Google vs. China - Obama AWOL

January 15, 2010 - San Francisco, CA - PipeLineNews.org - In many ways the clash between Internet giant Google and the communist Chinese government is demonstrative of the administration's flawed foreign policy approach - walk and talk softly while brandishing an olive branch.

The matter front-and-center here involves a sophisticated Internet attack, taking place in mid December, launched against the prominent search engine with the apparent ultimate intent of accessing data on Chinese dissidents, housed on the company's Gmail servers. Upon investigation, the company discovered, alongside hacked email accounts, that a considerable amount of intellectual property had also been stolen.

At the same time as this was taking place, possibly as many as two dozen similar attacks were being launched against various other American companies doing business in the country, including defense contractors such as Northrop Grumman.

Initially Google challenged the Chinese to cease and desist its fishing operation, however in the face of the country's intransigence, the company stated that it would no longer comply with Chinese directives to filter content on the Google.cn web presence, and was willing to take the extreme step of closing its offices rather than subject itself to further predatory practices.

"These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China."[source, Google, http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-approach-to-china.html]

In throwing down this cyber-gauntlet, Google has admirably distinguished itself in this confrontation, first in the forthright manner with which it has admitted to having been targeted, and second, having responded in such a robust manner. Other companies have been reticent to even identify themselves as having been subject to these high-level hacks with G.M.'s China group president Kevin Wale indicating that the U.S. government owned company's appetite for such abuse was apparently endless, "They're not causing us any major impact at the moment." [source, Yahoo, http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100113/ap_on_hi_te/as_china_google]

G.M.'s tepid response was strikingly similar to team Obama's - they now being cut from the same cloth.

At first Secretary of State Clinton issued a reasonably worded statement expressing the serious nature of the controversy, "We have been briefed by Google on these allegations, which raise very serious concerns and questions. We look to the Chinese government for an explanation. The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy. I will be giving an address next week on the centrality of internet freedom in the 21st century, and we will have further comment on this matter as the facts become clear," [see, http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/01/135105.htm].

Later her legs were cut out from under her, with WH flack Nick Shapiro backfilling and downplaying aplenty, "The recent cyber-intrusion that Google attributes to China is troubling, and the federal government is looking into it," [see, Washington Post, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34855470/ns/technology_and_science-washington_post/].

Even more telling was the final, again-amended wording by the State Department seeking to defuse the matter entirely characterizing the unprecedented Chinese actions as being within, "the range of issues" that normally define U.S.-China relations, adding that it "is a broad, it is a deep, it is an expanding and durable relationship." [see, Wall Street Journal, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052748703414504575001363855180520.html]

Nothing here to see, keep it moving...

The rising sense of cultural assertiveness by the Chinese in this matter is instructive, especially that of the People's Army, which seeks to extend its heavy hand to one of the 'Net's central players, intent upon strangling the fragile network of pro-democracy advocates who dare speak out against an iron-willed government which tolerates zero dissent.

So committed, in fact is China to this policy of clandestine 'Net based warfare that it has assembled at its beck-and-call a veritable cottage industry of private hackers with which it can direct at will against targets of opportunity.

Team Obama's timidity in face of blatant provocation is painful to watch - a distressingly similar replay of his refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama on the eve of his visit to China. That behavior was in stark contrast to that of the previous administration - "The Dalai Lama has described a meeting in Washington with U.S. President George W. Bush as "excellent," much like "when two old friends" get together for a reunion...The meeting with Bush was held despite angry complaints from China. China sees the Dalai Lama as a supporter of independence for Tibet, which it regards as Chinese territory." [source, http://archives.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/east/05/23/dalai.bush.02/]

The performance of team Obama here mirrors the now familiar template of its foreign policy - reluctance to assert itself against any substantial challenge, as it strays over-the-line towards appeasement.

The fact is that Google is perhaps America's most prominent example of its high-tech prowess, yet in Mr. Obama's view it's apparently not worth defending, even verbally with any sense of resoluteness, proving that he would rather see the company abused and slowly twisting in the wind - its intellectual property up for grabs - rather than challenge Chinese aggressive triumphalism head-on.

One year into this failed gambit, such behavior has gotten the now not-so-young administration nothing internationally, not in the Middle East nor in Iran, Russia, Venezuela or North Korea.

Yet the president persists in pursuing this classic [read W.J. Clinton] - and discredited - foreign policy equivalent of the prevent defense, seeking to run out the clock rather than having to take a stand with potential public relations complications - thus sending a terrible message of weakness, that America can be rolled at will.

Until these amateurs can summon at least as much bile as they hurl daily against the weak and disorganized nincompoops at the GOP against America's real enemies, they can look forward to the Chinese and similarly motivated hard-asses upping the ante until a real and even more serious crisis becomes unavoidable. At that point no amount of false belligerence will override the sense that Obama's America is unwilling - and even more seriously - unable to defend its interests.

That is a supremely dangerous message to send.

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