Monday, November 9, 2009

The Economist Reads Commentarama

Ok, that’s a bit facetious. . . they probably just skim. Still, in the past couple weeks, The Economist has finally discovered what Commentarama readers already knew about China and Honduras. Good for them. Interestingly, as a result of their realizations, they’ve turned on Obama on both issues.

The Economist, for those who don’t know, is a center-left European magazine that was once center-right. But its center-right days are long behind it and its economics focus is shaky at best. Still, it’s one of the best sources of world news in a media world that runs from foreign news like vampires run from sunlight. . . or Democrats run from voters.

So what did The Economist finally discover? Let’s take a look at their recent article on China, and then we’ll discuss their shock that things are not as they thought in Honduras. Oh my!
China: Not An Economic Giant? Military Threat?
As Commentarama readers will recall, last August we debunked the idea that China was about to replace the United States as the world’s dominant economic power. We noted that their economy is actually quite small compared to ours, and that they aren’t even the second largest. We’ve also mentioned that China’s holding of United States debts does not give China any real power over America (except to the extent that we want them to loan us more money). Now it appears, The Economist has caught on:
There is now talk of a G2 of China and America, implying that their global weights are nearly equal. In fact, as our special report argues, this is a misperception, and a dangerous one.

China’s economy is still less than a third the size of America’s at market exchange rates. Its GDP per head is one-fourteenth that of America. The innovation gap between the two countries remains huge. America’s defense budget is still six times China’s. As for the [$800 billion in] Treasury bills, dumping them is not an option for China: a tumbling dollar would hurt its own economy.
But that’s not all The Economist has discovered. They’ve also discovered that China is becoming a military and geopolitical threat:
China has engaged in a rapid military build-up that could challenge America as the defender of Asian peace (and Taiwan’s sovereignty). Unannounced, China is building its first aircraft carrier, yet its generals often refuse even to talk to their American peers.

Underlying the strategic competition is China’s economic rise. Its companies are “colonizing” swathes of Africa and Latin America, cozying up to regimes Westerners shun.
Sound familiar? Perhaps you recall reading about China’s military build up and the problems this could cause for the United States in the region, as well as China’s troubling creation of “bamboo republics” throughout the world in our September article describing why China is becoming a danger to us today. Welcome aboard Economist.

Interestingly, having now discovered both of these issues, The Economist is becoming critical of Obama’s China policy. They particularly argue that Obama has pushed China too hard economically (out of mistaken fear of a co-equal China), but has failed to push China hard enough regarding human rights, which The Economist sees as something the United States must do to turn China into a more responsible international power. I see that as a misreading of the Chinese mindset -- which struggles against an inferiority complex that makes outside advice more than just unwelcome. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see an enthusiastic endorser of Obama become so openly critical of Obama’s brilliant foreign policy.
Honduras: This Was No Boating Accident
The Economist also is now critical of Obama’s Honduras solution. Indeed, after initially declaring the negotiated agreement between Zelaya and Honduras to be a victory for Obama over the evil coup, The Economist has suddenly discovered that the agreement doesn’t do what they thought it did. What do you mean he doesn’t automatically get reinstated? Left to Congress? Obama going to recognize the elections regardless? Who could have known this? No one. . . except, apparently, Commentarama readers.

Time Magazine also has discovered that they’ve been had. Check this out:
When the U.S. last week finally brokered a deal between ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and the man who replaced him following the June 28 coup, de facto President Roberto Micheletti, observers wondered how the Obama Administration had won Micheletti's agreement. That's because the pact allowed for Zelaya to be restored to office before Honduras' Nov. 29 presidential election — a prospect Micheletti had fiercely opposed. But as the dust settles, the more common question this week is, What was Zelaya thinking when he signed this accord?

The Oct. 30 agreement, in fact, leaves it to the Honduran congress to decide whether the leftist Zelaya should be restored before the presidential vote (in which he's not a candidate). But Zelaya, still holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa since sneaking back into the country from exile in September, appears to have grossly miscalculated the odds of the legislature voting in his favor, and that leaves a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the accord. On Friday, Zelaya told Radio Globo that the accord was "dead," adding that there was "no sense in deceiving Hondurans."
Ok, so the Hondurans broke the agreement and we need to crush them to maintain Obama’s honor, right? Strangely, no. Get this. . . Time notes that it should have been “apparent to Zelaya” that the Congress would not back him. Funny, it wasn’t apparent to anyone else at the time, except for Commentarama readers. Sounds like they’re ready to abandon Zelaya, just like Obama has abandoned him.

