What should Asia ex­pect un­der Hilary Clin­ton's pres­i­dency?

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - J PEMPEL news­room@mm­times.com TJ Pempel is Jack M Forcey Pro­fes­sor of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence, Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

BY mid-af­ter­noon on Wed­nes­day Novem­ber 9, Asians will be tem­po­rar­ily uni­fied by their col­lec­tive sigh of re­lief. Early US elec­tion re­sults will be an­nounc­ing their re­prieve from four years of tor­ment un­der a Trump pres­i­dency. Just ahead of elec­tion day, the United States’ six ma­jor polling mod­els range in their pre­dic­tions of the like­li­hood of a Clin­ton pres­i­dency be­tween 85 and 97 per­cent. FBI di­rec­tor James Comey’s Oc­to­ber 28 prece­dent-break­ing an­nounce­ment that new emails had been dis­cov­ered rewrote the scripts of both cam­paigns but sub­se­quent polls sug­gested that few pres­i­den­tial votes would shift as a re­sult. Short of a zom­bie in­va­sion or some equiv­a­lent deus ex machina, Clin­ton’s pres­i­dency is all but guar­an­teed.

Her vic­tory will pro­vide two valu­able re­as­sur­ances. First, con­ti­nu­ity is likely. As sec­re­tary of state, Clin­ton was a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Asia pol­icy, in­clud­ing the “re­bal­ance” to Asia. Sec­ond, her cur­rent Asia pol­icy team is stacked with a deep bench of in­di­vid­u­als shar­ing ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence and fa­mil­iar­ity with all as­pects of East Asia.

This will not be an ad­min­is­tra­tion that is fo­ment­ing trade or cur­rency wars, re­duc­ing al­liances to their eco­nomic trans­ac­tion costs or en­cour­ag­ing Ja­pan and South Korea to de­velop au­ton­o­mous nu­clear pro­grams – as promised by Trump. Obama’s Asia poli­cies have their crit­ics, and ex­per­tise by no means guar­an­tees com­pat­i­bil­ity. But “slow and steady” poli­cies un­der adult su­per­vi­sion will be far more re­gion­ally wel­come than the al­ter­na­tive.

Though a Clin­ton pres­i­dency will mean con­ti­nu­ity, her past sug­gests that she is also more prone than Obama to em­ploy mil­i­tary force. As one in­ter­viewer ob­served, she prefers the “nail eating, swamp-crawl­ing” mil­i­tary of­fi­cers to diplo­mats wear­ing uni­forms.

This is likely to gen­er­ate more ro­bust chal­lenges by the United States to­ward North Korea and a greater will­ing­ness to em­ploy the Sev­enth Fleet as a check on mar­itime as­sertive­ness. It may also make Clin­ton re­luc­tant to change plans for the highly con­tro­ver­sial Ma­rine Corps base repo­si­tion­ing within Ok­i­nawa, de­spite mas­sive Ok­i­nawan op­po­si­tion to the re­lo­ca­tion. And it may in­flu­ence her han­dling of com­plex al­liance re­la­tions like those with Ro­drigo Duterte in the Philip­pines or the gen­er­als run­ning Thai­land.

Equally sig­nif­i­cant, how­ever, Clin­ton de­vours her briefing books and is adept at com­bin­ing tac­ti­cal ma­noeu­vring with at­ten­tion to her long-term agenda. She will be will­ing to ex­change tit-for-tat on spe­cific provo­ca­tions while bol­ster­ing ex­ist­ing al­liances and build­ing on ten­ta­tive co­op­er­a­tion with China in ar­eas such as cli­mate change, piracy and the Iran nu­clear deal.

But any ab­stract com­mit­ment by the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion to pri­ori­tise Asia will con­front at least three huge hur­dles.

First, in­sta­bil­ity and war­fare in the Mid­dle East will con­tinue to devour dis­pro­por­tion­ate amounts of pol­i­cy­mak­ing band­width. Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ye­men and Iran, not to men­tion Is­rael-Pales­tinian re­la­tions, will re­main gar­gan­tuan Mid­dle East­ern sand dunes that im­pede the foot­steps and ob­scure the vi­sion of any moves to­ward Asia.

