“The disconnect between domestic politics and foreign policy is widening. At the Republican presidential candidates debate on June 13th foreign policy was an afterthought. When the topic of Afghanistan was raised, the response was muted – to the effect that the US should accelerate withdrawal.
On Libya, the same Republican pressure on President Obama to cut short US engagement is in evidence. Conservative commentators from the previous Bush Administration are raising questions about whether the Republican Party is retreating from its modern emphasis on an activist US global role and is returning to a more traditional form of isolationism.
This issue is far from settled and is certainly much colored for the present by partisan calculations. However, with the US facing increased financial stringency, the question will be a live one for whichever president is in the White House over the coming years. In a series of farewell speeches, the outgoing Secretary of Defense has spoken starkly of these implications and of the need for increased defense spending by US allies.
Our judgment is that US interventionism will become much more focused on specific US priorities. In the defense appropriations requests making their way through Congress, the Pentagon is indicating that it will retain a robust global strike capability. One of these priorities – unstated as yet – will be China. The current area of concern continues to be the South China Sea. Here the US will insist on maintaining a visible naval presence under the auspices of the Pacific Command, designed to resist what it sees as Chinese moves to dominate these waters.
Meanwhile, the debate in Washington about the pace of drawdown in Afghanistan is gathering speed. Pentagon contacts tell us privately to expect a “larger than expected” drawdown number to be announced soon, but still leaving a substantial presence in country.
In the Middle East Administration officials are focused on Syria. US opposition to the Bashar regime is total. However, unlike Libya, officials have ruled out any direct involvement leading to regime change. Another sign of rising tensions is the massive Israeli missile defense exercise to take place next week.
Finally, concern is rising about Sudan in advance of the July 9th date for the independence of Southern Sudan. A senior State Department official will have consultations next week with the US Africa Command about the deteriorating situation there.”