California ‘White House’ would help Pacific pivot

Symbolism counts for a lot in foreign policy. Adversarial leaders are photographed smiling and shaking hands to show thawing relations. They grimace to show public displeasure. Nonthreatening and soft symbolism makes a point about state relations without allowing for dangerous misinterpretation or miscalculation between nations.

The U.S. should consider operating a western White House out of California on a regularly scheduled basis to signal a shift not only in strategic thinking, writes Markos Kounalakis. The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands has already functioned as the successful setting for the 2013 meetings between presidents Barack Obama and China’s Xi Jinping. A seasonally planned Sunnylands stay, combined with a clear “pivot” purpose, would make an even greater statement about America’s strategic outlook. Evan Vucci Associated Press file

The U.S. should consider operating a western White House out of California on a regularly scheduled basis to signal a shift not only in strategic thinking, writes Markos Kounalakis. The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands has already functioned as the successful setting for the 2013 meetings between presidents Barack Obama and China’s Xi Jinping. A seasonally planned Sunnylands stay, combined with a clear “pivot” purpose, would make an even greater statement about America’s strategic outlook. Evan Vucci Associated Press file

Harder, more aggressive symbolic acts get a lot of immediate attention. In the worst case, they can really confuse matters or welcome unintended consequences. To make a tough point, adversarial nations will sail naval subs into other countries’ territorial waters (Russia), fly new stealth fighter jets during a state visit (China), or blow up nuclear weapons as warning shots (North Korea). This harder symbolism shows off increased military capacities, warns real and potential adversaries, and threatens everyone that these countries’ leaders are serious, if not downright unhinged.


Read more