Obama’s Asia Pivot

by lizard

When Presidents travel, it almost always has symbolic significance. Obama’s post-election travel, even more so.

The first trip Obama embarked on after trouncing Mitt was to Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar—the latter a first for any US President.

“We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” said Obama.

Striking a cooler tone, the UN dispatch piece (from the link) put it like this:

Obama’s speech felt almost like a lecture, directed especially at Burma’s leadership. He enumerated Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, and emphasized that the USA was willing to serve as a role-model for Myanmar’s nascent democracy. His tone was professorial, almost chiding.

The deeper significance of Obama’s post-election travel is an amorphous strategic shift known as the Asia Pivot.

To risk oversimplifying geopolitics, this shift is necessitated by a big chunk of earth called China, a country that just yesterday landed its very first jet on its new aircraft carrier.

But before that mostly symbolic achievement causes you too much concern, the concluding paragraph from that link is worth considering:

The United States, Britain and Japan launched the first aircraft carriers nearly a century ago. The U.S. Navy, with 11, is the only fleet that currently operates more than one.

From the Bloomberg perspective  Obama’s Asia Pivot Depends on What He Can Deliver at Home, which I think is misleading, because the article clearly confuses “U.S. goals” with something that benefits actual U.S. people. Exhibit A:

President Obama’s trip will give him a chance to advance broad U.S. goals that predate China’s recent rise. Thailand, his first stop, has been a diplomatic partner with the U.S. for almost two centuries; its recent decision to join talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Obama administration’s top trade priority, will bolster established economic ties.

In Myanmar, Obama’s next stop, headlines will rightly focus on U.S. efforts to lock in progress for democracy and human rights and increase the prospects for investment. Myanmar’s opening also represents a remarkable opportunity to advance another longstanding U.S. interest: fighting hunger, as the U.S. did in the Green Revolution sown partly by the innovations of Americans such as Norman Borlaug. Myanmar was the world’s biggest exporter of rice from 1960 to 1963; today it is ninth. With improved yields, production could more than double. Emphasizing such opportunities is a good way to remind China’s more paranoid strategists that encircling China is not the only reason for U.S. presidents to hop on a plane to Asia.

This Asia Pivot has nothing to do with promoting democracy or human rights, and it doesn’t depend on what Obama can deliver at home.

This Asia Pivot has everything to do with trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which, if you haven’t heard of, please educate yourself. That Salon article is a good start.

Once you understand “US goals” is just code for corporate plundering, you will understand why a fire at a Bangladesh textile factory, killing over a hundred workers, doesn’t merit much corporate media attention.

Muhammad Shahbul Alam, 26, described flames filling two of the three stairwells of the nine-floor building – where clothes for international brands including high-street names appear to have been made — shortly after the fire alarm had been raised.

Rooms full of female workers were cut off as piles of yarn and fabric filling corridors ignited. Reports also suggested fire exits at the site had locks on, which had to be broken in order for staff to escape.

“It was 6.45pm when the fire alarm was raised. I rushed out. I heard that [grills blocking the way to] the second and third floors were locked. When I came down, I saw fire at both the stairways that the ladies used. I still have not found any trace of my sister-in-law,” Alam told the Guardian.

According to Zakir Hossain, another worker, management told their employees not to evacuate immediately.

“The office staff asked us to stay where we were, telling us not to panic. We did not listen to them and started moving out,” Hossain recalled. “A lot of people were stuck there. Some people got out climbing down the bamboo [scaffolding] tied against the building.”

Though it’s no comparison to what workers abroad endure, I urge everyone to read Mac McClelland’s Mother Jones piece about being a Warehouse Wage Slave.

The struggle for humane labor conditions is monumental.  But pivoting to that issue isn’t a part of the agenda.


  1. 1 Cautious Optimism for a Deal with Iran | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] his election last year, Obama has advocated for a foreign policy pivot to Asia. That can’t happen if Iran continues to be the last feverish target for the old New American […]




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