Donnerstag, Juni 25, 2009

I'd Never Thought I'd Read This...

Here is an editorial in The Japan Times which stopped me in my tracks.

Right there, in the first sentence:

Nearly six months after U.S. President Barack Obama entered the White House, it is apparent that America's Asia policy is no longer guided by an overarching geopolitical framework as it had been under President George W. Bush.

Wow. I guess I'm so used to the usual Bush-bashing from editorialists and journalists that I've simply never come to expect any but that, and here is someone pointing out the massive problem facing the Obama Administration, a lack of focus. But it is nice to see the recognition that US foreign policy under President Bush was understood abroad to have an overarching geopolitical framework...

Or perhaps, more exactly, a massive focus on China to the exclusion of most other countries there. This is, I think, indeed a problem: India is in so many ways the more "natural" partner for the US, if one ignores the massive Chinese purchases of US treasury bonds.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration apparently thinks that China is the only country that matters: this means, in classic liberal wonk fashion, that the other countries will, for the most part be simply ignored or put on the back burner.

Japan and India are, basically, the losers in the Great Game as it is being played out in Washington. The new Ambassadors to both countries? Political rewards for the faithful. The new Ambassador to India is, to quote, an "obscure former Congressman Timothy Roemer"; the new Ambassador to Japan is "a low-profile Internet and biotechnology lawyer, John Roos". Neither have any real connections to these countries, and join the long list of US Ambassadors whose claim to fame is the ability to generate campaigning money and organize the party faithful or receive their Ambassadorships as part of some political deal involving others.

For most countries, the US Ambassador is a fairly big deal, representing the US in that country. Sending a party hack or giving the post away to one of the party faithful is a clear sign of disinterest that many countries recognize and while they may not like this, there is virtually nothing they can do.

Sending these Ambassadors sends a clear message: you're not really very important. Remember who has been Ambassador to Japan in the past: President G.H.W. Bush (aka Bush 41) was Ambassador there way back when. That is the quality of people you send, not an internet and biotechnology lawyer who just happened to be one of President Obama's premier fundraisers.

Especially when it had been planned to send Jospeh Nye, former US Assistent Secretary of Defense.

Timothy Roemer? Turns out to be a few days younger than I am (ah, but for a few different choices in life...), was a Representative in the House for Indiana for around 10 years, choosing then to leave the House for think-tank work. He's a strong Obama supporter, and his work lies in disarmament and anti-proliferation.

Well, that's not quite the political hack that Roos appears to be, but do we see the message being sent here? Sending an anti-proliferation and disarmament specialist to be the Ambassador to India?

Guess what pressures will be put on the Indian government there. This will be analyzed and parsed by the Indian government, think tanks and pundits in India, which points to the path that US policy towards India may take: that of pressuring India to give up its nuclear plans. Watch for that to come up as a policy point over the next year or so.

The Indians have already noticed that President Obama has pointed to a security triangle of the US, Japan and China, pointedly leaving India out of the game:

It is as if the U.S.-Japan-India trilateral has fallen out of favor with the new U.S. administration, just as the broader U.S.-India-Japan-Australia "Quadrilateral Initiative" — founded on the concept of democratic peace and conceived by then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — ran aground after the late-2007 election of Kevin Rudd as the Australian prime minister. Without forewarning New Delhi or Tokyo, the Sinophile Rudd publicly pulled the plug on that nascent initiative, which had held only one meeting.

Now the Obama administration seems intent to bring down the U.S.-Japan-India trilateral. While announcing the new U.S.-China-Japan trilateral, it did not forget to cite the U.S.-Australia-Japan and U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilaterals. But there was no mention of the U.S.-Japan-India trilateral, as if that Bush-endorsed enterprise had become history like Bush.

The writer here, Brahma Chellaney, is Professor of Strategic Studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.

Why is this happening?

According to Chellaney, it is because the economies of the US and China - "Chimerica" - have become so interdependent that it will drive political rapproachment and further economic integration. The US and China together represent 31% of world GDP and over 25% of total world trade. But not all is and can be rosy:

But China's expanding naval role and maritime claims threaten to collide with U.S. interests, including Washington's traditional emphasis on the freedom of the seas. U.S.-China economic ties also are likely to remain uneasy: America saves too little and borrows too much from China, while Beijing sells too much to the U.S. and buys too little. Yet, such is its indulgence toward Beijing that Washington seeks to hold Moscow to higher standards than Beijing on human rights and other issues, even though it is China that is likely to mount a credible challenge to America's global pre-eminence.


And this is the perception from at least Prof. Chellaney:

Despite its China-centric Asia policy, the Obama team, however, has not thought of a U.S.-China-India trilateral, even as it currently explores a U.S.-China-South Korea trilateral. That is because Washington now is looking at India not through the Asian geopolitical framework but the subregional lens — a reality unlikely to be changed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's forthcoming stop in New Delhi six months after she paid obeisance in Beijing. While re-hyphenating India with Pakistan and outsourcing its North Korea and Burma policies to Beijing, Washington wants China to expand its geopolitical role through greater involvement even in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This is where the US has a long way to go before they can really understand how to play The Great Game: Obama's Realpolitik is turning out to be flawed, because he is apparently incapable of playing countries off one another, as has been done in the past under such folks as Kissinger:

It is shortsighted of the Obama team to lower the profile of India and Japan in America's Asia policy. Tokyo may be ceding political capital and influence in Asia to Beijing, and India's power might not equal China's, but Japan and India together can prove more than a match. The Japan-India strategic congruence with the U.S. is based as much on shared interests as on shared principles.

This raisies several points:

1) US policy should be driven more by shared principles rather than the chimera of shared interests: interests can change on short notice, principles do not. Those who share principles can disagree on the nuances, but there will never be major disagreements, as the fundamental principles are the same; those who have shared interests can naturally have massive conflicts of interest on other topics, and that is most assuredly the case for China and the US.

2) The degree to which the US and China, driven by mutual interests (and firmly within the realm of Realpolitik), are increasingly seen to cooperate by other countries in Asia as being problematic, as there are some fairly huge differences between the US and China in terms of common principles: it is also a very poor policy choice to belittle and antagonize your allies of principle in order to gain ground with your ally of interests, especially when these interests are drive mainly by economic interests, and especially when the relationship is one of debtor and consumer on the one hand and creditor and supplier on the other. While this will be a period of great ascendency for China in Chinese-US relations, the question then arises to which degree are US principles to be sacrificed for short-term gains?

If one reads the Obama Administration clearly, as I've tried to do, then you realize that this Administration will go down in history as one of the least principled Administrations, driven entirely by interests and held to principle largely to avoid being unmasked as unprincipled. At the end of the day, the Chicago machine has only one principle: stay in power.

On that note, the Chinese and the Obama Administration share the same principle. But it's the only one that they do share.

Afficiandos of Realpolitik would say that such a principle is the only one that matters. That's why Realpolitik was so successful in preventing wars and achieving lasting peace. And yes, I am being sarcastic.

As Professor Chellaney says:

At a time when Asia is in transition, with the specter of power disequilibrium looming large, it has become imperative to invest in institution-building to help underpin long-term power stability and engagement. After all, Asian challenges are playing into global strategic challenges. But the Obama administration is fixated on the very country whose rapidly accumulating power and muscle-flexing threaten Asian stability.

That's really going to help. I dare say that this was not the change that was hoped for...

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