Obama and China’s Rise: An Insider’s Account of America’s Asia Strategy by Jeffrey A. Bader is a blow by blow account 0f the author’s time as Senior Director for East Asian affairs on the National Security Counsel during Obama’s first two years in office. While the book is sold as being focused on Obama and China, very little content is actually focused on Obama and China’s rise. Bader is working for Obama and China is the largest country in the region Bader is assigned to, but there is really very little actual insight into what Obama thinks about China aside from Bader’s interpretation of Obama’s conversations and actions.
On the plus side however, not only does Bader go through the events during this time in more detail than I had seen before he also gives his analysis of the situations as the American government team saw it. The book reads much like Kissinger’s amazing book On China, where the events are described but also given new depth by the insiders view. It is interesting seeing how our government is actively trying to craft a consistent message while reacting to novel situations, but Kissinger was a much higher level actor compared to Bader and the difference lessens the impact of this book.
The first thing that became evident, even in the first few pages, is that Bader loves Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It’s always interesting to me to see how the people who know political figures personally describe them. I’ve read stories of the last president, George W. Bush, and how those who worked with him personally thought he was a very intelligent, well spoken person who is very personable compared to his infamous public image. Bader has a similar view of both Obama and Clinton, not skipping any opportunity to describe them as powerfully intelligent and capable people. He keeps going and going about them though, it gets to a point where I started to think Bader was interviewing for a campaign manager side job. One of the most interesting things about Kissinger’s portrayal of Nixon in On China was that it portrayed him as an intelligent person doing what he thought best for the country, contrary to the current public perception. Kissinger wrote from his obvious positive perception of Nixon and let it go, Bader beats you over the head with praise at every opportunity!
I thought Bader has a healthy view of China’s growing power, and seems very much to be a China dove. He obviously doesn’t view the situation as a zero sum game where China’s rise is America’s loss. One of the most interesting quotes from the book is this line comparing China’s increasing military spending to America’s:
Just as Americans believe their strength does not mean that they are inherently aggressive or dangerous to world peace, China is capable of choosing to restrain its future military strength as well.
This simple view of China’s increasing military is a powerful one, but I feel as though it glosses over the differences between America and China. Where America has been very aggressive throughout the world intervening in situations where (right or wrong) they made the argument that it was for humanitarian and anti-aggressive reasons, China takes every opportunity to proclaim that such actions are inherently wrong. It’s not a black and white situation and I thought Bader’s point of view was a compelling one worth more consideration.
All in all this is a well written book by someone who has an inside view on the situation between America and China. It reads a little too much like a campaign advertisement for my tastes, I feel like his bias is evident and that makes me take what he says with a grain of salt.