Maybe we need to send Katherine Harris to be our next emissary to Taiwan. After last week’s election there, the only certain thing is that the tiny outpost of freedom that the ChiComs claim is theirs to enslave apparently can’t run an election any better than the hanging chad fools in Florida. The Taiwanese, at least, don’t claim they were too dumb to understand the ballots. But their other claims are even wilder than what the Florida crowd mustered.
My favorite is that the attempted assassination of now-sorta-reelected president Chen Shui-bian was staged to gain him votes. Hmm. This guy is making a speech, not wearing body armor, when someone comes along and puts a round into his stomach. It turns out to be a minor wound, and he’s out of the hospital in a jiff. Now we’re supposed to believe that he — or maybe an ex-wife of his — hired someone to shoot him in the center-of-mass and just wound him slightly? Everyone who would trust someone to shoot you in the stomach and not really do any damage, please raise your hand.
When the ballots were counted in the national election, President Chen was reelected by fewer than 30,000 votes out of almost 13 million cast. The margin of victory is outnumbered — by a factor of ten — by the number of invalidated ballots. Opposition Nationalist (Kuomintang) Party candidate Lien Chan has demanded a recount, and protests against the election result are erupting all over the island. The whole thing will be tied up in its courts for months. While all this mess is befogging the landscape, the real fallout of the election is getting lost in the shuffle. Chen blew his chance at missile defense.
President Chen is a wily pol but his habit of raising the stakes unnecessarily makes it appear more like Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius than, say, Henry the K. Chen’s reelection campaign included a lot of loose talk about reasserting independence from Beijing, and a referendum on missile threats, both of which hot buttons guaranteed to generate war talk from the Beijing gerontocracy.
Mr. Chen’s plebiscite asked the Taiwanese to call for upgrading (i.e., creating) Taiwan’s defense against ballistic missiles, and for the ChiComs to pull back the missiles they have pointed at Taiwan. Both ideas are good — and should receive America’s support — but for Chen it was less a commitment to principle than a crass political maneuver. Chen’s opponent — Lien Chan — was singing an appeasing tune to Beijing, and Chen’s counter was the independence talk and referendum. Unfortunately, though Chen was apparently reelected, the referendum failed.
President Chen has made it a lot harder for us to help Taiwan defend itself. Now that he’s lost his bet on the referendum, he cannot buy what we should have sold, — Patriot missile batteries and Aegis cruisers — to defend the island. Mr. Bush considered selling the anti-missile cruisers two years ago, and decided to delay the decision. Now that option is closed for the foreseeable future. We should be asking why Chen took the risk on missile defense referendum and lost. One reason is — surprise, surprise — the latest failure of our State Department.
OUR REPRESENTATIVE TO Taiwan — he’s not an ambassador because Taiwan’s existence as a free nation was asterisked back in the Nixon and Carter days — is a fellow named Douglas Paal. There’s a problem with Mr. Paal: he’s apparently a big fan of Beijing. As Rowan Scarborough and Bill Gertz reported recently the Washington Times, “Mr. Paal is considered a very pro-Beijing official and has spoke[n] and written against arms sales to Taiwan. He even criticized President Bush in May 2001 claiming the president ‘misspoke’ when he said the United States would do whatever it takes to help Taiwan defend itself from a mainland attack.” Without our backing, why should the Taiwanese take the risk of enraging Beijing by building a missile defense, which is a very hot issue with the ChiComs? Part of Chen’s failure with the missile defense referendum has to be laid at Paal’s feet.
Paal’s failure may someday be ranked with that of Amb. April Glaspie, who reportedly told Saddam we were unconcerned with inter-Arab border disputes just before he invaded Kuwait in 1991. The President didn’t “misspeak” when he said we would defend Taiwan from a ChiCom invasion. The Taiwanese were our allies long before there was a Communist China, and there is a damned good argument in saying that there might never have been a Communist China if Chiang Kai-Shek (whose Kuomintang party fought the invading Japanese before and during World War II) had made a separate peace with the Japs and gone about the business of fighting Mao. They stayed in the fight with us, lost mainland China, and fled to Taiwan. No American of conscience should entertain the thought that Taiwan should go the way of Hong Kong.
Paal — like so many U.S. ambassadors — apparently regards himself as an independent thinker. Which means, of course, he’s independent of the President’s policies and is free to undermine the President’s clear words with his own mealymouthing to Beijing. Pardon me for thinking that an official representative of our government should do what the President asks of him. This guy ought to be sent packing. Today. We need someone in Taiwan who is an advocate of freedom and democracy, and is not in the business of undermining one of the most important positions we have in the Pacific.
We have an enormous burden this year. The media are concerned with nothing other than the election, and anything that doesn’t affect it more or less directly won’t get the attention it would otherwise deserve. Pols around the world seem convinced that their admission to Heaven depends on how much hate they can spew at America and our president. The Blixiecrats at home — the UN-lovers such as Kerry and Kennedy — won’t ever talk about the other threats we face abroad. But the President can and must. He should say again what he’s said before: Taiwan will remain free, if necessary by the force of American arms. And while he’s at it, he should fire Paal and talk some sense to Wile E. Chen.
TAS Contributing editor Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and now often appears as a talking warhead on radio and television.