FiveThirtyEight: Clinton and the Asia Pivot

This week FiveThrityEight published an article Shannon and I have been hard at work on for some time. I’ve been fangirling (fairly secretly) for months about the piece. I’m a huge fan of FiveThrityEight and getting the email in December (December!) asking if I’d be interested in writing for them caused me to break out into giddy giggles on the Metro.


Much of what I write about daily is a touch obscure for most of my family and friends–far off places they don’t know much about and which don’t impact their lives in a noticeably measurable way. While I love that I get to write every day about Central Asia, I was very excited to get a chance to branch out (or really, reach back) into American foreign policy more broadly.

A year ago, when Clinton was launching (officially) her campaign, I spent a Sunday afternoon writing an article about what a Clinton presidency might mean for Asia for The Diplomat. I pinged the other editors for memorable Asia-Clinton moments–I’d only just started writing full-time for the site–and wrote the article up while sitting on my porch soaking up the spring sunshine. I suppose this is what led FiveThirtyEight to me.

I hope you take the time to read the article. Our aim was to explain Clinton’s record as secretary of state because it is a fundamental part of her pitch to the American people as to why she’d make a good president–and Asia, though a low-level issue in domestic American politics often simplified to CHINACHINACHINA, will nonetheless be something the next president will have to deal with.

Those with greater knowledge about Asian politics may be a little disappointed as we wrote the piece for a general audience. This meant leaving a great deal out. We don’t dive into the political nuances of Myanmar’s democratic improvements  or Thailand’s regression, for example. We explain the South China Sea conflict but don’t dip into FONOPs, nine-dashed-lines, or the Philippine arbitration case. We don’t make a judgement on the TPP’s domestic implications because it was an article, first and foremost, about foreign policy. I hope we made good decisions on what to include and what to drop, because it’s impossible to include everything.

I think the final product turned out wonderfully, in no small part because of incredible guidance and editing from the FiveThirtyEight staff. I swam through many a spreadsheet of trade data, Shannon waded through speeches on speeches, and our editors poked us with questions. They challenged our assumptions and pushed us to explain more clearly things the audience we normally write for takes as a given. This is the first article of significant size I’ve ever co-written, the first time a “quantitative editor” has reviewed my econ-logic, and it was all a great experience.

Fun closing fact: One of my favorite sentences made it through, virtually unchanged, from the first draft to the final run: “The TPP is one area where the policymaking record of Secretary Clinton diverges from the politicking rhetoric of Candidate Clinton.”




Followup: Lessons of Pearl Harbor

In light of the Pearl Harbor anniversary and the recent deplorable turn in American political discourse I penned an op-ed on the lessons of Pearl Harbor and the persistence of fear as motivation for unity. I wrote the piece before Trump Trumped yesterday and suggested the United States bar all Muslims from entry. The article strives to bring up the dual legacy of unity in America inspired by the devastation of a surprise attack and of the fear sparked by that event that led to the unjust internment of thousands of Japanese Americans.

While the comment section at The Diplomat devolved, as it often does, into commentary on Japan–one commenter posed the question of whether I was aware that German and Italian Americans were also interned during WWII and further, he asked, why did they not receive reparations and an apology?

I, with my German last name and large Italian American extended family, was most certainly aware. And I have a few thoughts:

On Scale. Between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were interned during the war. Of that number, an estimated 62 percent were American citizens. In contrast, just over 11,000 of Germans were interned. Hundreds of Italians were interned. In both of groups, the majority were German or Italian citizens. Many more of both groups were harassed, monitored, and made to move. Here’s the Department of Justice’s 2001 report on restrictions on those of Italian ancestry during WWII.

But those of German and Italian descent had numbers on their sides. Italians were the largest foreign-born group in the country. Between 1900 and 1914 and estimated 3 million migrated to America (including my ancestors who set up shop, in stereotypical fashion, in the Boston area). It was physically impossible to detain everyone with an Italian mother. The same logic applied in Hawaii: of Hawaii’s 150,000-strong population of ethnic Japanese, under 2000 were interned. On the mainland, however, those of Japanese descent were not so lucky.

To be frank, racism did not effect German and Italian Americans as much as it did the Japanese during World War II. This isn’t to say they were not the subject of vitriol , of nasty cartoons and suspicious neighbors. They were. But let’s go to the next point.

On Context. Why did I not include the racism faced by Italian Americans or the hatred directed at German Americans? Well, first, because I was discussing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and its relation to hatred directed at those of Japanese ancestry. Second, The Diplomat is a publication focused on Asia (and based in Tokyo). It is impossible to include everything, so I opted for include that which fit the anniversary and my core audience.

Another note related to context is the way in which Japan and Germany were depicted. In my piece I cited Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. In an amazing article from 2014 on Geisel’s views and depictions of the Japanese, Jonathan Crow noted that:

In the battle for homeland morale, American propaganda makers depicted Germany in a very different light than Japan. Germany was seen as a great nation gone mad. The Nazis might have been evil but there was still room for the “Good German.” Japan, on the other hand, was depicted entirely as a brutal monolith; Hirohito and the guy on the street were uniformly evil. Such thinking paved the way for the U.S. Air Force firebombing of Tokyo, where over 100,000 civilians died, and for its nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So, again, focusing on the plight of Japanese Americans is important because the context of the time went beyond “they are our military enemy” to a place of much deeper racism.

