Just over a month ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled that under President Obama, the United States was no longer interested in pushing human rights or other thorny issues. Henceforth, "cooperation" would reign between Washington and Beijing.
Zhongnanhai responded by pressuring South Africa into banning the Dalai Lama (Guardian, UK) and calling for a new international currency to replace the dollar (BBC).
The wages of weakness have come.
To be fair to the new Administration, "engagement" - the label that the president believes still encompasses his China policy - has been the coin of the realm for two decades. If anything, President Obama has merely been more obsequious, more eager-to-please, and more naive about the cadres than his three most recent predecessors. However, it is that degree of difference that has given the Chinese Communist Party the belief it can act with this impunity, and so it has.
The Bush and Clinton Administrations would never have presented such a weak face to Beijing - and in fact, even at their worst, neither of them did. That the Obama Administration (as of Tuesday morning) has still said nothing about the South African ban on the Dalai Lama is painfully telling.
When you allow the last apartheid president to take the moral high ground (London Telegraph), it is a good time to reassess your policy. Sadly, what we get instead is the spreading of the "engagement" virus across the world map.
As the president was ignoring the CCP's muscle flexing, he was making an "overture" to the Iranian mullahcracy, itself a major coup for a regime listed by President Bush as part of the "axis of evil." Yet Mr. Obama made no attempt to reach directly to the Iranian people, who have suffered the effects of Tehran's tyranny for more than anyone else on the planet. Instead, he gave the "Islamic Republic" a legitimacy no predecessor had granted them in nearly three decades.
The tyrants' response was quick and unsurprising: thanks so much, now give us more (Time).
Meanwhile, the CCP's Korean colony is preparing to test-fire a missile that could hit the United States and holding two American journalists prisoner (BBC) - and Washington's silence is deafening.
For those who remember the Carter Administration, it is all gruesomely familiar: a new president looking to break from the past and reach out to our enemies, a lack of understanding about just how dangerous these enemies are, and a refusal to take a stand even as previous weaknesses lead to adventurism from said enemies. Yet even President Carter coupled his unfortunate geopolitical policies with a genuine concern for the rights and dignity of the oppressed. That is nowhere to be found in the Obama Administration.
President Carter reaped what he sowed in Afghanistan and Iran. This president will likely see the result of his weakness in Taiwan, Korea, and the Middle East - if he's lucky, the consequences will remain that far away for now.
However, for all the dark clouds on the horizon, there remains an important silver lining.
Carter took office in 1977, after defeating a Republican incumbent (Gerald Ford) who had the "detente" policy of his predecessor (Richard Nixon) hanging around his neck like a millstone. "Detente" was in many respects a doomed policy, certain to give the Soviets badly needed breathing room and a chance to advance its interests abroad at our expense. Domestically, it was one of the many things that made the Republican Party an anathema among voters. Yet the four years out of power, along with the mistakes of the Carter Administration, gave the GOP an opportunity to capture the anti-Communist mantle for its own - which it did under Ronald Reagan in 1980. The rest, as they say, is history.
Likewise, the Republicans in 2009 are recovering from a deep "engagement" hangover, yet once again, the mistakes of the Obama Administration gives the party a chance to grasp the anti-Communist mantle. The question is: will they?
For those of us eager to see the Chinese, Iranian, and Korean peoples take their countries back, it will be a very difficult four years. However, if we take the time to make sure the peoples of the democratic world are aware of the rising dangers - and the need to confront them - they can be productive all the same. With enough hard work, we could get the anti-Communist leadership that is so desperately needed, and see freedom finally come to the dark tyrannies of the world.