Indeed, while Zelaya is now arguing that his restoration should be a precondition for international recognition of the result of the November 29 election, that is being described as “naive.” According to chief U.S. negotiator Thomas Shannon, the United States will recognize the election results even if Congress declines to restore Zelaya. Really? Those are the sounds of abandonment you're hearing, right there. No one could have seen this coming!

Equally interesting, Time points out just how naive Team Obama was in this matter. Apparently, they actually thought the Honduran Congress (the one that voted 5-1 against Zelaya on two occasions, the one that listened to Zelaya threaten invasion or insurrection, the one that watched the world crap on their constitution) would actually have a change of heart! Said Time:
U.S. officials say they hoped that four months after the coup, the congress would be less of an anti-Zelaya hothouse and therefore more amenable to letting him finish the last three months of his term as the democratically elected President.
Wow, that is naive. Or is it? Was this really just wishful thinking or did Team Obama just wash their hands of Zelaya? You and I know the answer because we've already discussed this. Now, apparently, Time is figuring this out too. Indeed, taking a surprisingly critical stance against Obama, Time now suggests a certain cynicism on the part of Team Obama in this whole affair:
The Obama Administration is technically correct when it argues that last week's pact allows it to recognize the Nov. 29 election even without Zelaya's restoration — a result that would let Obama wipe his hands of the Honduras mess while getting U.S. conservatives off his back. But. . . it could certainly have negative implications for Obama's credibility in the region if he is perceived to have brokered a deal that allowed a military coup to succeed. Then again, the U.S. President could always shift the blame by pointing out that it was Zelaya that signed the deal.
Can’t you just feel the love. . . fading?

** Update: The Honduran Congress has now decided not to schedule a vote to reinstate Zelaya. Zelaya is blaming Obama and Asst. Sec. Shannon. Said Zelaya supporter Elvia Valle, "The United States is no longer interested in punishing a coup-installed government. [This] has left a bitter taste in our mouths."


LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: So the Economist finally figured China out, huh? It took them long enough. I worry about China because of its military buildup, but I never bought into the concept that it was going to replace us as the economic engine of the world. We survived Roosevelt's policies extending the depression into the Great Depression, and Obama will seem a mere flash in the pan next to FDR.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I find it interesting that they've finally come around as far as they have -- now that they have, by the way, I'm seeing more and more newspeople talking about these issues.

I think now is a crucial time in China's history and Obama, as usual, is missing a key opportunity to shape our relationship with them for the next twenty years. I fear that the next President may pay the price.

Writer X said...

Andrew, very interesting! Is the Economist online or do you get a hardcopy subscription? I just about fell off my seat when you mentioned TIME was critical of Obama's policies. I'd say the love is definitely fading but are the people who drink the kool-aid paying close enough attention? Clearly the independents are, given his declining poll numbers, but what about the others?

No wonder he's trying to move so fast to implement his failed ideas. By this time next year Obama will be like a leper.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, You know it's bad when Time turns on a Democrat!

I think that the KoolAid drinkers got their first wake up call from Saturday Night Live. Since then, I think they've been getting more and more antsy. In fact, I'm hearing a good deal of anger starting to slip out -- gay groups blamed him for their loss in Maine, for example.

The Economist is on-line, but I also get the print subscription.

Writer X said...

Andrew, I'm not quite sure why they're angry in Maine. Did he not visit the state enough to support the issue? Not that I'm complaining.

AndrewPrice said...

Yep. The claim is that he should have used his massive popularity to bring out the vote on their behalf.

Apparently, they don't know how to read polls in Maine.

StanH said...

Commentarama scoops the lamestream media again, hurrah.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Stan! We do our best. The information is out there, they just need to pay attention to it.

Tennessee Jed said...

As I recall, that unbelievably great television newsreader/journalist, Katie Couric, listed "The Economist" as one of the publications she reads to stay 'in the know." Am I missing something here or is this maybe one of the many reasons she has zero credibility?

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Honestly, I don't think either Palin or Couric read The Economist. At least, neither has ever shown that they do.

Regarding Palin, unfortunately, many Republicans have always heard that The Economist is center-right, so they reflexively like to talk it up. But the truth is that it has shifted rather far left -- especially in its American coverage (which is hard core left). I've been reading it 20+ years now and I've seen the shift, year after year.

The only reason I still read it (and I periodically think of cancelling it) is that it does provide world news that you just can't get anywhere else.

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