاماتها بموجب اتفاقات الضمانات لمعاهدة عدم انتشار الأسلحة النووية]. وعلى وجه التحديد، شعر مسؤولون في الحكومة الأمريكية بالقلق لأن الاتفاق النووي لم يفعل الكثير لمنع السلوك العدائي الإيراني، مثل تطوير قدرات الأسلحة النووية، لفترة قصيرة جداً. وفي المقابل، رأوا أن التخفيف من العقوبات الذي مُنح [لإيران] من خلال «خطة العمل الشاملة المشتركة» هو أمر واسع جداً ويستمر وقتاً طويلاً. بالإضافة إلى ذلك، حدّ الاتفاق من خيارات السياسة الأمريكية المتاحة للتعامل مع سلوك إيران المتعلق بتطوير كل من الصواريخ البالستية ودعم القوى المعادية للمصالح الأمريكية في جميع أنحاء المنطقة.

ثانياً، شعرت الإدارة الأمريكية بالضعف الاقتصادي والسياسي الذي يسود النظام الإيراني في الوقت الراهن.

أمّا العامل الثالث فيتعلق بالإعلان عن استئناف المحادثات مع كوريا الشمالية، والذي حدث قبل أربعة أيام من حلول موعد تجديد فترة الإعفاءات. وتمهيداً للمفاوضات المحتملة مع جمهورية كوريا الديمقراطية الشعبية، كانت الإدارة الأمريكية تسعى إلى تكوين وجهة نظر مفادها أن الولايات المتحدة لن ترضى بأي اتفاق. وهنا، ربما كان يدور بخلد الإدارة الأمريكية الرغبة في تكرار النموذج الكوري الشمالي مع إيران، وهو ممارسة “أقصى قدر ممكن من الضغط” مقترناً بالرغبة في الدخول في مفاوضات واسعة النطاق.و في الواقع، يتنافس القرار بشأن إيران مع كوريا الشمالية، ومع التعريفات على الفولاذ والألمنيوم، والعديد من أولويات السياسة الخارجية الأخرى في واشنطن.

وفي الحملات السابقة لفرض عقوبات على إيران، كانت الإدارات الأمريكية قد اتبعت قدراً هائلاً من الدبلوماسية لضمان تنفيذ آليات الرقابة القائمة على أسواق رأس المال في إطار متعدد الأطراف والالتزام بها. ففي عام 2006، على سبيل المثال، تبنّت الولايات المتحدة سلسلة من قرارات مجلس الأمن الدولي التي وضعت الأساس الدبلوماسي للتنسيق مع الاتحاد الأوروبي إلى جانب روسيا والصين.

وستكون هذه المرة الأولى التي تسعى فيها واشنطن إلى فرض هذا النوع من العقوبات في ظل هذا الاختلاف الاستراتيجي الحاد مع حلفائها الدبلوماسيين. وسيركز الأوروبيون على وجه الخصوص على تهدئة طهران والإبقاء على الاتفاق معها، وبالتالي إعطاء إيران نفوذ للتفاوض على اتفاق أفضل مع الأطراف الموقعة المتبقية.

ومن الآن فصاعداً، يجب على الولايات المتحدة أن تحاول إصلاح بعض الخلافات بينها وبين حلفائها الأوروبيين من خلال استمرار المحادثات مع بريطانيا وفرنسا وألمانيا (“مجموعة الدول الأوروبية الثلاث”) على وجه التحديد والجهات الفاعلة الأخرى – حتى وإن نتج عن ذلك تقديم بعض التنازلات بشأن العقوبات. ينبغي على واشنطن أيضاً أن تحدد الانسحاب من «خطة العمل الشاملة المشتركة» في سياق استراتيجية ذات نطاق أوسع تجاه إيران. ومن شأن اتباع نهج شامل، إلى جانب الدعم المقدم من “مجموعة الدول الأوروبية الثلاث”، أن يسمح بنوع من التنسيق الذي تحتاجه واشنطن لممارسة أقصى درجات الضغط على الجمهورية الإسلامية.

أعدت هذا الموجز إيريكا نايجيلي.

Source: the Washington Institute

Gaza clashes: Dozens killed as US opens Jerusalem embassy

At least 43 Palestinians have been killed and 2,200 wounded by Israeli troops, Palestinian officials say, on the deadliest day of violence since the 2014 Gaza war.

The violence came as the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem, a move that has infuriated Palestinians.

They see it as clear US backing for Israeli rule over the whole city, whose eastern part Palestinians lay claim to.

But US President Donald Trump hailed the move in a video message.

He said it had been a “long time coming”, adding: “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right to determine its own capital but for many years we failed to recognise the obvious.”

The US, he added, remained “committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement”.

What happened at the border?

Palestinians hurled stones and incendiary devices while the Israeli military used snipers, as black smoke poured from burning tyres.

The health ministry, run by Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas, said children were among those killed on Monday.

The Hamas-led demonstrations are part of a six-week protest dubbed the “Great March of Return”.

Emergency services and Palestinians carry a wounded protestor during clashes with Israeli security forces near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabalia on May 14, 2018Image copyrightAFP
Image captionHundreds of people have been injured, according to Palestinian officials

Israel says the protests are aimed at breaching the border and attacking Israeli communities nearby.

The Israeli military said 40,000 Palestinians had taken part in “violent riots” at 13 locations along the Gaza Strip security fence.

It said the Israeli military had killed three people trying to plant explosives near the security fence in Rafah. Aircraft and tanks had also targeted military positions belonging to Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, it said.

There have also been violent clashes between Israeli police and protesters who raised Palestinian flags outside the new embassy. Several protesters were detained.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has called for “utmost restraint”.

What led to the Gaza protests?

Palestinians have held weekly protests in the run-up to their annual commemoration of what they call the Nakba or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of their people fled their homes or were displaced following the foundation of the Israeli state on 14 May 1948.

Scores of Palestinians have been killed since the protests began. Thousands more have been wounded.

Hamas, which is in a state of conflict with Israel, had said it would step up protests in the lead-up to Tuesday, the official Nakba commemoration.

Map

It says it wants to draw attention to what Palestinians insist is their right to return to ancestral homes in what became Israel.

“Today is the big day when we will cross the fence and tell Israel and the world we will not accept being occupied forever,” a science teacher in Gaza, Ali, told Reuters news agency.

