Sunday, June 03, 2007

More Fruitcake Necon Policy?

Congressional Quarterly reports Neocons in the Administration pushed Taiwan to declare independence....

The same top Bush administration neoconservatives who leap-frogged Washington’s foreign policy establishment to topple Saddam Hussein nearly pulled off a similar coup in U.S.-China relations—creating the potential of a nuclear war over Taiwan, a top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell says.

Lawrence B. Wilkerson, the U.S. Army colonel who was Powell’s chief of staff through two administrations, said in little-noted remarks early last month that “neocons” in the top rungs of the administration quietly encouraged Taiwanese politicians to move toward a declaration of independence from mainland China — an act that the communist regime has repeatedly warned would provoke a military strike.

The top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan at the time, Douglas Paal, backs up Wilkerson’s account, which is being hotly disputed by key former defense officials.

Read the whole article -- it is long, chimes with what little I know, and makes sense on many levels. US China policy is a mess -- the State Department is busily serving Beijing, while the Neocons are lost on some anti-Communist crusade and view Taiwan largely in those terms -- whether or not you believe the article. And people wonder why Chen Shui-bian so often ignores US wishes. How can he tell what they are?

While Bush publicly continued the one-China policy of his five White House predecessors, Wilkerson said, the Pentagon “neocons” took a different tack, quietly encouraging Taiwan’s pro-independence president, Chen Shui-bian.

“The Defense Department, with Feith, Cambone, Wolfowitz [and] Rumsfeld, was dispatching a person to Taiwan every week, essentially to tell the Taiwanese that the alliance was back on,” Wilkerson said, referring to pre-1970s military and diplomatic relations, “essentially to tell Chen Shui-bian, whose entire power in Taiwan rested on the independence movement, that independence was a good thing.”

Wilkerson said Powell would then dispatch his own envoy “right behind that guy, every time they sent somebody, to disabuse the entire Taiwanese national security apparatus of what they’d been told by the Defense Department.”

“This went on,” he said of the pro-independence efforts, “until George Bush weighed in and told Rumsfeld to cease and desist [and] told him multiple times to re-establish military-to-military relations with China.”

It's a pro-forma China claim that Taiwan independence is just an artificial tool of the US and Japan to split China. If Wilkerson's claims are even close to true -- great move, Neocons -- ya played right into their propaganda line. Does the air inside the Beltway have no oxygen, or what?

I'm too pissed at the stupidity and incompetence in Washington to write any more at the moment.

UPDATE: The CQ article is overblown, to say the least. See the third comment below, from someone I know to have serious Taiwan experience and expertise.


David said...

Hey Michael,

Great post. It doesn't come as a surprise to me. This administration seems dead-set on bringing back the cold war mentality throughout the world...why is everything "us vs. them"? Such paranoia. I guess we should have expected it considering how many former Nixon officials are working for Dubya.

The Russians are rattling their swords now...this is getting uglier by the day.

I share your frustration.

Anonymous said...

That's a really good article.

Anonymous said...


Nice blog. I'd like to add to your discussion with a few insights that may or may not be useful.

The CQ article is interesting. What would be more interesting would be the story behind the story.

At risk of sounding paranoid, one could ask: Why now, why in this publication that caters to members of Congress and their staffers, and why spin a story in this way?

The development and execution of U.S. security policy toward China and Taiwan is complex and unique. Debates, both between and within the agencies (NSC Staff, State, and DoD) have raged since 1945. U.S. policy toward China and Taiwan could be viewed as a large oil tanker in open water -- it stays on a certain course and with no sudden shifts. It takes a series of spins of the wheel to make even a modest change in course.

The main sources of the article were Larry Wilkerson, the exec for Secretary of State Powell, and Doug Paal, who was the defacto ambassador to Taiwan starting in late 2001 or early 2002. Larry managed the paper flow, attended all meetings that Secretary Powell would have attended, and made sure taskings to the State Department bureauracy underneath were carried out. Larry's a great American, but an exec is an exec -- he or she handles paperwork and doesn't get into details or nuances of policy. An exec has to stay at the 100,000 foot level, and his boss, Secretary Powell, had alot going on.

