Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Good Enough for Diplomatic Work

At some level, it is good if allies don't have the military to act without us. It gives us leverage if they want our help and helps keep allies from dragging us into a war against our will. But that assumes that allies are merely good for increasing our margin of victory rather than being necessary for victory. Once we need help to win, we need allies capable of fighting without us--at least for a while, anyway. That's the situation in the western Pacific these days.

I'm on record as saying the Obama administration was wrong to assume Europe is safely in the win column; was wrong to pivot away from the Middle East; and that the pivot to Asia is fairly minor. But it is wrong to say that Asian allies arming up shows our pivot to Asia is not working.

Even though the author notes we are the dominant military power in the western Pacific, the article pushes the notion that our pivot is somehow not working and that our influence is "faltering":

Three years after the Obama administration announced its “pivot to Asia,” American allies in the region are looking somewhat unconvinced.

While no one disputes that managing China and its multiple neighborhood conflicts remains on Washington’s radar, this effort is often overshadowed by other priorities. In particular, the Middle East and confrontation with Russia — both historic preoccupations that had been expected to subside — keep on emerging at the top of the agenda.

The result is relatively simple. Those countries in Asia most worried by China — Japan, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia and others — are increasingly banding together. They worry they may need to be capable of taking matters into their own hands regardless of what the United States might do.

Seriously, worry when our allies don't arm up to resist China. I've warned that the main problem with having an insufficient military in Asia is that allies will calculate that it is pointless to add their weight to our side since China would win anyway. Once enough allies make that calculation, our military power in the western Pacific ceases to be the most significant factor there.

Further, when we clearly want to "lead from behind" this is the sort of thing you get.

So the fact that our allies are arming up is good. It at least means that our pivot is doing enough--so far. This is not a failure of Obama administration policy.

But the necessary partner to actual military capabilities shifted to Asia is allied confidence that we will use our power to support them:

Some U.S. naval commanders are at odds with the Obama administration over whether to sail Navy ships right into a disputed area in the South China Sea — a debate that pits some military leaders who want to exercise their freedom of navigation against administration officials and diplomats trying to manage a delicate phase in U.S.-China relations.

Of course, since Kerry has plenty of free time now that he's blessed Iran's nuclear weapons path, I suppose he has an opportunity to screw up Asia, too.

But perhaps the Iranians see further operations to steal Kerry's lunch money and give him a (nuclear) wedgie:

In a live appearance on state television, Hassan Rouhani said the July 14 agreement had shown diplomacy and engagement were the only way to solve serious political problems and end crises.

"The final solution in Yemen is political, in Syria the final solution is political," he said. "The agreement will create a new atmosphere. The climate will be easier."

He has a point. Why shouldn't we retreat in those areas, too?