Debate Magazine

America Must Defend Both Asia and the Middle East

Posted on the 09 November 2011 by Shahalexander

As if resonating the announcement by President Barack Obama to withdraw of US troops from Iraq (“U.S. Troops to Leave Iraq by Year’s End, Obama Says”; New York Times; October 21, 2011), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton contributed an article to insists that the United States expand in political and military presence in Asia (“America’s Pacific Century”; Foreign Policy; November 2011). However, this should not curtail current US involvement in the Middle East as Iran can fill the vacuum of power. Less involvement in the Middle East does not necessarily mean more involvement in Asia.
First, let me review the Foreign Policy article by Secretary Clinton. The Secretary says that the United States has allocated too much resource to Iraq and Afghanistan over the decade, and it is time to consider smart and systematic use of time and energy to sustain American leadership in the world. Clinton argues that the United States needs more focus on the Asia Pacific region, because this area has become a key to global politics. High economic growth and emerging powers like China, India, and Indonesia. In face of growing isolationism because of long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with domestic economy, she rebukes that America needs new markets in rapidly growing Asia. Clinton wants to restructure alliances with Asia Pacific nations, primarily with Japan, and also South Korea, Australia, and so forth, in order to manage security challenges of China. On the other hand, she explores more business opportunity in China, while maintaining American superiority against Chinese military build up. However, this article focuses extensively on market opportunities in Asia, rather than security in this region, and it insists on shifting manpower and resource from Iraq and Afghanistan. Therefore, it raises serious concern that the Obama administration’s focus on Asia would sacrifice security in the Middle East, which will ultimately scale down America’s role as the world police man.
Currently, withdrawal from Iraq is the foremost issue on US role in the Middle East. Kayvan Kaboli, leader of Iranian resistance Green Party, criticizes that Obama’s decision to withdraw US troops from Iraq is premature and obsessed with the presidential election, which will ultimately embolden expansionism of the Shiite regime in Iran (“The Future of Iraq after US Departure”; Iranian American Forum --- Washington Insight; October 24. 2011). A joint article by Frederick W. Kagan: Director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, Kimberly Kagan: President of the Institute for the Study of War, and Marisa Cochrane Sullivan Deputy Director of the Institute for the Study of War, argues “President Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops is the mother of all disasters” (“Defeat in Iraq”; Weekly Standard; November 7, 2011). Unlike Vietnam, Iraq is related to two critical security challenges which are Iran and Al Qaeda. They say that US pullout will intensify sectarian conflicts in Iraq, which will lead Sunni Arabs to seek support from Al Qaeda. In rivalry with them, Shiites look for help from Iran. More importantly, Iran can penetrate its influence and import illegal goods through a long border line between Iraq. Therefore, it is vital to control trans-border trade to impose sanctions on Iran’s nuclear project. Also, three authors say that current domestic politics in Iraq is dependent on delicate balance of ethno-sectarian fractions so much that US presence is necessary to guarantee stability. When the Obama administration declared the pullout from Iraq, The chairman of Iran’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Hassan Firouzabadi even said that “American soldiers had no other choice than to leave Iraq, and this is the beginning of all American forces withdrawing from the region.” As three authors argue, leaving Iraq without completing the mission will undermine what America has achieved in the War on Terror.
In view of criticism, Secretary Clinton warned Iran not to misunderstand US intentions in the Middle East. She stressed that the United States will maintain a robust presence in Iraq, by providing support and training for the Iraqi military and security forces (“Clinton warns Iran not to ‘miscalculate’ U.S. resolve as troops leave Iraq”; Washington Post; October 24, 2011). Moreover, the Obama administration announced to increase military presence in the Gulf area after withdrawing from Iraq. Combat troops in Iraq will be repositioned in Kuwait, and military ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council in face of growing threat of Iran. Multilateral security partnerships in the region develop furthermore. The Iraqi military forces were invited to an anti-guerrilla and terrorist exercise called Eager Lion 12 in Jordan next year. Also, Some Gulf Cooperation Council members Qatar and the United Arab Emirates sent combat aircrafts to NATO led mission in Libya, and Bahrain and the UAE deploy forces in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Gulf nations are concerned that American withdrawal from Iraq creates a vacuum that provokes Iran’s expansionist ambition as Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid says. At the Senate Armed Service Committee, twelve senators expressed their distress that Iran would interpret US pullout from Iraq as their strategic victory (“U.S. Planning Troop Buildup in Gulf after Exit from Iraq”; New York Times; October 29, 2011).
