The Corner

Slouching Toward Weakness

We’re used to indictments about America from the New York Times, but this morning’s story on President Obama in China has a few extra dimensions to it, as well as a dose of reality that should wake us up as we begin down a path for this country not seen since the waning days of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. This morning, the NYT looks at Obama in China and our influence, or, I should say, President Obama’s influence.

Start with yesterday’s meeting with 500 students in Shanghai:

Most of those who attended the event at the Museum of Science and Technology turned out to be members of the Communist Youth League, an official organization that grooms obedient students for future leadership posts.

Some Chinese bloggers whom the White House had tried to invite were barred from attending. Even then, the Chinese government took no chances, declining to broadcast the event live to a national audience — or even mention it on the main evening newscast of state-run China Central Television.

Now get this:

The degree of control exercised over the most public event of Mr. Obama’s three-day stay in China suggests that Chinese leaders are less willing to make concessions to American demands for the arrangements of a presidential visit than they once were.

The White House spent weeks wrangling with Chinese authorities over who would be allowed to attend the Shanghai town hall meeting, including how much access the media would have and whether it would be broadcast live throughout the country. In the end Mr. Obama had little chance to promote a message to the broader Chinese public.

The event in some respects signaled a retreat from the reception given at least two earlier American presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both of whom asked for, and were granted, the opportunity to address the Chinese people and answer their questions in a live national broadcast.

A retreat, read: less influence than, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush — both of whom got more from the Chinese in advance. So much for a new foreign policy where there is more respect for the United States.

He was asked one question by the Shanghai crowd, should Chinese citizens be allowed to Twitter freely.  He gave what the NYT describes as an “oblique” and “cautious answer,” saying that critics in the United States make him better.

But, the NYT concludes: “Beijing vetoed the White House’s attempt to invite a group of popular bloggers, an audience component that administration officials hoped would make the session more authentic.”

So, to sum up: Less influence than Bush and Clinton, “a retreat,” “Beijing vetoed White House attempt.” So far I’d say, China 1, U.S. 0.  How’s that for resetting relations and better diplomacy?  

Might as well go down the line: Are we doing better with one single nation since President Obama came to office campaigning on and promising a better kind of respectful diplomacy with other nations? Nobody is happier in Latin America since President Obama came to power, except Hugo Chavez and the Castro brothers who have praised him. Iran has done nothing to show any leniency and, instead, has been given the green light to crush dissent and has not been dissuaded in its nuclear ambitions (the IAEA said yesterday Iran is as close as ever to developing a nuclear bomb, btw). Eastern Europe is “rethinking” its position relative to the U.S. according to Lech Walesa. Israel is no more the happier with the United States and feels no more the safer just now. And now we have China, kicking us around. I guess if you show softness, you will be treated as soft.

This kind of international public representation is what brought Jimmy Carter’s presidency to a halt, Americans do not like to be kicked around — and even if our leadership doesn’t believe in a strong United States, our allies depend on it. Here’s a question: In Iraq, we are about to redeploy troops, in Afghanistan, it’s an even proposition that we may redeploy troops. Last week we took the worst terrorists out of our military system and granted them civil judicial respect: When we do leave Iraq, and if we do leave Afghanistan, do you think bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri will view us as a weak or as a strong horse? Will they be curtailed in their future plans for us or emboldened? And what, right now, do you think the Iranians think about U.S. power and the willingness to deploy it in order to stop them?

 – Seth Leibsohn is a fellow of the Claremont Institute.