This week, China is in celebratory mood - anticipating the anniversary on Friday of the start of the First Sino-Japanese War.
If you didn't know, you'd think China had won. In fact, by the following April the war ended in ignominious defeat.
As Australians should understand, with the big Gallipoli anniversary coming up, and the British too with their pride over Dunkirk, it's all about how you use history.
For China, today in a resurgent mood, the anniversary serves several useful purposes.
We have long argued that the Arab-Israeli conflict is inherently insoluble. Now, for the third time in recent years, a war is being fought in Gaza. The Palestinians are firing rockets into Israel with minimal effect. The Israelis are carrying out a broader operation to seal tunnels along the Gaza-Israel boundary. Like the previous wars, the current one will settle nothing. The Israelis want to destroy Hamas' rockets. They can do so only if they occupy Gaza and remain there for an extended period while engineers search for tunnels and bunkers throughout the territory. This would generate Israeli casualties from Hamas guerrillas fighting on their own turf with no room for retreat. So Hamas will continue to launch rockets, but between the extreme inaccuracy of the rockets and Israel's Iron Dome defense system, the group will inflict little damage to the Israelis.
War Without a Military Outcome
The most interesting aspect of this war is that both sides apparently found it necessary, despite knowing it would have no definitive military outcome. The kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers followed by the incineration of a Palestinian boy triggered this conflict. An argument of infinite regression always rages as to the original sin: Who committed the first crime?
For the Palestinians, the original crime was the migration into the Palestinian mandate by Jews, the creation of the State of Israel and the expulsion of Arabs from that state. For Israel, the original sin came after the 1967 war, during which Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. At that moment, the Israelis were prepared to discuss a deal, but the Arabs announced their famous "three nos" at a meeting in Khartoum: no negotiation, no recognition, no peace. That locked the Israelis into an increasingly rigid stance. Attempts at negotiations have followed the Khartoum declaration, all of which failed, and the "no recognition" and "no peace" agreement is largely intact. Cease-fires are the best that anyone can hope for.
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) -- As the Obama administration weans the U.S. off dirty fuels blamed for global warming, energy companies have been sending more of America's unwanted energy leftovers to other parts of the world where they could create even more pollution.
This fossil fuel trade threatens to undermine President Barack Obama's strategy for reducing the gases blamed for climate change and reveals a little-discussed side effect of countries acting alone on a global problem. The contribution of this exported pollution to global warming is not something the administration wants to measure, or even talk about.
"This is the single biggest flaw in U.S. climate policy," said Roger Martella, the former general counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. "Although the administration is moving forward with climate change regulations at home, we don't consider how policy decisions in the United States impact greenhouse gas emissions in other parts of the world."
Over the past six years, American energy companies have sent more coal than ever before to other parts of the world, in some cases to places with more lax environmental standards.
CAIRO (AP) -- The third Gaza war is playing out much like the first one more than five years ago: The harrowing civilian toll in Gaza is now at the center of the discourse, eclipsing the rocket attacks by Hamas militants that were the stated reason for the Israeli assault.
Then as now, a question persists: Beyond the carnage, are Israel's airstrikes against civilian locations achieving anything at all?
It ended messily for Israel in 2009. A U.N. commission investigated, Israel refused to cooperate, and the resulting report - since then partly disavowed by its own author, former South African judge Richard Goldstone - said Israel deliberately targeted civilians and might have committed war crimes, along with Hamas.
About 1,400 Palestinians, including many hundreds of civilians, were killed in the operation dubbed "Cast Lead," along with 13 Israelis. After 18 days this year, the civilian death toll of operation "Protective Edge" is at similar levels - and the proportion is higher. Israel's argument is similar as well: Hamas is to blame not only for attacking a much-stronger power with rockets, but also for operating from within heavily populated residential areas, as well as mosques, hospitals and schools.
JERUSALEM (AP) -- A network of tunnels Palestinian militants have dug from Gaza to Israel - dubbed "lower Gaza" by the Israeli military - is taking center stage in the latest war between Hamas and Israel.
Gaza's Hamas rulers view them as a military game changer in its conflict with Israel. The Israeli military says the tunnels pose a serious threat and that destroying the sophisticated underground network is a key objective of its invasion of Gaza.
Israel has known about the tunnels for several years, but has been hard-pressed to find an effective way to block them. Now it is counting on its ground war to at least reduce the threat.
