Defending the USA Pavilion

And no, the Shanghai World Expo is not just a trade show.

Contrary to what reporter Adam Minter wrote recently in his article, "A Sorry Spectacle: The Uninspiring Saga of the United States' World Expo Pavilion in Shanghai," the design and execution of the USA Pavilion has been not only impressive but inspiring.

The USA Pavilion, which will open its doors on May 1 as part of the first-ever World's Fair hosted in China, will showcase American values, ideas, and culture to an international audience eager for knowledge about the United States and the world.

An estimated 70 million people are expected to attend what is officially known as Expo 2010 Shanghai, where more than 240 countries and international organizations will be represented. According to a recent poll conducted by Millward Brown ACSR and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, the USA Pavilion, currently in the final construction phase, is likely to be among the most popular foreign exhibits for Chinese Expo-goers.

This pavilion's anticipated success is a testament to the leadership of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a group of citizens who think that the world's top economic power and democratic beacon must take every opportunity to nurture the ever-important U.S.-China relationship.

World's Fairs are about forging the ties that bind. The Shanghai event will knit a stronger relationship between the United States and China, and better relations in turn will help two proud countries cooperatively address vital global issues, from trade to climate change to security.

Thanks in large part to Clinton's Office for the Global Partnership Initiative, we've managed to raise virtually all the funds necessary to build the pavilion, drawing support from a cross section of U.S. companies, municipalities, and states that recognize the value in reaching out to one of the United States' most important trading partners and to the world.

The Office for the Global Partnership Initiative is focused on coordinating with like-minded countries and organizations on issues of common interest.

In particular, the pavilion's planning and construction is an example of the Obama administration's pursuit of more public-private partnerships -- in which government works in tandem with the private sector in pursuit of mutually beneficial goals, such as increasing mutual understanding between the American and Chinese peoples, underscoring support for environmental protection, and boosting interest in American products and services that can help both citizens and government officials envision and build  a "Better City, Better Life" -- the overarching theme of the Expo.

This USA Pavilion will give the American people a public presence at the Expo, while raising the profile of American corporations and organizations in the Chinese market.

Moreover, the pavilion will feature a diverse array of American musicians performing on stages throughout the massive Expo site -- introducing international audiences to musical styles ranging from bluegrass to hip-hop to jazz. American jazz legend Herbie Hancock is just one of the Grammy Award-winning performers who is scheduled to perform.

I am particularly proud that Chinese and foreign guests will be greeted by 160 Mandarin-speaking American college students working as "Pavilion Student Ambassadors." Drawn from across the United States, from schools small and large, they will add a friendly human touch to America's representation at the Expo. I am also proud of our efforts to highlight the achievements of the Chinese in the United States and through their experience to celebrate America's immigrant heritage and commitment to diversity.

Chevron, Citigroup, Disney, General Electric, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson, all of whom have donated or provided in-kind assistance to the pavilion effort, see their involvement as linked to their own corporate social responsibility missions. Other major U.S. companies donating or providing in-kind assistance include: Amway, American Airlines, Boeing, Dell, Deloitte, Dow Chemical, DuPont, FedEx, Harman International, Honeywell, Intel, Marriott, Mars, Microsoft, Panasonic Integrated Systems, Qualcomm, Visa, Yum! Brands, and Wal-Mart.

Yet, it would be a disservice to characterize the Expo as a mere trade show. Far from it. The USA Pavilion is an opportunity to project American ideals onto a grand stage. Toward that end, the pavilion will include displays about the freedoms and values that play such an important role in the lives of Americans.

A highlight for many of our guests will be the feature film in the pavilion's main theater. The story is simple and compelling. The Garden tells an inspirational story of a little girl who dreams that a vacant urban lot visible from her window can become a garden; she wants to make her corner of the city a better place. A strong sense of optimism, community spirit, and perseverance in the face of challenge runs through this story -- traits that run deep within the American character. Through its ethnically diverse cast of Americans, the presentation can be seen as a universal story reflective of how different countries must work together to achieve common goals, collectively forging a better world.

The USA Pavilion will open its doors despite the well-documented obstacles that have stood in its way, such as legislative limitations prohibiting the use of appropriated funding for an American presence at World's Fairs unless expressly authorized by Congress. Practically speaking, this means that the money had to be raised from private donations. In good economic times, this provision presents formidable challenges, but during the Great Recession, this had the blocking force of the Hoover Dam.

In the end, however, we overcame the odds. The result: In Shanghai the United States. will have a world-class presence at the largest ever World's Fair. The USA Pavilion, with its stirring design, cultural performances, student ambassadors, and memorable theater experiences, will draw millions of people eager for a glimpse of what makes America great. They'll be inspired.

