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September 11, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson

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Yesterday, President Joe Biden was in Hanoi, Vietnam, where he and General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong announced they were elevating U.S.-Vietnam relations from the comprehensive partnership agreement President Barack Obama signed in 2013 to a comprehensive strategic partnership, Vietnam’s highest tier of international partnership. The earlier measure called for cooperation in transnational crime and public health; the new measure will boost Vietnam’s high-technology sector and security. 

The visit to Vietnam was part of the administration’s continuing push to loosen China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific by strengthening other countries in the region. China has had a comprehensive strategic partnership with Vietnam since 1998; Russia has had one since 2012. 

Biden’s visit to Vietnam came just after Vice President Kamala Harris’s attendance at the U.S.- Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Biden’s attendance at the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi, where he and the leaders of India, Brazil, and South Africa—all members of BRICS, the economic bloc that includes China—reaffirmed their “shared commitment to the G20 as the premier forum for international economic cooperation to deliver solutions for our shared world.”

Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy has been central to his presidency, and he has marked a number of firsts in U.S.-Indo-Pacific relationships. In September 2021, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. announced a trilateral security pact called AUKUS. In May 2022 the White House held the ASEAN summit in Washington, D.C., for the first time in the organization’s 45-year history; later that summer the U.S. opened a number of embassies in the Pacific Islands region and appointed the first-ever U.S. envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum. In June 2023, Biden hosted a state dinner for Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. In August, Biden held a historic trilateral meeting at Camp David with the leaders of Japan and the Republic of Korea.

At the same time, the administration has worked to improve communications with China. In June 2023, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing for two days and met with Chinese president Xi Jinping. Since then, the administration has tried to demonstrate that it is willing to work with China on economic issues, as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen traveled to China in July and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo visited at the end of August.

Raimondo emphasized that the U.S. is not interested in “containing China’s economic development,” as Chinese leaders have charged, but needs to protect U.S. national security, preventing exports of U.S. technology that can be used by the Chinese military. Raimondo emphasized that the world needs the U.S. and China to manage their relationship “responsibly.” She said the Biden administration wants “to have a stable commercial relationship, and the core to that is regular communication.”

Chinese officials praised Raimondo, saying her visit rendered “rational, candid, pragmatic and constructive communications on China-U.S. relations and economic and trade cooperation.” But facing the twin problems of a faltering economy and negative population growth, Xi appears to be trying to shore up an economic bloc—BRICS—in which China can exercise a more powerful influence than it can in the G20. He chose not to attend the G20 summit in New Delhi, possibly to downplay India’s growing global power, and observers were concerned that Premier Li Qiang, who attended in his place, might throw a monkey wrench in the works of a G20 joint statement. Instead, Xi’s absence allowed India’s president Modi to take center stage, and the summit produced a joint statement on its first day. 

After the summit, Biden traveled to Vietnam, which shares an 806-mile (~1,300 km) land border with China and has an ongoing dispute with China over Beijing’s asserting authority over parts of the South China Sea that are more than 1,000 miles (~1,600 km) from China’s coast. Last month, satellite images appeared to show that China is building an airstrip on an island Vietnam claims as its territory. 

Amidst news that Vietnam is secretly engaged in talks to buy arms from Russia, Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer told the press that the U.S.-Vietnam partnership shows that the U.S. and aligned countries can offer an alternative to countries that have previously worked with Russia and are now finding that relationship “increasingly uncomfortable.” When asked if that partnership might eventually include military aid, Finer responded that the partnership is “comprehensive and strategic” and that “[i]t’s hard to imagine a relationship that is both comprehensive and strategic that doesn’t have a security dimension.” 

While acknowledging in speeches the changing relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam over the past 50 years, Biden was careful not to appear to have forgotten the American experience in the Vietnam War. Before leaving for India and Vietnam, he awarded the Medal of Honor to 81-year-old Captain Larry Taylor, who as a 1st lieutenant during the war in Vietnam flew his Cobra attack helicopter into heavy enemy fire to rescue four members of a reconnaissance team who were surrounded by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in a maneuver army officers said had never before been attempted.

In more than 2,000 combat missions, Taylor never lost a man. “You just do whatever is expedient and do whatever to save the lives of the people you’re trying to rescue,” he said. After his discharge from the Army in 1970, Taylor ran a roofing and sheet metal company in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

In Hanoi, Biden visited a memorial for the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who was a prisoner of war in Hanoi for five and a half years from 1967, when he was shot down, to 1973. “I miss him,” Biden said. “He was a good friend.” Biden and McCain served in the Senate together for three decades. Biden’s tribute to McCain contrasted sharply with the 2019 request from then-president Trump’s White House team that a warship named for McCain, his father, and his grandfather, be hidden from Trump during a visit to Japan. McCain had clashed with Trump despite their shared political affiliation.

Like Biden, Vietnam’s leader Vo Van Thuong welcomed “an enduring, stable long-term framework that opens up a vast space for further development of the bond between us for decades to follow.” But he did note in his remarks at a state luncheon at the presidential palace that President Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam during the early years of the Vietnam War, had asked President Harry Truman for just such a relationship only months after Vietnam gained its independence from France in 1945. “As history would have it, this desire had to confront countless turmoil and challenges,” he said, “all of such we have overcome…. From former enemies to Comprehensive Strategic Partners, this is truly a model in the history of international relations as to how reconciliation and relationship-building should proceed after a war.”

In other international news today, the administration announced it has cleared the way for a deal with Iran to release five U.S. citizens detained in Iran. Last month, Iran moved four dual citizens from the infamous Evin Prison to house arrest, and now it is expected to release those four and one more who was already under house arrest in exchange for five Iranian prisoners and the release of $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue currently held in South Korea.

Several Republicans have opposed the deal. The senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, James E. Risch of Idaho, said that the “unfreezing” of funds “incentivizes hostage taking & provides a windfall for regime aggression,” and Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) called the money “ransom” and said it was a “craven act of appeasement.” 

But in an op-ed on the national security website Defense One last month, Ryan Costello, the policy director for the National Iranian American Council, called the deal a win-win. The Iranian money will be released to Qatar, which will release it for purchases of food and medicine, which are not sanctioned. Medicine is desperately needed in Iran, and as Biden said in 2020: “Whatever our profound differences with the Iranian government, we should support the Iranian people.”

Today is the 50th anniversary of the military coup in Chile that overthrew the democratically elected government of leftist President Salvador Allende, a coup aided by the U.S. government’s Central Intelligence Agency under President Richard Nixon and his national security advisor Henry Kissinger. The State Department issued a statement calling the anniversary “an opportunity to reflect on this break in Chile’s democratic order and the suffering that it caused.” 

While remaining silent on the U.S. role in that coup, the State Department noted that the Biden administration had sought to be transparent about that role by declassifying information. It said, “We pay our deepest respects to the victims of the repression that followed and honor the extraordinary bravery and sacrifices of countless Chileans who stood up for human rights and fought for an end to dictatorship and a peaceful return to democracy,” and it reaffirmed the U.S. “fullest commitment to supporting democracy and upholding human rights.” 

This reassurance likely seems too easy to the human rights advocates who worry that stronger U.S. ties to India and Vietnam, both of which have troubling human rights records, will send a message that the U.S. is willing to tolerate human rights violations in strategically important countries. Biden says he pushes human rights in private talks with those countries’ leaders. 

After commemorating the attacks of September 11, 2001, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at Ground Zero in New York City, and at the Pentagon in 2021 and 2022, Biden today spoke at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, on his way home from Vietnam. He called for national unity to honor the nearly 3,000 people lost that day, urging people to remember “what we can do together. To remember what was destroyed, what can we repair, what was threatened, what we fortified, what was attacked—an indomitable American spirit prevailed over all of it.”

In his speech, Biden recalled Senator McCain as a man who always put country “above party, above politics, above his own person. This day reminds us we must never lose that sense of national unity. So, let that be the common cause of our time: let us honor September 11 by renewing our faith in one another.”

Notes:

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-biden-japan-united-states-58fb1071c04114c2f2371fed2b768fdc

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/07/12/fact-sheet-vice-president-harris-announces-commitments-to-strengthen-u-s-partnership-with-the-pacific-islands/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/08/18/the-spirit-of-camp-david-joint-statement-of-japan-the-republic-of-korea-and-the-united-states/

https://apnews.com/article/china-biden-raimondo-economic-competition-investment-controls-2d2a0cad36df8d43383fa05ab8c42bf5

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2023-09-10/g20-india-modi-vs-xi-who-won-and-lost-top-things-from-leaders-summit

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/09/10/fact-sheet-president-joseph-r-biden-and-general-secretary-nguyen-phu-trong-announce-the-u-s-vietnam-comprehensive-strategic-partnership/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-66725790

https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2012/10/09/the-russia-vietnam-comprehensive-partnership/

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3231431/south-china-sea-beijing-appears-be-building-runway-disputed-island-claimed-vietnam

https://www.politico.eu/newsletter/china-watcher/biden-goes-all-in-on-vietnam/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2023/09/10/press-gaggle-by-press-secretary-karine-jean-pierre-and-deputy-national-security-advisor-jon-finer/

