- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2001

President Bush is coming under a furious, and utterly unjustified, assault from conservative intellectuals concerning his handling of the China incident. Leading that attack on the president is Bill Kristols Weekly Standard, which led this weeks edition with the assertion that Mr. Bush "has brought a profound humiliation" upon the United States, that he has shown "weakness and fear" and has "capitulated to the Chinese."
He concludes by raising the specter of "appeasement." These words were thrown in the face of Vice President Dick Cheney last weekend on ABCs "Sunday" morning news show. The vice president responded that Mr. Kristol was just trying to sell magazines. If that were the case, the attack would not justify a response.
But Bill Kristol is the sincere and leading voice for a growing body of important conservatives who have overlearned and, regarding China, misapplied the lesson of British appeasement of Hitler in the period 1933-39. Mr. Kristols realpolitik internationalism is combining with Christian moralists, left wing labor union protectionism and conservative isolationists to begin to form what may soon be the dominant China policy in America.
Mr. Kristol commits two fallacies: He strains to find appeasement where there is none; and, he assumes that China irrevocably will remain our enemy, irrespective of anything we or future Chinese governments or the Chinese people may do. He is thus resigned to freezing in place perpetual Sino-American hostility, which under Mr. Kristols policy could only avert open military conflict by dint of overwhelming American force. None of this is inevitable; but Mr. Kristol would make it so.
Real appeasement, as practiced by British premiers Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain in the 1930s was based on the assumptions that: British military power could not deter or defeat Hitlers military aggression (and thus they refused to strengthen their military), but that Hitler could be pacified by giving him what he wanted and thereby sating his appetite.
But Mr. Bush is not going down any such path. In his first two months in office the president has specifically reversed Bill Clintons proclamation that China is our strategic partner. Mr. Bush calls China a strategic competitor. The president has promised to build up our military. His secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has let it be known that he plans to reorganize and upgrade our military around the specific assumption that China, rather than Russia, is our primary likely military enemy.
Beyond these specific Chinese military/diplomatic policy changes, Mr. Bush has generally shown himself to be, by nature, the very opposite of an appeaser. He has stood alone (and against our European allies) in rejecting the anti-American Kyoto treaty. He has stopped the Clinton policy of assuming North Korean pacific intentions. He boldly and controversially blocked U.S. funding of foreign abortion counseling. He is fighting against public opinion for more oil drilling in America. He stubbornly refuses to yield a single dollar of his $1.6 trillion dollar tax cut. He nominated, and saw to confirmation, the controversial appointment of Sen. John Ashcroft as attorney general. He is pushing forward his faith-based initiatives in the face of secular, legal and some conservative opposition. He has sent his secretary of defense to Europe to inform our allies that he is going ahead with missile defense, and they better get over their opposition.
Amongst government officials and journalists around the world, Mr. Bush has earned a quick reputation as a Reaganite hard-core, conservative cowboy. They have been shocked by his self-confidence, singleness of purpose and willingness to go it alone if his allies dont agree with him. Just as Ronald Reagan won the grudging respect and fear of the worlds politicians when he fired the air traffic controllers in 1981, Mr. Bushs quickly demonstrated willfulness has brought foreign ministers around the world to astonished awe (if not yet agreement.) Against this catalogue of strength, the best Mr. Kristol can put forward for his claim of Bushian appeasement and humiliation are: Mr. Bushs expression of regret that the Chinese pilot is dead; a reference to the hope that although China is a strategic competitor "the economy is a place we can partner" (which sounded to me like a hinted threat of economic sanctions); and his response that he would take no further questions on the subject, when asked about an apology to China.
Attempting to strengthen his arguments, Mr. Kristol places them within the context of Chinese face-saving. People in Washington who I have talked with in the last week well understand the difference between a regret and an apology.
Mr. Bush is, in fact, showing a commendably deft touch in this affair. Unlike his conservative critics, he instinctively understands the point once made by Israels greatest diplomat, Abba Eban: "Much of diplomacy is a holding action designed to avoid explosion until the unifying forces of history take humanity into their embrace." There is obviously steel in the man; its nice to know there is also velvet.
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