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The Obama Anti-Doctrine

DENVER – US President Barack Obama was right to forego the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Bali, Indonesia, and focus instead on dealing with the political pathologies of the US Congress. But his decision, while correct, had the effect of reviving an increasingly common refrain in the East Asian region: What happened to the “pivot”?

Conceived as a long-overdue shift in resources and attention from wars and other urgent challenges in the Middle East toward the vast expanse of opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, America’s much-vaunted strategic pivot immediately ran into a gauntlet of unintended consequences (the handmaidens of inconsistent and poorly articulated policy).

For starters, there was the perception that the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan amounted to a downgrading of US interests in the Middle East. Coming as it did on the eve of the cataclysmic Arab Spring, the Obama administration has struggled with this unintended consequence of the pivot ever since. Whoever in the administration devised the phrase “leading from behind” only compounded the problem.

Second, many Europeans understood the pivot to Asia as implying a reduction in America’s commitment to the Atlantic alliance. Though several European countries have done relatively well in terms of maintaining consultations and commitments with the US, Europe’s leaders have watched with growing concern as the postwar security structure has faltered.