Foreign Policy

The Bipartisan Pivot to Asia

President Obama’s “strategic pivot” to Asia has received a lot of attention lately. Philip Zelikow, former advisor to Condoleezza Rice, defended the move, while Arnaud de Borchgave remarked that “U.S. strategic moves from Europe to the western Pacific and South China Sea are likely to be more pirouette than pivot — spinning on one foot, with the raised foot touching the knee of the supporting leg.” This is interesting because as far as I can tell the president has never actually used the term “pivot” to describe his Asia policy. The January 2012 “guidance” from the Department of Defense states:

U.S. economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities. Accordingly, while the U.S. military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region. [emphasis in original]

As best as I can tell, the term has only been used by senior staffers:

Of course, this takes place at a time when we’re making a larger pivot in our foreign policy…And a lot of the shift in focus and priority that we are able to do because of those efforts has gone to the Asia-Pacific region. And you’ve heard us talk about this, but we see this as, again, a region that is really going to shape the future of the 21st century. [emphasis added]

Admittedly this is of no real significance. More important is to remember that shifting to Asia is not a novel idea born in the Obama White House. It is, in fact, a bipartisan notion. As George Condon wrote in National Journal last year:

Obama, of course, is far from the first president to try to shift his gaze from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Ronald Reagan, in 1983, boasted “America is a Pacific nation” – much to the consternation of many NATO allies across the Atlantic. Ten years later, Bill Clinton spoke of a “Pacific century” and marveled at East Asian countries he said had “gone from being dominoes to dynamos.”  And in 2002, George W. Bush also said the “Pacific century” had begun and pledged “to be a part of Asia’s future.”

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