The Business Times

Obama shouldn't get lost in the Middle East

Published Mon, Feb 10, 2014 · 10:00 PM
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"WE can't just be consumed 24/7 by one region, important as it is," US National Security Adviser Susan Rice explained to a New York Times reporter last October, insisting that President Barack Obama would follow a "more modest strategy in the Middle East" during his second term in office. Against the backdrop of a push by the Obama administration to shift or "pivot" the locus of its geostrategy to East Asia, Ms Rice stressed that there was "a whole world out there, and we've got interests and opportunities in that whole world".

But as Secretary of State John Kerry prepares for another round of shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, where he is trying to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations (after attending the recent international summit on ending the civil war in Syria that followed more talks on resolving the Iran nuclear crisis), it now seems that the administration's policy in the Middle East is anything but "modest". In fact, one official told the Wall Street Journal recently that Washington was seeking "to dispel" the myth of disengagement, particularly the notion that the US "is pulling back from the Middle East".

No one was suggesting that the Obama administration should pull back from the Middle East or begin a process of disengagement from the region. The United States continues to maintain core security interests in that region, including the protection of access to its energy resources and the strategic partnership with allies like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. It's understandable therefore that curbing Iran's nuclear programme and ending the civil war in Syria would remain top US priorities. But for an American administration committed to elevating East Asia to the top of its foreign policy agenda and intent on not being "consumed 24/7" by the Middle East, it makes very little sense to spend so much time and diplomatic capital in dealing with the latest dispute over the establishment of new Jewish settlements in the West Bank while it's the danger of a military conflict between China and Japan that should probably cause President Obama and Secretary Kerry sleepless nights.

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