With the US set to enter yet another Middle East conflict, does this mean the US re-balance to the Asia Pacific is off? Will this action finally reveal as a fiction the idea that America can pivot away from the Middle East and towards the Pacific?
I'm not quite ready to make that judgment yet. The Obama Administration framing its impending Syria intervention explicitly as a defence of the long-standing international norm against chemical weapons use. Obama seems uninterested in tipping the balance of the conflict one way or another. He merely wants to make a statement that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable.
All of this reinforces the prevailing wisdom that the upcoming strikes will be small in scale. In turn, this suggests Obama will be extremely reluctant to get involved any further.
My suspicion is that Obama believes the Middle East is less important to US interests that it used to be (an obvious point to Steve Walt, who is rightly mystified by the idea that this fact apparently cannot be publicly uttered by the Administration). The mystery is that Obama nevertheless feels that some show of force is necessary. US public opinion is resolutely against the use of force, so why is he doing anything?
Maybe Obama really does feel strongly that the norm against chemical weapons needs to be reinforced. But how will token air strikes achieve that end? Or maybe he feels he needs to protect his credibility after making his 'red line' remarks. But after Libya and the drone war, can anyone doubt Obama's willingness to use air power?
Obama may be reluctant to get deeply involved in Syria, but war tends to have a logic all its own. Once the Administration has made its statement with cruise missiles, how will it respond to another chemical attack?
Photo courtesy of the White House.