Entries from April 2007

The Bully Across The Taiwan Strait

David Frum April 28th, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Just a few hundred feet up the slope from a complex of new luxury apartment buildings, a battery of Patriot-2 missiles stands ready on five minutes notice to intercept their share of the nearly 1,000 Chinese missiles aimed at this island.

In the officers’ mess of one of Taiwan’s efficient French-built frigates, a worried admiral describes the rapid growth of China’s fleet, which will soon include its first aircraft carrier.

A few steps from the president’s office, an intelligence officer mentions his personal worry: a Chinese commando raid to kidnap Taiwan’s elected leaders and paralyze its government.

Alarmism? Well look at things from the Taiwanese point of view. Since 1989, Taiwan has evolved into an exemplary self-governed democracy. Yet the Chinese rulers warn that if Taiwan’s leaders ever formally declare this glaringly obvious fact, China will unleash military force against the people of this island.

Instead, China demands that Taiwan submit to mainland authority by a “set date.” China offers to respect Taiwan’s separate “system.” But it made the same promise to Hong Kong–and then proceeded to snuff out all vestiges of real democracy when it took over in 1997.

Happily for Taiwan, 170 kilometers of water separate their large island from China. And for many years to come, the strongest force on those waters will belong to the United States. AmericaÕs Pacific Command can make the same promise to the Taiwanese that Admiral St.
Vincent once made to the Younger Pitt: “We donÕt say they will not come. We only say they will not come by water.”

Welcome as American protection is, however, it may already be obsolete. The gravest threat to Taiwan’s independence is not military.

China is a huge and growing economic power, with a well-earned reputation for vindictiveness. Most countries very reasonably wish to avoid offending it. Ever more emphatically, the Chinese are insisting that the price of their goodwill is the isolation of Taiwan.

For example: Taiwan’s most direct economic competitor is South Korea. About 70% of Taiwan’s exports are products that are also manufactured in South Korea, notably flat panel display screens. South Korea has just signed a free trade agreement with the United States that will allow almost all South Korean products into the U.S. market duty free. That agreement confers a substantial competitive advantage on South Korean products.

Taiwan, historically a much freer trader than South Korea, would dearly wish to sign a free trade agreement with the United States, too. Yet the United States declines even to begin talks. Why? In large part, because China furiously objects.

It is not just Taiwan’s trading partners that are subject to Chinese pressure. So too is Taiwan itself.

Taiwan is the largest foreign investor in China. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner. Many Taiwanese have family on the mainland. About one million Taiwanese live there.

Yet the only way to get from Taipei to Shanghai or Canton is via Hong Kong–a route that transforms what should be a 50-minute flight into a seven-hour ordeal. Yet China will not allow direct flights unless the agreement acknowledges China’s sovereignty over Taiwan.

China uses its economic power to intervene inside the Taiwanese political system. Businessmen with holdings on the mainland are pressured to support anti-independence politicians.

The whole world has a stake in China’s peaceful evolution. But what does it say about China’s future direction if it cannot tolerate the existence of a democratically elected government on its borders? Today, China bullies a small island nation. What will tomorrow’s more powerful China do?

China has shown that it will quit acting the bully when faced with united international pressure. When China was seeking to join the World Trade Organization, it agreed, as the price of admission, to allow Taiwan to join, too. Now China must be made to understand that it cannot continue to threaten violence against its democratic neighbour.

And this is a very good year to send that message. China hosts the Olympics in 2008. It wants to present an appealing face to the world. It has even had to accept that Taiwanese athletes must be allowed to attend, if only under the name “Chinese Taipei.”

Well, if China can welcome autonomous Taiwanese athletes, why cannot the United States, Canada and the other democracies welcome visits from Taiwanese politicians? Why cannot uniformed military personnel visit Taiwan? The United States sells weapons to Taiwan. Why not train with those weapons together?

The old China lobby used to pretend–absurdly–that Taipei ruled China. It is equally absurd for the new China lobby to pretend that China rules Taipei. Let’s all recognize reality. The name of that reality is not “Chinese Taipei.” It is Taiwan.

