First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
The China Nightmare
This first week of the new year, let's give a thought to the nightmares that waken President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, from their slumbers.
I'm not talking about the regular wacky nightmares the rest of us have -- being back in high school with no pants, falling from tall buildings into dessert gelatin, pulling out a letter opener on an airplane and getting beaten to death by the other passengers.
No, there are special nightmares that come only to those who have responsibility for a America's safety.
I speak of China.
You remember China -- the nation where Christians and believers in other religions are systematically persecuted.
The government that blamed us for the crash caused by their own hot-dogging pilot.
The empire that keeps its hungry eyes and guns turned toward democratic Taiwan, so the Chinese can someday treat Taiwan's people even worse than they treat the people of Tibet.
The troublemaker that makes sure all our enemies everywhere have plenty of dangerous weapons.
The nation that was just granted permanent "most-favored nation" status by President Bush -- as if they were civilized.
Why would President Bush grant them this prize, so long coveted by the Chinese government?
Because of those nightmares, of course.
Here's how the nightmares go: We're in the middle of a difficult war with Iran. Our troops are fully committed, occupying Iraq (which we just liberated and are still pacifying), with dangerous Syria at our back door and Saudi Arabia on the brink of revolution. Our supply lines are tenuous, Turkey is having grave misgivings about supporting us, and Pakistan is fighting off a revolution while India continues to rattle sabers next door.
In the midst of all this, China bombs Taiwan's airfields and begins the long-awaited seaborne invasion. The Taiwanese are told that if any weapons are used against the Chinese mainland, Taipei will be nuked into oblivion.
On the very same day, North Korean troops cross the DMZ and break through, cutting off a large number of American troops. They issue a statement that unless South Korea surrenders immediately, North Korea will nuke both Seoul and the enclave where the American troops are trapped. China deplores North Korea's nuclear threats but can't do anything (they say) to prevent them.
What does a president do?
Too late then to revive the draft and beef up the army. Too late to build more ships.
Having tried to do too much with too little, we are in an impossible situation. The President has only two choices: Capitulate to the North Koreans and Chinese, or preemptively fire nuclear weapons at Pyongyang with a stern warning to Beijing that they are next.
The choice we do not have is to resist these opportunistic invaders with conventional weapons. We simply don't have enough of them to fight two major wars at once.
Anybody who thinks China "would never" do such a thing doesn't know Chinese history or military theory, or the political and economic woes of China's current imperial elite.
Anybody who thinks North Korea isn't crazy enough to invade and bring nukes into the picture obviously doesn't know anything about North Korea's government for the past fifty-five years.
What is our government doing about those nightmares?
First, they gave China what China wanted, in hopes of appeasing them and keeping them from fighting us. This is a gesture only -- a reassurance to China that we don't want war and that we have respect for them.
If China decides that taking Taiwan while we are busy elsewhere is a good idea, our "gift" of normal trade status -- which they think they should have had all along -- will hold them up for perhaps as much as a minute and a half.
But what is the second step?
One option our government has available is to beef up our conventional military now. In order to fight the war we have to fight in the Middle East, to remove the governments that sponsor terrorism, our existing armed forces will have to be fully committed.
The only way to fight that war and still keep China and Taiwan in line is to drastically increase the size of our effective armed forces -- including deploying serious numbers of troops and ships within reach of Chinese and Korean waters.
The trouble with that route is that it would require persuading the American people that the buildup was necessary -- without ever naming China or North Korea in the explanation. (Naming them as the cause of the buildup before we actually have the force deployed merely invites them to launch an attack earlier.)
And since the Democrats, while making a great whoop-de-do about non-partisanship, have been relentlessly partisan in exploiting every opportunity to beat up the Republicans, there is zero chance that Bush could persuade the American people without loud and bitter controversy.
It might even erode support for the war we're already fighting.
It would take great political courage and extraordinarily hard work to bring off such a buildup. The "victory" in Afghanistan helped build a reservoir of confidence in this administration. I believe that another victory -- in Sudan or Syria -- would be very helpful in building support for a real military build-up to world war levels.
Another option is a preemptive strike against North Korea before we ever attempt to engage Iraq or Iran, with the aim of eliminating their nuclear capability and, if possible, eliminating their current government. But that's fantasy-land. The risk of provoking war with China while we have the Muslim terrorist threat at our throats is too great.
A third alternative is for our government to proceed with our anti-terrorist war, watch China carefully, cross our fingers, and pray.
The fourth alternative, however, is never to commit to war with Iraq and Iran, for fear of what China would do with the opportunity.
If our military is never fully committed, China will never have a door through which it can attack Taiwan and North Korea will never believe -- insane as their leadership is -- that they can get away with invading South Korea.
The trouble is that in order to avoid a two-front war, we would have decided to lose the one-front war we're fighting now.
That's why, loathsome as I think the trade-status concession to China is, I recognize it as a rational part of the process of trying to win our war in the Middle East.
Of course, I might be misinterpreting President Bush's concession to China. For all I know, he might be giving in to the same old crowd of econocrats who crave normal trade with China because they'd do anything for a buck.
But the President's track record is good so far. So I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt, and assuming that his favor to China was part of a grand plan leading to victory against terrorism without giving Taiwan or South Korea to the jackals.
Wait. There is one last choice.
We could let China know, covertly, that we wouldn't resist them if they invaded Taiwan.
The American people would then be told all kinds of lovely stories to excuse our betrayal: "The Chinese have assured us that ..."; "Taiwan has always been a part of China"; "The Taiwanese will have more democratic influence within China than outside it."
It would all mean the same thing: We sold our friends.
If we ever thought an American government could do such a thing, then we're the ones who should be waking up in a sweat from nightmares.
Copyright © 2001 by Orson Scott Card.
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