VP Debate once again tells Asia & the World that all We care about is the Middle East

Yes, it’s partisan, but it’s a somewhat useful deconstruction


First, I included the above video to reference a point I tried to make last week – that Romney flip-flopped so much in the first debate that I no longer have any idea what he thinks about the big issues of campaign. I just wish I knew wth Romney wants to do with the presidency. There has to be some purpose, some reason to vote for him, and I can’t find it. Someone tell me in a few coherent, specifics-laden paragraphs why I should vote for him? Not why Obama is a bad president – I know that already – but why Romney should be president. Honestly, I don’t know, which makes his presidential run look like a vanity project or something.

Second, did anyone else think that the vice-presidential debate once again broadcast to the world that our foreign policy is dominated by the Middle East? It was all about Iran, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. Obviously, these are all important places and issues. But it doesn’t take a lot of foreign policy training to know that Russia’s ever-more erratic course under Czar Putin, a possible euro-EU meltdown, or China are a lot more important to the US’ future than a bunch of small, poor fractured states in the Middle East. But no, let’s argue once again about Israel, Iran, terrorism, Iraq…  Good grief. There are other issues out there!


I argued at length (one, two, three) earlier in the year that the pivot to Asia will likely be undercut by US cultural distance from Asia and the religious right’s obsession with the Middle East and Israel. Happily for my prediction, and unhappily for America’s national interest, the veep debate once again showed that. The pivot, supposedly the biggest shift in American grand strategy since the Cold War, didn’t get a single word. And if we do continue to stay so involved in the Middle East, that silence makes sense. We won’t be able to pivot anywhere, because our resources will be tied up in the Middle East. Once again, there’s no education of the median voter as to why she should care about Asia even though we are supposed to be pivoting there and the emerging stand-off between China and its neighbors, especially Japan, is vastly more important to the US than these Middle East issues. If you’re China, you’re cheering. The less the American voter knows about East Asia, the easier it is to sideline the Americans out here, because there will be no public support for engagement, containment, confrontation, or whatever we policy we choose. North Korea wasn’t mentioned either. And it goes without saying that the developing world got zero time.

During the GOP primaries, I noted too how obviously the Republican party signals its disdain for pretty much the rest of the planet; just how ‘exceptional’ America is became major issue of contention. But I was disappointed to see that Biden missed an opportunity to widen the debate. He certainly knows foreign policy well. He beat Ryan easily in that area, and Ryan was mostly stuck with talking points. A plug for Obama’s handling of US relations with rising Asia would have shown policy breadth and seriousness that Ryan would not have been able to match, and put the Romeny-Ryan ticket more generally on the defensive over Romney’s belligerent language on Russia and China. Too bad.

So, to you Asian readers, rest assured that we couldn’t care less about you. Just keep lending us money though.

9 thoughts on “VP Debate once again tells Asia & the World that all We care about is the Middle East

  1. As someone who would like to see the Asian Pivot not happen, this only comes as good news. The one country which needs support from an Asian Pivot is Taiwan, but they’ve already been actively ignored and continue to be internationally marginalized (a situation exasperated by the pro-Beijing inclination of the current ROC government).


      • Sorry for the slow response. In short, because I think the policy makers involved are warmongering (and engaging in bluster). America is looking to unload its domestic troubles by ratcheting up a new Cold War with mainland China whilst the industrial-military complex needs new business now that the debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan are being wound down.

        The trail of destruction America (and any other aggressive military) leaves wherever it goes hardly needs pointing out but suffice to say: the last time American pivoted to Pacific Asia was the Vietnam War.

        I do think America needs to stay strong, and financially healthy (already too late?) in order to balance China and support its allies: especially so morally, so that there is someone to keep the pressure on Chinese human rights abuses including political oppression, its military occupation of Tibet and its close cooperation with Pyongyang. Under current circumstances, however, Washington has little moral high ground to responsibly pivot towards Asia (where currently, despite tensions, there has been peace for decades). I naively understood this was what Obama was all about (a more morally responsible foreign policy), but then he has largely continued Bush’s foreign policy and expanded the drone bombing campaigns.

        Whilst I think Washington should be actively supporting Taiwan (which Obama has shied away from) as it’s a de facto independent nation (even democratic!), I think troops should be entirely withdrawn from South Korea as they serve no purpose except affirming the North Korean and Chinese view of Seoul as a puppet state. South Korea should obviously remain a strong ally of America (if it wants to be; and there’s nothing stopping American troops being deployed IF South Korea were invaded) but that’s not a reason for hosting permanent bases.

        (This isn’t a pure anti-American blast: I wouldn’t like to see any other country “pivot” anywhere else either!)


  2. Excellent post. Neither Obama nor Romney seem willing to have a serious conversation with the American people about their interests in Asia. Both candidates are too eager to sell the idea that the U.S. has some divine right to remain the most powerful, influential country in the world. Instead, they should be taking the lead in emphasising to the electorate that Washington’s uni-polar moment has well and truly passed and that it has some extremely difficult strategic choices to make regarding how it will respond to China’s re-emergence.

    Given that such a conversation would surely be a vote loser, however, I won’t hold my breath. While I have some reservations about the pivot, I hoped that it would at least spark a popular debate about Washington’s role in shaping a new regional order in Asia, but so far it hasn’t spread beyond universities and think tanks. Given how quickly China is rising (though it could go off the rails) the sooner this debate is aired, the better,


    • Yeah, I tend to agree. My big concern is voter-education. We need to start talking to the US voter about how to deal with Asia’s rise. As you say, politicians still talk to Americans as if getting what we want from the world is just a question of will. We need to start talking to voters about how to respond to China’s rise especially without freaking out. If China needs to be socialized into world politics, the US voter needs to be socialized into an awareness of Asia’s weight in the world economy. If we don’t do that, eventually the US response will be backlash xenophobia, because the voters weren’t pushed to think about it before and they’ll just flip-put when suddenly confronted by Asia’s impact on the US. Asians, generally speaking, know far, far more about the US than vice versa.


  3. Could not agree more, entire Presidential campaign has demonstrated once again how much the U.S. remains fixated on Middle East. I’m not surprised by this but another element of it is just how much of a disconnect Americans have between foreign policy and the economy. Given the importance of the economy to the campaign, one might mistakenly believe that far more discussion would be given to Asia, the EU, and, when it does regard the Middle East, some of the interesting changes in the energy dynamics of the region. I think its mostly due to the fact that American politics is more or less a continuous reality TV show and there’s far more marketable drama in the Middle East than elsewhere.


    • I like the idea of the disconnect between the economy and foreign policy. I think that is probably very true – people have no idea who interconnected the global economy is, how dependent their jobs are on foreign consumers, how much we borrow from Asian banks, etc. But I also think there is a cultural reason – and I tried to argue this back in the spring. Americans, monotheistic Christians, ‘get’ the Middle East. It’s easy to see Israel as an ally and demagogue Islam. But Asia’s like another planet to most Americans. They have no way into the language, food, religions. It’s so culturally distant. This is why the politicians need to educate the public. We don’t know nearly as much about Asia as we need to given its weight in the global economy. One day we will run into that, and Americans will freak out, because they’ve not been prepared to deal with the huge shift in economic weight away from the North Atlantic.


  4. Pingback: Note to Congressional Republicans: Please Don’t Send One of Your Iran Letters to China | Robert Kelly — Asian Security Blog

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