In the Strongest Terms Possible

 

In case of rhetorical emergency, break glass and use the following:

“Today the whole world witnessed [insert bad thing here], and on behalf of [insert your department/organization/government here] we are here to condemn [insert action here or person] in the strongest terms possible.

More likely than not, the only thing that’s possible when you’re using that phrase is using that phrase. It’s a political crutch and has been used for decades and is totally bipartisan in it’s usage. Its origins are unknown, although some like to try to peg it to a Monty Python sketch. (“Dear Sir, I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms about the song you have just broadcast about the lumberjack who wears women’s clothes. Many of my best friends are lumberjacks, and only a few of them are transvestites.”)

The phrase was used in the December 1942 Allied statement that acknowledged the ongoing genocide in Nazi Germany. But since those nations were already committed to full scale war against Hitler that statement had some teeth in it. But not more recently. 

Barack Obama used it the day after the murders in Benghazi. Bernie Sanders used it the morning one of his supporters shot Congressman Steve Scalise. Donald Trump used it after Charlottesville. Virtually every time the phrase is used it has the crackle of Confederate currency. It’s physically there but totally worthless.

Which brings us to Communist China and the situation in Hong Kong. Critics from both the left and the right are disappointed that Trump has not been more vocal about supporting the Hong Kong protesters. CNN went as far as to claim that the President promised his silence on the issue as a matter of trade negotiations. And when Trump did back the protesters in his latest speech at the United Nations, his critics brushed it off as inadequate.

So what exactly would be satisfying? It’s hard to say. Since his critics on the right have no stomach for tariffs, are they really going to be happy with serious economic sanctions? If you’re worried about higher prices on the trinkets you buy at Walmart, or if you’re complaining about subsidies to American farmers, I doubt that you’re going to welcome trade embargoes or the freezing of Chinese assets in the United States. I’m not sure that anyone on the right is even serious about guaranteeing Taiwan’s independence, let alone Hong Kong’s. And we’re sure as hell not going to be landing any Marines on the shores of Hong Kong or launching ICBMs toward Beijing any time soon.

Let’s face it. In the long run the US policy towards Communist China has been a rolling bipartisan disaster. In 2018 America did $659.8B worth of business with one of the most murderous, reprehensible regimes in history, and on terms that benefited them by a 5-to-1 margin. Imagine Ronald Reagan deciding to send jobs to the Soviets and borrowing money from the Evil Empire. You can’t? Well, this is what we’ve done with China. We made the Communists rich and then we borrowed from them to finance our government. What kind of unholy hell is it that we borrow to finance our military and the interest we send them ($99,511,068 per day) finances the People’s Liberation Army?

All we’re left with is the empty rhetoric of condemnation. But, of course, in the strongest terms possible.

 

 

Published in Foreign Policy
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There are 19 comments.

  1. Slow on the uptake Thatcher

    You ask good questions. But every one of them seems to be rhetorical.

    • #1
    • October 8, 2019, at 10:07 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    And we see the emptiness in the oh so woke NBA kowtowing to the Chinese Communist leadership, compelling a Houston Rockets staff member to grovel after deleting his pro-Hong Kong demonstrators tweet.

    Their laughable cover? We’re not political. The most openly leftist political league in American professional sports, with its “progressivism” cheered on by the sports media, is suddenly, selectively, apolitical? 

    Sure. We’ll all buy that.

    • #2
    • October 8, 2019, at 10:08 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  3. Bishop Wash Member

    I once worked with a guy who didn’t like the phase ‘as soon as possible’ or ASAP. His thought was that most people treat it as a synonym for now or immediately. However, if one breaks it down, as possible could mean two or three weeks. Someone could have a few much higher priority items in his job jar and the soonest he can get to your job is a few weeks from now. Has he lied if he says ASAP and delivers it in a few weeks? Similarly, ‘strongest terms possible’ doesn’t convey strength as you pointed out.

    • #3
    • October 8, 2019, at 10:20 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  4. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    Slow on the uptake: You ask good questions. But every one of them seems to be rhetorical.

    They’re certainly not offered in that spirit. We have some pretty smart people around here. And a lot of them of very ferocious critics of the President’s policies towards Communist China. (One of the great concessions we on the right have made to our leftist friends is this adoption of a “one China” policy in our speech. Not me. There is Free China, AKA Taiwan, and there are the Communists, or ChiComs for short.)

    Tell me (and him) what you would prefer. And even if that answer is, “Hey, SHUT UP! I don’t care about IP theft, I don’t care about the slave wages, I don’t care about the concentration camps or the censorship or the loss of freedom in Hong Kong – All I care about is affordable electronic goods!” it is at least more honest than this demand for empty words that make you feel good and accomplish absolutely nothing.

