Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Pivot to Asia Is No Excuse to Lower Middle East Involvement


President Barack Obama declared the pivot to Asia as he decided to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the Middle East needs further attention and involvement by the United States. In the final debate on foreign policy for the forthcoming presidential election on October 22, both candidates focused extensively on the Middle East. It is true that the rise of China is growing increasingly critical issue in national security, and more resources are required in the Asia Pacific region. But that does not mean that the United States should lessen its presence in the Middle East. The War on Terror has not ended, and defense balance of eastern and western Eurasia must be reconsidered in view of the Arab Spring, nuclear ambition of Iran, civil war in Syria, and the US embassy attack in Libya.

Let me examine inescapable role of the United States in the Middle East. The underlying idea of the pivot to Asia is to stop overstretch in the Middle East and Central Asia by the Bush administration, and thereby, to shift personnel and resources to the Asia Pacific region. However, the assassination of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya has revealed that Al Qaeda has found another base there after severely beaten in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though weakened, terrorists still murders people in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fred Hiatt, Editorial Page Editor of the Washington Post, points out that Obama dismisses the vital implication of 9-11 beyond Al Qaeda, that is, the Middle East stability cannot be achieved unless Muslims adapt themselves to globalization and universal human rights. He says “This isn’t America’s struggle, but it is a struggle America can’t ignore.” Also, as he insists, the United States must be ready to intervene to support freedom fighters in the Middle East when necessary. However, as seen in Afghanistan, Obama is obsessed with the timetable rather than completing the mission (“No escape from the Middle East”; Washington Post; October 7, 2012).


How was the presidential debate of foreign policy on October 22? The final debate focused on the Middle East, and spent little time on China. Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were careful to avoid mentioning something provocative that would raise doubts to their supreme commander credentials among voters. As a result, the gap had been narrowed in the debate. However, focal differences were found on the Middle East. Martin Indyk, Vice President of the Brookings Institution, mentions the following points. Obama wants to shift attention to Asia as he sees that the US economy will be less dependent oil import from the Middle East while more dependent on rising markets in Asia. Unlike his predecessor, Middle East democracy is not the primary issue for Obama. On the other hand, Romney explores more interventionist policy in view of widespread unrest in the region, and he does not accept the viewpoint that less dependence on Middle East oil means less importance of this region to US national security. See the video below.




In support of continual US presence in the Middle East, Senator John McCain criticized that the Obama administration has ruined the achievements in Iraq due to reckless withdrawal. Also, he warned of the spread of Al Qaeda terrorism in North Africa from Libya to Mali. See the video below.




The rise of China and growing interstate rivalries necessitate steady US presence in the Asia Pacific region. But that does not mean that the United States should curtail involvement in the Middle East. Senator McCain repeatedly argues that it America’s indifference to the Middle East that left the region terrorist home ground, and ultimately, led to 9-11 attacks. The problem is beyond oil. Leaving extremism, terrorism, autocracy, and nuclear proliferation in this region will inflict tremendous costs to global security. “It is a struggle that America can’t ignore” to fight against those challenges.