President Obama’s “pivot to Asia” has been a long time coming. Part of what’s delayed it has been that the Middle East never quite let go of the U.S.—to pivot towards somewhere, one has to pivot away from somewhere else. But President Obama seems intent on pushing the pivot as far as he can in his last year, perhaps having decided the U.S. can finally extricate itself from the Middle East. The problem, the NYT reports, is that Asian leaders aren’t convinced the U.S. has the political will to follow through:
When President Obama announced Monday that he was ending a half-century-long arms embargo against Vietnam, it was another milestone in his long-running ambition to recast America’s role in Asia — a “pivot” as he once called it, designed to realign America’s foreign policy so it can reap the benefits of Asia’s economic and strategic future.
Yet as Mr. Obama’s time in office comes to an end, Asian nations are deeply skeptical about how much they can rely on Washington’s commitment and staying power in the region. They sense that for the first time in memory, Americans are questioning whether their economic and defense interests in Asia are really that vital.
Not only in Asia are governments sensing that the United States might not be committed to policing world order as it has since the end of the World War Two. In Europe, officials warily eye Trump’s criticisms of NATO and ask where American power has been while the continent struggles with refugees and monetary crises. But Asia may be the place where retrenchment is easiest to pull off: If fewer and fewer Americans feel an urge to spend resources in Europe, even fewer will care about far-away Asia. China certainly has been operating lately on the premise that regional influence matters more to Beijing than it does to Washington.
President Obama has expressed skepticism about the value of deterrence and perception in international affairs. The facts, however, tell a different story. World leaders discern a less engaged America and that makes it more difficult for Washington to pursue its policy goals. We hope the next administration, whoever may be in it, is paying attention.