Obama will touch down in Manila with the world's focus on the murderous attacks in Paris claimed by the Islamic State group and soul searching about how to counter it in Syria and Iraq
US President Barack Obama speaks at the opening session of the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 28, 2015 in New York. AFP PHOTO/KENA BETANCUR
US President Barack Obama arrives in the Philippines Tuesday, November 17, with his much-vaunted "pivot to Asia" again overshadowed by events in Europe, the Middle East and politics at home.
Obama will touch down in
Manila with the world's focus on the murderous
attacks in Paris claimed by the Islamic State
group and soul searching about how to counter it in Syria
and . Iraq
The long-planned Asia trip had been designed to underscore
's role as a "Pacific
power" and timed to coincide with high-profile regional summits, which
Obama has made a point of attending. America
"When we're not at the table, we're on the menu," said senior foreign policy aide Ben Rhodes half-jokingly, explaining the administration's policy.
Paris attacks, National Security Advisor Susan Rice
previewed Obama's trip as an opportunity to herald a vast trans-Pacific trade
deal and efforts to promote a "rules-based order" amid tensions in
the South China Sea.
But Obama has spent the last few days talking about
and the Islamic State, and will likely do so again with Asian leaders. Iraq
That focus may actually sit well with some Asian nations, according to Ernest Bower of
"Countries such as
Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore
and Brunei - have real and
immediate concerns about citizens who have left to fight in Syria and and will be returning,"
said Bower. Iraq
Paris, most Asian countries will be looking to the for
leadership in the counter-ISIS (Islamic State) fight. This will underline the US global
security role." US
For his part, Obama may point to majority Muslim nations in
Asia as examples of how economic development can put a lid on
Still, another sidetracked trip to the region is a far cry from early in Obama's term when the Hawaii-born commander-in-chief confidently declared himself "
Pacific president". America
Throughout his administration, key aides have been frustrated at events in
Iraq, , and elsewhere perennially
dominating presidential agendas and security briefings. Syria
In their view, populous and fast-growing
Asia has, as a
result, not always received the attention it deserves.
All politics is local
But events in Europe and the Middle East are not the only things holding Obama back as he arrives in
The White House faces an uphill battle to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal -- which would spur trade between 12
nations representing 40 percent of the world's economy -- through Congress.
Sources on Capitol Hill say the agreement may not be ratified until after US elections in November, 2016, or until a new president has taken office in early 2017.
Top Democrats, including Obama's would-be successor, Hillary Clinton, have opposed the deal, while Republicans are loathe to give Obama a major policy victory.
The White House is pressing its case hard, insisting there is no reason to make
wait to reap the benefits of the deal. US
Before leaving for
Asia, Obama assembled some of the most
prominent foreign policy thinkers from past Democratic and Republican
administrations to sell the geo-political case for the agreement.
The deal is seen by some as a counterbalance to growing Chinese economic clout in the region.
is not a member. Beijing
"Economically, the Asia-Pacific region is the most dynamic, the most populous and fastest-growing region of the world," Obama said flanked by luminaries Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell.
"And strategically, it is a region that's absolutely vital to our economic and national security interests in the 21st century."
Congress has also thwarted White House efforts to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which experts say could strengthen
's case that Asian nations must
solve maritime disputes by legal means. Washington
The accord provides the ground rules for maritime claims and passage, just as
China is moving to assert greater control in the
hotly contested South China Sea.
Philippines has filed a case against China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, using UNCLOS as its legal foundation.
"The president strongly supports ratification," a senior administration official told AFP, referring to the agreement that has been signed, but not yet ratified by the US Senate.
Bill Bishop, author of the Asia-focused Sinocism newsletter, said the
not ratifying UNCLOS hurt its credibility on the issue. United States
Bishop said the
United States was currently only using a
"blunt instrument" of military posturing, pointing to a missile
destroyer recently sailing close to Chinese-made artificial islands in the sea. US
"It would be much better for the entire region if the
had a portfolio of options that
were both hard and soft," Bishop said. US