Trump’s artful call

Artful, slightly risky, clearly strategic, arguably clever, maybe brilliant.  Trump just took – and publicly acknowledged a telephone call with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen.  We now know, if we did not before, that President-Elect Trump will not be coy, not take half-steps, and be refreshingly plain-spoken in the conduct of foreign diplomacy.

Gone is the obviously tentative, tendentiously deferential Obama foreign policy with bold blunders, meaningless lines in the sand, and other global proclamations that were fatuous and forgotten.  Returning to basics, Trump took the call a good thing.  With the world watching, the Trump-Pence team is sending a signal.  Our word will count; our allies can rely on America; our foreign policy will not be defined by fear.

With Taiwan, context is important.  One of the first things Ronald Reagan did in office was affirm support for Taiwan, the alliance inviolable.  Communist China, or the “People’s Republic of China” (PRC), was not happy with Reagan’s continued sale of arms to Taiwan.  But Reagan had campaigned on the idea of ending diplomatic ties with Communist China, which he later dropped.  Early on, he set the tone, affirming continued arms sales while issuing a more agreeable communiqué in 1982.

That said, he also put a statement in the National Security Council file, a memorandum of record, defining America’s de facto policy on Taiwan: “The U.S. willingness to reduce its arms sales to Taiwan is conditioned absolutely upon the continued commitment of China to the peaceful solution of Taiwan-PRC differences. It should be clearly understood that the linkage between these two matters is a permanent imperative of U.S. foreign policy. In addition, it is essential that the quantity and quality of the arms provided Taiwan be conditioned entirely on the threat posed by the PRC. Both in quantitative and qualitative terms, Taiwan's defense capability relative to that of the PRC will be maintained.”  Enough said.  Yes, we would talk about a “One China” policy, ambiguity permitting both sides to claim what they wished.  But we would not abandon Taiwan.

In accepting that call, Trump sent a clear message we will not abandon Taiwan, so do not think of further aggression toward this American ally.  After the Communist/nationalist civil war that put the free Chinese on Taiwan, crises did intermittently percolate.  In 1950, to block Communist aggression, President Truman another blunt speaker put the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet into the Taiwan Strait.  Over time, the status ossified and stayed in equipoise.  Some 38 years later, in 1987, the Taiwanese government was fully democratized.  Reagan was president.  

In recent years, things have gone wobbly again.  Communist China began testing American resolve, finding not much pushback.  With a modernized navy, they began creating islands in the South China Sea and militarized them.  They allowed their ally North Korea to continue along its rogue path, quixotic, rhetorically aggressive, and nuclear.

Fast-forward to now, December 2016.  The president-elect accepts a call from the hopeful president of Taiwan and what happens? Liberal media talk a blue streak about reckless actions.  Inveterate liberal journalists go atwitter.  Why?  Because the PRC is supposed to be able to tell America with whom we can talk?  Does that sound like the America of history?  Even close?  No, not by a long shot.  By accepting that call, Trump simply made clear that our 67-year-old alliance with Taiwan is safe and sound, solid and inviolate.  Communist China, so recently adventurous, can pipe down.  They are not feared and should not be by those allied with America.  Full stop.

That call the freedom to reassure anyone we wish, a prerogative we have obviously retained at great cost, until recently is precisely who we are.  The Trump-Pence administration will not abandon America’s friends.  The media just missed it, apparently still disconsolate and sure Trump should be criticized at every turn.  Now, he is smart like a fox.  No private comfort  public.  And he meant to do that.

Last points: China is listening, and needed an answer to the question “Where does America stand?”  Now they know: with our historic allies.  For the price of a call or answering one all the fretting over Chinese replacement of America through the Trans Pacific Partnership must be rethought.  America will remain what it always has been here, and a trusted ally.  More, that was a call heard round the world, in Japan and South Korea, the Philippines, Poland, Georgia, Ukraine and the Baltic States as well as in Moscow and Beijing.  Make no mistake: that was no mistake.

Two last messages.  China will be expected to scroll back its quixotic North Korean neighbor.  And China should make no sudden moves in the last months of Obama if it was thinking of it, drop them.  That is it simple, straightforward, a page from Truman and Reagan, and the end of permissive misinterpretation.  The world is safer for cleared air and Trump cleared it.  Artful, slightly risky, clearly strategic, arguably clever, maybe brilliant.

Robert Charles is a former assistant secretary of state for George W. Bush, former Naval intelligence officer, New York and Washington litigator, and served in the Reagan and Bush 41 White Houses.  He wrote Narcotics and Terrorism and writes widely on national security. 