    • #4
    • October 8, 2019, at 10:37 AM PDT
    • 12 likes
  5. MarciN Member

    EJHill (View Comment):
    And a lot of them of very ferocious critics of the President’s policies towards Communist China. (One of the great concessions we on the right have made to our leftist friends is this adoption of a “one China” policy in our speech. Not me. There is Free China, AKA Taiwan, and there are the Communists, or ChiComs for short.)

    Me too. Love this.

    Although I believe Henry Kissinger was a genius in understanding how important it was, for the sake of world peace, to insert ourselves in between Communist China and the USSR, “One China” was a concession we did not need to make. Sometimes we put our peace hat on and we give away the store in that conciliatory frame of mind.

    I think this is why I am upset with President Trump at the moment.

    I want a great speech from him on China and Hong Kong. I want to hear the same person who scolded Obama and Kerry on the Iran Deal. “We are the United States of America!” Trump said. Hear, hear! I said. Yay!

    Will that President Trump please come to the podium? :-)

    • #5
    • October 8, 2019, at 10:49 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  6. MarciN Member

    I have to add to my comment 5 that this is my favorite speech Trump has given since he was elected. I agree with him completely, and I’m glad he said this and that he is pursuing this course of action. Because of Big Data, because of the data theft a 5G cloud enables, China’s dominance in the 5G market is a threat to national security, in my opinion. I was excited to hear this from President Trump, and because of it, I believe he knows the China he is dealing with:

    • #6
    • October 8, 2019, at 12:00 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Slow on the uptake: You ask good questions. But every one of them seems to be rhetorical.

    They’re certainly not offered in that spirit. We have some pretty smart people around here. And a lot of them of very ferocious critics of the President’s policies towards Communist China. (One of the great concessions we on the right have made to our leftist friends is this adoption of a “one China” policy in our speech. Not me. There is Free China, AKA Taiwan, and there are the Communists, or ChiComs for short.)

    Tell me (and him) what you would prefer. And even if that answer is, “Hey, SHUT UP! I don’t care about IP theft, I don’t care about the slave wages, I don’t care about the concentration camps or the censorship or the loss of freedom in Hong Kong – All I care about is affordable electronic goods!” it is at least more honest than this demand for empty words that make you feel good and accomplish absolutely nothing.

    EJ, you haven’t told us what you prefer.

    I agree that I’d like to hear something more honest than a “demand for empty words that make you feel good and accomplish nothing” (good phrasing, by the way). Perhaps someone taking this position can explain to me how this differs from virtue signaling. I can’t see any difference.

    My answer is:

    I do care about IP theft. I do care (a bit) about slave wages (though I think that they’d be low in China in any event). I do care about concentration camps (though I don’t know the extent to which they are a response to a Jihadi ideology). I do care about censorship, and loss of freedom in Hong Kong.

    But I don’t think that there’s much of anything that we can do about any of this, at acceptable cost. I do not support military intervention.

    I do support trade sanctions, which is precisely what President Trump is doing.

    Further explanation below.

    • #7
    • October 8, 2019, at 12:18 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    The entire world is beholden to the Huge China Market, and will do almost anything to get a foot (and salesmen) in the door to sell to the Chinese. We need to break out of that mold. We went decades not selling into the China market (before it opened up), and it’s time to tell the Communist Chinese to serve their own market with their own products. First, they need to be forcibly ejected from the WTO, to which they never should have been admitted in the first place. They are not, and never will be, a real market economy, and they should never receive any of the benefits of one.

    • #8
    • October 8, 2019, at 12:24 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  9. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    I also believe that the fear of “losing face” is very important in Asian cultures, including China. My basis for this is somewhat limited — the study of MacArthur’s career, and Clavell’s book Tai-Pan, principally. It does seem to be true. Here is a Harvard Business Review article on Chinese negotiations (there is a section toward the bottom on mianzi or “face”). I have never been personally involved in a Chinese negotiation.

    If correct, the mianzi concept implies that, in dealing with Chinese leadership, you don’t want to strongly connect your retaliation with their specific behavior. If you say: “we’re going to impose a 50% tariff until you close the camps, free Hong Kong, and stop censorship,” then you will back the Chinese leadership into a corner. They will be unable to comply without losing face, and therefore losing authority and social standing.

    So what should one do? Probably take an indirect approach. Threaten and impose sanctions, like tariffs, but be somewhat vague about the specific goals, or perhaps even use misdirection. Perhaps a good approach would be to complain about IP issues, and currency manipulation, and import barriers. I would think that compromise on these issues would cause less loss of “face” for Chinese leadership than something fantastical like the liberation of Hong Kong or adoption of a First Amendment.