A resource shift from the Middle East to Asia is no assurance to block Chinese expansionism. China is keen on filling the power vacuum when US troops withdraw from Afghanistan through strengthening ties with Pakistan (“China, US Reevaluate Asian Strategies Post Bin Laden”; Eurasia Review; May 8, 2011). The Sino-Pakistani nuclear deal is an apparent posture of rivaling against the United States and India. In addition, China continues to provide advanced missiles to Iran, which violates UN sanctions. China breaks the promise to the United States in 1997 not to sell C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles to Iran. In addition, China built an entire missile plant in Iran to produce the Nasr-1 anti-ship cruise missile last year. The United States can punish foreign companies that provide advanced arms to Iran, through the Iran Freedom Support Act of 2006 or CISADA (the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act) of 2010 (“Inside the Ring --- China Iran Missile Sales”; Washington Times; November 2, 2011). China’s strong connections with Iran and Pakistan make Middle East increasingly vulnerable.
Since the Chinese threat is global, and the Middle East nations need American presence, the United States must be well prepared to manage security challenges both in Asia and the Middle East. Therefore, it is vital that US defense expenditures meet such dual or even multiple requirements for global security. Michael Auslin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, discusses the impact of current defense spending cut on Asian security. His primary focus is China’s expansion of navy operations from the East and the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean. Rapid build up of the Chinese navy and its assertive behavior on the Asian sea lane, heighten tensions in the region from Japan, ASEAN nations, Australia, and India. The resulting insecurity highlights continual US role to maintain stability, and Asia-Pacific nations explore to deepen strategic partnership with the United States. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta needed to soothe anxieties of Asian nations, regarding defense budget cut on his trip to Asia this October (“Asian Anxiety”; New York Times; October 25, 2011). I would like to mention that the Asian sea lane connects both sides of Eurasia, and security of Asia and the Middle East is strongly interconnected.
In Washington, the special bipartisan committee on the budget demanded not to cut defense spending furthermore. House Speaker John Boehner told that defense expenditure cut went beyond the requirements in the budget accord between President Obama and Republicans thus summer. Meanwhile, Democrat Congressman Adam Smith of the House Armed Service Committee said that lawmakers need to show alternatives to defend defense spending, such as raising revenue or cutting spending other than defense (“Boehner speaks out against more defense cuts”; Military Times; October 27, 2011). Robert Samuelson, Economics Columnist of the Washington Post, point out that US armed forces have been downsized precipitously from late 1980s to 2010 despite long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Quite importantly, though Iraq and Afghanistan raised defense budgets from 2001 to 2011, the total war cost of these years is $1.3 trillion, which accounts for only 4.4% of the total federal budget of $29.7 trillion in the same period. Defense spending itself does not ensure effective and wise use of national power, but excessive reduction of it poses constraints to policy options. Samuelson warns that current defense expenditure reduction jeopardizes advantages in technology and training quality both of which are the key to American military superiority (“The dangerous debate over cutting military spending”; Washington Post; October 31, 2011).
Remember that both Asian and Middle Eastern nations need American presence. As seen in China’s ties with Iran and Pakistan, security challenges on both sides of Eurasia are not independent but interconnected. Also, North Korea constitutes the Axis of Evil with Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Current defense cut by the Obama administration augments anxieties both in Asia and the Middle East. It is necessary to learn lessons from British Strategic Defence and Security Review by the Cameron administration. In the statement on SDSR at the House of Commons on October 19 last year, Prime Minister David Cameron said “This review is about how we project power and influence in a rapidly changing world.” The war in Libya suggests that Britain’s combat performance did not meet this objective sufficiently. The United States must invest sufficient resources on defense in order to carry out as many policy options as possible. America itself is a recipient of the public goods provided by American military preeminence.

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