Josephine Baker–Dancer, Singer, Mother, Booty Spy

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

We often expect our military heroes to come equipped with great athletic prowess and years of grueling training. A few ultramodern, nearly-magic gadgets and good looks don’t hurt either. Josephine Baker showed up with one of the four.

Josephine Baker 1949 Carl Vn Vechten Library of Congress

Josephine Baker in 1950, image from Library of Congress

On June 3, 1906, Freda Josephine McDonald was born in St Louis, Missouri. She was the daughter of a black American washerwoman, and, according to her foster son Jeanne-Claude Baker, her father may have been a white German-American for whom her mother had worked.

When Josephine was eight years old, she went to work for a wealthy white family as a washer girl. According to her biography, the women of the house purposely burned her hands for using too much soap on the laundry.

When Josephine was twelve, she quit school and became a homeless person. Josephine lived in cardboard boxes and scavenged food from trash to survive. Is it possible anyone who saw her scavenging for food in the alleys of St. Louis imagined that she would some day do great service to the Allied armies and the people of France during World War Two?

At age thirteen, Josephine obtained a job as a waitress, and she married one of her customers, Willie Wells. By the time Josephine was fifteen, she had earned a reputation as a talented dancer, and she was able to support herself. She left Wells and quickly rose to the top of the Vaudeville dance circuit, spending the next six years entertaining American audiences.

In 1921, Josephine married an American with the last name Baker. She kept that name for the rest of her life, though she divorced him.

In 1925, Josephine traveled to Paris to perform for enthusiastic Paris audiences. She was an instant celebrity. France fell in love with Josephine, and Josephine fell in love with France.

Josephine enjoyed greater integration in Paris than she could at home in the USA. She expanded her career to include movie acting, singing, and song writing. According to Ernest Hemingway, she was the most exciting woman in Paris.

Josephine Baker Banana DanceJosephine Baker in 1920s, Banana Dance, image in public domain

In 1935, Josephine returned to the USA to tour with the Ziegfeld Follies stage show. She had grown accustomed to something close to racial equality in France, and when she failed to “keep her place” in the United States, she generated mixed reviews.

In 1937, Josephine returned to France. She soon married a Jewish French Industrialist named Jean Lion. By marrying Lion, she acquired French nationality.

As World War Two approached, France contacted Josephine and asked if she would report on any interesting information that she picked up while attending parties, including some at European embassies. Josephine agreed. She quickly developed a skill for charming many fascist big wigs, who were desperate to cultivate an appearance of culture by being seen with her.

When Germany invaded France, Josephine received brief emergency instruction in spy craft and was taught to use invisible ink and make safe information passes.

During the Nazi occupation, Josephine was a prized commodity for parties and events held by Nazi and Italian fascist big shots. She was allowed to travel in and out of Vichy, France, Nazi-occupied France, and neutral countries such as Portugal and Switzerland.

Josephine set up a theater and stage company in Marseilles, France and used it as a cover for a large espionage and sabotage organization. Refugees from Belgium and occupied France were taught to pose as stage artists, and the stage artists were taught to perform as spies. Her seemingly harmless musicians and actor types formed a valuable branch of the French Resistance.

In 1941, Josephine was stricken with a bad case of pneumonia. She and some of her recruits traveled to North Africa seeking a dryer, warmer climate. Free French leader General Charles De Gaulle and his staff felt that Josephine had done more than her share and encouraged her to remain safely in French Colonial Africa to recover her health. Josephine was highly committed to the cause of freedom, and instead of remaining safe, she traveled to Morocco and set up an expanded espionage operation.

From her base in Morocco, Josephine safely traveled back and forth to Spain to communicate with allied agents. She was able to assist the badly outnumbered US OSS agents in Europe in setting up improved communications. Josephine apparently was warned to keep her distance from the OSS because it was known that a mole was loose in their European operations. She had to know that she was taking a tremendous personal risk by working with both the multiple branches of the French Resistance and agents of the OSS. Whatever risk she sensed did not slow her down.

Josephine suffered a miscarriage and received an emergency hysterectomy due to infection. The recovery rate from emergency hysterectomies at the time was astonishingly low; however, Josephine survived. The Free French Government ordered that she be transported to England and to a desk job. She refused her evacuation and remained active in the field until the defeat of the Axis powers in 1945.

After the fall of the fascists, Josephine carried out one last, very personal mission. She traveled to Buchenwald and performed what must have been her single most important stage performance. She performed for the rescued death camp prisoners who were still too sick and weak to be moved.

For her long and distinguished service in the war against Nazi tyranny, Josephine was decorated for bravery on three occasions. She received the French Croix de Guerre, the Rosette de la Resistance, and a knighthood from General Charles De Gaulle as a member of the order, Legion de Honeur.

After the war, Josephine left her life of espionage behind and returned to the stage. She adopted orphans of Algerian, Korean, Japanese, Finnish, French, Israeli, Moroccan, and Hispanic extraction. She referred to them as her “Rainbow Troupe.”

Josephine Baker in 1951, image by Carl Van Vechten, Library of Congress

In 1951, when Baker was refused service at the Stork Club in Manhattan, Grace Kelly was in attendance and took exception. The future Princess Grace of Monaco took Josephine’s arm, and they stormed out together, followed by the rest of Grace’s party. Grace Kelly and Josephine became life long friends, and when Josephine and her large family of orphans faced financial trouble, Princess Grace gave her a palace and financial assistance.

In 1963, Josephine was the only female to speak at the Civil Rights March on Washington D.C. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, she was offered and declined the leadership of King’s civil rights organization. She felt that her slew of young children needed her.

Ten years after the March on Washington, Baker opened a show in New York at one of the world’s most prestigious venues, Carnegie Hall. Before the first note of the show could be performed, a packed house rose and gave her a very long standing ovation. The homeless orphan girl from the alleys of St. Louis had finally come home, and America had finally come home to her.

On April 12, 1975, Josephine died of a cerebral hemorrhage. She was the first American woman to receive a military funeral with full honors. Twenty thousand French, Europeans, and Americans who had not forgotten her extraordinary service in the liberation of France joined her funeral procession.

Without benefit of athletic prowess, much formal education, gadgetry, military or intelligence training, and armed with little more than her courage and commitment, the homeless girl from the alleys of St. Louis had made a difference in the world.

“The things we truly love stay with us always, locked in our hearts as long as life remains.” ~ Josephine Baker

 

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

cover-3-china-the-pirate-of-the-south-china-sea

Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

There Are No “Boots,” Only Men and Women

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

 

No one who serves is a “boot on the ground.” That is a phrase for politicians and bean counters. Each is a man or woman, someone’s child, spouse, sibling, lover, and friend. Each lives, loves, bleeds, and dies. Each commits his or her life to the service of our great nation, risking all.

 

Poppies

 

Our profound thanks to all who serve in the military and clandestine services, allowing our nation to enjoy peace and prosperity at home.

You are, each of you, a blessing. Our prayers are for you on this

Veterans Day.

 

 

The Medal of Honor Recipient Who Wouldn’t Fight

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

During WWII, dozens of the bloody campaigns raged around the globe, involving millions of US military personnel. Four hundred sixty-four of those Americans received the Medal of Honor — two hundred sixty-six of them posthumously. Most of the recipients received the medal for incredible feats of valor while attacking the enemy. However, in a few instances, the medal was given to a recipient that never attempted to harm the enemy. Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector from Virginia, was one of those recipients.

 

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss public domain, wikimedia commons

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to
Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

Seventy years ago, on October 12, 1945, President Truman awarded Desmond Doss the Medal of Honor for his conduct during the US campaign to take Okinawa from the Japanese imperial forces.

The US undertook the invasion of Okinawa to establish large air bases for operations during the anticipated invasion of Japan. On April 1, 1945, 250,000 combat troops, organized into three US Marines Divisions and four US Army Divisions, stormed the shores of Okinawa.

The landings, themselves, were conducted without much resistance from the approximately 90,000 Japanese defenders. By 1945, the Japanese had decided that it was unwise to expose their forces to vastly superior US naval gunfire and US air support on the narrow beach zones where the concentrated fire would devastate them. Instead, they built strong defensive positions inland from the beaches, where the US advantages in naval gunfire and air support were negated by the close proximity of the attacking US troops.

To defend Okinawa, the Japanese military had perfected two other major defensive innovations.

The first of these was Kamikaze (Divine Wind) suicide air units. Most of us are familiar with the Kamikaze fighter plane units that were unleashed with devastating effect against the US Navy’s amphibious fleet during the US invasion of the Philippines in October of 1944. By the time the US invaded Okinawa, the Japanese had further refined their aerial Kamikaze weapons. In particular, they had developed a man-guided rocket-propelled bomb. These fast moving rocket bombs were difficult to shoot down, and, in combination with the slower Kamikaze fighter craft and light bombers, they managed to kill nearly 5,000 US sailors while sinking twenty amphibious assault ships and twelve destroyers.