Artful, slightly risky, clearly strategic, arguably clever, maybe brilliant.  Trump just took – and publicly acknowledged a telephone call with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen.  We now know, if we did not before, that President-Elect Trump will not be coy, not take half-steps, and be refreshingly plain-spoken in the conduct of foreign diplomacy.

Gone is the obviously tentative, tendentiously deferential Obama foreign policy with bold blunders, meaningless lines in the sand, and other global proclamations that were fatuous and forgotten.  Returning to basics, Trump took the call a good thing.  With the world watching, the Trump-Pence team is sending a signal.  Our word will count; our allies can rely on America; our foreign policy will not be defined by fear.

With Taiwan, context is important.  One of the first things Ronald Reagan did in office was affirm support for Taiwan, the alliance inviolable.  Communist China, or the “People’s Republic of China” (PRC), was not happy with Reagan’s continued sale of arms to Taiwan.  But Reagan had campaigned on the idea of ending diplomatic ties with Communist China, which he later dropped.  Early on, he set the tone, affirming continued arms sales while issuing a more agreeable communiqué in 1982.

That said, he also put a statement in the National Security Council file, a memorandum of record, defining America’s de facto policy on Taiwan: “The U.S. willingness to reduce its arms sales to Taiwan is conditioned absolutely upon the continued commitment of China to the peaceful solution of Taiwan-PRC differences. It should be clearly understood that the linkage between these two matters is a permanent imperative of U.S. foreign policy. In addition, it is essential that the quantity and quality of the arms provided Taiwan be conditioned entirely on the threat posed by the PRC. Both in quantitative and qualitative terms, Taiwan's defense capability relative to that of the PRC will be maintained.”  Enough said.  Yes, we would talk about a “One China” policy, ambiguity permitting both sides to claim what they wished.  But we would not abandon Taiwan.

In accepting that call, Trump sent a clear message we will not abandon Taiwan, so do not think of further aggression toward this American ally.  After the Communist/nationalist civil war that put the free Chinese on Taiwan, crises did intermittently percolate.  In 1950, to block Communist aggression, President Truman another blunt speaker put the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet into the Taiwan Strait.  Over time, the status ossified and stayed in equipoise.  Some 38 years later, in 1987, the Taiwanese government was fully democratized.  Reagan was president.  

In recent years, things have gone wobbly again.  Communist China began testing American resolve, finding not much pushback.  With a modernized navy, they began creating islands in the South China Sea and militarized them.  They allowed their ally North Korea to continue along its rogue path, quixotic, rhetorically aggressive, and nuclear.

Fast-forward to now, December 2016.  The president-elect accepts a call from the hopeful president of Taiwan and what happens? Liberal media talk a blue streak about reckless actions.  Inveterate liberal journalists go atwitter.  Why?  Because the PRC is supposed to be able to tell America with whom we can talk?  Does that sound like the America of history?  Even close?  No, not by a long shot.  By accepting that call, Trump simply made clear that our 67-year-old alliance with Taiwan is safe and sound, solid and inviolate.  Communist China, so recently adventurous, can pipe down.  They are not feared and should not be by those allied with America.  Full stop.

That call the freedom to reassure anyone we wish, a prerogative we have obviously retained at great cost, until recently is precisely who we are.  The Trump-Pence administration will not abandon America’s friends.  The media just missed it, apparently still disconsolate and sure Trump should be criticized at every turn.  Now, he is smart like a fox.  No private comfort  public.  And he meant to do that.

Last points: China is listening, and needed an answer to the question “Where does America stand?”  Now they know: with our historic allies.  For the price of a call or answering one all the fretting over Chinese replacement of America through the Trans Pacific Partnership must be rethought.  America will remain what it always has been here, and a trusted ally.  More, that was a call heard round the world, in Japan and South Korea, the Philippines, Poland, Georgia, Ukraine and the Baltic States as well as in Moscow and Beijing.  Make no mistake: that was no mistake.

Two last messages.  China will be expected to scroll back its quixotic North Korean neighbor.  And China should make no sudden moves in the last months of Obama if it was thinking of it, drop them.  That is it simple, straightforward, a page from Truman and Reagan, and the end of permissive misinterpretation.  The world is safer for cleared air and Trump cleared it.  Artful, slightly risky, clearly strategic, arguably clever, maybe brilliant.

Robert Charles is a former assistant secretary of state for George W. Bush, former Naval intelligence officer, New York and Washington litigator, and served in the Reagan and Bush 41 White Houses.  He wrote Narcotics and Terrorism and writes widely on national security. 

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