A huge achievement 20

Splendid pageantry

What did President Trump say to Xi Jinping of China that persuaded Xi to say what to Kim Jong-un of North Korea who said what to Moon Jae-in of South Korea to bring about the reunification of Korea, the denuclearization of North Korea, talks between the US and North Korea … ?

It is a massive change, a huge development – an astonishing achievement. But whose?

We venture to say it is primarily President Donald Trump’s achievement.

From Breitbart:

The leaders of North and South Korea agreed Friday to pursue a permanent peace and the complete denuclearization of the divided peninsula, as they embraced after a historic summit laden with symbolism.

In a day of bonhomie including a highly symbolic handshake over the Military Demarcation Line that divides the two countries, the pair issued a declaration on “the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean peninsula”.

Upon signing the document, the two leaders shared a warm embrace, the culmination of a summit filled with smiles and displays of friendship in front of the world’s media.

They also agreed that they would this year seek a permanent end to the Korean War, 65 years after the hostilities ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

Moon would visit Pyongyang in “the fall”, the two leaders said, also agreeing to hold “regular meetings and direct telephone conversations”.

The so-called Panmunjom Declaration capped an extraordinary day unthinkable only months ago, as the nuclear-armed North carried out a series of missile launches and its sixth atomic blast.

Kim said he was “filled with emotion” after stepping over the concrete blocks into the South, making him the first North Korean leader to set foot there since the shooting stopped in the Korean War.

At Kim’s impromptu invitation the two men briefly crossed hand-in-hand into the North before walking to the Peace House building on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom for the summit — only the third of its kind since hostilities ceased in 1953.

“I came here determined to send a starting signal at the threshold of a new history,” said Kim.

After the summit, he pledged that the two Koreas will ensure they did not “repeat the unfortunate history in which past inter-Korea agreements … fizzled out after beginning”.

The two previous Korean summits in 2000 and 2007, both of them in Pyongyang, also ended with displays of affection and similar pledges, but the agreements ultimately came to naught.

With the North’s atomic arsenal high on the agenda, South Korean President Moon Jae-in responded that the North’s announced moratorium on nuclear testing and long-range missile launches was “very significant”.

It was the highest-level encounter yet in a whirlwind of nuclear diplomacy, and intended to pave the way for a much-anticipated encounter between Kim and US President Donald Trump. …

The White House said it hoped the summit would “achieve progress toward a future of peace and prosperity for the entire Korean Peninsula”.

Trump has demanded the North give up its weapons, and Washington is pressing for it to do so in a complete, verifiable and irreversible way.

When Kim visited the North’s key backer Beijing last month in only his first foreign trip as leader, China’s state media cited him as saying that the issue could be resolved, as long as Seoul and Washington take “progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace”.

Our guess is that Xi summoned Kim to give him stern orders, but allowed the visit to seem simply a ceremonial state occasion, with smiling faces and displays of mutual respect. But Kim was given no choice.

Okay, it wasn’t just something President Trump said to Xi Jinping that prompted him to persuade Kim Jong-un to seek glory in promoting peace and reconciliation rather than threatening nuclear war.

President Trump was ably assisted by the laws of physics:

Also from Breitbart:

When North Korea performed its most recent nuclear weapon test on September 3 of last year at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, seismologists outside North Korea detected an “earthquake” that followed the test itself. Concerns were expressed that the earthquake was actually a partial collapse of Mount Mantap, where the Punggye-ri site is located, and that nuclear radiation had been released. Unconfirmed reports later said that tunnel collapses had killed hundreds of North Korean workers. …

Chinese geologists [warned] North Korean nuclear scientists that further nuclear tests at Mount Mantap risked a nuclear catastrophe, if the mountain collapsed in an explosion, releasing large amounts of radiation that could contaminate large regions of North Korea and northeast China for decades to come.

Now, two groups of Chinese researchers – one from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in Hefei, and the second from the Jilin Earthquake Agency with the China Earthquake Administration in Changchun – have both reached similar conclusions: That Mount Mantap did in fact collapse after North Korea’s last nuclear weapons test on September 3 of last year.

Here’s the summary from China’s Earthquake Administration:

Seismology illuminates physical processes occurring during underground explosions, not all yet fully understood. The thus far strongest North Korean test of 3 September 2017 was followed by a moderate seismic event (mL 4.1) after 8.5 min. … North Korea detonated its strongest underground nuclear test in September 2017. It attracted the public interest worldwide not only due to its significant magnitude (6.3 mb) but also because it was followed 8.5 min later by a weaker event. Was the delayed shock a secondary explosion, an earthquake provoked by the shot, or something else? We answer these questions. … According to our model, the explosion created a cavity and a damaged “chimney” of rocks above it. The aftershock was neither a secondary explosion nor a triggered tectonic earthquake. It occurred due to a process comparable to a “mirror image” of the explosion, that is, a rock collapse, or compaction, for the first time documented in North Korea’s test site.

The USTC study is awaiting publication, but a summary says, “The occurrence of the collapse should deem the underground infrastructure beneath mountain Mantap not be used for any future nuclear tests.”

A Beijing-based analyst points out that another nuclear test at the site would destabilize not only Mount Mantap but also Changbai Mountain, the site of an active volcano at the China-Korea border. …

[So] North Korea promised [China in the first instance, presumably – ed] to end all nuclear and missile tests and shut down Punggye-ri, North Korea’s nuclear test site.

Shutting down the nuclear test site was particularly hailed by the international media that North Korea’s child dictator Kim Jong-un was turning into a nice guy, willing to compromise and all that. Now the laughable news emerges that the nuclear test site is being shut down because another test would risk a nuclear catastrophe, according to Chinese scientists. …

The collapse of Mantap Mountain represents a collapse of a major part of North Korea’s negotiating position.

With the approach of the forthcoming meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, Trump has said repeatedly that he was demanding denuclearization – that the North destroy all its nuclear weapons. Kim had the threat of reopening the nuclear test site and performing more tests. But now that threat is gone, and even though the North can do further nuclear development, they can never be sure that their developments will work unless they test them.

And again from Breitbart:

President Donald Trump indicated he believed North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was sincere about pushing for peace and announcing his interest in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

“No. I don’t think he’s playing,” Trump said, praising the progress made in the North and South Korea peace process so far. …

Trump said he understood skepticism about Jong-un’s intentions, pointing to the history of American presidents failing to deliver lasting peace in the region.

“Yeah I agree, the United States has been played beautifully like a fiddle, because you’ve had a different kind of a leader,” he said. “We’re not going to be played O.K.? We’re going to hopefully make a deal, if we don’t that’s fine.”

Trump also praised China’s President Xi Jinping, calling him “extremely helpful to me” on the ongoing negations.

“This isn’t like past administrations – we don’t play games,” Trump said.

And that is why, if the reunification of Korea and the denuclearization of North Korea does come about, it is President Trump who will deserve the world’s gratitude.

 

Update:

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha credits President Trump for the progress being made. “Clearly credit goes to President Trump. He’s been determined to come to grips with this from day one,” Kyung-wha said.

Missile strikes on Syria: punishment, prevention, and warning 4

“What did the missile strikes on Syria’s chemical weapons sites do for America?”

“Why should Americans expend blood and treasure for Syrians victimized by their own government?”

“America is not the world’s policeman.”

Such are the questions and protests that are coming from angry commentators, including many conservatives.

So was President Trump’s decision to act as he did right or wrong?

Claudia Rosett, for long a trusty reporter on the horror show called the United Nations, writes at PJ Media:

With air strikes on Syria’s chemical weapons facilities, carried out jointly with Britain and France, America has done the right thing.

Leading from in front, President Trump is finally redrawing the red line that President Obama erased in 2013. Whatever the threats and criticisms that will surely follow, the world will be safer for it. The vital message is that America is no longer the hamstrung giant of the Obama era. Tyrants such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and his patrons in Moscow and Tehran, have been served notice that it would be unwise to continue to assume that America will waffle, appease or simply retreat while they take upon themselves the shaping – to monstrous effect – of the 21st-century world order. This message is also likely to resonate in Beijing (which has reportedly been planning live-fire naval exercises next week in the Taiwan Strait) and Pyongyang (with its nuclear missile projects).

The immediate aim of the US-led air strikes was to end the chemical weapons attacks that Syria’s Assad regime has continued to inflict on its own people – despite Assad’s promises in 2013 to surrender his chemical weapons, and Russia’s promise to ensure Assad did so. On Friday, speaking at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Ambassador Nikki Haley charged that by U.S. estimates, “Assad has used chemical weapons in the Syrian war at least 50 times” – some of these attacks within the past year, including the gas attack that killed dozens … in the Syrian city of Douma.

There’s room for debate about whether it is America’s responsibility, on humanitarian grounds, to stop such atrocities. But whatever your views on protecting children in a far-off land from the hideous effects of chemical weapons, there is a larger, strategic reason for trying to stop Assad. Syria, with its liberal use of chemical weapons, has been setting a horrific precedent – repeatedly violating the Chemical Weapons Convention to which Damascus acceded in 2013, and eroding the longstanding international taboo against chemical warfare. This is dangerous way beyond Syria. As Haley told the UN Security Council: “All nations and all people will be harmed if we allow Assad to normalize the use of chemical weapons.”

In theory, the United Nations was supposed to prevent this, ensuring in tandem with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that Assad would give up all his chemical weapons – with the specific oversight and guarantees of Russia, under a deal cut in 2013 by Obama and Putin. As I explained in an article earlier this week for The Hill, the UN has failed utterly, thanks to Putin’s cynical exploitation of the entire setup. Russia used the chemical weapons disarmament deal as a portal for its own military entry into Syria in support of Assad, and has since been using its veto on the UN Security Council, along with a torrent of Kremlin propaganda, to run diplomatic cover for Assad.

As many conservative commentators pointed out at the time, it was stupid (if not collusional) of Obama and his secretary of state John Kerry to hand over the responsibility for overseeing Syria’s WMD abandonment to Russia.

The upshot has been that if the US does not stop Assad’s use of chemical weapons, then nobody will.

Neither Britain nor France would have done it without the US.

The US could have done it on its own. British and French participation in the missile attack was useful for President Trump, though not necessary for the success of the operation. The huge majority of the missiles were American – 88 of the 105. Nine were French and 8 were British.

Prime Minister May allowed British forces to strike Syria along with US forces because she “owed” President Trump for his supporting her, when she hit back at Russia for the poisoning of two Russian expats in Britain by expelling Putin’s diplomats and closing a consulate. She asked President Trump to do the same, and he did. She was able to give the order for the strike on Syria by the RAF without consulting parliament because the MPs were still absent on their Easter break. She seized the moment, and now there’s an outcry in the Commons – as well as the country – about it.

As for President Macron, he seems to be fascinated by President Trump, wanting to follow him and yet also to direct him. Macron claimed that he had “convinced” Trump that he should keep the US military engaged in Syria – and then he retracted the claim.

Last April, after Assad used sarin gas in an attack that killed almost 100 people, Trump ordered a strike of 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airbase. Evidently, that was not enough to stop Assad’s chemical weapons spree.

At a Pentagon press briefing Friday evening held shortly after Trump’s public announcement of the strikes on Syria, Gen. Joseph Dunford listed three targets “struck and destroyed,” which he said were “specifically associated with the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program.” The last two on his list were chemical weapons storage facilities, one of which included “an important command post”. On these, I don’t know anything beyond the generic descriptions Dunford gave at the briefing.

But the first target on Dunford’s list had a very familiar ring. He described it as “a scientific research center located in the greater Damascus area”. He added: “This military facility was a Syrian center for the research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology.”

