I'm visiting the US this week as a guest of the State Department, exploring the US rebalance to Asia. Confidence that the pivot will endure abounds amongst those US experts engaged in thinking about Asia. But so it should. Consensus thus far has been that, regardless of who wins the election (which, as one breathless pundit observed, is now less than a thousand hours away), the intellectual commitment to a focus on Asia will remain.
What is more uncertain is how the rebalance will be implemented in the short term. Many of the key Asia hands who have led the fledgling pivot to Asia will soon leave government service.
On Thursday I attended Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell's last testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before he leaves his position. Senators Webb and Lugar, who conducted the hearing, will retire imminently from the Senate. With Secretary Clinton and possibly Secretary Panetta also retiring, many of the senior leaders who have pushed the rebalance (and who were frequent visitors to Asia) will be gone.
A new administration, regardless of its political persuasion, will need time to reset linkages with Asian leaders and understand the nuances of the region. Assistant Secretary Campbell acknowledged in his testimony that there is concern in the region about who will fill the 'large boots and shoes' of those who are moving on. Both sides of politics will be hampered in responding to any immediate crisis in Asia by the transition of personnel, and there are a few possible flashpoints looming.