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Jewish World Review / Nov. 9, 1998 /13 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg Sneak him in, he's a saint

THE BOSSES OF THE WORLD'S LARGEST REMAINING GULAG, aka Communist China, were muttering because occupied Tibet's Dalai Lama, one of the world's living saints, was about to visit the White House or even the sanctum sanctorum -- the Oval Office. Couldn't have that. Tyrants the world over might get the wrong impression, namely that the United States was still on the side of freedom.

The administration's challenge was how to appease the People's Republic of China. The very name of that regime is a triplefold lie, since the PRC does not represent the people, is not a republic and its claim to China is still contested.

Saint or pol? The Dalai Lama's press conference at the White House
The sort of myopic statesmen who thought the Soviet Union would last forever make the same assumption about these upstarts in Beijing, who in the long history of a great civilization will surely prove only another blip.

But for the moment, what would the White House chief of protocol do with the Dalai Lama? It's darned inconvenient having a living god drop by -- and one whose very existence upsets our new Chinese friends and campaign contributors. Because no matter where he goes, the Dalai Lama might as well be wearing a sign that says Free Tibet. He doesn't have to say a word to represent freedom in the world and peace within man. To the same degree he comforts believers in eternal forces, he discomfits temporal powers.

What was to be done? He couldn't be ignored. It would be like failing to recognize America's own spiritual calling. But he couldn't be greeted with national anthems and 21-gun salutes, either. All that noise would be noticed. Nor would it be in keeping with our visitor's character. Or with current American foreign policy, since the president has just echoed Red China's tinny claim to legitimacy.

Like a parrot, Bill Clinton echoed Beijing's Three Nos -- to freedom, to self-determination and to the real Republic of China on Taiwan. Yes, some visitors can be a problem, even if they're saintly. Especially if they're saintly.

Perhaps the Dalai Lama might be smuggled into the White House and greeted in an obscure corridor, instead of the Oval Office. That's how Alexander Solzhenitsyn was received/snubbed when Detente with the evil empire was in fashion. At the time, Henry Kissinger didn't want to offend the last of the commissars, doubtless under the impression that their tyranny was permanent.

You can tell a lot about where a republic is in its rise and fall by which visitors it greets proudly and which it's ashamed of. The red carpet was rolled out for Jiang Zemin, current tyrant of the Chinese. A serene presence like the Dalai Lama must be hustled through Washington like an embarrassment.

These tricky arrangements say less about the status of Tibet's leader than they do about Washington's moral confusion. But all questions will soon be covered, or at least evaded, in a communique from a State Department that by now should be used to making the worse cause seem the better. The wordsmiths at Foggy Bottom will soon go into action, to borrow a phrase from George Orwell, "like a cuttle-fish squirting out ink.'' The press release in pure Newspeak is doubtless already out.

Once upon a more vigilant time, a British prime minister -- a lioness by the name of Margaret Thatcher -- had to remind an American president, "Well, all right, George, but this is no time to go wobbly.'' Now going wobbly isn't an option; it's the policy. It's standard operating procedure. And any departure from it would be a violation of accepted practice. Bad form and all that, like the whole truth under oath.

Earlier this century, there was a revivalist movement that long since has faded, but its name sticks in the memory. It was called Moral Rearmament. We now seem to have drifted into a period of moral disarmament.

There is something profoundly missing in this administration's weak and wavering foreign policy -- not just a superficial consistency, but something deeper. Foreign policy ought to be the outward reflection of a nation's inner values. Instead, this administration reflects its nation's doubts. And the enemies of freedom around the world can sense that kind of weakness.

If we will not be true to our best selves, we must reflect our worst. The splendid first lines of Miller Williams' poem at Bill Clinton's second inaugural explained, however wittingly or unwittingly, what has been missing in this Age if Clinton:
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves. ...

We do not turn often enough to our poets and seers, They understand, they sense, they know what politicians can only approximate. They would not be uneasy in the presence of the Dalai Lama, and afraid to greet him openly -- with gladness and pageantry. They would recognize who he was. For such personages have around them a certain aura that is unmistakable. Like Gandhi or Solzhenitsyn. So naturally they have to be hidden in the small-minded warren that is now the White House.

The solution was to usher the Dalai Lama into the Map Room to meet with Hillary Clinton and have the president just sort of drop in, casual-like, as if by accident, in case Beijing asked. That way, the president will have greeted the Dalai Lama informally for domestic consumption, but not formally for foreign export. Neat. Nobody will be fooled, but the administration can pretend that everybody has been. As when this president issues his annual Character Counts proclamation. Ain't statecraft grand?


11/09/98: A vote for apathy
11/03/98: Global village goes Clintonesque
11/02/98: Farewell to all that
10/30/98: New budget, same swollen government
10/26/98: Of life on the old plantation -- and death in the Middle East
10/22/98: Starr Wars (CONT'D)
10/19/98:Another retreat: weakness invites aggression
10/16/98: Profile in courage
10/14/98: A new voice out of Arkansas
10/09/98: Gerald Ford, Mr. Fix-It?
10/07/98: Impeachment Journal: Dept. of Doublespeak
10/01/98: The new tradition
9/25/98: Mr. President, PLEASE don't resign
9/23/98: The demolition of meaning
9/18/98: So help us G-d; The nature of the crisis
9/17/98: First impressions: on reading the Starr Report
9/15/98: George Wallace: All the South in one man
9/10/98: Here comes the judge
9/07/98: Toward impeachment
9/03/98: The politics of impeachment
9/01/98: The eagle can still soar
8/28/98: Boris Yeltsin's mind: a riddle pickled in an enigma
8/26/98: Clinton agonistes, or: Twisting in the wind
8/25/98: The rise of the English murder
8/24/98: Confess and attack: Slick comes semi-clean
8/19/98: Little Rock perspectives
8/14/98: Department of deja vu
8/12/98: The French would understand
8/10/98: A fable: The Rat in the Corner
8/07/98: Welcome to the roaring 90s
8/06/98: No surprises dept. -- promotion denied
8/03/98: Quotes of and for the week: take your pick
7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
so what else is new?
7/27/98: Forget about Bubba, it's time to investigate Reno
7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate