Ending Asia Trip, Obama Defends His Foreign Policy

April 29, 2014

Ending Asia Trip, Obama Defends His Foreign Policy

Aquino and ObamaObama with Aquino in Manila

Standing next to the Philippine President, Benigno S. Aquino III, a visibly frustrated Mr. Obama said on Monday that his critics had failed to learn the lessons of the Iraq war.

On a day in which he announced new sanctions against Russia for its continued threats to Ukraine, Mr. Obama said his foreign policy was based on a workmanlike tending to American priorities that might lack the high drama of a wartime presidency but also avoided ruinous mistakes.

You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference with Mr. Aquino. “But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.”

Mr. Obama’s statement, delivered at the end of a weeklong trip to Asia, was a rare insight into a second-term president already sizing up his legacy as a statesman. By turns angry and rueful, his words suggested the distance he had traveled from the confident young leader who accepted a Nobel Peace Prize with a speech about the occasional necessity of war.

While he flatly rejected the Republican portrait of him as feckless in the face of crises like Syria, Mr. Obama seemed to be wrestling with a more nuanced critique, that aside from one or two swings for the fences — the nuclear negotiations with Iran, for example — his foreign policy had become a game of small ball.

Mr. Obama offered this trip as Exhibit A for the virtues of an incremental approach: He nudged along trade negotiations with Japan, consoled a bereaved ally in South Korea, cultivated ties with a once-hostile Malaysia and signed a modest defense agreement with the Philippines.

He drew a sharp contrast between the international coalition the United States had marshaled to pressure President Vladimir V. Putin and the proposals of some Republicans to funnel weapons to Ukrainian soldiers, which he mocked as ineffective.

“Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force,” Mr. Obama said, “after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and to our budget. And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?”

The President did not name his critics, except to refer to them as foreign policy commentators “in an office in Washington or New York.” He also referred to the Sunday morning talk shows, where Senator John McCain of Arizona, a fierce Obama critic, is a ubiquitous guest.

“If we took all of the actions that our critics have demanded, we’d lose count of the number of military conflicts that America would be engaged in,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a Deputy National Security  Adviser.

These days, one crisis follows on the heels of another. Even Mr. Obama’s Asian trip, which he had put off from October because of the government shutdown, was overshadowed by the tensions with Russia and the suspension of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Barack ObamaWhen Mr. Obama returns to Washington on Tuesday, his advisers say, he wants to regain the offensive with several speeches, most notably a graduation address at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., next month, in which he will try to place his decisions on Syria, Ukraine and other crises into a broader context.

He has done this before. In December 2009, when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, the president made a case for the responsible use of military force when responding to a terrorist attack, as in Afghanistan, or when looking to prevent the brutalization of a population, as in Libya.

Mr. Obama has not hesitated to use drones to target suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, showing an appetite for shadow warfare that surprised many of his supporters.

But the President’s profound reluctance to get drawn into Syria’s civil war shows no sign of wavering. For critics ranging from Mr. McCain to human rights activists, it has come to symbolize the erosion of America’s leadership role in the world during the Obama presidency.

White House officials counter that they are forging ahead on other fronts, like the nuclear negotiations with Iran and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional trade pact that Mr. Obama promoted in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.

“There is a tendency to view all of American foreign policy through the prism of the most difficult crisis of the day, rather than taking the longer view,” Mr. Rhodes said.

The President’s frustration flared during the first news conference of his trip, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. He was asked if, by declaring that the United States would protect disputed islands in the East China Sea under its security treaty with Japan, he risked drawing another “red line,” like the one in Syria over chemical weapons.

“The implication of the question I think is, is that each and every time a country violates one of those norms the United States should go to war, or stand prepared to engage militarily, and if it doesn’t then somehow we’re not serious about those norms,” he said. “Well, that’s not the case.”

In the case of Syria, Mr. Obama noted that after he canceled a threatened missile strike, the United States cobbled together a deal with Russia to remove Syria’s chemical munitions. As of last week, he said, 87 percent of President Bashar al-Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons had been removed.

“The fact that we didn’t have to fire a missile to get that accomplished is not a failure to uphold those international norms, it’s a success,” the President said, adding, “It’s not a complete success until we have the last 13 percent out.”

