I Was Wrong About The Chen Affair

I am in the unenviable position of having to say I was wrong and am sorry. This is in relation to the issue of US diplomacy vis a vis China as relates to Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. In case anybody has forgotten, I wrote a rather harsh article toward the US government, by the State Department, conduct within 24 hours or so of it hitting the news wires:

Hillary Clinton, and the State Department under President Obama, have been far from perfect, to be sure; but, overall, one of the stronger, if not strongest, departments in Obama’s cabinet. But this is way ugly, and ought to, by all rights, leave a very permanent mark. It is a stain fairly earned in every sense of the word. Hard to imagine a more cravenly constructed pile of PR bullshit since the Jessica Lynch affair. Yet here it is in living steaming brownish color. All painted with Madame Secretary conveniently in Beijing, China. Awkward!

In a nutshell, I was extremely critical of the entire show, and especially the press manipulation component thereof.

I was wrong. I still have pretty strong issues with the opportunistic way in which the press was contacted by Chen on the way from the embassy to the hospital, which was completely aided and abetted by the US diplomatic officials with him, but this is, at this point, kind of a minor quibble it seems. And, heck, who knows, maybe it was even part of the plan.

Whatever, it seems to have worked out.

Here is today’s lead from the Washington Post:

Blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, who had been at the center of a diplomatic row between the U.S. and Chinese governments, left Beijing on Saturday afternoon on a United Airlines flight bound for Newark and an uncertain life in the United States, after Chinese officials and American diplomats worked out of the public view to arrange for him and his family to travel out of the country.

In the past two weeks, while waiting for movement on the Chinese side, senior staff in the State Department had been laying the groundwork for Chen’s departure, including the logistics of his transportation, according to a senior administration official who was not authorized to give his name.

Listen, this is still very far from ideal in a number of respects, and it will be a long time, if ever, before we know all the facts and circumstances surrounding this mess. But fair is fair, my initial criticism, even if correct in some lesser elements, was dreadfully wrong overall.

Hat’s off to Hillary Clinton, the State Department and the Obama Administration. It is far from perfect, but it is looking pretty good. I was wrong to be too critical, too soon.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has a pretty fleshed out tick tock on the gig. It actually does look like fairly decent work by State. Would love to see an honest version of the same on the flip side, from the Chinese perspective. That would be fascinating.

22 replies
  1. scribe says:

    Who’s to say that your, and other similar, criticism didn’t have the ultimately salutary effect of stinging State into getting this deal done?

    Republicans never apologize, sincerely at least. I see no reason to do so here. A desirable result obtained and it may well have been because State was pilloried here. Move on.

    Or, in the words of Obama, look forward and not back.

  2. MadDog says:

    As they say, it takes a big person to admit he was wrong, but bmaz, I’m not even sure now that you were wrong.

    Unless I miss my guess, the Chinese government probably drove this turnabout rather than the US government.

    By that I mean, the US government was more or less the blind squirrel who eventually got an acorn. And the Chinese government put that acorn smack dab directly into the US’s hands.

    I’m guessing that the Chinese government saw the expulsion departure of Chen and family as way to remove him as an internal thorn in China’s side and out of the Chinese public view.

    I suspect the Chinese government believes that Chen’s influence will be greatly reduced by his banishment to faraway America. Whether that comes true remains to be seen.

  3. bmaz says:

    @MadDog: Well, I dunno. However it happened, at least so far, it is far better than I contemplated. As i said, I STILL have issues with the yaks sessions on the phone in the car between the embassy and hospital. But, hey, all in all, it is looking better than I could have imagined.

  4. orionATL says:

    bmaz –

    i got no problem with your being wrong; i’ve made that call in the past :>))

    but it is decent of you to publicly admit that possibility with regard to this matter.

    i have to say though, that i am in scribe’s corner – where an interacting social system is involved, who knows who influenced who to do what.

  5. orionATL says:


    i think there was more diplomacy here than one might imagine – quite a bit more.

    what this all says to me is that both the chinese and the u.s. gov’ts did not want a quarrel right at this moment – after all, it was only one guy.

  6. lefty665 says:

    Bmaz, I appreciate all your good early calls. They’re a big part of the value added here. The ratio of on target to booting one is high.

    What I value in myself and others is caring about getting things right. We’re all mortal, me often profoundly. Missing calls from time to time comes with willingness to make them in the first place.

    Figuring out when I’ve missed one, making corrections and amends is what credibility is all about. The logic about what actually happened usually informs the discussion and helps improve future calls.

    Guy I worked with long ago taught me to “Get out the mustard and ketchup, makes chomping down on crow easier”, and that’s the best way to get past an issue and back to work.

    Thanks again. Keep at it.

  7. ondelette says:

    Nice apology. Thanks.

    As for your desire to see the whole thing laid out, or the Chinese side laid out, please keep in mind that you need not have seen any of it laid out at all. Some of these are completely shielded from outside scrutiny altogether in order to do them. And that’s okay, because the important people during the process are the asylees or dissidents (and the bipartite relationship), and no one else.

  8. jo6pac says:

    I might need my tin foil hat but I could see China playing this game a lot more in the near future like may be a Cuban deal empty out the prisons of China. What better way to solve a problem and hand it to that country that only been around for 236 yrs or so. I wonder if the Red Army owns any corp. prison stock. Oh well back to harvesting potatoes.

