Earlier in the year, I wrote several posts speculating on how the Obama Administration would develop their grand strategy for the Asia-Pacific. For convenience, I have provided links to the key posts below:
Essentially, I suggested that Obama would rely on and lean on the "three legs" of SoS Clinton, SoT Geithner and SoD Gates in crafting strategy directed at the Asia-Pacific. Quickly reviewing each member's performance in 2009:
- SoS Clinton has maintained a fair amount of leverage through 2009 and heading into 2010 and has been an outspoken and frank voice in contrast to the subtle approach of President Obama. She has shown she is comfortable overseas based on her previous experience, but has shown a tendency to let single issues take control of her interactions with Asia-Pacific countries--climate change with China, bases with Japan.
- SoD Gates has been somewhat out of the public eye and conversation beyond the topic of Afghanistan and there is a reason why: he is doing a solid job and maintaining existing relationships from a defense and security perspective with Asia-Pacific countries. The only issue as of late relates to U.S. military installations in Okinawa, with which Japan is grappling domestically. But I see Clinton and Gates eventually working this out with the new Japan government.
- SoT Geithner had a rough year in 2009 and has done little to improve his situation heading into 2010. He can only hide behind Bernanke for so long, but policy has been lackluster with soaring debt and no fiscal restraint being displayed as a core value. This has made him weak in speaking with countries in the Asia-Pacific, especially China.
For most of 2009, Clinton and Gates carried more than their fair share of the weight for Obama in the Asia-Pacific, in a way making up for Geithner's surprising poor performance. But Clinton and Obama lost some ground towards the end of 2009 by letting a single issue--climate change--take control of their strategy and throw some thorns into the relationship with China (and India). This is just my opinion, but I feel Obama lost some edge by going to China so late in the year, when he had lost a lot of his luster from the election due to an eroding domestic performance.
So desparate to score points on climate change at Copenhagen for domestic political consumption, the Obama team tried to dress up a crap sandwich and back China into a corner. China essentially called their bluff on the whole affair and walked away from any binding agreements. It was striking to me how the Obama team seemed to lose their bearings on the China relationship while blinded by the desparation of having any kind of agreement come out of Copenhagen conference. It showed an obvious lack of strategic thinking and is what I warned about in Part II in regards to Clinton getting sidetracked by single issues and missing the forest for the trees.
China, whether you agree with their policies or not, is a deliberately long-term thinking nation at the top in regards to domestic policy and thus a negotiator working with them to make changes to this domestic policy must factor this into their strategy. But I believe the Obama team can recover in 2010 by doing the following, amongst other things:
- Shoring up fiscal policy at home
- Reaching important milestones in efforts to restore stability to Afghanistan (which borders China)
- Stepping back from the hollow science of CO2 reductions, and outlining a partnership program for tackling climate change through practical technologies and solutions
- Strengthening trade relationships with traditional Asia-Pacific partners and opening doors and dialogue with others in parallel to the ongoing trade deals within the Asia-Pacifc
- Find a few strategic activities led by the U.S. through which both India and China can be engaged together
- Working behind the scenes on contingency plans with China and South Korea in regards to a possible collapse of North Korea
- Leveraging Japan as a technology partner for solutions to the impact of aging societies across the Asia-Pacific (health care, mobility, workplace assistance, knowledge transfers, etc.)
- Encouraging the investing in the infrastructure of and linkages to the Asia-Pacific logistics corridor
Overall, from the perspective of a supply chain professional working in the Asia-Pacific, it is important that the U.S. maintain respect and positive involvement in dealing with the region and that it provides a solid strategic context within which businesses and organizations--public and private--will thrive and succeed.