Free Markets, Free People
James Fallows, at the Atlantic, is pretty sure President Obama’s Asian tour was much more successful than the media gives him credit for, and, in fact, entitles his piece “Manufactured Failure“. His premise? That the media covered the trip much more like a campaign swing and thus missed its real and more subtle significance – and success. His proof? A couple of reader comments.
That’s not to say he may not have a bit of a point as it concerns the media coverage, but on the substantive side he needs to explain this if everything went so swimmingly but, apparently, unnoticed by the press:
Barack Obama looked tired on Thursday, as he stood in the Blue House in Seoul, the official residence of the South Korean president. He also seemed irritable and even slightly forlorn. The CNN cameras had already been set up. But then Obama decided not to play along, and not to answer the question he had already been asked several times on his trip: what did he plan to take home with him? Instead, he simply said “thank you, guys,” and disappeared. David Axelrod, senior advisor to the president, fielded the journalists’ questions in the hallway of the Blue House instead, telling them that the public’s expectations had been “too high.”
The master of spin’s spin is the public’s expectation’s had been “too high”? Wow – I guess Axelrod missed all that subtlety, nuance and success as well.
Der Speigel, however, did seem to have a pretty good bead on the actual results. You remember how I said we should monitor the progress this “new” method of conduction foreign policy does in the world of realpolitik? Here’s how:
Interests, not emotions, dominate the world of realpolitik. The Asia trip revealed the limits of Washington’s new foreign policy: Although Obama did not lose face in China and Japan, he did appear to have lost some of his initial stature.
In Tokyo, the new center-left government even pulled out of its participation in a mission which saw the Japanese navy refueling US warships in the Indian Ocean as part of the Afghanistan campaign. In Beijing, Obama failed to achieve any important concessions whatsoever. There will be no binding commitments from China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A revaluation of the Chinese currency, which is kept artificially weak, has been postponed. Sanctions against Iran? Not a chance. Nuclear disarmament? Not an issue for the Chinese.
The White House did not even stand up for itself when it came to the question of human rights in China. The president, who had said only a few days earlier that freedom of expression is a universal right, was coerced into attending a joint press conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao, at which questions were forbidden. Former US President George W. Bush had always managed to avoid such press conferences.
How bad is the growing lack of respect? You have a German magazine which was an Obama booster criticizing his foreign policy and comparing Obama to George Bush and finding Obama wanting.
Somewhere pigs are flying. What isn’t flying, however, is this “new” era in US foreign policy.
I don’t think there’s any real doubt that Eric Holder’s decision to try the 9/11 defendants in New York’s federal court was as much about politics as justice. President Obama’s remarks about KSM’s guilt and the outcome of the trial left little doubt this is to be a show trial. And while I’m certainly no fan of Sen. Lindsey Graham, I thought he made Holder look foolish during the Senate hearings into the matter. It was clear, at least to me, that this decision was not well thought out. It was also clear that Holder had no idea of the possible ramifications of his decision. He continually, but ineffectually, avoided Graham’s points – once these terrorists are brought into the federal court system there are a completely different set of rules at work. And while they may indeed get convictions with these particular defendants, it most likely won’t be pretty and it sets a precedent (criminalizing this war) that we may regret in the future.
It is now emerging that even if the administration adamantly denies that these are show trials, the terrorists in question know exactly what they are and plan on using them to propagandize what they did and why:
Scott Fenstermaker, the lawyer for accused terrorist Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, said the men would not deny their role in the 2001 attacks but “would explain what happened and why they did it.”
Mohammed, Ali and the others will explain “their assessment of American foreign policy,” Fenstermaker said.
“Their assessment is negative,” he said.
Fenstermaker met with Ali last week at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He has not spoken with the others but said the men have discussed the trial among themselves.
But don’t worry – the feds have it all under control. This will be a fair but orderly trial:
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said Sunday that while the men may attempt to use the trial to express their views, “we have full confidence in the ability of the courts and in particular the federal judge who may preside over the trial to ensure that the proceeding is conducted appropriately and with minimal disrupton, as federal courts have done in the past.”
Really? So how does Mr. Boyd and the Department of Justice plan on stopping a terrorist, to whom they just gave this right, from confronting his accusers in court and taking the stand to defend himself?
I mean if this is all about justice and not about, you know, a show?
World in recession?
Wheels coming off the science of AGW?
High unemployment continuing to rise?
2010 an election year?
Senate historically opposed to international treaties that hurt the economy?
Great – why not go to the UN’s Copenhagen treaty summit and offer some totally unrealistic and probably unachievable cuts in greenhouse gas emissions so we can feel like one of the cool kids?
President Barack Obama is considering setting a provisional target for cutting America’s huge greenhouse gas emissions, removing the greatest single obstacle to a landmark global agreement to fight climate change.
This is absolutely perfect for the talker-in-chief. Go. Promise. Bask. This is how you turn a useless conference which will most likely never accomplish a thing in reference to its primary goal into one all about the president.
Nigel Lawson points out the obvious:
But the meeting will still be declared a great success. Politicians do not like being associated with failure, so they will make sure that whatever emerges from Copenhagen is declared a success, and promise to meet again next year. This will at least give our political leaders the time to get themselves off the hook.
“Off the hook” in Obama’s case will be bringing a provisional treaty back with cuts he’s promised included and trying to get the Senate to ratify it. Kyoto went 98-0 against and is widely recognized – given the utter failure of other countries to even get close to their promised targets – as the smart move of the time.
Copenhagen is to go one step further. As PM Gordon Brown declared last week:
Copenhagen must “forge a new international agreement … [which] must contain the full range of commitments required: on emissions reductions by both developed and developing countries, on finance and on verification”.
Meaning? Meaning the idea is to stop developed countries from “outsourcing” their carbon emissions to “developing” countries. And to put those developing countries – in the middle of a global recession – on a restricted carbon diet.
It. Is. Not. Going. To. Happen.
Developing countries may agree the industrialized countries need to go on that diet, but they’re not going to hobble themselves unless massive transfer payments are involved. Massive. They are going to have to be satisfied that this sort of agreement causes them no harm economically. Good luck with that.
And, of course, with the lion’s share of the transfer payment bill and his promised cuts in hand, President Obama has to come back and convince the Senate, in a re-election year, that giving away even more money we don’t have and further crippling our economy for, at best, a marginal effect on the climate, is a good idea.
Cap-and-trade is on hold until at least the spring of ’10 in the Senate. Depending on what Obama does in Copenhagen (being loved means giving away the farm if necessary) it could be DOA when it is taken up again in the Senate. Senators, at the time, are going to be sticking their political fingers into the wind and assessing the popularity of an economy killing bill in the midst of a full bore scientific scandal about AGW’s science, continuing high unemployment and negative economic numbers. Most are not going to like what they see or hear – especially with November 2010 approaching for a third of them.