Are you happy now, Republicans? You went and forced the president to cancel his trip to Asia and with it an important foreign policy overture.
That's the message Time magazine is sending readers with Michael Crowley's October 4 post, "Shutdown Dents Vital Obama Foreign Policy Goal," which was plugged on the Time.com front page with a photo of a frowning President Obama given the teaser headline, "Grounded by the Shutdown." "President Obama cancels a long-planned Asia excursion as the standoff continues at home, yet again putting off U.S. goals to recharge relations with the continent," complained the front-page caption [see screen capture below the page break]. Here's a taste of Crowley's story (emphasis mine):
After wreaking minor havoc in Washington and around the country for a few days, the government shutdown has now put a dent in American foreign policy.
Last night the White House announced the cancellation of Barack Obama‘s long-planned trip to Asia, scheduled to begin on Saturday. The trip had already been curtailed due to a furlough-induced staff shortage, but now it’s off completely. ”The President made this decision based on the difficulty in moving forward with foreign travel in the face of a shutdown, and his determination to continue pressing his case that Republicans should immediately allow a vote to reopen the government,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
The government shutdown created travel and staffing hurdles for Obama, but a visit would not have been impossible—the White House could have justified it as a national security priority. And some White House aides wondered whether he might benefit politically from a few days on the world stage, carrying out his duties as Commander in Chief far from the petty sniping on Capitol Hill. In the end, Obama clearly decided that the “optics” of leaving Washington in the midst of this political standoff were unacceptable.
That’s a shame. A presidential visit to Asia might strike some people as a boring formality. But this trip was a big deal. One of Obama’s few clear strategic foreign policy goals is a sustained effort to focus more American attention and resources on Asia—for both economic reasons (Asia is a huge U.S. trading partner and can be even huger) and strategic ones (countering the rise of China).
The budget crisis could end tonight if President Obama rescinded his veto threats and leaned on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to allow a floor vote on the House-passed continuing resolution. It's Senate Democrats and the president himself who are a significant part of the problem, but political journalists who know better -- like Crowley -- insist on absolving President Obama of any blame for the federal work stoppage.
Also omitted from Crowley's analysis was the fact that not only would the domestic "optics" of skipping the country during a shutdown look bad, it would also severely undercut his preferred narrative that everything must ground to a halt during the impasse. Kids can't get cancer treatments at NIH, but the president can travel halfway around the world for dubious policy benefit to the United States as a whole?
That's horrendous optics but it would also communicate that the president is unserious about resolving the impasse. He's not interested in the least in compromise, he thinks he can leave the country and expect things to sort themselves out on their own somehow. It's hard to imagine that tack would impress the very same foreign leaders that he's trying to woo.