A challenge to be met

Posted: Apr 03, 2001 12:00 AM
Maybe the Red Chinese -- as we used to call them, back in the supposedly benighted "McCarthy era" -- do us a backhanded favor by hassling us over that downed EP-3 surveillance plane. The Reds ("red" they remain in large if not all-engorging measure) give George W. Bush the occasion to make two vital points: 1) We'll pick our own friends, thanks; and 2) the idea of a missile shield for defense against countries like Red China looks better than ever. It may be that almost every store-bought product you turn over these days is inscribed, "Made in China." It is pleasant to see mainland leaders wearing business suits, eschewing rhetoric about the running dogs of Wall Street. It is more than pleasant, however -- it is indispensable -- to recall that the government under whose authority these consumer goods are made and sold has no use for genuine democracy and a seemingly bottomless capacity for lies and malice. We wouldn't see genuine friends -- Britain, say, or, more to the present point, the government of Taiwan -- forcing down an American plane. The Reds aren't friends by any definition: just business associates in a peculiar and constricted way. They are associates, moreover, with a pronounced tendency to pick quarrels and throw their weight around. We have too long (e.g., throughout the Clinton presidency) danced around the Reds' obnoxious, not to mention, dangerous ways. Look at the dance trophy we have just won: an international face-off stemming from limited attempts to protect an inoffensive and democratic ally, Taiwan. ("Nationalist China," we called it in those dear, dead McCarthyite days.) Shaking fists in American faces comes naturally to the Red Chinese, as naturally as conniving to burn down Christian churches and ordering abortions to be performed on "superfluous" unborn babies. What do we do? This is the question. Aren't the answers fairly obvious? First we get back our airplane and crew, accompanied by suitable regrets, of the sort Peiping insisted the Clinton administration render a couple of years ago for our inadvertent bombing of their embassy in Belgrade. The next step is to face reality concerning Taiwan. Taiwan remains a friend despite past American actions (e.g., the severing of formal diplomatic ties under Jimmy Carter) that would have wrecked more fragile friendships. Red China wants Taiwan forcibly incorporated under its rule. The gall! Taiwan hasn't been under mainland rule since the Manchu dynasty, and at this late date wouldn't much enjoy the experience. One would think it made high, good sense to defy the Reds and sell Taiwan the anti-missile radar systems it wants to buy. Why should that be a problem? Radar is for defense, not attack. If the reds don't want Taiwan to be able to track incoming missiles, why, you might infer, were they planning to fire some of those very missiles -- or threaten to, possibly serving the same purpose? That's not what we want, is it? Taiwan eradicated or bullied into servitude? The point abuts a far larger one: What holds us back from building a missile shield for the safety of our own people, as Ronald Reagan in his wisdom proposed we do? Who might fire at us? Iraq. Iran. North Korea. Maybe the same gentle parties who force down American surveillance planes and threaten to invade an unoffending neighbor. The notion of leaving Americans exposed to future attack is just plain idiocy. More than a few, especially Democrats, propound it anyway. Our brand-new president has been asked to lay his foreign-policy cards on the table at an early point in the game. He appears to be doing so with confidence and judgment. As why shouldn't he? We're, for the moment, No. 1. It would seemingly behoove us to act as though our own foreign-policy interests had some priority over other people's interests, and that we had a right to reciprocity from those always telling us what they need. Putting American interests first is an unusual way to run American foreign policy.