Taiwan’s America

Don’t be misled by the Islamo-obsessiveness that’s currently sweeping the U.S. The America that Taiwan’s next leader will encounter will be sober, responsible and fully committed to maintaining the U.S. stake in the western Pacific
Photo: Flickr/Photo Phiend
Photo: Flickr/Photo Phiend
Peter Enav

At the risk of stating the obvious, no country is more important to Taiwan than the U.S. Not only does Washington have Taiwan’s back diplomatically — at least within the context of its one-China policy — but it is also its only reliable military partner, supplying it with a reasonably sophisticated array of defensive weaponry, and holding open the possibility that it will come to Taiwan’s aid in the event that China attacks it with impunity. Nothing illustrates this better that last week’s notification to Congress by the Obama administration that it will sell Taiwan US$1.83 billion worth of new armaments. According to the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the armaments will consist of two excess frigates; 201 Javelin shoulder-fired anti-armor missiles; 769 TOW 2B anti-armor missiles; 36 AAV-7 Amphibious Assault Vehicles; minesweepers; 13 Phalanx ship defense systems; and 250 shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. Also included in the package is a no-cost lease for Taiwan to hook into the Bilateral Network System, which will link its military to the U.S. Pacific Command.

Given the U.S.’ importance in bolstering Taiwan’s security, it is probably legitimate to wonder what is going on now in the U.S., which more than at any other time since the McCarthy period in the early 1950s, seems to be going off the rails, this time amid an unprecedented wave of terrorist-generated Islamo-phobia. Following the Islamic State attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and the deaths of another 14 in southern California just a few weeks later, almost all of the Republican Party presidential candidates have been working overtime to convince the American public that it is facing imminent death and destruction at the hands of omnipotent Islamic terrorists. Leading the denizens of fear has been front-runner Donald Trump, the New York-based real estate developer who never met an outrageous sound bite he didn’t like. Hot on the heels of having obscenely characterized Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” he turned his fire on foreign Muslims, declaring that at least until the American government got a handle on who they were and what they really wanted, they should all be barred from entering the U.S.

Seeing how effective his strategy was, Trump’s Republican rivals soon came up with far-reaching anti-Muslim programs of their own, all of which were based on the demonstrably ridiculous presumption that the U.S. — the richest country in the world, and one possessed of the most formidable military arsenal ever known to man — was involved in a life and death struggle with an Islamic fundamentalist movement whose only real claim to fame was its hideous ability to apply kitchen knives to the throats of its captives, and disseminate the resulting images on the internet. Rather than seeing the Islamic State for what it really is — a bunch of primitive thugs massaging social media from their isolated base in the Mesopotamian desert — the Republican candidates made it out instead as if it were the second coming of the Nazi SS. “We’re at war folks,” opined South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, a usually measured Republican also ran during last week’s Republican debate. “They’re not trying to steal your car; they’re trying to kill us all.” Not wanting to be outdone, fellow also-ran Chris Christie shot back with some blood-curdling Islamo-phobic rhetoric of his own: “We have people across this country who are scared to death. Because, I could tell you this, as a former federal prosecutor, if a center for the developmentally disabled in San Bernardino, California, is now a target for terrorists, that means everywhere in America is a target for these terrorists.”

Graham and Christie aside, the real anti-Muslim action rests primarily with the Republican front-runners, not only Trump himself, but also Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who advocates “carpet-bombing” Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Iraq, albeit without simultaneously causing civilian casualties, which given the fact that Islamic State terrorists cling to civilian areas, might be a formidable feat. But even if Cruz’s rhetoric lacks any logic, it still sounds good to his audience of Republican loyalists, who have been so traumatized by the fearmongering of the Republican commetariat, that they ultimately don’t know whether they’re coming or going. And it’s not just the Republican commetariat either. The CNN moderators of this week’s Republican presidential debate went through their entire program without once raising the issue of the recent international agreement on climate change, which without putting too fine a point on it, will likely be remembered as a seminal event in international politics long after the Islamic State is reduced to the ignominy it so roundly deserves.

None of this of course is to suggest that radical Islamic terrorism offers no threat whatsoever to the American people. On the contrary, the threat is real. The point is, however, that it is also very limited. Rightly or wrongly, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks led to the development of an intelligence infrastructure so comprehensive in its scope that it can neutralize all but the most anonymous (or well hidden) terrorist plots. The loss of 14 lives in San Bernardino, California, was obviously a tragedy, but it was not (as Senator Graham had it) a compelling indication that the U.S. is at war. Among others, President Obama understands the nature of this truth, which is why he once described the Islamic State as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee” squad, rather than some bunch of super-human flesh eaters. He also recognizes the considerable virtue of putting the terrorism problem in its proper perspective and so marginalizing the kind of racist fear the Republicans have so dishonorably come to thrive on. Unlike them, he is not a racist demagogue, but a responsible political leader. His sobriety speaks for itself.

