Obama re-ups U.S.-Australian defense pact

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The United States and Australia are expected to sign a modest new security pact that many national security experts say is part of a larger effort to counter China’s increasingly aggressive demands for raw materials, oil and influence in the region.

The deal is also one element of President Barack Obama’s efforts to shift the focus of U.S. foreign policy from Europe and the Arab world to the Pacific region, where many national economies are growing rapidly.

The Australian pact is an easy, low-cost, no-risk deal that bolsters the U.S. military alliance and improves Obama’s domestic reputation as a leader, said Ralph Peters, an author and national security expert.

But it also shows the president’s new appreciation of hard-nosed global competition, he added.

Obama initially thought his personality could shift politics in Russia, Iran and the Arab world, said Peters, a former U.S. Army officer who travelled widely through developing countries on duty. Since then, “he has been humiliated right and left by developments and foreign leaders,” including by the leaders of Iran, the Palestinian Arabs, and Russia.

“I’m certainly not an Obama fan, but he is learning on the job. … He’s not a dummy, and he’s had so much cold water poured on him that he’s become a realpolitik guy,” he said. For example, Obama recently killed Anwar Awlaki, a U.S. born Muslim who was urging jihadi attacks on the U.S. from a hideout in Yemen.

The new security pact will be announced Wednesday at a military base in the northern Australian city of Darwin, following a speech to Australia’s parliament.

The speech “is basically the major speech of the trip,” said White House spokesman Ben Rhodes, the White House’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.

“We see it as an opportunity, on the one hand, to celebrate the U.S.-Australian alliance, which is among our closest in the world. … [Also,] the United States is invested in the success of emerging democracies across the region and empowering those democratic models.”

The deal comes some 69 years after a Japanese carrier fleet bombed Darwin, 68 years after U.S. and Australian aircraft sank a Japanese invasion fleet in the nearby Bismarck Sea, 61 years after Australian force joined U.S. force in the Korea war, and 40 years after Australians fought alongside the U.S. military inVietnam. Australian forces also joined U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

In press conferences, U.S. officials have been reluctant to tag China as a threat, despite it exerting increasing pressure on its neighbors, including Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

“We have a broad posture in the Asia Pacific, running from Korea to Japan to Australia — partnerships that we engage in with our other allies, like the Philippines or Thailand,” said Rhodes. “What we look at is how does our general force posture allow us to protect U.S. interests, protect our allies, and, again, secure the region broadly. … China is obviously a piece of the Asia Pacific region, an emerging power.”

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