The Obama

The Obama "Doctrine", Conflict in the Middle East, and China's Future


The Diplomat’s Editor Harry Kazianis recently spoke with noted author and president of Eurasia Group, Ian Bremmer, about President Obama’s recent trip to Southeast Asia, how tensions in the Middle East could affect America’s renewed focus on Asia and China’s future.

1. This week President Obama and senior members of his foreign policy team visited a series of nations in Southeast Asia including Burma. Many have argued that with ethnic tensions still unresolved, the Obama administration has moved too fast to restore relations and trade. Some have also argued the administrations moves have had more to do with China than Burma itself. What is your take?

During his trip to Myanmar earlier this week, Obama made the trek to the home of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, where she had spent more than two decades under house arrest.  While the White House was still planning the trip, she cautioned the administration against visiting Myanmar at all, urging Obama not to be lured by the “mirage of success.”  So why would Obama make it a priority to visit a country whose national hero warned him not to do it—a trip that could come back to bite him if the reform process goes south?

It’s because Obama’s trip through Southeast Asia is all about China.  The Obama “doctrine,” to the extent that there is one, is the pivot to Asia…and the use of economic statecraft, as originally coined by Hillary Clinton.  Both center on the rise of China and the potential challenges that come with it, especially if China doesn’t align its behavior with international norms.  There’s a security and an economic component.  Aiming to add Thailand to the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a potential free trade agreement of like minded countries that could serve as a counterweight to China’s regional economic dominance— and removing sanctions on Burma are actions that the United States is taking through this China lens.

2. Tensions have been rising in the Middle East with fears that hostilities between Hamas and Israel could escalate further, even as the standoff between the U.S. and Iran continues. Do these problems in the Middle East doom the administration’s so-called ‘pivot’ to Asia? In an era of constrained resources, can America focus on problems in the Middle East while also demonstrating a stronger commitment in the Asia-Pacific?

Conflict in the Middle East certainly has the potential to distract the administration, and not only the United States, of course, but a range of other countries as well.  But regardless of the state of play on the ground in the Middle East, the United States is going to play a comparatively diminished role in the region—especially in the context of what we’ve seen over the past ten years, with occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Going forward, expect a “lighter footprint,” which is part of the reason we’re going to see more conflict.  The U.S. is out of Iraq and not going back in; it will not commit forces to Syria.  Washington is doing everything possible to avoid military strikes in Iran.  The fact that Obama did not cancel the aforementioned Southeast Asia trip in light of events in Israel/Gaza shows how serious this Asia pivot has become.  That’s the direction we’re heading.

And don’t expect any other foreign power to fill the leadership void.  The rest of the West is maximally distracted with internal issues.  The Chinese, whose stake in the region is growing as a result of their energy needs, are not at the stage of development where they would be willing to pick up the baton.

December 10, 2012 at 22:43

Very Interesting & very revealing. Kindly tell us the 4 other names apart from Xinxiang, Tibet

November 27, 2012 at 05:46

I am very curious. We have 3 out of 6, Tibet, Xinjjiang and inner Mongolia. What are other 3? we'd love to see it sooner than 2017.

Stephen S
November 26, 2012 at 20:55

America WILL continue with its long term agend, that includes the Middle East, and total domination Globally. To start with, at this present day, if America withdrew all troops from the Middle East and discontinued Military growth, their economy would collapse imediately. It is all that remains to prop up their economy, through sales of arms and weaponry. What recently has gone down between Israel and Hamas, was nothing more than a sales to pitch to prospective countries in the purchase of the "Iron Dome". This sort of mental culture shall continue well into the future, even with their enevitable financial collapse. In fact, this culture will only grow more as a result!
I disagree on the Demographics in relation to China, they are a very hard working nation, workers expectations are still far less then the western world, Australia too has much the same: 3-4 workers per every unemployed, yet Australia has endured thus far. China's growth throughout the globe has only just past idle, and the engine is beginning to move up a gear or two, they have over the past 5yrs made substancial inroads in trade relations, especially Asia, where as America has left its move a little to late, and previous inroads into the area have and still are waning, and not without good reason, they have abused the locals, polluted their lands, and rape them of their wealth. In Austalia, sometime this year, i think around March 2012, a TPPA draft was pressured onto the Australian government, that was instructed "secret". Some "leaks" of the draft reveals very little detail, a fact that was raised. These finer "details" we were informed would be forthcoming some 12mths after we sign the pact. How transparant is that? Some other issues leaked from the draft show Australia (and several other countries) must forego any legal litigation against American phamacutical companies for drugs and goods imported to Australia, weather neglect can be proved or not. This is just a couple of examples of the multitude of issues. Further, the draft also shows authority of Australian goods (property and assets) may be seized, without litigation or compensation. It is a far cry from the respectful and transparant process in trading with China!

November 26, 2012 at 06:00

John Chan,
There's no need for answering that silly question, Chan. But one thing you should know ' You can not forever cover up the truth. It'll be coming out quicker than you think!'

John LaChance
November 26, 2012 at 03:44

The question was asked: "How does an established power, such as the United States, deal with a rising power, such as China?"
Why, the same way we dealt with the Soviet Union. We break it apart into its constituent elements. There are six countries in China held together by the force of guns and a rising economy. What the US is doing is destabilizing China so that the various ethnic elements seek autonomy. And guess what happens after that? Why, the same thing that happened to the Soviet Union.
It's simple, really. A united China is a threat. A dismembered China is 6 worker units vying against each other for market share. Don't worry folks. We have this one in the bag, scheduled for 2017. The Dalai Lama should be glad, because one of these six countries that we are now in the process of breaking China into is Tibet, a free and autonomous Tibet.


John Chan
November 26, 2012 at 01:57

Are you sure Dean is not your alias of Gordon Chang or Minxin Pei?

November 25, 2012 at 12:48

Just wait & see, comrade Chan. Don't be too  boastful . Things will be playing out soon. You can not kick the can down the road  for ever & ever, comrade!

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief