President Obama recently completed a trip to Asia in which he met with twenty of the world’s fastest growing economies and discussed matters of foreign policy. Now, immediately following his visit abroad, tensions in Korea are rapidly escalating.
On Sunday, the United States joined forces with South Korea in what was the U.S. insisted was “previously planned drill.” This alleged drill included the 97,000-ton USS George Washington – a massive ship which is capable of carrying approximately 75 aircraft. In total, the “drill” involved thousands of military personnel – 5,500 on the USS George Washington alone.
This demonstration of naval strength immediately followed the bombardment by North Korea, in which the artillery unleashed surface-to-air missiles along the Yellow Sea border. A news agency in North Korea recently warned that if the U.S. navy got involved in the conflict, the potential repercussions could be unpredicated. However, “meddling” is our middle name in America; how could we resist the urge to dive into this conflict in the Asian seas?
If the situation escalates further, President Obama could face another set of problems at home. A global crisis will undoubtedly draw his attention away from matters on the home front – the economy, American jobs, etc. Obama’s campaign was largely focused on instituting change, particularly economic change. The president is certainly well aware that his political future is tied to economic recovery or a lack thereof.
Communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, is optimistic though. Pfeiffer recently stated that the American public understands that there are both domestic and international issues that need to be addressed. Yet perhaps we should consider the history of the United States’ presidents; Grover Cleveland is a prime example.
In 1888, Cleveland lost his bid for reelection over an economic issue. While he eventually went on to serve a second, nonconsecutive term, Cleveland’s loss was directly associated with the British tariff, a central concern at the time. He had originally proposed a reduction in tariffs to Congress during his annual address in 1887. The Republicans used this proposal to their advantage and argued that maintaining the high tariffs was protectionism – they were keeping money and manufactured goods at home for the benefit of the people.
With this in mind, it is clear that President Obama may face a similar problem. If he focuses too much on matters in Korea, Obama may be criticized for neglecting the American economy. While international affairs obviously must be addressed, Obama’s political future depends highly on the success or failure the economic recovery.
Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary, admitted that world events can quickly and easily trump an administration’s agenda. There were many objectives for President Obama’s ten-day trip to Asia including the establishment of relationships with up-and-coming economies like Indonesia and India and the arrangement of a trade agreement with South Korea. If he had succeeded in achieving these international goals, Obama would be in a better position politically to face this possible crisis in Korea. As Julie Pace of the Associated Press wrote, “political opponents at home traditionally refrain from criticizing the commander in chief while he’s representing the U.S. on foreign soil.”
However, Obama was unable to obtain a trade agreement with South Korea or garner support to oppose China’s current manipulation. These failures will place Obama in a weak position concerning foreign policy. In particular, Americans may question the administration’s decision to participate in the show of power against North Korea considering that South Korea did not agree to our recent trade proposal.
Whichever way you look at it, President Obama is in a precarious position. It is never easy being the commander-in-chief of a nation like the United States of America, but when international conflicts like the tensions in Korea arise, the stress level is certainly kicked up a notch. It will be interesting to see how President Obama weathers this storm and how he fares in the 2012 election.