Week In News: Obama Wraps Up Asia Tour

President Obama wrapped up a nine-day trip to Asia today, during which he announced a troop build up in Australia and a rare State Department visit to the isolationist country of Myanmar formerly known as Burma. Weekends on All Things Considered guest host host Laura Sullivan speaks with James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, about the trip — as well as other stories from the past week.

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LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:

It's Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan.

MAHMOUD SHAMMAM: What we can confirm now that Saif al-Gadhafi has been arrested and he should be tried in front of the Libyan court, by Libyan people and by Libyan justice.

SULLIVAN: That's Mahmoud Shammam, Libya's National Transitional Council's information minister, announcing that Moammar Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam had been captured. The U.S. State Department hasn't confirmed it yet.

James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us as he does most Saturdays for a look behind the headlines. Hello, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Laura.

SULLIVAN: The images of his father's bloody capture are still so fresh in our minds. And the new Libyan government came under a lot of international fire for that. How should they proceed with this latest news?

FALLOWS: Well, obviously, they need to handle the son in a much different way from what happened to the father. The transition from dictatorship or autocracy or whatever comes before a democratic system to whatever comes afterwards is always difficult. We saw that in Eastern Europe with the fall of the Communist Bloc countries. We saw that certainly in Iraq, and we're seeing it in Afghanistan. So I think this will be an important test for whatever is the new regime in Libya to see whether they're able to handle this fraught situation in a more orderly way.

SULLIVAN: In other foreign news, President Obama ended his nine-day trip to Asia's Pacific Rim. And the big announcement: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Burma, now known as Myanmar, next month. Myanmar has been right up there with North Korea in terms of isolationism. So, this seems pretty surprising.

FALLOWS: The United States and most Western powers have maintained a boycott against the Burmese regime because of its cruelty, its isolation, its long-term imprisonment of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, et cetera. But in the last, really, couple of months and couple of weeks, there have been signs from the Burmese leaders that they're willing to have a more open policy, which is partly perhaps some democratic revival or kindling in Burma, but also a sense that in the absence of the U.S. and all their Western powers, really, the only country that has dealt with them has been China.

And so, Burma has been more and more in the situation of becoming a sort of quasi-Chinese protectorate or a vassal state. And so that's one other aspect of this possible opening to the West.

SULLIVAN: How did the Chinese view his trip?

FALLOWS: There has been a fair amount of consternation in the Chinese press in the last couple of days, especially about the announcement in Australia that United States would position for the first time in a very long while a U.S. Marine Corps base in northern Australia, in Darwin, which is a point so far north in Australia that it's right next to Indonesia.

And this is part of a larger orchestration over the last year or year and a half of the U.S. signaling in various ways visits by Secretary of State Clinton, by Secretary of Defense Gates to all the countries except China, showing that the United States is not going away as a Pacific power. Its economic problems don't mean it's going to retreat entirely into a North American shell.

And simultaneously, the Obama administration has been reassuring the Chinese that we're not threatened by their rise. We don't want to contain them, but it's been quite, I think, an artful balancing act, showing that we want to maintain our presence in the Pacific, both militarily, diplomatically and economically in the long run.

SULLIVAN: Well, Obama's headed back to Washington tonight. And here in Washington, the congressional supercommittee is still trying to find common ground on budget cuts and revenue increases. And the deadline for them to send their proposal to Congress and get it approved is Wednesday.

FALLOWS: If the supercommittee doesn't make a deal, as almost no one thinks it can, nothing really is going to happen in the short run. The first automatic cuts to the budget, which would be equally divided between defense and non-defense spending, won't happen until early 2013. That is more than a year from now and after the next presidential election. And if you know anything about politics and the Congress, lots of adjustments are possible between now and then.

I think the main point this raises is that the disagreements about whether taxes can and should be increased, about where and how spending can be cut. They weren't resolved in this committee and they will be debated as the main issue of the presidential campaign in the year to come.

SULLIVAN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. And you can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks so much for joining us.

FALLOWS: My pleasure, Laura.

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