Friday, May 3, 2013


The American administration has announced with some fanfare a shift in strategic priorities towards Asia, the so-called "pivot.  The intention is timely. Most emerging economies are in Asia and China's rise has to be monitored. This should be done in a creative fashion, the more so since the PRC will be, together with the United States, the major players in world affairs. The former has to maintain its credibility with the ASEAN countries and with allies such as South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, which have thrived under the American umbrella.

This latest shift will not come easy.  China is a highly susceptible power which is eager to remain in some form of control of what it considers to be its own backyard.  Myanmar was a good indicator of China's sense of entitlement.  Russia is a European or Asian power a la carte and is not remaining passive in this geopolitical twister.  Many countries in Asia do not mind if the Chinese overlord gets "cornered" but will not admit their Schadenfreude openly.

Washington has a difficult task implementing its ambition.  It is stuck in the Arab awakening which is becoming more an Islamist nightmare as the time goes by.  The new American Secretary of State, John Kerry, is trying to signal that the United States is willing to act again as a go-between in trying to solve the stalemate in the Israel/Palestine peace (?) process.  He probably wants more to cut the losses than to get over-involved again, with not enough time to implement new, more productive initiatives in other parts of the world.  He must feel very lonely. The Russians and the Chinese are too happy to see the Americans getting stuck in the Arab labyrinth, which impairs their freedom to act decisively elsewhere. 

The Arab Spring was a "trap" indeed and the Americans walked into it, for reasons that can be seen as naive, realistic, opportunistic or resulting from Realpolitik considerations.  Moscow and Beijing share many of the American misgivings regarding the radicalization of a Shadow Caliphate but they will not give a helping hand to disentangle the United States from this mistake. As much as they will be helpful in fighting terrorism on each other's home turf, they will not intervene to help reverse costly mega-military interventions which give them a quantitative advantage. Washington finds itself the prisoner of a Swiftian metaphor, having to finance what it doesn't like, while at the same time being unable to repair an aging World War II infrastructure at home. Likewise, strategic priorities have to take the backseat as a result of war miscalculations and the need to finance unsavory regimes and corrupt unreliable "allies." This type of investment has a negative return. Changing course might equally lead to an unpleasant aftermath but one might rightly ask the question: "so what?"  Anti-Americanism is there to stay and I doubt that a solution to the Israel-Palestinian dilemma would bring a long-term dividend in a region where metastasis rules.

Syria might be a test which could allow the United States to call the Russian and Chinese bluff. Washington could suggest a diplomatic threesome to put a halt to the slaughter. The West too often gives a free pass to other world powers, be it regarding North Korea, Iran or here, in case, Syria. It is less about taking sides, which is counter-productive, than about sharing responsibility with powers which are so eager to require equal treatment urbi et orbi.  So be it! The same might be applied to the Middle East where the Saudi plan, which was supported by the Arab League, could become the cornerstone of a large diplomatic initiative leading to a two-state solution.

The bi-polar world is no longer. Globalization dreams have become Goya nightmares. It is time to regroup and to consider essential choices, such as the "pivot," and not let them become hostages of third parties' ulterior motives. There is also a need to return to more conceptual thinking patterns.  Conflicts need more than drones, they need to be addressed by ideas and an enlightened mindset. China wins over the imagination with its soft power (while equally busy expanding the range of its strategic know-how, primarily as a major sea power.). The United States risks becoming the clone of its film industry, a robotic power which confuses entertainment with substance. Foggy Bottom might be well-advised to have a second reading of Lee Kwan Yew.

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