House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may or may not be traveling to Taiwan soon. Initially planned for April, the trip had to be postponed due to the Speaker coming down with COVID.
Word of the possible future trip has put the Pentagon and Biden administration between a rock and a hard place and has made Congresswoman Pelosi an unusual ally of neoconservatives in the Republican Party. If Pelosi does decide to visit, she will be the highest-ranking politician to visit Taiwan since 1997, when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich visited the island.
So why on Earth would the octogenarian lawmaker (who rumor has it might be retiring soon) opt to make such a controversial trip across the sea in the midst of a recession, record inflation, and seemingly bottomless support for Ukraine?
Is it to show support for our Taiwanese friends, or is it a political stunt?
Opinions vary on Capitol Hill on whether Pelosi should go through with this proposed trip. However, from the other side of the aisle, Senator Rick Scott is praising the Speaker for her travel plans, stating:
“I think it’s important that we go over there and tell Taiwan that they are an important democratic ally. We ought to be clear there is no ambiguity that we will support them if they get invaded by communist China.”
Interestingly, the President hasn’t been as supportive of this trip as some Republicans. When asked about the trip, he chose to remain a bit passive in his disapproval, putting it on the Pentagon, stating:
“The military thinks it’s not a good idea.”
I wonder why the military would feel apprehension about a trip to Taiwan? When pressed about what the President said, Pelosi brushed it off relatively lightly, stating that perhaps; “…the military is afraid our plane would get shot down, or something like that, by the Chinese.”
While most don’t believe China would shoot down an American aircraft, a credible threat of escalation still exists; it’s just more nuanced than how the Speaker portrays it.
Earlier this month, General Li Zuocheng, the Chinese equivalent of our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told General Mark Milley on the phone:
“…cease U.S.-Taiwan military collusion and avoid impacting China-U.S. ties and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
After the announcement of a possible trip by the Speaker, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said there would be “firm and resolute measures” and “the U.S. will be responsible for all of the serious consequences.”
So if the probability that China will shoot down Pelosi’s plane is slim, what is the military so worried about? There is speculation that China might make an unprecedented move where they scramble their jets to escort Pelosi’s aircraft. They could also opt to shut down the airspace around Taiwan or ramp up their aggression with increased military maneuvers.
General Milley, proving that even a broken clock is right twice a day, recently said about the Chinese military:
“The message is the Chinese military, in the air and at sea, have become significantly more and noticeably more aggressive in this particular region.”
Tensions have been high between the U.S. and China for a while and have only escalated. Director of Foreign and Defense Policy at the American Enterprise Insitute Kori Schake explains:
“The President three separate times has mistakenly said the U.S. has an obligation to defend Taiwan, stripping away the context of the One China Policy. This potentially leaves the Taiwanese in a terrible place of us having a declaratory policy that the President then won’t back up with military force.”
Now with this leaked proposed trip to Taiwan for the third-in-line to the Presidency, the Biden administration has to choose the least painful of two options. Michael Green from the Center for Strategic and International Studies illustrates:
“If they pressure Pelosi to back down, they will invite greater Chinese threats and pressure in the future and increase the odds of a crisis again down the road. However, if they support her going, they risk escalating tensions in the Taiwan Strait.”
No doubt the phone call scheduled this morning between President Biden and President Xi will be interesting, to say the least, as they discuss “issues of tension.”
Theodore Roosevelt coined the Big Stick foreign policy concept; speak softly and carry a big stick. Essentially the idea is that you want to have a military capable of swift and clinically lethal action so that you can deter aggression and participate in diplomacy.
While I’m all for showing strength to our adversaries, including China, I also think it’s vital that we can back up our tough talk or actions in this case.
With our military undergoing woke training to include pronoun courses, the U.S. losing simulated wargames against China, and a recent GAO report that shows the military industrial base is so broken that the Pentagon runs a serious risk it would run out of bullets and weapons in a protracted war, it’s hard to feel that we are positioned well to poke the proverbial Chinese Panda Bear.
Furthermore, the military’s recruitment issues are in such dire straights that the Army recently announced its plans to test two pilot programs in August. Both programs are 90-day pre-boot camps; one is aimed at recruits who need to lose weight to join, and the other is geared towards recruits who need help academically.
We will have to see what comes of the phone call today between the two presidents. Will Biden be able to calm the Chinese anger over Pelosi’s possible visit? Will Xi dial down the rhetoric to keep our relationship competitive and not aggressive?
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, while not bad-mouthing Pelosi’s planned trip, did say:
“…the real test is the [defense policy] bill and revising upward the request by the administration. That’s the real message to the Chinese.”
I’m personally all for speaking softly and carrying a big stick. And we need to work on the stick and tread lightly until we can swing it.
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