Politics & Policy

Playing Hard to Get


ZURICH – Doesn’t writing with a dateline sound impressive? Often when you see the dateline on a newspaper article it conveys a certain air of legitimacy it wouldn’t normally have. “BRUSSELS – French officials are reeling over the fact that cheese consumption has fallen below the level necessary to cause blindness…” Now the average reporter writing that in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal would probably have gotten all that info from the local papers and TV news and perhaps working the phones a bit. But because it began with “BRUSSELS-“ a country several hundred miles away from where most of the important French cheese decisions are made, it seems more definitive.

As I grow more comfortable with the notion of writing from foreign countries (as opposed to writing from domestic ones) I’m getting more excited by this whole dateline thing. So:

ZURICH – Sources close to my hotel furniture say that CNN international reported that the Chinese found our apology and explanation of the bombing of their Belgrade embassy “by no means acceptable.” Indeed, sources familiar with the bathroom reading material provided by the Hotel Intercontinental in Zurich report that the Wall Street Journal Europe has an even longer quote. “The conclusion that it was a so-called mistaken bombing is by no means acceptable.” Most people who spoke only on the condition that I leave them alone because they don’t know me and just wanted to turn down my bed and put a chocolate on my pillow said that they also heard this story.

The Chinese say that unless we — meaning my native and faraway United States; a shining city on a hill for the world — apologize for the bombing, explain how it happened, and punish the guy responsible, then they — meaning the Chinese; the Godless horde (actually, wait, that could be the faculty of Harvard) — will boycott talks on their entrance into the WTO. Let me repeat that without all the asinine interruptions: Unless we apologize (again), explain (again and better), and hang out to dry some paper-hanger at the CIA, then the Chinese will refuse to participate in the WTO talks.

We sent Under-Secretary of State Thomas Pickering to China to apologize again. The president said he was sorry once — but the propaganda office of the Communist Party refused to allow the Chinese media to report this fact. This in turn resulted in Chinese mobs attacking our sovereign embassy with police orchestration (which hardly qualifies as a mistake or spontaneous). Our president then sent a letter to the Chinese apologizing again and offering to compensate the families of victims. Pickering brought some poor schlub from the Pentagon with a whole bunch of charts and graphs and memos explaining how the screw-up happened. The Chinese didn’t buy it and offered the “totally unacceptable” quote I burned all that shoe leather digging up above.

Oh, wait, I forgot to explain something. The Chinese are the ones who want to join the WTO. It’s their burning policy priority, not ours. China is Jonesing for WTO membership the way some of the junkies in heroin-accessible Switzerland crave a big bar of Toberlone chocolate. Expert opinion in the U.S. is split between two pretty good arguments about Chinese membership in the WTO but few Americans think there should be a big rush, especially considering all of the election buying, bomb-secret stealing, and menus stuffed in my front door. The Chinese have been sitting in the back seat, tapping on the shoulders of American officials, asking “Can we join yet?” for years.

So get a load of the chutzpah of these guys. We apologized a bunch of times, publicly, privately, and everywhere in-between. We explained, publicly, privately, etc. We are, remember, the biggest kid on the corner and such groveling is a bigger gesture than it might seem, not to mention the fact that we should be angry with them for all the stuff in the Cox Report.

But this isn’t good enough for the Chinese. They want more apologies and a human sacrifice or they will boycott something they want very much. Imagine this in personal terms. You wreck your friend’s car (a friend who, for the last twenty years, has been stealing your thermonuclear secrets and calling you an imperialist running dog traitor of the people):

You say, “I’m sorry.”

He says, “Sorry ain’t good enough.”

You say, “Well, look, I’ll pay you for the car and I’ll say I’m sorry on the nightly news.”

You then say you’re sorry on the nightly news.

He says, “No way, and unless you come up with a better apology, I won’t ask to borrow fifty bucks from you.”

But what is far more astounding than the fact that the Chinese are willing to use this bizarre and dysfunctional logic, is the fact that it works on the Clinton administration. Bill Clinton has always wanted approval from the people who dislike him, but isn’t this just a little ridiculous?


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