Opinion

The Great Debate

A three-part plan for Obama’s pivot to Asia

President Obama embarked this week on an eight-day trip to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. He has tried to reassure the leaders of those countries that his administration is committed to carrying out its signature foreign policy initiative: the rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific.

Obama entered office with the belief that the U.S. had over-invested in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. In an October 2011 essay-cum-policy statement, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained that with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the U.S. should “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific. In January 2012, the Department of Defense formalized her recommendation, announcing that the U.S. would “of necessity rebalance” towards the region.

Since then, however, crises abroad and changes in domestic leadership have tested the effort. With the emergence of a civil war in Syria, the administration faced pressure to rebalance back to the Middle East, or at least give equal priority to the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific.

More recently, with Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, the U.S. has focused on partnering with its European allies to prevent additional Russian advances. And the departure of several officials who crafted the rebalance — including Clinton and her influential point person for Asian affairs, Kurt Campbell — have made America’s regional allies question its future.

But it is important to allay those concerns and add renewed focus to the rebalance. The initiative is not, as some critics charge, a ruse for wishing away the troubles of the Middle East. Instead, it reflects the reality that the world’s center of gravity is shifting towards the Asia-Pacific.

The uncanonized saints

The Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn, nearing the end of a long restoration, has a new mural over its main doors. Surrounding the Holy Spirit, in the form of an incandescent dove, is a gathering of women and men flanked by angels. Most have soft yellow halos, but three figures, including the pair closest to the dove, do not.

The three are local icons. Activist and writer Dorothy Day wears a hat with the inscription “NO WAR” and holds a stack of Catholic Worker newspapers, the publication she founded. Beside her is Bernard Quinn, a priest who served Brooklyn’s African American community at a church just blocks away, and whose Long Island orphanage was twice burned down by racists. Pierre Toussaint, who looks intently toward the dove, was a slave-turned-philanthropist who, on gaining his freedom in 1807, adopted his surname from the leader of the Haitian revolution.

Sunday, as Popes John XXIII and John Paul II receive their halos through the Vatican’s canonization process, it may be especially hard to remember that not all saints have official halos. Nor does one have to be a world-famous pope to be a saint.

Bundy: Counterfeit hero

The shelf life of heroes isn’t what it used to be.

Once upon a time, a hero would burst upon the scene — a Charles A. Lindbergh, a Babe Ruth, a Red Grange, an Audie Murphy, a Neil Armstrong — and he would not only receive reverent acclaim, that acclaim would last for decades. Sometimes forever.

Not anymore. Now we live in a world of false heroes — people who have done nothing to deserve their heroism save for capturing media attention or satisfying a group of the like-minded. So they come — and inevitably, they go.

Just last week, a Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy was heralded as a modern American patriot for facing down the Bureau of Land Management, when the bureau came to seize his herd after he had refused to pay government fees for grazing on public land. Many Tea Party types raced to his side to cheer him and provide a protective phalanx. Several Republican officeholders extolled his resistance — as if he were a Minuteman.

from Breakingviews:

Rob Cox: Coke takes fizz out of shareholder spring

By Rob Cox
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

America’s shareholder spring hit a cold patch. Just when it seemed investors were finally breaking through entrenched boards’ barricades, the owners of Coca-Cola turned to jelly, led shockingly by Warren Buffett. The failure to challenge a transfer of vast shareholder treasure to the top 5 percent of Coke’s soda jerks shows the agency problem is still alive and well in American capitalism.

Not that investors will retreat from behaving more like owners. Greater shareholder democracy is still on the march. Last month, for instance, activists made nearly 100 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, exceeding the February number by a third, according to Activist Insight.

Why the Obamacare fight never ends

“I know every American isn’t going to agree with this law,” President Barack Obama said about the Affordable Care Act at his April 17 news briefing, “but I think we can agree that it’s well past time to move on.”

The Republican response? Same as General Anthony McAuliffe’s reply when the German army demanded that U.S. forces surrender at the Battle of the Bulge during World War Two: “Nuts!”