The question now is, what comes next politically in the U.S., which elects a president in only 11 months’ time. At least on the basis of current polling, Trump and Cruz are increasingly looking like the favorites for the Republican nomination, while Hillary Clinton seems to have a lock on the Democratic nomination, despite the formidable challenge she is facing from leftwing favorite Bernie Sanders. Looking several months ahead, it is difficult to see Clinton losing out either to Sanders or to whomever the Republicans ultimately run against her, not least because of her deft command of the issues and her intrinsic mental toughness. She may be a little slippery on matters of personal propriety, but at least she inhabits a reality-based universe, which in this election cycle is a very considerable advantage, particularly in light of the many phlegmatic excesses of her Republican rivals.

Assuming she does win the election in November, Clinton will almost certainly put the kibosh on the anti-Muslim hysteria currently circulating in the U.S. Much like Obama before her, she will portray the Islamic State in its proper political perspective, which is as one of a series of extremist Islamic movements so frustrated by the failure of Islamic civilization to deal effectively with the modern era that it feels compelled to try to destroy everything in its path in the name of religious piety. This is admittedly a major problem in western Europe, where disenfranchised Muslims are an all too common phenomenon, but in the U.S. it is hardly a problem at all, not only for reasons of geography (the Atlantic Ocean is obviously a formidable barrier against Middle Eastern extremism), but also because the American Muslim community is relatively well integrated into American society at large. The Republicans are obviously doing their best to change this, but always assuming that Clinton is elected president in November, their efforts will fail and they will be compelled to crawl back in their racist holes for another four years at least.

Given Clinton’s approach, she will almost certainly concentrate her foreign policy efforts on those areas that really matter most to the U.S. These include Iran, Russia, and above all China, which at least on the basis of her strong human rights credentials and the critical statements she has made about the Chinese posture in the South China Sea, she clearly views with skepticism. To be sure, China has recently improved its image in the United States by adopting a relatively helpful stance at the global climate talks in Paris. That having been said, however, it remains on the outside looking in, even if it does maintain a powerful American lobby. It will not become a new American ally nor will it morph into the kind of global condominium partner that people like Henry Kissinger have long been pressing for. It is far too aggressive for that.

Clinton’s reality-based foreign policy will undoubtedly be a boon to the future leader of Taiwan, always providing that she avoids making unnecessary waves in the Taiwan Strait and that she heeds the calls from powerful voices in the Congress to make a greater commitment to Taiwanese military readiness, among other things, by raising defense spending to three percent of GDP from the current figure of two. That the Chinese might view this step as provocative goes without saying, but given their own defense spending munificence, few people in Washington will take their complaints very seriously. That is one of the advantages of seeing the world for what it really is, rather than twisting it into one of the politically expedient constructions that the Republican presidential candidates currently favor. It is one more reason to hope that when sanity ultimately prevails in the U.S., Taiwan will be among the first countries to gain from it.


Peter Enav was head of The Associated Press bureau in Taiwan from April 2005 to April 2014.

13 Responses to “Taiwan’s America”

January 04, 2016 at 12:02 pm, Ralph Oomen said:

“Yet the point I was trying to make was simply that a cost-benefit analysis must include possible benefits as well as possible costs, rather than just the costs. I then gave an example of a possible benefit (increased arable land) and why it could be a benefit (greater crop yields and lower prices).”

I greatly appreciate your optimism! However, I believe it quite clear that even if there are benefits to global warming, the destabilization resulting from the change and shifts in resources such as arable land will cause a lot of pain and trouble.

“There is a rather large and comical discrepancy between the doubt and uncertainty among the honest scientists and the hell and brimstone certitude of the climateer activists and their media myrmidons.”

Understandable, for a mechanism so under-apprehended and yet potentially hugely consequential. Many will not want to await the scientific conclusion to be ‘climate change is real’ in 10, 20, 30 years of burning coal, and instead start limiting possible damage. Really, based on this statement, you can doubt anything- science is inherently uncertain and full of doubt, but for it to be made practical those doubts will have to be tuned down or ignored.

