The Corner

That Same Old Carter Feeling Again

Yesterday, I detailed how little respect the Chinese authorities gave the Obama administration in its requests for media, “less respect than was given presidents Bush or Clinton” was how the New York Times put it yesterday. “A retreat,” the NYT said. This morning the LAT has more, about less: “In China, Obama’s Hosts Show No Signs of Budging” is the headline. The subheading: “President Obama is Leaving China Without Any Definable Concessions on Tougher Sanctions on Iran or Currency Exchanges.”

The story continues: 

When it came to China, President Obama’s famous powers of persuasion failed to persuade.

He came bearing a long shopping list, including Chinese support for tougher sanctions on Iran and more flexibility by Beijing on currency exchange rates, but Obama was met with polite, yet stony, silences. . . . Not only is the U.S. president coming away without any definable concessions, but the Chinese appeared to be digging in their heels. . . . Perhaps most disappointing was China’s failure to budge in its opposition to tougher sanctions on Iran. With their extensive oil interests influencing their policies toward Tehran, the Chinese are increasingly seen as an obstacle to reining in Iran’s nuclear ambitions. . . .

Obama did not meet with Chinese journalists, lawyers, human rights advocates, environmentalists or any ordinary Chinese, and an expected meeting with Hu Shuli, who recently resigned as editor of China’s leading business magazine, did not materialize.Obama’s limited results in part reflect the profound shift in Sino-U.S. relations and global politics, with China’s rapid rise and America’s weakened position, especially in the wake of the financial crisis.

There’s more. Helene Cooper of the NYT reports: “China held firm against most American demands. With China’s micro-management of Mr. Obama’s appearances in the country, the trip did more to showcase China’s ability to push back against outside pressure than it did to advance the main issues on Mr. Obama’s agenda, analysts said.”

And now the Washington Post:  ”If there was any significant change during this trip, in fact, it was in the United States’ newly conciliatory and sometimes laudatory tone. . . . Obama’s trip stood in stark contrast to visits by his predecessors.”

This gives me no pleasure to report. One might ask what the Asia trip was for? The two most important things happening in and about Asia are Afghanistan, where President Obama did not go, and China’s support for our attempt at an Iran policy, which Obama did not get. No budging from China. The whole idea of negotiating with Iran was based on sanctions. And the whole idea around sanctions was that it would work if China cooperated. I never thought sanctions would work; I never thought negotiating with Iran would work. And, regardless, China is not playing ball with President Obama — in part because of our “weakened position.”

This is reminiscent of the Jimmy Carter years — the last time the U.S. was seen as weak — unable to move and coax other countries, unable to reassure dependent allies, unable to have the respect of the world and, of course, unable to move the mullocracy of Iran.

As for our “weakened position,” there are any number of ways to change that. Yes, our economy is the first problem and right now we have little leverage there. But our foreign policy has been one of retreat and capitulation as well. We capitulated to China on the Dalai Lama, we are capitulating to the Chinese client state of the Sudan, President Obama on Monday shook hands with the prime minister of repressive Myanmar (another China vassal state), of course he bowed to Japan, he took missile defenses out of Eastern Europe at the request of Russia, he has refused to say anything of strength about Iran, and has shown appeasement to Latin American dictators. Looking at this record: Why would a skeptical country like China think we are strong, deserving of respect?

This is not only sad, it is dangerous. A weak and disrespected America is bad for America, sends the wrong message to enemies (including terrorists), hurts dissident movements abroad, and — as a political matter, again — reminds us nothing so much as it does of the years of Jimmy Carter, which it took even more years to overcome.

Not a very good first year for America, or the world, under a new leadership that promised a new respect, a new start, and a new way of doing business. It’s new alright — it just isn’t any good.

 — Seth Leibsohn is a fellow of the Claremont Institute.

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