Commentary Magazine


Topic: Chris Smith

How Republicans Keep Bailing Out Obama’s Inept Foreign Policy

The Obama administration’s nuclear negotiators are learning a tough lesson: you can’t succeed in high-stakes international diplomacy with only carrots. So naturally, they’re leaning on Republicans in Congress–the group the Obama White House has treated as the true enemy here–for the sticks. It’s not the first time. It turns out Obama doesn’t really want to exclude the GOP from foreign policy after all; he merely wants them to wait until he’s on the verge of failure to intervene on his behalf.

Read More

The Obama administration’s nuclear negotiators are learning a tough lesson: you can’t succeed in high-stakes international diplomacy with only carrots. So naturally, they’re leaning on Republicans in Congress–the group the Obama White House has treated as the true enemy here–for the sticks. It’s not the first time. It turns out Obama doesn’t really want to exclude the GOP from foreign policy after all; he merely wants them to wait until he’s on the verge of failure to intervene on his behalf.

A couple of news outlets picked up on State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf’s comments yesterday, in which she expressed the administration’s growing frustration with Iran. The Iranians have been offered the store, and they keep delaying. Harf was reduced to wondering what the Iranians could possibly want–How can we get you behind the wheel of this nuclear accord today?–and threatening to get the adults involved. From Haaretz:

The deadline for reaching a framework agreement between Iran and the six world powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — on Iran’s nuclear program ends at midnight Tuesday. Despite continuous talks and marathon meetings between the negotiating teams at this city’s Beau Rivage Palace Hotel Monday, gaps still remain between the parties’ positions.

The American team began showing signs of irritation at Iran’s conduct Monday afternoon, with acting State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf saying in an interview with CNSNews.com that the time had come to see whether the Iranians were capable of taking decisions. “So we really need to see from the Iranians if they’re willing to get to yes here,” she said.

“Everyone knows that Congress is waiting to act if we can’t get to an agreement,” she noted.

Let’s set aside whether in fact “everyone knows” that piece of information, because the Obama administration has been working to undermine, water down, delay, and in many cases prevent sanctions against Iran throughout this presidency, present time very much included. The interesting aspect to Harf’s comments is that the administration is not even attempting to play both good cop and bad cop here (the State Department used to utilize the late Richard Holbrooke for such roles); she’s pointing out that if negotiations fail Congress will act, and the president might not be able to stop them.

This is nothing new. I wrote in June 2012 that when the State Department was trumpeting the freeing of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng while Hillary was in Beijing, it turned out that what had the greatest effect on the negotiations over his release were the actions of Congress. Republicans held a hearing to draw attention to Chen’s plight, and it made the Chinese government nervous. That, at least, was what the Chinese government seemed to indicate.

And it’s been confirmed by Chen as well. “The Blind Dissident,” as he’s known, just released a memoir of his struggle for freedom. The Wall Street Journal’s David Feith reviewed it, and pointed to Chen’s own characterization of the fight over his release. Here’s Feith:

Once in talks with their Chinese counterparts, though, U.S. officials, fearful of spoiling the bilateral mood before a high-level summit set for the following week, buckled. According to Mr. Chen, within two days they began pressuring him to leave the embassy and accept assurances of his safety from the same Chinese government that had detained, tortured and otherwise brutalized him for seven years. “Negotiating with a government run by hooligans,” he writes, “the country that most consistently advocated for democracy, freedom, and universal human rights had simply given in.”

So how’d he get free? Feith explains: “Republican Chris Smith, Democrat Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers ‘proved to be principled and fearless friends of the Chinese people,’ he writes, and ‘the voice of the American people made itself strongly felt at the bargaining table.’ Two weeks later, with his wife and two children, Mr. Chen was on a flight to the U.S.”

The point isn’t to remove all credit from Clinton. I imagine that having the secretary of state in Beijing for a high-profile visit and negotiating in person helped tremendously. It’s possible, even likely, that both Clinton and the Chris Smith-led congressional effort were necessary, and that Chen’s freedom wouldn’t have been secured without them.

