- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2001

George W. Bush — now we know what the W stands for. (Hint, it isn't valorous.)

The president just failed his first foreign policy test, and a crucial test at that. The Chinese communists are the last people on earth we can afford to show weakness to.

By not punishing Beijing's aggression, as well as through the deal to secure release of our air crew, Bush has demonstrated just how easily he's manipulated.

Bottom line: We gave China the apology it demanded. The president can play Clintonian word games if he chooses, but yesterday our foreheads were in the dirt. In the official statement, we said we were “very sorry” for the death of the Chinese pilot.

What do we regret most — that he buzzed our plane in international air space (endangering the lives of our crew), or that his recklessness caused his own death?

Perhaps we should apologize to Japan for their fliers who didn't make it back from Pearl Harbor.

We were also “very sorry” that our plane made an unauthorized landing in China. But we had no choice. Their jet damaged our slow-flying plane. When lives are at stake, any civilized nation allows an emergency landing at one if its airfields, with or without permission.

The People's Republic, which insisted that we take responsibility for an incident it caused, can't even admit the reality of its slaughter in Tiananmen Square 12 years ago.

Secretary of State Colin Powell paved the way for Bush's obeisance by earlier expressing “regret” for the loss of the Chinese pilot. My dictionary defines regret as an expression of “remorse.”

Instead of spending 10 days negotiating the wording of our apology, what could we have done?

Bush could have recalled our ambassador to China, agreed to a robust package of arms sales to Taipei (including Aegis-equipped cruisers) and announced he would ask Congress to rescind Permanent Normal Trade Relations granted last year. Approval of PNTR was conditional on China joining the World Trade Organization, which Beijing has yet to do, due to a reluctance to abide by its rules.

Would that have delayed the return of our crew? Perhaps. But the release of the American hostages should never have been our primary concern. Once Beijing knew that it was, we'd lost.

The crewmembers are military personnel who were on a dangerous mission. As such, they are expected to risk their lives in their nation's defense. The security of the United States is far more important than the lives of 24 brave servicemen and women.

By making their welfare paramount, we've put other Americans at risk — among them, those presently serving on ships in the South China Sea and flying in other intelligence-gathering planes along China's coast. By showing the communists that aggression pays, we're encouraging them to continue the dangerous brinksmanship that led to the downing of the EP-3.

Not only will Chinese barbarism once again go unpunished, there is every indication that it will be rewarded. The lesson China takes away from this is how easily Bush is intimidated. The lesson Bush aides seem to have learned is that we must improve our ties with Beijing whatever the price.

A story in Tuesday's New York Times quotes an unnamed senior administration official musing: “Look, if we have a bad relationship with China, does it make sense to sell more weapons to Taiwan? That would be ridiculous.”

No, here's what's ridiculous: China violates the norms of international conduct, takes American hostages and proves once again that it's ruled by warmongers. And China is rewarded. By withholding the means of self-defense from Taiwan, we will continue to leave it vulnerable to attack by the mainland.

For this we needed Bush?

As a Republican leader told me off the record: “If the goal was to get the crew back at all costs, we would have been better off with President Al Gore. He would have made the apology within 24 hours, and we would have been spared the past 10 days.”

The Manchu emperors used to sign their edicts, “Read these words and tremblingly obey.” When it came to Beijing's demands, the president of the United States did just that.

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