Spies and Character
April 30, 1999 - A.M. Rosenthal - The New York Times
How come they can do it right here
in America and how come our Government does not take action when
the crimes are discovered?
The woman next to me at dinner
was asking the question all Americans should ask about China's continuous and successful nuclear espionage against the U.S. -- how come?
So far only one or two people have
been named as suspected spies, who
got hold of thousands of pages of
American secret information on nuclear weapons -- one of the great
espionage coups of our time.
But it is almost comical -- any
belief that one or two men could find
out exactly where the information
was, what data to search for and in
what priority, how to extract it from
lab computers without getting
caught, and the names and access
codes of the companies in America
that are fronts for the Chinese Government and Chinese Army.
Historians will be writing books
about Beijing's counterparts to the
Soviet spy rings in America, and the
Cambridge treason crowd in Britain.
The Clinton Administration, which
for years ignored early tips on the
espionage, now stalls on releasing
information gathered by a committee headed by Representative Christopher Cox of California. But I expect
pretty soon the investigation teams
of The Times and other papers will
break the story of the spy rings plural and their contacts plural. Read
the excellent article in the May issue
of The American Spectator by Kenneth R. Timmerman, one of the experts read by other experts.
But still -- how come these made-in-China spies? The answers are essential not only to understanding the
espionage case but the character --
the precise word -- of President Clinton's problems about other critical
realities, from Lewinsky to Kosovo.
For almost all its time in office the
Administration has preached and
practiced a policy toward the Chinese Government that he had denounced before he was elected the
first time but soon adopted, widened
and made more dangerous to American interests and ideals.
The policy is that the only way to
get China to behave itself, and not do
nasty things like engaging in nuclear
espionage and torturing political and
religious prisoners, is to build up
U.S.-China trade. Like his American
business mentors and our foreign
allies, the President calls it the policy of engagement.
It is, it is -- engagement with China's Communist Politburo, not with
the Chinese people.
The Administration uses an old
trick to fight American people and
organizations who still want what he
supported before assorted C.E.O.'s
and political donors got to him -- the
use of economic leverage to squeeze
human rights concessions out of the
Politburo. Mr. Clinton falsely accuses them of the fatal weakness of his
own policy -- playing only one note
on his saxophone.
When the Chinese take the trade
money and tell the world to get lost
about human rights, or go in for nuclear espionage in America, the President has a choice. He can remain a
prisoner of Beijing by insisting he is
right. Or, he can break out of his cage
by admitting error and returning to
the mixture of realism and idealism
he had promised Americans, to get
the votes of those who cared.
But somehow I doubt he will ever
do that. I think he really believes that
evasion, falsehood, stonewalling, listening to the music of the cash register and not of the soul, stalling --
about Monica or about espionage --
are the instruments of government
and the path of self-preservation. I
suppose they are, for him.
They worked to save him from
impeachment. They were useful in
helping Americans forget the promise he once spoke into my own little
ears -- not to send troops to Bosnia.
They are not quite working to save
him from world realization that neither he nor the other NATO brains
ever thought that Slobodan Milosevic
would be so crass as to use NATO
bombing as the right moment to drive
out the Albanians, turning the war
into a disaster for Albanians, NATO,
Americans and Serbs who positioned
themselves under the bombs.
He will not change his character,
nor the fact that character of a President determines character of Presidential policy. He has not yet said that
espionage by his Chinese captors is
good for America. But he has a year
and a half of Presidential time left to
figure how to break the news.
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