- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Shock of the New: Congress and Asia in 2009

Edward Gresser and Daniel Twining

Congress performs a critical role in ensuring broad–based U.S. engagement with friends, partners, and institutions across wider Asia—a role that not only responds to developments but also shapes Asia’s emerging economic and geopolitical landscape. Congress can wield its power of the purse to target foreign assistance in ways that best serve the national interest—especially in the Pakistan–Afghanistan crucible. Congressional committees with jurisdiction over trade and finance can ensure that the United States sustains its commitment to promoting an open international economy—a goal more challenging, but also more important, in economic crisis—while assisting the weakest economies and coordinating responses to the crisis with other big economies. Congressional armed services committees will make important decisions to strengthen U.S. military alliances and partnerships in Asia while supporting forward–deployed U.S. military forces at a time of force realignment and a tightening defense budget— and in the context of potentially destabilizing strategic change in Asia. Congress will also play an essential role in fashioning balanced U.S. policies that reflect the nation’s commitment to advancing human rights, economic liberty, and democratic governance abroad as sources of security and prosperity at home.

This essay is organized into three main sections. The first puts U.S.–Asia relations in context, providing overviews of the Democratic–controlled Congress, the global financial crisis, and the rise of Asia to global leadership. This is followed by a second section that delves into the specific issues and relationships that the new Congress will need to address as it helps shape U.S. policy toward Asia in the coming two years and beyond. A third section offers conclusions. Finally, as a testimony to Congress’ general awareness of the importance of Asia, an Appendix lists the wide variety of congressional working groups and caucuses related to Asia.

The Context of U.S.–Asia Relations

The United States: Democrats in Charge

"It is in the new monarchies that difficulties are found."

    —Machiavelli, The Prince

    The 2008 election made Barack Obama the first Democratic president to enjoy a popular–vote majority since 1964, and gave the 111th Congress the largest Democratic majorities since 1978. At home, Democrats envision using their new power to pursue an ambitious legislative agenda centered on health care reform and energy security and sustainability. Abroad, their priorities include a climate change agreement and the challenge of relations with the Muslim world. Politically, Democrats will be anxious to...

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