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World Politics Review: To Save the Pivot, Obama Must Disown It

Author: Nikolas Gvosdev
May 2, 2014

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"We've already seen that the U.S. cannot pursue the pivot—undertaking the painstaking steps needed to resolve disputes, build up cooperation and lay the foundations of new regional organizations—while key personnel in the national security establishment remain distracted by crises and events in other parts of the world. By the time a crisis in Asia puts it at the top of the agenda, it will already be too late to play catch-up; the goal has to be to have understandings and mechanisms already in place."

President Barack Obama's delayed visit to East Asia—finally carried out this month after domestic politics forced him to skip key summits last fall—was supposed to highlight America's seriousness about rebalancing its foreign policy attention to the Asia-Pacific region. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, spoiled the narrative, as the ongoing crisis in Ukraine continues to suck up most of the oxygen of the U.S. foreign policy process. Unlike earlier Obama peregrinations overseas, this trip did not generate blockbuster headlines or do much to burnish U.S. global leadership.

Some pundits are already writing off the entire "pivot" to Asia as a failed strategy that the administration cannot execute. With two and half years left in office, the Obama administration still has time to lay the strategy's foundations, but it will require some hard decisions—and strict internal discipline—to pull off.

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