Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Insightful discussion on Obama's China visit

James Fallows of The Atlantic is discussing in much more depth and clarity than any other MSM (main-stream media) outlet, President Obama's recent trip to China. One of his readers who is based in China writes
,"...based on my observations of these things over the years I'm very much leaning toward the White House insider's view -- that the reach was vast and deep, in the many millions or tens of millions, though not necessarily entirely positive. But the comment from President Obama that I think will have the most impact inside the firewall was not the one about US principles that you quoted in your followups. It was this one:

'Now, I should tell you, I should be honest, as President of the United States, there are times where I wish information didn't flow so freely because then I wouldn't have to listen to people criticizing me all the time. I think people naturally are -- when they're in positions of power sometimes thinks, oh, how could that person say that about me, or that's irresponsible, or -- but the truth is that because in the United States information is free, and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me, I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don't want to hear. It forces me to examine what I'm doing on a day-to-day basis to see, am I really doing the very best that I could be doing for the people of the United States.'

"Wow! As a resident of China for two decades and a Mandarin-speaking China-watcher for three decades, I can say without any doubt that those words will resonate far more deeply -- and potentially more "subversively" or "destabilizingly" -- than any overt thumb-in-the-eye hectoring that any foreigner or foreign leader might muster, in public or private. Those words are ***precisely*** the kind that Zhongnanhai [Chinese term equivalent to "the Kremlin"] fears the most, and rightly so."

-This is exactly what I hoped to see from the man. I can't think of a better, more disarming explanation of the strength of societies that practice democracy and protect free speech. His whole approach sums up the word, diplomacy. It's subtle and it's slow, and the US media outlets can't squeeze it into a five second sound bite, so they deride it, but I suspect one day, in a few years, we will look back and realize that there has been quite a bit of incremental progress going on. In short, while the Nobel prize was a bit premature, I think he will earn it in the end, and for incidents just like this one, where he subtly wins, not just his point, but hearts as well.


Hans Sandberg said...

Thanks for posting this interesting quote from Fallows, who is a smart and insightful reporter. What Obama did is, as you comment, real diplomacy. It was perfect, allowing the people to see clearly, while not saying a word to upset his nervous host who is preoccupied with keeping face.

PatricktheRogue said...

Time actually had a story comparing Obama to Nixon (strictly in foreign policy matters):

...Nixon stopped treating all communists the same way. Just as Obama sees Iran as a potential partner because it shares a loathing of al-Qaeda, Nixon saw Communist China as a potential partner because it loathed the U.S.S.R.

Nixon didn't stop there. Even as he reached out to China, he also pursued d├ętente with the Soviet Union. This double outreach — to both Moscow and Beijing — gave Nixon more leverage over each, since each communist superpower feared that the U.S. would favor the other, leaving it geopolitically isolated. On a smaller scale, that's what Obama is trying to do with Iran and Syria today. By reaching out to both regimes simultaneously, he's making each anxious that the U.S. will cut a deal with the other, leaving it out in the cold.

-Obama is proving very shrewd and practical, which is Nixonian, but he appears to have more character than Nixon. Of course, he is a politician so we must remain vigilant - especially you reporters.

PatricktheRogue said...

Here is the link to that Time story by Peter Beinart previously mentioned: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1945182,00.html