BALI, Indonesia (AP) — After a nine-day trip through Asia in which he showed command on the world stage, President Barack Obama is headed back to debt-deadlocked Washington, where he'll confront fresh reminders of the limits of his power at home.
Obama departed from Bali's international airport Saturday afternoon for a 21-hour flight that, factoring in time-zone changes, was to return him to the White House before dawn Sunday. He'll be arriving days ahead of a deadline for a congressional supercommittee to produce recommendations to attack the country's yawning deficit. But even though the president spoke to supercommittee leaders from Air Force One as he headed out of town and urged them to get a deal, the panel is no further along than when the president left: frozen along partisan lines.
If no agreement is reached steep cuts would be enacted across the federal government that both sides say they want to avoid, particularly to the defense budget. But no end game was in sight as Obama made his way back home from the other side of the globe.
Also awaiting him are presidential politics heading into the 2012 election year, something Obama largely avoided while traveling in Hawaii, Australia and Indonesia. And with his opponents on the attack over his stewardship of the listless economy, Obama will renew his largely futile efforts to get Congress to pass his jobs bill as he aims to cast Republicans as the ones to blame.
For Obama, it may amount to something of a harsh homecoming after playing proud host in his native Hawaii to a summit of Pacific Rim nations, and traveling on to two countries where he remains highly popular and received warm welcomes.
Obama set out in his Asia-Pacific tour to deepen U.S. engagement in a fast-growing region that the White House views as increasingly critical to America's security and economic prosperity. He achieved some successes, including progress on a regional free-trade deal that could pay off with U.S. jobs, and a new military agreement with Australia that will boost the U.S. defense posture in the region by deploying more Marines and U.S. aircraft to Australia.
Obama also announced he was dispatching his secretary of state to Myanmar in a significant step to prod forward reforms in that country, and he presided over a Boeing deal with an Indonesian air carrier worth billions of dollars and tens of thousands of U.S. jobs.
Throughout the trip the complexities of the U.S. relationship with China were on display, as Obama sent both public and private signals to the rising giant, cementing American power in a manner seen to counter China, and scolding Chinese leaders about the need to play by the rules economically. On the final day of his trip, Saturday in Indonesia, Obama held a surprise meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of an East Asia summit, focusing on the economic matters that have prompted disputes between the two major world powers.
White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon told reporters that Obama stressed the importance of China adjusting the value of its currency, which the United States contends is deeply undervalued, and he said Obama and Wen also briefly discussed territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
But Donilon downplayed tensions and rejected suggestions that the nine-day mission in the Asia-Pacific was designed to thwart a rising China. The U.S. policy, Donilon said, was about rebalancing U.S. interests and focusing once more on the Asia-pacific region. "This has nothing to do with isolating or containing anybody," he said.