What was opened and who attended?

A small interim embassy will start operating from Monday inside the existing US consulate building in Jerusalem. A larger site will be found later when the rest of the embassy moves from Tel Aviv.

Ivanka Trump at the embassy openingImage copyrightEPA
Image captionIvanka Trump spoke briefly at the embassy’s opening ceremony

The opening ceremony was brought forward to coincide with the state of Israel’s 70th anniversary.

Mr Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner, who are both senior White House advisers, joined US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan for the ceremony.

After Ivanka Trump had unveiled the seal of the embassy, Mr Kushner said in his address: “When President Trump makes a promise he keeps it… We have shown the world that the US can be trusted. We stand with our friends and allies.”

Mr Kushner also referred to Mr Trump’s withdrawal from the “dangerous, flawed and one-sided Iran deal”, drawing applause from the guests.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “What a glorious day. Remember this moment. This is history. President Trump, by recognising history, you have made history. All of us are deeply grateful.”

US Jerusalem embassy map

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday: “With this step, the US administration has cancelled its role in the peace process and has insulted the world, the Palestinian people and the Arab and the Islamic nation and it has created incitement and instability.”

Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said it was “shameful to see countries participating with the US and Israel in celebrating the former’s embassy move to occupied Jerusalem in a clear and grave violation of international law”.

Why is the embassy move so controversial?

The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is not recognised internationally and, according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 Middle East war. It effectively annexed the sector, though this was not recognised by any countries until Mr Trump’s declaration in December 2017.

Media captionWhy the ancient city of Jerusalem is so important

Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Various countries once had embassies based in Jerusalem but many moved after Israel passed a law in 1980 formally making Jerusalem its capital.


A boost for Netanyahu

By Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor, Jerusalem

The embassy move is the culmination of one of the best weeks in the political life of Mr Netanyahu.

First President Trump kept his promise to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. Now the US embassy is moving.

Placards in Jerusalem praise Mr Trump. The local football club, Beitar, infamous for fans who chant “death to Arabs”, has included “Trump” in its name.

The embassy move has been rejected by the main allies of Israel and the US. Palestinians are protesting in their thousands in Gaza.

It is much more low-key in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem.

The embassy move is good for the Netanyahu government, good for President Trump’s base and makes most Israelis pleased but there is no evidence to back Mr Netanyahu’s claim that it is good for peace.

Experts: China Is Already Capable of Challenging U.S. Air Force in Battle

China identified more than a decade ago that transforming its air force’s capability in the area of air-to-air missiles was an important part of its military modernization. Efforts since then appear to have paid off, with experts forming a consensus that China’s air power is already capable of challenging that of the US in certain scenarios, in part thanks to indigenious missiles.

Chief airpower specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Douglas Barrie, noted recently that some of the new weapons being introduced on Chinese aircraft are equal to Western equivalents. In the case of one missile, it has surpassed any other country’s capabilities.

The new weapons, including a long-range air-to-air missile, Barrie wrote earlier this year, have completely transformed the balance of power in the skies.

“For the notional Western combat aircraft pilot, there is no obvious respite to be found in attempting to avoid within visual range threat of the PL-10 by keeping to beyond visual range. In this environment also the PLAAF will be able to mount an increasingly credible challenge, and at engagement ranges against some targets that would previously have been considered safe. As one former U.S. Air Force tanker pilot drily noted to this author when discussing China’s yet-to-be-named, and yet-to-enter service, very long-range AAM, ‘That’s aimed right at me.’”

China’s advancements made in air power, which have been made alongside those of Russia, have not just caught the attention of the US, as Bloomberg reported this week.

“This shift isn’t just important for the US. India has watched with trepidation as Russia supplies Beijing – and Beijing supplies Pakistan – with more sophisticated weaponry…

According to Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, Russia’s potential approval for China to resell its jet engines to Pakistan was the most frequent topic of discussion at weekly meetings of the National Security Council when she was assistant secretary to the NSC Secretariat from 2003-2007. If Pakistan’s jets were equipped with the new radar and China’s PL-10 missiles, now available for export, India’s aging Russian MiGs would struggle to compete, she said.”

Some missiles China developed with Russia’s help may now be even better than original Russian versions, but Moscow is not particularly worried, according to some.

“They are certainly a growing power,” Vasily Kashin, a Moscow-based military aviation specialist was quoted as saying in the Bloomberg report. “But they are not omnipotent, and they are Russia’s partner.”

That is in line with recent analysis pushing back on skepticism of a Russia-China military alliance.

“As long as Russia sees the US as its chief rival and is focused primarily on Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and China looks towards the Asia-Pacific, it is quite likely that Beijing and Moscow will be able to manage their contradictions and maintain a fairly robust military partnership,” Yevgen Sautin wrote for the Party Watch Initiative, which publishes research drawing from Chinese-language publications. “Even without an explicit alliance, this makes both states more formidable competitors.”

This first appeared in AsiaTimes  

If There’s a Trump Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan, Netanyahu Says He Hasn’t Seen It

 

By Noa Landau

Several Israeli media outlets recently reported that the Trump administration will present their Israeli-Palestinian peace plan after the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem

Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Tuesday he has not seen a U.S. peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Several Israeli media outlets have recently reported the alleged intent of President Donald Trump’s administration is to present their Israeli-Palestinian peace plan immediately after the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem on May 14.

According to the reports – some attributed to Israel’s envoy to the UN, Danny Danon, others to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman following his visit to Washington – the White House team headed by envoy Jason Greenblatt is currently finalizing its work ahead of an initial presentation to both sides.

When asked about these reports on Tuesday while briefing reporters in Larnaca airport in Cyprus, Netanyahu said he “hasn’t seen” the aforementioned plan.

In March, a senior White House official told Haaretz the administration was still working on the plan. Yet it has no deadline for its publication. Among the considerations expected to affect the release date are the political climate in Israel, the security status in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and responses in the Arab world to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

The administration still hopes to convince the Palestinian to return to the peace process, but does not rule out the possibility of publishing the plan without direct Palestinian involvement.

Source: HAARETZ

 

 

 

Did Israel Really Spoof US Warplanes To Strike Iranian Targets In Syria?

