Daniel Doherty

Earlier in the week we reported that President Obama cancelled two of his four foreign visits for this weekend; now he’s canceling all of them? Evidently:

President Obama has canceled the rest of his week-long trip to Asia, pulling out of two regional summits to remain in Washington to try to break a budget impasse in Congress that has shut down the federal government, the White House announced late Thursday.

Obama “made this decision based on the difficulty in moving forward with foreign travel in the face of a shutdown,” press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “This completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to create jobs through promotion of U.S. exports and advance U.S. leadership and interests in the largest emerging region in the world.”

The president was scheduled to leave Saturday for a four-country tour of Southeast Asia, with stops in Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. Earlier this week, Obama scrapped plans to visit the latter two because of reduced staffing due to the shutdown. He had hoped to keep his commitments to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Indonesia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Brunei, where world leaders will gather next week.

Obama administration officials view Asia as a fast-growing region where the United States is competing for influence with China. Chinese President Xi Jinping is visiting Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, and Russian President Vladi­mir Putin also will attend APEC. Some media reported that Obama and Putin had hoped to meet during that summit, at a time when the two countries have sparred over Russia’s protection of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and are working toward a resolution of Syria’s chemical weapons program.

HotAir’s Ed Morrissey thinks this is a strange strategy: after all, why hang around Washington if you’ve already stated publicly you won’t negotiate with Republicans? A good question. My hunch is that the president is keenly aware of the politics of the situation. By showcasing how Republican "obstructionists" are hampering his diplomatic efforts, he can also help move public opinion in his favor and against the GOP. Why else, for example, would he be shutting down high-profile American monuments and not other, less visible ones? Strange, isn’t it? It seems to me he wants the public to pay for the sins of congressional Republicans. And yet someone should probably tell him that cancelling his foreign trips abroad could also have some negative consequences, as well:

“The bottom line is his reputation will take a hit, especially in Southeast Asia,” said Michael Green, a former Asian affairs director under former president George W. Bush who now works at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Some real opportunities in Southeast Asia will be lost,” Green said. “The Chinese will probably quietly say that the Americans do not have staying power.”

White House aides had held out hope that the budget impasse would be resolved before the weekend and the government reopened. But after Obama’s meeting with congressional leaders at the White House on Wednesday failed to produce a breakthrough, the administration began to signal that it would be unlikely the president would be able to leave town with the situation unresolved.

I see why the president ultimately decided to stay. Isn’t it obvious? It would look rather strange if Team Obama was jetting around the world dining it up with foreign leaders while the United States government was, you know, partially shut down. In fairness, however, this is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” type of situation. But at least if he stays in Washington the president can make Republicans look bad. After all, if it wasn’t for them -- i.e., “Tea Party extremists,” as his team recently tweeted -- the White House probably never would have had to cancel these diplomatic visits in the first place, right?

It’s all their fault, remember?


Daniel Doherty

Daniel Doherty is Townhall's Deputy News Editor. Follow him on Twitter @danpdoherty.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography