The Realist Prism: Obama’s Salesman Approach to Asia

The Realist Prism: Obama’s Salesman Approach to Asia

It is unfortunate that President Barack Obama's visit to Asia as well as the G-20 summit in Seoul took place in the aftermath of what he himself termed a "shellacking" in the midterm elections -- an electoral rebuke delivered in part because Americans believe that the Democrats have not delivered on their promises of economic security. The trip could have been used to project the message that the United States is prepared to take the lead in the global community of nations. As Secretary of State Clinton put it back in September, "[T]he United States can, must and will lead in this new century. Indeed, the complexities and connections of today's world have yielded a new American moment, a moment when our global leadership is essential, even if we must often lead in new ways . . . "

Instead, whether deliberately or by accident, the key takeaway from the trip has shifted to how foreign relations can create domestic U.S. jobs. Alan Beattie, writing in the Financial Times, rhetorically asks, "Barack Obama: master and commander of the world economy, or merely peripatetic salesman-in-chief?" before concluding, "So far, it looks more like the latter." Meanwhile, Kanwal Sibal, evaluating Obama's Asian odyssey, noted, "The job-creation obsession evident during the visit underlined how short-term political pressures can distort the United States' handling of its priorities, apart from diminishing the stature of the U.S. president by projecting him as a salesman."

To compound the problem, Obama will leave Seoul without a revised and finalized free trade pact with South Korea. American and Korean negotiators closed some of the gaps but were not able to resolve all outstanding issues, so Obama and South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak, putting the best face on the situation, pledged that both sides "will continue to work together so that we can have a mutually acceptable agreement at the earliest possible date."

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.