James Fallows has a very interesting five-part series of posts (one, two, three, four, five) making the case that the U.S. media has been unfair in its portrayals of Barack Obama’s trip to China and that things actually went considerably better than the chatterers in DC would have you know.
He makes a strong case, but it’s difficult to get around the point that it’s hard to see why the President would fly to China unless the U.S. and Chinese foreign ministries already had some serious agreements ready to sign. There wasn’t a major multilateral conference in China that Obama had to attend. China’s not a longstanding American ally that gets a courtesy call just to say “hi.” If China and the United States weren’t prepared to announce major breakthroughs on major issues, that’s fine, but then why not save the trip for some future date when the breakthroughs are ready? There are worse things than a big trip that doesn’t end up with any key takeaways—the Bush administration appeared to have reached a one-sided nuclear deal with India a few years ago merely because they didn’t want to leave a presidential trip to India empty-handed—but it’s bound to leave people puzzled. At the end of the day, being president is a very busy job . . . what’s the need for superfluous trips?