That sure sounds like the notorious Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, also known as the SSRC. In which case there can be no doubt that these air strikes were aimed at an incredibly high-value target, an outfit central to some of the worst depravities of Assad’s weapons programs, and – as it happens – a longtime client of North Korea and Iran. On the 99 percent probability that this was the research center to which Dunford referred, here’s some background:

For starters, I’d credit Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis with telling it exactly as it is, when he said at the same Pentagon press briefing Friday night, “We were very precise and proportionate. But at the same time, it was a heavy strike.”

The SSRC has been on the U.S. sanctions list for 13 years, first designated under the Bush administration in 2005, with periodic, horrifying updates under the Obama and Trump administrations, targeting its various fronts, procurement arms, officials and connections.

This is not just any old research center. According to the U.S. Treasury, it is “the Syrian government agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them”. …

On April 24, 2017, following Assad’s sarin gas attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, the Trump administration blacklisted 271 employees of the SSRC, stating that these individuals “have expertise in chemistry and related disciplines and/or have worked in support of SSRC’s chemical weapons since at least 2012”.  In other words, during the same time frame in which Russia (and former secretary of State John Kerry) were assuring us that 100 percent of the chemical weapons were gone from Syria, the Syrian regime’s SSRC was prolifically busy plowing ahead with Assad’s chemical weapons program.

We also have it on good authority that during roughly that same interval, the SSRC was ordering up shipments from North Korea. According to the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea sanctions, in a report dated March 5, 2018, their investigations into weapons and dual-use shipments to Syria from North Korea turned up more than 40 shipments between 2012 and 2017 “by entities designated by Member States as front companies for the Scientific Studies Research Centre of the Syrian Arab Republic.” Among these shipments were items “with utility in ballistic missile and chemical weapons programs”.

If the SSRC was indeed struck and destroyed, the likely benefits are enormous. That would deprive Assad of one of the most diabolical laboratories of his evil regime, quite likely providing a big setback to his chemical weapons program, with the two-fer that it might also have zapped his bioweapons program.

It would also send a useful message to everyone from the SSRC’s suppliers, such as Iran and North Korea, to such predatory dictators as Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. Destroying the SSRC with air strikes ought to drive home, in a way that no amount of UN debate and no quantity of sanctions designations ever could, that these days the U.S. and its allies are serious about their red lines. 

The SSRC was struck. According to the caption to this picture in The Independent, this rubble is what’s left of “part” of it.

Commanders forced to follow from in front 1

Questions: Why is the Middle East in flames? Why are rivers of people flooding from the Third World into Europe? Why are millions hungering in squalid refugee camps? Why are jihadis torturing, beheading, burning, burying, drowning men and women and children and making taunting videos of themselves doing it for all the world to see? Why are thousands of women enslaved? Why are young boys being sent to their deaths in suicide vests? Why has Russia annexed a part of the Ukraine? Why has the tyrannical Iranian regime been able to free itself from sanctions and develop nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them to the West? Why has China been able to extend it power with militarized artificial islands in the South China Sea?

Answer: Because Americans elected a know-nothing doctrinaire greenhorn to be its president and the leader of the free world.

Daniel Greenfield writes at Front Page:

Multiple Secretaries of Defense are complaining about micromanagement from the White House and in particular, the National Security Council. Which means [Susan] Rice.

“It was the operational micromanagement that drove me nuts, of White House and National Security Council staffers calling senior commanders out in the field and asking them questions, of second-guessing commanders,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Bret Baier in a new Fox News special called Rising Threats, Shrinking Military.

Gates’ successor, Leon Panetta, took office in July 2011 and told Baier he had similar concerns with the Obama administration, despite being a long-time Democrat who served as a California congressman for many years and as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff.

Panetta complained that the president’s national security council staff had gotten so large and overbearing in recent years, creating massive inefficiency with creating foreign and defense policy.

Chuck Hagel, who replaced Panetta in February 2013, agreed that the size and role of the White House staff during the Obama presidency made it difficult to accomplish tasks and be productive.

