It isn’t a “pivot,” was the message of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta yesterday. It’s a “rebalancing.”Whatever it is, it’s big.Panetta used the occasion of a Singapore speech at the (London based) International Institute of Strategic Studies to tell a group of Asian officials about US plans to shift the balance of its naval forces to the Asia Pacific region. When the shift is scheduled to be completed in 2020, 60 percent of US naval forces will be concentrated in the area.There will not just be more US forces in the Pacific; they will be more active. According to Panetta, the US will be increasing joint exercises and port calls throughout the region. The shift in US military strength is even larger than it looks; the US is also stepping up its presence in Africa. American military strength is moving from north to south and from the Atlantic towards the Indian and Pacific Oceans.As if this was not enough, the Defense Department announced today (on Twitter, no less @PentagonPresSec) not only that the US, Australia and Japan have just completed a successful trilateral meeting, but that the US and Singapore have reached agreement on the rotational deployment of 4 US littoral combat ships to the island state. Secretary Panetta is not-very-coincidentally also scheduled to be the first US Secretary of Defense since the Vietnam War to visit Cam Ranh Bay, a former US naval base. According to the Defense Department, the agenda will include closer military cooperation between the US and Vietnam.The Defense Department is not the only US government agency to shift its attention to new horizons. The State Department is also shifting resources to Africa and Asia. This is a move that began under President Bush and has been deepened and extended under President Obama.It is not that Europe no longer matters to the United States. It is that despite the turmoil now shaking the EU over the euro, the US believes that Europe now needs less help. Russia, despite its best efforts, is unable to play the kind of role that the Soviet Union once did. Germany remains deeply attached to a model of European leadership that respects the autonomy and the rights of smaller states and, overall, Europe today works pretty much the way Woodrow Wilson wanted back in 1918.The Middle East, despite the upheavals in the region, looks over the long term to provide less of a threat to US interests. The region is largely united against Iran; no other actor in the region today has the kind of capability to threaten key US interests that Nasser or Saddam Hussein claimed in their prime. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the world to give credit to Dick Cheney and George W. Bush for this, but US interests in the Middle East are in better shape now than at any time since the First Gulf War. Once the nuclear standoff with Iran has been settled one way or another, the US should be in a position to guard its interests with a much lighter regional presence.Success in Europe and the Middle East is freeing up new US capacity to deal with the most important theaters in coming decades. With alliances and understandings linking key Asian countries in a loose and flexible coalition, the US can get on with the next important job on its to-do list: working with Asian countries, including China, to build a liberal Asian security and economic order that promotes the peaceful development of all the countries in the region.The US goal in Asia is not to dominate the region itself; at some future date we can hope that a US Secretary of Defense will be ready to announce a reduction of US commitments in Asia as the Asian order becomes better established and more deeply grounded. The US is not interested in containing or isolating China, but is seeking to establish a framework within which China can grow and develop in peace with its neighbors and the world.The Chinese are probably not seeing that side of US policy very clearly at the moment. The succession of diplomatic steps, the new relationship with Burma (which, Panetta now says, could soon have a military dimension), the bases and the force realignments will look to many in Beijing like the worst kind of containment. Without ceding ground, US diplomacy needs to deepen our engagement with China; that may not happen overnight, but needs to be an equal focus of our new Pacific diplomacy.