“If last week was devoted to the Middle East, this has been the week of Asia. Some important aspects of the US strategic posture are in play.
On his farewell tour to Asia, Secretary of Gates has made a series of clearly-worded speeches reaffirming the US long-term commitment to remaining an Asian power – despite the deepening pressure for reductions in US defense spending. Additionally, Gates declared emphatically that the US is not looking to confront China.
Pentagon contacts tell us privately that Gates was in part expressing US appreciation for the recent Chinese intervention with the North Koreans to tamp down tensions (which US officials fear will flare up over the summer) on the Korean Peninsular. Gates is also responding to an active debate among the Washington foreign policy community about China.
Despite his moderate stance, our judgment is that the trend of relations between Washington and Beijing is unfavorable, the latest source of US suspicion being the attack on Google emails which US officials believe originated from official Chinese circles. Behind the scenes the US is also being encouraged by countries like Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia to stand up to what they see as unwanted Chinese assertiveness in South China Sea.
The focus on Asia does not mean that the Middle East is losing priority. While officials wholly discount progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the dynamics of the ‘Arab Spring’ are increasingly troubling. The Administration’s Libya policy faces mounting opposition in Congress. We doubt that this will much affect the already limited US engagement there, but the main US focus lies with Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. Administration policy continues to be drawn in the conflicting directions of reform and and stability. In charting its course, the US will pay great heed to the views of Saudi Arabia.
On top of these major foreign policy dilemmas, domestically President Obama faces an increasingly uncertain economic landscape. The latest – and disappointing – job numbers have given the Republicans fresh hope that Obama may be more vulnerable in 2012 than appeared to be the case some weeks ago.
Obama will certainly be devoting more time to domestic affairs at the expense of international issues.”