Over the past three days, the Obama administration has been engaged in highly-sensitive negations with the Chinese government on both the safety of Chen Guangcheng – a Chinese dissident who sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy – and regarding vital economic and trade reforms. The government in Beijing has initially met Chen’s demands, agreeing to let him pursue higher education in safety and allowing the American government to monitor his situation on an ongoing basis, ensuring he would not suffer from any state-sponsored retribution. After Chen chose to leave the American Embassy – under his own volition – he apparently received threats against his family from the Chinese police, and changed his mind – asking to immigrate to the United States. It now appears that a new deal was brokered by the State Department allowing Chen to bring his family safely to New York City.
While the administration worked tirelessly to resolve this highly charged situation in a way that preserved the full range of U.S. interests abroad, the Romney campaign and their GOP surrogates lined up to assail them. The ire of the Republicans was not directed at the Communist Party of China, whose repression actually caused the crisis, but at the State Department that was working night and day to save the life of Chen and his family. Romney apparently believes that yesterday was a 'day of shame' for Obama, rather than for the Chinese whose human rights abuses are now being exposed on the world's stage.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, was able to keep their eye on the ball and resolve this human rights issue while also understanding the larger, strategic framework of the U.S.-China relationship. Cal Jillson, a political science professor at SMU observed that while “human rights are a critical interest to the U.S. and we want to see the government treat all its citizens well … the administration knows that it's a decades-long work in progress and they have economic issues and other pressing issues that are the first priority.” It is the disciplined and careful diplomacy of the administration that allowed them to not only resolve the Chen situation with the best realistic result, but also secure long-sought economic commitments from China, who vowed to “limit its export subsidies, encourage domestic consumption and consider reforms to its state-owned enterprises.” Those are results that any rational observer would commend. But not Mr. Romney.
It is said that politics used to “stop at the water’s edge,” suggesting that the Presidents’ conduct of foreign policy should be free of pure political gamesmanship. While giving the Executive carte blanche on global affairs is clearly unwise, defense and diplomacy decisions should clearly be judged based on honest assessment of their efficacy rather than reactionary partisanship. The Romney campaign jumped into an ongoing and sensitive international negotiation seeking to blame Obama first and ask questions later. Yesterday’s verbal attacks on the President and the Secretary of State were made with very little concrete information while lives literally hung in the balance. That conduct sharply diverges from the image of a sober, level-headed executive that the Romney campaign is trying to portray. It instead reveals a craven desire to score political points at the expense of the nation’s security and promotion of America’s global interests.
It is the Obama White House seeking to act sensibly and thoughtfully to promote the full range of U.S. concerns abroad, while the Romney campaign lashes out at anything the President accomplishes in order to boost his own political fortunes. The American public recognizes this distinction, which is one of the reasons that Obama is outpolling Romney on national security by a 17-point margin. Romney’s irresponsible rhetoric along with his neocon war-cabinet suggest that he's anxious to return America to the world of unilateral, shoot-from-the-hip foreign policy that had such disastrous consequences under George W. Bush. Voters would be wise to deny him that opportunity.