On land, the Japanese introduced their second highly effective and savage innovation – the child suicide bomber. The occupying Japanese conscripted middle school children to conduct suicide bomb attacks against the invading US troops. US Marines and soldiers were hesitant to shoot at civilians that ran toward their lines because some of them were simply trying to escape the Japanese. Unfortunately, many of the children carried explosives under their loose fitting shirts. In some instances, the Japanese troops sent forward young mothers with babies. When US troops left their cover to try to assist the women and babies, Japanese snipers killed the US rescuers.

This combination of the aerial Kamikaze and the child suicide bombers greatly complicated the battle for the US forces.

The Japanese commanders in Tokyo, pleased with the effectiveness of the suicide bombers, ordered the conscription of all boys aged fifteen and older and all girls aged seventeen and older to be trained and equipped as suicide troops for the defense of the home islands against the awaited US invasion.

Such was the savage nature of the fighting on Okinawa, which made Desmond Doss’s conduct all the more remarkable.

Because of his religious beliefs, Doss was a conscientious objector. He did not want to engage in combat. His beliefs, however, did not keep him from serving in the US Army as a combat medic.

The text of Doss’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself, telling the story of his remarkable courage under fire:

“He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet [120 m] high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards [180 m] forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards [7.3 m] of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet [7.6 m] from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards [91 m] to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards [270 m] over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”

After his discharge from the US Army, Desmond Doss spent five years in treatment for his injuries and for tuberculosis. He died in March, 2006.

Of the thousands of stories of outstanding courage during WWII, Desmond Doss’s story is one of the most remarkable. He did not act with a burst of adrenaline for a few minutes to achieve remarkable results, but rather he acted calmly and repeatedly risked his life under fire for several days in order to save his wounded comrades. In the midst of one of the most savage battles of history, Desmond Doss, conscientious objector and Medal of Honor recipient, still stands as an outstanding example of courage and compassion.

Pfc. Doss’s story is being brought to the big screen on November 4, 2016, in the movie HACKSAW RIDGE. Watch for the Bayard & Holmes review.

 

 

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

cover-3-china-the-pirate-of-the-south-china-sea

 

Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

The F-16 Offer to India — India Might Refuse It, But Pakistan Can’t Ignore It

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

For the last few years, military and foreign policy aficionados around the world, not to mention very excited governments and corporate accountants, have been following the Indian government’s fighter procurement plans.

The process has been more dramatic and colorful than the average major defense purchase. Given the profit potential of any contract to supply modern fighters to the Indian Air Force (“IAF”), we would expect fierce competition from fighter jet manufacturers accompanied by massive propaganda campaigns from both government and corporate sources. We would not be disappointed.

 

UAE F-16 Block 60 Similar to F-16 Block 70 Offered to India Image public domain, wikimedia commons

UAE F-16 Block 60
Similar to F-16 Block 70 Offered to India
Image public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The technical aspects of the competition have been debated by millions of passionate aviation “experts.”

Unfortunately, most of those “experts” either have no experience in piloting or aerospace engineering, or they work for companies connected to the competition. My purpose in publishing this article is not to add to the technical and political debates. My hope is to consider some interesting geopolitical/geo-corporate questions that have arisen from the long and dramatic procurement process. My spellchecker is resisting the term “geocorporate,” but I fear that the time has come when the term is both fair and depressingly relevant.

The IAF wants a new fighter.

It wants a fighter that is better than their current hodgepodge mix of aircraft from a slew of countries and manufacturers. For both domestic and foreign political reasons, the IAF also wants guarantees of parts and weapons availability without interference from the governments where the aircraft is manufactured each time the political climate changes in those governments.

For domestic political reasons, the Indian government wants major technology transfer and local work cost offsets of 50%.

For those who are not acquainted with industry jargon, that means the Indian government wants the ability to use the same or similar technology to produce the same or similar products, and it wants half of the cost of production to be spent in India.

The serious competitors for India’s fighter deal were France’s Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and Sweden’s Gripen. Other competitors offered their products but were, justifiably, seen as dark horses in the race for the huge contract.

US Boeing half-heartedly offered the F-18 Super Hornet, but perhaps did so with the hope of eventually convincing the IAF to consider them for use on future Indian carriers. The F-18 would not seem to be ideally suited for the IAF’s particular requirements.

US Lockheed Martin offered the F-16 C/D. Given the age of the airframe design and India’s desire for a massive technology transfer, it seemed unlikely that India would choose the F-16. It didn’t.

Russia straight-facedly tried to offer up everything in their inventory, along with a few things not actually in their inventory.

