Little gained from Obama’s overseas trips

Freedom New Mexico

President Obama’s trip to Asia, scheduled to end Thursday, will set a record for foreign travel in the first year of a presidency — nine trips and 20 countries. The runner-up was Bush 41’s seven trips and 14 countries.

This is something of a listening and learning trip rather than one from which Obama can return with a few signed agreements as trophies.

Presidential aides like to arrange for treaties to be signed or agreements to be reached on presidential trips so the president can seem to return triumphant. No such agreements are on tap for this trip, but several sticky issues will present themselves.

At the APEC meeting this weekend, all concerned no doubt proclaimed their undying devotion to free trade and open markets, then began plans to put in place a few more protectionist measures. Subsequent visits to China, Japan and South Korea will feature more testiness than harmony.

The U.S.-Japanese relationship is especially unsettled. Since World War II Japan has been essentially a U.S. protectorate, with the U.S. maintaining extensive military bases in Japan and Okinawa and handling Japanese defense policy. But the victory in August by the Japan Democratic Party after more than 50 years of one-party Liberal Democratic Party rule brings to power politicians determined to rework the relationship.

JDP leaders have already suggested they would like to move a Marine airbase off Okinawa, and have ended an eight-year policy of using Japanese ships to refuel U.S. vessels in the Indian Ocean. The move toward greater independence from the U.S. has significant popular support. Obama will have to handle the changing relationship delicately.

Meanwhile China has been beefing up its military potential and regional influence — and hinting it won’t act as America’s deficit enabler by buying U.S. government debt forever.

President Obama may come back with a bit more knowledge about how complex Asian-Pacific relationships are, but not much else.