Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Comment On "How The Republicans Forgot Taiwan"

Last week, on September 16th, Thinking Taiwan published an editorial entitled "How the Republicans Forgot Taiwan". I wanted to comment on it, but have been too busy with work and my own priorities and now it has been taken off the front page. Now that I have time, I will comment anyway, even though it will no longer receive much, if any attention, but I post it here too...


In a rational political universe, everyone would immediately understand how a sitting two-term Democratic president who does not face re-election could be "forced" to focus foreign policy on one area of the world and not another, and against his own wishes. Is it not more likely that the Obama administration's focus is one of their own choosing (or of their own failing?). Occam's razor would seem to suggest so, as would a number of historical facts. For instance, was it the Congressional Republicans who "forced" the Obama administration into the attack on Libya in 2011? The fact that that intervention was conducted without congressional assent indicates that it was an act of the Obama administration's own choosing.

That is the main point of contention with this article: it lets the Obama administration off the hook for their own foreign policy failures in the Asia-Pacific region. They failed because... the Republicans wouldn't let them. Now that that is out of the way, there are some specifics that cannot be allowed to stand...

"President Obama’s victory in getting the Iran nuclear deal past a reluctant Congress should have marked the beginning of the end of the 9-11 era in U.S. foreign policy."

That has arguably transpired already, given that U.S. troops have largely been withdrawn from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"That era has been characterized by an extreme obsession with the Middle East... as well as ongoing American efforts to nick Islamic extremism in the bud (by attacking al-Qaeda personnel at every turn, for example)..."

Except at Benghazi, where the U.S. State department did nothing to prevent their own diplomatic people from being slaughtered by Al Qaeda.

"The Republican establishment’s approach includes obsessive criticism of Hillary Clinton’s admittedly problematical handling of a fatal assault on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya..."

That criticism is not nearly obsessive enough. Why was that permitted to occur? What was it Der Rodham was up to in Libya (and was Obama even in on it?). There have been rumours and conspiracy theories, but little in the way of real investigative journalism. Instead we are treated to sneers about how one political party is "obsessive". But that is an obsession necessitated by the concept of justice, and the lingering suspicion that a political crime of the highest order was committed here. To let it go without reaching a final, definitive conclusion would be a disgrace and an insult to the slain staff who purported to serve U.S. interests by working in that embassy.

"While President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was clearly interested in forming closer ties with Beijing, the fact remains that the degree of his China tilt... might well have been controllable had the U.S. not been so preoccupied with Middle Eastern events."

As a counterfactual conjecture, there is a reasonable case for that. But what establishes that as a "fact"? Nothing.

Of course, "the fact remains" is a stock phrase used by journalists all the time, but that doesn't mean it should be used when describing what are, after all, opinions. That distinction between opinion and fact must be maintained whatever the minor costs of re-wording something are. Perhaps the last thing we need is further conflation and confusion of fact and opinion.


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