The Unmaking of a President
The time has come to start thinking about the current events in the South China Sea in a more realistic context.
Remember the speculation surrounding former President Clinton's bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan, and of empty tents in the Asian desert, in order to divert attention from his domestic problems? The movie "Wag the dog" foretold of the technique, and the character of the former president was clearly compatible with something so underhanded and callous.
"Wag the dog" is currently running again on Ted Turner's channels.
And, as the unfolding events demonstrate, the technique also works in the reverse.
The big loser in last fall's presidential elections was not the confused electorate of Palm Beach County, nor the Democratic Party - not even Vice President Al Gore. The big loser was the People's Republic of China.
The Chinese leadership literally took the food out of the mouths of its people in order to finance the takeover of the Panama Canal, the acquisition of much of Canada's infrastructure, the steady flow of American super-technology and - above all - the purchase of the Executive Branch of the United States Government. Only the construction of an overt Chinese naval base at Long Beach, California, escaped them - for now.
They believed what they were told: that with the economy in high gear, Al Gore, the heir-apparent, semi-incumbent, will secure the next eight years at the very least. Given the progress of the last eight years, the strides to be made during the next eight promised to produce a very different world, come 2010.
And then, disaster.
Not only was George W. Bush elected president; the undignified conduct of Al Gore during the post-election turmoil, and the atrocities of the departing Clintons left the Chinese without as much as a foothold.
What to do!?
As we said, the technique also works in the reverse. A foreign policy crisis can be created - not to divert the attention of the public, but of the young presidency from vital domestic battles. Thus, a time was carefully picked when the new administration was seen to stake its standing upon the president's tax cut, and the president's budget. The rest was easy: having already established a pattern of harassment, a Chinese fighter would damage an American surveillance plane and force its crew either to bail out (to be picked up by Chinese boats standing by) or to land on Chinese soil. Perhaps they did not plan on losing one of their top flying aces in the bargain, but human life carries no more value in China than it did in the Soviet Union.
The purpose, then, of the insistence upon an apology has nothing to do with China's "pride," or "saving face." The Chinese feel - and have always felt - so infinitely superior to the rest of us that an apology from this upstart called the United States could scarcely improve the proportions.
On the other hand, an unwarranted apology from the new president, who wishes to prove that America has a worthy commander-in-chief once again, could open a wound that never heals. And now the Hobson's choice: If the president opts for an ongoing hostage situation, he will be painted into the Jimmy Carter corner and rendered harmless just the same.
The Washington Post already began the latter process on Sunday. And the Chinese are likely to include in their reckoning the inexplicable hatred the major media, Hollywood producers and, yes, far too many Democrats in Congress have exhibited toward anything Republican. Some day, this nation ought to examine how such hatred, that seems to know no bounds, could sprout on the soil of the most tolerant country on Earth.
But right now, Democrats in general, newscasters, editors and sitcom producers in particular, and some Republicans as well, need to ask themselves whether their love and concern for America might be sufficient cause to suspend their campaign against the president. A reading of Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution might facilitate the decision.
Interesting: For the first time in known history, there exists a country with the ability to have it all its own way. It is called the United States of America. If it so desired, it could render the Chinese Air Force a matter of the past within 24 hours; if it so desired, it could transform the People's Republic of China into grazing fields in a matter of days.
What makes Americans special is the absence of such desires. Yet it would be a mistake to assume that it earns us Brownie points with the Chinese leadership. If anything, America's determination not to flaunt its strength is a source of contempt in Chinese eyes - hence the blatant provocation and the "insistence on an apology."
China is unlikely to challenge the U.S. Navy in the foreseeable future. But they are probably working toward the next best thing: to choke off the three critical areas of navigation - Panama Canal, Suez Canal, and the Cape of Good Hope - all at once. Our experts have begun to take Chinese intentions of ejecting the U.S. from their vicinity seriously. It would be helpful to review everything that has been happening in recent years and speculate about the long-term aspirations they suggest. Yes, for the longest time, China had had no interest in expansion. But times change, and with that, aspirations change.
As for right now, Americans of all stripes need to decide whether China, having bought the last presidency, shall be given the green light to destroy the current one.