Andrew Sullivan describes succinctly the dilemma that's at the heart of the US budget sequester:

...in a budget crisis, where the GOP is rightly demanding structural spending cuts, we have two big shiny objects to raid: Medicare, and defense...Now if Americans were to choose between taking care of granny or policing the entire Pacific ocean for the indefinite future, I have a feeling they’d pick granny.

Sullivan summons opinion polling to argue that the US public is very much in favour of saving granny rather than policing the Pacific. Americans, it seems, are ready to cut defence spending.

In Hugh White's preferred future, in which America makes room for a rising China in the Pacific by giving up some of its policing duties, the accommodation begins with a speech from the US president laying out exactly what this new Pacific order will look like, and America's circumscribed ambitions within it. Hugh drafted just such a speech for the final chapter of The China Choice.

A speech like that would send shock waves around the region, defining an era much as Nixon's Guam Doctrine speech defined his. But not only is such a speech unlikely, the US budget battle suggests it may not be necessary.

Maybe the accommodation Hugh hopes for doesn't actually require a conscious decision and is coming whether the US and its allies like it or not. Maybe it's a slow process involving dozens of moments like the sequester, some of which seemingly have little to do with the power balance in the Asia Pacific but which gradually constrain America's choices without the need for explicit statements or policy decisions.

Photo by Flickr user theqspeaks.