President Obama's 10-day trip to Asia starting Friday is as important to U.S. power in the world as Tuesday's elections were to power in Washington. Tuesday set a new power balance that favors Republicans over Democrats. Obama's journey to India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan could lay the ground for a new balance of power between China and the U.S. Success or failure will turn ultimately on circumstances in Asia and the quality of America's Asia strategy.
The best thing the U.S. has going for it in Asia is the widespread and growing fear of a dynamic and muscle-flexing China. Almost all Asian nations want America as the balancer and protector against an increasingly demanding Beijing. But they don't want Obama to be too gross about it and inflame China.
The worst thing working against America is that Asians are deeply worried about a U.S. economy in decline and a Chinese economy on the rise. Money to buy and invest is power, and China, with its huge surpluses, has more of it to throw around than anyone else. Obama must convince his Asian hosts that he will reduce America's out-of-control deficits and produce an economic stimulus program that works. The White House can say as much as it wants about renewing American leadership in Asia, but that talk will ring hollow unless it's backed up by a believable policy to restore the U.S. economy.