By BRAD HOWARD

As the U.S. gets more deeply embroiled in the Syrian Civil War and considers pulling out of its nuclear agreement with Iran, the Middle East is being roiled by news that the Israeli air force bombed Iranian-connected military sites in Syria… possibly by masking Israeli aircraft to identify as U.S. warplanes in contested airspace. All this is happening as Israel reportedly prepares for a larger military conflict with Iran.

Here’s what we know so far.

Syrian Munitions Explosion Israel
  • Syria and Iran accused Israel of executing the strike, which destroyed 200 missiles and killed at least a dozen Iranians.
  • Rumors began circulating that Israel masked their attack by flying through Jordan and Iraq and using U.S. “identification friend or foe” (IFF) codes to conceal their aircrafts’ identities.
  • Another unconfirmed rumor states that this was Israel’s first downrange use of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which could theoretically be able to penetrate Syrian airspace directly due to its stealth features.
Israel
  • For Israel to pull off a a strike using spoofed transponders, they would have to fool ground radars from Iraq and Jordan, as well as U.S. E-3C Sentry aircraft, who would likely have an established order of battle and tasking list to consult if several F-15s appeared from the direction of the Mediterranean.
  • Also the use of U.S. transponder codes, which are encrypted, would either mean that the Israeli air force has access to or was given U.S. IFF codes. This means it is very unlikely that the Israeli air force could have pulled off such an operation without U.S. support.
  • To date, Israel has lost one F-16I due to Syrian air defenses, despite conducting numerous strikes inside the country. It is likely that Israel utilized traditional airstrikes against the munitions facility with F-15Is or F-16Is. Iran has vowed to retaliate for the Israeli strikes.

Beyond ‘Mowing the Grass’: U.S. and Israeli Strategy in the Middle East

Chuck Freilich and James F. Jeffrey

On April 18, Chuck Freilich and James Jeffrey addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Freilich is a senior fellow in the Belfer Center’s International Security Program and a former Israeli deputy national security advisor. Jeffrey is the Institute’s Philip Solondz Distinguished Fellow and a former deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks.

CHUCK FREILICH

The most dramatic change in Israel’s strategic circumstances is that it no longer faces the existential threat it did in past decades. David Ben-Gurion once said that if and when the Jewish population in Israel reaches 5 million, the country’s existence would be guaranteed. Today, that figure stands at 6.5 million. The question is no longer if Israel will survive, but rather what kind of Israel will survive?

There is reason for optimism. For one, Arab states want a relationship with Israel, and Saudi crown prince Muhammad bin Salman made history by recognizing the state’s right to exist. Moreover, no superpower is hostile to Israel. It is still somewhat diplomatically isolated, but its foreign connections have never been stronger. And the potential threat from weapons of mass destruction has decreased as work on Iran’s nuclear program has been deferred—at least for now.

Nevertheless, Israel faces serious strategic threats. It is surrounded on all sides by failed states, states in crisis, or states at risk. It also faces a number of adversaries led by Iran, the most advanced opponent it has ever encountered. Israel’s weakest point is its home front, and that is exactly what Iran and its proxies have decided to target by fighting a war of attrition.

How should Israel deal with this opponent? An Iranian-dominated Syria would be the worst possible outcome for Israel, since war with the Islamic Republic could then break out on the northern front at any time—a troubling prospect given that Tehran may be the first adversary Israel cannot defeat outright.

Demographics pose another major problem. In the West Bank and Israel combined, 40 percent of the population is Muslim. Although the Zionist movement never defined what percentage was required for a Jewish state, 60 percent is unquestionably not high enough to merit that label. Israel today is basically maintaining a military occupation.

The delegitimization of Israel abroad is another major problem. In the West, many young people no longer believe in the justifications they have heard for Israel’s existence, let alone in the idea that the state is a success story. Changes in American demographics have likewise altered the bilateral relationship for the worse.

Israel also needs to recognize that while the military is still the basis of its security, the utility of force has diminished. There is no military solution to the Palestinian issue. A military strike on Iran’s nuclear program would only delay its progress for a few years (though if need be, Israel will take that step). The country never truly solved its problems with military force; it simply managed them. Tired of conflict, Jordan and Egypt made peace with Israel; even Syria once held advanced peace talks with its enemy across the Golan. In theory, the Palestinians may one day tire of conflict, but this seems unlikely.

In light of these challenges, several recommendations for Israeli security policy stand out. First, the country should either reach an agreement with the Palestinians or separate unilaterally. An agreement is unlikely anytime soon. In the Arab world, the conflict has often been framed as a battle for rights, so there is little room for compromise. Israel needs to make clear that it is actively pursuing peace, and that if an agreement is not reached, then Palestinian intransigence is to blame. Alternatively, if no agreement is reached in the next few years, Israel should pursue unilateral separation.

Second, Israel should change its electoral system, which is the source of many of its strategic problems. Existing electoral institutions once served the country well, but they are deeply problematic today.

Third, Israel should make its relationship with the United States central to its national security policy. Although the alliance sometimes limits Israel’s freedom of maneuver, it is unclear if the country would survive without American support—at the very least, it would be significantly poorer and weaker. In practical terms, prioritizing the relationship means aligning with American interests whenever humanly possible. A security agreement with Washington could incentivize the Israeli public to make important concessions toward a peace deal with the Palestinians. Moreover, if Iran goes nuclear, the U.S.-Israeli alliance would play an important role in managing a proliferated Middle East.

In the past, a regional security system that included Arab countries, the United States, and Israel was unthinkable—rather, Israel needed the United States to give it a qualitative military edge over its Arab neighbors. Recently, however, such a system has become conceivable, even if Crown Prince Muhammad has not explicitly talked about it.

Finally, Israelis should adopt a fundamentally different mindset toward their security. Many of them still perceive their homeland as a weak, besieged state whose existence is constantly at stake. The reality is that Israel is not weak or in imminent existential danger, so it can act with greater restraint if it so chooses, focusing more on defense and diplomacy. There will be circumstances, however, when it will need to go on the offensive, potentially in the very near future on the northern front.

JAMES JEFFREY

President Trump’s National Security Strategy and the Pentagon’s 2018 National Defense Strategy describe the administration’s approach to two broad issues: the American-led international security system it inherited, and the “four-and-a-half challenges” it faces from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and violent Islamist extremism. Currently, eight countries are capable of complementing this American-led system as security producers: Britain, France, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. These states have historically faced serious security challenges on their borders. In contrast, Russia and China aim to dismantle this global system and enter a nineteenth-century-style security environment.

