House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was deliberate act of provocation whose only justification was hubris and personal vanity.
Pelosi knows well the rising anger of the American electorate that has been brought about by many of the current administration’s actions: the incompetent and hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan completed so that President Joe Biden could make a somber announcement last Nov. 11; the raging inflation of over 9 percent and the disingenuous explanation of its full causes; the preposterous effort to differentiate between the technical and common definitions of a recession; the pandering to influential progressives such as Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who would end air travel, replace or upgrade buildings, and protect even those unwilling to work with her “Green New Deal” estimated to “cost between $51 trillion and $93 trillion over ten years”; a distracting obsession with identity politics, including the debate over pronouns and what constitutes gender; the introduction of critical race theory even into the U.S. military; the drive to teach sexual orientation and identity in elementary curricula; an unprecedented wave of unauthorized immigration; the inability of Vice President Kamala Harris to express herself cogently; and questions about the overall ability and stamina of the president.
This is not a glowing report card, and Pelosi must sense that so many of the American people are now saying, “Enough.” Indeed, many observers are predicting a massive Republican sweep of the House in November.
Against such an array of negativity, Pelosi must be hoping to protect her legacy as a politician and staunch defender of human rights, especially if she will no longer be speaker of the House come November. Indeed, Pelosi has a history of expressing opposition to Beijing: In 1991, she left her entourage without Chinese escorts and unfurled a banner in Tiananmen Square, supporting those demonstrators killed there.
But regardless of how repugnant the autocratic regime in Beijing is, there is no need to provoke the Chinese dragon right now. And Biden has acknowledged that the Pentagon believes the trip is “not a good idea.” In anticipation of Pelosi’s visit, China conducted live fire exercises in the Taiwan Strait in waters off Fujian Province, near Taiwan. The country has also made various vicious but unspecified threats and has warned of military action in retaliation for Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Ratcheting up the bellicosity, several days ago, the former editor of the Global Times, a tabloid of the Chinese Communist Party, called for Pelosi’s plane to be shot down should it be accompanied by U.S. fighter aircraft and should other measures to interdict it fail.
Going viral, imagine the distribution of this hatred: An estimated 73 percent of the Chinese population of 1.4 billion use the internet, according to the German data firm Statista. With the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan carrier strike group operating near the Spratly Islands in proximity to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy in the South China Sea, and Chinese aircraft operating near the median of the Taiwan Strait, there is danger of an accident or miscalculation.
And while the Taiwanese have been dismissive of Chinese threats, how can anyone be certain what Chinese President Xi Jinping would order to save face? With Xi’s reelection to a third term anticipated in November, he will not wish to look weak or ineffective in the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party.
The U.S. and NATO are already engaged in what some call a proxy war between the Russian Federation and the West. Encouraging animosity on a second front right now is a most misguided idea. With the Pentagon opposed to the visit, and the White House distancing itself from it, one can only be aghast at the selfishness and poor judgment of Pelosi. The risk greatly exceeds the symbolic reward. And how could anyone say, “The eagle has landed”?
Frank Schell is a business strategy consultant and former senior vice president of the First National Bank of Chicago. He was a lecturer at the Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago, and is a contributor of opinion pieces to various journals.
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