Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials
Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, on U.S. military's eyes on the Asian Pacific:
Slowly and gingerly, the United States is rebuilding its military presence in the Asian Pacific, and in two cases doing so at the invitation — though cloaked in diplomatic double talk — of the Philippines and Vietnam.
In 2012, the Philippines reopened to the U.S. Navy Subic Bay, a onetime major American naval base dating to the end of the Spanish-American War. That same year Vietnam reopened the huge and largely abandoned naval base at Cam Ranh Bay with the caveat that it was to be used by U.S. noncombat vessels.
The Navy pulled out of Cam Ranh Bay at the end of the Vietnam War and was more or less forced out of Subic Bay by the Philippine government in 1991.
Meanwhile, Japan, undoubtedly with tacit U.S. approval, is abandoning a ban that has stood since the end of World War II on the export of weapons and military materiel.
The related events are, as The Associated Press put it, part of an Obama administration policy of "reasserting the U.S. role as a Pacific power after a decade of war elsewhere." It is also a clear and growing reaction to the Chinese military buildup and China's growing aggressiveness in asserting jurisdiction over disputed islands in the South China Sea.
The islands are largely uninhabited, but they give the possessor a claim on fishing rights and what are believed to be extensive oil and gas deposits. They are claimed not only by China but variously by Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and Malaysia.
Speaking Monday in Manila, where he signed a 10-year agreement providing U.S. access to Philippine military bases, President Barack Obama said, "Our goal is not to counter China. ... Our goal is to make sure international rules and norms are respected, and that includes in the area of international disputes."
Even so, if building up an arc of military treaties and basing-rights agreements around the South China Sea has the presumably unintended consequence of countering China, no one in Washington, Tokyo, Manila, Hanoi or Seoul will be the slightest bit dismayed.
Savannah (Ga.) Morning News on Benghazi email as a smoking gun:
The Obama administration — and likely 2016 presidential contender Hillary Clinton — keep wishing the Benghazi mess will vanish.
Or, failing that, they hope to spin it as a fantasy of right-wing nut jobs.
But facts are stubborn things.
They're hard to erase. And you never know when they'll catch up to you.
Like (last) week.
"A newly released email shows that White House officials sought to shape the way Susan E. Rice, then the ambassador to the United Nations, discussed the Middle East chaos that was the context for the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012," one major news organization reported.
Nope. That's not a report from Fox News.
It's from the New York Times.
The Times reported that an email dated Sept. 14, 2012, from Benjamin J. Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, was sent to Rice ahead of her controversial appearances on several Sunday morning news talk shows three days after the attacks that resulted in the slaying of four Americans, including J. Christopher Stevens, the ambassador to Libya.
The subject of the email was: "PREP CALL with Susan." The president's lieutenant gave directions to Rice on how to discuss the tensions boiling over in parts of the Middle East. Especially pertinent are two goals:
— "To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."
— "To reinforce the President and Administration's strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges."
That the White House would issue such orders — to Rice and others on Obama's team — is no huge shock.
The president was running for re-election; a big part of his platform was that America was winning the war on terrorism. So it was in his political interest to play up the possibility that a third-rate video sparked the violence that left four Americans murdered.
What is surprising is that these directions were typed and emailed. That made them subject to being ferreted out, thanks to one of the best tools available to uncover facts in our democracy — the Freedom of Information Act.
Governments can run from what they do. But thanks to this splendid, nonpartisan measure, they can't hide.
The Wall Street Journal on Ukraine needing U.S. military aid:
The battle for Ukraine is entering a dangerous new phase, as the Kiev government is finally making an attempt to regain control over its eastern cities from local thugs and Russian special forces. Is it too much to ask the U.S. to offer the military means to help Ukraine keeps its own territory?
Vladimir Putin's campaign to destabilize and disrupt his neighbor is escalating as the May 25 date to elect a new Ukrainian government nears. The Russian strongman wants to block the vote, or disrupt it enough so he can call it illegitimate. His Russian-sponsored fighters moved this week from smaller towns in eastern Ukraine to the regional centers of Donetsk and Luhansk, taking key government installations.
The interim authorities in Kiev, which came into office after Moscow crony and President Viktor Yanukovych fled this winter, have dithered. Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov on Wednesday said the Ukrainian state had no authority in the east, a demoralizing and questionable admission. Seizing an opening, Putin the next day told Kiev to withdraw from the east and sue for peace. The Ukrainians might as well send him the keys to the capital.
We're told the assault launched on Friday reflects a change in approach and a commitment to push back. The "restraint" shown by Kiev in Crimea and in the east_which President Obama praised again on Friday_has frustrated most Ukrainians and failed to stop the Russian advance. The interim government might have faced an uprising in Kiev over its defeatist approach.
