In the last 50 days, the executive and legislative branches in Washington have done more than in the last 50 years to convince China that America’s imperial policy is simply relentless, and must be met with force.
That’s not to say it’s by any means a given that the People’s Republic of China will invade its cross-straits neighbor of Taiwan, but that is to say that if strategic planners in Washington sat down and created a bulleted list of how to facilitate such an invasion, they would have probably gone through all the bullets by now.
Biden’s comments on September 18th that U.S. forces would defend Taiwan if there was "an unprecedented attack" (any attack would be unprecedented) mark the fourth time in 13 months that the commander-in-chief of the US military has said that, contrary to his administration’s official policy towards Taiwan, forceful reunification between Taipei and Beijing would mean a fight with the US
Worse, the timeline of this recent increase in tensions between Washington, Beijing, and Taipei shines with all the hallmarks of the most disastrous military interventions undertaken by the US military, namely that America feels something must be done, but its constituent elements are not bound by any unified strategy.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in the beginning of August describes this perfectly.
Pelosi’s visit achieved nothing for either country. There were no trade deals being discussed, no additional computer chips – Taiwan’s version of gold – were delivered to the US or her allies, and no change in US policy was announced. In short, a US non-diplomat spent millions in taxpayer money to fly to the other side of the Earth to be able to bow and be bowed to.
Biden allegedly tried to dissuade or reason with the Speaker, but claimed at the time that the executive branch couldn’t force a choice on her, a dubious proposition, and one which seems even more dubious as he quickly and quietly pushed a $1.1 billion arms sale to Taiwan shortly after.
This ambiguity shown by the Biden Administration as to the conduct of his colleagues on Capitol Hill opened the door for a parade of lawmakers to follow along after Pelosi, without any one of them presenting any meaningful purpose behind their visits.
All of these were undertaken in direct disdain to the PRC’s wishes in the matter.
On Sunday when Biden once again reminded Beijing that he and the Congress were turning Taipei into a fortified protectorate, yet more ambiguity followed when a White House spokesperson made an attempt to clarify the situation.
"The president has said this before, including in Tokyo earlier this year," the spokesperson said. "He also made clear then that our Taiwan policy hasn’t changed. That remains true."
Rather than saying "the President misspoke, our Taiwan policy hasn’t changed," the spokesperson offered no reassurance whatsoever of whether the official Carter Era policy on Strategic Ambiguity towards Taiwan was in complete tatters, or just a little tattered.
Yet more ambiguity surrounding the coordination of the executive and legislative branches came with the Taiwan Policy Act. Voted onto the Senate floor from the Committee on Foreign Relations, it would be the biggest change in relations between the two countries in history.
It has not come to a vote, but its provisions include $6.5 billion for new weapons and training contracts, a special $500 million per-year "war reserve stockpile," and the designation of Taiwan as an official major non-NATO ally, the same status enjoyed by Japan.
But what will be more infuriating to Beijing are the bill’s provisions for changing all the language towards the island, recognizing them as their own country with their own government, allowing them to use their own international state and military heraldry, and opening their own official embassy.
Once again, there was no acknowledgment as to whether this was something the president wanted to see on his desk in a few months. More ambiguity was demonstrated when the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan sat for a Bloomberg interview after merely to say that they agreed with some "elements" but that “there are other elements [of the draft] that give us some concern.”
Chinese foreign policy analysts at the time suggested this was a sign that the executive and legislative branches were out of sync over the Taiwan question, and that it wasn’t clear if Biden supported this hard turn towards abandoning long-standing policy. The reality might be far worse.
Ambiguity means the middle of the road
In what seems an almost sick joke, the Biden Administration and the current Congress have mutated the US policy of Strategic Ambiguity, which among its meanings and iterations, has the objective of looking forward to the day when China can unify with the "officials" on the island of Taiwan, and that the US would very, very much like to see it happen peacefully.
Instead, the Biden Administration has adopted a new Strategic Ambiguity, one that embraces the literal definition of those words, meaning to be and act ambiguous in a strategic way, or to have a strategy cloaked in ambiguity.
Recent history of US military operations suggest that the ambiguity isn’t just to fool Beijing, but is actually a result of the un-buckable trend of US authorities acting in the world through the combination of dreamy Wilsonian aspirations and irreconcilable real-world political and military objectives.
Afghanistan was invaded to bring al-Qaeda to justice, but the dreamy aspirations of Bush Jr.’s War on Terror speech proved a powerful influence on future decision makers as they disastrously tried to make the country safe for Democracy.
When elements in power in Washington decided they wanted to depose Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi, the idea was back hardcore jihadist veterans from the Iraq War to unseat the central government; beat… Democracy happens. The ambiguity that must have been on display in those meetings must have been staggering.
When America is enraptured by its highest aspirations, ambiguity abounds; even in Sun Tzu-level questions like "who will fight?" or "what does victory look like?" or "what are the fighters’ motivations?" Such questions are deeply in need of answering, as the Taipei Times has reported on several occasions that the desire to fight off a Chinese invasion is extremely low among a very despondent volunteer force, and that a mere 11-day blockade would exhaust the natural gas supply, subtracting 37% of the island’s energy mix.
As the Biden Administration continues changing Taiwan policy, China must confront an increasingly dangerous foe – an ambiguous American Empire determined to act.
Andy Corbley is founder and editor of World at Large, an independent news outlet. He is an avid listener of Antiwar radio and of the Scott Horton Show.