Bruce Herschensohn on China, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Israel
L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
Herschensohn, who teaches foreign policy at Pepperdine University, began the interview with a look at China and Taiwan, a part of the globe that regularly threatens to boil over.
Aiding China's War Plans
Like a professor prompting his students to think, Herschensohn comments on China's appetite for sophisticated weaponry by asking, "Why else would they be making intercontinental ballistic missiles if it weren't for the prospect of going to war with the United States?"
He adds, with an obvious tone of regret, "Unfortunately, we have done everything in our power to insure that they become a superpower."
Herschensohn's analysis of the "superpower" cycle takes us on a tour of the Reagan years and winds its way back to the future. He points out how President Ronald Reagan, with the Strategic Defense Initiative, among other things, forced the Soviets to put all of their money into the military. He speaks of the economic decay that became the eventual ruin of the Soviet Union.
"Fifteen years ago there were two superpowers: the United States and the Soviet Union," Herschensohn recalls. He notes that only the United States can accurately claim the title today.
But he cautions that it was military strength, in particular, that gave the Soviet Union its superpower status, and there is legitimate reason to fear that the People's Republic of China is headed in that direction.
The statesman doesn't believe that economic development is going to bring China any closer to a U.S.-type of republican framework either. He logically asks, "If economic decay brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union, why should economic advancement bring about the decay of communism in the People's Republic of China?"
Herschensohn believes that sometimes the desire to fatten the wallet has caused corporations, as well as individuals, to become blind to the issues of freedom and human rights.
Inevitably, this type of attitude ends up affecting policy, and nowhere is it more evident than in the case of Taiwan. He sees the Bush administration as having a better stance toward Taiwan than some previous administrations, in rhetoric and assistance. Still, he does express concern over recent talk about "peaceful negotiations on the One China policy" and tries to clarify some of the mistaken notions concerning the issue.
Apparently, the One China concept has been distorted over time. According to Herschensohn, the flaw in understanding stems from an erroneous interpretation of the Shanghai Communiqué that Nixon signed.
He notes that in 1972, the question wasn't whether or not there would be one China that encompassed both sides of the Taiwan Straits. Both sides wanted that. The question was over which side would govern all of China.
Herschensohn thinks, as years went by, the State Department intentionally nurtured the notion of a One China policy where Beijing would be the capital, and the department continues to lean in that direction.
When asked if that were a kind of an invitation for China to take over, Herschensohn answered, unequivocally, "Of course it is."
What could the U.S. do to protect Taiwan that it is not doing now? His advice again is straightforward.
"We should continue to sell and even give arms technology to Taiwan. We should more and more call it Taiwan and make it clear that we support their self-determination through actions."
The subject flows to the situation in Hong Kong. Herschensohn remembers his first trip there in 1960 and the worry that was apparent even then about the handover.
He tells about how Margaret Thatcher met with Deng Xiao Ping in the 1980s to talk about the transfer. The Chinese leader informed her that Beijing was going to take Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, and promised a 50-year period where there would be one country with two systems.
Herschensohn thinks Thatcher deserves praise for the strength she displayed in meeting with the Chinese leader and pushing for the one-country, two-system structure. But he sees a major error with the line of thinking.
He believes that Britain was interpreting "two systems" to mean communism for the mainland and capitalism for Hong Kong. But he explains that capitalism is only the economic dimension of liberty. Although "capitalism is certainly a part of liberty, it isn't the whole thing . You have to have capitalism to be free, but you are not necessarily free just because you have capitalism."
This distinction comes into play as Herschensohn looks at the People's Republic of China. He describes its system as more fascist than communist but cites the large urban areas as examples of capitalism, if one bases the determination solely on economics.
The professor again admonishes, "Liberty is something far bigger than just economic liberty." He points out that "Hong Kong has been the definition of liberty," and that the "jewel of the South China Sea grew because the Chinese refugees were able to create it devoid of the Beijing government."
He sums up his thoughts on the region by noting that the individuals who risked their lives to come to Hong Kong are now experiencing the step-by-step loss of liberty. "It is a tragedy, no question about it," he remarks.
India and Pakistan: 'It Is Worse'
Discussion turns to another simmering area of the globe: India and Pakistan. Herschensohn begins with the proverbial splash of cold water in the face.
