From an editorial Thursday in the Washington Post:
President Barack Obama’s 11th and final trip to Asia looked rude and ragged from the outside. It began with a botched arrival in China, featuring a missing airline staircase, that some interpreted as a deliberate snub of the president. Then came an unmistakable insult from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who obliged Obama to cancel their bilateral meeting by calling him the Tagalog equivalent of “son of a whore.” The kerfuffle was particularly troubling because it came as China marshaled ships near a shoal whose defense from Beijing’s incursions has been a focus of recent U.S.-Philippine cooperation.
Administration officials insisted that the tour was better than it looked. They cited the mutual commitment of Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to a global climate change accord, as well as the confirmation following a meeting with South Korea’s president that a U.S.-supplied missile defense system will be deployed despite Chinese objections.
Those were meaningful steps in what, overall, has been a sensible strategy. However, they are likely to pale in the historical record of Obama’s presidency next to the nuclear accord with Iran and the catastrophic wars in Syria and Iraq – for better and for worse. The centerpiece of the policy, the TPP, would be a major accomplishment.
Never miss a local story.
Obama would do his successor, and U.S. standing in Asia, an enormous service if he somehow managed to revive and pass the treaty in Congress’s lame-duck session after the election. Otherwise, he will leave the next president with the unresolved challenge of how to cement U.S. ties to the states in the region as Chinese power grows. For all its ambition and incremental achievements, an Asia policy that leaves behind that much trouble will be hard to regard as a success.