Robert Spalding on Taiwan Election and Soleimani

By Simone Gao
Simone Gao
Simone Gao
January 15, 2020 Updated: January 21, 2020

Simone Gao: General, so good to see you. I saw you posting a picture of you in one of the posts in Taiwan. Tell me what you saw and what was the atmosphere like?

Robert Spalding: Well, I went to both the KMT last campaign rally and the DPP last campaign rally I went to opposite sides of the rally, so I couldn’t compare the two crowds. So they both seem to be very packed. And it was really a festive atmosphere and everybody was very excited for the candidates. And of course both sides. KMT and DPP both thought that their candidate was going to win from the numerous people that I talked to. Of course we now know that Tsai Ing-wen won in a landslide. And so it was, it was very exciting. I also got to go to a polling place and watch the counting of the ballots, which in Taiwan is very open and transparent process. They show the ballot and then I calculate the ballot. And anybody, any citizen of Taiwan can challenge any ballot right there while it’s being counted. So it was very inspiring to see in action. And it was a very, just you know, exciting time and I think everybody was proud and, and excited to be executing their right to vote.

Ms. Gao: So what are the Taiwanese people saying after the result came out? Are the, is that the number they expected?

Mr. Spalding: Well, I think so first of all president Tsai one with more votes in any any Taiwanese president has ever won. So she got over, make 8 million votes. No, no president have ever gotten that many votes. By the same token she actually won by more votes last time. But nevertheless, I think all all of the Taiwanese that I spoke to really believed that this was an overwhelming victory for president Tsai. And it was an overwhelming repudiation of essentially the Chinese communist party’s aggressive actions both in terms of Xi Jinping’s rhetoric, but also the the harsh the way that they’ve dealt with Hong Kong. So I think it was a vote against the CCP that being said on the party line vote. That one actually saw the KMT get more votes than they did last time. And the, the, the distance between the DPP and the KMT and the party line vote was much closer than before. And so the, the belief is that it was a vote for Tsai, a vote against the China and the CCP, but also not necessarily a vote for the DPP itself. So very interesting split results with regard to the presidential vote and the party line vote.

Ms. Gao: So this election is clearly a referendum on the CCP.

Mr. Spalding: Clearly. Yes.

Ms. Gao: Okay. what do you think will happen to the US-Taiwan relations after this one?

Mr. Spalding: I think, I think we are in a period of strengthening relations. I think we’re in a period of weakening relations with China, mainland China, and and in particular we’re essentially moving away from the Chinese communist party. So I think as we do that, we’re going to move closer to Taiwan. Certainly, especially if Taiwan chooses to move closer to the United States financially, economically and trade wise.

Ms. Gao: Okay. And what do you think China will do to Taiwan?

Mr. Spalding: Well, I think they’re going to continue with their rhetoric, which is really aggressive in nature and, and more than likely will continue to essentially do the things that they’ve done, like you know, sail their carrier in the Taiwan Strait and send their airplanes to fly around the Island of Taiwan, essentially being very provocative militarily. I think that will continue, but at the same time you know, I don’t, I don’t expect any type of military conflict.

Ms. Gao: Some people are saying if reunification is not done by 2035, the chances of China taking military actions against Taiwan is gonna be very high. What’s your thoughts?

Mr. Spalding: Well I think it’s still it’s still tough to say because essentially they run the risk of having a military confrontation with the United States and that also brings with it the risk of the use of nuclear weapons. So I think it is something that the, they will have to judge. At the time, I don’t think necessarily that it would make a lot of sense, but it’s hard to say what what what the Chinese communist party might do. I would say that the United States will stand ready to defend and deter aggressive actions by the CCP. But, you know, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Ms. Gao: Overall, do you think president Trump made the right move by killing Soleimani?

Mr. Spalding: I do. I think it clearly important that you provide a level of deterrence to the Iranian regime for all the activity that they have been conducting in the middle East or you knew almost two decades now. And what, what Soleimani was doing was essentially pursuing a strategy in the Middle East where Iran was acting through proxies to undermine stability all throughout the middle East in order to form a block that was essentially beholden to the, to Iran. And so Amani was moving around the Middle East really with impunity and in a lot of these actions that he was taking were damaging strategically for the United States and for its partners and allies in the region. And so I think it was clearly justified not just because of that, but also because of the 600 or so Americans that he’s personally responsible for in terms of their death. So he has been targeting Americans for quite some time and quite frankly, I personally had given up hope that we were actually going to do the right thing with regard to him. So I think it’s, it’s not only long overdue, it actually helps the United States strategically because it provides a level of deterrence for the leaders of Iran, the Iranian regime, and it makes them stop and think about what are the repercussions of any further activities that they may take in the region in terms of the, the personal threat that it brings to them.


