Why is U.S. Influence Weakening in Asia? Should We Care?

Daniel Henninger, Deputy Editorial Page Director for the Wall Street Journal, appeared on Fox News this morning to discuss his recent editorial “Time for a Big-League President.”1  In it, he wrote about the world’s political climate and declared that “Only one thing really matters in an unsettled world: the quality of U.S. leadership.”

In today’s television interview, he commented on China’s increased assertiveness against Japan and other countries in the Far East.  Meanwhile, the U.S. seems to have disappeared from Asia.  In response to an unprecedented need, the State Department has tried to reassure our allies that we have not, in fact, abandoned them.

The question is: “Why has the Administration pulled back from opportunities to “keep the peace” in Asia?

Isolationism  and  Presidential  Resources

Mr. Henninger believes it stems from the fact that “polls say Americans are in an isolationist mood.”  He continued with “Mr. Obama won’t spend political capital outside the country—Ukraine, Syria, Asia. He wants to spend what capital he has left consolidating internal federal authority.”1

These observations are accurate.  A majority of the American public, or at least the Baby Boomers and perhaps some of Generation X, have had an extended, subconscious guilt over the Viet Nam years.  For the last four decades, there has been a persistent reluctance to become involved in major disputes outside our borders, reminiscent of our pre-1917 era before we were pulled into World War I.2

Advancing  Socialism  and  Increasing  Federal  Debt

There are two other reasons for our lack of effort in preventing Asia from becoming another hot spot in the world.  The first is the President Obama’s obvious preference for socialism.  Despite laughter from the left and disbelief from the uninformed center of the political spectrum, there is abundant evidence.

Obamacare is just a recent example.  The President’s signature piece of legislation may or may not work.  It seems unimportant to his ultimate goal.  If it succeeds, then it becomes part of a more orderly move toward socialized medicine.  If it fails, then by recognizing the reality that we rarely retrace our steps away from entitlements, it will fast-forward us to socialized medicine.  And as Dr. Benjamin Carson has reminded us, Lenin said that “socialized medicine is the keystone to a socialized state.”

Another tactic on the part of the President is the “Common Core” (or “Obamacore”) standards for education.  It’s a bold move to take control of education from the states and to concentrate it more in the federal government.  It also strives to make students “worker-ready” at the expense of being “informed voter-ready.”

Lastly, but certainly not least, is our federal debt.  It’s not only at a very unhealthy level, but is made even worse by the amount of Treasury securities held by other countries.  At the end of October, 2013, China owned $1.3045 trillion, which was 7.6% of our total debt and up from 7.2% twelve months earlier.3  If this were the stock market, China would be required to make a bid to own the U.S.   As it is, they hold a disturbingly high percentage of our Treasury securities; thus, adding credibility to the idea that the Administration doesn’t want to ruffle their feathers.


The abdication of our influence in Asia is just one of several injuries to our ability in being a force for good in the world.  The current Administration is more concerned with the long-term dependency of the citizenry.  We voters must remember that the world is way too small for us to think that if we just keep to ourselves, become preoccupied with “American” problems only, then everything will be fine.

I cannot improve on Mr. Henninger’s concluding statement: “Barack Obama has proven that rookie leaders won’t work in the world we’ve got now. If the U.S. wants to remain a big-league nation, it’s going to have to elect a big-league president.”

1 – 1/1/2014 at www.online.wsj.com

2 – Mr. Henninger also wrote in that article: “It is no surprise that in conversations of late one hears invocations of the 1930s. Or that a popular book to give this season has been Margaret MacMillan’s ‘The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914.’ Whether the world in 2014 will tip from containment to chaos or war is not the subject here.”  Nor is it for this posting, either, but it’s certainly worth thinking about as we head toward the mid-term elections ten months away.

3 – While China’s additional investments in Treasury securities slowed from April to October of 2013, their 12-month net purchases showed an increase of $134 billion while all other foreign owned debt decreased slightly.   Data is from www.treasury.gov


9 thoughts on “Why is U.S. Influence Weakening in Asia? Should We Care?

  1. “Meanwhile, the U.S. seems to have disappeared from Asia.”

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you simply don’t research these things before you write and that is why you made this rather uninformed statement. The US has in fact stepped up its presence in Asia under Obama after a decade wasted in the Middle East. In 2012 Obama announced his “Pivot to East Asia” policy which includes a Defense agreement with Vietnam, one pending with Laos (under conditions), and a new marine base established in northern Australia. “President Obama’s Asia strategy represents a significant shift in American foreign policy from a Middle Eastern/European focus to an East/South Asian one.” (East Asian foreign policy of the Barack Obama administration, Wiki)

    Here are three articles just on the new base so you can brush up on actual current events.




