Call Me, Maybe. Or Maybe Not.

December 3, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

The big news today is that the president-elect called Taiwan. Big mistake. The American Conservative (here)  calls it “the height of irresponsible and clueless behavior.” That’s our next president – impulsive and ignorant. Not a good combination for the leader of the free world. Those traits were not a liability in the election campaign – maybe they were an asset – but foreign governments are not the US electorate, and every gesture carries great meaning.  If the US talks with Taiwan, China will be upset. In fact, they just lodged an official diplomatic complaint.

I sympathize with Trump’s ignorance on this one. The story reminded me of one of the early posts in this blog (here), ten years ago, about a similar issue of who could talk to who.

North Korea leader Kim Jong-il (son of former leader Kim Il Sung) had previously demanded that the US talk with North Korea one-to-one, but US leader George W. Bush (son of former leader George Bush) had refused. Lil’ Bush refused direct talks and insisted that four other countries had to be there. Lil’ Kim eventually caved.

It was like those disputes from my childhood.

When I was a kid, I would sometimes have a dispute with one of my brothers, and we’d get so angry, we’d refuse to talk to each other. At the dinner table, I’d say something like, “Tell Skip that if  he doesn’t give back my racer, I’m not going tell him where I hid his airplane.” My mother would dutifully turn to her right and repeat the message, as though my brother hadn’t been right there to hear it. Then she’d do the same with his answer. You see similar scenes in sitcoms and movies. Maybe it happened in your family too.

In real life, at least in my house, it never lasted long. Everyone would see how stupid it was, how impossible to sustain, and usually we’d wind up dissolving in laughter at how ridiculous we were.

I imagine Trump’s reaction on being told that the phone call was a major blunder. “What, you mean I have to pretend that Taiwan doesn’t exist? That they don’t have phones? They’ve got terrific phones, the best. Believe me. And I know they exist, bigly. Great economy. That’s why I want to put up hotels there. Fantastic, classy hotels. Besides, it was just a phone call.”

A State Department official tries to explain the rules about talk and that if you really want to communicate with Taiwan, you have to go through other channels. As I said at the end of that 2007 post

When people insist on this “I’m not talking to him” charade, we call it childish and silly. When nations do it, we call it foreign policy.