For its part, California did pass a resolution apologizing for its internment and harassment of Italians during the war. I’m not aware of any successful legislation to apologize to those of German descent, or to offer reparations.

And that’s all I have to say on that.

A Week of Central Asian Politics and Politicking

Another week in Central Asia:

Last Sunday, Kyrgyzstan held successful parliamentary elections. The Diplomat published a wonderful photo essay of election day in Bishkek, a real glimpse at polls in the capital.

Kyrgyzstan also reopened its embassy in Belarus after a 3-year hiatus. Long story short, Belarus has refused repeatedly to extradite the Kyrgyz president deposed in 2010–he’s living a fairly comfortable life as a Belarusian now.

In Turkmenistan, the US broke ground on a new embassy. The US is using the construction as a metaphor. “This is not just another building project in Ashgabat,” the US Ambassador said at the ceremony.

Wednesday was Vladimir Putin’s birthday and the celebrations were as ridiculous as you can imagine: a hockey game, a special rap song release, bombing Syria. But Putin also made time to meet this week with both the Tajik and Kyrgyz presidents.

Kazakhstan’s president met with the president of Ukraine this week as well. Nazarbayev, for all his autocratic faults, is an extremely deft politician. Nowhere is this more evident than in his balancing of relations between Ukraine and Russia.

Mutabar Tadjibayeva, a well-known Uzbek human rights activist who now lives in France–as a political refugee–says she was subject to torture, gang-rape and forced sterilization at the hands of Uzbek authorities. This week, Uzbekistan was essentially ordered by a UN body to investigate her allegations. I’m not terribly optimistic it will lead to any concrete investigation or improvement but I do think it’s important to keep putting these stories in the public space.

And for something different: I wrote about Megadeth’s first concert in China (they were a little censored, which is fairly common). I’m a closet metalhead. Never really thought that corner of knowledge would come in handy professionally.

End of a Central Asia Summer

I’ve been quite delinquent of late with regard to updating this, but I’ve been busy and it’s been nice out. Since last I posted, I’ve written 51 things. I’ve bolded the ones you should definitely read.

I’ll try to be more diligent about posting–and I’m going to try to branch out in this space. For work I’m Central Asia half the time and Magazine things the other half; I have a great number of interests beyond what’s represented here and want to keep pushing myself to be a better writer, journalist, editor.

Poor Almaty

IMG_0247First, Issue 9 of the Magazine is out! It has an amazing cover story on the role of WWII in shaping modern Asia and the lingering effects of its ghosts by Paul French. Bill Hayton, who talks us through the “other claimants” to the South China Sea, Vietnam and Philippines, primarily. Yo-Jung Chen explains that Prime Minister Abe’s regional diplomacy has been dominated by Japan’s past and China’s future. And Melissa Lefkowitz discusses Africans living in China. There is also a particularly great piece on the Iran deal from Ankit Panda (which I’ll have up as a brief excerpt tomorrow on the website), an article on forward deployment by Robert Farley (editing my former professors will never cease to amuse me) and a neat piece from Poppy McPherson on Myanmar’s favorite weatherman.

Bottom line: get a subscription and get reading! We’re creeping up on my one year with The Diplomat and subsequently the Magazine’s first birthday. Unbelievable.

And on to last week in Central Asia (and, of course, nearby realms):

Kazakhstan lost the 2022 Olympic Winter Games to Beijing (and we were wondering how they’d pay for them anyway) but did get voted, officially, into the WTO. The details seem to say that the Eurasian Economic Union will have to play along as well (which isn’t that shocking considering Russia, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan are already in the WTO). Though it does make the EEU seem sort of… arbitrary…

In Russia, the Committee Against Torture is shutting its doors, forced into an untenable position by the state–unwilling to take the label as a ‘foreign agent’ and unable to bear the fines and pressure the group is closing. This is how Russia is silencing dissent. Meanwhile, Gazprom (Russia’s oil giant) is taking Turkmengaz to international arbitration in Sweden–over pricing of the gas Russia hasn’t bothered to pay for this year. This is how Russia is avoiding its debts. Then, in Tajikistan, Russian soldiers got into a drunken, half-naked brawl in the town near their base. Foreign troops abroad are not always great guests.

The US State Department upgraded Uzbekistan on the annual human trafficking report–which covers trafficking (in a stereotypical sense) and forced labor (“modern slavery”).

Across the region mudslides have destroyed hundreds of homes and resulted in at least a dozen deaths. While such things are common, especially in mountainous areas, the government’s response has reportedly been slow.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released its 28th quarterly report. If you’re into audits and inspections it’s pretty interesting, though depressing when the money starts adding up. There’s a special section on conditionality in aid worth reading.

That’s all for now. Onward to a new week and Issue 10 plots are already afoot.