Yet while the system can be challenged, the United States itself is rarely challenged directly. Washington’s role is to support the security system, but that is a difficult mission to sell to the American public and allied governments. The key is to reiterate how the U.S.-led system has served the world’s best interests—namely, by facilitating widespread peace and extraordinary prosperity since 1945, in terms of trade, the free flow of people and ideas, and collective security.

How does Israel fit into this strategy? Historically, the country has always emphasized its unique bilateral security relationship with the United States. For a long time it was a security and diplomacy consumer, even though it was capable of defending itself. It did not see itself as a major player in any global security system, partly because it is not a NATO state, and also because of its problematic relationship with the UN. For its part, the United States supported Israel not just to save the country, but to maintain the premise of the global security system.

Israel’s position in that system has changed dramatically, however. The country is now a major provider of security in the region. It is militarily engaged in three of its neighboring countries—two with their permission, and a third (Syria) where it is acting against an enemy regime’s interests. It also remains locked in a tense military standoff with Lebanon. More broadly, its military and nuclear deterrence capabilities play a major role in slowing proliferation activity in the region.

Although the United States has become less central to Israel’s security, the American-led security system is absolutely central to it. The main problem facing Israel is Iran. While Syria used to be an independent state allied with the Islamic Republic, it is now entirely reliant on Tehran and can no longer act independently. Israel faces a fundamental threat from this northern coalition, and the American security system has been unable to act effectively against it.

In response, Washington should build a regional security system in which Israel takes part and the United States plays a leading role. For example, the administration could announce that it will treat any attack on Israel as a direct attack on the United States. Meanwhile, Israel could coordinate with other countries against Iranian expansion—not just with the United States, but with other regional powers as well. Since American policymakers are not fully sure of what to do in Syria and the wider Middle East, Israel and other U.S. allies will likely have to coordinate with each other to pull Washington into a regional security system.

This summary was prepared by Samuel Northrup.

Reluctant Stakeholder: Why China’s Highly Strategic Brand of Revisionism is More Challenging Than Washington Thinks

EVAN A. FEIGENBAUM

To compete in geopolitics—as in sports, business, and life—one needs to actually compete. Washington has to outperform the Chinese competition, not just belittle it.

At the end of 2016, as Donald Trump prepared to take office as President, I penned an essay for Foreign Affairs magazine on “China and the World.” The editor, my friend Gideon Rose, had asked me to respond to two straightforward questions: Is China a “revisionist” power? And in particular, does not Beijing’s championing of a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) demonstrate its revisionism?

Feigenbaum’s work focuses principally on China and India, geopolitics in Asia, and the role of the United States in East, Central, and South Asia. His previous positions include deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia, deputy assistant secretary of state for Central Asia, and member of the secretary of state’s policy planning staff with principal responsibility for East Asia and the Pacific.

Evan A. Feigenbaum

Nonresident Senior Fellow
Asia Program

More from this author…

Well, much has happened since I published that essay in December 2016.

For one thing, the Trump Administration has developed its own answer to these questions. In White House and Defense Department strategy documents, the Administration has made clear that it views China not just as a “revisionist” power but as the world’s principal champion of alternative rules, principles, and structures.

In this telling, Beijing has eschewed the institutions and rules that have prevailed since World War II, especially those preferred by the United States. Instead, it aims to lock in a Sinocentric vision of the world through parallel institutions, disruptive bilateral initiatives, and a rewriting of global rules.

Some administration officials have gone further in their public statements. Take former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He displayed a reasonable grasp of history, but absolutely zero sense of irony, when he praised the Monroe Doctrine in a speech about Latin America, then warned the region to beware the “imperial” ambitions of you-know-who.

Treasury Stephen Mnuchin, meanwhile, has cautioned pretty much every country against taking China’s money. Chinese infrastructure lending, he (correctly) notes, lacks transparency. But Mnuchin extends that argument about transparency into something more like a rap sheet: take Beijing’s money, he warns, and risk being trapped in a debilitating cycle of debt—something that has led to asset-stripping by Chinese practitioners of what the National Defense Strategy calls “predatory economics.” This, in turn, could undermine governance principles championed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In recent weeks, the administration’s nominee for Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson, has taken that argument to its logical conclusion. In testimony to Congress, Davidson came pretty close to calling Chinese infrastructure plays a tool of anti-democratic subversion.

In this changed context, it seems like a good time to take a long look back at my 2016 essay. I still see a lot more complexity than these many strategies, statements, and speeches do.

Here are six important things Washington is missing.

Thinking through the implications of these could help the United States to compete more effectively.

1. It’s tough to critique another country’s obvious revisionism when you’re a revisionist yourself.

China is moving in some very troubling directions. But in the 16 months since I wrote my essay, the United States—and for that matter, some of its trans-Atlantic partners—has also changed in at least three notable ways:

First, while much of the pushback against Chinese activism has been framed as a conservative defense of prevailing rules and institutions, there is nothing either conservative or defensive about the political sentiment that now prevails in some Western capitals. Trump’s Washington. Brexit London. A potential Five Star government in Rome. A Berlin that now has the far-right AfD as the third-largest party in the Bundestag. These signal not a doubling down on prevailing institutions, modes, and rules but an underlying desire by some governments—and many more in their electorates—to actually change them.

CH1

Second, the United States has long been the principal champion of trade multilateralism and, in recent years, of regional approaches to liberalization too. Now, the US is moving briskly away from both of these, favoring instead a firm preference for bilateral agreements and managed trade. In fact, the politics of trade in Washington now raise serious questions about whether the US can ever again undertake a large-scale multilateral deal.

Bluntly put, this has changed Washington’s trade policy—and perceptions of and reactions to it—very considerably from 16 months ago. It is often noted that the administration has abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in a probably fruitless pursuit of bilateral agreements in Asia. But that isn’t the only thing that has changed. Washington is also re-emphasizing pre-WTO instruments (sensibly, in my view, but nonetheless to the chagrin of most of its partners). And it seeks to impose penalties and offer incentives in a mostly bilateral, not multilateral, context.

