The president's defenders argued that the soft approach to China would yield dividends in other areas -- such as Chinese support for tough sanctions against Iran. That fond expectation is now being tested.
Late, very late, the Obama administration has gotten around to the arduous process of pursuing sanctions on Iran. In May 2009, the president said "we're not going to have talks forever" and estimated that "by the end of the year," he'd re-evaluate. In July, watching the regime's thugs shoot down protesters in the streets, he accelerated the timetable slightly, saying that the Iranians would need to prove their bona fides by September.
Something did happen in September: Word reached Obama and other world leaders that Iran had built a secret nuclear enrichment facility outside the city of Qom. The president was scheduled to address the United Nations on Sept. 24 and preside over the Security Council the next day. It would have been a perfect moment to confront Iran about its duplicity, abandon the policy of "engagement," and rally international support, as French president Nicolas Sarkozy urged. But the president said nothing. He didn't want the "diversion" of Iran to detract attention from his nuclear disarmament message. This prompted Charles Krauthammer to note the president's achievement in getting to France's left on foreign policy.
Now the administration is hoping to get United Nations backing for a series of sanctions reportedly including choking off access to international credit and limiting oil exports. Are the Russians and Chinese on board? Spokesman Robert Gibbs has been long on hope, touting "the resolve and unity of the international community with regard to Iran's nuclear program."
But this week, the Chinese told the Security Council that there is still room for diplomacy, and the Russians advised that there is "still a horizon" for negotiations.
This is what comes of using a smile for your umbrella.