To be precise, after Obama said we can agree to move on, the National Republican Congressional Committee tweeted, “No, we can’t.”

No drama in Obama’s Ukraine policy

Many are asking: How can we stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from moving into Ukraine and seizing a large chunk of its territory in the east? The actions of forces that resemble the Russian special operations troops who created the conditions for annexation of Crimea suggest that other parts of Ukraine may also be in the Russian strongman’s sights.

The fact is, however, we cannot stop Putin. Or, to be more precise, we should not try to stop him physically. Doing so would require military threats or troop deployments to Ukraine. The stakes do not warrant such a step. It is not worth risking World War Three over this.

Ukraine is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It does not have a formal security treaty with the United States, and its strategic importance is not great enough to warrant such escalation. Though we can feel for Ukrainians — and reject what Putin is doing — this is a classic case of where the old axiom “We can’t be the world’s policeman” does apply.

Obama: Going ‘all in’ for the Asian Century

The reaction in Asia to the dominance of U.S. power is only surpassed by a fear that the United States is in retreat.

As President Barack Obama traveled to Asia Tuesday for a four-country trip, this fear should be foremost on his mind. What many of Asia’s political and cultural leaders  fear most, however, is the United States retreating inward while distracted by crisis after crisis — from Libya to Syria to Crimea. With China on the brink of becoming the world’s largest economy and the geopolitical puzzle pieces of the China seas seemingly in renegotiation, the Eastern world is asking where Washington stands. This is Obama’s moment to demonstrate the components of his much-heralded, but still largely  undefined, tilt to Asia.

The stakes for Obama’s legacy as a world leader — and for the U.S. position as a Pacific power — could not be higher. The president was right to signal a “tilt” in U.S. policy toward Asia. He now has an important opportunity to carry the Asia pivot through to a conclusion.

from Stories I’d like to see:

Obama’s unaccountable briefers, pipeline bribery, and economic woes at Yankee Stadium

 

1. Obama’s unaccountable briefers:

Here’s a key paragraph in Saturday’s New York Times report explaining the Obama administration’s decision to delay yet again a decision on the Keystone pipeline:

’The Nebraska Supreme Court decision could lead to changes in the pipeline route, and it’s important to have that information and better understand that route, because it could have implications for environmental, socioeconomic and cultural impacts of the pipeline,’ a State Department official said Friday in a conference call with reporters that was conducted on the condition that the official not be named.

Why did this official have to remain anonymous? Was he or she providing a national security leak? Was he or she blowing the whistle on some government wrongdoing?

Why not a war on child poverty?

President Barack Obama’s recent speeches at the LBJ Presidential Library and National Action Network marking the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Act had a serious omission. While acknowledging “our work is unfinished,” Obama failed to mention this nation’s worst social trend: the stunning increase of children and youth living in poverty.

Since 1969, the proportion of children and youth in poverty rose by 56 percent, even as the economic fortunes of the elderly improved under programs like Medicare and Social Security. Today, 32 million American children and youth are confronting poverty — including 7 million suffering utter destitution, another 9 million living in serious poverty and 16 million more in low-income households struggling just above poverty lines.

Even as Obama has launched My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative to help poorer young men, his administration continues to largely ignore this larger issue. In fact, Obama said, addressing youth poverty “doesn’t take all that much.” No federal money has been budgeted for the initiative.

The right way to help minority boys

 

The Obama administration recently hosted one of several conference calls with men of color as part of My Brother’s Keeper, a new five-year, $200-million White House initiative aimed at “helping young men and boys of color facing tough odds reach their full potential.”

But according to the initiative’s website, as well as the National Center for Educational Statistics, the biggest barrier to their success is already clear: inequitable schooling, not only for boys of color, but also for girls.

My Brother’s Keeper — which will bring together businesses and foundations to test strategies aimed at early childhood education, among other issues — is an important step with some promise. But if President Barack Obama really wants to improve the lives of young men and women of color, he needs to stop promoting educational policies like No Child Left Behind, which increases standardization and high-stakes testing, but fails to address racial inequities in schools.

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