Sun, Aug 05, 2018 - Page 6 News List

The vagaries of US ‘commitment’

By Strobe Driver

The unremitting cacophony of Taiwan-China relations continues from the numerous sides that command their own dialogue in the debate about claims and counter-claims. This is normal for countries that have a stake in regional power plays: It happened in the Balkans crisis of the mid-1990s, it is happening with the Syrian war against the Islamic State and continues to happen among regional actors in the Horn of Africa.

The dual articles in the Taipei Times, “Referendum on ‘Taiwan’ is facing challenges” and “Three big lies you probably believe,” (both July 30, page 6) are just the latest in the ongoing domestic and regional challenges for Taiwan.

While both articles are informative, “Three big lies,” written by Ian Easton, touches on the untouchable: What if war is coming and what if war comes?

Needless to say, there are the usual components of “American assistance” being possible and the lies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) being believed by Taiwanese.

While this is good, robust debate, there is some rhetoric within the article that is troubling. The first that needs examining is what if war comes?

Acknowledging that if a war between Taiwan and China broke out, it would be a devastating and furious happening, Easton, in his article states: “With American assistance and grit, Taiwan could hold out for as long as it took to defeat the [Chinese] invader.”

The question that is begged in the rhetoric is, and remains: What exactly does he mean by “American assistance”?

A broad overarching series of questions stem from this statement, starting with: How long would the assistance last? One week, one month, one year or five years?

What would the assistance consist of? “Boots on the ground” and a willingness for Americans to take casualties and, if so, how many? Would the words of former US president George W. Bush and the “whatever it took” analogy of 2001 remain and be applied unconditionally?

If the People’s Liberation Army began winning against Taiwan and (let’s assume) US forces, would the US commit more? How many aircraft carrier battle groups would the US be prepared to lose to protect its bastion of democracy near China?

As one can observe when drilling down into the details of Easton’s comments, there is nothing to be found with any conviction beyond the comforting term of “American assistance.” Whatever that actually means remains a mystery.

The Project 2049 group does not precisely convey what it means to Taiwanese and therefore, it is simply feel-good rhetoric.

The assistance alluded to has a troubled past and tends to dissolve when situations become too difficult. It did nothing for the Southern Marsh people of Iraq when the assistance failed to materialize after the First Gulf War; the Hmong tribes of Central Vietnam were deserted by the US as they fought against the Viet Cong; and when the North Vietnamese forces made a final push into the south, US forces flew out from the top of their embassy in Saigon — so much for defending the South Vietnamese democracy in its “hour of need.”

Could this be a warning for the future?

Back to the point, and reflecting on the above and the possibility of war. Are Taiwanese to believe that the US — if indeed it does give assistance — is going to remain for a decade to continue the fight? Let us face it, that is how long it could take.

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