Ukraine is desperately seeking Western military help, but so far the U.S. has refused. Earlier this week in Manila, President Obama tetchily addressed his Ukraine policy, saying, "Well, what else should we be doing?" He offered another rhetorical question: "Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian army?"
Well, who knows?
But Obama is so worried about upsetting Putin that he refused to send even night-vision goggles, offering 300,000 meals-ready-to-eat instead. The Ukrainians are battling to free themselves of Russian domination and build a European democracy. They deserve more than Spam in a can from America.
New York Times on Nigerian's stolen girls:
Three weeks after their horrifying abduction in Nigeria, 276 of the more than 300 girls who were taken from a school by armed militants are still missing, possibly sold into slavery or married off. Nigerian security forces apparently do not know where the girls are and the country's president, Goodluck Jonathan, has been shockingly slow and inept at addressing this monstrous crime.
On Tuesday, the United Nations Children's Fund said Boko Haram, the ruthless Islamist group that claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, abducted more young girls from their homes in the same part of the country in the northeast over the weekend. The group, whose name roughly means "Western education is a sin," has waged war against Nigeria for five years. Its goal is to destabilize and ultimately overthrow the government. The group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, said in a video released on Monday, "I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah."
This is not the first time Boko Haram has attacked students, killing young men and kidnapping young women.
But the kidnapping of so many young girls, ages 12 to 15, has triggered outrage and ignited a rare antigovernment protest movement in Nigeria.
On Sunday, after weeks of silence, Jonathan admitted that "this is a trying time for our country," and he said that Nigerians were justified in their anger against the government and appealed for international help. The reaction of Jonathan's wife, Patience, was stunningly callous; according to state news media, she told one of the protest leaders, "You are playing games. Don't use schoolchildren and women for demonstrations again."
Boko Haram's claim that it follows Islamic teachings is nonsense. A pre-eminent Islamic theological institute, Al-Azhar in Egypt, denounced the abductions, saying it "completely contradicts the teachings of Islam and its tolerant principles." Although Boko Haram is believed to number no more than a few hundred men, Nigerian security forces have been unable to defeat them.
The kidnappings occurred just as President Jonathan is about to hold the World Economic Forum on Africa, with 6,000 troops deployed for security. That show of force may keep the delegates safe, but Nigeria's deeply troubled government cannot protect its people, attract investment and lead the country to its full potential if it cannot contain a virulent insurgency.
Las Vegas Review-Journal on premium hikes coming due to Affordable Care Act:
Hardly a day goes by without more depressing news about the effects of the Affordable Care Act, on both the state and national levels. And what's likely to come next has the potential to affect far more Nevadans than did the initial rollout back in October.
Thanks to a politically expedient delay by the Obama administration, the law's employer coverage mandate doesn't take effect until 2015. However, early plan renewals already are rolling in. As reported by the Review-Journal's Jennifer Robison on Sunday, the numbers are astounding, with some businesses facing premium spikes ranging from 35 percent to a whopping 120 percent, according to local insurance brokers.
These businesses can't afford to swallow the massive increases, so employees will bear the burden — especially young, healthy males.
That's because Obamacare, by design, prohibits insurers from offering lower rates to healthier groups of people and caps the allowed premium gap between older and younger enrollees. "It's like if there were no safe-driver discounts with State Farm," insurance broker Frank Nolimal of Assurance Ltd. told Robison. "Everybody has the same rate, whether you have three DUIs or you're a (nondrinking) churchgoing Mormon." Or, sticking with the auto analogy, it's like making the owner of a Hyundai Sonata pay the same insurance rate as the owner of Porsche 911 Cabriolet.
Of course, that assumes employees can keep their employer-based coverage.
Employees who lose their plans will, by law, have to purchase overpriced plans from Nevada Health Link — the disastrous performance of the state's exchange has been well-documented — or from a company that sells Obamacare-compliant policies, or pay the penalty tax for not doing so.
Las Vegas insurance broker William Wright told Robison the premium changes put as many as 90,000 policies statewide at risk of cancellation or nonrenewal this fall — more than three times the 25,000 enrollees who were affected in October, when Obamacare-compliant plans first rolled out.
All this amounts to a huge financial burden on businesses and employees, with Obamacare not only taking more money from employers and workers, but causing great harm to the economy. The Obama administration's efforts to delay the most costly and painful parts of the Affordable Care Act will result in even harsher political consequences for Democrats, who approved the law without a single Republican vote.
When employees see massive wage losses due to equally massive premium increases, or when they lose their insurance or perhaps even their job, they'll certainly understand the importance of repealing the Obamacare monstrosity. November's ballot will give them a chance to say as much.
