(First Published in the Martinsburg Journal on June 28, 1998)
By Michael E. Caryl
When President Bill Clinton appeared at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, yesterday, he handed his totalitarian hosts a symbolic measure of exoneration for the atrocities they committed on that site less than ten years ago. In doing so, he callously marginalized the sacrifices of those whose cries for freedom and justice were crushed under the tanks there.
A few days before the President's visit to China, The Washington Post published an in depth, two-part series on the background of events leading to it. The Post account included a gripping description of how both countries had to pull back from the brink of open military conflict that nearly engulfed them in the early months of 1996. It went on to trace the process of peaceful "engagement" which followed that incident, and, ultimately led to the President's arrival in China a few days ago.
The Post articles carefully describe the diplomatic give and take that enabled the administration to get over its concern for human rights and our national security so as to embrace the communist tyrants of Beijing. However, the paper made little effort to draw any conclusions from these events about the President's motivation in following such a course.
Even the Charleston Gazette, in an extraordinary editorial, charged Clinton with being "utterly hypocritical" for earlier bashing President Bush's "coddling" of the Chinese. It, too, however, fell short of drawing any deeper conclusions about the real agenda underlying such actions. Of course, that is precisely why we have Another View.
To put the President's China policy into proper perspective, an important principle of practical political science must be recognized. It may be referred to as "the Logan County theory". Simply put, that theory rests on the view that a politician must first arrange for prospective supporters to encounter problems. Only then can he earn their gratitude by saving them from those difficulties.
Although the focus of the Post series was elsewhere, it did contain a most telling quote. Specifically, in the summer of 1994, Clinton is reported there to have told aides that he "hated" the administration's policy and wished he "was running against" it. What was that policy which evoked such an adverse and politically-oriented reaction from its own author? More importantly, how and why did it emerge in the first place?
In the 1992 campaign, by slamming George Bush's efforts to "engage" Mainland China, candidate Bill Clinton seemed to signal his strong opposition to that nation's oppressive political environment. According to the Post, that hardline position, insisting on discernible human rights progress as a condition for expanded trade, continued to characterize the Clinton administration's relations with China well into his first term.
Finally, sometime in 1995, the Chinese, and certain U.S. firms desiring to trade with them, appeared to get the message. There then followed, from a variety of such sources, a deluge of six-figure political campaign contributions flowing into Clinton's re-election effort. Only time and future developments will tell whether the confluence of these events should be seen either as a mere coincidence or as another successful employment of the Logan County theory.
In today's news, we have witnessed the powerful imagery of a U.S. President graciously accepting the welcome of the Chinese dictator on the very site where the cause of freedom suffered its greatest defeat in the last decade. We may also know what, if any, gesture Clinton may have offered to mitigate his visit's immense propaganda value to his hosts.
What we won't know is whether that gesture itself was anything more than the commencement of the next round of the jeopardy/rescue/reward cycle reflecting yet another application of the Logan County theory.
Making this far more serious, than just a mildly interesting case study in practical political methods, is the nature of the benefit accruing to the Chinese as a likely consequence of their new-found rapport with Clinton. Specifically, in the aftermath of these campaign contributions, C1inton's new boosters have received, over the strenuous objections of our military, what is apparently strategically significant satellite technology.
Now we're not just talking about threats to the security of our important trading partner, Taiwan. Rather, such technology transfers, the Pentagon has warned, could destabilize the entire Asian region and directly jeopardize our national interests throughout that part of the world. The recent onset of nuclear saber-rattling between China's close ally, Pakistan, and its traditional adversary, India, may well be linked to these same developments.
Just as possibly, China may now be applying some Logan County theory of its own in shipping weapons to Iran and in continuing to calculate a military solution to deny Taiwan's independence movement. If that is the case, the real trouble is that, unlike Clinton, China's goals in employing such tactics are far more ominous than simply trying to get an edge in the next election.
Does anyone honestly discount the possibility of China's emergence as an even more threatening rival to our interests than was the former Soviet Union? It finally took the strong leadership of Ronald Reagan to defeat that original "Evil Empire". We all knew Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton is no Ronald Reagan. There is, then, Another View of the colorful parade scenes and ceremonies from China this week.