“There were always too many meetings and always too many people in the room and too many people talking,” Hagel described. “Especially young, smart 35-year-old PhDs love to talk because that’s the way you let everybody know how smart you are. So there were a lot of reasons those meetings descended into … nonsense and the hard time we had making a decision.”

Hagel focused especially on the inexperience of the president himself and his staff, describing how Obama is “one of the youngest presidents we’ve ever had, one of the most inexperienced presidents we’ve ever had. He has a staff around him that’s very inexperienced. I don’t think there’s one veteran on his senior staff at the White House. I don’t believe there’s one business person. I don’t believe there’s one person who’s ever run anything. Other than Vice President Biden, none of them have ever been elected to anything.”

Hagel added that he is not sure if Obama or his staff ever understood “the tremendous responsibility the United States has … to lead”. 

Gates said he is concerned the president is suspicious of the military. He also said Obama was told by White House personnel during the debate over the war in Afghanistan that the Pentagon was trying to “box him in”, “trap him”,  and “bully him”,  which Gates said was never true.

“But there were clearly a number of people at the White House who believed that,” Gates said.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice imposed a gag order on military leaders over the disputed South China Sea in the weeks running up to the last week’s high-level nuclear summit, according to two defense officials who asked for anonymity to discuss policy deliberations. China’s president, Xi Jinping, attended the summit, held in Washington, and met privately with President Obama. …

The NSC dictum has had a “chilling effect” within the Pentagon that discouraged leaders from talking publicly about the South China Sea at all, even beyond the presidential summit, according to a second defense official familiar with operational planning.

So tensions are heating up. Rice is showing overt hostility to the military. And that’s the attitude emanating from the White House.

Obama has gone through multiple SODs and had bad relations with every single one of them. Including the current one [Ashton Carter] who was targeted by hit pieces from the WH, and whose authority over Gitmo Obama tried to ask Congress to usurp so he could free more terrorists faster. The facts are just impossible to ignore.

Obama made no secret of his contempt for America’s military. For America’s might. For America.

It was so well known that Scandinavians who shared his opinions gave him a Peace Prize when he’d only just begun to warm the desk chair in the Oval Office.

Now the world desperately needs an American leader who will make America great again. 

Drang nach Osten – and a shift in the global balance of power 1

How goes Obama’s “pivot” –  or “tilt” – to the East?

The Washington Post reports that Defense Secretary Hagel is quietly busy seeing to it, with feeling:

Hagel, who has made five trips to the Far East in the past year, has sustained President Obama’s long-touted tilt toward Asia, even as he has been a nearly invisible player in the unending crises elsewhere that have eclipsed it.

By interest, history and temperament, Hagel appears to feel a sense of ownership in Asia.

A sense of ownership. What can that mean? Read on, and we may find out.

Despite the stalling of the Pacific trade agreement that is another cornerstone of Obama’s Asia “rebalance”

What is being referenced here is Obama’s failure to reach a trade agreement with Japan. Notice that the Obamaspeak for “failing” is “stalling”. Implied is a temporary hitch soon to be overcome.

 Hagel can claim steady progress in the military’s role of building regional alliances and partnerships. But those gains risk being overtaken by China’s rapidly worsening relations with its neighbors and escalating belligerency from North Korea.

Yup, a little advance here a huge set-back there.

In a speech Saturday morning to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional defense conference he first attended as a senator more than a decade ago, Hagel criticized China’s “destabilizing, unilateral actions” in asserting its maritime claims against other countries in the region. [Some of his] aides said he purposely used language sharper than in previous public statements on the subject.

Purposely? Is sharp speaking usually done  by him inadvertently? Obamarians feel uncomfortable speaking sharply to a foreign audience – other than Israel, of course.

So how sharply?

We take no position on competing territorial claims,” Hagel said, repeating U.S. insistence that its interests are rooted in a desire to balance alliances with Asia’s smaller partners and a smooth relationship with China.

That sharply? Hang on – here it comes:

“But we firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion or the threat of force to assert these claims.”

How firmly? As firmly as Obama opposed intimidation, coercion and the actual use of force by Assad and Putin?

The report mentions that intimidation, coercion and the threat of force is ongoing:

New air skirmishes have erupted in recent weeks in the East China Sea with Japan and in contested South China Sea waters with Vietnam.

So how firm on the Obama scale is Mr Hagel? There must be a shadow or a ghost of firmness somewhere about. It was detected by a Chinese lady general in a “restatement” of a “defense commitment” to Japan. Wow!

In questions following Hagel’s remarks, a Chinese general testily asked the defense secretary to explain what she called his own “subtle threat of force” in restating the U.S. defense commitment to Japan even as he called for a negotiated settlement of contesting claims to East China Sea islands.

Watch out now for the assertion that the Obama position is clear. Whenever an Obama position is very faint, particularly uncertain, he or one of his servants will say that it is “clear”:

America’s position is clear,” Hagel said. “These territorial disputes should be resolved through international law.”

International law. That clear? That firm? “International law” is a will-o-the-wisp, a fancy, a trick of the light, smoke and mirrors.

But at the same time, he said, the United States has treaty commitments to several countries in the region, including Japan, the Philippines and South Korea.

We like that “but”. There’s the sharpness, you see. “But” the US has treaty commitments. They may involve mention of military support! The big contrast to international law. Strong stuff, like the treaty commitment the US had to defending Ukraine’s independence. When Ukraine’s independence was threatened, when a chunk of its territory was seized by Russia, the US commitment held like cardboard in the rain.

But enough of ghostly saber rattling.

Those Eastern countries towards which Obama is tilting must be reminded of what Obama expects of them. What he expects of them is his policy towards them.

Returning to familiar themes, Hagel nudged South Korea and Japan toward greater defense cooperation that will allow a unified missile defense system against North Korea, which is suspected of preparing a fourth nuclear test. He called on China to play “a more active role” in using its influence on Pyongyang, urged Thailand’s military to restore democracy and praised Burma for ending military dictatorship.

And if they would only take those decisive steps, US partnership would prove a real boon.

If anything, Hagel indicated, “the Asia-Pacific’s shifting security landscape makes America’s partnerships and alliances indispensable as anchors for regional stability.” …

While budgets may be cut elsewhere, Hagel said, “both President Obama and I remain committed to ensuring that any reductions in U.S. defense spending do not come at the expense of America’s commitments in the Asia-Pacific,” where they have said 60 percent of U.S. air and naval assets will be based by 2020.

Although the administration has promised that resources saved by ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be used both for the Asia rebalance and for the new Middle East and African counterterrorism strategy that Obama outlined this past week in an address at the U.S. Military Academy, a senior defense official said little competition was involved.

What could he mean by “competition”. Could he mean (shudder!) a possibility of military opposition? None of that sort of thing? So what matters are the alliances in themselves, not any purpose beyond  them. Do not even think it.

Asia, Hagel said in his speech, is an example of the stronger “global partnerships and alliances” Obama described this week as a cornerstone of his foreign and security policy. …

Now at last we are told why Hagel has “a sense of ownership in Asia”. Get ready to be impressed.

Hagel’s Vietnam experience is only part of his attachment to Asia, the senior defense official said. His father was a bomber tail-gunner in the Pacific in World War II. As president of the USO and a business executive who founded a lucrative cellphone network, Hagel traveled frequently to the region even before his election to the Senate in 1996.

And that adds up to –

“I’ve got this long history, this confluence with my background, my history,” said [an]  official, describing what he said was Hagel’s thought process. “It’s what I’m good at, what I’m interested in.”

We won’t even dignify all that with a comment – the silliness speaks for itself.

What we have to understand is that Hagel is determined to succeed. You may find this hard to believe, but he is as determined to succeed in the Far East as Secretary of State John Kerry was determined to succeed in the Middle East. That determined.

