Wednesday, November 11, 2009

President Obama's Visit to Asia

U.S. President Obama is set to visit East and Southeast Asia. He will have summit meetings in Japan, South Korea, China, and in the context of APEC, Singapore.

Some regional papers are editorially questioning why the President didn't put Jakarta on his list of destinations, and there is some reason to wonder why he's not visiting (for now) the world's largest Muslim nation, one that has swiftly become a thriving democracy, and one in which he spent part of his childhood.

Well, those plaints are a bit misplaced. I'm amazed he's squeezing in as many stops and summits as he is, given the mountains of problems and cat fights he has back home. But I'm glad he's coming, and hope his entire trip turns out to have great benefits for all concerned.

I do hope that President Obama can find time to get back out this way by mid-2010 or so. Maybe he could aim to visit Indonesia, for starters. India and Australia would be high on my list were I his trip planner. It would be nice if he could pop by Bangkok while knocking around this part of the globe, but no national leader can be gone for any truly lengthy period of time, especially not the leader of any major country, which means not just the U.S. China's President Hu can't very well go sunbathe on Bali for a month, now, can he?

Of course, President Obama's detractors will be braying loudly, the most extreme probably set to speculate about to which country he will sign a surrender. Well, let the Mr. Corpulent Limbaugh and his ilk have their day; gets 'em good ratings from the wingnuts.

But back to the President's trip and his omission of Indonesia from his visits. Right now, the thorny problems of the location of a U.S. military air base and the related Status of Forces agreement loom at the top of the U.S.-Japan alliance, one of the most important for us and the world, we have. Then there is the situation involving the Fruitcake People's Democratic Republic -- North Korea. Whatever else Dear Leader Kim has achieved, he sure has managed to keep attention focused on his wretched country, including that of the world's major powers, even those not directly involved in the Six-Party talks.

Further, the President can't put off making a decision about what to do in Afghanistan much longer. He asked General McChrystal for a recommendation and got one, so he'll have to decide one way or the other -- soon. Like maybe next week or the week after.

For self-evident and not-so-self-evident reasons, I'd like to see the President visit Thailand, too. Thailand has been one of our staunchest allies anywhere for decades, most notably during the Vietnam War. Yes, the Kingdom benefitted enormously from our military presence here, not least from the soldiers who came on leave here (and many times ended up marrying a local lady, and sometimes making their lives here thereafter). But Thailand provided us a giant "aircraft carrier" from which to launch aerial assualts against the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. I feel we owe it to the Thai people to show them respect of a visit from my President. Of course, I'm biased in favor of the Thai people, but I'm not going to apologize for loving the country that has given me so much these past 15+ years.

All that said, maybe Thailand can't be on President Obama's must-see list in the near future. But let's say this: "Please come sometime during your term, Mr. President. Even if just for a day."

Anyway, I'm damned glad the President is tending to some important business in this part of the world, both for the bloddless pragmatic reason that we have one hell of a lot of interests here and the human reason of promoting people-to-people relationships.

Look at what President Nixon accomplished with his extraordinary visit to China -- Commie China. Who else but a staunch anti-communist could have pulled it off?

I applaud anytime it's appropriate, something like I salute a brave fallen -- enemy -- soldier. Not, I hasten to add, that I regard President Nixon as an enemy, no matter how much he went on to disgrace himself and his office.