We have been waiting since last month's legislative elections to write this. Had we written it in the immediate wake of the elections we would have been able to make a prediction, but by the time it got around to saying "we told you so" it might have seemed like flogging a dead horse. So with great patience we have watched the absolute debacle that is the result of the extraordinarily irresponsible attempt by the US to meddle in Taiwan's elections come to its bleak fruition.
We are told again and again from Washington that it is essential that Taiwan -- unless it wishes its relationship with Washington to collapse utterly -- purchase the arms package the US has been dangling before it since 2001. So why, it has to be asked, did the US government take steps prior to the election to ensure that the result of the elections would be to return a legislature which would be controlled by parties sworn to oppose the arms package purchase, and parties which have in the quite recent past made their pro-China, anti-US stance abundantly clear?
Anyone who attended the large demonstration in Taipei on Sept. 25 last year, as American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) officers must have done, could not have been under any illusion that the anti-weapons-purchase demonstrators were both overwhelmingly pan-blue and filled with anti-US sentiment, nor could they have missed the comments in the legislature and editorializing in the pan-blue press to the effect that the weapons deal was simply a US protection-racket-style extortion on behalf of the Bush administrations' defense-contractor cronies.
Given the level of pan-blue hostility to the US in general and the arms budget in particular, why did Washington help the limping pan-blues win the legislature?
Because helped they certainly were. How else are we to characterize the remarks of the US State Department's Adam Ereli, four days before the election, which were highly critical and condemnatory of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) over his plan to change the names of diplomatic missions and state-owned corporations? Of course this was continuing the theme set by US President George W. Bush himself a year earlier, where Chen was blamed for changing the status quo by holding a referendum with the obvious implication that the US didn't look favorably upon him. The Ereli comment was particularly blatant -- there was no need to say this before the election, and possibly no need to say it openly at all.
Having helped the pan-blues to retain control of the legislature, the US reaped its reward: Not only did the arms budget not pass, it never even made it onto the agenda. And given that the new legislature -- as a result of US intervention -- still lacks the pan-green majority needed to pass the arms budget, don't expect this to change any time soon.
That US action should so categorically result in the US not getting what it wants is ironic. But the really bitter irony is that in Washington it is the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, which wants to buy the weapons, which is getting the blame. When the Chinese Nationalist Party was in power controlling both the presidency and the legislature, anything the US offered was automatically purchased without debate. That the DPP is not able to do that in these more democratic days, is not interpreted as a result of a more complicated political process, but simply as unwillingness. Because of this, the nature, reasons and consequences of the extraordinarily maladroit nature of US policy have never really been made clear.