And that’s the point. In neither case–the China deal or the Iran deal–were Congress’s essential efforts recognized and appreciated by the administration at the time. Congressional Republicans, especially, were treated as boorish intruders who didn’t understand the intricacies and delicate nuances of international diplomacy. That was false then, and it’s false now.

The truth is that Obama needs congressional Republicans. He has a habit of wandering into situations for which he’s unprepared, and he needs Republicans to intervene to stave off disaster. The idea of the Republicans as the adults in the room certainly clashes with the media’s shallow narrative of events. But what matters most is that despite his public statements, Obama seems to realize that responsible international diplomacy requires the involvement of his political rivals, whether he likes it or not.

Read Less

The Failure of “Quiet Diplomacy” in China

When Chinese anti-forced-abortion activist and dissident Chen Guangcheng attempted to use Hillary Clinton’s visit to China earlier this year to get his family to safety abroad, his efforts and those of the State Department appeared to have failed just hours before a deal was struck to save Chen. The narrative of that story held that a Republican House committee chaired by Chris Smith–which called a hearing on the case as it was developing–and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney had behaved recklessly in drawing such public attention to the case and appearing to hand down judgment on the case before diplomacy had a chance to work.

Typical of this attitude was a comment from Chinese politics expert Steve Tsang to the U.K. Guardian, as the story unfolded: “Public diplomacy or grandstanding will limit the scope for quiet diplomacy.” We have plenty of counterexamples in recent history that challenge this theory, but it appears now we don’t need to employ them. The full picture of Chen’s case comes to us in Susan Glasser’s Foreign Policy magazine cover profile of Clinton, at the very beginning and very end of the piece (everything in between is gauzy admiration terminally wounded by the article’s repeated and gauche comparison of Clinton to Aung San Suu Kyi).

Read More

When Chinese anti-forced-abortion activist and dissident Chen Guangcheng attempted to use Hillary Clinton’s visit to China earlier this year to get his family to safety abroad, his efforts and those of the State Department appeared to have failed just hours before a deal was struck to save Chen. The narrative of that story held that a Republican House committee chaired by Chris Smith–which called a hearing on the case as it was developing–and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney had behaved recklessly in drawing such public attention to the case and appearing to hand down judgment on the case before diplomacy had a chance to work.

Typical of this attitude was a comment from Chinese politics expert Steve Tsang to the U.K. Guardian, as the story unfolded: “Public diplomacy or grandstanding will limit the scope for quiet diplomacy.” We have plenty of counterexamples in recent history that challenge this theory, but it appears now we don’t need to employ them. The full picture of Chen’s case comes to us in Susan Glasser’s Foreign Policy magazine cover profile of Clinton, at the very beginning and very end of the piece (everything in between is gauzy admiration terminally wounded by the article’s repeated and gauche comparison of Clinton to Aung San Suu Kyi).

Here is the key paragraph:

Still, the Chinese did not give in. At one point, an advisor who was present recalled, Clinton finally seemed to catch their attention by mentioning what a political circus the case had become — with Chen even dialing in to a U.S. congressional hearing that Thursday by cell phone from his hospital bed to say he feared for his safety if he remained in China. The Chinese team was visibly surprised. Eventually, Dai agreed at least to let the negotiations proceed. A few hours later, exhausted U.S. officials announced a deal.

Again, this is not terribly surprising, nor does it detract from the hard work of Clinton, who was there on the ground to carry out tough, and ultimately successful, negotiations. But it is always omitted from official accounts of the story, possibly because no one knew this before Glasser’s article. It turns out that Clinton got a nice boost from a game-changer: Republicans in Congress who made Chen’s plight as visible and public as possible, convincing the Chinese the game was out of the shadows and the world was watching.

