Over the last three years, as I’ve followed the news on Taiwan, one of the hottest issues has been the special budget for the purchase of submarines, P-3C antisubmarine aircraft, and Patriot missiles (good background piece). Despite the fact that Taiwan has consistently been among the world’s top purchasers of arms under the outgoing Lee Teng-hui and subsequent Chen Shui-bian administrations — $4.1 billion in 2002-2005 time frame alone, there’s been a pack of uninformed, agenda-driven commentators who have argued that Taiwan isn’t doing enough in its own defense.

Ted Galen Carpenter, whose writings I have discussed at length here is a good example. Last year he wrote in a piece I dissected in May:

That leaves America in the unenviable position of having an implicit commitment to defend a fellow democracy that doesn’t seem especially interested in defending itself.

Carpenter accused Taiwan of “free riding” on the US defense network. To which I responded…

Yes, perhaps America is in an unrewarding and potentially dangerous position. If so, it has only itself to blame for this mess — rational pricing, a friendly co-production strategy, some patient commitment to the democracy side in the island’s politics, constant pressure on the pro-China parties — and all of this might have been avoided.

Withal, it must be said: it is high time US opinion leaders focused on a major cause of the problem: the United States. Sort out our own behavior, and Taipei will perforce follow.

I was always suspicious of Bush Administration motives, because it seemed that the root cause of the arms purchase problem lay not in Taiwan, but in the US. Another thing that drew attention of the US role in prolonging the agony was the media’s constant neglect of it (an example). Again and again the media would report that Washington was blaming Taiwan for the problem, without reporting that Washington was a cause of the problem. When the media all sing the same song, it is time to start looking for who is calling the tune. At the time, observing the US double standards and conflicting messages, I wrote:

The US position is gibberish. On one hand, it accuses Taipei of not wanting to buy US weapons and thus, not being serious about defense. On the other, it says Taipei is too serious about defense, for it is building “offensive” weapons. From yet another angle, it complains that Taiwan is building offensive weapons and that is bad, but then it is criticizing Taiwan for not buying US submarines, weapons that the US refused to sell Taiwan for twenty years because…..they were offensive weapons. And let’s not forget: citing the legislature’s intransigence on the arms purchase, the US has refused to sell requested (and needed) F-16s to Taiwan — and then it accuses Taipei of not being serious about its own defense!

If any human held the US positions, it would immediately be put in a straitjacket.

Of course, now we know the truth. The Bush Administration probably never intended to sell those weapons to Taiwan in the first place, since the conditions it offered — inflated prices and no local co-production on the submarines — were unacceptable. Or perhaps it genuinely did, but by the middle of the 2001-2008 period the Administration appears to have decided that there would be no further major arms packages. Certain by 2006, when it refused to sell F-16 fighters to the island, the de facto weapons freeze was already in place. Asking for fighters was merely the event that triggered its positive application — you don’t suddenly implement a policy like that without due consideration. No, the arms freeze long predates the 2006 request for more fighters.

Thus, when the Ted Galen Carpenters of the world were writing in 2007 that Taiwan was free riding on our defense network and not doing enough in its own defense, the reality was the exact opposite: Taiwan was asking for weapons that the US would not give, and then being accused of not doing enough in its own defense. This was not, mind you, official schizophrenia but official policy. I will let the reader decide whether the parade of officials the Bush Administration sent forth to complain that the island wasn’t buying enough weapons was sincere or merely political theatre.

Whatever the case may be, there has been an arms freeze now for three years. Are we going to get an apology from the Ted Galen Carpenters of the world for accusing Taiwan of wrongs that the Bush Administration was guilty of?

Yeah, right.