Remember late last week when I speculated that the primary reason that Barack Obama might be lifting the arms embargo on Vietnam - which he formally did today - was as an honest-to-goodness attempt at a geopolitical countermove to Red Chinese imperialism in the South China Sea? Upon four days of further reflection, I would like to revise and extend those remarks.
But first, the update:
Barack Obama on Monday lifted a half-century-old ban on selling arms to Vietnam, looking to bolster a government seen as a crucial, though flawed partner in a region that he has tried to place at the center of his foreign policy legacy.
Obama announced the full removal of the embargo at a news conference where he vowed to leave behind the troubled history between the former war enemies and embrace a new era with a young, increasingly prosperous nation. Obama steered clear of harsh condemnation of what critics see as Vietnam's abysmal treatment of dissidents, describing instead modest progress on rights in the one-party state. Activists said his decision to lift the embargo destroyed the best U.S. leverage for pushing Vietnam on abuse.
"At this stage, both sides have established a level of trust and cooperation, including between our militaries, that is reflective of common interests and mutual respect," Obama said. "This change will ensure that Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defend itself and removes a lingering vestige of the Cold War."
O insisted that this move had nothing to do with Red China, and I can almost believe him about that.
The remarks revision and extension is simple: The geopolitical chess game with the ChiComms is, in this case, an incidental, even accidental, but nonetheless modestly and strategically beneficial side effect of what amounts to another "opening to Cuba-esque" move not functionally distinguishable from his embrace of, and fleecing at the hands of, the Castro brothers a year and a half ago. He didn't get to "pull the trigger" on that actual "normalization of relations" with the descendants of Uncle Ho and the VC himself, but becoming their arms supplier is the next best thing. And, heck, it's not like O hasn't turned the U.S. military into a gigantic surplus depot fire sale anyway.
The One is continuing his apology/side-switching/commie fanboy world tour that he began years ago, and apparently he was going in alphabetical order, or a not unreasonable facsimile thereof. It just so also happens that Beijing won't like this particular stop.
Exit question: Let's say that Red Barry starts arming Vietnam to the teeth as fast as he can, and the ChiComms respond with a full-scale invasion. Has he committed the U.S. to defending our former (?) enemy with direct military assistance, including American troops? And if so, would that be a good idea or a bad one?
UPDATE: Or is the idea to bolster the Trans-Pacific Partnership?:
The two countries resolve to focus on fostering economic cooperation, including trade, investment, science and technology, human resource training, and climate change [sigh]. The two sides stated that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is economically and strategically important, and would promote trade and investment between them, accelerate inclusive economic growth, and create jobs. The two sides reaffirmed their commitments to seek early ratification and full implementation of this high-standard agreement, including commitments on investment, business facilitation and development, intellectual property, textile, services, labor, and environment. The United States pledged to support Vietnam through robust technical assistance and capacity-building programs to effectively implement and meet the high standards of the TPP.
Not a shred of any anti-ChiComm cooperation or alliance-ing in sight, and the "deal" is otherwise completely lopsided in Hanoi's favor. Or, in short, more trademark Obama "smart diplomacy".
What a flaccid anti-climax.