Third, this has meant a return to managed trade—a throwback resented by many and encapsulated, most recently, by the multiple separate bilateral negotiations that Washington has conducted with its allies for tariff exemptions. And here’s the irony: the US is pursuing throwback approaches with the very partners it seeks to enlist against Chinese rule breaking. Take Japan: Tokyo shares American concerns about China but has seen the US withdraw from TPP in favor of a managed approach to trade that looks eerily similar to the US-Japan structural impediments initiatives of the 1990s. Nor does Washington favor other approaches that its Japanese ally now champions.

2. China is a revisionist power but not a revolutionary one. This distinction is being blurred but actually matters.

This distinction may sound too cute by half, but it is a distinction with a difference.

China is emerging as a disruptive force on the international stage. For thirty years, it was encouraged to join international institutions and subscribe to their norms. Now, having joined them, it seeks, like most major powers, to leverage its seat at the top table to support its national interests.

But this is not even one iota surprising.

As China’s military, economic, and financial power have grown, it has been patently obvious that Beijing would not accept all global institutions, rules, standards, and norms exactly as they are configured today. And importantly, this would be true even without Xi Jinping in power. China’s sheer size, weight, and self-perception of its interests will invariably lead it to expect changes in the governance of international institutions and, in some cases, to their underlying rules.

Yet the proposition that China aims to construct a “parallel” order of competing institutions, rules, and initiatives to subvert, and perhaps even replace, the postwar international system both misstates and understates the challenge China actually poses.

It misstates the challenge because it lacks historical perspective and institutional memory. A “disruptive”China is not, after all, a “revolutionary” China. And we know this because we have seen precisely such a China in the very recent past.

Less than fifty years ago, in the 1960s, Mao Zedong’s China actually did seek to overturn the architecture of the international system. Beijing opposed nearly every global institution. It promoted internal, often violent revolution against established governments from Bolivia to Borneo. It argued for an “anti-capitalist” order. When it entered the United Nations in 1971, the West’s biggest fear was that Beijing would disrupt and undermine the organization. And China isolated nearly every aspect of its own economic and social systems from outside influences and global trends, restricting flows of goods, capital, people, technologies, and information almost completely.

Americans have largely forgotten what the world was like when China sought—and in many areas, achieved—a functional autarky. But today’s China is, quite obviously, not that China. And in the case of the AIIB, a China-backed institution has, in many ways, ended up aping and adapting practices from existing institutions.

But if many critics overstate what China is not, they also understate what China actually is—a stakeholder in existing institutions and rules but a habitually reluctant, seldom satisfied, and frequently ambivalent one, at best.

This means the challenge to Washington is far more complex than if China actually did seek to overturn the international order wholesale.

To put this pithily, China accepts most forms but not necessarily our preferred norms. And that disconnect between forms and norms means that Beijing’s revisionism and demands for change often play out within the existing international framework.

This, in turn, means we risk misidentifying the problem.

China’s strategy is actually one of portfolio diversification, not the replacement of institutions and systems. Beijing aims to give itself options—and by extension, leverage—not least to push for reform of these various groups and a larger role for itself and its preferred outcomes and standards.

To illustrate, look at the multilateral development banks: Beijing has not only joined but supports with financial muscle all of the prevailing development institutions, both globally and in Asia. It is the number-three shareholder in the Asian Development Bank—the very institution it is said to be “destabilizing” with its sponsorship of the AIIB. When China has endorsed new structures, such as the New Development Bank and BRICS contingency reserve arrangement, it has simultaneously made sizeable replenishment contributions to the IMF, where it now has nearly three times the voting weight of Canada, about a third more than Britain and France, and only a whisker less than Japan. Beijing has joined regional development banks in Europe, Latin America, and Africa. It has transitioned from a net borrower to a net contributor in the International Development Association (IDA) and other institutions. And then there is the AIIB, where China wields a veto—there, Beijing’s “alternative” institution has struck up partnerships and co-finance arrangements with every other leading MDB, including the Islamic Development Bank, African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

To put this somewhat pointedly, China is a revisionist power but one that is both highly strategic and carefully selective in its revisionism.

In the maritime domain, for example, it seeks to advance its territorial claims by challenging international law and customary practice. In the cyber domain, it is promoting a distinctive vision of cyber sovereignty. But in the majority of instances and institutions, Beijing pursues structural change by demanding changes to the existing framework.

And a more ambitious China cannot, by definition, be a “status quo” power, in any case. The same could be said of some other emerging powers. Merely by seeking a greater role, heftier voting weight, extra chairs and expanded shares, Beijing is, by definition, attempting to force structural changes and achieve gains relative to the established powers, especially America’s European partners.

China is no revolutionary, then, yet it is determined to gain leverage in almost every prevailing institution and rule-making body.

3. American policy did not “mistake” the implications of China’s rise.

Frankly, “portfolio diversification,” as opposed to wholesale replacement, will make it harder for America to simply get its way. Washington needs strategy and foresight, above all. But in recent months, I’ve read three-dozen articles that claim America has compounded its own problem by “failing” to anticipate this Chinese challenge and, in effect, missing the boat on China’s desire to undermine and replace the existing order.

Frankly, that, too, is ahistorical.

China’s brand of revisionism is not at all surprising—first, because leveraging structures and rules to own advantage is among the most predictable behaviors of major powers, but second, because China’s intensifying demands were not, in fact, unanticipated by prior administrations. The United States has seen precisely such a Chinese challenge coming. And in the decade of the 2000s, when I served in the George W. Bush Administration, I saw firsthand how Washington tried to get out in front of it.

Let me illustrate with some examples from my own experience:

In September 2005, I was responsible for East Asia on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s Policy Planning Staff. My then boss, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, delivered an important conceptual speech that came to define much of the debate about China’s global role in the ensuing decade, but which has sometimes been misconstrued or misinterpreted.

Zoellick began his so-called “responsible stakeholder” speech by noting that US policy, through seven presidents from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, had sought to “integrate” China into the international system. But with China having acceded to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, that process was largely complete. Structurally speaking, Zoellick argued, China already was “in.” Beijing had joined most of the major institutions, and, on paper, subscribed to the major treaties and protocols from ozone depletion to chemical weapons.

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Zoellick’s conclusion was that American rhetoric about China lagged at least five years behind the new realities of Chinese power. So US policy, he argued, needed to change dramatically as a result.

The shift Zoellick advocated was to deemphasize structure and instead emphasize Beijing’s conduct and behavior. The proper question for US policy, he implied, was no longer whether China was “in” or “out”of this or that institution or rule, but rather whether Beijing supported and sustained through its actions, even as it might demand to adapt, those aspects of the international system that had enabled its own success.

