By Patrick Tyler
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Additional resources for A Great Wall: Six Presidents and China
Clinton did not have to mention that 1996 was an election year and that the specter of an unpredictable military confrontation with China—with the possibility of American casualties—was not his idea of an attractive backdrop to the coming reelection campaign. Everyone in the room remembered the wreckage the Somalia mission had turned into during their first year in office. Clinton said, someone was going to have to get the message to Lee Teng-hui to back off, because Clinton was not going to risk taking die United States to war every time the president of Taiwan wanted to attend his class reunion in upstate New York or play golf in Hawaii.
In September 1994, when a small Cessna aircraft with a mentally disturbed pilot crashed into the South Lawn of the White House in what appeared to be an unsuccessful assassination attempt, the joke at CIA headquarters was that the pilot was Woolsey trying to get an appointment with the president. Lake, the national security adviser, had a similar problem of access to the president. But Lake himself also had been inattentive to China. At the age of fifty-six, Lake had returned to Washington with the new Clinton administration bearing the quiet but nonetheless triumphal aura of a man whose adherence to principle was getting its reward.
When his eyes pulled away from the general's grim accounting of what might occur, Clinton looked around the table at Warren Christopher, secretary of state, Bill Perry, secretary of defense, and Anthony Lake, his national security adviser, and told them how alarmed he was. The situation in the Taiwan Strait was a powder keg, and they were going to have to do everything they could to head off die looming catastrophe. He did not want any of the terrifying scenarios in Shali's briefing to come to pass, he said.