    Hope this helps.

    • Yes, the presence of additional American troops in northern Australia makes my “disappeared” phrase one which could have been written better.

      The concern remains in that “Southeast Asian governments remain ambivalent to this supposed major shift in the U.S. strategic focus” (Tim Huxley, Exec. Dir., Int’l Inst. for Strategic Studies, Asia).

      Also, “Unless the United States reaffirms its presence in the Pacific, the region faces strategic imbalances and the prospect of dangerous rivalries.” (Michael Fullilove, Exec. Dir. of the Lowry Institute in Sydney, Australia)

      Japan has to be cautious about our commitment seeing how we have left Israel virtually hung out to dry with the Iran deal and the poor handling of Syria. The Administration’s unwillingness to face what caused the Benghazi murders encourages others to test us further… and there is growing Muslim presence in Asia.

      With all of these darkening clouds, I join you in hoping that the world’s hot spots start to cool in this new year, somehow.

      • I stand with you on that sentiment.

        It’s not just Australia, though, of course. Naval exercises are now conducted with Vietnam (imagine that just a few years ago!), ties with Laos and Burma are strengthening, Indonesia (once the greatest regional threat in the South Pacific) is now a paper tiger and US military liaisons are there working closely with them. Malaysia is still recalcitrant (I’m Australian and there’s little love lost between our two countries), but they’re perfectly manageable, and they loathe the Chinese anyway. The radical Muslim groups in the region make plenty of noise but they are the equivalent in size and importance of your hate-filled Westboro Church in the States. Evangelical Christians are actually the greatest danger, socially speaking, and no one can be pleased with the regressive nature of the Catholic Church in Philippines.

        Overall, under Obama the US has increased its presence and influence in Asia (military, trade, cultural, defense agreements) greater than any time since the Vietnam War. With this in mind you perhaps should redress this post to better reflect the actual reality, rather than parrot the misinformed opinions expressed by Fox News.

      • Thanks for filling in in the blanks for our readers. I’ll leave your additions on this site for others to decide for themselves.
        Ultimately, time will tell if the “Asia pivot” works. I have never visited Australia, but what little I know about it says that you have a good thing going there and I wouldn’t want it messed up by forces outside your home country.
        To be honest, I cannot see Obama challenging China when push comes to shove. Fortunately for this Administration, Chinese leaders are having to address an economy that is not advancing as it had been and there are some problems keeping everyone in line politically. But that’s only buying time. Back to the U.S., we’ve sent so much manufacturing to China and they own over $1 trillion of our debt, there’s no way Obama will put up a strong challenge to them, even if he genuinely believed in democracy. (To be consistent, I avoid “Made in China” when possible— but that is quite difficult.)
        It’s inappropriate that we’re dealing with Viet Nam in that way, discussion for another day… If the Catholic Church is actually “regressive” in the Philippines, then that needs to be fixed because that means it’s not being faithful to Catholic teaching. — Tony

      • Thanks, Tony, glad I could help.

        Australia is indeed a fine country: egalitarian, healthy, generally very happy, politically centrist (both parties), peaceful. Of course, we have universal healthcare, great public education, rational banking practices, and a minimum wage that’s over double of the US’s which all help forge a secure society.

        Take care.

      • And best wishes to you, John, as you endure a rather hot summer. Incidentally, my girlfriend and I had dinner at the local “Outback” steak restaurant last night! — Tony

      • Correction (seems to be a few of those lately). It was a “Longhorn” restaurant, but you can be sure that when I do go to an “Outback” it will now have special meaning for me.

      • 🙂 Understood. Outback is actually an American franchise. I’m also in Brazil at the moment, but equally suffering under a terribly hot summer. The opposite it seems of what you’re experiencing in the north.

      • BTW, how did the US leave Israel out to dry regarding Iran? The sanctions imposed under Obama have been devastating to Tehran. With Obama’s first round in late 2009 petrol prices alone in Tehran skyrocketed 400%. Obama effectively cut the countries financial sector off from the world and has crippled their industrial sector. Their oil exports have been decimated and their monetary policy has been thrown into complete and utter disarray. No US president has ever imposed such a strict regime of sanctions as Obama has.

        The agreement brokered was only brought about because of these sanctions, and despite whining from the Israeli far right wing has put a stranglehold on Iran’s capacities to ever even start a weapons program, let alone actually ever develop one. This is a tremendous success… without a drop of blood being spilled.

        I might remind you, Iran didn’t even have a nuclear processing facility in 2000 (when Bush came to power), but by the time Bush left office had a fully functioning Nuclear enrichment industry. If anyone can be said to have hung Israel out to dry regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions its Mr. Bush.

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