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Jewish World Review April 30, 2001 / 7 Iyar, 5761

Paul Greenberg

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A Reaganless administration -- THE Bush administration's decision to sell Taiwan enough weaponry to deter the Communists on the mainland from attacking that island -- but not enough to provoke them -- would seem prudent, reasonable and moderate.

And that's just what's wrong with it. Because this country is trying to deter a regime that is anything but prudent, reasonable and moderate. Red China doesn't get moderation; it may even confuse it with an invitation.

Communist China is not only massing hundreds of missiles on its side of the Taiwan Strait, but has been known to lob a few now and then over Taiwan when that remnant of free China shows signs of going its own way. Or even when it holds a free election, which has to be the ultimate heresy in the eyes of any brutal dictatorship. China's grows more brutal by the day. So much for the ameliorating influence of American trade.

In public, Beijing will doubtless huff and puff over Washington's decision to supply the free China with a few 30-year-old destroyers outfitted with some surface-to-air missiles -- plus miscellaneous aircraft and possibly some submarines. But the commissars on the mainland can smile in private. Because the Bush administration has deferred any decision to sell Taiwan what it most wanted: Aegis destroyers with their up-to-date anti-missile technology.

That's all right. This country doesn't have any Aegis destroyers to sell Taiwan just now, and it won't for years. (That's another result of ignoring our defenses during the Clinton Years.) More worrisome is the standard policy of selling Taiwan ships and planes without the advanced weapons and guidance systems that go with them -- lest the Communists on the mainland glower at us. Which of course has only taught them to glower all the more fiercely.

Ever since Richard Nixon made his pilgrimage to Emperor Mao's forbidden city, the real Republic of China offshore has been regarded by some as an embarrassment and bother -- instead of the glowing testament to freedom it is in that part of the world. Which of course is why the Communists want to snuff it out.

There is something familiar about Washington's carefully calibrated response to Beijing's unsubtle threats against Taiwan. It brings to mind poor Jimmy Carter's response to Iran's ayatollahs when they held Americans hostage. President Carter always appeared so reasonable, so measured, so willing to compromise -- in short, such a sucker.

So that when Jimmy Carter finally authorized a plan to free the hostages in Tehran, a plan that would go terribly wrong, even that failure came as a relief. At least he was finally acting, not just negotiating. Some kidnappers take negotiation as a form of tribute, a seal of respectability, a confirmation of their legitimacy. They enjoy it so much, they may negotiate indefinitely.

One could sense a certain enjoyment in Beijing during the late unpleasantness over its holding the crew of an American surveillance plane -- a crew that had little choice but to land on its territory. This president's responses were measured and reasonable -- when what was called for was more outrage, less negotiation.

Lest we forget, this incident is not yet closed. The People's Republic and Extortion Racket still holds an American plane. That craft was forced to make an emergency landing because a Chinese fighter pilot was intent on demonstrating his derring-do, and did. Fatally.

Yet all seems quiet on the Potomac. The bully pulpit that is the American presidency remains unoccupied. No one in authority at the White House has pointed out the obvious -- that the root of the problem is not our surveillance flights or Chinese nationalism or anything else but the very nature of the regime in control of the mainland. It is a Communist regime. Which makes it less a form of government than a criminal conspiracy. And it continues to act like one, whether it's oppressing its own people or threatening others.

The Bush administration is said to be full of Reaganites. And so it is. With the result that now we can appreciate how central, how vital, how indispensable Ronald Reagan was to Reaganism. For in this early test, a Reaganless administration has no clear, unwavering voice openly declaring that what we face is an evil empire.

Instead, we see not a new birth of freedom, but a new birth of a once familiar phenomenon: Kremlinology, only this time served ' la chinois. We are lectured on the intricacies of the power struggle between the military and political arms of the Chinese regime; the importance of the next Party Congress, and how both party and army are maneuvering to control it; and why it is essential that we do nothing now, or perhaps ever, that might irritate the Chinese Dragon. Just as once we were advised not to upset the

Russian Bear. It's enough to bring on a severe case of nostalgia for all the irrelevant Realpolitik of the Cold War.

Any day now we should be hearing from Henry Kissinger on the wisdom of Detente with this tyranny, too. Soon we may be examining the exact placement of Chinese leaders high atop Tiananmen Square as they review the May Day parade, the better to determine the regime's pecking order. It'll be just like the old days, with J. William Fulbright present in spirit. The Soviet Union may be gone, but there's always another evil empire to do business with.

A new China lobby has arisen that knew not Ronald Reagan. We are regularly cautioned not to do anything that might interfere with our growing trade with that country, by which is meant our growing trade deficit. One would never guess, unless you dropped by your nearest discount store, that we are Red China's biggest customer rather than the other way around. We buy something like a third of its exports, while it buys maybe 1 percent of ours. But in this business-savvy administration, the customer is always wrong, or at least a little cowed.

A Reaganesque president would point out that, at the rate visitors from the United States disappear on the Chinese mainland, it would scarcely be advisable to hold the Olympic Games there.

At least this president could invite the Dalai Lama to visit the White House for a little spiritual counseling. Isn't his administration supposed to be faith-based? Rolling out the prayer rug for Tibet's true leader might remind the world that it isn't just Taiwan that Red China covets as part of its own Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Our one-China policy was premised on a peaceful resolution of the dispute between the two Chinas. But if Beijing continues to make warlike sounds, what rationale remains for that policy? China is a big country, not even counting its occupation of Tibet. It could easily accommodate two recognized governments once again. Instead of moving in that direction, the latest inscrutable series of comments from a still new president leaves American policy more ambiguous than ever.

This country has changed its China policy before. Beijing needs to be made aware that our policy can change again. Yet the very thought seems unthinkable. It shouldn't be. And it wouldn't be in an imaginative administration.

But who is left now to remind Bush the Younger, as a British prime minister did his father, that now is no time to go wobbly? Ronald Reagan has already drifted away, and we who were privileged to hear him speak out simply and directly for freedom, and for peace through strength, are left to dream of Margaret Thatcher.

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©2001, TMS