Given the IAF’s torturous troubles in dealing with Russian aircraft companies Mikoyan and Sukhoi on previously purchased fighters, there seemed little chance of the IAF choosing a fighter from Russia. The IAF has been sold too many lemons over India’s decades of purchasing Russian military equipment, and the Russians have refused to uphold warranty promises. Russia may have saved money in the short term by screwing India on these deals, but in the process, it pretty well lost a customer.

The IAF has been pleased with the performance of the Dassault Mirage 2000s that they previously purchased from France.

The Mirages have performed well for it. Also, when the rest of the West embargoed weapons sales to India in response to nuclear weapons tests or conflicts with Pakistan and China, France continued to supply weapons and parts to India. Naturally, India has remembered this. Likewise, the IAF is confident that unless it starts bombing the very best restaurants and art museums in Paris, Dassault will remain willing to take their cash.

Without even considering technical arguments, the Swedish Gripen relies on critical parts from other nations, making it unlikely. Getting those nations to agree to a Swedish export of their technologies to India was going to be about as easy as getting all of France to switch to a Swedish cuisine diet. If you’ve ever eaten in Sweden, you will recognize this proposition as absurd humor.

Note to Swedish people: I like you. You are lovely people. Most of your food sucks.

But back to fighter planes…

The Eurofighter Typhoon might have met the technical requirements set forth by the IAF, but India would be at the mercy of the governments of Germany, the UK, and Italy for parts and weapons if they ever tried to do something crazy with those Eurofighters like perhaps fight with anyone. The Eurofighter, like the Grippen was a bad political choice.

In January 2012, to nobody’s real surprise, the Indian Government announced that the Dassault Rafale had won the competition for the huge contract of 126 multirole fighters.

It was a slam dunk for Dassault. Almost. As my grandma told me, the devil’s in the details.

Dassault was anxious to deliver the Rafales. The IAF was anxious to receive them. I was not going to hold my breath waiting for the first Rafale to be delivered to the IAF.

The small matters of price and warranties remained to be settled. Dassault vacillated on the price as India pressed for more technology transfer.  The pricing started high, then got lower, then got higher again, then lower, etc. As the months and years passed, the first Rafale fighter was never delivered because the parties could never agree to details on price, warranty, and technology transfer. Unlike the average American tourist in Paris, the IAF was willing to argue about the bill.

Finally in March 2014, India and France announced that the first 18 aircraft would be delivered to India in flying condition – off the rack, so to speak – at a cost of $200 million + per fighter. Another 108 would be 70 percent built by HAL Corporation of India. The 18 seemed to me like a very high priced improbability, and building more with 70% construction by Hal in India struck me as more fanciful than home fusion generator trash disposal units.

In April of 2015, India indeed announced that the purchase had advanced to the long anticipated “Hell no, we won’t buy any” stage of the negotiations.  No cash, no new fighters, nothing.

And then Lockheed Martin slipped in and knocked on the back door with a very interesting proposal.

Lockheed Martin offered to move its entire production of F-16s to India if India would upgrade the order to the F-16 Block 70 model.

Instead of technology transfer debates, Lockheed Martin will let India build the fighters on a Lockheed Martin system installed for less than $30 Million per fighter.

And as grandma would say, again, the devil is in the details.

Lockheed Martin can propose all they want, but the US government will have to completely agree to all the details of any transfer of F-16 technologies and production to India.

Many US allies fly the F-16.

Some fly newer, recently-built versions and will be flying them for a long time. In fact, without any new orders, Lockheed Martin will be busy turning out F-16s for at least another year to satisfy current orders. Neither Lockheed Martin nor the US government wants to aggravate these allies by telling them to get their parts from India.

The Pakistan Air Force flies F-16s.

For Pakistan, which is in a state of perpetual low level war and near-war with India, hating India is central to its dogma. How many parts will India send to Pakistan? Maybe a few nylon seat covers and some cool looking decals. That’s about it. In effect, Lockheed Martin is telling the Pakistan government to piss off.

The Lockheed Martin offer is not officially coming from the US government.

If John Kerry visited Pakistan tomorrow, he would swear to them that he loves Pakistan, roots for the Pakistani national cricket team, loves Pakistani food, and that some of his best friends are Pakistanis. John would not believe any of it, and neither would anyone in Pakistan.

Though the Lockheed Martin proposal has not yet received US government approval, it’s hard to believe that the Lockheed Martin tail is wagging the US government dog.

The Lockheed Martin proposal to India represents a major shift in US foreign policy toward both India and Pakistan. Is the US finally accepting that Pakistan has never been and never will be anything like an ally? Are we offering a closer relationship to India?

