Gov. Terry Branstad did his homework before Tuesday's confirmation hearing in front of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations. And, along the way, the future ambassador to China made a few welcome statements that fly in the face of the Trumpian nationalism.
"I see this as the biggest challenge I've ever had," Branstad told the committee, when asked about growing tensions with North Korea. "I want to do whatever I can to find a solution that will benefit the entire human race."
Such a pledge would be boilerplate in most times. But, within the context of the White House's stated nationalism, Branstad's commitment to all of humanity — regardless of national affiliation — suddenly takes on real meaning. Clearly, Branstad is considering the human costs for the 20 million in and around cities such as Seoul, South Korea, should things blow up in the region.
It's a welcome, if brief, return to normalcy.
China is, after all, the only power with any real economic or political sway over Pyongyang. Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, accused the Chinese government of offering "head fakes" over the years because the Communist power has no interest in sharing a border with a unified, democratic Korean state. All the while, North Korea's nuclear program continued to blossom, threatening millions in Seoul and Tokyo.
Branstad is all but assured the post. His hearing went smoothly. Senators from both parties lauded his grasp of the issues and preemptively congratulated him. Branstad pledged, under questioning, to press Chinese officials on human rights violations, clandestine opiate operations and trade irregularities.
Branstad's close friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping won't mean much once he's pushing for U.S. economic and political interests.
"Despite your relationship with President Xi ... they're tough negotiators," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
His will be a Herculean task that no previous friendship can soften.
And it comes amid increased saber rattlings on both sides of the Pacific. North Korea has for years touted its nuclear ambitions. The Trump administration, though, has adopted a substantially more aggressive posture than those before it. Averting a second Korean War requires China's cooperation.
"We need their help," Branstad said of Beijing. "I don't think they want war over this either. They don't want a bunch of refugees flooding in."
Every American should be rooting for Branstad's success. Iowa's long-time governor is striding confidently into a minefield that's unmatched anywhere on the planet.
Democrats on Foreign Relations rightly reminded Branstad his coming oath is to the U.S. Constitution, not the White House. Branstad could find himself caught between those two allegiances due to President Trump's financial interests in China.
Branstad impressed Tuesday. He confidently touched on all the bullet points, from Chinese aggression in the South China Sea to its notorious human rights record. He pledged to annually visit every Chinese province, the Full Branstad, and to welcome and defend political dissidents from persecution.
Plainly, Branstad said all the right things. In so doing, he touted global interests, which extend to the entire species. And he looked to mean it, too.
Hopefully, political realities don't undermine his mission.
This editorial appeared in the May 3 edition of the Quad City Times, another Lee Enterprises publication.