Chinese pilot Wang Wei gave U.S. President George W. Bush his first critical foreign-policy test. Wei’s collision over the South China Sea with a Navy reconnaissance plane, which dropped 24 U.S. military personnel into the hands of the Chinese military on Hainan Island, provided an excellent course in crisis management for the new president.
So far, so good. The military personnel have been returned. The Chinese seem satisfied that the language used by the administration was an apology. The Bush administration maintains that the Chinese pilot caused the crash.
With the exception of some of our most conservative commentators, most analysts give the president high marks for his navigation of this tricky course. China policy is the most delicate and difficult for a U.S. president. As China has emerged as a world power, it has provided Americans with a number of differing faces. To the conservative commentator, China is a godless dictatorship, inimical to American principles. To the liberal viewer, China’s totalitarian government deprives its citizens of human rights. To the businessman, China is the land of opportunity — a market of more than a billion consumers ready to buy American products. But to the American clothing manufacturer, China’s ability to produce quality goods at cheap prices provides unbeatable competition.
It’s a wonder any U.S. administration has been able to fight its way through the maze of domestic pressures to create a cohesive China policy. President Bill Clinton pushed the trade buttons and got Congress to offer China most-favored-nation trade status as he posited the relationship as one of strategic partnership. Bush won’t accept that definition, but he seems prepared to work delicately to preserve good feelings with China.
The return of the military personnel is just a start, however. The plane is still in Hainan. China is a special card in the world deck and demands careful attention. The Bush team seems to understand this and to have the creativity to pursue a proper and productive policy.
Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt began his presidency with a whirlwind of action to attack the Great Depression, analysts have used the first 100 days of a presidential term as the first grading period of a report card.
How is Bush doing as he approaches the 100-day mark? It depends on your viewpoint. Bush is clearly more conservative than any of his Republican predecessors of recent vintage, including the icon of conservatism, Ronald Reagan. Bush’s father and Gerald Ford were quite moderate. Richard Nixon was more pragmatic. Dwight Eisenhower worked from the middle. So that gets us back to the 1920s without a challenger to Bush in the conservative column.
What has Bush done to deserve this? Let’s look at the record.
Personnel choices made by Bush, particularly his selection of abortion-rights opponent John Ashcroft as attorney general, have been strategically conservative. His choices for the next tier of government officials are being heavily vetted through the conservative movement. He has begun a selection program for judicial nominations that looks to apply strict ideological standards.
Environmentalists have bitterly protested Bush’s decision not to seek limits on carbon-dioxide emissions or otherwise support the Kyoto accord, an international agreement seeking to limit climate change, and to undo new limits on arsenic in drinking water.
Supporters of abortion rights were angered by Bush’s quick decision to end federal financing for international family-planning groups that support abortion.
Bush has moved quickly and methodically to reverse or suspend regulatory actions and executive orders issued by Clinton in the waning days of the last administration. Unions have been upset by the new administration’s decision to roll back workplace-safety rules and end preferences granted to unionized companies in bidding for government-financed building programs.
In creating this record, the president has cheered the conservative wing of the Republican Party, which had viewed him with some skepticism, largely because of the moderation his father practiced in the White House.
Democrats and the interest groups they represent are beginning to feel the pain. The president seemed to be running for “Mr. Congeniality” as he began his term. But as he puts his policy in place, he is energizing environmental groups, labor unions, abortion-rights organizations and other Democratic constituencies. In these early moves, Bush has given them a chance to motivate their supporters at the grassroots level, and to challenge any claim the new president had to being a moderate.
The decision of the court of inquiry into the collision between the USS Greeneville and the Ehime Maru is in. The three admirals determined that there is no reason for a court-martial in the accident in which the submarine crashed into a Japanese fisheries training vessel, causing the deaths of nine Japanese. The report of the court was delivered to the commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, Adm. Thomas B. Fargo. He, alone, will now make the decision on the proper punishment, if any, for the skipper of the Greeneville, Cmdr. Scott D. Waddle. Fargo has 30 days in which to decide what to do, but he is expected to act quickly and is unlikely to order a court-martial.
I hope he is smart enough and caring enough to risk his own reputation in the navy by ordering a court-martial. He is under pressure to consider morale in the fleet, where prosecuting the skipper would be seen as an exercise in scapegoating. Waddle may have been a model officer, but his careless command practices led to the death of nine people, four of them students. He must be held accountable if the navy is to be able to present itself with any moral credibility.
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