05 November 2014

Time to Make Lemonade: Dan Twining Explains How President Obama Can Work With Congress to Secure Asia-Pacific Rebalance Legacy

One of the great things in life (in politics and elsewhere) is that even setbacks bring opportunities. Dan Twining makes a persuasive case that President Obama needs to act now to shore up his Asia-Pacific Rebalance–a signature part of his legacy that is not yet sufficiently funded or implemented. It’s time to make a full pitcher of lemonade here, and Twining offers a recipe for success.

Daniel Twining, “An Asian Post-Election Checklist for Obama,” Nikkei Asian Review, 5 November 2014.

Just days after the Nov. 4 midterm election transformed the U.S. political landscape by handing control of Congress to Republicans, President Barack Obama will land in Asia for a series of summits with regional and world leaders. The timing is significant: Washington’s new political constellation and the president’s ability to move foreign friends and adversaries alike on key issues will define his last two years in office, after recent rough patches at home and abroad. Here are five things Obama can do to turn weakness into strength in the week he attends the Nov. 10 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing, the subsequent East Asia Summit in Naypyitaw and the G-20 leaders’ meeting in Brisbane, Australia, on Nov. 15-16.

(1) Leverage the new Republican majority in Congress to do a deal on trade.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, if implemented, would liberalize one-third of global trade and boost the world’s big economies outside of Europe. But final negotiations between the U.S. and Japan have broken down — in part because Tokyo does not want to make difficult concessions as long as Obama lacks Trade Promotion Authority from Congress to fast-track approval of any international agreement. For his part, the president has not sent a trade promotion authority bill to Congress because most Democrats would vote against it.

     Following Republican wins on Capitol Hill, a president with the midterm elections behind him no longer needs to worry about exposing Democrats to a difficult vote; he will now naturally need to work with Republicans to get this and other deals done. In Asia, Obama should announce his intention to request trade approval authority from the new Congress as soon as it convenes in January. He can then use his trade mandate in Washington to push the TPP deal across the finish line with partners in Asia, adding a historic accomplishment to a “pivot” that has been more rhetorical than real.

(2) Promise to work with the new Congress to restore the military ballast behind the “rebalance” to Asia.

A majority of Americans is anxious that the country’s adversaries around the world are multiplying even as the country’s defense resources shrink. Obama is currently overseeing a trillion-dollar reduction in U.S. defense spending — with half of those cuts proposed by his administration and the other half imposed by the controversial across-the-board budget sequester that he agreed with Congress in 2011 after failing to secure a deal on a rational budget.

     As various U.S. secretaries of defense and military commanders have warned — and as the official National Defense Panel Review recently made clear — these defense cuts now threaten to hollow out U.S. military power as multiple conflagrations envelop the Middle East, Russian revanchism redraws the European map and Chinese assertiveness grows in Asia. At the coming summits, Obama should commit to working with the new Republican majority in Congress to end the sequester and provide the resources the U.S. military requires to execute national strategy. This will be music to the ears of Asian friends and allies of the U.S., and could encourage greater Chinese prudence in the exercise of its power. …