Friday, June 4, 2010

Time to end the "Treat Them Mean and Make Them Like It" Doctrine

President Obama has cancelled a trip to Australia, Indonesia, and Guam. Again. Granted, I am not an expert on strategic issues in the Pacific, but this strikes me as a really bad move. Twice now the White House has cancelled this visit to an important ally and a country with whom we've been trying to improve relations because of domestic issues.

I'm not sure why the President has adopted a "treat them mean and make them like it" approach with many of our allies - especially our closest allies with whom we're trying to get support from for a number of missions around the world (mainly Afghanistan). While Obama is still highly popular in Australia, snubbing an ally twice with whom we have a (limited) mutual defense agreement will not help in maintaining Australian support in Afghanistan. Like most U.S. relationships, bilateral relations more important to the other partner and not to the U.S. Australia seems very aware of this fact and concerned that they do much more for us than we do for them - much like what has been happing with the UK as of late.

The consequences of cancelling this trip will probably not include any significant changes to U.S.-Australian relations directly. But it could have an effect on Australian politics - PM Kevin Rudd is getting hammered in the polls because of his own domestic issues and stands to lose his job some time in the fall. I have no idea if it means that Labor gets a new leader or the Liberals actually ascend, but KRudd was hoping for a bump in his numbers by the visit. Well, that's not going to happen now. I'm not saying that it's in the President's interests to ensure continuity of power in other nations, but with yet another Japanese government transition, I don't think a revolving door of governments with our closest allies in the region is in our interests. Who knows what effects that a new Aussie government would have on the Trilateral Security Dialogue when we're still trying to figure out how things are going to work out with Japan. With all the current shenanigans on Korean Peninsula and tensions over Okinawa, etc., helping shore up the current Australian government seems to me to be in the U.S.'s best interests.

I guess this wouldn't rankle me as much if there were a better reason for the cancellation. I thought the first trip was rightfully cancelled as getting the health care bill through required Obama's personal touch. But the oil spill? Unless he intends to go to Louisiana and start scrubbing crude off of birds, I don't see how he couldn't oversee this operation from Air Force One or Canberra like he does from the White House. Especially from a guy who claimed he could walk and chew bubble gum at the same time - the President needs to be better balance his domestic and foreign policies. I think it's time we start treating our allies like we actually like them.

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