Plus, an exec protects his boss, and Secretary Powell was struggling to maintain his relevance in the face of a very assertive Secretary of Defense, who was a seasoned bureaucrat who cared less about substance and more about the game.

Secretary Rumsfeld believed he was equal to the Secretary of State in advising the President on issues regarding international security policy. The National Security Council is made up of the VP, the National Security Advisor, SecState, and SecDef. All in theory have had equal status, although past Secretaries of Defense had not weighed in on general security and foreign policy issues.

For better or worse, Rumsfeld wanted to change things, and challenge State's dominance on foreign policy. So, this was quite disturbing to the State Department, and of course Secretary Powell and his exec, Larry Wilkerson.

Added to the mix was Ambassador Richard Armitage, who, during the initial transition period, was supposed to be Secretary of Defense. As one of Powell's closest friends, Ambassador Armitage was setting up shop in the Pentagon when a last minute change bumped him out, in favor of Rumsfeld. So he settled in as Deputy Secretary of State instead.

The other source, Doug Paal, was responsible for executing interagency-approved policies and initiatives, and for overseeing AIT's reporting from several agencies (State political, economic, S&T; Commerce; Ag; and intel organizations).

Doug Paal wasn't a professional foreign service officer. He was in the position largely because of his relationship with Jim Kelly, who was brought in by Armitage, after he was bumped as SecDef, to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs.

As a career CIA analyst, Doug Paal was on a rotational assignment on the NSC staff at the request of Jim Kelly, who in the early 1990s was the NSC's Senior Asia Director. Doug wasn't assigned to AIT by the President, SecState, Armitage, or Condi Rice, who is said to have less than favorable views toward Doug when the two were both staff officers on the NSC staff in the early 1990s. None of these senior people opposed Jim Kelly in his advocacy of Doug for the assignment. Doug really wanted Korea or Singapore though -- it was kind of a slap to be given AIT instead of a "real country."

During Bush I in the early 1990s, neither Kelly nor Paal were considered to be particularly friendly toward Taiwan. If memory is correct, it was Jim Lilly, who was Assistant Secretary of Defense at the time, and others who were able to get Bush senior to make the F-16 deal happen. Doug Paal had to live with the consequences of the F-16 decision, and I'm sure there was a large degree of resentment directed against Jim Lilly and DoD, and others who were able to overcome his opposition and convince his big boss to release the F-16s in September 1992.

Fast forwarding to early months of the Bush Administration, it was Jim Kelly who advocated for Doug Paal to go to Taiwan. Yet, Doug, who is an intelligent, professional, and competent individual, came with some baggage. He didn't want Taiwan, and when this was all he got, Doug's assignment as Director, AIT was held up by the Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committe (SFRC) for several months, supposedly by the same so-called "neo-cons" who cause him grief 10 years before.

But, to make matters worse, Doug may have thought that DPP-affiliated lobbyists were behind the SFRC campaign to block his nomination. Don't think the DPP had anything to do with the anti-Paal campaign, but the perception may have predisposed him toward a negative view of the DPP from his first day at AIT.

Of course, it didn't help that CSB, between his inaugural in May 2000 until late 2001 or early 2002, was quite close with Ray Burghardt, who Doug replaced. And I think even Pam Slutz, the defacto DCM and acting Director while Doug's assignment was being held up, had better access than Doug.

Because he was held up, Doug wasn't involved in the development of policy during the critical first several months of the Bush Administration. The period between late January to late April 2001 was when the main Bush Administration Taiwan policy was set. Doug Paal had no role -- he was still fighting for an assignment to "real country," and even when selected for Taiwan, didn't sit in on interagency meetings regarding Taiwan until it was certain that all Congressional opposition had been overcome.

