Welcome back to the Foreign Telegram, a series of posts in which I touch on some of the most important international stories that you may not have seen on the news. This time around, we’ll be visiting Israel to see how their new government helps debunk so many of the false narratives about the Jewish state, Taiwan to address the escalating Chinese incursions into their airspace, and Afghanistan to see how the precipitous American withdrawal is delivering the country into the hands of an unrepentant terrorist regime, as well as seeing how the Chinese-developed Sinovac vaccine is doing to stop Covid-19 (spoiler alert: not well).
I. Israel’s New Government
After an unprecedented run of twelve years as Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has been ousted from the role by a diverse coalition of parties with one thing in common: a deep-seated wish to break BiBi’s political monopoly. The government has a tenuous hold on power given its accession by the slimmest of slim majorities: one MK (Member of Knesset, Israel’s parliament). This potentially-unstable coalition includes eight parties, ranging from the right-wing Yamina, to the centrist Yesh Atid, to the left-wing Meretz, and even including – for the very first time – the United Arab List, a group of Islamist parties representing the 20+ percent of Israeli Arabs. Although Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid, received the most votes of the parties in government, Yamina’s leader Naftali Bennett will become the Prime Minister first, rotating with Lapid after two years; Lapid will be the Foreign Minister.
There are several interesting things about this new government, from the fact that Bennett is Israel’s first outwardly religious (kippah-wearing) PM, to its policy continuities and discontinuities with Netanyahu’s Likud government, to the ideological diversity of the parties in coalition, to the unprecedented number of women in the Cabinet. But the most interesting thing to me, at least when it comes to the external views of Israel, is how this government completely upends the false narratives and anti-Zionist rhetoric of the progressive left.
If you’ve been paying attention to the media coverage and progressive rhetoric surrounding the Israeli military operation in Gaza a few weeks ago – one launched in response to thousands of rockets being indiscriminately shot at Israeli civilians – you might have seen two main tropes being trotted out to denigrate Israel. First was the idea that those criticizing Israel in the harshest terms and arguing for a free Palestine “from the river to the sea” (a clear example of antisemitic rhetoric) were merely arguing against the policies of the Netanyahu government and not against the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign Jewish nation. As the new government is entirely different from the last one – indeed, it was specifically intended to depose Netanyahu – this talking point is now useless. Since the opposition to Israel’s existence on the left is merely cloaked in the rhetoric of partisan politics, I’m sure that we will now see this new government tarred with the same brush that was used to paint Netanyahu as a virulent racist and genocidaire. Given the fact that the Bennett/Lapid government is just as strong on security issues as was Netanyahu, the progressive left will quickly find a new bad guy through which to launder their antisemitism and anti-Zionism.
The other talking point which was forcefully debunked by the existence of this new government is the lie that Israel is an “apartheid state“. This talking point has been embraced by the left in several Western countries, from the UK to the US, and finds a safe home with the so-called ‘Squad’ of far-left American Congresspeople. This has always been a false narrative, as all citizens of Israel – Arab and Jewish – have full and equal rights to participate in society and democracy. Those Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have limited self-governance, but are (of their own choice) not Israeli citizens; they also have ‘elected’ their own leaders – a terrorist group (Hamas) and an authoritarian Holocaust-denier (Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority). The apartheid smear also betrays a stunning lack of knowledge of the actual conditions which prevailed under South African apartheid, where a small white minority forcibly oppressed and disenfranchised a far larger black majority, denying them political, social, and economic rights. Nothing of the sort happens in Israel, and the election of the new coalition government proves that. An avowedly Islamic political party (more accurately, a group of parties) – Ra’am, or the United Arab List – joined the new government and is widely seen as its kingmaker, giving the coalition the slim majority needed to oust Netanyahu and Likud. Mansour Abbas, the leader of Ra’am, is poised to be the most influential Arab politician in Israel’s history, all because he broke the taboo of Islamic parties sitting in a government with Zionist parties (most, if not all, Israeli parties). As you may be able to tell, the taboo was not controlling on the Zionist side, but on the Arab one; this is the entire Israel/Palestinian situation in a nutshell – Arabs routinely refusing to acknowledge the existence of the Jewish state until conditions change enough to make it necessary. It is undoubtedly good that this taboo was broken, both to help bring Arabs more fully into the government and to truly shut down the apartheid lie once and for all.
Personally, I look forward to seeing what this new government does internationally, in the security realm, and in domestic economics and culture. My support for Israel is not dependent on its government; now we’ll see if – as they say – the progressive left’s hatred for Israel is dependent on its leadership. All the signs point to ‘no’, which would reveal the blatant hypocrisy of the antisemitic left for what it is.
II. Chinese Aggression towards Taiwan
The next story has been brewing for months, if not years: the rising aggression towards Taiwan from a revisionist Chinese Communist Party. The mainland Chinese firmly believe that Taiwan is part of Beijing’s sovereign territory, and often espouse the idea that Taiwan – an independent country – should be conquered by force and annexed to China. Territorial revisionism is not new to the CCP, as they unilaterally broke a treaty with the UK just last year and brought Hong Kong fully into their repressive totalitarian orbit, decades before the mainland was allowed to exert more control over Hong Kong’s democratic rights and liberties. Now that the Hong Kong issue has, in the eyes of Xi Jinping and his cronies, been fully decided, Taiwan is next on the target list.
The Chinese government has aggressively flown military assets through Taiwanese airspace several times in the last year, but the incursion into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on June 15 was the largest and most threatening we’ve seen in a long time. An ADIZ is an area surrounding a nation’s borders, through which foreign aircraft usually need permission to fly and are monitored by ground authorities. The Chinese military mission obviously did not have this permission and was acting aggressively. According to the Taiwanese authorities, “the Chinese mission included 14 J-16, six J-11 fighters, four nuclear capable H-6 bombers as well as anti-submarine, electronic warfare and early warning aircraft,” which flew between the main island of Taiwan and her possessions to the south in the Pratas Islands, as well as near the southern tip of Taiwan itself. The map above shows the routes of these Chinese military aircraft, depicting how they violated Taiwanese air sovereignty quite egregiously.
Why does this matter? Well, first off, American national interests lie in keeping Taiwan independent from Beijing, and this action shows a willingness by the Chinese government to test our commitment to those interests. Not only that, but the fact that China sent several types of aircraft which would be used in the case of invasion betrays their facially-peaceful rhetoric as a mere front for active aggression. The constant launching of these missions by Beijing saps the resources and readiness of Taipei, draining their fuel reserves, keeping critical military personnel on edge, and requiring maintenance on the Taiwanese military aircraft which have to be scrambled to intercept the intruders from the mainland. It is incumbent on the US to defend our interests in the Pacific, which requires support for Taiwanese democracy and autonomy; hopefully these increasingly-common intrusions can light a fire under the American security and foreign policy bureaucracy to better support our friends in Taiwan. If we remain aloof, Chinese aggression will only increase.
III. The Coming Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan
The debate over American involvement in and withdrawal from Afghanistan is complex, multifaceted, and by no means clear-cut. I favor keeping a light footprint in the country so as to support its (flawed) democratic government, deter terrorism which could impact the US as on September 11, 2001, and retain a military presence in a critical military theater – Central Asia. I do not pretend that this is our only option, but I do feel that it is our best one. Regrettably, the past few American administrations have disagreed with me, and have planned to remove American troops from Afghanistan entirely. Now that is becoming a reality, with a planned full withdrawal of American assets currently underway under the Biden administration. There are others who cover the issue in far more detail than I ever could (if you’re on Twitter, check out @KyleWOrton and @Ayei_Eloheichem for good detail on the conflict), but I wanted to mention the discrepancy in coverage here in the US.
If we hear about the withdrawal, it is often as something that is long overdue and would not impact Afghanistan’s security or freedom, as the Taliban has ‘agreed’ to talk peace with the official government representatives. This is a bald-faced lie that our ‘betters’ in the media and foreign policy bureaucracy seem to have swallowed hook, line, and sinker. The Taliban is rapidly on the march, taking over vast swathes of Afghanistan with brutal efficiency and mass casualties. They seek nothing less than to re-impose their totalitarian Islamic caliphate onto the people of Afghanistan, reversing gains seen in economic progress, human rights, and internal security. Despite the words of calm from our leadership, the Taliban is ascendant and knows it: as a Taliban commander said to Agence France Presse, “You know and everyone else knows that the Americans and their NATO allies and the Kabul administration have been defeated 100 percent”. As the US and NATO presence diminishes, the Taliban take advantage, encroaching on the nation’s major cities in preparation for what may be an all-out assault once international forces have left. One can easily see the Taliban’s progress in the map below, which lays out the state of Afghan territory as of last month; recall that the Taliban was entirely forced out of the country in 2002.
Why should we care about what happens in Afghanistan after we leave? There are a few reasons, but two are worth exploring. First, the security environment – or lack thereof – under the first Taliban regime is directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent American civilians on 9/11. The Taliban is ideologically and personnel-wise directly related to myriad terrorist groups, Al Qaeda being the most notorious. Allowing these dangerous groups free rein in the country would give them a base of operations from which to plan further major attacks on the American homeland. We take for granted that our security is far better than it was in 2001, but this is due in part to the fact that we swept away the terror training camps in Afghanistan and broke the ability for these groups to easily organize in the open. A return to a Taliban-run Afghanistan would be a return to that dangerous pre-9/11 environment and would invite more attacks on the US. Second, our precipitous withdrawal, combined with the fact that we are abandoning so many of our allies and friends to the not-so-tender mercies of the Taliban, is reminiscent of one of the most humiliating defeats in American history: our departure from Vietnam. Any American who was alive at the time, or has studied the conflict, remembers the horrible images of South Vietnamese trying desperately to flee through the American embassy in Saigon to safety, and being left behind to die at the hands of the North Vietnamese Communists. That episode created massive headaches for the US in terms of our reputation abroad, was morally repugnant in that it abandoned those who helped us during the war, and made a lasting impact in the region, contributing to further destabilization. Right now, all signs point to a Saigon redux in Kabul, something we should be careful to avoid at all costs. If we are to leave Afghanistan – something which I do not support but understand as politically convenient – we must not repeat the mistakes of the past. Unfortunately, I do not have high hopes for the administration in this regard. If you’re the praying type, pray for the safety of the translators, workers, and military personnel who supported American intervention, as well as the millions of women and girls who will be reduced to servile status and returned to a life of abuse under the Taliban. We must not abrogate our responsibility to those brave men and women.
IV. Sinovac’s Epic Failure
To close this Foreign Telegram out, I’ll touch on a story that is a mix of sad and humorous: the incredible failure that is Sinovac, the Chinese-government-created vaccine for Covid-19. You may have seen the breathless coverage of Beijing’s ‘vaccine diplomacy’ over the past few months, where media reports have praised the Chinese government for exporting so many doses of its proprietary Sinovac vaccine to nations in the developing and developed worlds. Countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America have been major targets of Beijing’s vaccine export program; these nations are also the targets of other Chinese diplomatic moves, so their motives are not purely altruistic. Still, it was seen as a great thing for China to do, on par with their export of tests and PPE earlier in the pandemic. Unfortunately, like that previous export plan, this has been a complete and utter failure on the ground. Just as the shoddily-made Chinese PPE and tests failed to work as promised, the Sinovac vaccine is a total dud. Even the Chinese government has acknowledged this, as Gao Fu, the head of the Chinese version of the CDC, said that the vaccines made by China “don’t have very high rates of protection”. Of course, this was rapidly backtracked upon by Gao at the behest of his superiors; he came out and denigrated the efficacy of other vaccines to cover his own comments. But this is a flat-out lie: the Astra Zeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Moderna vaccines all have an efficacy rate vastly superior to that of Sinovac. Indeed, nations which have vaccinated with the Western vaccines have seen massive reductions in case counts, deaths, and hospitalizations – just look at the UK, US, and Israel for confirmation – while nations which used the Chinese vaccine are now seeing spikes in all of those metrics – check out Chile and Bahrain for examples. The one stable fact of the pandemic has been the obfuscation and incompetence of the Chinese government: from their initial cover-up of the pandemic’s spread, to the PPE failures, to the secrecy around the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The continual failure of the Chinese government to competently create good press for itself, even with a compliant media, is fairly funny; I would say it was hilarious, if not for the real human toll their incompetence has taken over the past 18 months. It is far beyond time for the world to stop trusting China, and I hope that this Sinovac disaster is the final nail in the coffin for uncritical coverage of the CCP.