Bob Franken

King Features Column

      (As always, the deal with tyevsyndicator means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)

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       FOR RELEASE MONDAY, MAY 8, 2012
       It will be fun to watch as Mitt Romney once again demonstrates what he does best, which as everyone knows, is backtracking. His running shoes will be covered in whatever he steps into. This time, he’s being criticized for interfering in the tense negotiations with Beijing over dissident Chen Guangcheng.
       Chen is the blind, self-educated lawyer who has spent years in prison because of his anti-government agitations. After incarceration, he was confined in extra-legal house arrest in a far-out province, and had become another of the faces of the shameful brutality directed at anyone who doesn’t march in lock step with China’s rigid and often corrupt system.
       Somehow, he managed to escape the thuggish guards who seriously mistreated him and kept him inside his home and visitors out.  After a perilous journey to the capital city, he was secreted into the compound of the U.S. Embassy.  
       The Chinese government was furious over “an interference in China’s internal affairs,” and demanded a U.S. apology. Like that is going to happen, particularly with the Mitt Romneys of this world heckling from the sidelines.
       Making matters even messier, the surprise crisis erupted at the exact time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner were arriving for talks about a wide range of difficult issues — trade and economic matters among them. They were all vital, but suddenly completely overshadowed by the quandary over human rights. The very mention of the subject causes Beijing’s autocrats to bristle, not exactly the best atmosphere in which to discuss business dealings.
       Obviously, this was a delicate situation. It still is. Each time it appeared the sides had carefully worked out a face-saving understanding, it would fall apart, done in by the treachery of the communist rulers, confusion or Chen’s capriciousness. The latest flimsy arrangement, which would allow Chen and his family to travel to the United States, easily could unravel. The Chinese government said the travel documents will be issued “expeditiously.” That means what it usually means: not much.
       One might think that this is the very worst time for heavy-handed domestic politics. And one would be correct, unless he or she is Mitt Romney, who’s eager as always to make the case that Barack Obama is over his head or soft on human rights, or whatever. Ignoring the possibility that his heckling might undermine U.S. efforts, Romney absolutely, positively had to describe the reported roller-coaster developments as a “dark day for freedom, and it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration.”
       It was a dark day all right, a dark day of irresponsible opportunism and careless rhetoric for the man who so desperately wants to replace the Obama administration with his own. Never mind how this type of situation used to be treated, with a modicum of restraint. That was practiced in a time where statesmanship had a role, with the understanding that “politics stops at the water’s edge,” meaning, of course, our ocean boundaries. How quaint.

The ideal of unity in international dealings has been obliterated by knee-jerk opportunism. Even in today’s screechy electioneering, common sense sometimes causes the campaigner to pause before he shoots from the hip (or in Mitt’s case, the unhip). But apparently, that isn’t always the case, as evidenced by the “dark day” verbal meddling.
       Even some certified Obama haters were appalled. Conservative commentator Bill Kristol was critical of Romney’s comment: “To inject yourself into the middle of this way with a fast-moving target, I think is foolish.”
       True to form, Mitt Romney started dancing his patented backstep. In a subsequent interview, he declared we should “wait and see” how the matter unfolds. Good advice. Let’s wait and see, and remember how reckless posturing might jeopardize the safety of Chen and his family.
       © 2012 Bob Franken
       Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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