Khaleej Times, Dubai, on U.S. in South Sudan:
The Ethnic crisis in South Sudan is now taking an international turn. The United States has jumped into the fray and Secretary of State John Kerry believes that the war-torn country can have a peaceful way out. Washington, which had been instrumental in working for the independence of South Sudan, wants more peacekeepers to be deployed and is also looking for sanctions against the African leaders.
The announcement came from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa where the African leaders met on Saturday to consider various options to end the crisis, which has rendered more than 100,000 people homeless and killed thousands.
The point is America's thrust on sanctions against Juba, but whether it works or not is anybody's guess. Of late, the White House had come out with crippling sanctions against Kremlin for its involvement in Ukraine, and that move had hardly any impact on the Russian leadership. It is thus incomprehensible to imagine how sanctions can work in the marshlands of South Sudan where tribal, ethnic and lingual connections rule the roost and there isn't any writ of the government since President Salva Kiir had fallen out with his deputy Riek Machar.
The consensus in Addis Ababa, the diplomatic fulcrum of the African Union, is being led by Tedros Adhanom, the Ethiopian foreign minister who wants the world community to be as aggressive as possible in nailing down the rogue elements that have resorted to violence. In such a policy perspective, it has found the US an agreeing partner, who also advocates a greater role for international peacekeeping forces in the region. But there is a dichotomy in such an approach. The US had kept itself aloof from similar flashpoints in East Africa, such as Mali, Chad, CAR and other places, and a very limited role in Somalia. That part of Africa was led and operated by France and Britain. So was its approach in Libya, which the US technically abandoned after the attack on its diplomatic premises in Benghazi.
If the undercurrent of US involvement in South Sudan is oil, then it is likely to make the mosaic more confusing. The fact that Juba sits on huge oil reserves and the same is transited across Khartoum in the north will demand proactive but unbiased diplomacy from the US. Saturday's memorandum of understanding wherein Kiir agreed to meet Machar on Kerry's persuasion for a tête-à-tête is a major achievement. All they need to do is to revisit their January accord and implement it in real spirit.
The Japan Times on the U.S. balancing act in Asia:
China loomed large in U.S. President Barack Obama's recent trip through four Asian countries, a trip in which he tried to allay concerns among allies about Washington's security commitments in the region — without antagonizing Beijing.
In a sense, Obama appeared to be making it clear that the United States would not risk jeopardizing its relations with China even as he seeks to solidify defense ties with its traditional allies. Japan must not lose sight of the overall picture of the U.S. policy in the region as it continues to face strained ties with its Northeast Asian neighbors.
Obama's April 23-29 visit to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines came after his administration's policy of rebalancing U.S. foreign policy to focus on the Asia-Pacific was seen as lacking in substance and as his responses to the Syrian and Ukraine crises were perceived as weak.
In Tokyo, Obama gave assurances to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the Senkaku Islands — the source of a bitter territorial row with China that has severely strained bilateral ties — are covered by U.S. defense obligations under its security treaty with Japan.
He signed a new security pact with Manila that paves the way for more U.S. troops and ships to rotate through the Philippines just as that country's maritime disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea intensifies.
Speaking to American troops stationed in South Korea to keep watch over North Korea as the Pyongyang regime continues its missile and nuclear weapons programs, the president said the United States "will not hesitate to use our military might" to defend its allies.
Obama also emphasized that the dispute over the Senkakus needs to be resolved peacefully — without escalating the situation or taking provocative actions. He said he told Abe that "it would be a profound mistake to continue to see escalation around this issue rather than dialogue and confidence-building measures between Japan and China."
Political dialogue between Japan and China remains stalled since tensions escalated over the Senkakus dispute in 2012. Washington does not welcome the frigid ties between its key Asian ally and the region's rising power. It expressed its "disappointment" when Abe visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine in December because the move was certain to provoke Beijing further due to the shrine's links to Japan's wartime past.
The Abe administration says that a solid security alliance with the U.S. is crucial in the face of China's growing maritime assertiveness, including the dispute over the Senkakus.
Abe believes that his bid to lift the nation's self-imposed ban on engaging in collective self-defense with its allies, by reinterpreting the Constitution, would contribute to making the alliance stronger. Tokyo reportedly had sought Obama's commitment on defending the Senkakus under the security pact — the first such statement by a U.S. president — as a key result of the talks to keep China in check.
However, it would obviously be unwise for Japan to count solely on that statement — which Obama himself even appeared to be playing down as he said the position was nothing new and merely repeating what other U.S. officials said earlier — to stabilize its relations with countries in the region. The Abe government needs to take concrete actions of its own to improve Japan's ties with China, as well as with South Korea.