Here are some belated thoughts on President Obama’s trip to China last week.
Remember when Obama said it would be easier for him if he were President of China?
That stemmed from a New York Times article co-written by Mark Landler and Helene Cooper in March 2011 titled, “Obama Seeks a Course of Pragmatism in the Middle East”. Judging by both the title of the article and its content, it is nearly indistinguishable from the thousands of puff pieces written in the pages of The Gray Lady about the 44th President. The opening paragraph describes Obama as “the transformative historical figure”. Not a transformational historical figure mind you, but the transformational historical figure.
Yet even these puff pieces one can occasionally find kernels of revelation. In the article’s concluding paragraph, Landler and Cooper ponder how President Obama will balance idealism and pragmatism when it comes to the Middle East:
How Mr. Obama manages to do that while also balancing American interests is a question that officials acknowledge will plague this historic president for months to come. Mr. Obama has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China. As one official put it, “No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.”
It would be no doubt easier for Obama to be President of China. He could throw Republicans in jail, shut down Fox News and send Jon Gruber to a re-education camp and deny he ever existed. Although personally, I think Obama would be partial to placing Gruber in front of a firing squad. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. Oh, how President Obama wishes no one would scrutinize his words. Not that there has been much scrutinizing of Obama’s words by the liberal press until this past summer. But from where Obama sits, one act of scrutiny is one act too many. It was Chairman Mao who said the press are “necessary handmaidens of the Party”. There can be little doubt that Obama shares these sentiments although in his case he views the press as a necessary handmaiden not to the Democratic Party. As evidenced by the mid-term elections, he could care less about the fate of his fellow Democrats. Rather, Obama views the press as a necessary handmaiden to himself.
During his visit to China last week for the APEC Summit meeting, President Obama got to at least dress the part as he donned a purple silk shirt. O.K., Vladimir Putin had to wear the thing too, but put a purple silk shirt on Obama all that is missing is a green hat with a red star and a certain little red book. While Obama didn’t quote Chairman Mao, he did quote Deng Xiaoping when he exclaimed, “Seek truth from facts.” These words ring hollow from the man who coined the phrase and the man who repeated it. The Chinese government has never told the truth about Tiananmen Square nor has President Obama told the truth about Obamacare. Lack of political transparency is a huge political advantage indeed.
Purple silk shirt or not, Obama acts more like a Chinese President than an American one. How else does one explain the secretly negotiated bilateral agreement on carbon emissions. Obama can argue all he wants that China has committed to capping their carbon emissions. But when the Chinese say they’ll cap their emissions “around 2030” they might as well say 2130. So while the Chinese can continue their emissions, Obama has committed us to reduce ours 10% beyond what we already agreed to five years ago. If Obama led China then I’d say he’d done a good job. But he’s supposed to represent our interests. Of course, it may be that in his mind, representing American interests would be offensive to China.
Obama is also careful not to offend Beijing where it concerns pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. “We don’t expect China to follow an American model in every instance, but we’re going to continue to have concerns about human rights,” said Obama, “Obviously, the situation between China and Hong Kong is historically complicated and is in the process of transition.” I cannot help but think that Obama’s outlook would be a lot different if the protesters in Hong Kong wore kafiehs and if Chinese President Xi Jinping converted to Judaism and changed his name to Netanyahu.
Needless to say, Obama is also in simpatico with China where it concerns Tibet. This, of course, should come as no surprise considering when The Dalai Lama visits Obama he has to leave the White House by a side door and walk past piles of garbage. Like the protesters in Hong Kong, Tibetans don’t blow themselves up on buses nor do they ram their cars into strollers carrying American infant girls. If they did, I suspect their aims and objectives would be a much bigger priority for Obama.
Yet perhaps the most dubious thing Obama did in China was to announce his administration’s net neutrality policy. Announcing America’s new policy on the Internet in China is akin to Obama announcing our policy on women’s rights in Iran. What we have here is yet another case of bad optics. Or in this case bad fiber optics.
Well, President Obama is back on American soil where he is expected to take executive action on immigration policy this week. When he makes this announcement will he be wearing the purple silk shirt underneath his suit?