Mr. Obama challenged those who say the United States must take some kind of military action in Syria. “They themselves say, ‘No, no, no, we don’t mean sending in troops.’ Well, what do you mean?” he asked.

The same dialogue occurs with Russia and Ukraine. Nobody is seriously advocating sending American troops, he said, but some want to arm the Ukrainians.

“Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian Army?” Mr. Obama said. “Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economic pressure that we’re applying?”

Despite his frustrations, Mr. Obama had some small victories in Asia. The 10-year deal with the Philippines will give American troops, ships and planes expanded access to bases here, something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago, after fierce public opposition forced the United States to relinquish its Subic Bay naval base.

Administration officials said they had made important progress on a trade deal with Japan, even if it was not ready to be announced by Mr. Obama and Mr. Abe. And by all accounts, Mr. Obama managed to reassure America’s treaty allies without antagonizing China.

After offering an earnest discussion of America’s relationships with various Southeast Asian nations, the President said that kind of foreign policy “may not always be sexy” and “it doesn’t make for good argument on Sunday morning shows — but it avoids errors.”

For Mr. Obama, who spent some of his childhood years in Indonesia, Southeast Asia is normally a place to slow down to its tropical rhythms. Not this time: After his impassioned answer to a question on his foreign policy record from Ed Henry, a Fox News White House correspondent, Mr. Obama said, “You got me all worked up.”

3 thoughts on “Ending Asia Trip, Obama Defends His Foreign Policy

  1. As i had predicted – the time has come for USAofA to stop being the world’s No 1 Taikor and start looking inwards and rebuilding Fortress America. Pax Americana was and will be an abject failure. It should consolidate and concentrate on repairing it’s crumbling economy, industry, social institutions and technological superiority.

    Leave Ukraine to find it’s way with the help of the Europeans. The Middle-East will continue to roil in agonies of Tribal and Ethnic Genocide – whatever god they pray to. Israel will remain the Primary Proxy. Iran is going nowhere and North Africa is hopeless. Perhaps do another Tuskegee Experiment on them?

    The much touted Pacific Century is fraught with enough danger. The Atlantic Era of Colonial expansionism has not only ground to a halt but reversed – with colonial Europe being invaded, suffocated and terrorized by their formerly colonized slaves. Karma at it’s best.

    The need to ‘contain’ PRC’s naked territorial ambitions is obvious and the threat of extreme violence and terminal prejudice – should the Chinapek have the temerity to wallop Taikor’s allies is more than adequate. All these nine-dotted lines are a figment of their Nationalistic fervor and testicular jingoism. Actually their economy needs to grow progressively. Any stagnation, or (gasp!) bubble collapse or deflation will be catastrophic. Distraction is always a key tactic, but lousy long-term strategy.

    In essence, PRC is actually a very hollow threat when One looks at it’s population distribution, scarcity of resources and tenuous infrastructure. Maintaining internal order is already a headache – that’s why their equivalent of the Justice Department is called the Public Security Bureau.

    So, Taikor should be able to maintain the ‘pecking’ order for the foreseeable future. AnyOne disagrees, besides wrong-ways?

    Despite claims to the contrary, with the exception of the Philippines as a colony, can anyone tell me of any nation that was similarly occupied by Taikor?

    Let it remain the safe haven, along with Scandinavia and Anzac, where liberty and
    personal freedoms are respected with social mobility and economic advancement

    BTW, being vaporized in the application of e=mc2 is my ideal of disappearing altogether.

  2. It’s time to realise that USA is no longer the hegomonic super power. You see! What goes up must come down. USA should use their soft power just as what UK did brilliantly. Isolationist. Hahahaha! In this era of globalisation, USA will surely mampus if it isolate itself.

    As for Ukraine issue, it’s like GB handling of Poland issue prior to the inception of world war 2. Perhaps, it has something to do with the secretary of state officials allowing this to happen. EU hahahaha! Forget la, sure mampus one.

    It’s extremely stupid to contain PRC. Learn from Nixon. Work with PRC to contain Russia. One can send a simple to PRC. Don’t work with me and I will let Abe san run wild.

    Time to make as many allies as possible

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