Excelling abroad

President Obama’s week-long trip to Asia didn’t generate a lot of attention from the domestic media, and based on Walter Russell Mead’s description, that’s a real shame. Americans have every reason to be pleased with the results of the president’s successful efforts. (via Kevin Drum)

The cascade of statements, deployments, agreements and announcements from the United States and its regional associates in the last week has to be one of the most unpleasant shocks for China’s leadership — ever. The US is moving forces to Australia, Australia is selling uranium to India, Japan is stepping up military actions and coordinating more closely with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, Myanmar is slipping out of China’s column and seeking to reintegrate itself into the region, Indonesia and the Philippines are deepening military ties with the US: and all that in just one week. If that wasn’t enough, a critical mass of the region’s countries have agreed to work out a new trade group that does not include China, while the US, to applause, has proposed that China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors be settled at a forum like the East Asia Summit — rather than in the bilateral talks with its smaller, weaker neighbors that China prefers.

Rarely has a great power been so provoked and affronted. Rarely have so many red lines been crossed. Rarely has so much face been lost, so fast…. [I]t was as decisive a diplomatic victory as anyone is likely to see. Congratulations should go to President Obama and his national security team.

Presidential triumphs like these don’t produce immediate political benefits at home — and, in all likelihood, they will go largely unnoticed by the public — but they matter a great deal when it comes to U.S. diplomatic efforts, most notably when it comes to China’s growing influence.

As for electoral considerations, I suspect the number of Americans who’ll vote in 2012 based on foreign policy can meet in a broom closet, but it’s getting tougher for even the harshest White House critics to deny President Obama’s impressive record on foreign policy. He’s ending the war in Iraq; he’s scored major counter-terrorism victories including the death of bin Laden; he’s improved U.S. relations with Russia including ratification of a new nuclear treaty; he helped bring down the Gadhafi regime in Libya; he’s improved the nation’s reputation and standing overall; and as Mead’s report explains, he’s made dramatic progress in Asia-Pacific.

It probably wasn’t expected three years ago that foreign policy and international affairs would be one of President Obama’s greatest strengths, but here we are.