‘US nervous breakdown’ trips up Obama’s Asia pivot

‘US nervous breakdown’ trips up Obama’s Asia pivot
With the US government caught up in a full-on nervous breakdown, President Barack Obama had bigger fish to fry than the APEC summit, Dr. Conn Hallinan, a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus, told RT.

From October 5-7, world leaders gathered at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Bali, Indonesia, although much has been made of Obama’s conspicuous absence.

Obama canceled his trip to deal with the partial US government shutdown, which, if not resolved, could prove "catastrophic," the White House has warned.

Obama had originally intended to discuss a 12-nation free trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister of Singapore expressed his regret over Obama’s absence, saying the world wanted to see “a US president who is able to travel and fulfill his international duties.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, said his absence was justified, as any “leader of a state would have done the same” in Obama’s position.

Hallinan says that despite the importance of the United States’ Asia pivot, the current crisis gripping America is perhaps the gravest since the Civil War.

RT:Barack Obama was scheduled to attend the APEC summit in Bali, however his presence is now required at home, due to the government shutdown. Is the attendance of John Kerry as a US representative enough in this case?

Conn Hallinan: I don’t think that it’s terribly serious that the president isn’t at the Bali meetings. I think that most people in the region know what the policies of the United States are, and I think Kerry is pushing very hard in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I also think that most countries recognize that the US is in the middle of a nervous breakdown, and that the president basically has to be at home to, I don’t know, to try and administer anti-psychotics. I don’t think that it has much of an effect on foreign policy at this point; obviously, in the long run, it might have an effect.

RT:The Malaysian prime minister said the absence of President Obama is a missed opportunity for him to share his thoughts about America's new policy toward Asia. What kind of repercussions, if any, can we expect here?

CH: I don’t expect serious repercussions. One of the reasons why the president has made the decision not to go is largely domestic. One of the things that the State Department has been saying now since Obama had to cancel the trip is: “We’re losing out on these opportunities, the Chinese are eating our lunch, and we’re being isolated in Asia. You see, that’s what the Republicans have wrought.” I don’t really think that to Asians – with a few exceptions, and obviously Malaysia is one of them, a player, but not a very important player at this point – it makes a whole lot of difference. Again, it depends on how long the situation goes on. I don’t want to make light of the government shutdown; I think it’s a serious constitutional crisis in the US, and maybe the most serious since the Civil War of 1861.

The road leading to the Everglades National Park is seen shut down on October 7, 2013 in Miami, Florida.(AFP Photo / Joe Raedle)

RT:Obama's domestic problems are so serious they could threaten the global economy as a whole. Could he really have made time to attend the summit?

CH: I think that if the Republicans decide to sort of push the button, which means that they will default on the US debt, that’s going to have global consequences. And you have a feeble – very feeble – economic recovery going in Europe at this time; I think it would tank that. I think that it would have a serious effect all the way across the globe. Is that going to reverberate back on the US? Well, certainly it would. But again, I think that most people don’t need Obama’s presence in order to draw those conclusions or to see where those policies go. At this point, the Republicans say that they won’t allow it to get to the point of essentially absconding on our debt, but who knows? It depends on what happens over the next few weeks.

Washington doesn't have enough resources for Asia pivot

RT:Do you think that by trying to solve problems in the Middle East the US actually forgot about its “Pivot to Asia” intentions?

CH: I think one thing about the pivot that people should keep in mind is that in a sense the US has always been in Asia: this has been our largest trading partner for the last 100 years. It’s also been the place where we’ve fought the most wars from the end of the 19th century on. So the idea that the US is pivoting toward Asia is a little bit of a misnomer. I do think that there were some illusions on the part of the US that they were going to be able to get out of Afghanistan scot-free, that they were going to be able to not to get deeply involved in the Syrian situation, and I think those have not shown themselves to be the case. I think people need to be careful. It isn’t that the US has forgotten Asia; it’s that what they’re attempting to do is to directly challenge China at this point. Does this affect that? It might in the long run, I’m not sure it does so in the short run.

RT:The “Pivot to Asia” is one of the Obama government's central foreign policy initiatives. Has anything really been achieved on this front?

CH: Not really.  They have moved some military forces, they have put 2,500 marines in Australia, they’ve sort of roiled the waters in the South China Sea, but kind of kept a distance in the East China Sea.  Not a great deal has happened at this point. But again, we’re in the midst of this incredible craziness at home; domestically, and that does have an effect on the military budget, the State Department budget, etc. The Obama administration is not able to put as much resources into the Asia pivot as it had originally planned. But in the long run, what you’re seeing her is, the United States is still very much focused on challenging China and still focused on building a kind of ring of regional alliances that will attempt to isolate China in very much the same way the United States attempted to isolate Russia during the Cold War.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.