The decision to send Hillary Clinton to East Asia on her first extended tour as secretary of state rather than Europe, the Middle East or Latin America confirms that conventional wisdom finally has penetrated the walls of the State Department. Asia is the future--this has been clear since the 1990s--even if the Middle East presents more urgent challenges, and Europe provides a comfortable, genteel zone for new diplomats to cut their teeth.
But Clinton faces a dilemma. While the choice of nations--China, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia--presents her with an opportunity to begin working on a number of long-running issues between the United States and the nations of the Pacific Rim, in each of them (and in most of the rest of the world, too), an old motto may come back to haunt her. She might not hear "it's the economy stupid" verbatim, but the reality of that phrase can't be denied. Many, frankly, would prefer to see Timothy Geithner, the treasury secretary, than America's chief diplomat.
Economics aside, each stop on Clinton's itinerary serves up meaty foreign policy issues:
1) North Korea
In China, Japan and South Korea, reviving the on-again, off-again Six Party Talks with North Korea will be a goal. South Korean reports that the North is planning a major ballistic missile test to welcome the secretary of state must be taken with a grain of salt, but then North Korea is nothing if not unpredictable.