"Both sides do have the bomb. Both have methods of delivery of the bomb but that isn't really the extent of it. It is worse than that."
He describes how both countries have been fighting over Kashmir since 1947 but stresses that there are new factors in play, which were not present in previous wars.
One is that China has become a great military power and, in the event of a war, would align with Pakistan. Another is that we now have Islamic fundamentalist nations, with the possibility that the entire world of Islam would join Pakistan in the event of a war.
Herschensohn notes that with more than a billion people in China, a billion-plus in India and close to 2 billion in the Islamic world, we could see more than half the globe involved in the snap of a finger, should a real war over Kashmir break out.
He cautions that we'll eventually have to take sides, but we have a problem. While we're counting on President Pervez Musharraf to continue the policy that has been so helpful since Sept. 11, he is not an elected leader. Apart from the fact that we would like him to stay, rather than having an Islamic fundamentalist in power, the reality is that he took over in a coup.
On the other hand, India is a free republic. But Herschensohn recalls that India was not a friend during the Cold War, and Pakistan was. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan allowed 2 million refugees to come into its country, and has remained relatively friendly over the years.
Herschensohn's moral underpinnings shine through as he views the entire situation in grander terms. "One of the greatest conflicts in life is when two principles fight each other."
'Worst Place in Hell'
He goes on to unleash Dante's quote "the worst place in hell is reserved for those who are neutral in times of crisis" to remind us that we cannot take the easy road and opt for indecision.
So here's the dilemma: Are we loyal to those who have been loyal to us, or do we choose freedom? Herschensohn believes that, in the end, the scale tips toward freedom, and we must side with India.
Regarding Iraq, Herschensohn expresses frustration with the leaks that continue to occur. He characterizes them as "not legally treasonous, but certainly morally treasonous," because they have the potential to "kill hundreds of thousands, if not more Americans."
The conversation naturally leads to a discussion of the war on terror in general. Herschensohn says it is his own belief that the president should have asked for a declaration of war on Sept. 12, and he would have gotten it.
He adds that Bush should have sought a declaration of war against terrorism period, not against individual countries or people, but against terrorism that threatens the U.S. wherever it might occur.
On Iraq: 'Let's Do It'
There is talk about Bush seeking another resolution for Iraq, and along with that idea comes the prospect of having to hold congressional hearings. Herschensohn doesn't mince words.
"It is the wrong way to conduct a war .... He does not have to seek permission to do everything when it comes to foreign policy it risks the Iraqi government learning too much.
"The president knows what has to be done. Let's do it."
On the possible removal of Saddam Hussein, Herschensohn thinks it would have a terrific effect on the entire region, as far as the U.S. is concerned. He believes if we could do in Iraq what we did in Afghanistan and topple the government in 37 days; if we could do the same with a third country, he thinks "the war on terrorism would draw to a close out of fear by the remaining governmental sponsors of terrorism."
How Israel Unifies Arabs
The conversation turns to the Middle East as a whole. Herschensohn is convinced that if Israel had never existed, there would still be the same turmoil in the area, because the turmoil "has everything to do with the disunity of the neighboring leaders who want to take over each other."
He describes how "Iraq wants to take over Iran. Iran wants to take over Iraq. Iran wants to take over all of the Persian Gulf. So does Iraq. Sudan would like to take over Chad. Sudan would like to take over Egypt. Yemen would like to take over Oman. Syria has taken Lebanon and has its eyes on Jordan."
He makes his point. He believes the Arab governments are "disunified on practically everything. The only thing that gives them unity is Israel."
Jimmy Carter's Disaster
Herschensohn thinks that were it not for some of the things that Jimmy Carter did during his tenure, 9-11 would never have happened. He speaks specifically of the U.S. abandonment of the Shah of Iran, which allowed for the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who, incidentally, U.N. representative Andrew Young thought would someday be known as a saint.
Herschensohn sees the failure to support the Shah as pivotal in paving the way for "the creation of the first Islamic fundamentalist revolutionary government."
As the interview winds up, it is clear that Bruce Herschensohn demonstrates the capacity to navigate the geopolitical terrain in a thoughtful and articulate manner. Whether policy-makers have agreed or disagreed with him in the past, they would do well to listen closely to this new advice.