A Shift from the Middle East to the Pacific

DENVER – For two years, President Barack Obama’s administration has tried to convey a narrative in which it is winding up wars in Southwest Asia and turning America’s attention to its longer-term – and arguably more important – relationships in East Asia and the Pacific. In recent months, that narrative has gained the virtue of actually being true.

Now, the task will be to balance the need for responsible military drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan with a responsible buildup of activities in East Asia. And that means putting to rest fears that the United States is gearing up for confrontation with China.

Obama’s decision to break off talks with Iraq’s government for a new agreement on the status of US forces there means that, after eight years, those troops are finally coming home (perhaps in time for Christmas). Since US politics no longer stops at the water’s edge, Obama’s decision was greeted with howls of derision by those who argued that he was “uncommitted” to the Iraq venture and somehow did not make his best effort to keep troops there. Never mind that Vice President Joe Biden, the chief negotiator, traveled to Iraq more times than any senior US leader has traveled to any previous war zone.

Nonetheless, critics claimed that Obama’s administration had offered up Iraq to the Iranians. The “proof” was that Iraq’s Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki – a leader who may be called many things, but certainly not pliable or pliant – did not deliver the rest of the country’s political class to an agreement.