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/biden-awards-medal-honor-pilot-rescued-soldiers-vietnam-rcna103532

https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/4197434-biden-pays-respects-to-mccain-memorial-in-vietnam/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-48456742

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2023/09/11/remarks-by-president-biden-and-president-vo-van-thuong-of-vietnam-at-a-state-luncheon/

https://www.cotton.senate.gov/news/press-releases/cotton-statement-on-bidens-ransom-to-iran

https://medium.com/@JoeBiden/statement-from-vice-president-joe-biden-on-sanctions-relief-during-covid-19-f7c2447416f0

https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2023/08/latest-iran-deal-win-win/389330/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2023/08/10/iran-releases-americans-evin-prison-house-arrest/

https://apnews.com/article/us-iran-prisoners-blinken-3e834df0a845ef2cc5c52af14598c66f

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/09/09/joint-statement-from-the-united-states-india-brazil-and-south-africa-on-the-g20/

https://www.npr.org/2023/09/10/1193755188/chile-coup-50-years-pinochet-kissinger-human-rights-allende

https://www.state.gov/the-50th-anniversary-of-the-military-coup-in-chile/

https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/04/politics/biden-september-11-new-york-pennsylvania-pentagon/index.html

https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/11/politics/biden-september-11-remarks/index.html

https://apnews.com/article/us-iran-prisoners-blinken-3e834df0a845ef2cc5c52af14598c66f

​​​​https://www.reuters.com/world/biden-accused-sidelining-vietnam-india-rights-over-strategic-interests-2023-09-12/

https://alaskapublic.org/2023/09/11/president-biden-commemorates-anniversary-of-9-11-attacks-at-memorial-in-anchorage/

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WATCH: ‘This Is My First Rodeo’ | Ben Meets America Ben Kawaller

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In the latest stop on his cross-country quest to understand America, Ben Kawaller watches men hurl cows to the ground.

Last month I attended The American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, a city of around 400,000 souls situated between Dallas and Fort Worth. This was my first rodeo, and it did not take me long after entering its host venue, the gargantuan Globe Life Field, to realize that I did not know what a rodeo was. If you’d asked me six weeks ago to define the term, I would have said something like, “It’s when you watch someone career around an enclosed pen on an animal.” 

Which is actually not too far off. But what I hadn’t realized is that a rodeo is actually a sporting event. 

You see, some people are especially good at bending these animals to their will, and if you are one of those people, you can win competitions for things like making the animals run very fast, or tying the animals up very quickly, or not dying while trying to sit on one of the animals.

Of course, I wasn’t really there for the games; I was there to talk to the crowd about what makes our society so divided. If you’re tuning in for the first time to my new series—“Ben Meets America”—I was born and raised in progressive Brooklyn, I now live in West Hollywood, and I will admit to being soft in some fundamental way. Suffice it to say I get a more transcendent high from watching a torch song than I do from watching a man hurl a small cow to the ground.

But, in fact, theater and rodeo have their similarities. If you’ve been to a play in recent years, you will have suffered the degradation of a “land acknowledgement.” This is when the audience is told before the show—either in an announcement or in the program notes—that they’ve gathered on land stolen from whatever Native American tribe existed there years ago. My sense is that some of this is rooted in the idea that America itself is fundamentally illegitimate. Whatever’s behind it, the inclusion of a land acknowledgement has become de rigueur.

I did not think conservatives did land acknowledgements, so I was surprised when the Native American actor Mo Brings Plenty appeared before the start of one of the competitions and performed a minute or two of indigenous wailing. I believe the intent of this was to, well, acknowledge the fact that Native American bloodshed was central to the expansion of the American West. What I did not expect was the incongruence of what came after. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. I’m still puzzling over its significance.

In the end, however, I decided I prefer the conservative version of a land acknowledgement. Unlike the inane liberal sacrament, it appears to be capable of expressing two truths at once: that oceans of indigenous blood were spilled in the creation of this country, and that we live in one of the greatest nations on earth.

Even if one of our favorite spectator sports is man versus cow.

Only paid subscribers can see Ben’s video on The American Rodeo. Become one today and scroll down to watch.

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April 14, 2024 Garamond

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Senate spotlight: A Trump Republican’s China problem Judd Legum

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November’s election will not only determine which party controls the White House but also the United States Senate. Currently, the Democratic caucus holds a narrow 51-49 advantage. Control of the chamber will come down to a handful of competitive races. This is the first installment in a series that takes a deep dive into the issues shaping these campaigns. 

