Obama and the Lama (an essay by David Bentley Hart)

The received wisdom has it that only Nixon could have gone to China, and I imagine that in this case the received wisdom is right. By the same token, though, I hope it will one day be recognized that only Barack Obama could go to China by stabbing the Dalai Lama in the back. That day will be long in coming, no doubt. As I sat down this morning (Friday, 9 October) to type out this column I was almost immediately confronted with the surreal news—which I, like almost everyone else in all likelihood, mistook at first for a joke—that the president is to be the recipient of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Anyone whose glamor is so preponderating that he can be given an award of such significance purely on spec is unlikely to fall afoul of “educated opinion” any time soon. As a member of no political party, I tend to remain as aloof as I can from partisan polemics (having staked no claims, I have no rights); but I would hope that even Obama’s most ardent supporters would have enough sense to be more embarrassed than pleased by the absurdity of the Nobel committee’s hysterical fawning.

For me, though—and this is what I intended to write about when I turned on my iMac—what is especially annoying about this story is that it will utterly extinguish the faintly flickering visibility of a story that appeared only four days ago, and then only as a somewhat furtive and fugitive presence in the press (and then, for the most part, only the foreign press). For those who missed it, when the Dalai Lama arrived in Washington this past Monday for, among other things, a scheduled audience with the president, it was disclosed that his visit to the White House had been cancelled. And this decision had been taken—there was no attempt to hide this fact—in order to please the Chinese government, which has of late been making a concerted effort to see that the Dalai Lama is made a persona non grata in the halls of power in countries around the world.

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