Earlier in 2009, I wrote several posts speculating on how the Obama Administration would develop their grand strategy for the Asia-Pacific. Last year, I followed this up with a review of 2009 accomplishments. 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 2010:
SoS Clinton has continued to maintain her stature, but the recent Wikileaks scandal has exposed the Administration. It will be important in 2011 for State to better manage the Administration's message overseas and those communications shared with allies and partners. In the Asia-Pacific, Clinton recently made a round of visits to various countries, including Australia, and this provided needed visibility in the region to round off 2010 initiatives.
SoD Gates continues to do a solid job of maintaining existing relationships from a defense and security perspective with Asia-Pacific countries. In 2010, the issues relating to U.S. military installations in Okinawa were resolved. But, at the same time, the situation on the Korean peninsula has had a slight eruption with North Korea's recent attacks on a South Korean ship and most recently an island near the disputed dividing line between the countries. In addition to ongoing missions in Central Asia, tensions with North Korea are likely to require greater attention and management across the region and highlight the importance of managing relations with China, Japan and South Korea (and Russia to some degree) from a unified, strategic perspective.
SoT Geithner continued to have a rough time in 2010, since, as I speculated last year, he had done little to prepare himself for a better year by the end of 2009. He continues to fail on fiscal policy and Geithner's actions have yet to address the soaring debt and lack of fiscal restraint. Both Obama and Geithner were roundly refuted in this policy at the recent G20 summit while also losing face in the eyes of the American public as reflected in the Democratic Party's resounding electoral defeats. This continues to make him weak in speaking with countries in the Asia-Pacific, especially China, and particularly when telling other countries how they should be managing their fiscal policy. With Obama reversing on the expiration of the Bush tax cuts at the end of last year, and new Republican leadership in the House and across much of the U.S., it will be interesting to observer Geithner's moves in 2011.
For most of 2010, Clinton and Gates again carried more than their fair share of the weight for Obama in the Asia-Pacific, but this time falling short in making up for Geithner's continued poor performance. The G20 refutation of American fiscal policy, while conducting the meetings in the Asia-Pacific no less, by the majority of countries was the low point for the year. I feel Obama and Geithner lost additional edge by going to the G20 meeting with such chutzpah as to coax other countries to adopt their losing policies, while poking China again on the yuan revaluation issue. This after Obama had lost additional luster from the election due to massive Democratic Party defeats across the U.S.
I will repeat what I wrote last year: 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. This policy will not change based only on the short-term policy fancies of SoT Geithner and President Obama.
Let's review briefly how the Obama Administration made progress on my initial recommendations for 2010. This is intended to be a thought exercise at a very high-level from which more detailed discussions on individual topics can be had:
- Shoring up fiscal policy at home: continued to fail on this point, but a reversal on keeping all of the Bush tax cuts at the end of the year offered a glimmer of hope for 2011
- Reaching important milestones in efforts to restore stability to Afghanistan (which borders China): with General Petraeus now leading the effort in Afghanistan, the potential for success has increased but the situation still remains precarious due to Obama's previous withdrawal deadline commitments for 2011 and the continuing lack of regional strategy
- Stepping back from the hollow science of CO2 reductions, and outlining a partnership program for tackling climate adaptation through practical technologies and solutions: the Administration is still clinging to U.N. politics on this point, which is bad for the U.S. and the world
- 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: some positive developments were made on this front towards the end of the year with Obama's movement on the South Korean FTA and now Japan is making some movements in a similar direction
- Find a few strategic activities led by the U.S. through which both India and China can be engaged together: nothing particularly to take note of on this point; low-hanging fruit would be Afghanistan and the strengthening of cross-border linkages in Northeast India, Southwest China.
- Working behind the scenes on contingency plans with China and South Korea in regards to a possible collapse of North Korea: with the recent tensions, this continues to rise in importance and the leaked diplomatic cables combined with the announcements from China shortly after hostilities took place help illustrate that no cooperative, strategic solution to a collapse or suddent escalation of hostilities is truly in place between neighboring countries
- 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.): no progress on this as a strategy, but perhaps could be part of a future free trade agreement between the U.S. and Japan
- Encouraging the investing in the infrastructure of and linkages to the Asia-Pacific logistics corridor: this happens continually in the private sector, and between Asia-Pacific governmental committees, but no formal strategy in U.S. foreign policy explicitly mentions the importance of this; but it is important to consider as the U.S. Navy helps maintain security along the primary corridors throughout the Asia-Pacific
I would add this year that a review of the long chains of national energy and natural resource supply and demand in light of ongoing demand in the Asia-Pacific be conducted and then incorporated into regional, strategic initiatives.
As I mentioned last year, 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 U.S. businesses and organizations--public and private--will thrive and succeed. I look forward to the vigorous debates of the above issues across the web and will be watching to see what progress, if any, the Obama Administration makes in regards to the Asia-Pacific in the new year.