For decades Washington looked at its China policy the way most people consider a trip to the dentist. Best avoided. If you don’t go you don’t have a problem. And if something hurt, an aspirin or a shot of vodka – or the foreign policy equivalent – a dose of appeasement – made the pain go away for a while.
Recent History Of Appeasement
This all started decades ago with Richard Nixon’s opening to China – in a too clever by half effort to isolate the Soviet Union during the Cold War. A short while later, Jimmy Carter threw Taiwan overboard, and even Ronald Reagan handed over military technologies to Beijing. George H. W. Bush avoided the dentist as well – excusing away the Tiananmen Square massacre – China’s last, best chance to change course.
Bill Clinton “didn’t brush” while letting China into the World Trade Organization (and as often the case, the Clinton’s raked in some cash in the process). George W. Bush was too busy with wars elsewhere – so just gulped some more painkillers – kowtowing after a Chinese fighter rammed a U.S. Navy surveillance plane. And Barack Obama made ‘de-escalation’ (giving China what it wanted) the guiding principle of his China policy. Ironically, he saw Chinese misbehavior as helping distract Americans from his efforts to give Americans their own ‘national dental plan.’
As a result, trouble that an early “check up” would have headed off turned into a cavity. “No big deal” it was said, since China was still weak. But now it’s full blown gum disease as China became a genuine military and economic threat.
Even U.S. military leaders kept America out of the dentist’s chair. The U.S. Marine Commandant visited the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) Marines in 2008 and encouraged them to up their game. They did. An unnamed Navy Admiral offered to help China build its own aircraft carriers. More than one PACOM (U.S. Pacific Command) commander made appeasement an art, while another PACOM boss scoffed at Chinese submarines as Model T’s compared to American Ferraris.
The one PACOM boss who knew the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army weren’t just a minor toothache, Admiral Robert Willard, was unpopular in Washington – “unstable” you know. He retired and practically disappeared, unlike many retired senior officers that eagerly join the U.S. -China Track 2 dialogue racket with its pleasant, lucrative junkets to the PRC (People’s Republic of China).
The one guy calling, all along, for a trip to the dentist, Captain Jim Fanell – head of U.S. Navy intelligence in the Pacific – was cashiered in 2015 for pointing out that China’s military build up was malevolent and a danger to the United States.
Business Gains From Appeasement
U.S. business also stayed as far away as possible from the dentist’s chair – despite the throbbing pain. Indeed, the U.S. business community shot itself up with “short term profit” and “bump up the share price, bump up the bonus” painkillers for decades – as China stole or extorted technology and know-how, while rigging the market to build up Chinese “national champions” and kill the foreign competition – in China and in overseas markets.
Even now, the Tim Cook’s of the American business class snort at suggestions of moving supply chains or giving up on the China market where fabulous wealth is always just around the corner. And Wall Street has always encouraged the patient to neither brush nor floss – and to eat chocolate with every meal – even breakfast.
Too much of American academia – with brave exceptions such as professors Arthur Waldron, June Dreyer, Perry Link, and others – built careers, reputations, and in some cases wealth on explaining why the toothache wasn’t a toothache. And if it did hurt…why it was all America’s fault.
What Happened In 2016
But by 2016 even the vodka/painkiller tonic wasn’t working as it once did and even the “engagers” were feeling the pain. Indeed, many of Captain Fanell’s persecutors have recently changed their tune (for now) since being a “China skeptic” sells these days.
From out of nowhere, Donald Trump – a Queens real estate developer – came along stating the obvious: the patient needs help and he has managed to drag the U.S. into the figurative dentist’s chair. One imagines lying back in the dentist’s chair, looking up at the orange-maned dentist behind the facemask and hearing:
“I can fix it, but this is gonna hurt. Why didn’t you come see me sooner? Loser.”
Diagnosing The Disease
Like any good dentist, he first diagnosed the disease. That was taboo before 2016.
Trump then started “drilling” with trade sanctions and tariffs on Beijing – and turned the FBI loose on Chinese spies and technology thieves. This was long overdue. Mr. Trump even got some U.S. businesses into the chair – though they often squirmed mightily.
And, “Doctor Trump” is trying a simultaneous treatment by freeing up the U.S. military to defend American interests in Asia. He pulled the PLA’s (People’s Liberation Army) invitation to the 2018 RIMPAC exercise, stepped up operations in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, is selling weapons and offering verbal and political support to Taiwan. The U.S. Marines are setting up shop in Australia and ties with Vietnam are improving while the U.S. attempts to salvage relations with the Philippines and Thailand – that suffered under Obama. Japan is buying its own F35’s and building it own “aircraft carriers” – and wants Marine F35’s to land on them.
What Does A Miracle Cure Look Like?
Things are better than the “Trump Derangement Syndrome” crowd complains. Many of the complainers are the “quacks” that said there was nothing wrong and kept the U.S. out of the dentist’s chair.
But, like a real trip to the dentist, the sooner you go the less it hurts. And the U.S. is at least ten years too late.
So what would a Jimmy Swaggart-like miracle cure look like? Beijing just has to stop stealing and play by the rules it agreed to – and empty out its East Turkestan concentration camps and its black jails, give back the South China Sea, and leave its neighbors alone. Unfortunately, the disease is unlikely to respond without more serious treatment.
Indeed, America’s “oral surgery” to correct the “gum disease” caused by over-indulging China won’t be pleasant nor finished quickly. More worrisome, while the United States has impressive recuperative powers, in 2020 or 2024 a new dentist will take the case. And if it’s one of the current Democratic candidates, there are troubling signs he or she will issue a different diagnosis and order up another dose of “painkillers.” If so, after a short drug-induced respite, the disease will be inoperable – other than to “yank ‘em all.”
And America – and the civilized world – will need a full set of dentures. Made in China, of course.