The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Obama Pivoting Back to the Middle East?

President Obama’s strategy of maintaining a “light footprint” in the Middle East while stepping up U.S. involvement in Asia isn’t going exactly as planned. In light of the chaos and uncertainty in Libya, Syria, Gaza, and Egypt—to say nothing of the continued threat from Iran—the military is now considering increasing its presence in the region, according to CNN:

 Senior U.S. military officials are considering increasing the American military presence in the Mediterranean because of what they see as growing instability in recent months, CNN has learned. . . .

Short of being ordered into combat, the Navy is looking to beef up its presence in order to conduct humanitarian assistance missions and training exercises with other nations in the region, the sources said.

But clearly more ships and aircraft also give the military an increased capability to evacuate Americans from a hotspot or put forces on the ground to conduct security operations to protect embassies.

As conflict rages across the region, surface-to-air missiles from the Libya make their way to Gaza and Mali, and established secular authorities give way to islamist rivals, the Obama administration is learning, like others before it, that the Middle East is difficult to ignore, however much we may wish to.

It may be that events in the China Sea prove more important to U.S. foreign policy in the long term, but we are still more likely to see the military splitting its time between the Pacific and the Mediterranean. This will be a difficult balancing act, and doubly so if Washington goes through with serious defense cuts. Asia and the Middle East: they aren’t either/or. America is going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Published on November 26, 2012 5:00 pm