The global chessboard
"What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?" famously asked the early church father Tertullian. His question in the third century addressed the relationship between the reason of Greek philosophy embodied by Athens and the revelation of Judeo-Christian religion embodied by Jerusalem. Today’s foreign policy equivalent of Tertullian’s query could be "What hath Damascus to do ...
"What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?" famously asked the early church father Tertullian. His question in the third century addressed the relationship between the reason of Greek philosophy embodied by Athens and the revelation of Judeo-Christian religion embodied by Jerusalem. Today's foreign policy equivalent of Tertullian's query could be "What hath Damascus to do with Darwin?" (the Australian city that is, not its namesake English naturalist)
"What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?" famously asked the early church father Tertullian. His question in the third century addressed the relationship between the reason of Greek philosophy embodied by Athens and the revelation of Judeo-Christian religion embodied by Jerusalem. Today’s foreign policy equivalent of Tertullian’s query could be "What hath Damascus to do with Darwin?" (the Australian city that is, not its namesake English naturalist)
Plenty, because oftentimes strategic opportunities transcend just one region. This is the case with the Middle East and Asia today. Looking at those regions together, the Obama administration has a strategic opportunity to push far-reaching changes that will anchor American interests for a long time to come. Here I will echo many of the good points that Dan Blumenthal makes in his post below. The White House (and the Asia policy shop at the State Department) should be applauded for last week’s moves in Asia, including plans to base a small contingent of Marines in Darwin, Australia, support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and further development of the AirSea Battle Concept. If one doubts the significance of these moves, just a glance at the querulous reactions from China tells another story. This new posture is all the more significant — and welcome — considering that the Obama Administration took office less than three years ago intent on pursuing a dubious "G-2" partnership with China.
While I share Dan’s concerns about the administration’s commitment to resourcing America’s forward posture in Asia and political will to follow through on free trade, the fact of these decisions is still encouraging and merits bipartisan support. Basing a small contingent of Marines in Australia sends a political signal that far surpasses its military significance, and will bring positive reverberations not just in Canberra but also in Jakarta, Hanoi, Manila, and Bangkok. And more may be yet to come, if the recent liberalization trends in Burma continue and Secretary Clinton’s upcoming visit, encouraged by Aung San Suu Kyi, helps lure Naypyitaw out of Beijing’s orbit. If even Burma comes in from the cold, Beijing will have realized the dubious geopolitical distinction in the last two years of having alienated almost every other nation in its neighborhood (or at least everyone not named "North Korea").
Yet as Dan argues, the White House would be undercutting its own strategic initiative if it treats these moves in East Asia as pivots away from the Middle East and South Asia. Our nation’s actions in one region shape our credibility and power in other regions. India realizes this, hence its hesitation to partner with an America that it worries will be drawing down prematurely in Afghanistan and further complicating India’s rough neighborhood. China and Russia realize this, hence their efforts to constrain American influence by vetoing the recent U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria and watering down an emerging resolution on Iran, which as Mike Singh and Jacqueline Deal point out remains China’s favored partner in the region.
Syria represents the crucible of strategic opportunity. The once-timorous Arab League has now spoken boldly that Assad must go. The European Union, too politically paralyzed to deal adequately with its own economic crisis, has marshaled the political will to impose severe sanctions on Damascus that are now bearing fruit. The people of Syria have braved the massacres of over 3,500 of their fellow citizens and persist in their demands for a new government in Damascus. It is time for the Obama Administration to capitalize on this multilateral momentum by leading a concerted diplomatic effort to end Bashar Assad’s barbaric rule.
While moral concerns alone justify the demise of the Assad regime, the strategic consequences would be enormous. Iran would lose its only regional ally. Hamas and Hezbollah would lose a valuable patron state. Lebanon would have the chance to reclaim its sovereignty. Turkey would see the benefits of being a responsible regional actor. Iraq’s border security would improve. The Green Movement in Iran would likely be resuscitated and pose a new challenge to Ayatollah Khameini’s regime in Tehran that is otherwise barreling ahead with its nuclear weapons program. China and Russia would lose both a client state and international credibility, and democratic reformers in China might even be energized.
China, after all, sees its subtle rivalry with the United States playing out not just in East Asia but across the world. As David Ignatius describes, when American leadership is perceived to be diminishing in a region, other actors will step in to fill the void, such as the Saudis are doing in the Middle East. And if America abdicates our leadership in the Middle East, the effect will be to undercut rather than strengthen our posture elsewhere such as Asia. This is why Marines in Darwin and democracy reformers in Damascus are important players on the same global chessboard.
Will Inboden is the executive director of the Clements Center for National Security and an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, both at the University of Texas at Austin, a distinguished scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and the author of The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink.
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