Rumsfeld's Iron Curtain
Jude Wanniski
June 5, 2001


Memo To: Condaleeza Rice, National Security Advisor
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Breaking Contact with the PLA

In the summer of 1954, when I had just turned 18 and was in my freshman year at Brooklyn College, my best buddy from Flatbush, Mike Creedman, borrowed his dad’s car for a weekend trip to Massachusetts. We headed for the outdoor Tanglewood concert of the Boston Symphony Orchestra as Mike had learned of a place where we could slip through the fence and get in free to sit on the grass and hear the all-Beethoven concert for free. It was on that trip that I learned one of the most important lessons in security that I would ever learn. After the concert, we decided to go to Boston for breakfast before heading back to NYC. Mike let me drive along a dark country road, and as I proceeded, a car came toward us with its bright lights on. I flashed my brights, but instead of the other car dimming, the lights stayed bright. So I left my brights on as we passed. Mike barked at me: “Why did you keep your brights on?” I explained the other fellow had his on and wouldn’t dim them. “But one of you has to be able to see! If you are blinded, why blind him to get even?” The lesson from Mike was so important that when I listed the credits in my 1978 book, The Way the World Works, for people who had remarkable impact on my life, I listed Mike. As I grew older, I realized how often two people or even two nations wind up being hurt because of blindness on both sides, when the clear vision of one would have avoided harm.

When I picked up Monday’s NYTimes and saw that Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld decided to cut off all contact with the military people in the People’s Republic of China, on the grounds that they were getting more from the exchange than we were, I thought of Mike Creedman and that dark country road. The People’s Liberation Army has its brights on, Ms. Rice, so we will turn our lights off altogether! This was exactly the problem that got us into the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the PRC in the late 1940s, but it was the reverse situation then. They could see what we were doing by reading our newspapers, but they had erected an Iron Curtain, to use Winston Churchill’s phrase, and we had no idea what was going on inside their power centers, what evil deeds they were planning. We had to assume the worst, that they were planning to take over the world, so we began preparing for war. The hawks in their regimes argued for an arms build-up to match ours. Espionage took place. So did McCarthyism. Diplomacy failed. Korea and Vietnam were necessary to secure the peace. We can wonder: If there had been openness on both sides, perhaps in the normal course of events the Communists would have seen that experimentation in that form of political economy would be a failure and come around, as they have now to market systems and gradually expanding democratic forms..

The Times account by its Pentagon reporter, Michael R. Gordon, says, “Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has cut off virtually all of the Pentagon’s contacts with the Chinese armed forces in a move that is prompting concern among China experts within the United States military establishment....Under Mr. Rumsfeld’s policy, no direct contact between American and Chinese military officers has been authorized in recent months. A trip to China by Vice Adm. Paul Gaffney, the president of the United States National Defense University, which had been scheduled to occur last week, was canceled. And Chinese officers are no longer being invited to seminars at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, the Pentagon’s primary research center on security issues in that region.”

The article also reported, “Mr. Rumsfeld’s policy worries some former and current United States officers. They argue that an interchange gives the United States insight into Beijing’s thinking, develops contacts that may prove useful in the future and contributes to deterrence by showing China the high caliber of the United States military. H.C. Stackpole III, the retired three-star Marine general and Vietnam war hero who leads the Pentagon-funded Asia-Pacific Security Center, said cutting off contacts is counter-productive. “I think it ensures that the hard-liners in Beijing have ammunition for an increased arms build-up....When you have the kind of position we are taking right now, only one view becomes prevalent. Those in China who do not wish to have the U.S. as an enemy find their voices become muted.”

To tell you the truth, Ms. Rice, I am surprised at Rumsfeld’s behavior. I’ve known him for 30 years and thought he would be smarter than he has been thus far in his second trip around the Pentagon. I’m afraid his mindset was frozen on that first trip, in the Ford administration, when the Cold War was still raging. With this action on China, I’m beginning to think he has committed himself to the position that we are probably going to be China’s enemy, so let us gird for battle. I’m afraid Paul Wolfowitz, his deputy, has been the dark influence on him, and there is nobody at the Pentagon to straighten him out. As you know, Rumsfeld can be very difficult.