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After 'Shellacking' at the Polls, Obama Heads to Asia to Talk Business, National Security

3 years ago
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For the president of the United States, getting out of town when you've just had your proverbial bottom handed to you is not necessarily a new thing. In 1994, facing historic losses in the House and Senate, Bill Clinton headed to Jakarta to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. In 2006, on the heels of his self-proclaimed "thumpin' " in the congressional elections, George W. Bush did the same, heading to Vietnam for the APEC summit.

On Friday, President Obama -- fresh off a "shellacking" at the polls on Tuesday -- will head to India, Indonesia, Korea and Japan. Along the way, he, too, will attend the APEC summit. (Are thumpin's and shellackings prerequisites for presidential attendance at the summit?)

But this year's post-election Asian swing is an elaborate and carefully calibrated effort, one aimed at demonstrating Obama's business acumen to an increasingly skeptical financial sector, reminding Americans of the threats they face from enemies both seen and unseen, and, ultimately, burnishing the president's credentials amid questions about his ability to lead the country through a time of crisis.

In a cabinet meeting on Thursday, the president announced the primary purpose of his trip to India -- at four days, the longest foreign stop of his tenure -- was to "take a bunch of U.S. companies and open up markets so that we can sell in Asia, in some of the fastest-growing markets in the world, and we can create jobs here in the United States of America."

Obama will travel to the region with an entourage of 200 CEOs -- a cortege of pro-business ambassadors unmatched in recent memory -- and attend a business round-table summit to discuss (and presumably announce) a range of U.S.-India economic partnerships. For a president who has made doubling U.S. exports by 2020 a top priority, greater access to the Indian consumer will be key: India's economy will soon overtake Japan's to become the world's third-largest in purchasing power.

India also represents a counterweight to China's looming economic powerhouse: China is positioned to take over as India's largest trading partner, surpassing the U.S. And with increasingly frustrated American efforts to persuade China to reevaluate its currency, India might play a pivotal role in persuading the Chinese to stop undervaluing their yuan (China has been accused of manipulating its currency value to gain an unfair competitive advantage in international trade.).

Beyond India, the economy will play a prominent role throughout the rest of the president's itinerary. In Indonesia, Obama will make a push for deeper economic cooperation with emerging markets in Southeast Asia. In Korea for the G-20 summit, the president will work on securing a Free Trade Agreement with the Korean government, currently stymied over issues surrounding automobiles and agriculture. The U.S. wants South Korea to reduce its surplus in auto trade and open its market to American beef.

The president will make one final pro-business push in Japan, where he'll attend a CEO summit on the sidelines of the APEC summit. According to Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, Obama will "discuss both the balanced growth agenda globally and our efforts to increase exports to Asia."

But in case the financial focus isn't enough to convince the public of Obama's leadership skills, he's making a concerted push to highlight issues of national security, reminding Americans of the increasingly unstable world in which they live and his success thus far at preventing another terrorist attack.

In India, Obama will commemorate the terrorist attacks in Mumbai by visiting the Taj hotel, where assassins attacked and killed civilians in November 2008. In his bilateral meetings with Prime Minster Manmohan Singh, the two will take up the issue of Afghanistan and Pakistan, forefronts of the war on terror.

In Indonesia, Obama will draw attention to the rise of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in the region, including Jemaah Islamiyah, and highlight counterterrorism operations underway, reminding the public of the 9/11 attackers who passed through neighboring countries including Malaysia. He'll address efforts to end Iran's nuclear weapons development: Indonesia has relations with Iran, and Obama is likely to press President Yudhoyono to take more action within the Organization of Islamic Countries, of which both countries are members.

Perhaps the president's highest profile effort to demonstrate leadership on national security concerns will occur when he gives a major speech in Jakarta addressing the Muslim world -- from the world's most populous Muslim country. According to Rhodes, Obama will cite "democracy and development and our outreach to Muslim communities around the world, while also speaking of Indonesia's pluralism and tolerance as well."

Underscoring the threat of traditional enemies, the specter of the North Korea will loom during the president's travels to South Korea. Obama will bring up the recent sinking of the South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan -- presumably by the North -- and leader Kim Jong Il's rogue nuclear program and the Six-Party talks aimed at convincing the North to abandon it.

With a week and a half to underscore that he's still commander in chief -- shellacking be damned -- Obama will still have his work cut out for him. For all the bilateral meetings in a region that the White House has deemed strategically important for the future of the U.S. economy and its national security, the president and his senior staff will still be overseas, thousands of miles from the energized and emboldened Republican leadership. Changing the terms of the debate from oceans away will require not only an extraordinarily compelling message, but an audience that isn't too distracted -- or dismayed -- to listen.

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59 Comments

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barney2022

2 weeks, stay there for 2 years, I dont care what it costs.

November 06 2010 at 7:43 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
elfymc2

Does the media have this right: Obama's trip to Asia costs 200 million dollars per day? For 10 days that is 2 BILLION dollars. Amazing!

November 06 2010 at 12:01 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
RSK1177

If Obama wasn't such an ideologue and surrounded himself with liberal academia types, his trip may have had a chance. BUT, since he virtually has no one around him with real business experience, the chances of increasing trade with India or any other Far Eastern country is slim to say the least. He won't be able to show his leadership abilities after his party was soundly defeated in the mid-term elections in spite of Obama's numerous campaiging for his party loyalists. Many of his congressional puppets even tried to distance themselves from Obama and still got defeated. I hope he doesn't apologize in his speech to Muslims in Jakarta. We don't need Obama apologizing for the U.S.A. to anyone !!

November 05 2010 at 9:41 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to RSK1177's comment
barney2022

i agree, he truly thinks his charm can drive an economy and create jobs. Which I will give him credit, he does have charm, he just lacks all the other intangibles that make a president.

November 06 2010 at 7:45 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
tenderlies1

We have a real problem with people in this Country and thats their ability to understand that all people cannot be highly educated , many barely have the ability to provide for their daily care. Yes I know we have many programs that are abused by people that should and could work but ride the system and I don't like it either. We have a Party that wants to repeal Health Care, Welfare and other socil programs. What do we do with the disabled, the children with preexcisting illness ,the elderly who have nothing but SS and Medicare, is this where the Death Camps come in. Are we going to scarafice the non productive who have provided all they can and are now a liability. Allow children to die at a very early age for lack of medical care. I am serious here you will find people dead in the streets . Care for the mentaly Ill has been cut till that make up the bulk of the homeless. There has to be something wrong with a country that sacrafice a portion of its people out of Greed and power to save only the productive able. We all will get old many disabled and worse would be to watch your own child die because they won't be treated. If Goverment wants to help and cares give that 700 billion where it can do some good and keep the Tax Cut's I would get which might be 40 to 50 a week I was paying it before the cuts and it barely showed and would have never been missed had they not started it,

November 05 2010 at 9:39 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
walkingman50

Just what Obama needs a ten day vacation with his Entourage to the old stomping grounds before he gets back and starts campaigning for real.

November 05 2010 at 8:04 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
dc walker

Mr. President you could have stayed home, saved some money, and raised the tariffs 8% across the board, if they didn't like it, then we could talk fair trade.

November 05 2010 at 1:45 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
grangrand

Whatever a politician does or doesn't do is always scrutinized by the people. And if the people don't like your policies you will be replaced via the ballot box . It has always been that way and always will be . And that is exactly what happened last tuesday . The key to this whole thing is listen to the people. We put you where you are today and we deserve to have our voices heard .You can't sit in Washinton and do as you please . We will rein you in everytime .

November 05 2010 at 12:52 PM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to grangrand's comment
jancf

...and the people listened to Fox News and Limbaugh.

November 05 2010 at 8:05 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
barney2022

Only a couple CEO's are going and one of them is Jeff Imelt of GE who has been with this president from day one... Remember, Imelt and GE stand to make billions in medical contracts in 2012 off of Obamacare. GE just sold off part of their refrigeration unit...why to make room so GE can manufacture medical computer systems. Where do they want to manufacture them? Asia. This also explains why the government created the recent rebate on energy efficient appliances. They were banking on the fact that people will buy their appliance that will last for 10-15 years, in the meantime, GE can focus on truly making money off of Obamacare and the medical systems from GE. Seriously, I wish one of journalists from this site would research this further.

November 06 2010 at 7:57 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
jerry

Visits the worlds most populous Muslim country? Also his home town where he grew up of Indodesia?

November 05 2010 at 12:48 PM Report abuse +17 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jerry's comment
jancf

Yes, India ia a real global business player. Why wouldn't he go there? As China comes into the equation too, it becomes imperative. What does religion have to do with anything? Are you that fearful that you would allow it to get in the way of common sense?

November 05 2010 at 10:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
doncrites

I would like to see the list of these 200 CEO's. I'll bet there are more union reps than business men.

November 05 2010 at 12:39 PM Report abuse +18 rate up rate down Reply
missylady228

2012 is coming .. let's get rid of the rest of the obama hangers-on. It's going to take some time to reverse the harm he's done and doing, so let's look to our future and the future of our great United States of America. Personally, I'd like to get rid of him now .. today .. send him back to whence he came and send that wife with him ..

November 05 2010 at 12:38 PM Report abuse +20 rate up rate down Reply

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