My guess is that Lockheed Martin and India will not conclude the deal in its current form. At this point, the proposal can be withdrawn for any number of reasons, but the message to both India and Pakistan will stand. India might not take the Lockheed Martin offer seriously, but Pakistan must.

US-India Alliance — The Joker in the South China Sea Poker Game

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

One of the most important US-Asia relationships is that of the US and India. Like the US, India has no territorial claim in the South China Sea. However, because of its size and its location on oil trading routes, India has the potential to greatly impact any strategic balance in the South China Sea region.

 

US Pres. Obama & India Prime Minister Modi Image by Pete Souza, public domain.

US Pres. Obama & India Prime Minister Modi
Image by Pete Souza, public domain.

 

The US is the oldest democracy. With approximately 1.3 billion people, India is the largest democracy.

India’s population is currently only slightly smaller than that of the People’s Republic of China, and it is trending to surpass Communist China in 2028. Both countries’ national economies have grown substantially during the past twenty years, but Communist China’s economic growth, much of it fueled by the US and other Western consumers, has outstripped India’s by nearly three times. Indian politicians and business leaders are aware of that, and their desire to increase trade with the West is impacting foreign policy debates in India.

While India has no territorial claim in the South China Sea region, it needs to freely navigate the South China Sea to reach markets in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

Freedom of navigation in that region directly impacts India’s ability to increase exports and potentially import energy and food. As a result, what happens in the South China Sea matters in the corporate boardrooms of Mumbai and in the homes of the Indian people, giving India a keen interest in the region.

Historically, the US and India have always maintained civil, if not always friendly, relations, and most Americans and Indians hold favorable views of each other in spite of the two nations’ other alliances.

Shortly after its independence, India established strong diplomatic relations with the USSR, and the USSR, now Russia, has traditionally been India’s biggest supplier of technology and military hardware. India’s close relations with Russia were driven by two major factors. One factor was India’s continuous multi-border disputes with China in conjunction with Moscow’s break with Communist China during the East-West Cold War. The other factor was, and remains, Pakistan.

Pakistan vacillates between near-war and low-intensity war with India.

That constant hostility has at times been much larger in the minds of Pakistanis than in the minds of most Indians, but coupled with terror strikes by Pakistani-controlled groups, the continuous enmity makes it impossible for Indians to ignore US military aid to Pakistan.

In spite of this, most Indians are willing to establish an equitable peace with Pakistan.

For Indians, the center of the universe is not located anywhere in Pakistan. For many important Pakistani power brokers, the center of the universe must continue to appear to be in India. By remaining in or near a state of emergency, the Pakistani intelligence establishment and some Pakistani military leaders have been able to maintain an inordinate and unhealthy influence over Pakistani politics.

Given India’s conflicts with China and Pakistan, along with US support for Pakistan, it’s easy to understand how India built strong ties with Russia.

This may be changing somewhat, but don’t expect a complete halt to the import of Russian military equipment. India has shown a desire to reduce its reliance on Russian military hardware, but its goal is not to replace Russian suppliers with Western suppliers. Its goal is to replace Russian suppliers with Indian suppliers. The trick is, of course, developing adequate Indian suppliers.

With a massive labor surplus and high unemployment in India, the political pressure to “buy Indian” is now a major factor in Indian politics.

And remember, unlike Communist China, India is a democracy, and the public’s concerns drive foreign and domestic policies. As in other democracies, that linkage is never as direct as the voters would prefer, but no Indian politician can ignore major domestic concerns and survive in office.

Ideally, India could do whatever is needed and take however long it needs to accommodate the powerful “buy Indian” agenda. Unfortunately, India is not in an “ideal world,” but rather in a world that finds them next door to Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China – a very “un-ideal” neighborhood, indeed.

India has access to European military equipment. To the displeasure of the ruling Pakistani junta, India has now also been granted nearly the same level of access to US-made military hardware as that enjoyed by close US allies. At the same time, for a variety of well-founded reasons, Pakistan has been facing more difficulty in acquiring high tech US military hardware.

To the displeasure of US military suppliers, India has yet not showered cash on them. Deals with the US and other Western suppliers are announced with much fanfare. Those deals usually die at the cash register with far less fanfare.

In one concrete sign of closer US-India relations, India and the US are “cooperating” in the construction of new Indian aircraft carriers and other new Indian Navy ships. What “cooperating” will end up looking like precisely is difficult to say, but if real cooperation occurs in these projects, then that may be a clear indicator of growing ties between India and the US.

