Hillary Clinton Brings Her "F" Game to Asia-Pacific

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 10/31/2011 04:18:00 PM
Hillary Clinton and her supporters writing in Foreign Policy represents a sure-fire way to irk me. Sometime ago, a partisan New Democrat Network (NDN) kid went after me in Foreign Policy after I wrote in Foreign Affairs about the conceptual shortcomings of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's "Internet freedom" idea. That, of course, was before Missus Clinton's "Internet freedom" shtick went the way of "strong dollar" policy after the Julian Assange / WikiLeaks imbroglio. Let's just say that certain people warned her of the overblown nature of the idea long before it became a global laughingstock.

Now I am confronted with some more eyebrow-raising commentary in Foreign Policy, this time from Hillary Clinton herself. (Or, more accurately, her speechwriters.) Although hyperbole is pretty much par for the course when it comes to US foreign policy pronouncements, it is quite frankly appalling how errors of omission and commission permeate her latest magnum opus (of sorts). Hillary Clinton writes that the future of politics will be decided in the Asia-Pacific, and that the US needs to be there. So far so good; I certainly don't agree that Asia is where the action will be this century. However, I have strong reservations about American willingness and ability to be there in a meaningful fashion.

Now, let me mention a few of her worst misfires (of which there are many):

1. The article gets off to a very factually-challenged start by stating "[t]he future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action." The implication here is that Afghanistan is not a part of the region.

I would thus like to ask: Why is Afghanistan a "regional member" of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Missus Clinton? She's much like the 9 out of 10 geographically illiterate young Americans who can't find Afghanistan on a map of Asia. On top of abysmal US education standards for reading, science and mathematics, it pretty much sums up the state of their geographic knowledge when America's top diplomat can't do any better (or her speechwriters are too lame to fact-check).

2. For that matter, why is she so quick to brush off Iraq and Afghanistan (in particular) where the Yanks have basically redone the Nixonian strategy of declare victory and leave? Just as they got their behinds handed back on a plate in Vietnam all those years ago, it is left unexplained why their anxiousness to leave a still-lawless place alike Afghanistan represents a triumph of force deployment. What kind of regional security blanket can they provide in Asia if they cannot even pacify non-powers alike these?

Clinton then goes into (she hopes) keeping the extensive American network of bases in the region--as if having those helped in Vietnam or Afghanistan before. With little talk of counterinsurgency strategy, she comes across as distinctly Cold War-ish. Well guess, what: you aren't fighting Soviets in open combat where America's military might would likely win out but against insurgents who play a more effective game of hit-and-run. Ignore the past at your own peril. The rest have learned to just get a cache of AK-47s and wage a waiting game against the modern-day crusaders who eventually flee anyway as protracted deployment becomes vastly unpopular in the homeland.

3. China is now far and away ASEAN's largest trading partner, but Clinton fails to mention this. One of the reasons America is keen on maintaining a regional presence is to take advantage of commercial opportunities there. Thus, why does it go unmentioned that the US is falling behind in the trade league tables as a reason to redouble economic efforts in Asia?

4. She goes a lot into how the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) can become a (US-led) grouping for promoting trade liberalization in the region. The truth, however, is that APEC is pretty much just a talk shop where US efforts to turn it into a wider free trade area have faltered. The currently much-vaunted expansion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is but another proposal in a long line of failed American initiatives alike the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) and the Early Voluntary Sector Liberalization (EVSL) scheme.

5. Worst of all, she does not even bother to take into account the sheer hypocrisy pointed out by many critics aside from myself of wishing that various claimants to islands in the South China Sea settle territorial disputes "in accordance with established principles of international law." The United States is famously not a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Hence, how can she suggest that others iron out their differences according to a body of international law that America does not abide by? That the US has even offered to mediate this territorial dispute is even more far-fetched.

What we have here is too much self-congratulation and too little self-reflection on why the US now plays second fiddle in so any respects to others in the region. To my mind, it is precisely this sort of haughty self-belief in being the indispensable nation that is responsible for its declining Asian presence. America's real Pacific Century was during the 20th century when Henry Luce endlessly proselytized about the need for a strong US presence in the region while leaders as disparate as William Howard Taft and Henry Kissinger understood how to serve American interests well (if not necessarily those of Asians).

Alike with a US veep who thinks Americans hold 85% of US Treasuries, the rest of the world should have trouble taking seriously a secretary of state who does not even display a basic command of geography, history or international law.