Heads China Wins; Tails U.S. 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 to castigate 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 U.S. and China that 2010 has been widely predicted as the year that the wheels will 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 breathless accounts 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 for 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.
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