Jay Branegan: First, it's taken this long for the Chinese to get the right people talking to our people. So the proper diplomatic processes have been set in motion, but the situation now is probably where it should have been at the very beginning. It is starting to feel as if it's on a glide path to resolution, but we're not sure how steep that path is.
But the new reality of foreign policy is that it's conducted under a much brighter spotlight than it was even 10 years ago. It's cable mania out there. Sometimes this can have a good effect during the Gulf War and other crises, world leaders have used TV as a way of communicating with each other. But in the rush to create TV news, there's a tendency to create a sense of drama. You make new graphics and chirons, new theme music. Must-see TV. That's nothing particularly new, although in this situation, there's very little footage from the crisis zone itself, so a lot more time is filled with talking heads. There's no question that it brings public opinion into the process much more than diplomats and statesmen would like.
It's like sports coverage, where all these sports chat shows begin to have an impact on decisions by managers and owners. Politicians also understand that cable mania is not the same as real public opinion. But for the most part, they just have to deal with it. It's the price of being a democracy.
The irony is that the Chinese are having a similar problem with its Internet chat rooms. The Chinese got bit by this during the Belgrade bombing, when they encouraged a bit of street action to protest against the U.S., but it almost spun out of control. So they're being much more careful about how they use state media. This time, they're even censoring some of the commentary in chat rooms.
What about on Capitol Hill? The leadership of both parties seems to be rallying solidly behind the administration and giving its diplomatic efforts time to work, but isn't this made-for-cable crisis an opportunity for ambitious unknowns in Washington to make a name for themselves with saber-rattling rhetoric that makes life difficult for the White House?
Right now, a lot of the more hostile anti-China Republicans have for the most part deferred to the leadership and to the White House. But you've got to figure that if the 24 U.S. servicemen and women are still in China when Congress reconvenes two weeks from now, not even a Republican president is going to be able to control Congress's reaction.