Zoellick put this point pretty bluntly, deploying a now famous catchphrase: “It is time to take our policy beyond opening doors to China’s membership into the international system. We need to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder in that system.”

From my vantage point, at least, the Bush Administration clearly sensed from its earliest days an impending challenge from Beijing. So it tried to get in front of, shape, and steer China’s emerging energies.

One reason for this was that Washington faced a gathering problem with China in the mid-2000s: Beijing’s power and capacity for action were growing, yet China was, in many areas, taking a big fat free ride as a consumer of the security and stability the US was working to provide.

One way to think about this challenge is to turn Zoellick’s catchphrase on its head. The logical opposite of a “responsible stakeholder” is an “irresponsible free rider.” And since the administration had no interest whatsoever in encouraging China to be an irresponsible free rider, it made sense to encourage its logical opposite.

By late 2005, as President Bush swung into his second term, China was developing a truly global footprint for the first time since its revolutionary foreign policy of the 1960s. So Washington had every good reason to push Beijing to act as a stakeholder in the system it had joined, not continue to free ride on its benefits.

Operationally, the US confronted specific examples of this challenge from Beijing nearly every day throughout the decade of the 2000s. And since I worked on quite a few of these, I saw how debilitating they could become at the ground level:

In 2001 and 2002, for instance, my boss on the Policy Planning Staff, Richard Haass, was dual-hatted as the US coordinator for Afghanistan policy. As a neighboring country that shared a continental border with Central Asia and was a member of the Six-Plus-Two group on Afghanistan, China derived security and counterterrorism benefits from the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

But while China made modest financial contributions at international donors conferences in Tokyo and The Hague, it contributed little to the effort when weighed against its capacity and interests. And it tended to make its contributions unilaterally rather than in coordination with us and other donors.

But because Washington pressed, changes happened. So where Beijing had made its Afghanistan pledges unilaterally, its initial pledges to Iraq, by contrast, were made multilaterally and in coordination with the US and others donors, as was Beijing’s participation in the process of Iraqi debt forgiveness.

By 2006, I had become the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia, the principal day-to-day official for the region. Among other challenges I inherited was the bitter taste left by China having most unhelpfully joined Moscow and fellow members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in a 2005 statement that called for a “final timeline”to end coalition operations in Afghanistan.

From Washington’s perspective, this highlighted Beijing’s propensity to mouth empty slogans while enjoying the benefits of a free ride on the security and stability America was spending blood and treasure to provide. In that instance, too, Washington sat on Beijing (and countries in Central Asia), urging them never again to repeat this statement—and, better yet, to step up to the plate with tangible or enhanced contributions to the international effort.

A third example from this period was Beijing’s quixotic effort to “lock up” energy supplies through equity hydrocarbon investments in Africa and Central Asia by Chinese state-owned firms. China was hardly the first power to embrace neo-mercantilist energy investments overseas. But amid volatile global oil and gas markets, it held the potential to disrupt global stability—a point Zoellick specifically highlighted in his speech.

4. Domestically, China’s Leninism matters. Externally, its traditionalism may matter more.

Looking back on all this a decade later, this adjusted way of thinking about China still strikes me as ahead of trend.

For one thing, Zoellick’s speech focused on China’s global role before that role grew exponentially in the late 2000s and the decade of the 2010s. In that sense, he was prescient.

But China today is a changed country. It has more problems, but also a lot more capacity. Despite a growth slowdown and a crying need for structural reform, its $1 trillion economy upon entering the WTO in 2001 has become a $14 trillion behemoth (measured in nominal GDP). Its $220 billion in foreign exchange reserves in 2001 have ballooned over the same period to a staggering $3 trillion. Xi Jinping has injected a sharper edge and greater ambition to Chinese statecraft, not least through his advocacy of new institutions, such as the AIIB, and the massive “Belt and Road” infrastructure scheme.

In this context, US efforts to adapt—but also defend—the existing architecture are surely going to be more difficult than many in Washington presume:

One reason is that China rejects the trans-Atlantic preference for a liberal bias to the existing system but not “international order” per se. In other words, it subscribes to much of the existing order but not our desire to lock in a liberal bias.

It is often argued that China rejects these liberal norms internationally because it has an illiberal, Leninist government at home. But that is just one part of the story.

In fact, the Communist government’s skepticism of the application of liberal ideas internationally reflects not just its Leninism but also its deep-seated foreign policy traditionalism. The roots of this lie squarely in the 1990s—fully two decades before Xi Jinping, a committed Leninist, took power.

Post-Cold War shifts, especially the NATO intervention in the Balkans, caused China and the West to diverge on many of the bread-and-butter issues of international relations: How should the international system be organized? Can states legitimately intervene militarily in another state—as for instance, the US and NATO did through humanitarian interventions in the Balkans and elsewhere? What is the proper role of security alliances in a post-Cold War world? Does globalization erode the role of the state and, especially, of sovereignty? Who gets to decide how to interpret and apply international law?

On these questions, Beijing’s preferences in the 1990s began to diverge sharply from the American view of international statecraft, especially in its post-Cold War variant. And one issue in particular shaped and defined these evolving Chinese preferences—Beijing’s preoccupation with its territorial claims, especially to Taiwan.

When the US intervened in the Balkans, Panama, and Haiti, Beijing’s preoccupation with its own territorial claims hardened into a view of sovereignty and non-intervention that many in the US and Europe view as antique. Likewise, when the US relied on NATO in the Balkans, bypassing the UN Security Council where China (and Russia) could wield the veto, Beijing’s inherent skepticism of alliances seemed to grow.

Much of China’s revisionism, therefore, is aimed squarely at a trans-Atlantic version of international order. But on sovereignty and territoriality China is speaking the language of many other countries, particularly the “global south.”

A second example of China’s traditionalism is what I earlier termed “portfolio diversification.”

The decade of the 2000s was an inflection point. By 2010, China had begun to embrace a handful of “parallel” structures, such as the SCO and the BRICS. These groups assembled members, such as China, Russia, and the Central Asian states, that lack a commitment to liberal values at home. But these countries are also suspicious of it as an organizing principle abroad. And in that particular aspect, they are joined by some democracies, including, I would argue, even democratic India, that do not view it as thesingular organizing principle of international statecraft.