    Frankly, there is little that we can do to improve things in China. I think that the most effective strategy is something like an economic war against China, both to weaken it and to create internal discontent that might lead to another Berlin Wall moment. It is probably better if our leaders don’t talk openly about this. It is a very dangerous situation, as China has already become exceptionally wealthy and powerful.

    The best tactic seems to be tariffs, which the President is imposing. It will probably be wise to continue to raise the tariff rates, but not to announce this in advance.

    • #9
    • October 8, 2019, at 12:31 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  10. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    MarciN (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):
    And a lot of them of very ferocious critics of the President’s policies towards Communist China. (One of the great concessions we on the right have made to our leftist friends is this adoption of a “one China” policy in our speech. Not me. There is Free China, AKA Taiwan, and there are the Communists, or ChiComs for short.)

    Me too. Love this.

    “One China” was a capitulation we did not need to make. Sometimes we put our peace hat on and we give away the store in that conciliatory frame of mind. We forget where the off switch is for that way of thinking.

    I think this is why I am upset with President Trump at the moment.

    I want a great speech from him on China and Hong Kong. I want to hear the same person who scolded Obama and John Kerry on the Iran Deal. “We are the United States of America!” Trump thundered at them. Hear, hear! I said. Yay!

    Will that President Trump please come to the podium? :-)

    I think that we probably did need to make the One China concession, in order to split China from the USSR. This was very important to winning the Cold War. We can never know, for sure, whether this was necessary or not.

    I suspect that it might be a good time to end the One China policy and recognize Taiwanese independence, but I know very little about the possible effects, so I do not hold this view strongly.

    I urge you to reconsider your conclusion about President Trump. Iran is a very different situation, involving a clear and unambiguous adversary that is not remotely a match for us. Moreover, with Iran, the trade sanctions appeared to be working, before Obama abandoned the policy. With China, we are only just starting the trade sanctions, and it behooves us to be inscrutable about our goals for the reasons of “face” explained above.

    Will it help if I say something? 

    China is ruled by a brutal, tyrannical, totalitarian, murderous regime. Its people are oppressed and denied basic human rights like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and participation in a representative government. It is an Evil Empire, like every Communist state before and since.

    Feel any better?

    • #10
    • October 8, 2019, at 12:39 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    Jerry Giordano: But I don’t think that there’s much of anything that we can do about any of this, at acceptable cost. I do not support military intervention.

    I do support trade sanctions, which is precisely what President Trump is doing.

    Exactly so.

    You ask me what I prefer? Beyond any thing else I want to bring a lot of my friends on the right back into a sense of reality. I see a lot of rhetorical nonsense these days – about China, Russia, the Middle East – and from people who simply know better but are blinded by their hatred for Trump.

    I trashed about six or seven drafts last night alone because I was so angry in the moment I could have spit nails. There is a massive cognitive dissonance in politics – and hypocrisy – and I understand that, but in the Era of Trump it seems to be driven, not just out of hatred, but willful ignorance. The situation with the NBA made this the easiest route to take but it was spurred by comments I was reading about Syria, the Turks and the Kurds last night.

    Dozens of commentators, most of them the usual suspects, were banging on last night about our “betrayl” of the Kurds, that this is the worst thing America had ever done and Trump’s hands were going to be bloody in no time. Well, we have betrayed the Kurds – at least 8 times in the last 100 years – and some of those railing against the President last night had a hand in many of them. Conservatives that worry about Trump’s lack of moral leadership are the worst. They desperately want to return the country and the party back to what they consider normalcy. Well, what’s normal? Papa Bush abandoned the Kurds when they rose up against Saddam in 1991. George W. turned a blind eye when the Turks attacked the Kurds in Iraq in 2007. All the while both Bushes, plus Clinton and Obama, happily sold arms to our “NATO Ally” with full knowledge of what the Turks were doing with them. But now they’re OUTRAGED.

    Same thing with Hong Kong. Oh, the President needs to do more. His words are too soft. He’s not providing the proper moral support. Well, who tied his hands? The freetraders and those that thought that they could tame the dragon by giving them sway over our economy. Just once, I’d like to see one of them, just one, say “You know what, in hindsight we really screwed the pooch. I’d like to blame the president, but I can’t. It was us all along.”

     

    • #11
    • October 8, 2019, at 1:04 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  12. Vance Richards Member

    Growing up I never fully understood the logic behind the US policies toward communist nations. You can’t have Cuban cigars because there are communist, yet so many products are made in Communist China. Then I later learned that there is no such thing as logic when it comes to politics.

    • #12
    • October 8, 2019, at 1:09 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  13. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Vance Richards (View Comment):

    Growing up I never fully understood the logic behind the US policies toward communist nations. You can’t have Cuban cigars because there are communist, yet so many products are made in Communist China. Then I later learned that there is no such thing as logic when it comes to politics.