The Democrats’ Cynical Timing

David Frum April 21st, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

“This war is lost.” No, that was not said by some angry protester, not by some gloating terrorist, but by the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, Harry Reid, in remarks to journalists Thursday.

That’s the same Harry Reid who voted only three months ago to confirm General David Petraeus as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Gen. Petraeus appeared before the Senate–Reid’s Senate–to describe a new strategy in Iraq, backed by almost 28,000 additional US troops. Petraeus detailed his plans and warned he would need at least six months to achieve success. Reid voted to give him that chance. So did 80 other senators: Petraeus was confirmed 81-0.

Those 28,000 troops are flowing into Iraq at this very moment. They will continue to arrive into the summer.

But the new “clear and hold” strategy has already gone into effect: U.S. troops carried out 7,400 patrols in Baghdad in the first week of February 2007–and 20,000 in the second week.

Despite last week’s atrocious bombings in Baghdad, the surge is already yielding results.

At a press briefing Friday in Washington, Pentagon officials pointed out that attacks on civilians in Baghdad dropped by 50 percent in the first six weeks of the new plan as compared to the six weeks before the plan began. Civilian casualties across Iraq declined by 24 percent in the first six weeks of the new plan as compared to the six weeks before.

Baghdad’s Shiite militias have gone to ground, and U.S. military intelligence believes that the radical cleric Moqtada al Sadr has fled to Iran.

For the first time since the January 2005 elections, strong and positive news is coming to Iraq. And this is the moment that the leader of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate chooses to throw in the towel?

Reid’s office hastily issued a semi-retraction: “As long as we follow the President’s path in Iraq, the war is lost. But there is still a chance to change course–and we must change course.”

What might such a course look like? Reid is clear about only one thing: The new course begins with a withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Democrats disagree amongst themselves when that withdrawal should start. Reid says 12 months from now. Some of the more liberal Democrats in the House of Representatives say six months. The most radical want to start the pullout in just two.

But almost all Democrats agree that the right time to announce their decision to quit is right now, right in the middle of the surge, right in the middle of the battle.

Some cynical Republicans wonder whether Democrats want to cut off the troops now precisely because they fear that the surge might succeed.

Others suspect that the Democrats are just posturing: They count on the President to defy them and continue the surge anyway. If the surge works, the public will forget or anyway not care that the Democrats opposed it. If it fails, they can say, “I told you so.”

Whatever the motive, 40 years after Vietnam, the Democrats remain a party desperately uncomfortable with military force. Democrats can tolerate the use of force only for very short intervals, so long as casualties remain low and the media remain indulgent, as happened in Kosovo in 1999. But let the war prove long or hard, let events unfold in surprising or frustrating ways, then they just fold up like accordions.

Even relatively hawkish Democrats cannot resist. Look at Joe Biden, the Delaware Democrat who now chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Long robust on Iraq, Biden now shrugs off the surge’s early successes. The surge, he wrote in an April 12 op-ed, is just “squeezing a water balloon.” If conditions improve in Baghdad, well that’s just a preliminary to deterioration elsewhere. He has called for withdrawal to begin within three months.

The U.S. public has soured on Iraq, and politicians like Reid and Biden have absorbed that mood. The Democrats benefited from this sourness in 2006, and they are betting everything on benefiting more in 2008. Well maybe.

But here is another bet. Since Vietnam, Democrats have struggled desperately and unavailingly against their image as the party of weakness on national security. In March 2005, a group of elected Democrats headed by Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh warned their colleagues: “No political party will gain or hold power–nor will it deserve to–if it cannot provide people with a basic sense of security.” They added: “While we have roundly condemned the Bush administration’s mistakes in Iraq, it is essential that partisan enmity not obscure America’s vital interest in helping the newly elected Iraqi government succeed.” Good advice–but advice that has long since been discarded as Democrats in Congress rush to embrace defeat.

