- The Washington Times - Friday, February 19, 2010

A deathbed conversion is better than no conversion at all, unless the convert survives and retreats from his new convictions. Barack Obama is hale, healthy and very much alive, for which we can be thankful. His agenda is not so slowly assuming room temperature.

When the agenda began giving off the sickly sweet scent of something not very nice, the president reckoned it was time for a conversion, or at least time to sing a hymn or two. Over the past fortnight, he has embraced (sort of) nuclear power, the idea of (if not authentic) bipartisan co-operation with the Republicans, living up to an American promise to sell defensive arms to a faithful ally in Taiwan, and, most interesting of all, inviting the Dalai Lama in for tea at the White House. Not into the Oval Office, to be sure, but into a nearby room. No public joint appearance, either, and no photographers. He didn’t actually require the famous holy man to use the servants’ entrance, but the Chinese should get the idea.

Nevertheless, the president, ignoring Beijing’s demand that the United States withdraw its “wrong decision” to “avoid any more damage to [Chinese]-U.S. relationship,” further irked the Chinese by pointedly announcing that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would entertain the Dalai Lama at the State Department.

This in turn invites speculation that the president changed his mind about inviting the Dalai Lama to a tea party under the pressure of Mrs. Clinton’s entreaties. “The Dalai Lama is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and revered religious and cultural figure,” her spokesman said, pointedly, “and the secretary will meet him in this capacity as recent secretaries have done.” There were striking presidential precedents, too. George W. Bush not only wanted to be seen with the Dalai Lama, but went to the Capitol Rotunda in 2007 when Congress bestowed its highest honor for civilians, the Congressional Gold Medal, on the Dalai Lama.

Mr. Obama’s “boldness,” even if following a lady’s lead, is not what we’ve come to expect from this White House, particularly in dealing with our more unattractive enemies and adversaries, whether in Asia or the Middle East. Mr. Obama had demonstrated that he’s more comfortable tugging what’s left of his forelock and apologizing with a bow and a shuffle. Leonard Leo, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government advisory board, hopes that the president’s invitation, reluctant or not, to the spiritual leader of Tibet into the White House is “not just checking a political box.”

The Chinese, who earlier opened “talks” to the Tibetans that were actually little more than a serving of Hunan chicken to soothe their hunger for freedom in their own land, probably have no real intention of loosening harsh control of Tibet. They insist that Tibet is now a part of China. Tibet’s language, culture and traditions must be rendered irrelevant to China’s ambitions.

The idea is to talk until the Dalai Lama passes from the scene and maybe the exile movement will die. “The Dalai Lama and the people around him refuse to realize this,” Elliot Sperling, a Tibet scholar at Indiana University, tells the Associated Press. The Dalai Lama, as a man of peace, no doubt gives his oppressors the benefit of considerable doubt.

Mr. Obama has given China not one but two thumbs in the eye. The White House clearance of the sale of $6.4 billion in arms to Taiwan has more political than military substance, particularly since the Beijing government is squawking louder this time than usual. The arms package, which won’t alter the balance of arms, includes a few Patriot missiles, minesweepers, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and 60 Black Hawk helicopters.

The helicopters are likely to be used more for typhoon relief than for harassing mainland ambitions. Nevertheless, Beijing’s nose was clearly put out of joint. The Chinese have threatened to impose sanctions against Boeing and Sikorsky Aircraft, manufacturers of much of the hardware.

The president’s embrace of nuclear power, $8.3 billion in loan guarantees for two nuclear reactors in Georgia, hardly includes a kiss, but it has drawn the predictable outrage from the not-so-jolly little green giants. “We were hopeful last year,” Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, told the New York Times. “But now he has become a full-blown nuclear-power proponent, a startling change over the last few months.” Well, not exactly. But maybe it’s a small, timidstep to keep the lights on.

c Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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