Susan Rice, former national security adviser and ambassador to the United Nations during the Obama administration, is at it again. Following up on her op-ed column in the New York Times last August in which she advised that we learn to “tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea,” Ms. Rice has written another op-ed column for the New York Times on November 14th entitled “Making China Great Again.” Her thesis is that “Chinese leaders played Trump like a fiddle, catering to his insatiable ego and substituting pomp and circumstance for substance.” She argues that President Trump “welcomed a rote recitation of China’s longstanding rejection of a nuclear North Korea and failed to extract new concessions or promises.”
Ms. Rice speaks as if she were in the room during the private conversations between President Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping or had the kind of access to intercepted confidential communications she was used to having during her tenure as national security adviser. Alternatively, Ms. Rice may simply be projecting onto President Trump the failures of her own boss Barack Obama in his dealings with China. In any case, as she displayed in her previous column, Ms. Rice simply does not know what she is talking about.
For example, Ms. Rice complains that President Trump failed to mention publicly any concern about the disputed South China Sea issue. Contradicting herself, she then criticizes President Trump further on in the same column for his “hubristic offer late in his trip to mediate China’s disputes with its neighbors in the South China Sea.” Offering to mediate a dispute would appear to show some concern that it be resolved peacefully.
In any event, had Ms. Rice bothered to take a look at the White House’s detailed public read-out of the meetings between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, she would have found that the South China Sea issue was indeed discussed at some length: “President Trump underscored the critical importance of the peaceful resolution of disputes, unimpeded lawful commerce, and respect for international law in the East and South China Sea, including freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea, and raised concerns about militarization of outposts in the South China Sea.”
Evidently, Ms. Rice does not realize that it is unwise to engage in public shaming of the visiting president’s host on what the host considers to be a sensitive matter of inviolate national sovereignty that can be more candidly discussed in private. This is especially true when the visiting president is trying to secure the host's cooperation on issues of more direct mutual concern such as North Korea.
Ms. Rice argues that there was not enough diplomatic preparation for the summit meeting between the two heads of state to yield anything worthwhile in substance. Again, she did not do her homework. Here for her edification is a relevant excerpt from the White House read-out that describes how China and the United States have structured their interactions since President Xi’s meeting last April with President Trump in Florida: “During their April meeting, the two presidents set up the United States-China Comprehensive Dialogue with four pillars: the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue; the Comprehensive Economic Dialogue; the Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity Dialogue; and the Social and Cultural Dialogue. Each of these dialogues have met since April, to prepare for President Trump’s state visit and produce meaningful results.”
Ms. Rice complains that “Mr. Trump showered President Xi Jinping of China with embarrassing accolades” and that “scenes of an American president kowtowing in China to a Chinese president sent chills down the spines of Asia experts and United States allies who have relied on America to balance and sometimes counter an increasingly assertive China.” That unsubstantiated assertion does not square with the warm reception and praise that President Trump received from the leaders of such allies as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia during his trip. It is also curious that Ms. Rice would criticize pomp and ceremony surrounding a state visit involving a U.S. president and President Xi. After all, Barack Obama lavished President Xi with a star-studded formal White House state dinner and a 21-gun salute during the Chinese president’s visit to Washington in 2015. Also, when Ms. Rice laments that President Trump “hailed Mr. Xi’s consolidation of authoritarian power,” did she somehow forget Obama’s similar praise of President Xi in 2014? “He has consolidated power faster and more comprehensively than probably anybody since Deng Xiaoping,” Obama said back then, referring to China’s leader from 1978 to 1992. “And everybody’s been impressed by his ... clout inside of China after only a year and a half or two years.”
Then there is the North Korean crisis, upon which Susan Rice opines that President Trump failed to make any progress with President Xi. Ms. Rice had contributed to the worsening of the North Korea problem in the first place by helping to formulate and sell the flawed approach known as “strategic patience” that guided Obama’s feckless foreign policy in North Korea. In doing so, the Obama administration allowed China to continue doing business as usual with North Korea. That stopped under President Trump. Even before President Trump arrived in Beijing, he had managed to wrest more concessions from China regarding its dealings with North Korea than Obama had managed to do in eight years. President Trump’s “strategic impatience” has already paid off with new UN sanctions that even Ms. Rice had to concede in her August op-ed column were “especially potent, closing loopholes and cutting off important funding for the North.”
Since August, with the help of the able diplomacy of the current U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, the UN Security Council has unanimously imposed even tighter restrictions on exports to and imports from North Korea, as well as on North Korean workers continuing to live and work in other countries and earn foreign currency for use by the cash-starved North Korean regime. President Trump reportedly asked for even more stringent measures during his private talks in Beijing with President Xi that would increase China’s economic pressure on North Korea. Also, they discussed the full and strict implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea passed to date, with which China has shown evidence of compliance.
By contrast, the Obama administration indulged itself with the fantasy that UN resolutions and multilateral or bilateral agreements on paper are an end unto themselves. Susan Rice boasts in her November 14th column, for instance, of what she called the “historic United States-China deal on climate change, which led to the Paris Agreement.” In reality, this 2015 deal was an example of how Chinese leaders played Obama like a fiddle.
China, the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases, promised only that its total carbon dioxide emissions would peak by 2030. Obama committed the United States to significant emissions cuts of 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, during the same period that China’s emissions would still be rising. Obama also committed to transfer many billions of dollars more of American taxpayers’ money to developing countries who have made meaningless, non-binding pledges that would do nothing to change the trajectory they were on anyway. The Paris Agreement that Susan Rice is so proud of drastically tied down only the developed countries’ fossil fuel use in the immediate future while picking their taxpayers’ pockets at the same time. President Trump wisely pulled the plug on the U.S.’s involvement in a massive give-away to bribe the so-called developing nations to play along with a feel-good “universal” agreement.
Susan Rice is using the platform provided her by the New York Times to criticize President Trump for one main reason. She sees President Trump’s attempt to confront the issues head-on that his predecessor repeatedly glossed over as an attack on the Obama administration’s ‘legacy.’ What she is defending, however, is a failed foreign policy and misnamed “National Security Strategy” her office issued in 2015. In her November 14th op-ed column, she provides a checklist of all the problems she says President Trump should have addressed with China’s president, many of which he did. However, there is no self-assessment of all the missed opportunities during the Obama administration to move the ball forward on any of these problems, particularly North Korea.
President Trump is willing to make hard choices if he is convinced that in the end they will advance America’s vital national interests and the welfare of the American people, which he values above all else. This is very refreshing after experiencing eight years of Obama’s and Rice’s ‘leading from behind,’ ‘strategic patience,’ apologies for past U.S actions, and muddled thinking.