Say what you will about President Bush. One of his good qualities is that this president respects the right of Americans to say what they will about him, and his political leadership, without fear of consequence. He thinks people should be able to do the same around the world.
So, say what you will about President Bush, but he was pretty good this weekend in an interview with NBC’s Bob Costas. Bush went to Beijing for the opening ceremonies and early competition in the Summer Olympics. Say what you will about athletics, but recognize that sports can be transcendent, giving us something to gather around, and to celebrate, above our differences and relative woe. And what a coup for Costas, who transcended sports journalism for a candid, revealing interview with the president that was as good as anything you’ll get from a hard news reporter.
Bush certainly has his flaws. But he understands the power of relationship, and the value of just showing up.
“In the long run,” Bush said, “America (had) better remain engaged with China and understand that we can have a cooperative and constructive yet candid relationship.” It’s vital that the U.S. be engaged with China “even though we may have some disagreements.”
Costas asked Bush if he pressed Chinese President Hu Jintao “on the full array of American concerns? Human rights, press freedom, Tibet, China’s support of rogue regimes like Sudan and Myanmar?”
“And North Korea and Iran,” Bush added. “I don’t need the Olympics to advance America’s agenda. I’ve met with Hu Jintao a lot since I have been the President … we agree with them on a lot of things and we disagree with them on things, and that’s the way the relationship is going to be.”
Indeed, that’s how the relationship must be for our next president.
Bush characterized the China relationship as one of “constructive engagement,” with points of agreement, and points of disagreement over which “they can respect you enough to listen to your views …”
Same with Russia, whose leader (regardless of title) Vladimir Putin listened to Bush in China when the president called the violence in the free state of Georgia “unacceptable. … I expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia. I was very firm with Vladimir Putin. And he and I have a good relationship.”
It’s important that whoever is to become president, John McCain or Barack Obama, demonstrate the skills and demeanor needed to sit with the Putins and Hus of the world, represent America with strength, say what we think, and realize that we’re not going to get everything we want. It’s not saber-rattling. It’s persuasive discussion.
Bush is in China, for the biggest event in that country’s modern history, “as a sign of respect for the Chinese people.” That’s vital. Remember the “diplomacy” of Jimmy Carter, who boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980 (ironically over a war in Afghanistan that bled the Soviet Union and contributed to its demise)? The boycott was a poor decision. We’d have been better off sticking it to ’em on the field of play, the way Jesse Owens did in Berlin in 1936.
Four years after the Moscow boycott, it took real persuasion to get China to the ’84 games in Los Angeles. But the Chinese showed up. And, 24 years later, Bush did, too.
“We’ll have our differences, we’ll have our agreements. But in order to find common ground and move the world toward peace, it is important for this country to show respect for the people of” China, Bush said.
Well said, and well done.