01 October 2013

Lee Kuan Yew’s Wisdom for Washington: Asian Geopolitics Won’t Shut Down with U.S. Government

As a dangerous game of budget roulette unfolds, it behooves all concerned Americans and their representatives to remember that the world continues its rapid evolution and will not wait for Washington to get its act together. With respect to the most dynamic and important region of the globe, the insights of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew apply perfectly:

“Americans seem to think that Asia is like a movie and that you can freeze developments out here whenever the U.S. becomes intensely involved elsewhere…. It does not work like that. If the United States wants to substantially affect the strategic evolution of Asia, it cannot come and go.”

Whatever horror film premiers in Washington this morning, it should not distract from a larger reality: the world is watching the United States, while also going about its own business—and judging and factoring in American influence, or lack thereof, accordingly. Particularly in the Asia-Pacific, momentous developments are unfolding—with or without American participation—that will affect the lives of all Americans tremendously in years to come.

For seven decades, Washington has paid dearly with blood and treasure to participate in the production of the all-time blockbuster that is Asian geopolitics. It cannot dictate how all aspects of this film are directed, but with proper focus and effort, it can continue to play a leading and constructive role.

One thing is certain: becoming a no-show at the dynamic motion picture unfolding in today’s Asia to prolong a crass, ultimately-forgettable soap opera back in Washington will tank America’s ratings and revenue, both abroad and at home. Whatever foreign critics say, domestic critics will ultimately be harsher: the issues at stake in the Asia-Pacific today matter greatly to every American. Their representatives in Washington must understand this reality. In this critical hour, they must act with the foresight and dignity of the statesmen that they are elected to be.

***The ideas articulated here are those of Andrew Erickson alone, and do not represent the policies or estimates of the U.S. Navy or any other organization of the U.S. Government.***