After reading this Washington Post article, which is admittedly a bit of a fluff piece, I had a little fantasy. I imagined a meeting of senior foreign policy officials where Gary Locke received his instructions for his mission as Ambassador to China. Maybe it was a room with the president, the vice-president, the Secretary of State, the CIA director, and some members of the National Security Council. Gov. Locke wants to know whether to focus more on patents and trademarks or currency valuation, but he is interrupted. Some nerdy staffer, an expert on China from the CIA or some other intelligence outfit (who knows, really?), chimes in.

Nerdy Staffer: “Gov. Locke, what we want you to do is to win the Chinese people over to your side.”

[The principals nod their heads, but Locke looks confused]

Gov. Locke: “Okaaay. How am I supposed to do that.”

Nerdy Staffer: “Here is a coupon to Starbucks. You and your family will go to the Seatlle airport. You will bring bulky luggage. Wear a backpack. You will carry this luggage yourself. Go to the Starbucks in your terminal and very conspicuously use this coupon to buy yourself coffee.”

[The principals nod their heads, but Locke looks confused]

Gov. Locke: “I don’t understand.”

Nerdy Staffer: “Here are your tickets. They are economy class. It’s important that you let people know that you flew economy.”

[Gov. Locke shows the first inkling of understanding]

Nerdy Staffer: “Once in China, you will travel without bodyguards. You will visit the Great Wall and wait in line with everyone else. You will take your daughter out for ice cream in the city. You will personally take her to school each morning.”

Gov. Locke: “And the people will see that I am everything that their leaders are not?”

Nerdy Staffer: “Precisely. They will worship you. And the Chinese leadership will be loathed more than ever and will be unable to demonize you or American interests.”

It’s funny because we could have never thought up the above scenario, but that’s exactly what happened. If only we were smart enough to make it happen on purpose.

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