It’s Official: The Reagan Revolution Is Over

David Frum April 14th, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Question: How can a candidate for president raise US$23-million in three months–only slightly less than John McCain and Rudy Giuliani combined–and still register barely above zero in polls of members of his own party?

That is the sad story of Mitt Romney, the movie-star handsome former governor of Massachusetts. Romney registers a dismal fourth in Republican opinion polls. Yesterday’s LAT/Bloomberg poll put him at 8% approval among Republicans.

A year ago, Romney looked like an emerging Republic star. He had rescued Massachusetts from a large budget deficit without raising taxes. And he had engineered a state-wide health insurance plan that delivered universal health insurance coverage to all of Massachusetts’ residents–again without raising taxes. A hugely successful businessman, he had rescued the 2002 Olympic games from a corruption scandal.

In small-group sessions in 2005 and 2006, Romney dazzled elite audiences with his command of fact and easy, humorous speaking style.

He would begin by talking about the importance of data–of checking your assumptions–and of keeping the discussion open to dissenters. He was talking about state governance of course. But everybody heard the implied criticism of President Bush’s management style. And after he left, his audiences would nod their heads over their coffee cups and say, “If only somebody like that had been running this war ? “

But sometime in the summer or fall of 2006, Romney reached a strategic decision. He would not run as a pragmatic problem solver. He would run as the conservative in the race: the tax-cutting, pro-life, pro-gun, pro-traditional-marriage heir to George W. Bush.

He even dropped hints that if nominated, he would choose Florida governor Jeb Bush as his running mate.

And this past week, he chose the George H. W. Bush presidential library as the site of his first major foreign policy address.

At the same time, he has given short shrift to his breakthrough health-care achievement. In fact, he rarely refers to it in his speeches, apparently fearing that one ingredient of his plan–a requirement that every non-poor state resident buy a health insurance policy or face a tax penalty–will offend the antigovernment sensibilities of Republican primary voters. None of this is working.

In part, Romney’s difficulty in gaining early traction can be traced to his own vulnerabilities: He has become more conservative since his first political race, and (as I noted in last week’s column) YouTube is now crowded with clips of him saying one thing in 1994 and very different things in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

But it seems to me that something bigger is going on.

Had you asked a shrewd Republican observer in, say, 2004 to guess who the party’s next nominee would be, he or she would probably have named George Allen, the senator from Virginia–a popular former governor, son of a legendary football coach, famous for his cowboy boots and chewing tobacco. Allen was a solid, down-the-line conservative on everything from taxes to guns to abortion. He was hiring all the top consultants, raising money, making friends and seemingly cruising to an easy re-election win in 2006.

Instead, he lost. Lost in Virginia, where Bush had beat Kerry by nine points! If Allen could lose in Virginia, then no conservative was safe anywhere.

In some shrewd instinctive way, the Republican party is sensing that the United States has changed. And just as the Grand Old Party of Lincoln and Grant eventually ran out of Civil War generals to nominate to the presidency, so perhaps time has run out for the old Nixon-Reagan coalition that came together to vote against the social upheavals of the 1960s and the 1970s. The 1960s and 1970s were, after all, a very, very long time ago.

Romney seized on Allen’s defeat as an opportunity to position himself as the authentic Reagan conservative in the race–in a year when the Republican party may for the first time in a generation be looking for something other than a Reagan conservative.

Rudy Giuliani, the Republican frontrunner, is not exactly a moderate, of course. But he’s not a traditional conservative either. He appeals to Republicans, not by running against government but precisely because of his record in making government work. Above all, his success in fighting crime recommends him. Under Mayor Giuliani, the number of murders in New York declined from over 2,000 per year to under 700. With government again providing safety to the people, the city recovered its economic strength.

Mitt Romney had an equally compelling story of executive leadership to tell. He chose not to. He chose to run as Bush’s heir in a year when even Republicans are looking for Bush’s opposite. That choice is looking more and more misguided. It may soon look fatal.

In Politics, The Web Changes Everything

David Frum April 7th, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Hillary Clinton had everything lined up to reprise the mighty George W. Bush nomination campaign of 1998-99.

