No shift in US policy - Taipei Times
Thu, Oct 06, 2005 - Page 8 News List

No shift in US policy

By Daniel Mojahedi

Over the past few days people have been expressing their discontent over recent comments by the US State Department and Congress regarding the US' commitment to defend Taiwan if China were ever to attack. While these letters did contain insightful thoughts on Taiwan's political arena and how the US' comments might adversely affect the stalled arms-purchase bill, there is still one more key point that needs to be discussed further: US domestic politics. While it is certain that many comments coming out of Washington were in fact directed at pressuring Taiwan's legislature, others were just statements of fact.

Obviously, just like in most democratic countries, US policy is determined, at least in part, by political will. As long as the public supports it, a government can pretty much do anything it likes. The years since Sept. 11 have proven this, with the military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq and the sweeping changes in domestic law created by the Patriot Act. Despite the fact that many people, both in the US and abroad, question the validity and costs of such measures, the public has generally supported the Bush administration, giving it the power to continue with its policies.

While it is true that many US companies will benefit greatly from the sale of arms to Taiwan, that is not what concerns the public most. What concerns Americans most is the safety and well-being of their nation's people. If the US ever had to defend Taiwan in a military conflict, the government would have to be able to explain its decision to the American public.

To see proof of this, all you have to do is look at any US newspaper. Despite the fact the Iraq conflict started a year and a half ago, the deaths of US servicemen killed there still often makes front page news.

So if once again the US were called on to send its sons and daughters into combat, the government would have to be able to explain why. The answer would be that Taiwan is an imperfect though thriving democracy being attacked by a country known for stifling freedom and regularly violating the most basic of human rights.

However, those in Washington speaking out for Taiwan would be hard pressed to explain why Taiwan was not better prepared militarily, especially when China has openly expressed its hostile intent for well over 50 years.

There is a fair chance that, as Taiwan became front-page news, Americans would see that Taiwan was given the chance to defend itself, yet passed it up for several years. Even more compelling would be the fact that the legislative coalition opposing the arms procurement was still chosen by over half of Taiwan's voting public in elections held right in the middle of the impasse. Although the president could quickly commit troops to defend Taiwan, he would risk his political future if he could not convince the American people that such intervention was wanted by the majority of the people in Taiwan. In other words, the US would simply not have the political will to risk the lives of its people for a nation that has refused to defend itself.

The comments made by the US government have come from both a bipartisan Congress and from administration officials, who tend to not develop their policy in concert. Therefore it should not be assumed that US congress members and administration officials were presenting a collective shift in US policy toward Taiwan. They were simply stating a fact that the people of Taiwan should be aware of, while covering their own political careers in case a conflict ever did break out.

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