Romney: Let's face it, this Pelosi visit to Taiwan is a bad idea

(Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

I’m shocked that an old-school hawk like Mitt opposes this visit.

But I’m pretty hawkish myself and I share his unease about the cost-benefit calculus.

In fact, this statement that John posted earlier deserves extra scrutiny as evidence of how conflicted the GOP might be internally about Pelosi’s trip. Twenty-six senators signed on, meaning that the caucus is almost exactly evenly split. And some of the Republicans who declined to join might not be whom you’d expect.

Some omissions are predictable. Rand Paul and Mike Lee lean libertarian and therefore dovish, so they opted out. Josh Hawley is a nationalist and also trends isolationist, so he’s a no. But where are uber-hawks Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton? Where’s Lisa Murkowski, whose Alaska colleague, Dan Sullivan, leads the names of Republicans listed above? How about Jim Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee?

Where on earth is the most hawkish man in the Senate, Lindsey Graham?

And what about the 2012 GOP nominee? Romney’s never been dovish. Until now:

I don’t think this is a case of Mitt being dovish. I think this is a case of him worrying that America is about to bite off more than it can chew in the Far East at a moment when it’s preoccupied with our “number one geopolitical foe,” Russia. The Chinese are already pushing the envelope around Taiwan in response to Pelosi’s visit:

That’s three incursions into Taiwan’s territorial waters and three near-incursions. Chinese media mouthpieces are talking tough too:

What’s our national reward for risking a two-front war with Russia and China? We get a bit of extra goodwill from Taipei, which is nice. We get a feather in Pelosi’s cap legacy-wise for having stared down the dragon, and good for her. What else?

Romney’s probably not concerned about a hot war breaking out around Taiwan, the risk of which is low. He’s worried about the same thing Tom Friedman’s worried about, that America’s thus-far successful efforts to deter Chinese intervention in Ukraine are about to turn less successful:

Biden, according to a senior U.S. official, personally told President Xi Jinping that if China entered the war in Ukraine on Russia’s side, Beijing would be risking access to its two most important export markets — the United States and the European Union. (China is one of the best countries in the world at manufacturing drones, which are precisely what Putin’s troops need most right now.)

By all indications, U.S. officials tell me, China has responded by not providing military aid to Putin — at a time when the U.S. and NATO have been giving Ukraine intelligence support and a significant number of advanced weapons that have done serious damage to the military of Russia, China’s ostensible ally.

Is the value of this visit to the United States such that it’s worth the risk of China strengthening Putin’s hand in response? I could understand if the U.S. had done something recently to shake the faith of its allies in the Far East, requiring bold diplomacy to communicate our resolve to resist China, but the opposite is true. Biden just wrapped up a tour of the region in May. Pelosi is meeting with various American allies on her current trip. The president also keeps babbling whenever the subject comes up that the U.S. will defend Taiwan militarily, a subject about which we’d remained politely ambiguous in the past. We’ve been bolder about standing up to China recently, not more timid.

If the goal of U.S. policy in the region is peace, stability, and containing Chinese expansionism, one can easily make the argument that Pelosi visiting Taiwan shortly before the CCP Congress meets this fall to reelect Xi Jinping is undermining those goals, not advancing them.

David Rothkopf writes today that her heart is in the right place, wanting to signal solidarity with the free Taiwanese people who live in the shadow of Chinese aggression, but he wonders where her brain is at. “The trip does not strengthen or positively change the position of the Taiwanese in any way,” he says. “On the other hand, Beijing has been given a useful tool to suggest that any rising tensions along the straits are actually being provoked by the U.S. The CCP can argue that the U.S. is actively meddling in regional affairs and use that to justify any military build up, exercises or other activities it may undertake.” And as others have noted (me included in a post a few days ago), the visit is a useful distraction for Xi at a moment when his economy has softened and his COVID strategy is in question. If the CCP suddenly looks fallible to its subjects, a big nationalist pageant off the coast at America’s expense is just what the doctor ordered to get them back onside.

Back to the Senate GOP statement. We should be careful not to assume too much about the motives of those who didn’t join it. Some, like Romney, may have passed for policy reasons, but it sounds like Lindsey Graham might have simply missed the boat when the statement was being circulated for signature. He praised Pelosi on social media this morning:

That might explain Rubio’s and Cotton’s uncharacteristic omissions too. Then again, unlike Graham, each of them is running for office — Rubio for Senate in Florida, Cotton for president in 2024 — and might be wary of the volatile politics involved in supporting a Democrat whom the right loathes when she’s engaged in taunting a foreign regime whom the right also loathes. If Rubio and Cotton side with Pelosi against the CCP, how many righties will cheer that they’re siding against the CCP and how many will boo that they’re siding with Pelosi?

I’ll leave you with McConnell, who did join the statement and has quietly been one of the staunchest hawks in Congress for decades. You know, Mitch, you could have always visited Taipei yourself if the symbolism meant that much to you.