Sec­ond, the Trans-Pacific Part­ner­ship (TPP), key to Obama’s ef­forts to en­gage and struc­ture Asia Pacific trade and in­vest­ment, is dead for the fore­see­able fu­ture. Mitch McCon­nell, Re­pub­li­can ma­jor­ity leader of the US Se­nate, has de­clared that the Se­nate will not con­sider the TPP dur­ing the Novem­ber-Jan­uary “lame duck” ses­sion, con­tin­u­ing his adamant ob­struc­tion of ev­ery Obama ini­tia­tive. His re­fusal also closes an oth­er­wise con­ve­nient back door by which Hillary could have ben­e­fited from the TPP’s rat­i­fi­ca­tion with­out re­vers­ing her cam­paign trail prom­ises.

Those prom­ises plus the loom­ing po­lit­i­cal ex­i­gen­cies of the 2018 Con­gres­sional elec­tions work against her bring­ing the TPP for­ward in her first two years, re­gard­less of the plead­ings of the other 11 sig­na­to­ries or the TPP’s po­ten­tial ben­e­fit to United States’ eco­nomic en­gage­ment with Asia.

This feeds into the third im­ped­i­ment. Even with a big Elec­toral Col­lege win, Clin­ton will en­joy no hon­ey­moon.

Party and cul­tural di­vi­sions in the United States have taken on tribal ex­clu­siv­ity. Clin­ton is not likely to see more than a one-to-three-seat Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate at most, while to cap­ture a House ma­jor­ity, Democrats must gain 30 seats from at most 35 vul­ner­a­ble Re­pub­li­can-held seats, an al­ways-tough task made harder by the Comey an­nounce­ment which has re­mo­bilised dispir­ited Repub­li­cans now anx­ious to en­sure a Con­gres­sional check on a Clin­ton pres­i­dency.

Clin­ton’s skills in ne­go­ti­at­ing across the par­ti­san aisle are jus­ti­fi­ably touted as su­pe­rior to Obama’s, and Asia poli­cies are not in­her­ently par­ti­san trig­gers. But in­cen­tives still re­main high for Repub­li­cans to sus­tain a united wall of op­po­si­tion. Se­nate elec­tions in 2018 are likely to re­turn a Re­pub­li­can ma­jor­ity while in the House, a frac­tious Re­pub­li­can cau­cus and House Speaker Paul Ryan whose long run pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions will cir­cum­scribe any in­cen­tive he might have to “sell out” by co­op­er­at­ing with Clin­ton.

House Repub­li­cans are al­ready promis­ing that if they re­tain even the slimmest ma­jor­ity they will be­gin an end­less cy­cle of well-pub­li­cised in­ves­ti­ga­tions of Clin­ton and even po­ten­tial im­peach­ment hear­ings be­fore she un­packs in the White House. And pub­lic scep­ti­cism about a Clin­ton vic­tory re­mains high among Re­pub­li­can vot­ers. An NBC/Sur­veyMon­key poll re­leased on Oc­to­ber 20 found that a full 45pc of Repub­li­cans def­i­nitely wouldn’t or are un­likely to ac­cept the re­sults of the elec­tion if their can­di­date lost.

Any col­lec­tive post-elec­tion re­lief Asians might feel is likely to be short­lived in the face of the pri­ori­ti­sa­tion of non-Asian is­sues on the US agenda, an Asia pol­icy de­void of eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial en­gage­ment and the clown show that passes for the US Congress. But re­lief may be in sight: Can­di­dates are al­ready gear­ing up for the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

– East Asia Fo­rum

Photo: EPA

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama (left) and then-US sec­re­tary of state Hillary Clin­ton wave as they leave Yangon In­ter­na­tional Air­port fol­low­ing a his­toric visit in Novem­ber 2012.

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