Heads China Wins; Tails US Loses
1:15 PM, Jan 7, 2010 • By KELLEY CURRIE
After President Obama's November 2009 trip to Asia was widely panned by the media and commentators, the White House spin machine kicked into high gear in a vain attempt to make it seem like less of a disaster than it clearly had been. One of their main lines of attack was tocastigate the "rush to judgment" and horse-race mentality among those calling the trip -- particularly the China portion -- a failure. Well, in the intervening weeks, so many things have gone so wrong between the US and China that 2010 has been widely predicted as the year that the wheels really come off this always awkward relationship. Putting aside Beijing's "unimportant" human rights provocations of recent weeks (such as the 11-year prison sentence for leading dissident Liu Xiaobo and the announcement of dramatic new restrictions on the internet in China), let's do the Administration the small favor of judging them by progress on two "important" issues that they have asked their quiet diplomacy with Beijing be judged upon: the Copenhagen climate talks and Iran. As the late, lamented sportscaster extraordinaire George Michael would say: "Let's go to the videotape."First to Copenhagen, where the Chinese negotiating team repeatedly and publicly humiliated the US -- including a very public snub of President Obama himself -- and forced Obama to agree to a deal that fell far shorts of his hopes, dreams and expectations.
Notwithstanding the breathlessaccounts of President Obama bursting into negotiating sessions like some sort of diplomatic Rambo, most commentators on all sides agreed that the deal he negotiated is little more than another regurgitation of commitments already made at the G20, the 2007 Bali climate ministerial and other climate confabs -- and an incomplete one even by that standard. Many who were hoping for a breakthrough at Copenhagen have blamed the Chinese regime's tough negotiating position for the failure of the talks (while those who were hoping for failure at Copenhagen are likewise grateful to Beijing's muscular approach to self-interest); but this criticism of the Chinese contains an implicit rebuke of the Obama Administration's strategy for the talks, which relied heavily on a clearly misguided belief that the Chinese were more willing to deal than they turned out to be. Even in the end, when it was clear Beijing was intent on obstructing a "meaningful" outcome in Copenhagen, Obama was negotiating one-on-one with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao as if nobody else there mattered. Having set himself on this course and stuck with it despite mounting evidence it was a poor one, it seems Obama left himself no choice but to be complicit in his own failure. So next to Tehran, where the brutal mullahs are facing an existential threat to their continued rule at home but remain secure in the knowledge that their fellow authoritarians in Beijing have their back at the UN and in the P-5+1 (the key forum for diplomatic maneuvering over Iran's nuclear ambitions). As President Obama's end-of-year deadline for Iranian cooperation came and went with nothing but further provocations from the Ahmadinejad/Khamenei dictatorship,Beijing has reiterated its long-standing opposition to additional sanctions on Iran. That they so clearly articulated these sentiments upon the occasion of taking over the presidency of the UN Security Council this week must be additional mud in the eye of the Obama White House. (Recall the early November "special mission" to Beijing by the NSC's Jeffrey Bader and Dennis Ross to brief the Chinese on how Israel viewed Iran as an "existential threat", and efforts to get Beijing to buy more oil from the Saudis rather than the Iranians.) In fact, the PRC Ambassador to the UN made it clear that they did not foresee Iran even being on the agenda of the Security Council while his country held the presidency this month. If you listen tothe State Department's muddled attempts at spin , you would think this whole situation has come as a complete surprise to them. In fact, the rotation of the UN Security Council presidency is not sprung upon member states like winners of a bingo contest, but rather is known far in advance.