The Corner

The Precedent Dodge

This weekend, Canada’s Jean Chretien trotted out the “bad precedent” argument again in his opposition to a war with Iraq. Telling George Stephanoplous that China might follow America’s example and simply opt for regime change in Taiwan. While I do believe precedents are important and matter it seems to me this misses the mark in two key aspects.

First of all, the idea that China hasn’t invaded Taiwan yet because it lacks a solid precent to invoke is absurd. It isn’t the lack of a supporting precedent which primarily keeps China out of Taiwan, it’s America’s security guarantees. The lack of a precedent didn’t keep tanks from rolling over Tibet. I’m sure China cares about what the world thinks to the extent it cares about foreign investment and trade. But, it cares about its core national interests more. And the threat of American retaliation is a greater deterrent in terms of national interest than world opinion is.

Second, the precedent these people are really worried about isn’t that other countries might violate the UN some day, but that America might continue to thwart the will of the UN — which has become a kaisersbund dedicated to curtailing American influence.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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