Don't Forget Asia: Walking and Chewing Gum in Foreign Policy
The Obama administration’s first-term grand pivot to Asia is now a distant memory as the president struggles to contain a newly aggressive Russia in Eastern Europe and build an anti-ISIL coalition in the Middle East. On the heels of the NATO summit in Wales and on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, it’s natural that American foreign policy should be focused on fighting the immediate brushfires that threaten to set entire regions ablaze. Yet, without a proactive, principled, and forward-leaning American foreign policy in East Asia, the longer-term consequences could have Washington leaders wishing they paid more attention.
In July 2013, Japan’s entrance into the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a proposed free-trade agreement between 12 countries with stakes in the Asia-Pacific region — gave it new life, as Japan is entering a new era due to a broad revitalization under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s leadership. Despite this progress, Washington’s attention is now being held elsewhere, and China is reaping the benefits. As America struggles to maintain the enthusiasm that Obama originally brought to the region, voices at home and allies abroad are beginning to question America’s global role in the partnership.
Asian allies like Japan, and partners like Vietnam, understand the need for American military, political, and economic commitments in East Asia to balance China, but Obama faces a credibility gap between his Asian ambitions and the current political reality. This gap was drastically widened when Obama set and ignored a red line in Syria and Washington sat by as Russia lopped off the territory of Ukraine. Asian nations noticed, particularly those who are not treaty allies.
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