[His] aides portray Hagel’s dedication to the Asia-Pacific and his determination to succeed here as equal to that of Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s highly publicized (but stalled) efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace, only with less media attention and more potential for long-term success.

More potential, eh? Efforts that will not “stall”?  There’s optimism for you!

*

Meanwhile what is going on with the Far East in the real world?

Events so huge that they mark “a major alteration in the global balance of power”.

Charles Krauthammer writes (May 22, 2014) at the Washington Post:

It finally happened — the pivot to Asia. No, not the United States. It was Russia that turned East.

In Shanghai, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a spectacular energy deal — $400 billion of Siberian natural gas to be exported to China over 30 years.

This is huge. By indelibly linking producer and consumer — the pipeline alone is a $70 billion infrastructure project — it deflates the post-Ukraine Western threat (mostly empty, but still very loud) to cut European imports of Russian gas. Putin has just defiantly demonstrated that he has other places to go.

The Russia-China deal also makes a mockery of U.S. boasts to have isolated Russia because of Ukraine. Not even Germany wants to risk a serious rupture with Russia (hence the absence of significant sanctions). And now Putin has just ostentatiously unveiled a signal 30-year energy partnership with the world’s second-largest economy. Some isolation.

The contrast with President Obama’s own vaunted pivot to Asia is embarrassing (to say nothing of the Keystone pipeline with Canada). He went to Japan last month also seeking a major trade agreement that would symbolize and cement a pivotal strategic alliance. He came home empty-handed.

Does the Obama foreign policy team even understand what is happening? For them, the Russia-China alliance is simply more retrograde, 19th-century, balance-of-power maneuvering by men of the past oblivious to the reality of a 21st century governed by law and norms. A place where, for example, one simply doesn’t annex a neighbor’s territory. Indeed, Obama scolds Russia and China for not living up to their obligations as major stakeholders in this new interdependent world.

The Chinese and Russians can only roll their eyes. These norms and rules mean nothing to them. Sure, they’ll join the World Trade Organization for the commercial advantages – then cheat like hell with cyberespionage and intellectual piracy. They see these alleged norms as forms of velvet-glove imperialism, clever extensions of a Western hegemony meant to keep Russia in its reduced post-Soviet condition and China contained by a dominant US military.

Obama cites modern rules; Russia and China, animated by resurgent nationalism, are governed by ancient maps. Putin refers to eastern and southern Ukraine by the old czarist term of “New Russia”. And China’s foreign minister justifies vast territorial claims that violate maritime law by citing traditional (“nine-dash”) maps that grant China dominion over the East and South China seas.

Which makes this alignment of the world’s two leading anti-Western powers all the more significant.

It marks a major alteration in the global balance of power. 

China and Russia together represent the core of a new coalition of anti-democratic autocracies challenging the Western-imposed, post-Cold War status quo.

Their enhanced partnership marks the first emergence of a global coalition against American hegemony since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Indeed, at this week’s Asian cooperation conference, Xi proposed a brand-new continental security system to include Russia and Iran (lest anyone mistake its anti-imperialist essence) and exclude America.

This is an open challenge to the post-Cold War, US-dominated world that Obama inherited and then weakened beyond imagining.

If carried through, it would mark the end of a quarter-century of unipolarity. And herald a return to a form of bipolarity — two global coalitions: one free, one not… [A] struggle  … for dominion and domination.

To which Obama, who once proclaimed that “no one nation can or should try to dominate another nation,” is passive, perhaps even oblivious. His pivot to Asia remains a dead letter. Yet his withdrawal from the Middle East — where from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, from Libya to Syria, US influence is at its lowest ebb in 40 years — is a fait accompli.

The retreat is compounded by Obama’s proposed massive cuts in defense spending … even as Russia is rearming and China is creating a sophisticated military soon capable of denying America access to the waters of the Pacific Rim.

Decline is not a condition. Decline is a choice. In this case, Obama’s choice. And it’s the one area where he can be said to be succeeding splendidly.