No Refuge in China

President Barack Obama is currently in China, far away from any pesky Republicans, but he doesn’t seem to be enjoying the trip. He’s getting the obligatory red carpet treatment from his hosts and the obligatory softball questions from the press, has been afforded an opportunity to wear exotic clothing, and is getting his picture taken with the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations, all of which usually cheers him up, but the photographs all portray a rather glum fellow.
The Asia-Pacific economic summit being hosted in Beijing offers the president a chance to get away from mounting domestic problems and strike a statesmanlike pose, along with the other perquisites of diplomatic travel, but little else. He made a grand announcement of an agreement with China on carbon emissions, but once he gets backs to Washington those pesky Republicans will have something to say about that, the Chinese will continue emitting carbon as they please, and an increasingly skeptical American public will not be impressed by a proposal to restrain the American economy. Little progress is expected on restraining China’s expansionist ambitions or predatory copyright infringements and cyber warfare and currency manipulations or other pressing problems, and no one is expecting any important diplomatic breakthroughs with any of the other assembled leaders. The president managed to dodge a condescending pat on the back from Russian President Vladimir Putin, but their brief exchanges apparently have not resulted in a Russian retreat from Ukraine.
Still, the president’s dour expression in all those photographs, looking self-conscious even in that rather dapper Fu Manchu outfit, is curious. Previous diplomatic journeys proved just as pointless but still put a smile on his face, and the lack of any news from the trip can only improve his standing with the public. We can only speculate that he’s feeling insufficiently appreciated. Despite the diplomatic niceties the Chinese government broadcast its sneering contempt for Obama’s leadership through the state media in the days before his arrival, Putin’s ostentatiously chummy behavior seemed calculated to express a similarly superior attitude, and no one among the friendlier leaders was looking to him for all the answers. We suspect that this is not what Obama had anticipated for the sixth year of his presidency, which was supposed to be when the world joined hands and started singing “Give Peace a Chance” in tune with his pitch pipe, and that he is disappointed with the world.
Obama is always more energetic and ruthless in his dealings with America’s real enemy, those pesky Republicans, so perhaps he’ll perk up when he returns to Washington. He’ll have to dodge a condescending pat on the back from presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, though, and we don’t expect that in the resultant photographs his facial expression will be any sunnier. America is proving disappointing to the president, as well, and it’s going to take a heck of a pep talk from Valerie Jarrett to keep his chin up to its usual heights.

— Bud Norman


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