Please see significant UPDATE below.
Last week I made fun of a New York Times op-ed that recommended a grand strategic bargain to resolve several big US-China tensions at once. The Chinese would write off the trillion-dollar-plus debt owed by America. Presumably this would apply only to U.S. Treasury debt in the hands of Chinese government institutions, since otherwise it would be hard to convince some rich family in Tianjin or pension fund in Shenzhen to walk away from loans or investments it had made in the United States. Further on practical difficulties here. In exchange, the United States would stop selling arms to Taiwan and end its promise to defend Taiwan against military attack. The only plausible source of such attack is of course mainland China, which views Taiwan as an integral part of its nation and is therefore permanently aggrieved about US-Taiwan military ties.
I began my item wondering whether the article was "some kind of put-on" and ended with a link to a Taiwanese cartoon parody. The author of the op-ed, Paul V. Kane, has written asking if he could reply. Below, in full and without further comment by me, is his expanded view of the argument he wanted to make. Thanks to him for weighing in.
Paul V Kane writes:
Was the piece intended to stir the pot and provoke debate? Absolutely. If a piece is not provocative, it doesn't get published, it doesn't get read, and it has no impact.
The primary point though of the piece is that our "economic security" is more important than our traditional view that military might trumps all. You can't pay for military might without adequate economic security and a healthy economy. You can't support allies without a purse full of coins and a treasury filled with gold. Is it not true that senior U.S. military leaders have said and fretted aloud that the single greatest threat to the existence of the American Republic is our national debt and spend-like-a-drunken-sailor-on-leave ways? No offense to sailors intended.
As Leslie Gelb presciently said, "GDP matters more than force."
It was my intent to mix serious issues and facts with irony and Swiftian satire to engage readers and make my points. No apologies on that count.
Isn't it ironic that nearly 40 years after Nixon went to Communist China, they own 8-9% of casino capitalist America's government debt? Isn't it ironic that we the American people fund the U.S. Navy, the chief instrument ensuring the global sea lanes are free and open for Chinese goods to flood the world? Isn't it ironic that while we spend from our finite treasury to move military chess pieces around the Pacific, China is out buying all the bauxite rights in the Congo, and is acquiring energy and water assets that will feed their economy for a generation?
Could we do a deal with China for debt and resolution of Taiwan's status. Absolutely. Should we?
If you put a gun to my head and asked me if I truly thought we should, I have small children, so I would have to answer you honestly.
No, that was a "modest proposal" along the lines of the master of satire Jonathan Swift's solution for poverty in Ireland. Satire is not a joke, it is an extremely useful way to provoke new, original thought and debate. What is hilarious is that some academics in Taiwan and elsewhere stayed up late at night reading the piece literally and trying to build cases to refute its content, and castigating my logic and morals, and cooking-up deep financial analysis of how a deal would impact the U.S. Treasury Bill markets... Take your wife out to dinner! Professor or Joe Blogger, it was time miss spent.
The New York Times is kind enough to host my writings every few years. In 2009, I had a piece with them, "Up, Up and Out" about U.S. military reform that, again, included serious points, humorous and ironic ones, and suggested "First, we should eliminate the Air Force..." It was a month before the sonic boom F-18 overflights of our family home stopped...
Did I think that the Air Force should go away, literally? No. But I did believe, as did many other military service members then, that the then Air Force was insufficiently martial, too corporate, and not pulling its weight in the wars." Point made. Did the Secretary of Defense read and get a chuckle out of that piece. You bet. Impact.
Anyone who has served in combat will tell you that in that environment you see first-hand that life is brief and intense and filled with irony, terror, deadly seriousness and the deadly boring mundane, risk and joy, and yes, humor. Combat makes you much more of an out-of-the-box thinker when facing issues in policy or in life. You are able to freely ask, "Why are we doing this? What are we trying to accomplish here? Is there a better way to do this for the greater good?"
Many thanks to you James and your The Atlantic readers for taking time to read and consider my Op-Ed's points.
- - Paul V. Kane
UPDATE: I see that Kane has sent an essentially identical letter to Joshua Keating of Foreign Policy, asking that it be published there. I had not known that this was his intention and wouldn't have felt an obligation to give him a right-of-unedited reply if I had thought he'd be making the same case verbatim in multiple venues. Just for the record.