March 1, 2013
MORE SMART DIPLOMACY: Walter Russell Mead: The Unpivot To Asia?
Though the Chinese may be misunderstanding Secretary Kerry somewhat—he seems to have been been offering his assessment that our current force posture in the Pacific is adequate for the task at hand—there is an unmistakeable change of tone in his remarks.
Three possible things could be going on; one is excellent, one is OK but could bring trouble down the road, and one is catastrophic. Let’s start with the rosy scenario: the Obama administration hasn’t changed its Asia policy beyond changing the mood music and China, aware that it can’t change America’s basic approach to the region and lacks the strength to challenge us, has decided not to make a fuss about something it can’t change. It is taking the change in American tone as an opportunity to back down from a confrontation it can’t win without losing face.
That would be smart on China’s part: whining ineffectively about how much you hate something you can’t do anything about is an excellent way to look like a weakling and a fool (sort of like complaining about how much you hate Butcher Assad without doing anything about it).
If that’s what’s happening, look for things to quiet down in Asia.
Another, less hopeful possibility is that while US policy hasn’t changed in Asia, China thinks that it has. It has mistaken Secretary Kerry’s softer tone for a softer policy and is being nice because it thinks it has won the showdown. Chinese resolve and America’s Middle East and budget troubles have convinced the Americans that they can’t sustain the pivot, China thinks. In that case, we should expect some problems down the road as Chinese assertiveness runs into American resistance.
The third and worst possibility is that the Chinese are right and the Obama administration is ratting out on its own pivot and getting ready to betray our Asian allies who trusted the promises the administration made in its first term. . . . It would be a tragic mistake for the Obama administration to shortchange the pivot by failing to devote the adequate amount of resources to the region—an enormous folly that would permanently undermine American credibility around the world. If your goal was to weaken the United States and alienate Washington’s closest allies, announcing a pivot to Asia with great fanfare and boldness, lots of parades and marches, and then slink ingloriously away would be about the best possible way to do it.
Hmm. I know which one seems likeliest to me, based on past performance. . . . .