    My question is how does this person now support his family in his new country?

  9. Peterr says:

    If you’re going to get one wrong, this is a nice way to be wrong.

    That said, I’d love to see a sequel to this post, where you apologize for saying Bybee et al. will never be held accountable for their crimes. I’ll even join you for that apology with one of my own.

    But I’m not going to spend a lot of time getting a draft of that apology ready. Somehow, I don’t think it will be needed.

  10. Bay State Librul says:


    Fuckin Hardin is a bully.
    I know that McNamee lied, cheated, and was a low life in the drug world.
    He admits that he is a low life.
    However, Hardin offends the traditional notions of fair play and substantional justice.
    The question before the court is simple.
    Did Clemens take steroids or not?
    Anyone with an ounce of brains, in my opinion, will say yes.
    Rusty is a dick.

  11. jo6pac says:

    @ondelette: They have playing the game longer than we have just like Iran. Just think of all the history/games they have invented, thats all.

  12. orionATL says:

    my personal opinion is that mrs. clinton has done a superb job of leading the state dep’t. i will be very interested in reading what her subordinates say of her work once she leaves in dec/jan.

    my personal opinion of both clintons, each individually, is that they are the last of a dying breed of real liberal democrats.

    chew on that for a while, those of you who love to dwell on human sexual behavior in politics and the infinite charm of patent-leather-shod boardroom charmers like our current nominally democratic prez.

  13. orionATL says:


    i like that.

    you’re right, both cultures have been around a looong time – like thousands of years long time.

  14. ondelette says:

    @jo6pac: Oh. Somehow, I think it’s pretty irrelevant. Not only that, China turned her back on her culture in some very definite ways during the modern period, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad.

    In the current fight over this particular dissident, tell me, which side would the thousands of years of Chinese culture be on, oh wise one? Chen Guancheng’s or the Chinese government’s? Given that he’s a lawyer candidate who takes cases disputing the One Child policy? After all, what does Kongzi have to say about things like that? What is it that Chinese couples are trying to do this year, the year of the Dragon?

  15. jo6pac says:

    @ondelette: He is also a member of the religious right and will become a thorn in States side. Please check out who his friends are here in Amerika, they are not nice people. I’m not very wise so I have no idea.

  16. ondelette says:

    @jo6pac: Amerika?

    What I’m pointing out to you is that the assumption that China (or Iran for that matter) is actually acting out of thousands of years of wisdom during any one diplomatic action is not a good assumption. This particular matter is one on which the Chinese government policy is in direct opposition to Chinese tradition. And, like you’re pointing out, our American right supports the tradition — but that’s also for non-linear reasons: We don’t have a lot of Confucians on the right, but the opposition to the One Child policy coincides neatly with their anti-Communist beliefs and their anti-abortion agenda.

    So recourse to the relative age of the two nations doesn’t really make any difference here. Neither does any American politics in evaluating the One Child policy. America is very pro-natalist which is a very bad policy going forward for the future of the world. And the One Child policy is anti-natalist, which in principle ought to be good. But the One Child policy led to extremes that are unconscionable — massive female infanticide for one — that can’t be reconciled just because of its goals. In Shanghai province between 1989 and 1999, 889,000 female infants disappeared, e.g.

    This year is the Year of the Dragon, like I said before. Traditionally, and the tradition is quite strong, many Chinese couples will go to great lengths to have a son, sometimes even trying to conceive twice during the year. In this modern era of ultrasound, it will also lead to a lot of sex-selective abortions and possibly even infanticides in some out of the way places.

    So it’s hard to say what kind of person a One Child policy lawyer is. That they will be supported by U.S. right wing religious groups means pretty much nothing. Those groups are making an assumption that may not be correct about the person they are supporting.

  17. jo6pac says:

    @ondelette: Only time will tell how it ends up with this person and yes I know what one child policy has done to people of this nation female population and that’s sad for sure. I have no children by my choice because even in the 70s the handwriting was on the wall to what was coming to Amerika and I think this also sad for the children of this nation and the world for the matter.

  18. lefty665 says:


    “my personal opinion of both clintons, each individually, is that they are the last of a dying breed of real liberal democrats.

    That’s Democrats with a large D for the caps challenged and upper case impaired.

    Where have you been for the last 20 years? Neither of the Clintons are now, nor have they ever been, “liberal Democrats”. Time to get your meds changed ATL, you’ve completely lost touch with reality.

    Both Clintons have been blue dog, DLC, Dick Morris toe sucking, right wing, Repub lite wannabes.

    If nothing else perhaps you should remember that Bill signed the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the derivatives deregulation act that set the stage for the crash of ’08.

    Obama brought back Rubin and Summers, the geniuses behind those two pieces of legislation, along with TTTimmeh Geithner et al. Together they managed to cut taxes for the rich and give us a piss ant stimulus that wasn’t half up to the job of fueling a recovery.

    We’re coming up on 12 years of right wing Dems out of the last 20 years. People living in LaLa land pretending that any of them were “liberal Democrats” is part of how we got to the sorry state of affairs today.

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