Thursday, May 15, 2014

About Obama... show me the Doctrine! And 2 eye-opening letters to ST.

Three items in today's ST (May 15) caught my attention:

Professor Tommy Koh's think-piece, "In defence of Obama's foreign policy"...

Prof Koh, an RI classmate of my late brother Tee Chuan and someone whom I had interviewed before, has always struck me as a pragmatic Realist (as in the School of Realism in international relations) beneath his diplomatic and jovial countenance.

I was therefore surprised that he felt compelled to write the above commentary. Others have done so, that is, to act either as critics or as apologists for Mr Obama's attentiveness to Asia, to suit their agendas. I would have benefited more from Prof Koh's wisdom if he had penned a thoughtful albeit speculative think-piece about "After Obama: Whither the next chief's US policy in Asia?"

That question is a major concern of many thoughtful people in the Asia-Pacific who will be following the next US Presidential election. As it is, by setting himself the above framework, Prof Koh has not said anything elucidating.

For instance, Prof Koh lauds Mr Obama for having signed ASEAN's 1976 Treaty of Amity And Cooperation (TAC). The treaty's supposed singular achievement was its High Council tasked to oversee intra-mural dispute settlement. No ASEAN member has made use of this council to date. So much for the TAC.

I don't think I even need to comment on the sentimentality over Mr Obama's having spent his childhood in Indonesia. People I know gag or squirm whenever this is glowingly brought up.

I am not quite sure what Prof Koh meant by "Mr Obama has elevated Asia to the pole position in US foreign policy". Maybe Prof Koh was thinking of the coming Formula One Race here in September. But F1 drivers do not hold onto their pole position for all time. Which comes to my basic point: What guarantee that the next prez will do likewise? Is Mr Obama able to "codify" this into an Obama Doctrine? After all, the Nixon Doctrine still holds today!

Siimilarly, try selling this next point to the Atlanticists:

I'll allow myself one flippant moment here. If the US is an Asian power (I suppose that's what intra-regional power means), then it might want to invite certain countries that are perpetually insecure to join the USA as its newest states! How about it... Singapore as the 51st state of the US?

Finally, balance of power is a difficult concept. It usually requires an adjective, like "preponderance of power" (not that this state of affairs is easily achieved). When used in the context of many rival powers, a balance of power is highly unstable:

I am afraid I tend to agree with Prof Hugh White above. Prof White did not add a third scenario: a US that has indeed struck an implicit pact with China. The US, then, remains an engaged economic power in Asia while China makes no attempt to swallow up any Asian country (that's so last century, anyway, Crimea apart). But it also means a reduced US military presence, even at the risk of Japan going nuclear.

I'll post here the other two items without comment. They are letters to ST's Forum (May 15):

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