In Ohio, businessman Bernie Moreno (R) is attempting to unseat Senator Sherrod Brown (D). Ohio, once a swing state, has been trending Republican. Moreno’s campaign strategy is to attach himself at the hip to Donald Trump. He refers to himself as the “Trump endorsed Republican nominee for US Senate from Ohio.” This helped him easily win the Republican primary against a field of more politically experienced opponents.  

In a potential second term, Trump is vowing to declare economic war on China, promising to “tax China to build America up.” Trump’s plan is to revoke China’s most favored nation trading status and impose a tariff on Chinese goods of up to 60%. (The policy would cost the typical American household thousands of dollars annually and increase inflation.) Imports of “essential goods” from China, including electronics, steel, and pharmaceuticals, would be completely banned

Moreno has taken a similar approach, saying he is running for Senate to “Beat Communist China.” To bolster his anti-China credentials, Moreno claims to have a history of combating Chinese power. These stories, however, don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Moreno made his fortune through buying and selling car dealerships. As his wealth increased, so did his interest in Republican politics. In 2011, former Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) appointed him to the board of trustees at Cleveland State, one of Ohio’s public universities. Moreno served as chairman of the Cleveland State board from 2016 to 2018.

Confucius Institutes, which offer “Chinese language and culture programs,” were established at numerous U.S. universities beginning in 2005. They were partially funded by the Chinese government. Over time, there were bipartisan concerns that Confucius Institutes were being used to promote Chinese government propaganda or even to facilitate espionage. On the campaign trail, Moreno has repeatedly claimed that, in his role as chair of Cleveland State’s Board of Trustees, he eliminated the university’s Confucius Institute.

Here is how Moreno described his role in a March 2023 campaign event:

I chaired the board of trustees at Cleveland State University, and I’m very proud of the fact that when I was there, we got rid of our Confucius Institute. We made certain that we focused everybody on student achievement, and we respected free speech on campus.

He made a nearly identical claim in October 2023. But it is a lie.

Moreno’s service on the board ended in May 2018. Cleveland State did not shut down its Confucius Institute until 2021. The truth is, while Moreno was on the board, he repeatedly approved funding for Cleveland State’s Confucius Institute. In 2016, when Moreno was still vice chairman, he voted to approve $38,000 in funding for the school’s Confucius Institute. The following year, as chairman, Moreno voted to re-up the funding. Minutes from these meetings show that Moreno did not express any concerns about the Confucius Institute

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Moreno told the Columbus Dispatch that he deserves credit for the elimination of the Confucius Institute at Cleveland State because of “his role in the hiring of Harlan Sands, who was Cleveland State’s president when the institute closed.” There are a couple of issues with this response. First, this is not what Moreno said previously. He clearly said that the board “got rid” of the Confucius Institute while he was chair. Second, Cleveland State did not eliminate the Confucius Institute because of the initiative of President Sands. Cleveland State, along with nearly all other universities, closed its Confucius Institute after Congress passed legislation in 2018 and 2020 limiting federal funding for universities that maintained the Confucius Institutes. From 2019 to 2023, the number of Confucius Institutes operating in the United States went from about 100 to fewer than 5.

The truth about Moreno and Chinese-made SUVs

“When I was a General Motors dealer, I sold Buicks. The Buick Envision was made in China. I told General Motors I wouldn’t sell one of them, don’t even ship it to me,” Moreno said during a February 10, 2024 radio interview. “They threatened me and sent me all kinds of nasty notes… we have to actually take this stand…”

That story, which Moreno also told during his brief run for Senate in 2021, is a lie. 

In reality, Moreno sold the Buick Envision at his dealership for at least five years — from 2014 to 2019 — and promoted the vehicle repeatedly on its social media channels, an investigation by NY1 revealed

A December 13, 2016 video published on the “Bernie Moreno Companies” YouTube page begins with this testimonial: “My name is Kayla McCullough. I purchased a 2017 Buick Envision from Buick GMC of Beachwood… I highly recommend you visit the team at Buick GMC of Beachwood, a Bernie Moreno company.”

Moreno’s campaign “acknowledged to Spectrum News that his dealership did sell the Chinese-made SUVs.” It claimed that “in response to the closure of the Lordstown Plant here in Ohio [in March 2019],  Bernie made a decision to stop any new inventory of Envision’s from being sold at his dealership. After he sold off the inventory he already had on the lot, he refused to take orders for more Envisions.” This explanation, however, makes little sense as the Envision was also produced in China and never at Ohio’s Lordstown Plant. Moreno’s dealerships also continued to advertise for the Envision months after the closure of the plant. 

 

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