The Debate

A Curious Spectacle

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The Debate

A Curious Spectacle

The world’s attention this year will be focused on the U.S. election. The editor will try to help clear things up.

This isn’t going to be a blog about U.S. politics, although sometimes it might feel that way – at least over the next few weeks, and on and off through much of this year. There are plenty of very good purely U.S. political blogs out there, and I don’t want to try to replicate them. But as the U.S-based editor of a current affairs magazine that’s focused on the Asia-Pacific, the need for The Diplomat to cover political developments that can have such a significant impact on Asia is obvious.

And there’s no bigger potential impact than a U.S. presidential race. Which is why it seems sensible to start the blog here, in New Hampshire, on the eve of the Republican Party primary to select a candidate to face-off against Barack Obama in November. Many commentators believe the race is already as good as over, and that although there may be a few bumps in the road on the way to the nomination for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, that he’s the only viable candidate for Republicans hoping to win over the American middle. And they may well be right (although the talk today is over Romney’s slightly softening poll numbers in the state).

But even if Romney proves able to effectively steamroller his opponents by the end of this month, as his campaign is hoping, there are still likely to be plenty of glimpses over the next few months of what a Romney foreign policy would look like – and what that could mean for Asia, particularly China and Iran.

This, though, is an editor’s blog, rather than just a U.S. foreign policy blog. And while U.S. politics shapes America’s foreign policy, Asia is also shaping the United States. There have been plenty of keys tapped and ink spilled on how globalization is shaping the world we live in – and plenty of comment already among the campaigns about what China’s rise means.

I touched on this very issue in my introduction to our special essay series on Asia’s future. Last month, I wrote:

“I was born in the United States, but living in Japan for almost six years I never quite found the time to travel back there. When I finally did earlier this year, I was surprised to hear even the most measured of friends and acquaintances use a word I don’t think they would have when I had last been there, in 2005 – ‘scared.’

“Why? It wasn’t just because of China’s growing military prowess, although war-weary Americans appear to be fully aware of the limits of what even the most powerful armed forces the world has ever seen can achieve. More, it was a sense that somehow, as stories of how the United States’ increasingly rickety infrastructure is crumbling proliferate, and as unemployment remains stubbornly close to double-digits, that the center of global economic gravity is shifting eastward.”

It’s a reality that has already been driven home since I arrived in New Hampshire this afternoon. Asked why he planned to vote for Ron Paul tomorrow, one New Hampshirite told me that he was attracted by Paul’s pledge to minimize the U.S. military footprint abroad as part of his vow to slash the soaring U.S. deficit. “If we don’t bring down our deficit then one day soon China is going to be telling us where to shop, where to work – where to go to the bathroom,” he told me.

He’s far from alone here in holding such views. And as this blog develops I’m going to look more closely not just at what Washington’s policymakers are planning to do next in Asia, but what Manchester, New Hampshire thinks about China, what the Communications Workers of America Union thinks about call center jobs being relocated to India and the Philippines, and also how Asia sees the bewildering and often very curious spectacle that is the United States of America.