The Asia Pivot & the Danger of Chatter

Ely Ratner in Foreign Policy argues that the American pivot to Asia is real and has already yielded considerable achievements. Ratner makes an expert’s argument–listing out several areas where American policy and influence have come to fruition in Asia. He calls out “Pivot Deniers,” laying bare their reasons for turning a blind eye to the actual progress of the pivot.

The US now seats a resident Ambassador to the region’s most important multilateral organization, the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and in 2009 began attending the East Asian Summit. These are not trivial details, and not simply signaling devices. American development initiatives across Asia are furthering regional cooperation, particularly in the lower Mekong and trade initiatives–especially the 2012 US-South Korea free trade agreement are saving the US billions. The struggle to complete negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership continues, but so does the transatlantic version.

These pieces do not point to a stalled policy, but a longer strategic arc in very real progress. Ratner points out where the Administration has failed to bring attention to its activities and successes in Asia, and then hits on a much larger issue toward the end of his piece.

Journalists are equally culpable. I get it. Sometimes you need a good narrative and no one — besides me, perhaps — wants to read a story titled, “Obama Goes to Asia to Continue Relatively Successful, Long-Term Reorientation of U.S. Foreign Policy.” So instead, you go with something foreboding, likeObama Looks to Salvage Asia ‘Pivot’” or “Obama’s Strategic Shift to Asia Is Hobbled by Pressure at Home and Crises Abroad.”

All the “noise and nonsense” he says, has led to serious misreporting “from some of the best and most reliable commentators in the business.” Ratner’s closing plea, that Washington’s chattering classes do their homework should be echoed from every ivory tower, from every Think Tank conference hall, from every keyboard tapping cleverly worded op-eds into the ether. 

It is so easy to pick up a pen and not tremendously difficult to write a criticism. In an industry powered by the twin engines of knowledge and influence, the foreign policy community–members of the “chattering class”– must be careful to balance saying something unique enough to get printed and saying something true enough to be worth reading.

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