It’s not surprising that in a nation of 1.3 billion people, not everyone agrees about the direction that Indian foreign policy should take.

China and Russia’s willingness to improve their relations enough to forge a massive natural gas deal has many Indians wondering about the possibility of improving relations with China and eventually receiving much-needed natural gas from Russia via Chinese pipelines. China is currently paying much less for Russian natural gas than India is paying for Middle East natural gas.

On paper, the concept of a Russia-China pipeline looks good to India, unless that paper is being viewed in China.

China had a huge motive for accepting a gas deal from their old enemies to the north. China feels fragile and insecure about its short term and long-term energy needs. And it should. Increased energy costs could throw the Chinese economy into near chaos. Helping India gain access to cheaper natural gas would make India a competing consumer for Russian natural gas. It would also help India realize its dreams of military modernization, and it would help that country compete for a larger share of Western export markets. China wants to help India improve its military and its economy about as much as I want to live in Syria – not one damned bit.

Overall, we will likely see closer economic and military ties between the US and India, but it will not happen overnight.

Most Indians are politically rational. They neither wish to become “pro-American,” nor “pro-Western.” They simply wish to find a way to be effectively “pro-Indian.” India’s desire to pursue a pro-Indian agenda in no way conflicts with US or European goals in Asia.

While it is unlikely that India will want or be able to exert much military influence in the South China Sea over the next decade, India remains a critical factor for any Chinese military strategy. Just as India needs to freely navigate the South China Sea, China even more critically needs to navigate the Indian Ocean.

The world champion diplomatic double talkers in Beijing love pretending to ignore India’s influence in Asia. That plays well to the captive Chinese audience, but not so well in the geopolitical reality. India’s slowly growing strength in the Indian Ocean will act as an indirect but strong deterrent to Communist China’s escalation of hostilities in the South China Sea.

In our next article we will consider the overall geopolitical realities in the South China Sea.

US/Asia-Pacific Alliances — Decision Time in Jakarta

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

As part of overall US strategy in the Pacific region, the US is attempting to forge a closer economic and military relationship with Indonesia. The Obama administration made improving ties with Indonesia a major priority when President Obama first took office in 2009. The White House and US State Department have maintained that priority during Obama’s seven years in office.

 

Indonesia Pres. Joko Widodo and US Secy. of State John Kerry (center) Image by US State Dept, public domain

Indonesia Pres. Joko Widodo
and US Secy. of State John Kerry (center)
Image by US State Dept, public domain

 

The White House has always been quick in declaring diplomatic victories following overseas trips by the President as well as after meetings with visiting heads of state and their ministers. In reality, the US-Indonesia “new alliance” remains a work in progress.

With the Philippines, Japan, and to a lesser extent Malaysia, we can clearly measure progress in the formation of a transpacific alliance in response to increased aggression from the People’s Republic of China. It is much more difficult gauge Indonesia’s intentions toward the US, its Pacific neighbors, and Communist China.

To interpret the foreign policy news from Indonesia, we need to consider a few critical facts concerning the Indonesian national identity.

First, like the Philippines and Malaysia, and unlike Japan, Indonesia lacks cultural unity.

Indonesia’s 250 million citizens are quite diverse and, in many areas, quite parochial. The official language is Indonesian, but tribal languages still persist in rural regions. When Indonesian President Joko Widodo wakes up in the morning, he doesn’t need to hear a morning report to know what his priority for the day is. That priority has been the same for every Indonesian President since the country achieved its independence in 1945 – to “unite the people.”

Foreign policy is important to Indonesia, but internal issues remain their day-to-day first priority. This does not mean that we cannot build real cooperation with Indonesia. It means we can’t expect it to be represented the same way in the Indonesian media as it would be in other countries in the region.

Second, Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, but it is a secular democratic state.

Over 85% of Indonesians describe themselves as practicing Muslims, but Islam in Indonesia is far less “centralized” and regimented than in Saudi Arabia. The national legal system is secular. Radical Islamic groups do exist, but they lack anything approaching popular support. Indonesia acts independently of their fellow Muslim countries in the Mideast, but the country is never comfortable publicly disregarding “Muslim interests” in favor of US-Indonesia relations. The White House should not expect Indonesia to trumpet US-Indonesian cooperation loudly.

Indonesia is showing clear signs of growing cooperation against China and growing cooperation with its neighbors, but it has to handle the public relations battle in the way that best suits its government and its people. Indonesia’s neighbors seem to understand this better than the US does. While the US and Japan are always concerned with the public message that is delivered to the People’s Republic of China, we cannot expect Indonesia to pursue a similar public relations strategy in the near future. The good news is that it is quietly willing to increase military cooperation with its neighboring states and the US.