And to go back to your first reply:
“A rather obvious question presents itself: what were the green activists and politicians saying in 2012, after more than a decade* of the data indicating no significant warming despite continued increases in GHG emissions? How many of them were saying, “gee, you know what, looking at the data maybe we’ve got this wrong?” I can’t seem to recall even a single one. Perhaps there were one or two and I missed them, but otherwise the obvious explanation is that for politicians, activists and media hacks (though not necessarily the scientists) CAGW has become a religious cause, impervious to reasoning and evidence.”

The IPCC issued a report in 2013 summarizing all critique and even questioning climate change. This caused stirs, at least in scientific circles. But even the report you read states that “The [then] current pause in global surface temperature rise is not exceptional…” (p 3), “As discussed in the first paper in this series, there is substantial evidence from other components of the climate system, beyond the global mean surface temperature, that the Earth has continued to warm over the last decade. ” (p. 6) and “[This study] demonstrates that very little can be concluded from 10-year trends with respect to global warming since the distributions of trends overlap substantially. It is only with averaging periods of 30 years or longer that climate change can be detected robustly.” (p. 6).

The fact is that there will always be many idiots that take a good foundation, turn it into dumb arguments and keep shouting them even after it’s painfully clear they’re wrong. They will probably outshout others, too. That doesn’t make the fundamentals wrong though.


January 05, 2016 at 12:34 am, Mike Fagan said:

“I believe it quite clear that even if there are benefits to global warming, the destabilization resulting from the change…will cause a lot of pain and trouble.”

Well certainly there will be costs, but whether they will be so bad as to be “destabilizing” is something I have yet to be convinced about. We are probably talking about people moving away from coastal regions and in some cases raising the height of levees and other such flood management changes. But gradually over the course of this century, and (hopefully) as we are generally getting richer (or alternatively, less and less poor).

“Understandable, for a mechanism so under-apprehended and yet potentially hugely consequential.”

But sorry, no; it is not “understandable” on those terms for the same reason I pointed out earlier – that this involves a one-sided focus on the costs of global warming and a neglect of the benefits. Moreover, it involves a one-sided view of the costs of not acting to reduce GHG emissions. Yet the costs of implementing these measures (which generally arise as higher electricity prices and their knock on effects on other consumer prices) are also neglected and they are far from negligible, especially if you are poor and live in a cold climate. Or poor and live in a very hot climate.

“Many will not want to await the scientific conclusion to be ‘climate change is real’ in 10, 20, 30 years of burning coal…”

Sorry but that is a straw man. I am not arguing that climate change is “not real”. I am saying that it is insufficiently understood to allow accurate prediction, and I think that opinion is supported by the empirical evidence, as global average temperatures have consistently refuted most predictions over the last decade or more. If a phenomenon is insufficiently understood to allow consistently accurate predictions then it is, in my view, entirely reasonable to suppose that suggestions for manipulating that phenomenon directly are premature.

“…science is inherently uncertain and full of doubt, but for it to be made practical those doubts will have to be tuned down or ignored.”

There are degrees of doubt, as illustrated by the difficulty of achieving consistently accurate predictions of temperature trends. It is not fair to compare climate science to say, the chemistry of polymers because there is a vast difference in scale. That difference allows scientific experiments at the smaller scale, but not at the larger scale, resulting in a disparity in the confidence we can put in our understanding. Basically we have to be much more patient and cautious with our growing understanding of climate. It is far more difficult than other areas of science and it is not very illuminating to just lump all the different sciences in together with one another.

“This study] demonstrates that very little can be concluded from 10-year trends with respect to global warming since the distributions of trends overlap substantially. It is only with averaging periods of 30 years or longer that climate change can be detected robustly.”

I agree with this entirely! We won’t be able to begin to understand well enough until we have good multi-decadal data. The infuriating thing is that sceptics were making this argument when I was in my teens and early twenties (ten to fifteen years ago) and were roundly shouted down as “deniers” and other such vindictive nonsense.

“That doesn’t make the fundamentals wrong though.”

That GHGs can prevent heat from escaping the atmosphere is not in doubt and never has been, if that’s what you mean by “fundamentals”. Everyone agrees on that, it is not controversial. The controversial bit is the insistence that this effect is sufficient on its own to cause global temperatures to rise – and by how much and with what consequences.

Then there is the question of what response would be appropriate.


January 23, 2016 at 9:13 pm, Ahsoong Goh said:

“America has taiwans back ” you mean as long as there’s billions to to made and ones own son and daughter is not in the front lines when the shooting starts.


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