Middle East unease a drag on Washington’s ‘pivot to Asia’

Source:Global Times Published: 2013-10-21 20:53:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The developments in Syria over the past few weeks have seen US President Barack Obama's Syria policy start with a bang but end with a whimper, as a Foreign Policy article pointed out.

In the long run, the whimpers may not necessarily be felt in Syria, the frontline of the US' Middle East policies, but in the Asia-Pacific region to which Washington has dedicated increased political, economic and security engagement.

Some international strategists believe that the US is in a weakened position because a Syrian war might worsen US debt and thus undermine its ability to pay for national defense. These are partly the reason. But the main reasons behind the US' twists and turns are that it has already achieved some short-term objectives in Syria.

Washington has aimed to restore the military balance within Syria. In the past few months, the Syrian government has gained the advantage with the help from Hezbollah and Iranian volunteer forces.

Under a threat of war from the US, Syria's government forces will take a cautious attitude, thus a military balance can be achieved.

Meanwhile, the US wants to divert global attention from the military coup in Egypt in July to which the US eventually gave acquiescence.

The military coup runs contrary to US values; if it was officially declared a coup, US law would require them to cut off all aid.

In this regard, the US has been in an awkward position when faced with international opinions. Now glwobal attention has been turning to what the US might do in Syria.

With some objectives achieved, the US knows that further actions may bring itself into trouble. Washington also knows that the divided Syrian opposition is not reliable. There are members of Al Qaeda within the opposition, and the US does not want to be their protector.

In the meantime, the US has met with international objection and military action has risks in itself: What if Syria attacks Israel?

At this critical moment, it was Russia that came to the US' rescue by picking up on US Secretary of State John Kerry's seemingly offhand comment and proposing to the Syrian government that they turn over all chemical weapons to international supervisors. Russia has done a smart job in this regard.

Although the US has achieved its goals in some ways, doubts have been raised about its Asia-Pacific policies.

Dan Twining summarized in a recent Foreign Policy blog post that Obama's Syria policy shows the US is walking away from the role it has played for a century as leading the world's liberal order and this is especially the case in Asia as Asian countries worry the US "pivot to Asia" was little more than rhetoric.

Obama would very much like to deepen his pivot strategy in his second term, but he is also facing multiple obstacles such as domestic concerns. His recent cancellation of Southeast Asia trips due to the government shutdown is one proof.

Unease in the Middle East and Latin America also drags Obama's agenda. The situation in some regions of Asia could evolve to an extent to which the US cannot control.

Compared with his predecessor Hillary Clinton, Kerry is less swashbuckling in Asian affairs.

As a veteran US politician, Kerry has political interest in Europe and the Middle East. And the US is being held back by concerns in other parts of the world rather than Asia.

Asian countries have been striking a balance between the US and China. They will not snub the US. Now that the US' domestic political crisis has been overcome for the moment, Southeast Asian countries may be expecting Obama's next visit.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Wang Wenwen based on an interview with Jin Canrong, vice director of the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China. wangwenwen@globaltimes.com.cn

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