Moral Equivalence or Golden Rule
Jude Wanniski
April 5, 2001


Memo To: Vice President Dick Cheney
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Weakness is provocative. So is force

Yes, the whole world is watching to see how the new President will deal with this complicated problem we suddenly have with China. Practically all of mankind understands that our spy plane was in Chinese air space and the mid-air collision was an accident, with the only loss of life being that of the Chinese pilot. The 24 American crew members are safe. The Chinese demand an apology and Secretary of State Colin Powell says we ain’t going to give one, although he expressed “regrets” about the incident and the loss of life. I think you know, Mr. Vice President, that I have been a friend of the Beijing government for a long time, really dating back to my first China visit in 1983. My thought in this matter is that it actually provides an opportunity to clear the decks with Beijing after several years of mixed signals sent out by the Clinton administration. President Clinton never really knew how to handle China, I’m afraid, although I have to say he did muddle through. Mainly, he and his team were driven by Republican hardliners, the “anti-China coalition,” as The New York Times calls them in a front-page piece this morning, about how they have become “emboldened” by this incident. Several of these men and women actively have tried to promote conflict with Beijing over the past eight years, goaded by conservative intellectuals who go so far as to argue that we are bound to go to war with China at some point, so why do anything to help strengthen them now.

In sorting all this out, I think it will help the Bush administration to assume from the outset that every major industrial and political power has at its center a finely-tuned collection of hawks and doves. They are the pessimists and the optimists among a nation’s intellectuals, diplomats and military folk. On one side there are those watchdogs who bark at any rustling in the trees, who believe they are threatened by their neighbors or by distant foreign powers. On the other side are those who assume their neighbors mean them no harm and behave as if there were nothing but blue skies and sunshine in the firmament. The best book I’ve read on the outbreak of the Cold War after World War II, Shattered Peace by Daniel Yergin, makes the clear and simple case that because there was so little communication between Moscow and Washington, the hawks in both capitals always had the upper hand. There were doves in Washington who argued that Moscow was not planning communist aggressions, but because there was no free speech or free press inside the USSR, “behind the Iron Curtain,” the doves lost all their arguments. The hawks in our government, Democrats as well as Republicans, presented worst-case scenarios on Soviet intentions and as Yergin points out, they won their arguments by default.

A few years ago, I bought several copies of Shattered Peace and gave them to friends and acquaintances at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, urging them to take the message seriously and at the very least open themselves to questioning by the foreign press on a regular basis. They needed to be able to confront the suspicions constantly being raised by the hawks in our “anti-China coalition,” or our doves, including me, would lose all the policy arguments. And in Beijing, our dove counterparts would lose all their arguments to the hawks, who naturally insist on escalating pressures on the U.S. when they see us escalating pressure on them. I’ve also made the argument, Mr. Vice President, that we and they should set as a goal a reciprocity in our relationship based on the Golden Rule. In wartime, anything goes, of course. Winning is everything, and in the Cold War I was always with the hawks. When peace broke out, I broke with my old hawk allies and began arguing that in peacetime, it is more appropriate to follow the rule that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and expect the same of them. When we began complaining to Beijing about their casualness in respecting intellectual property rights, for example, I made the point to the Chinese Ambassador at the time that while they do not have much intellectual property to protect right now, as they grow they will create such capital and wish to have it respected by others. Perhaps my suggestions helped move the ball along in those negotiations, which ended successfully.

Without a Golden Rule at the heart of our relationship, we are left with what our hawks define as the Moral Equivalence doctrine. This is the notion that some nations are more “moral” than others, so the Golden Rule will not work. We are more “moral” than the People’s Republic of China, which means we are able to hold the PRC to higher standards than we can permit them to hold us. In this specific case of the airplane collision, for example, we must be permitted to fly along their coastline, giving them only a 12-mile cushion, but if they come within 200 miles of our coastline, we won’t simply harass them, we will shoot them down. Our hawks carry this Moral Equivalence doctrine into every corner of our relationship with China, and with Russia. Did we sign an ABM Treaty with the government in Moscow? No, our hawks say we signed that treaty in 1973 with some old government in Moscow, when we were engaged in Cold War with the communists. Now that the communists are no longer in control of the government, our hawks insist the ABM treaty no longer applies. Treaties can be devalued just that easily when we insist a foreign government does not have Moral Equivalence.

So it is with the Shanghai communique, by which President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger buried the hatchet with the PRC, recognizing One China. This meant to the world at large that the United States would no longer recognize Taiwan as an independent foreign power and we would suspend diplomatic relations with its government. For its part, Beijing accepted the concept of two systems, with Taiwan having an independent provincial government and the states’ rights that would afford the people of Taiwan. But that was a long time ago, according to the Moral Equivalent doctrine. Because we are more moral than they, we should be able to ignore the Nixon/Kissinger solution and deal with the Taiwan government as if it were an independent foreign power. Why are we more moral? Well, they have internal laws that we do not like, for example. They have a one-child per family rule, which means a couple has to pay the state a fee to have more than one. And they make their prisoners work at “slave labor,” meaning the prisoners are required to make things other than license plates. And they do not recognize the Vatican’s authority over the Catholic churches of China, in as much as the Vatican does not recognize the PRC’s authority in China, preferring to recognize Taiwan as an independent foreign power. Our “anti-China coalition” cites these examples because it has moral authority to do so, as there is no Moral Equivalence with the powers that be in Beijing.

My hope, of course, is that you will steer our government away from Moral Equivalence toward the Golden Rule, Mr. Vice President. Put yourself in their shoes and ask them to do the same with us. I think we’d get along better and maybe both of us will become more “moral.”