As the Middle East goes, so goes the pivot? And other questions.

DOD/Erin Kirk-Cuomo

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie conduct a pass and review in Beijing, Sept. 18, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • The idea that the sole superpower can pivot away from any critical region was always strategically unsound.

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  • Why are Japan and China close to coming to blows over the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute?

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  • Why is it that for all the talk of a "rebalancing" or pivot to Asia, not a single ally or friend has a clue how it should reposture its military?

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The supposed grand master stroke of Obama's foreign policy, the Asia "pivot," is burning to death on the streets of the Middle East. The idea that the sole superpower can pivot away from any critical region was always strategically unsound. But even the Asia part of the pivot is not doing as well as the very self-satisfied Obamanians imagine (Full disclosure: I'm an informal advisor to Mitt Romney's Asia team). Herewith a few questions from a pivot skeptic:

1) Why are Japan and China close to coming to blows over the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute? Could it be that Japan is less than assured, as President Obama likes to say about another beleaguered allied democracy, that Washington "has its back?" In the absence of assurance of American power and commitment, might it be the case the Japan is expressing its concern over Chinese power through less than helpful acts of nationalism? Might the Japanese read the American newspapers stories that tell daily tales of a declining defense budget and nuclear deterrent?

2) If the Obamanians have managed the China-Taiwan relationship so well, why has China increased its arsenal of theater missiles pointed at Taiwan, its fighter-aircraft programs, and its strategic arsenal? Why hasn't the U.S. sold anything to Taiwan to offset these growing programs? Why does Taiwan remain outside of any meaningful international organization?

3) Might it be the case that Iran watches North Korea grow its nuclear arsenal and kill South Koreans with impunity and learns that having a nuclear arsenal offers a rogue country the ultimate deterrent that can protect it as it menaces its neighbors?

4) Why is it that for all the talk of a "rebalancing" or pivot to Asia, not a single ally or friend has a clue how it should reposture its military? Why isn't Washington bringing allies into a discussion of what military capabilities it is prepared to offer to help defend the Asian peace? For allies the pivot is beginning to look like a few nice speeches, a few thousand Marines rotating further away from flashpoints in Asia and into Darwin, Australia, and a few little ships deployed to Singapore.

5) President Obama was opposed to the South Korean Free Trade Agreement before he was for it. As a senator he helped the agreement gather dust after it was negotiated. As president he took his sweet time getting it ratified. Since then not a single solitary free trade agreement has been signed in Asia. Is free trade not an important tool of the smart power the Obamanians are supposed to be so adept at practicing?

6) Is India not an important part of an Asia policy? If it is, why is the Obama administration, which was for the surge in Afghanistan before it turned against it, showing every sign of rushing to exit Afghanistan? If Afghanistan is smoldering, it would seem that the Indians may not be able to play the role we hoped it would in East Asia.

7) Is it not the case that Asian allies who depend upon Middle Eastern energy resources may watch U.S. fecklessness in the Middle East and perhaps question Washington's ability to be the security partner of first resort in Asia?

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