Phares: America’s 5 Strategic Challenges in Asia

by AMCD advisor Dr. Walid Phares

By the beginning of Obama’s second term, Washington planned to gradually reposition U.S. military power from the Greater Middle East into the Pacific region as a projected (but remote) counterweight to China’s growing power. The move, however, aimed at setting up the U.S. presence in and around Australia, away from any hot spot theaters.

This shift came as rationale for the first withdrawal from Iraq towards the end of 2011, to prepare for an Afghanistan pull-out, and eventually for an Iran Deal, which was already under discussions. The Obama doctrine, introduced in June 2009 through his speech in Cairo and the letter to Khamenei, was to disengage from the Arab Muslim world and focus on the Pacific.

But the rapid withdrawal from Iraq and its penetration by Iran-backed militias, along with the subsequent ISIS invasion of parts of Syria and Iraq, forced the U.S. to again fight the new Jihadi threat in the region and postpone the Afghan pullout. Priority was, however, still given to the Iran deal, signed in 2015.

The Trump administration changed priorities, escalated against ISIS, withdrew from the Iran Deal, increased support to Israel and the Arab Coalition against Iran’s militias, launched the historic Abraham Accords, sent a task force to deter North Korea before meeting with its leader, and kept pressure on China and Russia for four years.

The Biden administration reverted to the Obama platform, changed U.S. posture again, rushed to re-sign the JCPOA, and pressured Israel and the Arabs to limit their responses to the Iranian backed forces in the region as Russia, China and North Korea began to rebel against U.S. leadership of the international community.

This shift backward in Washington came with dramatic developments worldwide. Russia invaded Ukraine, China thrust into the Pacific, Pyongyang re-escalated, and Iran gained ground.

On the global stage, we can clearly see that the Eurasian continent (Asia plus Russia) is drifting away from American influence, and the U.S. is now facing five major strategic challenges in that part of the world.

Russia: By its blitz into Ukrainian areas, Moscow transformed the world order. The U.N. Security Council is paralyzed by two veto powers, Russia and China.

U.S. sanctions are strong and unparalleled against the Russian economy and leadership, but they haven’t stopped Russian forces from advancing in the east and the south of Ukraine.

The administration’s strategies to overcome this challenge face an historic dilemma. As a leader of West, the U.S. is expected to lead the campaign to defend and liberate Ukraine, even if only by arming the latter.

But geopolitically, that could mean a protracted conflict against a nuclear-armed and massive country, stretching from Kaliningrad to just across the waters from Alaska. And that means a span covering the entirety of Asia to the north.

China: Beijing didn’t endorse the operation in Ukraine, but it is providing rhetorical and logistical support to Russia to resist Western pressure.

The third nuclear power and the prime holder of U.S. debts is taking advantage of the War in Europe. It is declaring its ownership of Taiwan, consolidating its presence in the South China Sea, rapidly producing advanced missiles, and recently acquiring a military launching pad in the mid Pacific via the Solomon Islands.

The current administration now faces a dilemma in Asia: Escalate containment with China across the Pacific, mobilize on two fronts along with Russia, or focus on the latter and allow Chinese expansion to go unchecked? East Asia is escaping.

North Korea: Chairman Kim, watching Moscow and Beijing “resisting” NATO and the United States, is at it again, launching more ballistic missiles, stressing South Korea and Japan. The third challenge facing the administration: Should the U.S. again send task forces to the Peninsula in the midst of global tensions with Russia and China — or not?

Iran: The regime is artfully playing the West via a well-executed ballet at the Vienna talks, using world concerns about Ukraine and the Pacific to demand conditions that would maximize their own position. The fourth challenge: Should the U.S. abandon the deal, pressuring Iran who is remobilizing in the region — or should they sign the deal and empower Tehran?

Afghanistan: The challenge in Afghanistan is much heavier than it appears to be at first glance. The rapid chaotic U.S. withdrawal of summer 2021 was read by Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, and Tehran as weakness and unwillingness to face off with militias, emboldening each of them to take action. We are losing Asia because of how we fled Afghanistan.

These five challenges may generate more crises on other continents. We need to reevaluate our foreign policy, but that needs a national consensus, which is unfortunately absent. Maybe after November?

Dr. Walid Phares, is a Newsmax foreign policy analyst – beginning in April of 2022. Since 2009, he has served as co-secretary of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group. He has also served as a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump in 2016 and was a national security adviser (in 2011) to now-Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Ariz. Dr. Phares is a noted author, professor and Mideast expert, as well as a former Fox News and MSNBC contributor.

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