Small wonder President Barack Obama’s hair is rapidly greying. Most second term presidents age rapidly from the constant pressure, tension, and need to make tough, painful decisions.
This past week, Obama finally managed, after two cancellations, to get to Asia – the epicenter of his much-ballyhooed but now rather watered down “Pivot to Asia.”
Any more pivoting between the Mideast, Ukraine and Asia, and the president’s head is going to seriously spin.
Obama faces a Mission Impossible in Asia. He has got to somehow deal with China’s growing geopolitical assertiveness and new-found sense that it is master of all Asia. He must confront China’s increasingly muscular efforts to drive US imperial influence off Asia’s mainland and island chains, and push it far back into the Pacific – but without starting a war with China, which holds the upper hand on the Asian coast.
At the same time, the president must brace up China’s pro-US neighbors who are intimidated by Beijing’s heavy-handed policies that its claim to be the paramount power in all of South and North Asia – he who must be obeyed.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia are particularly nervous, but so is huge Indonesia, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and mighty India, an insecure giant with feet of clay.
Japan is in a particularly nasty fix. Without nuclear weapons or dense anti-missile system, Japan is frighteningly vulnerable to nuclear blackmail by eccentric North Korea and certainly China. This writer has long believed that Japan, which has advanced nuclear capabilities, will soon decide to build a nuclear arsenal. Its first nuclear weapons could be produced in thirty days.
Japan has been shielded by America’s nuclear umbrella and Pacific forces for sixty years. In exchange, for protection and access to the huge US market, Japan agreed to let Washington direct is foreign and trade policy, and to maintain only token military forces.
But now, China has outflanked Japan’s American defense shield by claiming the uninhabited, vulnerable Senkaku Islands that are far from Japan’s nearest air bases. Up to now, Washington has been ambiguous about whether its defense treaty with Japan would cover the Senkaku.
This week in Tokyo, President Obama clearly affirmed the islets do lie under the treaty, putting China on notice that any further provocations could risk a clash with the US 7th Fleet and Pacific Command.
Defending the Senkaku was a risky but correct decision by President Obama. His forthright act might even calm China’s expansionist ardor. However, China is also pressing claims to islets or shoals off the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam, causing them great consternation. Adding to the tensions, North Korea and Japan are squabbling over some small islets lying between them. North Korea’s refusal to accept South Korea’s self-declared western maritime border has led to past naval clashes.
China is pressing these petty claims for a very good reason. In classic Imperial Chinese fashion, Beijing is trying to browbeat and arm-twist its Asian neighbors into voluntarily becoming vassal status of the Chinese emperor. During its long history, China usually preferred intimidation to conquest. All neighbors should bow to the wisdom and power of China.
The United States has employed similar neo-feudalism to control Western Europe, Japan, South Korea, and Latin America since World War II.
China’s immediate goal is to humiliate old enemy Japan and make Tokyo lose big face. China’s seizure of a group of Japanese freighters under questionable claims dating to the 1930’s has Beijing opening a new front in its campaign to show Japan as a cringing paper tiger. Japan’s vast financial and industrial investments in China are now at risk or hostages unless Tokyo kow-tows to Beijing.
Call it China’s ongoing revenge for World War II.
China’s growing intimidation will drive Japan ever-deeper into America’s arms. It may also spark a military clash with Japan that could involve the US Seventh Fleet. Not a good time for such clashes when the US and its NATO appendage are trying to square off in Ukraine against China’s ally, Russia.
Now that Israel’s expansionist right has squelched any hope of a US-crafted two state solution for the wretched Palestinians and the war in Syria rages, it seems President Barack Obama will keep waking up with more and more grey hairs every morning.