Pivot to Asia: Staunching the Loss of More Allies?
In November of 2011 an article was published under Hillary Clinton’s name entitled "America’s Pacific Century." The piece laid the foundation for the administration refocusing its diplomatic efforts away from the Middle East and Europe and towards Asia.
According to recent press reports, the week-long trip President Obama will embark upon Tuesday to Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea will be less about assessing how well the “rebalancing” is progressing than aimed at reassuring America’s friends and allies that the US is still a global player and can be relied upon.
Given the events that have unfolded since the 2011 Clinton article, this will be a decidedly hard sell.
The pivot’s implementation has so far not resulted in the hoped-for strengthening of America’s position in the area. In fact, China, the most important potential regional spoiler, has since the announcement taken actions that have increased fears amongst America’s local partners.
The lack of a muscular US response to Beijing’s military actions around disputed territories, such as the Senkaku Islands, has led smaller and weaker nations to question the US commitment in the Pacific region and Japan to initiate its first military base expansion in 40 years.
The recent seizure of a Japanese vessel by China, ostensibly for a debt dating back to the 1930s – when Japan occupied large amounts of Chinese territory – demonstrates the historic longevity of grudges in the region and that the subsequent disputes are not limited to speeches alone.
Behind the positive narrative of America taking a greater interest in a region that is growing in economic and political importance, the implied message of the pivot was that America was going to “interfere” less in the Middle East and that Washington was breaking with the Eurocentrism of the 20th century – a form of geostrategic affirmative action if you will.
In the years since the announcement was made, a series of global developments have questioned the soundness of the administration’s decision to turn its gaze away from Eurasia and the Greater Middle East.
The much lauded Arab Spring – perhaps better labelled a “Christian Winter” – was fêted by the White House and expected to lead to an explosion of representative government in North Africa and the Middle East. Instead it has led to a strengthening of anti-democratic forces in general and violent conflict more specifically.
In Syria, a civil war that was initially about the removal of an authoritarian regime has morphed into a religiously fuelled civil war, with al Qaeda affiliates streaming foreign fighters into the combat zone and nations that are officially allies of the US arming and otherwise supporting the extremist Sunni forces committed to the death of the Alawite (read Shia) Assad. (See al Qaeda expert Tom Joscelyn’s excellent congressional testimony on the evolution of the war and the threat it poses to the mainland US.)
Even where the fundamentalist and theocratic Muslim Brotherhood forces that were swept into power through democratic elections ended up being removed after they revealed their true nature – as in Egypt – the situation has deteriorated thanks in part to US inaction or our commitment to the appearance and mechanics of democracy over the true quality of that democracy.
When 30 million Egyptians went to the streets to call for the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood government and the Egyptian army removed President Mohammad Morsi – who had provided political cover for jihadi infiltration of the Sinai – the White House decided to freeze US aid to Cairo instead of congratulating the Egyptian people. This included aid that was being used to fight al Qaeda affiliates in Egypt.
As a delegation of former senior US military and national security experts was informed by General Sisi last year, this support for the letter of the law over the spirit of the law was not appreciated by the military establishment that since 1973 had helped maintain the peace in the Middle East and prevented another Arab-Israeli war.
Then there is Hillary’s own “reset” with the Kremlin, which also has failed to bring the expected positive results for American national interests.
Instead of concluding that one doesn’t just invade one's smaller neighbors – as occurred with the Republic of Georgia in 2008 – Moscow instead decided, after the reset with the Obama administration, that the potential loss of Ukraine to the European Union and NATO was too great. So it deployed 30,000 troops to swallow the Crimea and then sent masked special units to Eastern Ukraine to further threaten its biggest Westerly neighbor.
In response the US administration has launched very limited sanctions, shipped MREs to Kiev, and is about to send 150 troops to our NATO ally Poland. (Yes, 150. Not 150,000).
The hope that the international community can function along 21st century principles and settle disagreements amicably in multilateral fora has been disproved by the events of just the last few months. The idea that Europe and the Middle East are secure and stable and no longer important to America is wishful thinking.
The Shakespearean play that is modern world politics seems to be haunted by the ghosts of the great 19th and 20th century strategists Mahan, Spykman, and MacKinder, all gentlemen who understood that Hope and Change doth not a strategy make.
Sebastian Gorka, PhD is National Security Editor of Breitbart.com.