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Giving Putin His Due

Sidelining the Russian prime minister will do little to help President Dmitry Medvedev -- or the White House.

Jamie Fly and Gary Schmitt are right to ask questions about the role that the relationship between President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev plays in U.S. policy toward Russia and U.S.-Russian relations. But the administration's greatest failing thus far in working with Moscow is not the relationship between Obama and Medvedev; it's between Obama and Vladimir Putin.

The prime minister "is still calling the shots" in Russia, as Fly and Schmitt write, and it is difficult to envision how the United States can hope to improve relations with Russia in a sustainable way without Putin on board. Putin's public listing of Moscow's grievances as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looked on last week clearly suggested that he isn't.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration appears to have made scant effort to engage the prime minister. Obama's statement that Putin had "one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new" while en route to Moscow for his first summit there in July 2009 didn't help, especially when coupled with his more positive statements about Medvedev. The White House had already passed up an opportunity for dinner with Putin during the trip so that the president could eat with his family in a restaurant. So at their breakfast meeting the following morning, Putin complained for 45 minutes about American policy. The commission announced at the summit to manage U.S.-Russian relations had no role for Russia's prime minister, and no other mechanism seems to exist.

This isn't just a White House problem. Secretary Clinton (who said that Putin "doesn't have a soul" when campaigning for president, prompting Putin to reply in kind that "at a minimum, a state official must at least have a head") reportedly didn't try to coordinate her October 2009 trip to Russia with Putin's office and as a result didn't see him -- he went to China to sign a major energy deal instead. Just a few weeks later, when asked by Tom Brokaw whether she would prefer to see former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in power in Russia rather than Putin, Clinton said, "I kind of like President Medvedev myself," and then praised Medvedev's statements on human rights and democracy.

The administration may argue, correctly, that Medvedev is the elected president of Russia, that Putin had something to do with bringing Medvedev into that role, and that it's most appropriate for the two presidents to work together. The administration may also argue that the Russian Constitution clearly gives the president control over foreign-policy -- though hopefully the lawyers in the U.S. government (starting with Obama) would recognize the difference between de jure and de facto authority in Moscow today. And, of course, the administration may argue that Medvedev's statements are more attractive than Putin's and that he represents a new generation of leaders with new aspirations.

But none of this explains what seem to be almost gratuitous slaps at Putin. What logic there is in trying to strengthen Medvedev's role is automatically and immediately undercut by coupling efforts to work with and praise the president with public criticism of and diminished attention to his powerful prime minister. This is the true flaw in the Obama administration's policy toward Russia.

The danger in this policy is twofold. First, emphasizing Medvedev while appearing to undermine Putin is unlikely to improve U.S.-Russian relations or to get America what it needs and wants from Moscow. Medvedev can sign a new arms-control treaty, but it is the Russian State Duma that must ratify it. The Duma is weak and subject to considerable influence from the executive branch; however, it is Putin, not Medvedev, who wields that influence through his leadership of the United Russia party that dominates the legislature. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov's statement that the body might not ratify a new treaty if it does not link arms control to missile defense could be viewed as a warning not only to the United States but also to Medvedev. Implementing any Iran sanctions that Medvedev might accept would likewise fall to Putin.

Second, criticizing Putin -- notwithstanding his faults -- won't help Medvedev and actually may hurt him. Even if one accepts that Medvedev would be preferable to Putin as Russia's top leader -- uncertain in view of Fly and Schmitt's fair assessment that the president's talk is so far not much more than talk -- Medvedev's future still depends heavily on his prime minister. If Putin announced tomorrow that he has firmly decided to run for president in 2012, Medvedev would stand little chance in that election and would have even less influence between now and then. That Putin has not made this simple statement creates political space for Medvedev and others -- but giving the impression that Washington is trying to ease Putin out could quickly obliterate it if he changes his mind.

It is very tempting in the capital of the sole superpower to think that we Americans can stage-manage domestic politics in other countries to suit their preferences. Unfortunately, whether in Russia, Iran, or elsewhere, not everyone reacts to U.S. statements and actions the way Americans think they should. There may be a case for trying to bolster Medvedev, but doing it too publicly and at Putin's obvious expense could be quite costly to U.S. interests, especially if Putin returned to power resenting apparent U.S. attempts to facilitate his retirement. This is not endorsing Putin or his leadership; on the contrary, it is recognizing the realities of Russian politics. Washington-Moscow relations are complicated enough; entangling them in Russia's complex and unpredictable political system is a mistake.

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