"Israel knew there was a problem with the tunnels, but it didn't internalize their significance," said Shlomo Brom, a retired Israeli general. "At any given moment, Hamas could send dozens of militants through separate tunnels to attack communities in Israel."
The Greater Indian Ocean is the maritime organizing principle of geopolitics, uniting the entire arc of Islam (including the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf), East Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. But while economic dynamism has focused more on the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia over the past quarter-century, lately the most intriguing success story has been East Africa. So while the situations look dire in Ukraine and Gaza this week, take a moment to look at a part of the world -- once deemed hopeless -- that is quietly experiencing a regeneration.
From Mozambique northward to the confines of Somalia even, there has been sustained progress and renewed hope. Over the past ten years, annual GDP growth rates have averaged 8 percent in Mozambique, 7 percent in Tanzania, 5 percent in Kenya and 10 percent in Ethiopia. Tens of billions of dollars are in the process of being poured into Mozambique and Tanzania to tap into vast offshore deposits of natural gas intended to feed growing demand in both South and East Asia, at the other end of the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, hydrocarbon exploration is occurring in northwestern Kenya and off of Kenya's coast, as well as in the interior reaches of East Africa, particularly in the Great Rift Valley basin stretching through parts of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania.
Exploring for energy is not the only development in East Africa. A growing middle class with an attendant consumer sector -- along with increased economic and political integration -- is contributing to significant foreign interest in building road, harbor, rail and power projects that will connect these Indian Ocean countries with Africa's interior. Such projects will also make these countries a maritime and energy center on which the Indian subcontinent and Asia partly depend.
Even Somalia, long isolated because of its civil war and Islamist insurgency, is no longer quite as cut off from global economic interests as it once was. The radical al Shabaab group is still a guerrilla threat, but it has lost substantially the capability of defeating and replacing the Somali government. A multiyear effort by African Union peacekeepers, with extensive Western security and economic backing, has led to the group's degradation. And thanks to counterpiracy operations from a host of world navies, Somali piracy is just not the threat it once was. As Somalia slowly and tenuously moves in the direction of stabilization, there is interest from foreign companies in exploring for minerals in the country's interior and for hydrocarbons off the Somali coast -- for the rich offshore natural gas fields of Somalia's southern neighbors may extend farther north.
BEIJING (AP) -- For many of today's Chinese youth looking for a partner, love takes second place to parental pressure, moving up the social ladder and a heavy dose of fear drummed into women that they will end up as "leftover."
These aspects and others relating to love, dating and women's status in the Middle Kingdom will be examined on Saturday in a China-inspired version of "The Vagina Monologues," a Broadway hit exploring womanhood that got actresses voicing women's most intimate feelings to packed theaters.
In "The Leftover Monologues," Chinese and foreign women - and a few men - will tell their own stories of searching for a partner, their observations of love and sex, and the panic aroused by the thought of becoming a "leftover woman" - defined by a women's agency linked to the Communist Party as a single urban female over 27.
Wang Anqi is only 23 and already worried.
The downing of Malaysia Flight 17 casts new light on just how inept and decadent the United States and Europe have become.
Faced with Russia's annexation of Crimea and attempts to repeat in eastern Ukraine, the best Western Europe and the United States have mustered are strong words and token sanctions on top Russian officials and several companies. That's hardly enough to deter Vladimir Putin's ambitions to make Russia the dominant power in Eurasia.
Now, public outrage at the downing of the Malaysian airliner will force Western governments to offer Russia restraint from imposing truly effective sanctions on its subversive activities in Ukraine in exchange for an international investigation.
That will likely yield little more than already inferred. Russia supplied the missiles and is culpable for enabling separatists who shot down the plane.
There is a general view that Vladimir Putin governs the Russian Federation as a dictator, that he has defeated and intimidated his opponents and that he has marshaled a powerful threat to surrounding countries. This is a reasonable view, but perhaps it should be re-evaluated in the context of recent events.
Ukraine and the Bid to Reverse Russia's Decline
Ukraine is, of course, the place to start. The country is vital to Russia as a buffer against the West and as a route for delivering energy to Europe, which is the foundation of the Russian economy. On Jan. 1, Ukraine's president was Viktor Yanukovich, generally regarded as favorably inclined to Russia. Given the complexity of Ukrainian society and politics, it would be unreasonable to say Ukraine under him was merely a Russian puppet. But it is fair to say that under Yanukovich and his supporters, fundamental Russian interests in Ukraine were secure.
This was extremely important to Putin. Part of the reason Putin had replaced Boris Yeltsin in 2000 was Yeltsin's performance during the Kosovo war. Russia was allied with the Serbs and had not wanted NATO to launch a war against Serbia. Russian wishes were disregarded. The Russian views simply didn't matter to the West. Still, when the air war failed to force Belgrade's capitulation, the Russians negotiated a settlement that allowed U.S. and other NATO troops to enter and administer Kosovo. As part of that settlement, Russian troops were promised a significant part in peacekeeping in Kosovo. But the Russians were never allowed to take up that role, and Yeltsin proved unable to respond to the insult.
All eyes were on Gaza when the recently self-proclaimed "Caliph" at the helm of the "Islamic State" of Iraq and Syria gave Christians in Mosul, Iraq, 48 hours to evacuate their homes and leave behind all their possessions. This was an act of "benevolence" committed against a people who had two millennia of continuous presence in their ancestral city.
The edict noted that as Christians, they could choose conversion, submission as a protected minority, or death. The Christian leadership, it seems, had "failed" to enter into negotiations on the options for submission, and the authorities of the Islamic State said they were thus within their rights to proceed with a wholesale massacre. However, through the "mercy" of the Caliph, the Christians were ordered instead to leave the territory of the state, their belongings duly reverting to the "treasury" of the new order. This absurdity notwithstanding, the Caliph had indeed displayed relatively "humane" restraint in his edict on the expulsion of Christians. No such consideration was accorded to the countless victims of the Islamic State in Northern Iraq and Eastern Syria, where public decapitations, amputations, crucifixions, flagellation, and stonings are common punishments for "convicts," sentenced by "judges" who are often only teens. The historical, archaeological, and architectural record of this land, once the cradle of Western civilization, is now subject to systematic obliteration with acts of arson and sabotage, each meticulously documented by the perpetrators.
Islamic thinkers and intellectuals can no longer absolve themselves and their faith of responsibility for these acts of horror. It is not the function of common adherents to Islam to refute transgressions against human decency committed in the name of their religion; it is, however, the duty of those who declare themselves custodians of the faith to refute the monstrous manifestation of depravity displayed in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Mali, and locations in between. The price of their inaction, or woefully insufficient reactions, over decades has been the debasing of their religion into a rationale for torture and mayhem.
The governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria must each assume some direct responsibility for the current unfolding horror. The Saudi government is locked into a quasi-suicidal symbiosis with a bloated religious establishment to which much of the reductionism in ideology and regimentation in behavior can be traced. Through acts of commission and omission, Saudi Arabia continues to foster the global onslaught on the diversity and pluralism of Islamic heritage, manifested in its vilest forms today in the so-called "Islamic State." Iran, with the diversion offered by the facade of reformers - possibly well-meaning, certainly powerless - is engaged in a historic revision of the Shi‘ia heritage of Islam along lines more compatible with the ideology of the Saudi religious establishment than with the tradition of dissent and pluralism with which it is conventionally associated. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran cynically utilize the fruits of their ideological outreach for immediate political advantage, but the damage to the texture and integrity of societies that host their respective vassals is permanent.
CAIRO (AP) -- The U.S. and Egypt sought Tuesday to find an end to two weeks of bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, and officials raised the possibility of restarting stalled peace talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities as a necessary step to avoid sustained violence.
It's unlikely that Washington is ready to wade back into the morass of peace negotiations that broke off last April after nearly nine months of shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But the new round of fighting between Israel and Hamas militants who control Gaza has reached the level of violence that U.S. officials warned last spring would happen without an enduring truce.
Kerry, meeting with Egypt's president and other high-level officials, stopped short of advocating a new round of peace talks. Still, he said his discussions in Cairo were designed to "hopefully find not only a way to a cease-fire, but a way to deal with the underlying issues, which are very complicated."
The U.S. and Israel backs Egypt's proposed cease-fire plan but Hamas rejects it. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said Tuesday's talks were focused "to not only resolve this issue, but also to set in motion once again the peace process that Secretary Kerry has been so actively involved in so as to end this ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis."
With significant headway already made but major gaps remaining - and especially with the options available in the event of a breakdown of negotiations looking unattractive to all parties - it made good sense for the P5+1 countries and Iran to extend their talks for another four months, which they announced late Friday.
