Obama’s Asian Tour: Manufactured Failure Or Real Failure?

James Fallows, at the Atlantic, is pretty sure President Obama’s Asian tour was much more successful than the media gives him credit for, and, in fact, entitles his piece “Manufactured Failure“. His premise? That the media covered the trip much more like a campaign swing and thus missed its real and more subtle significance – and success. His proof? A couple of reader comments.

That’s not to say he may not have a bit of a point as it concerns the media coverage, but on the substantive side he needs to explain this if everything went so swimmingly but, apparently, unnoticed by the press:

Barack Obama looked tired on Thursday, as he stood in the Blue House in Seoul, the official residence of the South Korean president. He also seemed irritable and even slightly forlorn. The CNN cameras had already been set up. But then Obama decided not to play along, and not to answer the question he had already been asked several times on his trip: what did he plan to take home with him? Instead, he simply said “thank you, guys,” and disappeared. David Axelrod, senior advisor to the president, fielded the journalists’ questions in the hallway of the Blue House instead, telling them that the public’s expectations had been “too high.”

The master of spin’s spin is the public’s expectation’s had been “too high”? Wow – I guess Axelrod missed all that subtlety, nuance and success as well.

Der Speigel, however, did seem to have a pretty good bead on the actual results. You remember how I said we should monitor the progress this “new” method of conduction foreign policy does in the world of realpolitik? Here’s how:

Interests, not emotions, dominate the world of realpolitik. The Asia trip revealed the limits of Washington’s new foreign policy: Although Obama did not lose face in China and Japan, he did appear to have lost some of his initial stature.

In Tokyo, the new center-left government even pulled out of its participation in a mission which saw the Japanese navy refueling US warships in the Indian Ocean as part of the Afghanistan campaign. In Beijing, Obama failed to achieve any important concessions whatsoever. There will be no binding commitments from China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A revaluation of the Chinese currency, which is kept artificially weak, has been postponed. Sanctions against Iran? Not a chance. Nuclear disarmament? Not an issue for the Chinese.

The White House did not even stand up for itself when it came to the question of human rights in China. The president, who had said only a few days earlier that freedom of expression is a universal right, was coerced into attending a joint press conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao, at which questions were forbidden. Former US President George W. Bush had always managed to avoid such press conferences.

How bad is the growing lack of respect? You have a German magazine which was an Obama booster criticizing his foreign policy and comparing Obama to George Bush and finding Obama wanting.

Somewhere pigs are flying. What isn’t flying, however, is this “new” era in US foreign policy.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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