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Asia’s Middle Eastern Shadow

TEL AVIV – In 2010, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced America’s eastward shift in global strategy. The United States’ “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region was required not only because of the security threats posed by the rise of China, but also as a consequence of America’s long and costly obsession with the Middle East.

The Middle East has long confronted the US with formidable challenges, which ultimately exceeded America’s imperial capacities and sapped public support. But the real question now is whether America is still able and willing to uphold its global pretensions. After all, Asia is no less a demanding theater than the Middle East. Indeed, dealing with it might require reconciling the pivot to Asia with an ongoing presence in the Middle East, if only because the two regions have much in common.

For starters, in a region replete with territorial disputes and old rivalries that are as bitter as the Arab-Israeli conflict, America faces a geopolitical environment with no security architecture and no agreed conflict-resolution mechanism. The division of the Korean Peninsula, the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, and the question of Taiwan (which by 2020 the US will no longer be able to defend from a Chinese attack, according to a 2009 study by the RAND Corporation) appear as intractable as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Moreover, like the Middle East, Asia is home to an uncontrolled arms race that includes both conventional capabilities and weapons of mass destruction. Four of the world’s ten largest militaries are in Asia, and five Asian countries are full-fledged nuclear powers.