By Ernest Bower
U.S. allies and partners in Southeast Asia will be pleased to see that President Obama is explaining the basis for U.S. engagement in the world, even though this was not an Asia speech.
Obama’s approach describes a narrowing of U.S. intervention and applies a very Obama-like rationale to test when and where the United States should be involved militarily. Asian countries will not be upset about this, in fact a more cautious trigger finger will be welcomed by most Asian allies and partners who do not wish to be collateral damage if the United States and China butt heads.
Allies wanted to hear that the United States will honor alliances and the president delivered on that promise.
But ASEAN leaders will hope that this is part one in a three part series of speeches and seek that President Obama talk about the importance of economic engagement in Asia and then the fundamental role of people to people ties. These twin thrusts are vital to balance Obama’s outline for military engagement and his $5 billion investment in counter-terrorism.
Southeast Asia wants to see U.S. leaders building a political foundation that will support a sustained and balanced U.S. investment in Asia led by economic and people to people ties and backed up by a strong security presence guaranteeing regional stability.
If this is Obama’s last speech before November explaining to Americans why we should be engaged in the world generally and Asia particularly, Asian friends will continue to perceive hints of weakness and inconsistency when they look to Washington for security, growth, and ballast to convince China to make the rules with its neighbors and then play by those rules as its power increases.
Ernest Bower is Chair of the Southeast Asia Advisory Board at CSIS.