This edited volume explores the political, economic and security legacies former
US President Barack Obama leaves across Asia and the Pacific, following two
terms in office between 2009 and 2017. The aim is to advance our understanding
of Obama’s style, influence and impact by interrogating the nature and contours
of US engagement throughout the region, and the footprint he leaves behind.
Moreover, it is to inform upon the endurance of, and prospects for, the legacies
Obama leaves in a region increasingly reimaged in Washington as the
Indo-Pacific. Contributors to the volume examine these questions in early 2019,
at around the halfway point of the 2017–2021 Presidency of Donald Trump, as his
administration opens a new and potentially divergent chapter of American
internationalism. The volume uniquely explores the contours and dimensions of US
relations and interactions with key Indo-Pacific states including China, India,
Japan, North Korea and Australia; multilateral institutions and organisations
such the East Asia Summit and ASEAN; and salient issue areas such as regional
security, politics and diplomacy, and the economy. It does so with contributions
from high-profile scholars and policy practitioners, including Michael
Mastanduno, Bruce Cumings, Maryanne Kelton, Robert Sutter and Sumit Ganguly. The
volume will be of interest to students and scholars of the international
relations of Asia and the Pacific, broadly defined; US foreign policy and global
engagement; the record and legacies of former President Barack Obama; and the
foreign policies of the administration of President Donald Trump.
Introduction: Strengthening the alliance
Obama’s politics of liberal internationalism promoted the rule of law, free trade and democratic values throughout the Asia Pacific. At the same time, his pragmatic realism was designed to secure the UnitedStates’ position in the region. This approach extended to deepening ties with regional allies and fostering the growth and corporatisation of US cyber capability. On both counts, he found a willing ally in Australia. Obama’s specific legacy, then, was to consolidate US–Australia political and economic relations
knowledges and truths about the world which endure, sometimes for centuries, to be inherited by new presidents and their advisors because they defy party politics and the whims and cycles of popular opinion. These are the legacies about which this chapter is concerned.
The argument is not that Obama, Trump or any other occupant of the White House is somehow irrelevant – that there exist timeless and all-powerful understandings about the UnitedStates and the Indo-Pacific which render any given president and their administration a helpless conduit of deterministic
The UnitedStates under Donald Trump has been charting a radically new course in Asia, a region that has long relied on America for stability and maintaining the balance of power. In the first half of his presidential term of 2017–21, the forty-fifth president reversed or sought to reverse many of the long-standing policies and initiatives pursued by Barack Obama and his predecessors, with potential long-term implications. A multilateral and multifaceted engagement strategy in the region is being replaced by a transactional approach to security
The contrast between the initial engagements of the first Obama administration in particular and those evident across the two years of the Trump administration both with ASEAN and the EAS provides strong support for the above conclusion. When Barack Obama became president in January 2009, the UnitedStates was not a member of the EAS, the most important ASEAN-led regional forum. However, his incoming administration was strongly committed to US membership. In his first year in office Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed the ASEAN Treaty of
different; it takes two, and the right international conditions, to make a successful bilateral relationship.
This chapter will argue that circumstances conspired to undermine Obama’s China policy, and that the deterioration of US–China relations during his administration was largely beyond his control. Obama’s Pivot to Asia suffered from an inability to extract the UnitedStates from the wars in the Middle East he inherited from Bush, and the rise of Chinese nationalism stymied his hopes of resetting US–China relations. Obama’s Pivot to Asia did, however, leave both
Donald Trump’s 2016 election threatened a revolution in US Asia policy. Since the early years of the Cold War, the UnitedStates has been a constant presence in the region’s security setting. 1 American military power has been the pre-eminent force in the region, organised through a series of bilateral alliances and quasi-alliance guarantees. This presence was part of the larger US Cold War grand strategy in which Washington sought to ensure a favourable strategic balance in Western Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. 2 Although the Obama
Washington’s painful search for a credible China policy
In 2018, one-time members of the Obama administration – Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell, and former Deputy National Security Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, Ely Ratner – noted that, since the end of the Second World War ‘[t]he UnitedStates has always had an outsized sense of its ability to determine China’s course. Again and again, its ambitions have come up short.’ Today, they argued, ‘the starting point for a better approach is a new degree of humility about the UnitedStates’ ability to
Introduction This strategy is guided by principled realism. It is realist because it acknowledges
the central role of power in international politics, affirms that sovereign states are the best
hope for a peaceful world, and clearly defines our national interests… We are also
realistic and understand that the American way of life cannot be imposed upon others, nor is it
the inevitable culmination of progress . The White House, ‘National Security Strategy of the UnitedStates of America’
( The White House, 2017 ) The White House published the
States and India were not always sufficient to prevent domestic obstacles in both the UnitedStates and India from posing political challenges to bilateral ties. However, when examining America’s relations with India during the Obama era and into the Trump regime, it is nearly impossible to decouple the broader geostrategic situation in which both states have concerns over how Beijing will wield its increasing power.
While China’s rise served as a backdrop to expanding ties between Washington and New Delhi, other important (and related) events took place during Obama