Ms. Gao: Right. Media has been criticizing president Trump that he’s likely dragging us to another regional war by killing Soleimani. Well, he promised that he will get us out of the middle East. So what do you think will really happen?

Mr. Spalding: So I, I personally agree that we need to get out of the Middle East. In terms of being in places like Afghanistan and and around the rest of the areas where there’s a lot of violence, I don’t think that we need to continue to spend a lot of resources and personnel in those, in those regions because quite frankly, we have a bigger challenge in the Pacific and out of allies that can essentially handle, handle themselves or or partners in the region that can handle their, their own challenges. And I think we’ve spent far too much money and time in that region. That being said the so Amani as long as we have personnel in the middle East was

Not only providing more instability that they had to deal with, but also, you know, creating personal threat to those troops. And so I think the all of the criticism with regard to that that strike is really misplaced and I, I actually think it’s more domestic politics and less about really talking about what is the right thing to do with regard to us national security DePaul.

Ms. Gao: So by killing Soleimani, do you think America will allocate too much resources to the middle East that they won’t have enough resources to deal with the Pacific challenges by China?

Mr. Spalding: I actually think it’s gonna allow us to move out of the middle East faster because it’s going to help reset deterrence in the region and, and likely result in less activity by the Iranians, at least in the short term as they try to reassess where the line is being drawn in terms of what what they will, what they face retaliation for. So I actually think it’s going to enable us to draw down faster. Whereas allowing Soleimani to operate with impunity, you know, was really forcing us to continue to add forces to maintain a level. So stability so that we can move out. You know, I, again, I believe that we ought to draw down as soon as we can and I think the, the bat action in particular will probably enable that to actually happen.

Ms. Gao: What do you think is the difference between president Trump and president Bush in terms of the Middle East strategy? I mean, will America ever get itself into the regime change and nation building mode that president Bush got us into?

Mr. Spalding: I would say the difference between the two is that president Trump is far less likely to want to get entangled in a long conflicts or even to want to use military force. He could have used military force when the Saudis were there or oil fields were bombed by the Iranians. He could have used military force when shipping was attacked in the Persian Gulf by the Iranians. So there’s been several times, or even when theU.S. Drone was shot down over international waters in the Persian Gulf, any of those times he would have been justified in using military force you know, to retaliate against Iran. Nevertheless, he chose not to and has been quite measured in his response in terms of using military force as opposed to president Bush, which was obviously, of course he had to deal with nine 11, but also was very willing to use military force and actually quite heavily.

Ms. Gao: Just the scale of the military force, to me the Trump administration is not in the mood to get into, you know, regime change and nation building, that kind of stuff. Is that right?

Mr. Spalding: No, I think that’s right. I think they’re far more interested in creating deterrence. And so using military force as a means for preventing conflict rather than using military force to to create conflict. And I think that’s a fundamental difference. You know, the other the other administration that focused on using the military as a deterrent was the Eisenhower administration. And I think a lot of the ways that the president of the current president reacts to international. Geopolitics and national security policy is very consistent with what the Eisenhower administration used.

Ms. Gao: What do you think is Iran’s calculation? According to president Trump, Solemani might be planning up to four embassy attacks as well as other attacks. And this would amount to act of war again, America from how they responded to Soleimani’s death and very controlled attack on the American base. I think that shows they don’t really want a real war with America. So what, what do you think is their calculation?

Mr. Spalding: Well, if they actually wanted a war with the United States they wouldn’t have gone after an Iraqi base that had a very small contingent of Americans. And they could have gone after any of the American bases in the region that had a lot of Americans on them. And so I think both the, the, the choice of the base and and certainly how, where are the weapons.

And the fact that there were no casualties indicates that I believe that the Iranians were acting to essentially justify to their, to their own people that they were not going to, you know, not retaliate for Soleimani, at the same time, they were very concerned about making sure that the United States didn’t go after them any further. So it was really more just for show for their own people than it was actually wanting escalate to cause further conflict with the United States.

Ms. Gao: And what influence do you think Russia and China have on Iran?

Mr. Spalding: Well, clearly China has influence in terms of financial influence in the same I think with the Russians. That being said, the Iranian regime acts according to their own interests. And when push comes to shove, you know, I think they would not be able to, essentially neither Russia nor China, to push the leadership regime in Iran to any situation where they didn’t really already have an interest in going there. And so I think their relationship is one of financial and economic support, technological support, but not necessarily of a kind where the leadership in Iran feels like they must do what they say.

Ms. Gao: China gets a lot of, it’s all oil from Iran, but on the other hand, China is America’s rival. Do you think China wants US and Iran to get into a war?

Mr. Spalding: Well, no they don’t because they do buy a lot of Iranian oil. And if there is a war, then the price of oil goes up, something that harms the Chinese economy. So they absolutely do not want to. And I think they would try to stabilize the situation if they could.

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Simone Gao