A third fundamental fact concerning Indonesian national identity is that Indonesia sees itself as being the leader of the region.

Indonesia was instrumental in founding the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The headquarters for ASEAN is in Jakarta, Indonesia. ASEAN remains a major point of pride for the Indonesian government and people. It is something that they accomplished without the US, the UN, or anyone outside of the region. ASEAN is, in a sense, a symbol of Indonesian power and political identity.

Rather than disregard ASEAN, the US can work with ASEAN on the same issues over which the Obama administration has been trying to gain Indonesian cooperation for the last seven years. The US sees itself as being the leader in improving regional security against growing Communist Chinese aggression in Southeast Asia. The US strategy in the Pacific is based on shared concerns, but it relies heavily on US technology, military expertise, and US cash to improve defense capabilities in the region.

 

US & Indonesian Troops in Joint Training Exercise Image by USMC, public domain

US & Indonesian Troops in Joint Training Exercise
Image by USMC, public domain

 

In the case of Indonesia, the US will have to remain patient and allow that country the opportunity to redefine a US-Indonesian relationship that can fit into its national agenda. If that includes Indonesia being less publicly supportive of US-led initiatives in the area, then so be it. The White House must measure Indonesian policy and actions and ignore Indonesian rhetoric. In Indonesia, the rhetoric will never align with real policy quite the same way as it does in the Philippines or Japan.

A fourth major formative issue in Indonesia’s relations with the US is the People’s Republic of China.

China has lots of cash, and Indonesia needs Chinese trade and investment. We are asking Indonesia to abandon investment and trade from China at a time when the US national debt does not present a bright promising picture of economic perfection. This is not 1960, when the US was able to present a breathtakingly brilliant comparison to the dismal economies of the USSR or Communist China. Like any government, Indonesia cannot ignore its own business sector when conducting foreign relations. When it comes to economics, ASEAN can help bring Indonesia and the US closer in economic terms. Healthier regional and transpacific trade will help allow Indonesia to more confidently decrease economic ties with China.

Deciphering US-Indonesian relations takes some work, but one important positive fact gives reason for optimism. Indonesian democracy is stronger and more stable today than it was ten years ago, and the practice of democracy seems to be growing more complete each year. The Indonesian people know that their democracy is not perfect, but for the majority of Indonesians, expectations for democracy appear to be growing. In assessing the current state of US-Indonesian relations, there are reasons to be optimistic.

One of the greatest forces driving a closer US-Indonesia relationship is China itself.

Communist China has consistently shown itself to be unable to resist using intimidation and brute force when dealing with its Pacific neighbors. In theory, China believes in the “carrot and stick” method of diplomacy, but it has shown itself to be unskilled with the carrot and impatient to use the stick. Until very recently, Indonesia was carefully hedging its diplomatic strategies with regard to China. Recent news reports from Indonesia indicate a reluctance to see the US take a leading role in regional security. Indonesian actions tell a different story.

Indonesia recently (again) warned the People’s Republic of China that Chinese fishing boats illegally fishing in Indonesian waters would be detained. When Indonesia recently attempted to seize a Chinese fishing boat that was illegally fishing in Indonesian waters, the Chinese Coast Guard intervened and prevented the seizure. Indonesia was publicly outraged by the incursion and has filed a formal complaint against the People’s Republic of China. China will ignore the complaint, but in exchange for proudly saving one illegal fishing vessel, it has seriously damaged relations with Indonesia.

If the Obama administration has been somewhat clumsy in its attempts to expand the US-Indonesian alliance, it can at least count on its one sure bet – China enjoys flaunting its increased military ability in the Pacific. It plays well in the government-controlled media in China, but it undermines China’s own foreign policy goals.

In my estimation, relations and economic ties between Indonesia and the US will improve and, more importantly, Indonesia will focus on improving relations with its own neighbors in the region.

Next week we will consider US-Australian relations and the part that Australia plays in regional security in the Pacific.

US-Malaysia Alliance — Stronger Under the Surface

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

A key part of the evolving US strategic response to communist China’s nouveau-imperialist agenda in the Pacific is to strengthen its alliance with democratic Malaysia.

 

Malaysian P.M. Razak and US Secy. of State Kerry Image by US State Dept., public domain

Malaysian P.M. Razak and US Secy. of State Kerry
Image by US State Dept., public domain

 

At first glance, the relationship between the two nations can appear painfully complex and riddled with unresolvable contradictions.

