Tuesday, November 15, 2011

‘Ditch Taiwan’ camp hits new low

A virtual unknown somehow managed to place what can only be called a mediocre op-ed calling for the abandonment of Taiwan in the journal of record in the US

Calls by what remains a small number of voices in the US academic community for Washington to “ditch” Taiwan for the sake of better relations with China reached a new low last week with the publication of an opinion piece in the New York Times by Paul Kane, a former international security fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Earlier this year, a handful of articles were published in journals, including Foreign Affairs, making the case that realist US foreign policy required the abandonment of Taiwan to clear the way for a full relationship with China in difficult economic times. Reactions to those pieces then showed beyond doubt that the arguments advanced by those academics failed on several grounds, including moral.

As this newspaper argued in response to the previous articles, the 23 million people who inhabit this nation are not mere commodities who can be traded by larger nations on a diplomatic chessboard. Not only is the commodification of human beings morally bankrupt, it is also a recipe for disaster, as the subjects — treated as pawns in the machinations of great power politics — are unlikely to regard such decisions with equanimity.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


justrecently said...

The way Kane argued his case reminded me of a Chinese approach - citing authorities. The only problem: Mullen for example, quoted by Kane as saying that America's debt was the main threat to the country's security, wasn't addressing a need to disarm (as one might think when reading the op-ed), but rather argued that only a sound economy can sustain America's military budgets.

Kane also showed a rather poor sense of proportions - and a poor understanding of America's structural economic problems - in that suggesting that China's some-ten-per cent share in American debt could be a game-changer.

Hard to believe that Kane read political economy.

Michael Fagan said...

"Not only is the commodification of human beings morally bankrupt..."

That is exactly right.

"Kane also showed a rather poor sense of proportions - and a poor understanding of America's structural economic problems - in that suggesting that China's some-ten-per cent share in American debt could be a game-changer. "

I agree with you 100% on this JR.

Again and again these amoral, crassly pragmatist sell-out "arguments" tend to come from people on the U.S. Left; this Kane fellow is no exception.

The angle is clear: this is about refusing to relinquish the Left's political control of the U.S. social spending and entitlement system.

As for the New York Times... that joint has long been a disgrace. This is just one more feather in their crimson cap.

FOARP said...

@J. Michael Cole - You know, I was with you all the way until you went after Kane's credentials.

Let me put this simply - are you really criticising Kane because he only spent one year in Iraq? Are you really criticising Kane because he only was only a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy school and did not graduate from there? Did he claim otherwise? Are your own credentials really so solid? Just how long were you an intelligence officer? Do you think it is relevant to discuss your resignation from CSIS when questioning a particular course of action proposed in one of your editorials?

Kane's an idiot, anyone reading the NYT piece will understand this. Had his piece not been so obviously wrong-headed, though, I doubt very much that you would have questioned his qualifications.

Just an additional point, you quote "sources" as criticising Kane as:

"a “poseur” and a “climber” who should not have been allowed to set foot in Harvard to begin with."

I'm curious. How exactly do you square this with the description in the Taipei Times Editorial of the decision by the Financial Times to run an article based on anonymous quotes from a US official about Tsai Ingwen as "questionable"? Just why is the use of an anonymous source disclosing certain attitudes in the US government dubious, and a anonymous description which does not appear to even be sourced from Harvard on the worthiness of an individual who attended that institution OK?

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...


I am not criticizing Kane because he “only” served one year (as a public liaison officer) in Iraq, or because he was “only” a one-year fellow at Harvard; I am criticizing the fact that those credentials in no way make him suited to discuss the complex US-Taiwan-China triumvirate, or microeconomics, come to think of it. Kane has been portrayed as a defense “expert,” which his op-ed clearly shows he isn’t. Now, I don’t know whether he describes himself as such, but I have serious problems with the term “expert.” In fact, anyone who claims to be an “expert” in any of the social sciences is full of him/herself.

I was an intelligence officer for three years, and my master’s degree at the Royal Military College of Canada focused mostly on military intelligence and asymmetrical warfare. I remain rather close to the intelligence community. That said, I never made the claim that I was —and would protest at anyone calling me — an “intelligence expert.” Nor do I regard myself as a Taiwan or China expert, though my focus on the subject for a good part of the past six years does make this my specialization.

Were those three years at CSIS relevant to my book? I like to think that they were: I experienced the agency first-hand and interacted with its employees, sources and targets, and remain close to the comunity. To my knowledge, Kane never set foot in Taiwan, let alone China.

I can think of dozens of US-based academics who are far better suited to address Taiwan but that, for some reason, simply cannot get published in the NYT. It’s not Kane’s fault that he has the credentials that he has; it is, however, to the NYT’s great discredit that it looked at those credentials and decided those were sufficient to allow him to publish something on a subject he so obviously knows little about.

On sources: you’re comparing apples and oranges. I mentioned sources in US academia, but did not reveal their identity, simply to avoid causing them undue headaches with Kane and the establishment. The Financial Times was approached by a top US government official (NSA Tom Donilon) who was seeking to inject disparaging information in the news. He’s the one who requested anonymity, and at no time did FT reporters seek him out, or anyone else at the NSC, for comment.

FOARP said...

@J. Michael Cole - So you're saying the difference is in who initiated it? Or is it who proposes anonymity? And if those academics (who do not appear to have been at Harvard when quoted) had come to you to offer comment, or if it had been them who had insisted on anonymity, that would have been different?

In my opinion, anonymous comments, so long as they are actually properly sourced, are quite fine - they are, after all, opinion from real people in the positions described. I didn't have a problem with the FT piece's use of an anonymous quote, and I thought those who labelled it 'propaganda' were simply going too far.

I agree with you that the use of the term "expert" often denotes someone with no idea of what they're talking about. I always sigh inwardly when I see the dreaded term "China expert", because those in the know, know there's no such thing (imagine someone claiming to be an "America expert" or "Canada expert"?). However, nowhere in the NYT article was the term "defence expert" mentioned, so I'm kind of curious as to why this is relevant.

I also don't know if it really is fair to call Kane an 'unknown', as he has written for the NYT before.

It's fair to question whether Kane really knows anything about Taiwan or China. The answer is not much to Kane's credit. But that's not what you were doing in the article.

Instead, you were going after the guy's credentials. Credentials which appear entirely genuine and credit-worthy to an extent. If they were fake, if he had been exaggerating, I could understand this better.

FOARP said...

Although, having read that somewhat nutty response Kane sent to James Fallows and Jerome Keating subsequent to posting the above comment, well . . . .

Michael Fagan said...

"I am criticizing the fact that those credentials in no way make him suited to discuss the complex US-Taiwan-China triumvirate, or microeconomics, come to think of it."

Yet FOARP's point stands - this criticism was unnecessary to the purpose of refuting what it was Kane advocated; and besides, in saying something like that you appear to concede that a person's "suitability" to a discussion of general and public importance is a consequence of academic credentials rather than the veracity of his or her reasoning. I disagree with this;
authority must be earned for sure, but it is to be earned on the coin of intellect and action - not merely through possession of a piece of paper stamped and signed by some empurpled donkey on a high chair.

To concede, or to give the impression of conceding this - a point of utmost principle in a free society - is actually worse than to commit a mere ad hominem.

So, no. FOARP is right to criticize you for going after Kane's credentials, and you ought to have known better.