Incident in Hangzhou
By Charles Krauthammer
September 8, 2016
The president of the United States
lands with all the majesty of Air Force One, waiting to exit the front door and
stride down the rolling staircase to the red-carpeted tarmac. Except that there
rolling staircase. He is forced to exit — as one
China expert put it rather undiplomatically — through “the ass” of the
This happened Saturday at Hangzhou
airport. Yes, in China. If the Chinese didn’t invent diplomatic protocol, they
surely are its most venerable and experienced practitioners. They’ve been at
it for 4,000 years. They are the masters of every tributary gesture, every
nuance of hierarchical ritual. In a land so exquisitely sensitive to protocol,
rolling staircases don’t just disappear at arrival ceremonies. Indeed, not one
of the other G-20 world leaders was left stranded on his plane upon arrival.
Did President Xi Jinping directly
order airport personnel and diplomatic functionaries to deny President Obama a
proper welcome? Who knows? But the message, whether intentional or not, wasn’t
very subtle. The authorities expressed no regret, no remorse and certainly no
apology. On the contrary, they scolded
the media for even reporting the snub.
No surprise. China’s
ostentatious rudeness was perfectly reflective of the world’s general disdain
for Obama. His high-minded lectures about global norms and demands that others
live up to their “international obligations” are no longer amusing.
Foreign leaders have reciprocated
by taking this administration down a notch knowing they pay no price. In May
2013, Vladimir Putin reportedly kept the U.S. secretary of state cooling his
three hours outside his office before deigning to receive him. Even as Obama
was hailing the nuclear deal with Iran as a great breakthrough, the
ayatollah vowed “no change” in his policy, which remained diametrically
opposed to “U.S. arrogant system.” The mullahs followed by openly conducting
missile tests — calculating, correctly, that Obama would do nothing. And
when Iran took prisoner 10 American sailors in the Persian Gulf, made them kneel
and broadcast the video, what was the U.S. response? Upon their release, John
thanked Iran for its good conduct.
Three countries that made
Obama’s last Asia trip a bit awkward
President Obama traveled to China
and Laos to attend the G20 and ASEAN conferences. Along the way there were more
than a few times when the geopolitical discourse surrounding the events became
awkward. (Jason Aldag, William Wan/The Washington Post)
Why should Xi treat Obama with any
greater deference? Beijing illegally expands into the South China Sea, meeting
only the most perfunctory pushback from the U.S. Obama
told CNN that he warned Xi to desist or “there will be consequences.” Is
there a threat less credible?
Putin annexes Crimea and Obama
crows about the isolation he has imposed on Russia. Look around. Moscow
has become Grand Central Station for Middle East leaders seeking outside
help in their various conflicts. As for Ukraine, both the French president and
the German chancellor have hastened to Moscow to plead with Putin to make peace.
harasses our vessels in the Persian Gulf. Russian fighters buzzed a U.S.
destroyer in the Baltic Sea. And just Wednesday, a Russian fighter flew within
10 feet of an American military jet. The price they paid? Being admonished that
such provocations are unsafe and unprofessional. An OSHA citation is more
Add to that American acquiescence
not just to ransoming hostages held by Iran, but to delivering
the loot by unmarked plane filled with stacks of cold (untraceable) cash,
like a desert drug deal. Why the stealth? Obviously to conceal the manner of the
transaction from Congress and the American public. Some humiliations are so
grotesque that even the Obama team can’t miss it.
Now the latest. At the G-20, Obama
he spoke to Putin about cyberwarfare, amid revelations that Russian hackers
have been interfering in our political campaigns. We are more technologically
advanced, both offensively and defensively, in this arena than any of our
adversaries, said Obama, but we really don’t want another Cold War-style arms
Instead, we must all adhere to
norms of international behavior.
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It makes you want to weep. This
KGB thug adhering to norms? He invades Ukraine, annexes Crimea, bombs hospitals
in Aleppo — and we expect him to observe cyber-code etiquette? Rather than
exploit our technological lead — with countermeasures and deterrent threats
— to ensure our own cyber-safety?
We’re back to 1929 when
Secretary of State Henry Stimson shut down a U.S. code-breaking operation after
it gave him decoded Japanese telegrams. He famously explained that “gentlemen
do not read each other’s mail.”
Well, comrade, Putin is no
gentleman. And he’s reading our mail.