And yet ironically, even as Beijing embraced these parallel structures, its enthusiasm for the more traditional groups—groups that are core institutions of the liberal order—actually grew, not lessened.

China pursued bigger stakes in the World Bank and IMF at the 2009 Pittsburgh G20, and joined more of regional multilateral developments banks in Latin America and Africa. Beijing developed a $2 billion co-financing fund with the Inter-American Development Bank and ramped up its role in UN peacekeeping operations.

As I argued in 2016 in Foreign Affairs, China’s goals in shifting to this more diverse approach are presumably fourfold: to (1) hedge its commitment to existing groups and rules lest they turn against Beijing; (2) give China leverage to demand faster and deeper reforms to existing structures; (3)“democratize” international governance by working with India and other emerging powers to establish groups not led by the G7 industrialized democracies; and (4) put Washington on notice that Beijing has the capacity and will to generate alternatives if its calls for reform and change are not respected.

The AIIB, in some sense, exemplifies this more diverse Chinese strategy.

A third example of Beijing’s traditionalism is its frequent argument that institutions should reflect current power realities, not the legacies of decades past.  It is obvious enough that China and India have risen while Belgium and the Netherlands have declined in relative terms. But here’s the rub: enhancing China’s role while reducing the “Western” footprint has significant implications for the effort to lock in a liberal bias within structures and rules.

The fact is, by reducing the European footprint to ensure that various groups better reflect the power realities of 2018 not 1948, they inevitably become less reliant on the trans-Atlantic powers.

As a result, Washington has faced a growing contradiction between its strong preference for liberalism and its growing need for functionalism—the more “Western” an institution, the more liberal it is but the less representative and thus potentially less functional it may be. The transition from the G7 to the G20, and the failure to adjust the membership of the International Energy Agency (IEA) (whose voting shares have been weighted to 1973 consumption) well illustrate this challenge.

5. China has leveraged pan-Asian ideas that others actually invented first. That makes it harder for Washington to push back.

So much for global institutions. Then, there is Asia, where the US has withdrawn from TPP and rejected regional approaches even as efforts have been underway for decades to organize some of those approaches on a pan-Asian basis, excluding the United States.

China is not the only country to have been implicated in that effort. Asia has repeatedly flirted with preferential trade and financial arrangements, as well regionally based regulations and standards, without American participation.

It has become fashionable to ascribe efforts to build pan-Asian groups to rising Chinese assertiveness—or, more precisely, to Chinese ambition. But once again, that captures just one part of a more complex story.

China’s advocacy of pan-Asianism has been effective precisely because it draws off a deep well of sentiment and experience across Asia. The region boasts long traditions of pan-Asian ideas, ideologies, pacts, and negotiations—the subject of a Council on Foreign Relations monograph I co-authored with my friend, Bob Manning, in 2009. And this was well underway before China is said to have become “assertive” in Asia, indeed when Xi Jinping himself, that great champion of assertiveness, had only recently been promoted up from the provinces.

Contemporary Asian regionalism—the desire to forge at least some cohesion out of the region’s enormous diversity—has deep roots. It has found expression across Asia, in many countries, and over several decades.

Japan, for instance, is a close US ally, suspicious of the rise of Chinese power, and has a strong trans-Pacific identity. Still, Japan’s bureaucracy has incubated a variety of pan-Asian ideas, especially with respect to monetary integration. Before there was an AIIB, there was Japan’s proposal of an Asian Monetary Fund, which helped give rise to today’s Chiang Mai Initiative of bilateral currency swaps among Southeast and Northeast Asian countries.

In the 1990s, the US could squash such incipient regionalism. But relative power balances have changed considerably since then. Worse, the US withdrawal from TPP has fueled perceptions across Asia of American protectionism. Viewed through this frame, Beijing’s proposal of the AIIB (and probably other ideas yet to come) cannot be so easily squashed since they lie squarely in a longer pan-Asian tradition.

American policymakers make much in speeches today about indebtedness to China and the potential for Beijing to exact a steep price in exchange for its loans. But the IMF itself was hardly popular in Asia not long ago. Many in the region, especially in Southeast Asia, reacted badly when Washington refused to bail out Thailand in 1997, just three years after bailing out Mexico. And for many Asians, the most enduring image of the crisis is a photograph of IMF managing director Michel Camdessus standing, arms crossed over a seated Indonesian president Suharto, his head bowed, as he was compelled to sign onto the IMF’s terms for financial support.

The biggest takeaway is that when Washington absents itself (or merely shows disinterest in the region’s concerns), Asians will grope for their ownsolutions.

This is precisely what happened with the TPP after American withdrawal. The US frequently argues that Asia will pay a big price for failing to confront China. Actually, the US stands to pay a far steeper price for creating, and then abetting, a vacuum. It is no surprise that the eleven remaining TPP parties completed the agreement without Washington: for all their tensions with one another, forging agreement on pan-Asian rules beats both “Chinese” rules and no rules.

6. Whining isn’t competing.

Finally, that brings us to the Belt and Road (BRI) infrastructure initiative that has become the principal target of Mr. Mnuchin’s and Admiral Davidson’s ire.

BRI is widely viewed as an attempt to foster dependence on China’s economy, with potential strategic and even military effects. And there is something to that argument. Still, Beijing is succeeding, in part because it is borrowing and adapting ideas long advocated by others, including the United States.

Ironically, in the 2000s, the other foot wore the shoe. Instead of the US condemning China’s BRI, it was Beijing that bombastically condemned Washington as a “schemer.” America’s “crime”? Daring to envision a “Greater Central Asia” and making efforts to connect Asia’s sub-regions through infrastructure, policy coordination, and project finance.

This context strikes me as very important. The regrowth of economic connections across Asia’s disparate sub-regions is a function of the choices, actions and capabilities of many states, including Japan, South Korea, and India. It is not a Chinese invention, did not begin only in 2013, and did not spring from Xi Jinping like Athena from the head of Zeus. Indeed, China was part of this connectivity effort even before it launched the Belt and Road, breaking Russia’s monopsony on Central Asian oil and gas with pipelines from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, an onshore production sharing agreement in Turkmenistan, and dozens of projects around the world.

