Lessons of Iraq Policy: U.S.’s Loss Is China’s Gain

Bush’s recent trip to China underscored his waning influence over the Chinese government, and that waning influence is a direct outgrowth of Iraq. China now has a better image in world opinion than does the United States. The South China Morning Post (6/26/05) editorialized that these poll results served as a “cautionary tale” for China:

It was President George W. Bush’s unilateral and belligerent foreign policy that poisoned the wellspring of global sympathy for America after the September 11 terrorist attacks. “¦ Through its rash actions, the Bush administration squandered, in just a couple of years, half a century of America’s hard-earned reputation as a responsible, generally benevolent, superpower. “¦ Chinese leaders, to their credit, seem well aware of the lesson in all this: that a distrusted superpower runs the risk of being ganged up on by the rest of the world.

The way the Bush administration went to war in Iraq has cost the administration a great deal of moral authority and respect in the world. As a result, the administration now has less ability to convince China to extrend greater freedoms to all its citizens. China remains a blind spot in Bush’s 2005 Inaugural pledge to “encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people.”

One example of Bush’s lack of influence can be seen in the administration’s inability to successfully address the issue of China’s treatment of dissidents. Agence France Press reported:

Dissidents told AFP on Saturday that Chinese authorities had detained or put under house arrest at least a dozen dissidents and activists ahead of Bush’s visit to keep them from being heard.

Secretary Rice claimed concerns about these dissidents would be raised “quite vociferously” with the Chinese government, but whatever was said privately was apparently met with a “muted Chinese reaction.” Bush’s public call for greater religious freedom was meant primarily for the U.S. audience, as it did little to affect public discourse in China. The New York Times reported that the only Chinese television coverage of Bush’s visit was his bike ride with Olympic athletes.

As a result of Bush’s handling of Iraq, China can now quash free speech at home and still maintain the upper hand over the United States in terms of global respect.