Obama Asia tour doesn't go exactly according to plan

Tue Nov 20, 2012 8:25am EST
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By Matt Spetalnick and Jeff Mason

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - It may have sounded good on paper: Win re-election, fly to Asia, soak up the adulation of fellow world leaders, then go home with at least a few tangible rewards to show for a legacy-shaping U.S. strategic shift eastwards.

But U.S. President Barack Obama's first post-election trip abroad did not work out exactly according to plan.

To be sure, he had a chance to tout a foreign policy success with a landmark visit to the former pariah state of Myanmar, demonstrate he was serious about improved U.S. ties with nations in China's backyard and take in a travelogue's worth of iconic religious and cultural sights.

But even as Obama sought to strengthen his administration's "Asia pivot," he came face-to-face with the tough realities of what it will take to counter China's influence in the region.

At the same time, he found his attention constantly diverted back to the world's biggest hotspot, the Middle East, where a Gaza crisis raged on.

As if that weren't enough, Obama was reminded regularly of the biggest problem facing him back home - a looming "fiscal cliff" of year-end tax increases and spending cuts that would shake the U.S. economy and reverberate worldwide, including economically dynamic Asia - unless he and Congress can avert it.

As a result, Obama's three-day tour, which ended on Tuesday, seemed be more symbolism than substance.

At a regional summit in Phnom Penh, Asian leaders no longer seemed starry-eyed in his presence, as they did when he first swept into took office and was feted globally like a rock star.   Continued...

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reacts as she arrives last for a meeting between President Barack Obama and Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda at the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, November 20, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed