Diplomatic Discussions: Jeffrey Bader's Obama and China's Rise

By Slattery, Gram; Wu, Bob | Harvard International Review, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Diplomatic Discussions: Jeffrey Bader's Obama and China's Rise


Slattery, Gram, Wu, Bob, Harvard International Review


In the opening lines of Obama and China's Rise, former diplomat Jeffrey Bader invokes Volta ire's observation that history is--far from an objective account of the past--often "a pack of lies played on the dead." Using this epigram as an example of the history he is seeking to avoid, Bader endeavors to offer his own insight into President Obama's East Asia policy, albeit insight that he admits may be limited by his own experiences and prejudices. Indeed, the book is replete with praise for the (Mama administration and portrays the vast majority of critical media coverage as pernicious, ill-informed muckraking. At the same time, he lends compliments to "sophisticated" pieces of journalism that approve of the administration's policies.

Readers looking for an objective analysis of US-Asia policy will not be satisfied, but the book does not claim to be objective. Instead, Obama and China's Rise shines as a source of detail; it personalizes and animates the summit meetings, the phone calls, and the handshakes that underpin the administration's efforts to execute its Asia policy. When the US delegation is excluded from a particular meeting at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, Bader describes their surprise entry, noting that he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "burst, shoulders down, through the phalanx [of officials] as in a goal-line plunge."

It is from the book's weaknesses--its subjectivity and pro-administration tone--that its strengths are born. The words of a loyal diplomat, through an imperfect source for a rigorous objective history, provide original and sometimes convincing rebuttals of popular media criticisms. For instance, Bader manages to portray the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, widely condemned as a diplomatic and potentially ecological disaster, as a resounding success, and attributes the nonbinding agreement that resulted from the talks to the diplomatic cunning of Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama. Furthermore, Bader effectively provides a series of fascinating defenses of contentious policies, such as the decision to keep US military personnel in Tokyo after the Fulcushima nuclear meltdown. On top of Bader's privileged perspective, his insider status allows him to detail the intricacies of the diplomatic process, from the politics of physical positioning at international conferences to the interagency bureaucratic wrangling with which senior State Department officials must cope.

It is in the final pages, however, that Bader treats the reader to the most revelatory perspectives and analyses in the book, laying out the implicit policy goals of the Obama Administration in East Asia. …

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