One singular leader who wrote elegantly about his ideals, was swept into the presidency and then collided with harsh reality had some advice for another.
In an interview with Alison Smale in The Times last week, Vaclav Havel sipped Champagne in the middle of the afternoon and pricked Barack Obama’s conscience.
Havel, the 73-year-old former Czech president, who didn’t win a Nobel Peace Prize despite leading the Czechs and the Slovaks from communism to democracy, turned the tables and asked Smale a question about Obama, the latest winner of the peace prize.
Was it true that the president had refused to meet the Dalai Lama on his visit to Washington?
He was told that Obama had indeed tried to curry favor with China by declining to see the Dalai Lama until after the president’s visit to China next month.
Dissing the Dalai was part of a broader new Obama policy called “strategic reassurance” — softening criticism of China’s human rights record and financial policies to calm its fears that America is trying to contain it. (Not to mention our own fears that the Chinese will quit bankrolling our debt.)
The tyro American president got the Nobel for the mere anticipation that he would provide bold moral leadership for the world at the very moment he was caving to Chinese dictators. Awkward.
Havel reached out to touch a glass dish given to him by Obama, inscribed with the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. “It is only a minor compromise,” he said. “But exactly with these minor compromises start the big and dangerous ones, the real problems.”
Our president would be well advised to listen. (continues here at NYT)