By Karam Singh Sethi
April 26, 2014
After opening with a sushi meal, President Obama’s Asia Tour is finally here. Obama reached Tokyo and will eat (and hopefully talk) his way through Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul this week.
The media is obsessed with the trip, and for good reason. Behind his tour is a well-conceived foreign policy initiative to rebalance U.S. interests and “pivot” from a Middle East-focused policy towards East Asia. Three pillars will determine the policy’s success. First, increase trade by passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Second, advise nascent democracies on improving the transparency of the political process. And third, ensure investments are safe from China’s looming presence. These are fairly broad goals. However, plastered all over the Web are recommendations for exactly how to achieve success. Nowhere though, is there an explanation of how the Asia Pivot defines President Obama’s leadership style.
Let’s change that with a Game of Thrones analogy.
Last Sunday, in front of the late king Joffrey’s body, Tywin explained to little Tommen the qualities that differentiate kings:
Tywin: What is a good king’s single most important quality?
Tywin: Hmm. Baelor the Blessed was holy. And pious. He built this sept. He also named a six-year-old boy high septon because he thought the boy could work miracles. He ended up fasting himself into an early grave because food was of this world and this world was sinful.
Tywin: Yeah. A good king must be just. Orys I was just. Everyone applauded his reforms. Nobles and commoners alike. But he wasn’t just for long. He was murdered in his sleep after less than a year by his own brother. Was that truly just of him? To abandon his subjects to an evil that he was too gullible to recognize?
Tommen: What about strength?
Tywin: Yes. Strength. King Robert was strong. He won the rebellion and crushed the Targaryen dynasty. And he attended [only] three small council meetings in 17 years. He spent his time whoring and hunting and drinking until the last two killed him. So, we have a man who starves himself to death, a man who lets his own brother murder him, and a man who thinks that winning and ruling are the same thing. What do they all lack?
Wisdom not only separates successful kings from failed ones, but life from death. Obama is choosing life. With the Asia Pivot comes proof that wisdom is the overarching leadership quality defining him. His current tour revitalizes a stagnated U.S. foreign policy, focusing on the U.S.’s strengths like mutually beneficial trade and infrastructure building.
Like King Robert before Joffrey, President George W. Bush flexed military might during a dire point in U.S. history. His downfall came not from a botched hunting accident (though Vice President Dick Cheney’s certainly did) but rather an inability to implement leadership qualities other than strength. Maybe this was due to the former President’s advisers. Tywin points out:
Tywin: But what is wisdom? Hmm? A house with great wealth and fertile lands asks you for your protection against another house with a strong navy that could one day oppose you. How do you know which choice is wise and which isn’t? You’ve any experience of treasuries and granaries or shipyards and soldiers?
Tywin: No. Of course not. A wise king knows what he knows and what he doesn’t. You’re young. A wise young king listens to his counselors and heeds their advice until he comes of age. And the wisest kings continue to listen to them long afterwards.
Tywin cryptically explains advisors are the origin of kingly wisdom. If the pivot is to be truly successful then its directors must be qualified. Thankfully, the erudite Evan Medeiros has been Obama’s senior director of Asian affairs since 2009 and is chief architect of the pivot. Besides writing several books on China, Medeiros holds a Ph.D from the London School of Economics and speaks fluent Mandarin. He takes a firm stand behind the initiative, saying, “There are often questions raised about whether or not we get distracted with Ukraine or the Middle East, and this trip is yet one more example that we can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
From expanding new frontiers in East Asia to surrounding himself with overqualified minds, Obama indeed chooses wisdom as his leadership style. Hopefully Tywin comes out with more adaptable advice this Sunday.