May 26, 2016 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads – America's Distracted Rebalance

 
Barack Obama smiles as he attends a town hall meeting with members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative at the GEM Center in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

America’s economic and strategic future rests in Asia. Home to half the world’s population and the three largest economies in the world, the Asia-Pacific region is ground zero for growth in the global economy. President Obama understands this well, and is visiting Asia this week to strengthen the bonds between America and its Asian allies.
 
And yet, America’s ambitious strategy to reassert itself as a Pacific power—its so-called “rebalance” to Asia—is hardly completed. As David Sanger reports in the New York Times, seven years into the rebalance, “Asian nations are deeply skeptical about how much they can rely on Washington’s commitment and staying power in the region.”
 
What happened?
 
First, conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was delayed. Recall, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was to be a central pillar of the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia. The deal was originally supposed to be concluded in 2012; however, negotiations stretched all the way into late 2015. Consequently, the TPP’s prospects are thinning under the corrosive politics of the 2016 election. To be clear, a failure to pass the TPP would have serious strategic consequences for America’s role in Asia.
 
Another hurdle to the rebalance has been that America’s foreign policy energies have been focused elsewhere. In the period that the Obama administration hoped to shift its attention to Asia, the United States was forced to continually respond to economic and security crises in the Middle East and Europe.
 
The result is that America's rebalance to Asia is in trouble. For the United States, this could mean a significant economic and strategic opportunity lost. For Asia, an absent America could spell more political, economic, and military instability in the region. 
 
This week's selected reads examine the challenges inherent in American leadership in the Pacific, and highlights some of the pitfalls that may further derail US efforts to rebalance to Asia. 

Despite Obama’s Moves, Asian Nations Skeptical of United States Commitment

David E. Sanger/The New York Times

As Obama’s term ends, Asian nations remain skeptical about the “pivot to Asia.” They sense Americans are questioning whether their economic and defense interests really lie in Asia. This uncertainty begets hedging, and many Asian leaders are pursuing expanded relationships with other global powers. The Trans-Pacific Partnership may represent the biggest strategic and economic pivot, but if the deal fails does it mean stability and security will be imperiled? And if so, will the leaders of Asia see that as another reason to “welcome Mr. Obama’s successor one week, and visit Beijing and Moscow the next?”

Trade Is a National Security Imperative

Robert B. Zoellick/The Wall Street Journal

Abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership would simultaneously discourage economic reform among Asian allies and partners and signal American willingness to yield to China, according to Robert Zoellick. Recent security agreements between the United States and countries in the region are supplemented by the economic foundation based in the TPP. Only when the two work in tandem will both US security and Asian prosperity be assured. Both will be needed to face the threats of the 21st century and integrate China into the Asia Pacific economic framework.

The Major Problems Facing a Rising Asia

Chung Min Lee/The Washington Post

Despite ongoing fear-mongering about the challenge it poses to the West, Asia faces myriad internal issues preventing it from reaching the top. Between a de facto arms race pitting its leaders against each other, nuclear tensions on both the Korean and Indian peninsulas, and political turmoil in multiple countries, Asian nations are increasingly turning to the United States to maintain stability and prosperity. The continent has made progress, but it is not ready to supplant the West.

The United States’ Show of Power against the Islamic State

David Ignatius/The Washington Post

While recent military victories and increased support from area Sunni tribes have improved morale, campaigns against ISIS have left Iraqi troops disheartened and divided. No amount of US military might can make up for what David Ignatius calls a “broken Iraq” fighting to gradually break down the enemy. At best, the US aim is to defeat ISIS from the inside on multiple fronts and hope the political situation falls into place accordingly.

How Kosovo was Turned into Fertile Ground for ISIS

Carlotta Gall/ The New York Times

Saudi money and influence have transformed Kosovo, a once-tolerant Muslim society, into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists. The country now finds itself fending off the threat of radical Islam and has the highest per capita number in Europe of citizens who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State. It is a stunning turnaround for a country that had been one of the most pro-American Muslim societies in the world.

Take the Gloves Off Against the Taliban

David Petreaus and Michael O’Hanlon/The Wall Street Journal

As NATO has downsized in Afghanistan, the Taliban have taken back large parts of the country. While Afghan forces have had some modest success against these advances, it could take two more years for its air force to reach its intended strength. To bridge this gap, we need to take the gloves off US and allied NATO forces already in-country and up the Afghanistan air-power campaign with the vigor we are employing in Iraq and Syria. Why? Because Afghanistan, effectively the eastern bulwark in our broader Middle East fight against extremist forces, still matters. And even modest military contributions have the potential to make a considerable difference—one between some version of victory and defeat.

‘Brexit,’ a Feel-Good Vote That Could Sink Britain’s Economy

Peter S. Goodman/The New York Times

The economic and statistical predictions made by influential financial and political bodies suggest a Brexit would undoubtedly damage the United Kingdom’s economy; however, anti-immigrant and neo-nationalist sentiments challenge the results. Although Pro-Leave campaigners dismiss the fears in favor of increased sovereignty, the potential for job loss and steep import tariffs has already caused companies to lose business and prepare for moves to the rest of Europe. 

This is How Fascism Comes to America

Robert Kagan/The Washington Post

Donald Trump may have surprised even himself with how appealing his “tough-guy, get-mad-and-get-even approach” has been to his new followers. Yet while Republican leaders marvel at how he has tapped into a hitherto unknown swath of the voting public, what he really has tapped into is what our founders most feared: the popular passions unleashed, the “mobocracy.” And if he wins the election and the power of the presidency, Trump will owe Republican leaders and their party nothing; he will have been catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him. This is how fascism comes to America.

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