The Contortions of a Dove in Hawk’s Clothing
Taiwan makes me contort myself in odd ways.
I don’t mean living here, I’m pretty used to that. I mean in figuring out how to reconcile my international political beliefs.
Because I’m not an expert in International Relations (having majored in it as an undergrad 16 years ago doesn’t count) I’m not going to try to analyze anything. I’m just going to say that so many people seem to think all of these Korea-focused summits between Moon, Kim, Trump and Xi in various permutations are fantastic, and I too would love to be on that side, believing that discussion, negotiation and diplomacy carrying the day toward peace and nuclear non-proliferation. I’m a liberal, right? We’re foreign policy doves, are we not?
This is better than troops stationed for decades in foreign countries, nuclear tests, threat of war and ever-increasing military spending, is it not?
I’m not so sure of either.
The dove in me would love to see fewer American troops stationed abroad. The realist in me knows that Kim wants this, Trump is already talking about it, Xi definitely wants it, but it would be terrible for Taiwan. Mostly, I’m afraid that this is Xi’s game: fewer US troops in the region that could potentially be deployed quickly is a clear strategic advantage for China and its designs on Taiwan. To continue the strongest possible deterrent to Chinese attack on Taiwan, I have to be in favor of continuing to station (and pay for) US troops in South Korea. I have to set myself against de-escalation and for the (heavily militarized) status quo.
I don’t like that one bit. It goes against everything I believe in otherwise. But I also believe in Taiwan and have no doubt that deterring Chinese designs on Taiwan is not only the right thing to do, it’s essential.
It is clear to me that the person who benefits from Trump looking like he’s doing some good is Xi. He knows Trump is a paper tiger in most respects who can’t be controlled but can be played, whose saber-rattling only makes China look like a victim when it isn’t one (he is probably more worried about Trump’s pro-Taiwan advisors, but also knows Trump people can and do get fired with alarming regularity).
Who benefits from a US troop withdrawal in South Korea, in terms of regional influence?
Who benefits from a denuclearized North Korea (if that actually happens, which I doubt), and from it seeming as though the region is peaceful and therefore there is no reason to maintain US presence at current levels?
Who benefits if the rest of the world decides Taiwan is not geostrategically important enough because Asia is quiet?
Who keeps meeting with Kim with timings so fortuitous that they’re practically announcing who is directing the “North Korea is suddenly playing nice” train?
Who is Taiwan’s greatest enemy? Xi. Not the CCP (though they’re pretty bad), not China. Xi. He’s not the next Mao Zedong. He’s the next Chiang Kai-shek: ruthless, amoral, immoral, power-hungry, and weirdly obsessed with Taiwan.
It terrifies me that the small country that always breaks promises is being directed — and I do believe they are — by a big country that always breaks promises, which has designs on the country I live in and love. It terrifies me that so many people think peace always benefits everyone and that all players are honest and well-intentioned, when they are not.
It scares me that the peace these people broker now could well lead to a war for Taiwan’s continued freedom later.
But winning the hearts and minds of my fellow Western doves means convincing them that US military presence in Asia has more pros than cons and what looks on the surface like ‘peace’ actually isn’t. This seems unlikely to be a persuasive message.
Granted, I don’t think a troop drawdown in Korea is the only thing standing between Taiwan and China. We have troops elsewhere too and influence can mean as much as military might. It’s more that every drop of US defensive capability that disappears from Asia is one drop less that China might have to contend with if it invades Taiwan (and it knows that). Every bit less of US influence in Asia is a bit more influence that China wins. Besides, troop drawdowns in S. Korea also affect Japan — this won’t be good for Japan either if what I think is going on actually is.
I know this sounds a lot like wanting to keep letting the US run the show around the world rather than letting Asia (and Asians) manage their own affairs — and that too makes me uncomfortable. It’s an ideological yoga position, and not one of the easy ones. I don’t particularly like US global hegemony and the way it serves US interests, not the interests of the world as a whole.
But peace isn’t always what it appears to be — you can bet Xi wants increasing power (and territory) in Asia to look “peaceful” so the West will stay away. The problems with “peace for our time” haven’t changed, though. It wasn’t the best option then, and it may not be now. Destruction can be rebuilt from — avoiding it is not always the top priority. CCP oppression is forever, and Taiwan is in the crosshairs.
And so I’m stuck being a hawk even though I really, really don’t want to be.
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