She would use the vast donor network inherited from her husband to raise a $100-million campaign fund. This vast treasury would deter potential rivals from entering the race. And should anybody in the party murmur against this buying of the nomination, she would field a team of party leaders to warn: “Those who are with us now will be remembered when we win. And those who are against–they will also be remembered when we win.”

It worked for Bush. But it’s not working for Clinton.

Back in 1998-99, fundraising was a complicated, costly business. Donors were legally limited to a maximum donation of US$1,000. It therefore took 1,000 donations to raise US$1-million; 100,000 to raise US$100-million.

Simply identifying potential donors was a big enough job. Motivating them to give after they were found was an even bigger one. How many minutes does it take to shake 100,000 hands?

While Bush was shaking hands, the geniuses out in Silicon Valley were devising secure electronic payment systems–too late to make much of a difference in 2000, but right on time for 2003-2004.

That year, Howard Dean offered Democrats an exciting message and a ferocious new style. They saw him on TV. They looked up his Web site. And then they clicked the “donate” button.

Till then, nobody had tried very hard to raise small donations for a presidential nomination battle: If raising US$1-million in US$1,000 increments was tough and expensive, just think how tough and expensive it would be to raise it in US$100 increments. How would those donors even know where to send the money? (Remember Democratic presidential candidate Jerry Brown incessantly rattling off his 1-800 number in 1992? He just looked silly. He won the Utah primary, but not much else.)

Dean proved that the right candidate does not have to find donors. All he needs is a strong message–and the donors find him.

In the last three months of 2003, Howard Dean raised US$40-million–an average of US$3-million per week, the fastest fundraising rate in American history, almost three times faster than George Bush’s rate in 1998-2000. The median donation: less than US$100.

Dean flamed out soon after. The strength of his message could not quite overcome his deficiencies as a candidate. But he left behind a new route to a presidential nomination–a route that Barack Obama is treading.

The presidential candidates have just reported their first-quarter 2007 donations, as required by law. Hillary Clinton raised US$26-million from 50,000 donors. That’s an average donation of a little over US$500. About what you would expect. The majority of Hillary’s donors gave the current legal limit of US$2,300–meaning that they cannot give her any more until she has secured the Democratic nomination.

Obama raised almost exactly as much as Hillary: US$25-million. But he raised his money from 100,000 donors. Half of his donations arrived over the Internet, and those gifts averaged just US$138.

Those givers can give and give again.

The Internet can break candidates as well as make them.

Nine months ago, many Republicans regarded Mitt Romney as their party’s most promising candidate for 2008. A successful businessman, he nearly upset Senator Ted Kennedy in 1994. He won the governorship of liberal Massachusetts in 2002, and delivered a universal health care program without raising taxes. Not bad.

In his Massachusetts career, Romney had presented himself as an economic conservative but social liberal: pro-choice on abortion, pro-gay rights. In recent years, however, he moved to the right.

In 2004, the Massaschusetts Supreme Judicial Council discovered a right of same-sex marriage in the Massachusetts Constitution. (The constitution had been adopted in 1780, so the right must have been well-hidden to avoid detection for 224 years.) Romney opposed gay marriage fiercely.

That year, he also stepped forward as a vocal critic of medical research that destroyed human embryos. He spoke more forcefully about his long-standing personal opposition to abortion. And he began to find a respectful audience on the social right of the national Republican party.

2004 seems like yesterday doesn’t it? And yet in one respect, it was a completely different world: There was no YouTube. Twelve months later, there was. Suddenly, any 12 year old with a video camera could produce a campaign commercial and post it on a “channel” viewed by millions of people.

Edited clips contrasting Romney’s old and new positions could now be seen by hundreds of thousands of people. They devastated his rising Republican support. Romney now stands at 3% among Republican primary voters, fifth behind Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and two undeclared candidates, Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich. Romney raised more money in the first quarter of 2007 than any other Republican. But what good has it done him? The Internet changes everything.