Why do others’ efforts matter? Well, the ADB and the World Bank, for instance, have undertaken longstanding efforts on roads and power lines in Asia. The ADB’s CAREC program (which happens to include China) has been promoting six connectivity corridors—”linking the Mediterranean and East Asia”—for two decades. Does the idea of “linking the Mediterranean and East Asia” sound anything like Beijing’s sloganeering on behalf of the BRI? It does.

Here’s another example from my own experience: The Bush Administration actually reorganized the State Department around a connectivity concept in 2005, when it moved the countries of Central Asia out of a westward-facing European bureau into an Asian-facing bureau that included India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. During those years, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her team developed a variety of US-backed ideas for regional infrastructure integration, most of them premised on leveraging the strengths of the international financial institutions and the ongoing efforts of many partners.

This included Japan, whose role remains notable—it has been Tokyo, not Beijing, which is playing the dominant role in project finance in India, for example, including building the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, the Delhi Metro and the development of high-speed rail for Indian Railways.

Then there is the sheer “Asianization” of Central Asia, which owes as much to the retreat of Russian economic power and relative ebbing of Moscow’s primacy as it does to the arrival of Chinese trade and capital.

What I’m trying to say is that the “challenge of China’s new activism” is more complex than the BRI being some sort of binary counterpoint to the United States. Rather, we need to enlarge our framing of the strategic problem:

The United States risks being marginalized by an organic process through which numerous Asian states, including but not limited to China, are reintegrating East, Central, and South Asia through the direction of trade, capital flows, infrastructure, and new pan-Asian pacts and agreements. More often than not, this is happening without American involvement.

Gradually, but inexorably, the region is becoming more Asian than ‘‘Asia-Pacific,’’ especially as Asian economies look to one another, not just the trans-Atlantic West, for new economic and financial arrangements; more continental than sub-continental, as East and South Asia become more closely intertwined; and, in its continental west, more Central Asian than Eurasian, as China develops its western regions and five former Soviet countries rediscover their Asian roots.

Insufficiently, in my view, the US response to this has mostly been to complain about the Belt and Road. Even without the Belt and Road, the US was already increasingly out of the picture.

My own view is that Washington can and must do better.

For one thing, American policymakers need greater discretion and better judgment about when and where to pick their fights. In the case of the AIIB, for example, the US went to the mat, contesting a Chinese initiative in a functional area where existing structures were clearly insufficient and the US itself offered no distinctive model. It turned China’s proposal of a multilateral bank into a bilateral test of wills but without the leverage to stop Beijing from moving forward. Worse, Washington badly misread the sentiment of some of its allies.

Here are some final takeaways:

One, like Don Quixote tilting at windmills, it is futile for the United States to try to write China out of Asia’s story. And this would be true of any China, not just Xi Jinping’s assertive and nationalistic China.

One reason for this is cartographic: China borders every sub-region of Asia—Northeast, Southeast, Central, and South. The United States does not. Neither does any other big Asian player.

Another reason is financial: even if China cannot ultimately deploy the billions of state-backed project finance it has pledged to the Belt and Road, it can still drop plenty of meaningful money into countries all over Asia where the United States and its firms are largely invisible. To reject and battle against every instance of China’s effort to foster connectivity, then, would require Washington to fight both geographic and economic gravity.

A more realistic way to counterbalance the spread of Chinese power, especially in Asia, is to be more successful at bolstering America’s ownpower, presence, initiative, role, relationships, and arsenal of military, economic, and technological tools. And it can best do this in concert with other partners who have stepped into the vacuum created by US absence, disinterest, protectionism, and worse.

That is why the recent Trump Administration effort to coordinate infrastructure priorities among the US and Japan and the US, Japan, and India is so welcome. So, too, is a development finance reform bill making its way through Capitol Hill, which aims to make it easier for US firms to manage and mitigate risk in tough business environments.

To compete in geopolitics—as in sports, business, and life—one needs to actually compete. Washington has to outperform the Chinese competition, not just belittle and whine about it.

There is certainly a deep suspicion of Chinese intent across Asia today. But I have seen enough from every sub-region of Asia to know that the US will not get far by telling third countries that they should forestall deepening their economic relationships with China. For nearly every country, and especially the smaller ones, that is an impractical choice, and therefore will be rejected.

And that is not all. Trashing China’s initiatives while failing to counter and compete with them signals other capitals that their countries are of little interest to the United States on their own terms. Their takeaway will surely be that the United States pays attention to them only in the context of its strategic competition with China. That is a poor message indeed.

The recent US approach, whether to BRI or to AIIB, risks inviting comparisons, both implicit and explicit, between what Washington is offering and what Beijing is offering. The US is diplomatically challenged and commercially weak in around two-thirds of the Eurasian continental landmass—including many countries in Central Asia, South Asia, and mainland Southeast Asia. Sadly, then, the comparison will often benefit Beijing not Washington.

I have written elsewhere about how the US could be more proactive in Asia, not reactive. But in responding to BRI, at least, it’s important when designing US policies not to compare American apples to Chinese oranges. America isn’t China. For instance, it doesn’t have state-backed firms that it can leverage through billions channeled through state-backed policy banks.

So Washington should be better leveraging its uniquely American strengths—technology, innovation ecosystems, STEM education, connections to the global capital markets, best in class services and other firms, and so on.

It will be harder to deploy that leverage in the context of messages that say “America First.” American business remains crucial, especially in East Asia. US companies have invested more than $200 billion into the ten ASEAN countries of Southeast Asia alone. But what is at stake is not just business but rules, norms, standards, and strategic momentum.

Ultimately, at the political level, Washington spends far too much time playing defense against Beijing. As Asia becomes more integrated, the US will become progressively less relevant in many parts of the region—in Central Asia, in most of South Asia except India, and in mainland Southeast Asia, as noted above.

Within a generation, Americans could find their firms at a competitive disadvantage in a part of the world that will constitute as much as half of the global economy. Americans could become bystanders to the economic and strategic dynamics quickly reshaping this region.

The fact is, China is going to continue proposing initiatives like the Belt and Road. So the US needs to get off its back foot and onto the initiative.

The US can work with China but that needs to happen in the broader context of strategy and policy in Asia. And this includes leveraging the many initiatives and partnerships from Japan to Singapore that should also aim to promote economic expansion and connectivity.

I wrote in 2016—and I still believe—that the best adaptation to China’s new activism is a stronger offense, not perpetual defense.
This article was originally published in MacroPolo.