The jump shot theory of conflict prevention

The jump shot theory of conflict prevention

At the opening session of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue yesterday, President Obama made a point of referring to one of China’s most impressive exports:

“President Hu [Jintao] and I both felt that it was important to get our relationship off to a good start,” Obama said. “Of course, as a new president and also as a basketball fan, I have learned from the words of Yao Ming, who said, ‘No matter whether you are new or an old team member, you need time to adjust to one another.’”

In addition to assembling the ballerest cabinet in American history, Obama also seems to really like dropping the names of a country’s prominent U.S.-based athletes as an icebraker with possibly suspicious crowds. Here he is in Ankara on April 6:

Maybe it’s just a rhetorical pleasantry, but what if this indicates a new foreign policy doctrine for the Obama era, namely: No matter a country’s regime type, economic system, or foreign policy goals, as long as they are represented (well) in U.S. professional sports leagues, there is at least the basis of a productive bilateral relationship with the United States.

This augurs well for a rapproachement with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, which has made substantial contributions to Major League Baseball — including the manager of Obama’s White Sox. Cuba could be a bit problematic, since Cuban baseball players tend to be defectors, but the country’s potential baseball contribution is vast, so diplomatic progress will likely be slow but deliberate.

The U.S.-China relationship will remain at least as strong as Yao’s knee, but Taiwan can at least count on Chien-Ming Wang in their bid for U.S. support.

Zaza Pachulia’s new contract with the Atlanta Hawks should reassure Georgians worried about being abandoned in the Obama administration’s Russian reset. Israelis worried about Obama’s hard line on settlements should take heart in the recent signing of Omri Casspi by the Sacramento Kings. They may want to keep an eye on the Iranian Hamed Haddadi of the Memphis Grizzlies though, not to mention the NFL’s half-Iranian T.J. Houshmanzadeh.

Kim Jong Il as well as his son and probably successor Kim Jong Un are both known to be big basketball fans. If they really want to get the U.S. to the negotiating table, perhaps what they need is not their own nuke, but their own Yao Ming. 

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images