Obama’s Security Team and Policies on Asia

U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama has announced the diplomacy and security team for his new administration. The team is a bipartisan squad combining practical realists and the most influential figures regardless of rivalry and a party. The team is said to grapple with problems of the 21st century with all America’s might

He appointed Hillary Clinton, his biggest rival in the Democratic primaries, as Secretary of State. Robert Gates will stay on as Secretary of Defense. Obama assigned a retired Marine General, Jim Jones, to National Security Adviser, who leads the National Security Council. These appointments are strongly centrist.

Now, the U.S. deals with two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as current financial crises at an unprecedented scale. For Obama, who has experienced a change of government in midst of warfare for the first time after Vietnam War, it is imperative to maintain a smooth transition to the next administration so the U.S. does not send a wrong message to overseas. To that extent, it is worth praising a realistic sense of Obama, who said, “we move forward with respect for America’s tradition of a bipartisan national security policy.”

In Iraq, the government has just began to stabilize. One request is that Obama makes sure to deal with Iraq flexibly so that the previous efforts will not vanish by sticking with a pledge to withdraw the U.S. army early.

His new team has many assignments to face such as peace in the Middle East, the war on terror, nuclear nonproliferation, and environmental issues. It is important first and foremost to work on restoring trust and leadership back from the international community.

However, there is something uneasy about this combined team with rivals and leading figures as the U.S. media calls it “a big gamble.” Hillary Clinton has outstanding international popularity to be a face of the U.S. diplomacy, but her ability to handle diplomatic affairs is unknown. It is absolutely essential to avoid conflict of interests against her husband and the former U.S. president, Bill Clinton.

Hillary has opposed Obama over Iraq and Iran during the election. Therefore, a prospect for a future problem is that she will have to adjust her policies with Obama, Gates and Jones.

The greatest concern for Japan as it will meet the new team is development in policy making on Asia.

Last year, Hillary called the U.S.-China relationship “the most important bilateral relationship in the 21st century.” Obama, despite mentioning the existing alliance, has not made clear his specific measures to deal with reorganization of the U.S. army bases in Japan, the North Korea nukes and Japanese abductee issues as well as China. It is important for Japan to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance by active participation from the Japanese counterpart as well as joint risk management. Japan is expected to become more active in diplomacy.

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