When Hillary Clinton joined Barack Obama’s “Team of Rivals” in 2009 she announced her foreign policy priorities by flying straight to Tokyo, Jakarta, Seoul and Beijing. This realignment from George W. Bush’s adventures in Iraq grew into her “pivot” to Asia, and Obama’s “rebalancing” and, eventually, a region-wide hedge against Chinese aggression.
In contrast, when John Kerry took over as Secretary of State in 2013, he flew first to London, Europe and five cities in the Middle East. More than half of the 57 trips he has made in the job have been to the Middle East, according to Lowy Institute figures. Just one-fifth have been to Asia.
Kerry’s turn away from Clinton’s pivot wouldn’t have mattered so much if President Obama had followed through on the rebalancing commitments he made in the Australian Parliament in November 2011. But this has not been the case, as his own advisers explained to the New York Times last week: “Aides say he has spent more time on Iran than any other foreign policy issue except Afghanistan and terrorism.”
Some leaders and policy makers across the region and especially in Canberra are looking forward to a Republican presidential candidate, like Jeb Bush, despite the misadventures of his brother. Others think Clinton’s nomination, perhaps next week, cannot come soon enough.
“The rebalance is Clinton’s signal foreign policy achievement as Secretary of State, she’s invested in it,” says Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute. Later this month Fullilove will debate with the point man at the State Department, Danny Russell, and argue that leaders in Asia will not take the post-Clinton pivot seriously until Obama makes the case for it at home.