If you listen closely outside the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, you just might hear the chants: “Free Mona! Free Mona!”

There’s chatter there — and stateside, too — that Mona Locke, wife of Ambassador Gary Locke , isn’t being utilized as well as she could. The ambassador’s wife, after all, is so wildly popular that she’s often referred to as her husband’s none-too-secret weapon. For more evidence of her star power, check out the spread in Vogue magazine this month headlined “The Toast of Beijing.”

Despite her popularity, we hear that the former TV journalist has gone relatively untapped as a resource. She could take on a heftier schedule of public speaking and meetings, effectively doubling the U.S. ambassadorial power in Beijing.

So why hasn’t she been given more leeway to do just that? Maybe the career types think it’s best to leave diplomacy to the professionals. That’s one theory, at least.

A State Department official told us there’s no prohibition against embassy spouses (who are most often wives) playing a “first lady” role in-country. And an embassy spokesman outlined to The Loop some of her recent work: promoting the president’s “100K Strong” initiative aimed at bringing more American students to study in China and supporting a global effort to promote leadership among women and girls.

Still, we hear she’s told friends that she’s absolutely willing (“champing at the bit,” in fact, according to one) to do more.

Mitt the motivator

The British put on a truly spectacular Olympics, reporters from around the world who covered it agree. President Obama called British Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday to congratulate him on an “extremely successful Olympic Games, which speaks to the character and spirit of our close ally.”

And yet, not a word of praise from anyone — not even the conservative punditocracy — on the pivotal role that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney might have played in ensuring not only a smoothly run event but also the mother country’s highest number of medals in more than a century. Romney even succeeded in uniting the entire nation.

The British won a stunning 29 golds, behind only the United States and China, and 65 medals in all, which put them in fourth place, behind the Russians. That beats their 1908 high of 56 medals — but back then, only about two dozen countries were competing.

Let’s not forget that, just before the Games, there were numerous concerns raised in the media about how they were being run.

Romney, interviewed on NBC News, said there were “a few things that were disconcerting — stories about the private security firm not having enough people” and of a possible strike by “immigration and customs officials.” He said much would depend on whether the Brits “come together” to support the Games.

Sounded like a perfectly reasonable analysis. But the British went positively batty, with Cameron slamming Utah, where Romney ran the Games in 2002, as “the middle of nowhere.” London Mayor Boris Johnson revved up a crowd by slamming “a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know if we’re ready.”

So maybe Romney’s remarks sparked British officials and athletes to perform better than they otherwise would have? Did he salvage a second Olympic Games?

Well, he probably shouldn’t wait for a “thank you” for his efforts.

Try the strip steak

Think of purveyors of high-quality cuisine, and chances are you’re not thinking of strip clubs. In fact, most businesses that feature poles and women in various stages of undress have a reputation for being . . . well, not entirely hygienic places.

But the strip clubs in Tampa, the city soon to host the Republican presidential convention, beg to differ. They want would-be patrons to know that there’s more to their bill of fare than eye candy. The local CBS affiliate has a report revealing that the kitchens of area strip clubs had (gasp!) stellar health-inspection reports — and some decent food.

“There’s always the old jokes, ‘I would never eat anything from the buffet at the gentleman’s club.’ Well, we are not your father’s gentleman’s club anymore,” Scott Megna, corporate chef at Tampa’s Gold Club on Adamo Drive, told WTSP.

The kitchen inspections put the clubs “on par with some of the finest steak houses in town,” the station reported.

No word yet on the quality of the kitchens at strip clubs in Charlotte, host city for the Democratic National Convention.

With Emily Heil

The blog:
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP