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Sunday
Nov092008

What Bush- Cheney got right with China  

Barack Obama's victory presents to America a wonderful opportunity to redefine our engagement with the world's rising great powers.

Along those lines, it's worthwhile to remember what Bush-Cheney got right with China.

A key attribute of America's sole military superpower status is that, by maintaining our conventional Leviathan, we've so raised the "barrier to entry" into the market of great power war that even having nuclear weapons doesn't really qualify a state anymore. Americans need to remember what a huge gift to humanity that force represents.

We were told by international affairs realists at Cold War's end that America would not be allowed to continue owning the world's largest gun, that other great powers would necessarily balance us symmetrically by creating one of their own.

This has not happened and isn't close to happening anywhere, not even with "rising China," whose military build-up specifically targets our ability to target their ability to target Taiwan's ability to defend itself.

The continued de facto worldwide moratorium on preparation for straight-up, great power-on-great power war is a monumentally positive influence on human history.

This is why it's so crucial that we shut down the remaining scenarios for potentially direct confrontations, for so long as great powers allow their militaries to be shaped by such scenarios, precious resources will be wasted that could be put to better use elsewhere in a complementary fashion.

The Bush administration overlapped extensively with the almost eight-year reign of Taipei's provocatively nationalistic Democratic Progressive Party government of President Chen Shui-bian.

Mincing no words, the Bush-Cheney team handled the entire situation with great wisdom and restraint.

The same can be said about handling China's "rise" in general, including refusing to go off the deep end in response to various missteps and gaffes by Beijing - e.g., the satellite shoot-down test, the occasional spy scandal, refusing U.S. Navy ships safe harbor in a storm, the Tibet/Olympic torch protests.

Instead, what we got from a Bush administration, whose neocons came into power clearly itching for confrontation with China (remember the E-P3 plane incident in 2001), was a steady hand at the wheel.

Now, with the Kuomingtang's return to power on the island, we're looking at the near-term demise of the Taiwan war scenario between the U.S. and China.

Based on the agreements in the works and those envisioned, Taiwan will enter into a Hong Kong-like relationship with the mainland on economic terms while deftly tabling the issue of political sovereignty.

The lack of a serious U.S.-China confrontation in the years since 9/11 is the most important dog that did not bark across the Bush-Cheney administration.

In the grand sweep of history, this is arguably George W. Bush's greatest legacy: the encouragement of China to become a legitimate stakeholder in global security.

This sort of effort at grooming a great power for a greater role in international affairs is a careful balancing act, and the Bush team sounded most of the right notes, from reassuring nervous allies in Asia, to avoiding the temptation of trade retaliation while simultaneously pressuring Beijing for more economic liberalization, to drawing China into the dynamics of great power negotiation over compelling regional issues like the nuclear programs in both North Korea and Iran.

We can always complain that Bush-Cheney didn't do more to solidify this most important bilateral relationship of the 21st century, but we cannot fault them for any lasting mistakes, and that alone is quite impressive.

Indeed, history will likely judge this success as greater than the Bush administration's failures in Iraq.

There, I said it.

Democrats, who now control both Congress and the White House, would do well to retain the Bush administration's long-term perspective on China, especially during this moment of profound global economic uncertainty, when we need Beijing's help almost as much as it needs Washington's calm leadership.

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