You can't trust the Chinese. I don't care if you're talking about those communists on the mainland or the other guys on Taiwan; they just won't follow the war-games script that our weapons hawks had counted on. Their mutual passion runs not to matters of tired politics but rather on the lust of venture capitalists. To the Chinese, irrespective of past allegiances, the prospect of war has come to be viewed as counterproductive, and they now have the confidence to show it.
No longer pretending to be enemies, a condition in which they engaged in angry rhetoric while doing much business together on the side, a public love affair now has broken out across the Strait of Formosa. On Friday, there were scheduled direct flights between the mainland and its breakaway island for the first time in 60 years, and the invasion of tourists clicking their cameras was on.
Not that it was much noticed by the media or presidential candidates, but this long chapter of Cold War conflict has been closed and a new era of peace proclaimed by once strident foes. Taiwanese businessmen already are major investors in the mainland, and the new Taiwan government has recognized that reality by quickly pushing for full normalization of trade and other accommodations.
For years now, the Chinese on both sides of the strait have been acting as if they are members of one nation, with the descendants of those who fled the mainland with Chiang Kai-shek building mansions in their old villages and increasingly preferring that their offspring study in China rather than at American schools. Thus, it was not surprising when the leader of the old nationalist Kuomintang Party, which won the recent Taiwan election, quickly went to the mainland to pledge the dawn of a new era. Gone is the prime excuse for a major U.S. military presence in the Pacific, now that the Taiwanese have made their separate peace. What good are our fancy military weapons to people preoccupied with a consumer revolution? The concern over mainland missiles landing on Taiwan has been replaced with a fear that some country cousins from the mainland might be given to spitting on the sidewalks. Those fears were assuaged when tourists from both sides over the weekend conducted themselves with proper comportment while shopping till they dropped.
That peace has broken out is a nightmare scenario for America's military hawks in desperate need of an excuse for soaking up more than half of the U.S. government's discretionary budget. There was real panic when Mikhail Gorbachev formally ended the Cold War and George H.W. Bush announced a 30 percent cut in military spending in 1992. Then came the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the wildest peacetime spending spree in history. No one in power noticed that the expensive weapons were designed to defeat an enemy that no longer existed. That's because we were traumatized by something called terrorism, and few questioned the decision to build weapons such as the two new Virginia-class submarines, at a cost of $5 billion, to catch Osama bin Laden, probably holed up in a cave in a landlocked nation. But submarines obviously have nothing to do with fighting terrorists, forcing Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who represents Connecticut, where the subs are built, to play the China card: "If we do not move to produce two submarines a year as soon as possible, we are in serious danger of falling behind China."
Fomenting fear of China is essential to making the case for the whole range of high-tech war toys that no longer have a legitimate military purpose. But it's a sick joke. We are paying the Chinese the interest on the money we borrow from them to build very expensive weapons to counter weapons the Chinese have no intention of building. The latest word from the Pentagon is that "[t]he Intelligence Community estimates China will take until the end of this decade or later to produce a modern force capable of defeating a moderate-size adversary."
The only adversary that interested China, according to the Pentagon report, was Taiwan, and as recent events have indicated, that game is over. But don't shed tears just yet for the denizens of the military-industrial complex. Why should they doubt our continued willingness to throw money at weapons that have no targets, when few in Congress or the media ever bother to notice?
It took Gorbachev on Tuesday, in scathing criticism of President Bush and presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, to note that in the United States, "The subject of military spending has literally been shrouded in the curtain of silence. This taboo must be lifted."
Robert Scheer is the author, most recently, of "The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America," published by Twelve Books.