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June 02, 2007

Crazier than even I imagined

(Posted by John.)

We can, of course, say very much about the Bush administration -- almost all of it not flattering.  But I had always had a very-slightly-net-positive read of their policies towards China, despite some obvious craziness going on, and the equally obvious speed bump that was the Spy Plane Incident.  (While I criticize many of the decisions of the Bush administration, there's been a lot of lower-level positive developments, especially military-to-military communications that have been very helpful at reducing tensions.)  It seems, however, that even I was a bit too charitable.  Not surprisingly, the bad news involves civilian members of the Department of Defense.

via ThinkProgress, Jeff Stein at CQ says that the now-former inhabitants of the DoD spent the early years of the Bush Administration trying to push the Taiwanese government towards a unilateral declaration of independence.  A UDI, of course, has always been the People's Republic's red line -- Beijing has repeatedly warned that anything like that would require a military response.  So it's the kind of thing you'd want to avoid if at all possible, right?

Lawrence B. Wilkerson, the U.S. Army colonel who was Powell’s chief of staff through two administrations, said in little-noted remarks early last month that “neocons” in the top rungs of the administration quietly encouraged Taiwanese politicians to move toward a declaration of independence from mainland China — an act that the communist regime has repeatedly warned would provoke a military strike.

The top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan at the time, Douglas Paal, backs up Wilkerson’s account, which is being hotly disputed by key former defense officials....

“The Defense Department, with Feith, Cambone, Wolfowitz [and] Rumsfeld, was dispatching a person to Taiwan every week, essentially to tell the Taiwanese that the alliance was back on,” Wilkerson said, referring to pre-1970s military and diplomatic relations, “essentially to tell Chen Shui-bian, whose entire power in Taiwan rested on the independence movement, that independence was a good thing.”

Wilkerson said Powell would then dispatch his own envoy “right behind that guy, every time they sent somebody, to disabuse the entire Taiwanese national security apparatus of what they’d been told by the Defense Department.”

                               

Okay.  War with Iraq?  Bad idea.  War with Iran?  Worse idea.  War with China?  Worst idea ever.  But if we needed the clearest possible demonstration of the perils of neocon Green Lanternism, this is almost certainly it.  Wolfie, Feith, Cambone et al no doubt sincerely believe that their actions carried no risk of war:  Beijing would see that America was defending an independent Taiwan, Beijing would back down in the face of implacable US resolve and nigh-omnipotence, and America ends up with an empowered ally on the island of Formosa, and possibly more bases to encircle China with. 

Of course, that's not what would happen.  The singular failure of the neocons -- and before them, the Kennedy/Johnson DoD -- is to understand that governments have core national interests that they cannot, in fact, compromise on.  The unification of Vietnam in the 60s and 70s, or Taiwan today, are perfect examples.  Gambling that China wouldn't go to war over Taiwan is simply the wrong bet.

Which raises the second possibility:  was the objective to provoke a war, after all?  Joshua Micah Marshall wrote in 2003 that the grand neocon plan for the Middle East was to spread chaos, not contain it.  Pardon me for saying so, but these people don't exactly have a diverse set of strategies.  Again, neocon overestimates of the enemy's fragility, combined with a greater-than-real estimation of America's abilities, make the Shadow strategy appealing.  Combine this with, say, the wingnut-based interpretation of the Falklands War and the subsequent collapse of the Argentine junta, and you've got another opportunity for the neocons to ruin American lives.

Frankly, the second interpretation is unnecessary -- even if they just thought (mistakenly) China would back down to American intervention, that's bad enough.  But it would be far more comforting if we could just write off the possibility that they wanted a short, victorious war with China entirely.

June 2, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

I'm struck by this: The singular failure of the neocons -- and before them, the Kennedy/Johnson DoD -- is to understand that governments have core national interests that they cannot, in fact, compromise on.

Because it occurs to me that in some important ways, the neocons don't have anything of the sort. They have obsessions and whims. But they don't, for example, decline to compromise on actual military readiness of gear and soldiers, nor do they take seriously plans for defense of the nation and citizens and emergency response. They have no creed, only agendas.

Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Jun 2, 2007 12:56:11 PM

In many respects there isn't a "Bush" administration in regards to foreign affairs. There are several.

While all Presidents have had contending groups with different views, I can't think of any other than Bush that not only has contending views, but actual competing policies and actions - all seemingly active at once.

One wonders what the insiders in other governments think of the country that can't decide whether to talk about mutual interests, or escalate threats of violence.

The ONLY hopeful sign I've seen is that over time the neo-con Cheney block is losing insiders in positions of power. It's hard to imagine being the Secretary of State and having imposed subordinates working against you within the department (Elliot Abrams, for example) that you can't just fire.

There is no doubt in my mind that the PNAC neo-cons fully deserve being called a conspiracy, the only question is whether it is criminal. Counter-government talk is one thing, counter-government action is quite another.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 2, 2007 2:26:23 PM

But it would be far more comforting if we could just write off the possibility that they wanted a short, victorious war with China entirely.

Comforting, but not the case. You mentioned the goal of spreading chaos in the Middle East as a way to create a stable, democratic region. Why would they not assume the same strategy would work in other places?

China would have difficulty projecting power in any serious war, even across the strait between them and Taiwan. I've no doubt in my mind, especially since this was before the Iraq war began, that the neocon vision was to provoke a war with China which would quickly and easily result in a fully independent and democratic Taiwan undermining China's perceived power and influence.

Posted by: Stephen | Jun 2, 2007 2:57:20 PM

Ohmigod, an independent and democratic Taiwan! The horror!

Yeah, that crazy Chen Shui-bian. A lawyer who gave up a lucrative private practise to fight for democracy against a US-backed military dictatorship, who was imprisoned for his role in defending democracy activists, whose wife was run down and crippled in a "mysterious" accident, whose vice-president, Annette Lu, a leading feminist, spent five years in prison for fighting for democracy.

Believe me, CSB is not stupid enough to rely on American promises- he knows how little democracy and freedom would mean when weighed in the balance of Chinese business interests.

Posted by: MikeN | Jun 2, 2007 3:12:36 PM

Look, I'm not denying the realpolitik that says that the PRC is a big and powerful country, while Taiwan is small and weak, and sometimes it's necessary to have to face that reality.

But could we please at least acknowledge that sacrificing a vibrant democracy complete with all the requisite freedoms- press, speech, assembly, religion, unions etc.-
on the altar of communist dictatorship is not necessarily such a good thing that only crazy neo-cons would object?

Posted by: MikeN | Jun 2, 2007 3:25:02 PM

But could we please at least acknowledge that sacrificing a vibrant democracy complete with all the requisite freedoms- press, speech, assembly, religion, unions etc.- on the altar of communist dictatorship is not necessarily such a good thing that only crazy neo-cons would object?

Um, I think Taiwan has all of that now, and the concern is that provoking mainland China to war would result in Taiwan's loss of functional, if not official, independence.

Posted by: Stephen | Jun 2, 2007 4:32:27 PM

Unlease Chiang I say.

Posted by: Klein's tiny left nut | Jun 2, 2007 6:52:20 PM

It was obvious in early 2001 with the spy plane incident that Cheney/Bush was pushing for a confrontation with China. I don't believe they wanted an actual shooting war though. What they all desired in the dark, cramped spaces of their evil hearts was to revive the Cold War. Another decades long rivalry that would require spending huge amounts on high tech defense projects so that the campaign contributions could flow freely. If, however, Taiwan had to be sacrificed, well I don't think they would be that broken up about it.

Posted by: Col Bat Guano | Jun 2, 2007 11:51:33 PM

Someone obvious told them neocons war against China would be less of a cake walk than war against Iraq. Thank goodness. We would be having WWIII instead of the current prelude to it.

Posted by: lawnorder | Jun 4, 2007 8:55:48 PM

By crazier, you mean crazier than bombing a Chinese embassy?

Posted by: edh | Jun 5, 2007 6:44:21 PM

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