Friday, April 21, 2006

Horton Hears A Hu

China and Its President Greeted by a Host of Indignities

By Dana Milbank
Friday, April 21, 2006; Page A02
It's clear our President and his staff have spent a little too much time clearing brush at the *koffkoff* ranch, and not enough time brushing up on protocol and etiquette, the currency of leadership.

*rubbing hands gleefully* OK, let's step thru these one at a time, shall we?
If only the White House hadn't given press credentials to a Falun Gong activist who five years ago heckled Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, in Malta. Sure enough, 90 seconds into Hu's speech on the South Lawn, the woman started shrieking, "President Hu, your days are numbered!" and "President Bush, stop him from killing!"

Bush and Hu looked up, stunned. It took so long to silence her -- a full three minutes -- that Bush aides began to wonder if the Secret Service's strategy was to let her scream herself hoarse.
Rule Number One-- and this one, I'm amazed Bush's people let slip by, unless it was an intentional oversight, which I'm sure it was since the State Department diplomatic office would have vetted each and every stinking press credential handed out three times, assisted by the Secret Service-- make sure your audience doesn't contain a troublemaker. The 2004 campaign for re-election saw Bush with massive...ok...sizable audiences of carefully screened and vetted audience members. I find it somewhat incredible (to be diplomatic) that this screening process failed so badly here.

Moving on:
The rattled Chinese president haltingly attempted to continue his speech and television coverage went to split screen.

"You're okay," Bush gently reassured Hu.
Rule Number Two-- NEVER upstage a visiting leader, especially one of the largest country on the planet. To have done more than exchange reassuring looks speaks of weakness in the President. Assuming my point about number one, that they knew this was coming, is valid, Bush's reaction should likewise have been carefully choreographed. If he's going to feign surprise, then he really has to act like a leader, not like a schoolmarm.

The protocol-obsessed Chinese leader suffered a day full of indignities -- some intentional, others just careless. The visit began with a slight when the official announcer said the band would play the "national anthem of the Republic of China" -- the official name of Taiwan.
One begins to suspect this was all intentionally done to embarass a leader that we need to help us with Iran and North Korea.

Number four:
It continued when Vice President Cheney donned sunglasses for the ceremony
Did you ever stop and wonder why you never see a candidate on the campaign trail wear sunglasses unless he's skiing or on a boat? It's because the last thing you want a camera to pick up is shaded eyes. Same principle applies in diplomacy. It really is a major offense in a formal setting for a leader to put on sunglasses. At the very most, Cheney should have been escorted to a position out of the sun. Shame on the staffers.

Hu, attempting to leave the stage via the wrong staircase, was yanked back by his jacket. Hu looked down at his sleeve to see the president of the United States tugging at it as if redirecting an errant child.
See point number two. Bush was more concerned with Hu's swift exit from the stage, preceding Bush (thus showing a superior position to the child-like President). In a proper protocol process, Bush would have caught up with Hu on the wrong staircase and forced the staffers to improvise the exit. As it is, that was without a doubt the most embarassing display of breached protocol in recent memory.

Six: OK, well, actually One, because all this preceded this visit:
Then there were the intentional slights. China wanted a formal state visit such as Jiang got, but the administration refused, calling it instead an "official" visit. Bush acquiesced to the 21-gun salute but insisted on a luncheon instead of a formal dinner, in the East Room instead of the State Dining Room. Even the visiting country's flags were missing from the lampposts near the White House.
See, if you visit a foreign dignitary and arrange the "slights" ahead of time, you can smooth them over and things will be agreeable (or the visit doesn't come off). To compound these original negotiated slights, as I like to call them, by making such major and obviously intentional gaffes will only serve to anger Hu.

To-wit, the first glaring insult:
The Chinese had warned the White House to be careful about who was admitted to the ceremony. To no avail: They granted a one-day pass to Wang Wenyi of the Falun Gong publication Epoch Times. A quick Nexis search shows that in 2001, she slipped through a security cordon in Malta protecting Jiang (she had been denied media credentials) and got into an argument with him. The 47-year-old pathologist is expected to be charged today with attempting to harass a foreign official.
Now, you mean to tell me that no one on the China desk at State recognized this name?

But, as they say on infomercials, wait! There's more!
In front of the cameras, Bush thanked Hu for his "frankness" -- diplomatic code for disagreement -- and Hu stood expressionless. The two unexpectedly agreed to take questions from reporters, but Bush grew impatient as Hu gave a long answer about trade, made all the longer by the translation. Bush at one point tapped his foot on the ground. "It was a very comprehensive answer," he observed when Hu finished.

So the outcome of all this?
Hu was in no mood to make concessions. In negotiations, he gave the U.S. side nothing tangible on delicate matters such as the nuclear problems in North Korea and Iran, the Chinese currency's value and the trade deficit with China.
Mark my words on this: As soon as Hu sees an opportunity to screw with our trade deficit and our budget deficit, he will, and you can truly blame Bush for the loss of jobs, the loss of our economy and the loss of our few shreds of dignity as the next President will likely have to mend fences and establish trust that's been shattered, and THEN ask a favor, hat in hand.

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