    There was a logic, at the time. Kissinger and Nixon liberalized relations with China in 1972, in order to split China from the Soviet Union. This weakened the Soviet bloc and was probably very important in the ultimate fall of the USSR and the liberation of eastern Europe.

    Unfortunately, now we have to deal with the new monster. Americans have been making a lot of money from trade with China, and have been benefiting from inexpensive goods.

    This is nothing new, as a historical matter. In 1941, we sided with Stalin’s USSR against the greater threat of Hitler’s Germany, and won. In 1972, we sided with China against the USSR, and won. Now we need to take on China.

    I was going to say that, thankfully, there is no other major evil empire lurking in the wings, at the moment. Actually, I think that the whole social justice warrior/post-modern neo-Marxist ideology, which has taken over Europe and many of our blue states, could be the next threat.

    • #13
    • October 8, 2019, at 1:18 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  14. Stad Thatcher

    EJHill: Donald Trump used it after Charlottesville.

    I don’t believe Trump’s rhetoric was empty in this case.

    • #14
    • October 8, 2019, at 1:58 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. Slow on the uptake Thatcher

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    They will be unable to comply without losing face, and therefore losing authority and social standing.

    So what should one do? Probably take an indirect approach.

    But I want them to lose authority and standing.

    • #15
    • October 8, 2019, at 3:48 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    They will be unable to comply without losing face, and therefore losing authority and social standing.

    So what should one do? Probably take an indirect approach.

    But I want them to lose authority and standing.

    Yeah, but they’re not going to agree to something that would cause loss of face, so you have to use a negotiating strategy that recognizes this, if you’re trying to get them to change.

    The other option, as I detailed above, is a trade war that hurts China economically. Economic unrest might lead to revolution, perhaps of the rather bloodless type that we saw in the Warsaw Pact. It would not necessarily be peaceful, so there is quite a danger in such a strategy.

    • #16
    • October 9, 2019, at 11:34 AM PDT
    • Like
  17. Western Chauvinist Member

    I attended Hillsdale’s Understanding China seminar last month, so now I’m an expert. :-/

    First, the real experts I heard were not only in favor of Trump’s tariff policy, they basically said, “More please.” The Chinese are not getting rich off our trade — the Communists are. There are 94 million members of the Communist Party in China living the high life. The remaining 1.3 billion are dirt poor and live like slaves. No property, bare minimum of food, clothing, and shelter, and long hours of grueling labor for minimal compensation. And that doesn’t even describe the Uighur and Tibetan concentration camps holding the male population (while Chinese soldiers bivouac with their wives and children) where these men are given an hour to cry each week, forbidden from speaking their own language, and must memorize the Little Red Book of (communist-corrupted) Confucian sayings. 

    Second, China is not as well-off as they and our go-along-get-along propagandist Press report. Their per capita GDP is below Uruguay and above Paraguay. Something as imbalanced as China can’t last forever, we must hope. But, it’s kind of a race to the bottom, because…

    Third, even if China and Yuan come out on top of the coming collapse (see repo bubble), it will be because they’re hoarding gold and have a manufacturing base — unlike us. 

    And, finally, if we want to do something about it (not just our president), we should look to our retirement accounts which are invested in Chinese sovereign bonds and Chinese bad-actor companies, largely without our knowledge. Insist on full disclosure of the risk we’re holding (and, oh, btw propping up a malicious regime) and the divestment of the Chinese and Russians. Because once the bubble bursts, we’re not getting that money back.

    Amen? Have a nice day.

    • #17
    • October 9, 2019, at 1:02 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  18. MarciN Member

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    The Chinese are not getting rich off our trade — the Communists are. There are 94 million members of the Communist Party in China living the high life. The remaining 1.3 billion are dirt poor and live like slaves.

    Exactly right. 

    • #18
    • October 9, 2019, at 2:44 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Conservatives that worry about Trump’s lack of moral leadership are the worst. They desperately want to return the country and the party back to what they consider normalcy. Well, what’s normal? Papa Bush abandoned the Kurds when they rose up against Saddam in 1991. George W. turned a blind eye when the Turks attacked the Kurds in Iraq in 2007. All the while both Bushes, plus Clinton and Obama, happily sold arms to our “NATO Ally” with full knowledge of what the Turks were doing with them. But now they’re OUTRAGED.

    Same thing with Hong Kong. Oh, the President needs to do more. His words are too soft. He’s not providing the proper moral support. Well, who tied his hands? The freetraders and those that thought that they could tame the dragon by giving them sway over our economy. Just once, I’d like to see one of them, just one, say “You know what, in hindsight we really screwed the pooch. I’d like to blame the president, but I can’t. It was us all along.”

    Yup.

    • #19
    • October 9, 2019, at 11:35 PM PDT
    • 2 likes