Time and again, a handful of individuals in US academia have accused the Bush administration of either abandoning Taiwan or not doing enough to protect it. Again last week, the same pundits issued a report, Strengthening Freedom in Asia: A Twenty-First Century Agenda for the US-Taiwan Partnership, that at first glance seemed to indicate that Taiwan has friends in high places.
But are they really friends? Is the "freedom" they refer to the universal human right, or is it instead the word cynically used by the Bush administration to justify wars in the Middle East and elsewhere? To put it differently, do these experts really care about a democratic Taiwan, or is their penultimate goal rather the containment of China to ensure that, as envisioned by Paul Wolfowitz in 1992, no power ever manages to rival US hegemony?
For the most part, these "defenders" of Taiwan are hawks at think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Heritage Foundation, the Project for a New American Century and Armitage International. One thing these organizations have in common is their intimate ties to the US defense establishment. In their view, international security is best served through further militarization -- greater investment in weapons, more reliance on force to solve problems and preemptive military action. All, furthermore, tend to ridicule the UN and have served as proponents of a "Pax Americana."
Case in point was former US Air Force officer and current president of the Project 2049 Institute Mark Stokes' contention, during an AEI forum last week, that Taiwan must tap into its technological base and turn fully private firms into global security companies based on the "US defense supply chain" model. In other words, what was best for Taiwan was a military-industrial complex of the kind that has led to the very military adventurism that, in the opinion of many, has made the world more dangerous for all and would likely result in an arms race with China, out of which no good can come.
We must remember that it was AEI (where Wolfowitz now works after being forced to leave the World Bank) and its likes that orchestrated the invasion of Iraq and the disastrous occupation that followed. It was their reliance on biased intelligence that supported their preconceptions, their support for the long-discredited Ahmed Chalabi and their indifference to the suffering of Iraqis that allowed the occupation to sink into a deadly insurgency. It is also they who are calling for Iran to be next.
These hawks do not really care about democracy; what matters to them, rather, is preserving US hegemony. If that means supporting Taiwan as a hedge -- or an "unsinkable aircraft carrier" -- against China, so be it. But it is hard to imagine these same experts clamoring for Taiwan's democracy absent a China that, at some point in the future, could threaten US primacy.
AEI and its kind are nothing more than poster boys for the US arms industry and the hardliners who seek to contain China. To them, Taiwan provides a convenient cover. Nothing more.
We cannot, however, blame the hawks for getting so much air time. The liberal think tanks in the US, such as the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, have largely failed to engage the public or to publicize their views to the extent AEI and others have.
Until left-leaning think tanks add their voices to the chorus and come to Taiwan's assistance for principles that are truly based on a belief in the value of democracy, hawks in China and experts the world over will have good reason to doubt that US voices pretending to care for Taiwan are not doing this for cynical, if not more obscure, reasons.
J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.
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