Ronan Farrow Daily   |  April 24, 2014

Obama’s Asia trip: All talk, no substance?

As President Obama meets with foreign leaders on his trip to Asia, some are asking if tangible progress on issues is being made, or if the president’s trip is simply “style over substance.” The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank and The Root’s Corey Dade discuss.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> president obama is in japan this hour having just wrapped up a state dinner on day two of his asia two, meant to underscore american policy and inted triggered questions at home about the strength of president obama and the foreign policy around the world. the complaint, that this trip lacks substance. s had first order of business after landing in tokyo, take a look.

>> thank you. have some good sushi right there. it's terrific. thank you so much.

>> then there was today's tourist in chief moment with mr. roboto.

>> hey, good job. [ applause ]

>> i have learned how to jump.

>> it was a pleasure meeting you, mr. president. enjoy the rest of your visit too.

>> that is pretty cool. the promised policy center piece of this trip, the trans pacific trade partnership has stalled with no signs of resolution any time soon, prompting dana milbank to worn, the photo-op nature of the trip risks contributing to a perception that obama's asian policy and foreign policy in general is similarly itinerant. diplomatic trips from presidents matter. this kind of outreach reminds people that these relationships with the rising economic powers are important to america and engaging on subjects that matter to these diplomatic relationships like taking a stand in the senkaku islands . president obama came on far stronger than expected on that subject, affirming the united states is obligated under treaty to protect japan against china 's encroachment and that, raladies and gents is substance. i'll start with you dayna, would you say the pivot to the east has failed at this point?

>> no, i would say there hasn't been enough of it. i think it's terrific that he's there in asia doing this. but remember the pivot was first declared in 2011 . and my complaint here is not an idealogical one. i think the policies are is a personal reasonable and good one if it is to pivot to asia , let's do that and have the emphasis there and keep it solidly there. i think the juxtaposition of the two events, you see the middle east peace talks falling apart today and shows we're going off in various directions without focusing enough to get one of them done like that trans pacific trade deal.

>> you point out in the latest piece, this isn't the president's fault, about outside events far from east asia keeping focus elsewhere. in light of that, don't you think it's all the more important he make a trip as a counter balance.

>> he needs to do that again and again if that is the policy. it's an idea of emphasis here. not enough to have a trip like this, see the robot and have the sushi and say the right things and move on to another part of the world. it's very much like domestic affairs. when the president is focused and consistently hitting something like obamacare it gets done. when he gives a speech and then takes hi foot off the accelerator like gun control , it tends not to happen. i would like to see him say, take whatever the piece of foreign policy is, whether it's ukraine or asia or middle east and just keep hammering away until he gets his achievement.

>> i would say the trip is important for a step towards exactly that. i'll get back to that debate. the one deliverable is this trans-pacific trade agreement , with 12 different asian countries , very complex but setting a lot of trade standards and opening a lot of markets. it appears to have stalled but is that the president's fault with a tough, complicated agreement?

>> no, we can't put it on the president's shoulders completely. when you think about issues involving this many players especially when you're talking about china 's increased u.s. exports, this is where the president is but one player. it's not as linear, we wereng anl gous to how he behaves with domestic policy . with international policy, he doesn't have as much control. it's not as much of a linear game as it is when he's stateside. as long as people -- as long as this administration understands the importance of getting this deal done and keeping the players at the table, especially for this deal, he can keep his pedal to the metal . but do agree when obama is not focused, especially with issues that aren't as urgent, he gets a little kplasant and it shows in how in the first few hours in asia .

>> dana, your argument is that this lacks substance and we asked a white house source who said the jabs at state dinners and cultural events misunderstand the resonance that those events have in the countries we visit. obviously you're not arguing it's a waste of time per se .

>> no.

>> but you're saying it's not substantive and this is the president's first trip to japan , first presidential trip to japan in almost 20 years, first trip to malaysia in 50 years. don't you think the act of advi visiting is sufficient.

>> sure, i would like to see more of that the president believes like he said in 2011 , we need to take emphasis out of the middle east and put it in asia because that's where our exports are going and the most rapidly developing region of the world is. okay, well let's do that and put our emphasis there. certainly you can't say, well, it was entirely up to the president to negotiate a trade deal. you negotiated a trade deal with a partner or haven't negotiated a trade deal. as i point out in the column, a lot of things are outside of the president's control. what's in his control is the degree to which he keeps the mega phone, the presidential megaphone on an issue. do the state dinners but don't forget about it next week. if asia is the emphasis of the united states , let's make it there.

>> what about his role taking a stands on japan 's behalf in the dispute over these islands, do you think that counts as substance?

>> sure it does. i couldn't anticipate that since the column appeared before that event occurred. but of course that's a piece of t the president's national security adviser was asked is this the and susan rice , himmed and hauled, it's a positive happy trip. why not call it the china containment trip? and that's what the gist of those remarks are.

>> there's a argument to be made that the rhetoric could be stronger in how we frame the trips. cory, when we look at that act of taking a stand on japan 's behalf, does that risk too much chinese goodwill at a time when china is on the rise economically.

>> it's always on the rise but the economic growth has slowed down and china 's economic growth is going to continue to slow down because it can't sustain that kind of output through in pep turtty. the president is trying to thread a needle and show the u.s.'s solidarity with japan and not to an tag nies china , not being any means a china containment trip.

>> it will be interesting to see how the rest of the trip plays out. appreciate