Nowhere left to pivot

What is the centerpiece of President Obama’s foreign policy? In my view, it’s the appeasement of authoritarian, anti-American governments. But the president’s supporters might say it’s his “pivot to Asia.”

How is that pivot working out? As Paul Rahe observes, China recently has become quite bellicose towards its neighbors:

[E]verywhere where one goes in Asia, an old friend who travels in high circles told me earlier this week, one senses hostility — not towards the United States but towards one’s neighbors. The anger underlying all of this has been stirred by the Chinese, who have been throwing their weight around with ever greater force.

This weekend the Chinese upped the ante. In the South China Sea, between Korea and Taiwan, there are some uninhabited islands, which are called the Senkaku isles by the Japanese and the Diayu isles by the Chinese. Although there are other claimants, these have been controlled for many decades by the Japanese. This weekend, however, China extended its air-defense zone to include the islands. . . .

The Japanese are understandably perturbed. . . .This is a deliberate provocation, and it is clearly meant as a challenge to Japan. In that neck of the woods, the Chinese evidently intend to have their way, and those who do not acquiesce will be made to pay dearly.

What we are witnessing is an attempt by the Chinese to assert and establish their hegemony over the entire region. What they aim at is something like what, in the years prior to World War II, the Japanese called the Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Clearly, Obama’s pivot has not had the effect desired by our self-described first Pacific president. This is hardly surprising. Presidential pivots may influence the news cycle, but they produce no magical effects in the real world. Only an egotist of Obama’s caliber could suppose otherwise.

When it comes to foreign policy, we don’t get to pick the foreign policy and national security issues that affect our well-being. The issues pick us.

If anything, an attempt to pivot away from the problems in one region (Obama of course has not succeeded in pivoting away from the Middle East) only demonstrates a fecklessness that will undermine efforts to deal with the problems in another region. Seth Mandel has it exactly right:

[R]etreat from the major issues of the day sends the wrong message for any power looking to be respected in the far corners of the globe. So as the U.S. starts backing away from the Middle East, [Russia’s foreign minister] Lavrov reminds [us] to take [our] presence in Europe with [us], and China practically laughs at the idea that they aren’t entitled to their own sphere of influence, as Russia and Iran seem to be.