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Jewish World Review March 15, 1999 /27 Adar 5759

Tony Snow

Tony Snow
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Team Clinton aren’t treasonists ...

( REPUBLICANS WANT THE PRESIDENT to behead National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. They hold Berger responsible for the administration's waiting 30 months before acting on knowledge that China had stolen the technology for our most advanced nuclear warhead, the W-88.

While it may be tempting to accuse Team Clinton of treason, consider a more benign and frightening thesis: The fiasco fits into a larger pattern of weakness and incompetence.

Clinton's foreign policy follows a pattern: Talk tough, then slink away. We entered Haiti walking tall and crawled out quietly. Ditto Somalia. Triumph has turned to ashes in Kosovo, in the Middle East, in Asia, in Iraq -- everywhere, perhaps, but Northern Ireland.

And when we fail, we declare victory. Vice President Al Gore greeted news of the theft by assuring reporters that the scandal inspired "a brand new presidential directive that fixed problems we had inherited, and changed and vastly improved the security procedures."

The "Brand New! Improved!" response was to embark on a campaign of aggressive appeasement. Even after discovering the theft, the administration decided to kowtow on Taiwan, international terrorism and technology transfers. This week, the administration responded to the W-88 story by renewing its invitation for representatives of the People's Liberation Army to visit the top-secret Sandia National Laboratories next month. China offers no reciprocal visits to its most sensitive facilities.

So, we've got issues. Consider key questions raised by the great heist.

1) If China stole our best nuke, what else did it get? A government intelligence specialist guesses that China probably has been snooping around Los Alamos and similar labs for years, and that its spies have been heisting other types of secrets in different locales. But what? And where?

2) Who walked off with plans for the W-88? Energy Secretary Bill Richardson fired Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee last Monday, three years after Wen's treachery became known to government agencies and two days after The New York Times told everybody else. The removal followed the Clinton-era dictum: Punish only when caught, if at all!

Nevertheless, we seldom merely fire people who give other nations the means of blowing us to smithereens. We execute them. Ask the Rosenbergs. This has led to speculation within the intelligence community that Wen isn't the Big Cahuna: Somebody else bagged the W-88, and that somebody still may be feasting on classified research.

3) What does China want to do? Sinologists detect a major doctrinal shift in Beijing, from being a defensive nuclear pip-squeak to an assertive power able to initiate an atomic exchange.

There's no reason for immediate panic. China has 18 intercontinental ballistic missiles, 13 of which are pointed our way. We have more than 2,000 ground-based ICBMs, along with a huge arsenal of submarine-launched ballistic missiles and lots of nukes that ride on the wings of jets. Still, the W-88 give China the chance to develop similar capabilities in the next 20 years -- if not to fight us, at least to become the hegemon of the Pacific.

The communist government has adopted a two-part strategy: build military might and sow doubt about America's reliability. One of China's top military officials summarized the thinking more than three years ago when he told then-Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles Bennett that the United States wouldn't retaliate against a strike on Taiwan because administration officials "care more about Los Angeles than they do about Taiwan."

China has tested our will over the years with a series of provocations. We didn't respond assertively when it nabbed the Spratly Islands from the Vietnamese in 1988, or when it snatched Mischief Reef from the Philippines two years back -- and equipped the latter with anti-aircraft and other weaponry.

Nor did we raise a fuss when it helped rogue states -- Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Pakistan -- develop weapons of mass destruction. America's seeming indifference to these actions has become enough of a concern that nine Asian foreign ministers placed a quiet call last year to congressional leaders, begging them not to pull out of the ASEAN defense alliance. They cited fears that China would pounce at the chance to become an even bigger bully.

4) Can the administration influence Chinese behavior? Doubtful: China gleefully humiliated the president on last year's visit -- imprisoning dissidents upon his arrival and strong-arming him into reversing America's policy toward Taiwan.

It greeted Secretary of State Madeleine Albright with similar fanfare earlier this month. It threw some democracy-seekers in jail when she landed, then browbeat her in private meetings.

According to foreign press reports, she responded by hinting the United States might be willing to surrender plans for a regional anti-nuclear defense system if China would tell North Korea to stop developing weapons of mass destruction.

No sooner had Albright departed than her hosts began jeering, like garbage-hurling characters in a Monty Python skit. They declared they would not accept any theater missile defense in Taiwan or Japan. As one old Asia hand put it, "They don't take Albright the least bit seriously."

No wonder: The administration opposes the one thing that could make an arms race unaffordable to the Chinese -- missile defense. In hopes of locking in this position, China recently asked the U.N. to ban space-based defense.

5) What else? The administration, not Congress, leaked the W-88 story. This means there's more embarrassing stuff to come. Yet what could be worse than the fact that the White House, after uncovering the W-88 theft, relaxed export controls for sensitive information and hardware, sold dozens of high-speed computers to China, approved missile-technology transfers by the Loral and Huges corporations (among others), and sold China not only the ability to hit our cities, but also to descramble signals from our spy satellites?

Congress by all means should investigate the W-88 scandal. But honorables should keep one thing in mind: This administration's most damaging mistakes are not the ones it covered up, but the ones it committed in full public view.


03/11/99: Blackmun’s burden
03/08/99: The Lewinsky Principle
03/05/99: Buchanan & Ventura’s lure
03/01/99: Open season on women
02/25/99: The birth of political wisdom
02/22/99: Children of optimism
02/18/99: Wake up, Republicans!
02/16/99: Why we feel so good
02/11/99: What exactly does George W. stand for?
02/08/99: Run, GOPers, run?
02/04/99: The languid sigh of waves lapping ashore
02/01/99: Verbal vortex
01/28/99: To be a ‘sell-out’ or an unelectable pol --- that is the question
01/25/99: The apogee of a trend
01/21/99:What my 3-year-old taught me
01/17/99:Don't be fooled, folks
01/14/99: Must a pol be ‘baaaad’ in order to get elected?
01/12/99: Jumpin’ Jack (Kemp)
01/08/99 : Hot air in the Windy City

©1999, Creators Syndicate