Human rights issues and human trafficking in Malaysia remain the two major sticking points for the US congress in its outlook on Malaysia. On the other side, Malaysia is concerned about the successive US administrations’ bungling in Iraq. In reality, both governments have consistently maintained a clear understanding of each other’s motives, values, and actions.

Since the independence of Malaysia from the United Kingdom in 1957, a majority of Malaysians have considered the US to be Malaysia’s most important and reliable ally.

Overall, the US and Malaysian governments have done a good job in building a strong relationship between the two nations. The two countries don’t always agree on major policy issues, but neither has allowed those differences to prevent friendly cooperation.

The average Malaysian adult probably understands more about the US than the average US citizen understands about Malaysia. For Westerners to understand US-Malaysian relations, it is worth first considering how Malaysians view their own sense of political and cultural identity.

Religion is a big factor in Malaysian culture.

Malaysia is a majority Sunni Muslim nation, and Sunni Islam is the official national religion. However, its constitution guarantees freedom of religion. According to Malaysia’s last national census, 61% of Malaysians identify as practicing Sunni Islam. The rest of Malaysians are 19.8 % Buddhists, 9.2 % Christians, 6.3 % Hindus, 1.3% percent practitioners of traditional Chinese religions, and 0.5% Jews. Understanding Malaysian Muslim’s sense of religion is critical to understanding Malaysian foreign relations.

The Malaysian interpretation of Sunni doctrine is quite different from the Saudi Arabian or Pakistani interpretations.

The fact that Malaysians included freedom of religion in their constitution clearly sets them apart from most Sunni majority countries such as Saudi Arabia, where practice of all religions except Islam is outlawed. Radical Sunni jihadis can be found in Malaysia, but they are a small minority, and they receive far less sympathy in Malaysia than they do in other Islamic nations. However, individual Malaysians choose to define their own personal sense of their Sunni practice, and the net effect is clear. Overall, Malaysians are far better equipped to deal with the non-Muslim segments of their own society and with the larger world beyond Malaysia than are other Islamic nations.

A second major factor in Malaysian culture is its internal diversity.

Malaysia was formed from several different and distinct kingdoms, each with its own unique history and culture. Malaysians have always accepted that their fellow countrymen are not all the same in cultural terms. This seems to have left Malaysians with a fairly cosmopolitan outlook. For a Malaysian, being different is not synonymous with being “bad” or “wrong.” Malaysia’s ability to accept other religions and cultures has had a major influence on its foreign policy.

When the US is in conflict with other Sunni Muslim nations such as Iraq, the Malaysian government feels a need to publicly appear to be uncooperative with the US. In the case of Iraq, Malaysia has publicly disagreed with US foreign policy while quietly maintaining very close relations with the US.

Malaysian Prime Minister Naijib Razak has made it clear that a critical aspect of Malaysia’s response to communist China’s aggression in the South China Seas is to further strengthen Malaysian-US relations.

Razak is now facing new and substantial allegations of financial corruption, but thus far, they have not distracted him from his goal of further strengthening the US-Malaysian ties. On the US side, the US congress remains unhappy with human trafficking and human rights issues in Malaysia, but the White House has chosen to ignore those issues in order to further strengthen the US relationship with Malaysia.

While communist Chinese aggression in the South China Sea is a major factor in US-Malaysian relations, it is not a new factor in the relationship. Malaysia has always been leery of communist China. When other issues such as trade imbalances or the US war in Iraq have caused friction between Malaysia and the US, the “China factor” has been an overriding influence that keeps the two countries close.

A second major factor for Malaysia’s consistency in seeking close relations with the US is Indonesia.

Malaysia’s much larger Indonesian neighbors have consistently resisted close relations with Malaysia. Indonesia serves as a second near-guarantee that Malaysia will remain close to the US, but from the US point of view, it complicates efforts at building a strong regional cooperative response to China’s current imperialist agenda.

In practical terms, the strengthening alliance between the US and Malaysia will manifest itself in increased joint training and an increase in Malaysian military spending. Malaysia’s concern over the US war in Iraq will not derail US-Malaysia relations. The current US administration and the two major candidates for the next presidency will not allow human rights issues in Malaysia to define US-Malaysian relations. The US-Malaysian relationship will continue to appear fragile and complex, while in reality, it will remain strong. Communist Chinese dictator Xi Ping will continue to use intimidation as his primitive and blunt diplomatic tool of choice. Unfortunately for China, Malaysia is listening and taking him seriously.

In our next installment, we will consider the US-Indonesian relationship.