“The US “pivot” to what policy-makers are calling America’s Pacific Century about which we have been reporting recently is on full display this week with the attendance of President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and other cabinet officials at the APEC leaders meeting in Hawaii. The main result will be the relaunch of the Trans Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP).
In a small acknowledgement that the focus is turning away from the Middle East, Dennis Ross, Obama’s long-term adviser at the White House, announced that he was leaving. Iran aside, there is little new that is in motion at this time in that region. The new US emphasis on the Pacific comes on the back of the crisis in Europe and the disappointing G20 summit.
With Obama depending so crucially on economic revival for his re-election, US officials see the Asia-Pacific region as a quicker source of jobs than Europe.
Strategic calculations are also in play. As China “rises”, the US wants to reassure its allies and partners in the region that it will continue to be a major presence there. One implication is that Australia will grow in importance for the US in that certain naval assets will be relocated there.
There will also be greater emphasis on naval cooperation with India, with the number of joint exercises due to increase significantly. The undetermined dynamic in this strategy is, of course, whether China sees a need to respond. In talks with their Chinese counterparts, US strategic planners regularly stress that the US Pacific presence is not intended to balance or check China.
Nonetheless, that is the uncertain element that lies at the heart of these calculations. Returning to the Middle East, IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program has received some forceful reaction from conservative commentators, but the Secretary of Defense Panetta has been more cautious. Our private conversations with high officials do not suggest that military action is imminent.
A final word on domestic politics: by most historic precedents in terms of the underperformance of the economy and waning enthusiasm among his core supporters, Obama would now be facing an uphill battle for re-election. However, private discussions with senior Republican strategists reveal a good deal of concern and acknowledgement that the election is still wide open.”
Foto Oficial de los Líderes de las Economías de APEC By Presidencia Perú / FlickR
USS Fitzgerald Sailors salute a Royal Australian Navy frigate while manning the rails By Official U.S. Navy Imagery / FlickR