America’s Pacific Presence
On his inaugural visit to Asia as president in November 2009, Barack Obama declared himself “America’s first Pacific president” and the US a “Pacific nation.”(note 1) President Obama’s self-characterization, based no doubt on his unusual biography of having been born in Hawai`i and partly raised in Indonesia, is novel. Identifying the US as a Pacific nation, however, is a longstanding tradition, increasingly common today and one that resonates for many reasons, ranging from geography to a complex mix of American ideas, attitudes, and interests. This is surprising for a country created by European migrants and long accustomed to a European, or “Atlantic,” outlook.
The claim that the US is a Pacific nation rests first on geographical reality. Territorial expansion between the late eighteenth and the middle of the nineteenth centuries brought the US from its origins along the Atlantic seaboard across the North American continent to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. These territorial gains resulted from a combination of diplomacy, purchase, and conflict with other countries and Native Americans.
1. Remarks by President Barack Obama at Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan, November 14, 2009, accessed September 17, 2011, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-barack-obama-suntory-hall.