Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Fruits of Pivot

I may have doubts about the reality of our pivot to Asia and the wisdom of thinking we can pivot away from the Middle East and Europe to achieve this. But Vietnam's opening to us proves it is working well enough to reassure opponents of China. So kudos to President Obama on this issue.

President Obama will allow weapons sales to Vietnam:

The United States announced an end to its embargo on sales of lethal arms to Vietnam on Monday, an historic step that draws a line under the two countries' old enmity and underscores their shared concerns about Beijing's growing military clout.

The move came during President Barack Obama's first visit to Hanoi, which his welcoming hosts described as the arrival of a warm spring and a new chapter in relations between two countries that were at war four decades ago.

I can decry the motivation for reset with Cuba when we lack a common enemy to justify cozying up to a thug regime, but despite Vietnam's human rights record and conquest of the south, we do need a counter-weight to China. Vietnam holds the western shore of the South China Sea and sits nicely close to China's power projection bastion of Hainan Island.

And Vietnam's pursuit of relations with America is validation of my warning a number of years about convincing allies to join us in resisting China:

China would rather its neighbors not react to China's rising power by aligning with America, and is using that "soft power" charm that they supposedly have oozing from their pores:

China is warning Asian countries that holding military exercises with the United States is bad for their health. South Korea and Vietnam, both of which have recently conducted naval activities with their American counterparts, have been warned that the United States is far away, suffering from financial difficulties and is not a reliable partner while China is right next door.

China wants those countries to believe that. But China is not destined to surpass us in power. Which means that China won't grow so powerful that countries can't arm up to balance China's power.

But for all those neighbors to be willing to stand up to China's power, they have to be confident that we have the power and determination to use it against China and to be confident that other potential partners won't stop absorbing some of China's power by making deals with China to ally with Peking. If these countries don't have confidence that we will help them, they'll cut a deal with China to protect themselves and turn away from us.

So we have to be careful about maintaining our power in the Pacific and maintaining our reputation for supporting allies and fighting until we win. If any nation, like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, or Vietnam think that they can't count on us for effective military support, they'll withdraw from the potential balancing coalition against China. And once one country defects, the power potential arrayed against China will drop enough to perhaps push another country to defect and align with China rather than with us.

Given my caution and given our success in getting allies to side with us close to six years later, under President Obama's pivot policy we clearly have persuaded Asian allies that we are reliable enough to risk angering China by siding with us.

Hey, I call them as I see them. This is a foreign policy success.

Although I hope our president doesn't really believe that Vietnamese may welcome closer relations with America to fight climate change.