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So Much for the Pivot
DoD Official: Pivot to Asia "Can't Happen"

According to one senior official in the Department of Defense, practically speaking, the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia “can’t happen.” Katrina McFarland, an Assistant Secretary of Defense, made the comment today when speaking at a conference in Arlington. She later clarified her remarks, saying, “The rebalance to Asia can and will continue.” Though she swiftly brought an off-the-cuff remark back into the official government line, it’s undeniable that Washington is having serious trouble making the policy work.

With Ukraine on a knife’s edge and Russia increasingly assertive elsewhere in Europe and the Middle East—and the Obama administration doing its best to cut back the U.S. military’s budget—the U.S. armed forces are struggling to rebalance toward Asia. A January poll on defense issues found that 62 percent of the national security leaders who participated said the rebalance to Asia wasn’t affordable. Negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership, which you might call the economic pillar of the pivot, are dangerously close to collapsing, thanks in part to steadfast stonewalling from members of Obama’s own party. Meanwhile, China has seized the initiative by declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone that covers much of the East China Sea. Our Asian allies who expected an increased U.S. presence in the region have made their disappointment known.

“The real danger for Washington,” writes Michael Auslin in the Wall Street Journal, “is that it becomes seen as a paper tiger.” Quite true. No doubt China’s top leadership is watching how the Obama administration reacts to Russian belligerence in Ukraine very closely, looking for some clue as to how the United States might respond to increased Chinese aggression in East and Southeast Asia. Indeed, an op-ed appeared in the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, that calls Putin’s actions in Ukraine “understandable” and urges the United States to “respect Russia’s unique role in mapping out the future of Ukraine.”

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  • Jim__L

    Utopian domestic priorities are causing the collapse of the Pax Americana.

    The chance that the next large war will be caused by anything other than this administration’s incompetence is vanishingly small.

  • Andrew Allison

    Becomes seen as a paper tiger? Surely he meant is seen as a paper tiger.

  • Anthony

    “The pivot to Asia, this rebalancing of U.S. diplomatic and military efforts from West to East, was intended to show that the United States was still capable of sober and rational calculation of its interests and capabilities…In a world accustomed to seeing the American superpower wielding influence everywhere at once, the notion of pivoting from one region to another has been deeply unsettling – to everyone.” Perhaps, pivot to Asia has become capture of other foreign policy realities and anxieties.

    • Jim__L

      If we weaken ourselves as this administration has been, we’re going to have to learn to prioritize our “foreign policy realities and anxieties”. An argument could be made that a pivot to Asia is necessary even if it means letting some of Europe and the Middle East go.

      Or, we could stop weakening our ability to project power because we’re chasing utopian, bottomless-pit domestic priorities.

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