As for Obama’s decision to redirect U.S. national security policy away from Europe and toward Asia, Armitage said that Kerry and Hagel would have their work cut out. It could be difficult for Hagel to beef up U.S. military commitments to Asian allies at a time when he would be looking to slash Pentagon spending as part of Obama’s budget-cutting efforts.
Kerry, meanwhile, would be running a State Department that long has been hampered by insufficient resources and was blasted by an independent panel’s recent findings of deep-rooted managerial problems that contributed to the bungled response to deadly Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. posts in Libya.
The United States “has leaned too heavily on the military,” Armitage said. “If we’re going to pivot, we’re going to have to have diplomacy and direct foreign investment. We’re going to have to be part of the whole political, cultural and commercial life of Asia. We’re not resourced in the diplomatic area in Asia. We haven’t had a commerce secretary to get us into Asia in a big way. The budget pinch at the Pentagon is going to make it harder.”
Jones, the Rutgers professor, said describing the new policy as a “pivot” to Asia might be a misnomer – he predicted the administration would find it hard to leave behind the ongoing conflicts in traditional hotspots in the Middle East. He noted that Kerry’s office released a report in June that favored continued arms sales to allies in the Persian Gulf while reducing the U.S. presence in the region.
But Kerry’s idea of “greater strategic cooperation and burden-sharing” with a smaller U.S. footprint isn’t likely to come to fruition, Jones said.
“We have an entire naval fleet in the Gulf,” he noted, referring to the Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain. “That’s not going to go away.”
Syria could be another snag in the planned pivot toward Asia. The conflict is approaching the two-year mark, with tens of thousands of casualties and millions displaced and an Obama administration that rejects both imposing a no-fly zone and providing lethal assistance to the rebels.
If the bloodshed continues or seeps across Syria’s borders, however, Obama’s new security team might be forced to re-evaluate the current U.S. positions, especially when it comes to arming the rebels, whose best fighters are Islamists with an al Qaida-style agenda for a post-Assad Syria. So far, the nominees have shown reluctance to become embroiled in Syria.
Kerry, a strong proponent of the NATO-led intervention in Libya, questioned in a hearing last summer whether a no-fly zone in Syria was “either practical or advisable.” Hagel insisted on working through the United Nations and the Arab League to find a solution because “the last thing you want is an American-led or Western-led invasion into Syria,” he told Foreign Policy magazine in May.
Brennan, speaking to a Washington forum in August, also said that direct U.S. involvement “might increase the bloodshed,” but he added that Obama had tasked counterterrorism officials with examining scenarios that would give the rebels the upper hand against President Bashar Assad’s mostly intact military.