Hillary Clinton is approaching the final phase of an astonishing 13-day tour of the world. She's spent much of her trip in Asia, including stops in Mongolia, Vietnam, and Laos. And that, of course, is entirely in keeping with the Obama administration's interest in re-orienting U.S. foreign policy to that part of the world as part of the famous "pivot."
The pivot, of course, is motivated by the realization that it's the rise of China (and certainly not a bunch of ragged Islamist revolutionaries) that poses the greatest challenge to U.S. dominance in the 21st century. It is Asia that is the new fulcrum of the global economy, and it is Asia that is home to some of the world's most pressing global security challenges -- especially now that some states in the region find themselves directly confronting the Chinese over territory and resources.
So it's no wonder that Washington policymakers describe both trade and security as central to their new Asian agenda. But in the meantime a lot of people have forgotten that the pivot was always supposed to be based on a third ingredient: support for democracy.
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"If the secretary is serious that the values we hold are an important part of the pivot, then the administration needs to advance them alongside -- or ahead of -- security and trade," says Ellen Bork, a longtime Asia expert at the Foreign Policy Initiative, a conservative Washington policy group.
Interestingly, Secretary Clinton has used her trip as an occasion to remind us of precisely that point. During her visit to Mongolia, she gave a stirring speech about U.S. efforts to bolster open societies in Asia -- even going so far as to describe "support for democracy and human rights" as the "heart" of the new American strategy. She also attended a high-profile meeting with a number of other leaders from the Community of Democracies, the club of democratic countries established in 2000 for the express purpose of furthering their common values. Their choice of venue for this particular meeting might seem a bit odd, but it was actually pretty appropriate, considering the remarkable progress that the Mongolians have been making with their own democratic system over the past two decades.
All fine and good. It's certainly important to talk about democratic values. It boosts the morale of activists and raises the blood pressure of despots. Beyond that, though, what has the shift in U.S. policy brought the region's would-be democracies so far?