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'So much for the Asia pivot'

'So much for the Asia pivot'
Published 25 Sep 2013   Follow @SamRoggeveen

That's how the BBC's New York correspondent Nick Bryant introduced a NY Times account of President Obama's UN General Assembly speech. Here's the relevant passage from the Times:

Despite a war-weary public and its declining reliance on Middle Eastern oil, the United States would continue to be an active player in the region, Mr. Obama insisted, defending its interests; advocating for democratic principles; working to resolve sectarian conflicts in countries like Iraq, Syria and Bahrain; and, if necessary, intervening militarily with other countries to head off humanitarian tragedies.

“We will be engaged in the region for the long haul,” Mr. Obama said in the 40-minute address. “For the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.”

For a president who has sought to refocus American foreign policy on Asia, it was a significant concession that the Middle East is likely to remain a major preoccupation for the rest of his term, if not that of his successor. Mr. Obama mentioned Asia only once, as an exemplar of the kind of economic development that has eluded the Arab world.

Is it possible that the US would have more luck with Iran's nuclear program if it did pursue its Asia pivot? After all, if Iran is in fact pursuing a bomb, then America's military presence and history in the Middle East is surely one of its primary motivations.

Still, Obama's assurance to Iranians that 'We are not seeking regime change' at least shows that the US is sensitive to Iranian perceptions. As was Obama's remarkably blunt assessment of the Iraq war: 'Iraq shows us that democracy cannot simply be imposed by force.'

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