I couldn't believe my eyes as I read Alan Cowell's New York Times report this morning that (as of now) 19 countries would not attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo for the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Last year's honoree was Barack Obama, for whom there was a full-court attendance but whom I credit for the shameful deference to Beijing of so-called American allies.

So, yes, I understand, why--in addition to China itself--Russia, Cuba Venezuela, Iran, Venezuela and a handful of other certified dictatorships followed the none-too-subtle demands of Beijing diplomacy to stay away. The reason for Sudan's behavior is also self- evident. Its capacity to murder the non-Arab Muslims of Darfur and the Christians and animists of Sudan's south is directly dependent on the indulgence of its largest oil investor in far-away Asia.

But why would countries allied with the United States and (some) also dependent on Washington follow the desperate Chinese line? Saudi Arabia, for example, to whom our current president genuflected (not the first of our presidents to do so) and in whose interests much of our Middle East policy has been run for decades and decades? Egypt, the second largest beneficiary of American aid? Colombia, an enemy of Venezuela, which is an enemy of America? Tunisia and Morocco, the mildest pro-Western and Arab despotisms? And, then, of course, Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan for the survival of which American blood is shed every day? Yes, every day.

That Obama does not know how to partner an alliance is already widely known. He has contempt for many of our historic associates and associations: it is almost a surprise that Great Britain and France, Canada and Australia are also not sitting out the Oslo ceremony. And he is not the sort to worry if they would.

There will probably by many more surprises in the drop-out list. After all, no country is obliged to announce its non-participation. Just don't show up and you get credit in China. Who's to guarantee that Kuwait and the emirates will be in Oslo when a true international hero is honored?