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Is Hillary Really 'immature' About China?


Regarding our erudite debate about the Olympic Games, it does seem a little odd to label Hillary's call for a boycott "immature." After all, she's taking a calculated, pain-free political position that she will never have to deliver on as president. Let's tally up the possible benefits:

  • Bashing China is always popular, and criticizing China on human rights elides well into hitting China on trade.

  • Looking hawkish on China--or any country for that matter--is probably a plus with white-ethnic, union voters.

  • On top of that, she might skim off--or at least soften up--some of Obama's support in the Janeane Garofalo (Free Tibet) and Samantha Power (No, really, let's free Tibet) wings of the Democratic Party.

  • It could put Obama in a position where he's forced to equivocate on human rights, making him look less like an idealist and more like a traditional pol.

  • It won't become a general election issue, because McCain's stance is identical.

  • There's a difference between threatening a boycott and performing a boycott. If a U.S. opposition candidate pushes the president to stage a walkout, it actually makes a U.S. threat to walk out more credible--without ruining the U.S.-China relationship. In this sense, Hillary is actually performing a service to advocates of a nuanced, realistic foreign policy.

It's not a gold mine, but let's look at the costs:

  • The Chinese could remember her stance and hold it against her. Maybe. Or they'll remember how Bill Clinton ran to George H.W. Bush's right on China in 1992--yet pursued a policy of engagement once elected.   

Besides, John McCain is threatening to create a League of Democracies to contain Russia and China, while pressuring them on human rights. I doubt Hillary's low-impact sniping will sting for long.

  • Obama could use the issue to attack her "experience" claim. He'd have to warn that we shouldn't anger China at a crucial time in its development. But I don't see him gaining traction that way, while he'd run the risk of looking like an elite, an appeaser, and a scold.

Any way you slice it, Kissinger-Scowcroft realists just aren't a decisive Democratic primary constituency. There's little to be gained by taking the "mature" position here, and free votes for whoever counsels a boycott. Maybe it's Hillary who's being the realist after all.

--Barron YoungSmith