The key players who set the Bush Administration policy toward Taiwan were Deputy Secretary Armitage, the NSC staff's Senior Asia Director Torkel Patterson, who was with Doug working for Kelly on the NSC staff during Bush I, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz.

The consensus this group reached was pretty much an extension of shifts that took place during the latter part of the Clinton Administration. There was a agreement between NSC Staff, State Department, and DoD to strengthen the ability of the U.S. to respond to a contingency in the Taiwan Strait, which meant more operational linkages and a clear statement of US intent to "do whatever it takes to help Taiwan defend itself."

When he was at AIT, Doug received his marching orders from the head of the Taiwan Coordination Staff under the China desk, with some other input from the NSC Staff. Keep in mind that the NSC Staff and State China Desk often are at odds over who's in control, so there often are frictions between these two, as well as with DoD. Doug didn't have the access to senior officials here in Washington as many may believe -- he only had a few short meetings with Condi Rice, SecState, and the President during his tenure.

It's natural then for Doug Paal to have somewhat of a grudge against the Department of Defense due to his Bush I F-16 legacy, and also a negative attitude toward the DPP and resentful of anyone who was able to get along with CSB, Chiou Yi-ren, and others.

It's interesting that CQ article didn't mention which alleged DoD messengers Doug and State were tracking, and cleaning up after. All DoD people, civilian and military, were always under the watchful eye of his AIT staff, on all visits to Taiwan for discussions with counterparts on the island. So presumably, these secret messengers were from think tanks, businesses, or whatever. If so, they didn't represent Secretary Rumsfeld or his staff.

This is a long way of saying that Stein based his story on two sources, Larry Wilkerson and Doug Paal, who would be inclined to have a certain view of the world.

This is not to say that this CQ story is fictional. Secretary Rumsfeld and Under Secretary of Defense Doug Feith did make a move to influence the President to shift policy toward China and Taiwan. It wasn't as severe or renegade as Stein makes it seem. Rumsfeld wasn't a pro-Taiwan "neo-con" ideologue. Secretary Rumsfeld was looking for issues to challenge the State Department in his bureaucratic struggle, and it just so happens that China/Taiwan was one of several. Rumsfeld, a reincarnation of Rip Van Winkle, barely knew that the Mutual Defense Treaty with the ROC lapsed in 1979. He wasn't an ideologue, and lived for the bureaucratic fight. He didn't seem to care about Taiwan one way or the other. In fact, he tended to defer to his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, on most Taiwan issues, who was quite careful to coordinate with counterparts at State and NSC staff. There were a couple of shifts that Rumsfeld wanted to do, such as sending senior DoD officials to Taiwan, which freaked out State and NSC staff. But these were not renegade ops -- it was a suggestion made within the interagency context.

Rumsfeld really cared about China. He came back into government after his last memories in government were whether or not to engage China in a formal diplomatic relationship, dump recognition of the ROC, and start up a defense and intelligence relationship with Beijing.

His position should be distinguished from that of Paul Wolfowitz, who not only was a moderate on China/Taiwan issues, but also was the only senior DoD official who understood the nuances of the Taiwan Strait political context. His stances on China/Taiwan issues should be distinguished from those he had regarding the Middle East.

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz came from a generation that cared about democracy and Taiwan, yet understood the limits and stakes. He saw Taiwan as having value in and of itself, and not necessarily within the China context. This is where Wolfowitz differed from his boss.

China was important to Rumsfeld. Taiwan was only important insofar was it related to China. Rumsfeld needed a peer competitor for the purposes of his budget battles that he was preparing for, and missile defense was a special priority. Deliberate planning for specific contingencies, outlined in his guidance to the regional commanders, drives budgets for major defense expenditures. A China/Taiwan scenario is the biggest one, and a critical peg for quite a few major programs.

