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‘Asia First’ Misses the Point
A Ukrainian servicemen stands in a trench at the contact line near the village of Svitlodarsk, in Ukraine's Donestsk region on February 13, 2022. (Photo by Manu Brabo/Getty Images)
A Ukrainian servicemen stands in a trench at the contact line near the village of Svitlodarsk, in Ukraine's Donestsk region on February 13, 2022. (Photo by Manu Brabo/Getty Images)

‘Asia First’ Misses the Point

Walter Russell Mead

It was a frustrating week for Asia-first, proponents who hope the Biden administration can execute the “pivot to Asia” that President Obama so disappointingly muffed. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Melbourne with his Quad counterparts from Australia, India and Japan, the attention of the world was riveted on . . . Ukraine. As Mr. Blinken flew from Australia to Fiji to reassure regional leaders of American focus and attention, the headlines announced an airlift of thousands of American troops to . . . Europe. And even as the Quad’s leaders issued their statement on a common vision for the Indo-Pacific region, the American foreign-policy community was obsessed with a debate about . . . the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

For Asia hands, this was the worst kind of déjà vu. After Pearl Harbor, much to a nervous Winston Churchill’s relief, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made “Germany first” the guiding principle for American war strategy. As the Cold War intensified, similar sentiments led Secretaries of State Dean Acheson and George Marshall to prioritize Europe over Asia as the arena in which the U.S. would work to block the expansion of communist power. The 9/11 attacks saw East Asia again sink into the background of American foreign policy as the Bush administration focused on the Middle East.

After a generation of watching Washington’s successive failures to come to grips with a rising and increasingly assertive China—even as Asia became the most important economic region on the planet—Asia experts understandably are concerned that, yet again, the reflexive Atlanticism of the foreign-policy and media establishments will prevent an essential pivot.

Read the full article in the Wall Street Journal

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