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Paul Kane’s recent op-ed in the New York Times advocates trading Taiwan to China to get China to write off the $1.14 trillion of American debt it currently holds. Kane’s entertaining solution has triggered clamors of responses, ranging from the Atlantic, Foreign Policy magazine, and Business Insider to the China Post, calling his op-ed “dumb,” “crazy” or “just ludicrous.” Aside from Kane’s “crazy” idea, though, he is trying to address the larger question on everyone’s mind: What can the United States do in its current state to address or even solve its national debt?
Like other Taiwanese immigrants with strong ties to our homeland, I was appalled by his various incorrect assumptions on top of his simple suggestion to ditch Taiwan. Still, I have spent the last thirty or so years building a life in the United States, and not only do I believe Kane is wrong, I believe the actual answer to my current homeland’s debt issue is to cut down on military spending.
Kane raises a financial concern that if the United States remains “committed” to Taiwan, how costly its commitment it will become if China decides to take Taiwan by force, hence engaging the United States in a “multi-trillion-dollar war.”
Instead, I would argue in this scenario that the United States would respond the same way it did in 1979 when it chose to transfer diplomatic recognition of the Republic of China in Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China on the mainland. If faced with the threat of war, the United States will choose to abandon Taiwan again.
With this being the case, the United States should focus instead on fixing the current looming problem—its debt—through cutting down on military spending with an non-interventionist approach.
Tough economic times call for the United States to focus on its domestic issues instead of overextending its military reach abroad. The United States needs to lower its military costs through withdrawing all troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and putting a halt to establishing or devoting any more resources to foreign bases abroad.
There are currently 24,000 US troops remaining in Iraq, and 97,000 troops in Afghanistan. Between generals on the ground in Iraq and politicians in Washington D.C., no one can agree on how much to reduce the troop levels. As of September 2011, the Obama administration’s latest consideration is dropping the number of troops in Iraq to 3,000 by the end of the year. As for the troops in Afghanistan, President Obama announced a plan on June 22, 2011 to withdraw 10,000 troops by the end of 2011 and an additional 23,000 by the summer of 2012.
The schedule will have the last troops leaving in 2014. Together, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the United States more than $1 trillion, according to Department of Defense figures.
But Mike Dorning and Margaret Talev reveal in their Bloomberg article from June 22, 2011that this figure does not include as much as $100 billion listed by the Pentagon as non-war-related costs, such as intelligence spending and disability costs for wounded veterans. In addition, the 2012 Department of Defense Budget devotes $118 billion to “ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and transition activities in Iraq” on top of what has already been spent.
How much longer is the United States going to engage in such costly wars when a large national debt is lurking in the corner?
The Obama administration recently revealed plans to send up to 2,500 US Marines to an Australian military base in Darwin, seemingly as part of a strategy to contain China. US politicians are too concerned with the “China threat” when they should be focused on fixing their own country’s issues and rebuilding the United States’ economic well-being.
Regardless of the repercussions that withdrawal of troops and non-interventionism can potentially cause, the overall focus needs to be on solving the United States’ over $15 trillion debt.
Any level of isolationism may seem unrealistic for the United States at this point, but this is not a suggestion to shun the rest of the world. Rather, by redirecting its focus to its domestic issues, the withdrawal of troops and halt in US military extension abroad will ultimately protect the interests of the United States as a whole country.
For a Taiwanese immigrant who has been paying US taxes for the majority of his lifetime, the message is simple: The United States should not be pursuing costly interests abroad, such as military expenses, when it needs to fix its own problems first before addressing anything else.