The United States and its partners can well afford to take the additional time. The six-month halt in all significant advances in Iran's nuclear program will remain in effect, as will the modest but worthwhile lengthening of the time it would take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon - the result of the neutralization of Tehran's entire stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium gas. Indeed, over the next four months, Iran has agreed to convert a portion of its 20 percent uranium in powdered form to fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor, making it even less readily accessible for use in a weapons program.
Moreover, with an extension of the very limited sanctions relief measures that applied during the six-month deal, including the suspension of certain secondary sanctions and the continuation of the metered-out release of a tiny fraction of Iran's oil revenues held in overseas restricted accounts (roughly $700 million a month for a total of $2.8 billion by November), the devastating impact of the sanctions will remain intact and Iran will continue to have plenty of incentive to reach a comprehensive agreement.
The Extension Is Better for the P5+1 than for Iran
PUNJAB, India - Three days after her mother died, Rajinder Kaur sat quietly on the edge of a rope cot, staring at her sandaled feet as the buzz of her friends and family filled the courtyard of her village home in Sher Singh Wala in rural Punjab.
The 20-year-old nursing student, with a girlish frame and long black braid, listlessly recounted the details of her mother's last 40 days - from a sudden diagnosis of blood cancer to the unaffordable treatment that left Kaur with few options but to watch the pillar of the family suffer in the hospital until she passed away.
Kaur's mother, who died in May, is among the latest casualties in India's northern state of Punjab, home to the highest rate of cancer in India. Here, in the country's breadbasket, 18 people succumb to the disease every day, according to a recent report published by the state government. There are ninety cancer patients per 100,000 people compared to the national average of eighty. And the Malwa region, where Kaur's family lives, has been dubbed "the cancer belt" of the state because of its particularly high incidence of the disease.
In villages like Sher Singh Wala, working class, agricultural communities are bearing the heaviest burden of this complex crisis - one that involves limited resources, lack of political will and a toxic environmental problem that could foreshadow what many other Indian communities will experience as they follow the state's economic model.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Escalating their ground offensive, Israeli troops backed by tanks and warplanes battled Hamas militants in a crowded neighborhood of Gaza City on Sunday. The fighting, including heavy Israeli tank fire, killed scores of Palestinians, forced thousands to flee their homes and left dozens of homes destroyed.
Palestinian health officials reported at least 50 dead in air and artillery strikes that echoed across the city for hours and sent panicked residents fleeing from the Shijaiyah neighborhood, many carrying small children and waving white flags. Gaza officials said 35,000 people fled their homes Sunday.
The nearly two-week conflict has killed more than 400 Palestinians and seven Israelis, and appeared to be escalating as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon headed to the region to try to revive cease-fire efforts.
After daybreak, dozens of wounded from Shijaiyah were rushed to Gaza City's central Shifa Hospital. Frantic parents carried children bloodied by shrapnel, and the emergency room quickly overflowed, forcing doctors to treat some patients on mattresses in a hallway.
For Americans, it was like the news from nowhere. Years had passed since reporters bothered to head for the country we invaded and blew a hole through back in 2003, the country once known as Iraq that our occupation drove into a never-ending sectarian nightmare. In 2011, the last U.S. combat troops slipped out of the country, their heads "held high," as President Obama proclaimed at the time, and Iraq ceased to be news for Americans.
So the headlines of recent weeks -- Iraq Army collapses! Iraq's second largest city falls to insurgents! Terrorist Caliphate established in Middle East! -- couldn't have seemed more shockingly out of the blue. Suddenly, reporters flooded back in, the Bush-era neocons who had planned and supported the invasion and occupation were writing op-eds as if it were yesterday, and Iraq was again the story of the moment as the post-post-mortems began to appear and commentators began asking: How in the world could this be happening?
Iraqis, of course, lacked the luxury of ignoring what had been going on in their land since 2011. For them, whether Sunnis or Shiites, the recent unraveling of the army, the spread of a series of revolts across the Sunni parts of Iraq, the advance of an extremist insurgency on the country's capital, Baghdad, and the embattled nature of the autocratic government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were, if not predictable, at least expectable. And as the killings ratcheted up, caught in the middle were the vast majority of Iraqis, people who were neither fighters nor directly involved in the corrupt politics of their country, but found themselves, as always, caught in the vice grip of the violence again engulfing it.
An Iraqi friend I've known since 2003, living in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad, emailed me recently. He had made it through the sectarian bloodletting of 2006-2007 in which many of his Sunni compatriots were killed or driven from the capital, and this is the picture he painted of what life is now like for him, his wife, and their small children: