Obama in Free Fall: Asia Trip a Prep for War?

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It’s a tough time for Barack Obama. The Washington Post reported Monday in its latest poll that America’s chief executive had ebbed to his lowest point since taking office:

Obama’s approval rating fell to 41 percent, down from 46 percent through the first three months of the year and the lowest of his presidency in Post-ABC News polls. Just 42 percent approve of his handling of the economy, 37 percent approve of how he is handling the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and 34 percent approve of his handling of the situation involving Ukraine and Russia.

On Monday, President Obama declared more sanctions on Russia, while the White House predicted on Sunday that economic sanctions already in place would have a heavy impact on Vladimir Putin’s country and administration. But in Russia, the government was moving ahead with solidifying its hold on Crimea. According to RIA Novosti, one of Russia’s largest news agencies:

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President Obama in the Philippines Monday.

The Russian government on Tuesday instructed a number of ministries to prepare legislation to establish a special economic zone in Crimea and the city of Sevastopol by May 25…with tax breaks to attract investors. Crimea has already adopted the Russian ruble as an official currency.

 

Last month, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev proposed a sweeping development program to improve the lives of Crimeans, ranging from revamping the region’s healthcare and education system to boosting its ailing economy.

Russia has also been moving to improve its trade and economic relations with China, which Peculiar Progressive has pointed to in recent articles here and here. An alliance of these two powers could prove a mighty opposition force as the United States and European Union, both struggling economically, try to force Russia’s hand on the volatile situation in Ukraine. In fact, both Russia and China had been having their own economic struggles before the Ukraine issue exploded, echoes still of the 2008 global meltdown. None of this seeming to move nations closer to international peace.

Meanwhile, the threat of China rang clear this past week particularly. That’s because Obama did not go there, even though he took a four-country tour of Asia. And the visits turned out to be more for rumblings of conflict, which policymakers call security, than for trade and economic improvement. The Associated Press reported:

At each stop in the capitals of Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, Obama publicly reassured the key allies that the U.S. will uphold its commitments to defend them, including in their land and sea disputes with China. At the same time, he stressed that his goal was not to counter or contain China.

It would seem Obama would want to go to China, to touch flesh and talk straight about the need for cooperation with the Chinese government, to diffuse both the Asian sea disputes and the growing united front of Russia and China. Also to seek China’s aid in helping calm the Ukraine situation. Maybe even to discuss China’s moving away from purchasing U.S. debt. The Asian giant is a major holder of U.S. treasury bonds.

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But he didn’t go there.

Also, the president wasn’t able to tie a knot on the controversial, secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership: a treaty which seems to involve Asian countries and many multinational corporations, though not enough information has been released to define what all is involved in the proposed tariff. But it did seem clear that Obama didn’t get the cooperation he wanted from Japan. According to American newspaper Stars and Stripes:

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Protesters to U.S. military in Philippines.

From all appearances, the president couldn’t get even an oral agreement from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a way for Japan to lower tariffs against certain U.S. imports, a key step in making the trade pact a reality.

 

“Progress on security is welcome, but it does not compensate for stasis on trade,” said Don Emmerson, a political scientist at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University. “If the pivot is to serve American interests as well as Asian ones, it should be about goods and services, not just guns and planes.”

Monday, protesters rose up in the Philippines following Obama’s agreeing to place an ongoing U.S. military presence there, just one sign of concern about American guns and planes. But the U.S. and Russia both thrive on sale of guns and planes, which Peculiar Progressive reported on here.

Which can lead us to wonder: Does this emphasis on weapons production and international sales, and expansion of military presence, lead a world farther away or closer to war?