Tue, Apr 01, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Soong and Lien have little to say on Iraq war

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

When Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Richard Shih (石瑞琦) echoed US President George W. Bush's ultimatum for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to step down, the opposition took advantage of his gaffe by accusing the government of dragging Taiwan into the war.

After the Iraq war broke out, the pan-green and pan-blue camps have turned into pro-US and pro-China factions respectively. The Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration reiterated its stance of supporting the US-led anti-terrorism campaign. The DPP also endorsed the government's position to back the US on the war against Iraq. Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers described Chen as a "puppet emperor" under the control of the US government.

Both the ruling and the opposition, as well as some anti-war advocates who marched outside the American Institute in Taiwan and the British Representative Office, failed to grasp the essence of the war.

The anti-war or anti-US camp argue that Washington's unilaterally bypassing the UN resolution was not justifiable. But the fact is, the five permanent members from the UN Security Council all voted for the resolution to demand that Saddam should account for and relinquish all his biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs, or face "serious consequences."

Therefore, the difference between Britain and the US on one side, and France, Russia and China on the other side, was not about that demand or the ultimate objective but about how much time Iraq should have been given to comply with it.

A clear majority of the UN Security Council would have accepted the war if Iraq was proved to have violated the resolution and if the military attack had been authorized by the UN. The issue, hence, lay in whether the timing of the US-led war was legitimate and whether war was the last resort. It had nothing to do with a dichotomy of pro-war and anti-war camps.

Too bad that most people in Taiwan did not understand the rationale behind it. Things got even worse when politicians tried to turn the war into a domestic election issue.

The Chen administration's nearly unconditional backing for the US-led war is natural and understandable. As a small country, Taiwan can play no significant role in terms of helping Washington in the military confrontation with Iraq. However, as a potential member of its alliance and with its strategic position for anti-terrorism cooperation and post-war reconstruction projects, Taipei has no choice but to side with Washington.

After all, the consolidation of US-Taiwan relations is at the top of Chen's foreign policy agenda. The US government's appreciation for what Taiwan government has done demonstrates a strengthening in the relationship.

The mistakes the administration has made, therefore, were more to do with the way it expressed this support.

The opposition, on the other hand, has been nothing but a loose canon. Since the government's crisis management was relatively good, the pan-blue camp made the best use of the government's poor skills in public relations by portraying Chen as "kissing American ass." The opposition lawmakers' insults against the nation's leader and government will damage their own reputations.

Moreover, both KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), who will team up for the next presidential election, so far have not made any comment on the issue. If the pan-blue camp's strategy is for both of them to hide behind enemy lines and let legislators play the bad cop, how can they convince voters that they are capable of handling an international crisis like this?

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