The man who fears just that is a veteran Pentagon adviser. Fritz Kramer spent 27 years there. And he saw it all. Now nearly 93, the dynamic speaker, amazingly even without theatrical training, has witnessed wrong signals of weakness being sent to the enemy before. And the Chinese standoff brought back those memories, which he shared at a luncheon Thursday of Accuracy in Media.
"When our president wrote to the widow of the Chinese pilot [who effectively killed himself with his own recklessness] saying we regret, then we’re sorry, then we’re very sorry, the Chinese at that point said: ‘All right, we’ve frightened them sufficiently. Now they’ll think twice before helping Taiwan,’” surmised the World War II veteran, who received a battlefield commission, leaving as a lieutenant.
"If we had said we WILL send Taiwan the Aegis torpedo boats when they’re ready in eight years, that would have sent a clearer message than ‘Well, we’ll keep it as an option and see what happens,’” he said. "Too provocative, we are told.” But what is more provocative than the perception of weakness?
"When your enemy does not fear retaliation, that invites trouble,” added Kramer who, from inside the Pentagon where he spent 14 of his 27 years as chief adviser to the to the Army chief of staff, witnessed weakness that encouraged enemy boldness.
"Don’t ever dare say that we won the Cold War,” said the Prussian-born Pentagon insider in the years spanning the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations. "It is only by the grace of God that we did not lose.”
In broken but absolutely clear English, Kramer recounted an almost institutional weakness in the government that tried to pull President Ronald Reagan back from aggressively undermining the Soviet Union.
The State Department did not want the phrase "evil empire” to remain in that famous Reagan speech. Nor did the Defense Department.
"And when he was told by his staff that both State and Defense said he should not say ‘evil empire,’ President Reagan said, ‘Am I or am I not the president of the United States?’ The answer was ‘Yes.’ ‘And can I or can I not say what I please in a speech?’ Again ‘Yes.’ ‘Good! It stays in.’”
The bourgeoisie does not understand the intensity of the revolutionary, Kramer claims, citing what he sees as the difference between Bill and Hillary Clinton.
"Hillary at least actually believes her nonsense,” he said, as opposed to Bill, who masters the political spin.
"You cannot pull people out of the intensity of revolutionary willpower.” He said even Reagan was wrong when he pulled us out of Lebanon after a suicide bomber killed 241 of our men.
Americans, by and large, don’t understand the danger of provocative weakness, he believes. We are a rich country, we are comfortable, and it’s hard for us to get a grip on revolutionary tenacity.
Even Israel, according to Kramer, has succumbed to the same virus of softness. In its early years, the Jewish state was tough and determined to fend off its surrounding enemies.
"Now the Palestinians think Israel is getting soft. And the Palestinians think we’re soft. That is provocative weakness.”
The diplomats are part of the problem, of course.
"Clientitis is an illness of any diplomacy,” Kramer said. Every diplomat has his own client state. And too often, the best interest of the United States gets lost in the shuffle.
The onetime top Pentagon adviser remembers when the Czechoslovak freedom fighters in 1968 wanted to throw off domination by their Soviet masters, the Soviets retaliated with military might.
Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer went to then Defense Secretary Clark Clifford, a onetime top Truman adviser who later was disgraced in a banking scandal, and suggested the U.S. send tanks to the Bavarian border to send the message that the U.S. stands by the freedom fighters.
"Too provocative,” replied Clifford. When the general protested, Clifford buried him in a blizzard of "barnyard epithets,” according to Kramer, who called Clifford’s predecessor, Robert Strange McNamara, "a brilliant fool.”
Kramer recalls his old friend and onetime mentor Henry Kissinger telling him that he had been asked to take the steps necessary for a reconciliation with China.
His response was, "Well, I suppose when you have two Bolshevik regimes as your enemy, it makes a certain amount of sense to collaborate with the weaker of the two and drive a wedge there.”
"But, Kissinger,” he added, "NO concessions on Taiwan!”
The end result, of course, was a disappointment.
It was Chairman Mao himself who once described the United States as a paper tiger, and said China "should never be afraid” of the U.S.
At one time, Kramer sat through a speech given by a Chinese military man, who spoke perfect English, without any notes.
In the question-and-answer period, Kramer stood up and said to the man: "Your leader calls us a paper tiger. And we usually go out of our way to avoid coming face to face with adversaries, which gives the appearance of a fear of military readiness. But you should remember that once we do get into a conflict, we are no paper tiger. We will fight to the bitter end.”
To which the Chinese official replied: "You are right. It is your and my task to prevent that.”
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