Then, at the end of the article, we have one more piece of information. It is speculative, and Glasser acknowledges this, so we should take it with a grain of salt:

What would it take for her to run again for president in 2016? “Nothing,” she replied quickly. Then she laughed. Even the Chinese, she said, had asked her about it at Wednesday night’s dinner, suggesting she should run. They were “saying things like, ‘Well, you know, I mean 2016 is not so far away.… You may retire, but you’re very young,’” Clinton recalled.

Maybe, I ventured, that’s why they had in the end been willing to accommodate her on Chen; they were investing in a future with a possible President Clinton.

Clinton played coy and wouldn’t answer the question, but obviously there is something to it. In any case, it seems “quiet diplomacy” got nowhere until Chris Smith turned up the volume back home.

Read Less

Silence on Dissident’s Pro-Life Activism

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is still confined to a hospital in Beijing, and the Chinese government is reportedly dragging its feet on issuing him a passport. As with any case like this, time is not on Chen’s side. With each passing day, media attention and public pressure diminishes. Already, the Chinese government is allegedly holding members of Chen’s family under house arrest. And obviously the crackdown could get worse as the story continues to fade from the front pages.

In an effort to keep attention on the case, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) plans to hold a hearing on Chen’s plight next week, Josh Rogin reports:

In an interview in the Capitol building, Smith said he intends to hold another congressional hearing on May 15 on the Chen case — to follow up on the hearing he held May 3, which Chen actually phoned into. Smith has invited Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and State Department Counselor Harold Koh to the hearing, but those officials have yet to RSVP.

“I don’t think they want the hearing frankly. But we need to keep the focus on this,” Smith said. …

“The administration has hermetically sealed his message, the man and why he was in trouble, from this incident,” Smith told The Cable. “Have you heard anybody talk about that he was defending women from forced abortion? Hillary Clinton? Not a word. I Googled it.”

Read More

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is still confined to a hospital in Beijing, and the Chinese government is reportedly dragging its feet on issuing him a passport. As with any case like this, time is not on Chen’s side. With each passing day, media attention and public pressure diminishes. Already, the Chinese government is allegedly holding members of Chen’s family under house arrest. And obviously the crackdown could get worse as the story continues to fade from the front pages.

In an effort to keep attention on the case, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) plans to hold a hearing on Chen’s plight next week, Josh Rogin reports:

In an interview in the Capitol building, Smith said he intends to hold another congressional hearing on May 15 on the Chen case — to follow up on the hearing he held May 3, which Chen actually phoned into. Smith has invited Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and State Department Counselor Harold Koh to the hearing, but those officials have yet to RSVP.

“I don’t think they want the hearing frankly. But we need to keep the focus on this,” Smith said. …

“The administration has hermetically sealed his message, the man and why he was in trouble, from this incident,” Smith told The Cable. “Have you heard anybody talk about that he was defending women from forced abortion? Hillary Clinton? Not a word. I Googled it.”

Smith says the Obama administration hasn’t mentioned Chen’s life’s work – opposition to forced abortions and sterilization – the way it typically has in similar dissident cases. And it may not just be for fear of irritating China. Last year, President Obama released a statement praising the pro-democracy efforts of imprisoned Nobel Laureate and Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo:

All of us have a responsibility to build a just peace that recognizes the inherent rights and dignity of human beings – a truth upheld within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In our own lives, our own countries, and in the world, the pursuit of a just peace remains incomplete, even as we strive for progress. This past year saw the release of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, even as the Burmese people continue to be denied the democracy that they deserve. Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos Horta has continued his tireless work to build a free and prosperous East Timor, having made the transition from dissident to president. And this past year saw the retirement of Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, whose own career demonstrates the universal power of freedom and justice to overcome extraordinary obstacles.

But Mr. Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society, and the rule of law. The values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible.

Is the administration uncomfortable addressing Chen’s pro-life activism for political reasons? Or is there a concern it would be an unnecessary poke at China? Either way, the omissions are unfortunate. Chen’s story has refocused attention on China’s appalling human rights record, which is too often ignored, but his actual activism against forced abortions is rarely mentioned in the media. This is an issue that should get much more attention, and Rep. Smith is right to raise it.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.