That area east of Iraq

President Bush, after an unannounced layover in Baghdad, has arrived in Sydney for the APEC summit.

The Washington Post‘s article on the trip (inadvertently?) identifies the problem with Asia policy in the waning years of the Bush administration. The headline reads, “Bush Arrives in Australia for Summit,” but the body copy proceeds to focus entirely on conditions in Iraq, pausing to mention APEC on to dismiss the idea that the 2007 APEC summit is a “China summit.”

The Australian has printed a number of articles in the day leading up to the summit criticizing the Bush administration’s inattention to a tremendously significant region of which the US happens to be a significant actor — and in which the power balance in changing quickly. A pair of articles by The Australian‘s Greg Sheridan, including an interview with former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, criticize the Bush administration’s tendency to view everything through “the prism of Iraq.” Armitage’s criticism of the administration is particularly harsh, especially of Secretary of State Rice, but also of the Asia team. He said, “In the seventh year of an eight-year administration, you’ve got a lot of third and fourth teamers occupying these positions. I don’t think you can expect much from this bunch.”

I think the intensity of Mr. Armitage’s criticism might have more to do with rivalries from his time in the administration than with the substance of US Asia policy; I disagree with Michael Turton’s reading of this interview, because, after all, his argument is that the US isn’t paying enough attention to Asia, not that everything the administration is doing is wrong.

Nevertheless, the next administration will inherit a changed Asia, with new constraints and new opportunities. And it’s never too early for Washington to start looking to Asia again, because, as Armitage said, “In almost every measure – military budgets, population growths, the need for raw materials – our interests will force us back to Asia.”

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