Chinese Torture

It’s beginning to become unnerving. When Burma beats down its monks, we all get queasy and then irate but think: pariah state. When Russians develop an involuntary habit of being poisoned and jailed, we narrow our eyes and clench our jaws, but we think: well, hot chicks are being liberated. But when China realizes that their whole pink police state enterprise is doomed if Tibet spawns a hinterland-wide insurrection of meritocratic have-nots, and applies the bastinado accordingly, we think: holy crap — not really anything can stop them. Thus:

Bush’s silence is especially striking, because the three presidential candidates — Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) — have all issued strong statements on Tibet, with McCain even receiving a letter of thanks from the Dalai Lama. But outside experts and administration officials said that U.S. leverage on the Tibet issue is especially limited, because Beijing views Tibet as a central part of its national sovereignty.

Administration officials privately acknowledge that, on Tibet, they have little to show for their efforts. Some, in fact, suggest it is a waste of diplomatic resources because the Chinese leadership is deeply suspicious of the Dalai Lama and considers him a separatist. Meanwhile, the lack of detailed information about events in Tibet has made it harder for some administration insiders to press the case for a stronger stand against the crackdown.

Because, after all, as Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi wants to know, what’s criticism but a “clinging” return to a “Cold War mentality?” Yet the feeble criticism of today has no teeth, and everyone knows it. The world is becoming a world of exceptions, with the same essential logic applying to Chinese brutality against Tibet as to Israel’s war with Hezbollah. Of course these are entirely different situations — Tibet is recognized as part of sovereign China, Hezbollah is neither a former state nor located in a territory recognized as belonging to Israel — but the logic by which the West rationalizes its toleration of state violence is nearly identical. In both cases, some state decided, independent of the Western powers, to attack a nonstate actor. In both cases, the Western powers recognized that they could do nothing to stop the action except urge its speedy conclusion.

And in both cases a humbling lesson is being learned. Under the present economic, military, and political circumstances, not just the US but the entire West can’t ‘go it alone.’ There are many places where the West, as it currently stands, can no longer project its combined hard and soft power with favorable results. The distinction I want to draw here is between restraint and incapacity. The answer to this problem is not to ‘prove’ that we can still ‘step on’ people ‘whenever we want to.’ (Hear me, John McCain!) But nor is the answer to revel in our powerlessness before a robust and unashamed rival political system.

What, then? Well, my suggestion is that the West badly needs Europe to reassert moral and political leadership in the world. With Europe trying foolishly to extend its holiday from world history, this game is a losing one — and it’s America that loses, pressed permanently into a global role deeply at odds with its cultural and historical DNA. It’s not just a matter of Europe doing America’s dirty work. Staying sidelined and disunited puts Europe’s interests and, frankly, its civilization at serious risk. Launching new nuclear submarines is not a substitute for sound policy on this point, but here as elsewhere Americans worried about this sort of thing have got to look to 21st-century France as Europe’s best hope and natural leader.

UPDATE: A McMegan comboxer raises the merits of a guerilla-solidarity approach. As much as I love Adbusters I sense some limitations.