This was not simply a geographic shift. With a presidential election approaching in 2012, the president is emphasizing jobs, not war. When it comes to economic opportunity, Asia is where the action is.
"No region will do more to shape our long-term economic future than the Asia Pacific region," the president announced at his press conference on Monday. APEC links the United States with 20 other countries, including Japan, Russia, South Korea, Mexico, and Canada, and accounts for nearly half of the world's trade.
But the president did not have an easy time in Hawai'i steering U.S. foreign policy in a different direction. The Middle East overshadowed the APEC discussions, with the first question for the president at his press conference focusing on Iran and U.S. sanctions.
In fact, aside from the hot-button issue of economic competition with China, none of the journalists seemed very much interested in Asian matters. The chief focus of news coverage of the event was the president's decision to break with the APEC tradition of forcing heads of state to wear native garb for a photo op.
The Obama administration has long wanted to reorient, literally, U.S. foreign policy. During their years of political exile under the George W. Bush administration, key foreign policy figures like Kurt Campbell complained of how Washington was ignoring Pacific affairs at its peril.
Although Campbell is now in charge of Asian affairs at the State Department and his current boss Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has worked hard to achieve this reorientation by visiting the region and attending regional confabs, the Obama administration has largely continued the Bush-era focus on fighting in Afghanistan and conducting counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan and around the Horn of Africa.
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