The Foreign Service Journal - December 2013 - page 10

The U.S. and Asia:
What Pivot?
arack Obama’s first term as president
was filled with rhetoric concerning
the United States’ foreign policy and stat-
ure as a world power. In particular, former
Secretary of State Hillary RodhamClinton
championed an initiative to forge stronger
social, economic and military ties through
a “Pivot to Asia.”
Two years later, however, President
Obama’s decision not to attend October
meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation forum (in Bali) and the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (in
Brunei), and to cancel visits to U.S. allies
in the region, has led many to ask whether
the pivot is simply a rhetorical device
without any real substance to it.
Anticipating that reaction, the White
House sent Secretary of State John Kerry
in the president’s place, and emphasized
its intention to reschedule a trip to Asia
as soon as possible. But the very reason
it gave for the cancellation—the federal
government shutdown—stirred up
unpleasant memories of the fact that
Pres. Obama had also been forced
A survey of reac-
tions to the news,
and the inter-
national fallout,
suggests that analysts are coming at the
subject from all sorts of angles.
Politically conservative think-tanks like
the American Enterprise Institute and the
Heritage Foundation see the main value of
the pivot in the potential to ensure Ameri-
can military and political dominance in
the Asia-Pacific region. To make that case,
AEI’s analysts lean heavily on Cold War-
for the region.
But other think-tanks believe that
nonmilitary aspects of U.S. strategy are
what will enhance American influence in
States must dedicate “institutional struc-
ture, budgetary support and conceptual
legitimacy to the idea that America’s fate is
inextricably linked to Asia.” Still, he warns,
for U.S. foreign policy to flourish, Wash-
ington must get its own house in order,
citing the shutdown as a case study.
Foreign Service Journal
will be surprised that much of the debate
concerns Sino-American relations, which
many observers view as a zero-sum game.
They noted that as soon as the White
House announced the cancellation,
Chinese President Xi Jinping moved up his
own trip to Bali to signal interest in court-
ing Southeast Asian governments. Among
other exploits, Xi not only addressed the
Indonesian parliament, but scored diplo-
matic points
country’s official language, Bahasa.
Perhaps more significantly, America’s
trade deal involving the United States and
11 other nations—but not China. Beijing
seized the resulting opening to promote its
own proposal, a Regional Comprehensive
Economic Partnership—which happens to
exclude the United States.
that a real Asian pivot would be detrimen-
tal not only to Sino-American relations,
must proceed with “subtle firmness” to
avoid exacerbating regional suspicions.
assurances, however, have been met
that the Obama administration
is simply too overwhelmed by
other international issues,
particularly in the Middle
East, to “pursue the
the truth of that
claim, Asia’s accel-
erating transformation into an economic,
political and military powerhouse, and
Beijing’s increasingly energetic diplomacy,
make it incumbent on the United States to
step up its game there—or be left on the
—Valerie Sanders, Editorial Intern
Close, but No SIGAR
ver the past 12 years, the United
States has appropriated roughly
$100 billion for relief and reconstruction
in Afghanistan.
Illustration by Mike Munger
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