It’s increasingly clear that the Obama administration has no coherent policy on Iran (sanctions aren’t working, so what next?), the Arab Spring or China. Our muddled approach toward China is nowhere more evident than in the administration’s stance on the sale of F-16s to Taiwan.
This summer Reuben Johnson wrote at the Weekly Standard:
As Henry Kissinger used to say, at times it is more dangerous to be America’s friend than its enemy. Further confirmation of this sage observation came on June 24 when the Obama State Department blocked another request by Taiwan to purchase 66 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D fighter aircraft. These are badly needed by the Republic of China’s air force to supplement an aging fleet of U.S., French and indigenously-built combat aircraft. . . .
As it stands, Washington seems more or less determined to condemn the country to permanent technological inferiority vis-à-vis the mainland, eventually leaving it open to a fait accompli takeover by its Communist neighbor.
Nothing much has changed since then, except there is now a backlash against the administration for failing to back our ally.
The Obama administration unveiled a $5.85 billion arms package to upgrade Taiwan’s F-16 fighter jets and faced an immediate backlash from Republicans who accused him of selling a U.S. friend short and caving in to Chinese pressure.
Taiwan, outgunned by rival mainland China, also wanted the U.S. to sell it new F-16s to replace its other aging warplanes. Senior U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Kurt Campbell, said Wednesday that request is still under consideration but gave no indication of when a decision would be reached.
The U.S. is obligated under legislation passed by Congress in 1979 to provide Taiwan weapons for its self-defense. But it also appears to be weighing the reaction of emerging superpower China, with which it has sought to deepen ties. Beijing has responded to previous arms sales to Taiwan by temporarily cutting military ties with Washington.
In other words, China might get mad at us. Jamie Fly of Foreign Policy Initiatives tells me, “As American allies in Asia are looking to Washington for leadership, this announcement is not reassuring. The Obama administration appears to be trying to avoid antagonizing China at the cost of our true allies in the region, which will not be viewed kindly by others in the region increasingly concerned about China’s aggressive actions.”
Republicans have reacted angrily to President Obama’s timidity. The AP reports: “Republican Sen. John Cornyn from Texas, where the new F-16 planes would be built, declared it a ‘capitulation’ to China that should be met with concern by U.S. allies everywhere. . . . Seven senators led by Cornyn — two of them Democrats — have introduced legislation seeking to mandate the sales of the 66 F-16 C/D planes. A similar bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives but it still faces many hurdles before making it into law.”
The Romney campaign issued this blistering statement: “President Obama’s refusal to sell Taiwan new military jets is yet another example of his weak leadership in foreign policy. President Obama has ignored Taiwan’s request and caved into the unreasonable demands of China at the cost of well-paying American jobs. This decision raises serious questions about his commitment to our closest partners and to the policies that have sustained American leadership abroad.”
A Rick Perry campaign spokesman e-mailed me this response: “Governor Perry believes our allies must know where we stand and that Asian democracies contribute to the balance of power in the region. Taiwan is an important economic partner, and the country’s security is in our national interests. The United States should continue to provide modern aircraft and weapons technology to Taiwan, including F-16s.”
It should hardly be surprising that the president takes a contrary view. He mouths platitudes about standing with our allies, but his actions suggest he is wary of crossing the Chinese despots.
Much of his foreign policy is premised on the notion that we can mollify aggressive regimes by being innocuous or compliant. That hasn’t worked anywhere it has been tried. It’s no surprise belligerent regimes take such behavior as a sign of weakness. And our allies come to see us as unprincipled and unreliable. As Gary Schmitt of AEI put it, “With this decision, the administration has given Beijing an implicit veto over U.S.-Taiwan policy. No wonder allies in the region are worried.” And elsewhere.