- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Last week President Bush, when asked in an interview whether America would defend Taiwan if attacked by mainland China, responded: "Yes. Whatever it takes." He and his foreign policy staff wisely spent the next 24 hours backing away from those words, and for a very good reason.
For the last two decades America has supported Taiwan, but has refused to be an automatic military guarantor of her liberty. Maintaining ambiguity has given us useful influence on both Taiwans and Chinas policies. We have carefully avoided the mistake made by Germany before WWI, in which powerful Germany gave weak, insecure but aggressive Austria a military "blank check" and thereby let Austria precipitate the general European war WW I that destroyed three great dynasties and ended Europes world leadership.
Our interest in East Asia is neither a triumphant Taiwan nor a defeated China, but equilibrium (and if possible increased freedom and prosperity). Throughout that rapid and dangerously developing continent, Chinas fast growing economic, diplomatic and, military strength is engendering an arms race with its neighbors. Japan is considering going nuclear despite its experience at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Feeling itself rebuffed by the United States, Russia is finding temporary comfort in the close company of her historic enemy China. The lesser countries bordering China want our help, but fear our confrontation with China: China will always be their too-powerful neighbor, while America may come and go.
To establish and maintain peaceful equilibrium in Asia, the United States must be prepared to be friendly or threatening with each of those countries, as the situation warrants. To keep our credibility, we must always maintain potent military and economic assets in the region as a bona fide of our seriousness. In short we must practice realpolitik a foreign policy based on calculations of power and American national interest. For America, which tends to like the nations of the world labeled neatly friend or foe this will not be easy. But it is necessary.
Peace can be sustained, historically, either by a power willing and able to militarily dominate its world (Pax Romana,) or by a power that uses its relative advantage to subtly manage its world (Pax Britannica). America finds itself caught in the middle: We have neither the dominating will of Rome, nor the subtlety of mind of the British. But as we are ethically and historically unsuited to Roman-style domination, we had best cultivate the feline practices of British-style diplomacy.
China, of course, tends to drive the American mind to fits of utopic or dystopic fantasy. Whether it is Pearl Bucks gauzy paean to the noble Chinese peasant, or Gen. Douglas MacArthurs proposal to annihilate the Red Army during the Korean War with a hail of atomic bombs, Americans cant seem to look at China straight-on as simply another nation to pragmatically manage to our benefit.
The latest contribution to the growing collection of China fantasists is the respected Robert Kagan of the Weekly Standard, co-author on foreign policy issues with the Standards editor and publisher, Bill Kristol. He has an article this week in The Washington Post that attempts to bootstrap President Bushs casual misstatement of our China/Taiwan policy into a fait accompli. Mr. Kagan would use the inexperienced presidents misspoken words to "drag the United States across the threshold from the era of illusions into the era of reality." He would end our one-China policy and cast our fate to the new reality of two Chinas, and thus commit us to fight a possibly nuclear war on behalf of 20 million Taiwanese against the billion-strong mainland. Who is the illusionist, and who the realist?
As I understand the Kagan/Kristol thesis, the historic analog to present-day China is pre-WW I Germany a growing economic and military power that was inevitably going to force a world confrontation. But this deterministic view is wrong regarding pre-war Germany, and is not yet proved right regarding China.
For the first three decades of the 50 years preceding the first world war, Germany was expansionist but limited in its aims and diplomatically cautious. It was only on the retirement of Prime Minster Prince Otto von Bismarck in 1890 and the succession to the throne of the unstable Kaiser Wilhelm II that German diplomacy descended into rigidity, blindness, egoism and unlimited belligerence. As always in history, individual decisions of particular men caused the catastrophe. Other men and other decisions would have made a different history.
So is that true for China today. The old men who rule China will be dying soon. New men may make matters worse, or better. Our job is to intelligently and coolly manage the change, while keeping our guard up. What Henry Kissinger wrote of the pre-war Germans equally could be applied to the Kristolite war planners in our midst: "In readying themselves for the worst case scenario, they helped to make it a reality."
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