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A Time for Statesmen

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Now is a particularly dangerous moment for American national security interests. Not just because threats are growing. Not just because the current administration is making a historic bungle from China to Iraq to Iran to Russia to Europe to Mexico to our historic allies in the Middle East -- both Jewish and Muslim. All that would be bad enough.

But the greatest threat to our national security, at the moment, is the manifest indifference of the voting public to these foreign threats -- and the silence on them from our alleged leaders. It's understandable.

The devil has our economy by the throat, and Americans (when they think about politics) are focused on what Washington should do -- or should stop doing -- to defeat our domestic economic threat.

Obviously, the public is in no mood to go looking for foreign devils. Every 27-year-old junior Washington political operative knows this is a political season to advise candidates to talk about jobs, jobs, jobs. And they should.

But it is precisely when the public cries out for taking care at home that true statesmen must stand up and warn the public if there are foreign dangers brewing. A few Republican senators are trying to be heard, warning the public of the consequences of the dangers of a predatory China, the further weakening of our military and the White House's retreat from Iraq. But there is little evidence that the public -- even the GOP public -- cares much.

For example, in a matter of weeks the congressional super committee assigned to reduce the deficit will determine whether it gets its job done or pulls the trigger that would cut defense spending another $600 billion.

If such a cut were to be carried out, it could by itself determine -- adversely to America -- the coming geo-strategic struggle between the U.S. and China. To contain Chinese ambitions, we are going to need, among other things, a much stronger Navy, not a much weaker one. Of course, navies take years to build up (they can be sunk or turned to rust more quickly) and such a drastic budget cut would inevitably reduce our Navy to ineffectiveness in East Asia.

Last week, the super committee and the nation should have heard -- but did not -- a rousing warning cry about China and explicitly connecting it to the $600 billion cut.

What am I talking about, you might wonder? Well last week, as Europe struggled to raise sufficient cash to manage the Greek debt default, they sent an emissary to China to seek money. Der Speigel, the leading German news magazine reported: "One day after European leaders announced a plan to boost their euro backstop fund to 1 trillion euros, China indicated it may attach conditions to any money it invests. One of those stipulations -- that Europe stop criticizing Beijing's monetary policy -- could strain trans-Atlantic relations."

The price of Chinese money will be European silence of China's predatory trade practices. The Der Speigel quote suggested that such a demand would strain trans-Atlantic -- that is, United States-European -- relations.

But not a peep was heard form our government or, to the best of my knowledge, from any senior Washington politician of either party.

This should have sent shock waves across America. It also should have been thrown down at the door of the super committee to not disembowel our defense budget in the face of the coming danger.

The very mention of the idea that Europe, with a quarter of the world's economic activity, might agree to be silenced in what will probably be the No. 1 international issue of the next decade -- Chinese economic predation -- should have set off alarm bells. It also strongly suggests a greater burden that may fall on our military and naval capacity.

Of course, the Chinese have good reason to expect such passivity. As the British Oxford scholar Nigel Cliff recounts in his current book "Holy War": "Between 1405 and 1433 the Ming emperors staged a spectacular piece of seaborne theater. Seven floating embassies had arrived in the Indian Ocean under the command of Admiral Zheng He...The First fleet alone comprised 317 ships manned by 27, 870 sailors, soldiers, merchants, physicians, astrologers and artisans. At its head were 62 nine-masted treasure ships, and yet in a display of munificence that would have utterly baffled Europeans, the ships were designed not to receive treasure but to dispense it. As they sailed into the harbors ...they disgorged huge quantities of silks, porcelain, gold and silver wares and other marvels of Chinese manufacturing. Such terrifying munificence invariably had the intended effect: In the space of a few years, the envoys of 37 nations rushed to pay homage to the emperor at Beijing."

It may not be popular at the moment for our elected and aspiring officials to warn a threadbare public that we will have to spend more, not less on our defense if we are to guard our freedoms and future prosperity.

But giving the public hard advice in hard times is what distinguishes temporarily unpopular statesmen from historically reviled political hacks.

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