Stein in his article asserts that Rumsfeld failed to carry out the President's orders to restart military relations with the PLA. Again, Stein was misinformed. When he came in, Rumsfeld, rightly so, wanted to get the military-to-military relationship with the PLA under control. Since 1979, four star flag and general officers at the Pacific Command (PACOM) have had this inexplicable belief that they had the solution to the Taiwan Strait problem. They alone could convince their counterparts in the PLA to give up thinking about using force against Taiwan.

Secretary Rumsfeld thought they were idiots and out of control. His shaking them out of their naive delusion that they could influence the PLA's views on Taiwan became part of a broader campaign to reign in senior military officers who had run rampant during the Clinton Administration.

So Rumsfeld froze military contacts with China as one of his first actions in late January 2001. The EP-3 incident on 1 April 2001 came at a perfect time. It proved that after years of wining and dining with senior PLA officers over the last four years had been useless. After a decent interval of a couple of years, retired generals and flags, wanting their successors to climb the Great Wall and drink Maotai as they had during the years before and after the Tiananmen massacre, began to lobby the NSC staff and Secretary Powell to convince Rumsfeld to let senior military go back to wining and dining with their counterparts in the PLA.

On this, Rumsfeld held fast. The NSC staff, at least according to them, said that the President wanted to restart exchanges. Rumsfeld said he didn't take direction from the NSC staff. If the President directed him, in person, to re-start military relations with China, then he'd do it. In reality, exchanges never stopped when the Bush Administration came in -- they just slowed down, as they had during the latter part of the Clinton Administration (the PLA froze the relationship after four bombs hit the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act dampened enthusiasm for contacts). Rumsfeld wanted to scrutinize all exchanges to ensure compliance with the restrictions on exchanges with the PLA contained in the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act.

Stein's "bring back the alliance" comment was also interesting. The move to enhance operational linkages between the U.S. and Taiwan began in 1999 under the Clinton Administration, which is when PACOM began a dialogue that could ensure ad hoc coalition operations in the event of a crisis could be done in a safe, effective, and efficient manner. The Bush Administration, with full support of Secretary Powell, Deputy Secretary Armitage, the NSC staff, and others, built on the shift that took place under the Clinton Administration. Every little detail was scutinized, and it was made clear that such exchanges did not imply an assurance of US intervention.

In fact, senior officials within Taiwan's defense establishment weren't stupid. They knew that the Taiwan Relations Act called for only "maintaining the capacity" to intervene, providing weapons of a "defensive character," and consultations with Congress in the event of a crisis. Taiwan's basic assumption in its defense planning, since 1979, had been for independent defense (zili fangwei), since it had nothing in writing in the form of a treaty. They also knew that Bush's March 2001 statement to "do whatever it takes to defend itself" was diplo-speak. Bush didn't say the US would intervene no matter what -- the "defend itself" part was critical.

Going back to the original question though regarding the CQ article -- why now, why in this publication that caters to Capitol Hill, and why spin a story in this way?

Writers here, or other places for that matter, don't normally just put something out like this on a whim. If I were in the State Department or NSC staff these days, and was considering cutting back on defense ties with Taiwan without incurring the wrath of Taiwan's supporters on the Hill, feeding a reporter with a story like this sets the stage.

Point a willing reporter to Larry Wilkerson and Doug Paal, and one would get the story one needs. In a publication widely read by Congressional staffers, make the Pentagon appear as if it was out of control, running a rogue operation, without State and NSC staff coordination, to enhance operational linkages with Taiwan, and bringing China and the U.S. to the brink of nuclear war.

With this article setting the stage, after this LY session ends without passage of the three major defense items, one could foresee a scenario in which State and NSC staff could want to freeze action on new requests for weapons, and possibly scale back significantly on operational exchanges. And maybe even start negotiations on a fourth U.S.-China Communique? Again, probably reading too much into it, but who knows. Who would have expected the first three communiques?

Enough rambling, but just wanted to add some thoughts, however paranoid, to your "View from Taiwan."

Keep up the good work!

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, Anon! I've heard similar analyses from other quarters as well. It looks like this article is overblown, to say the least.