Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Disneyland Diplomatic Disaster

The President will be meeting China’s President Xi Jinping for a summit in southern California next month, raising hopes it will go better than a bizarre Cold War flap over barring a Soviet leader from visiting Disneyland.

In 1959, Nikita Khrushchev came here in Eisenhower’s lame-duck days and, at his request, visited Hollywood where he happily mingled with Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and other stars on movie sets. But when he wanted to go to Disneyland, permission was denied for “security reasons.”

The volatile Khrushchev exploded, “I would very much like to go and see Disneyland. But then, we cannot guarantee your security, they say. Then what must I do? Commit suicide? What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken hold of the place that can destroy me?"

Three years later, when I was in California during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Hollywood people were sure that ICBMs were aimed at them and also been re-targeted from San Francisco. In the ensuing panic, they emptied supermarkets of toilet paper.

Now President Obama will be hosting his Chinese counterpart at a lavish private estate and will no doubt take him to Disneyland, if asked.

In these days of cyber-spying, what a foreign leader can see at a theme park is the least of American security worries in the face of new reports that Chinese hackers have breached Google’s servers and gained access to a database with years’ worth of information about American surveillance targets.

So enjoy the Magic Kingdom if you choose, Mr. Presidents, and settle in for serious talk about trade, tariffs and North Korea, among all those other issues that have morphed over the past six decades.

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