Thursday, October 23, 2014
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Pivoting back to the Middle East

When President Obama dispatched Hillary Clinton from Myanmar to Gaza, he was admitting something he'd rather not say in public: it won't be easy for America to pivot to Asia and away from the Middle East.

Pivoting back to the Middle East

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012. Clinton will try on Wednesday to wring an elusive truce deal from Israel and Gaza´s militant Hamas rulers after earlier efforts to end more than a week of fighting broke down amid a furious spasm of violence.(AP Photo/Alaa Badarneh, Pool)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012. Clinton will try on Wednesday to wring an elusive truce deal from Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas rulers after earlier efforts to end more than a week of fighting broke down amid a furious spasm of violence.(AP Photo/Alaa Badarneh, Pool)

When President Obama dispatched Hillary Clinton from Myanmar to Gaza, he was admitting something he'd rather not say in public: it won't be easy for America to pivot to Asia and away from the Middle East.
 
The trip to Myanmar was premature, a public display of Obama's expressed intent to focus more on Asia, including more support for southeast Asian nations that don't want to be bullied by Beijing. But Obama's visit provided Burmese generals with a huge reward before it's clear they are fully commited to a pluralist political process. Legendary Burmese opposition leader and Nobel winner Saw Aung Sang Suu Ky was reportedly worried the visit came too soon.
 
Moreover, the Asia trip was overshadowed by the war in Gaza, with Israel raining bombs onto Hamas sites in relatliation for hundreds of rocket attacks on her towns and cities.  These exchanges - and the possibility of an Israeli invasion of Gaza - are a stark warning that Obama can't afford to turn his back on the Middle East  - no matter how much he wants to leav it behind.
 
Yes, the United States may no longer need Mideast oil 15 years from now once new domestic sources come fully on line.,  But, in the meantime, an absence of U.S. leadership is dangerous: it creates a vacuum that Iran and Sunni Islamist militants, and Al Qaeda affiliates are eager to fill.
 
Moreover, the death of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (a reality Washington has yet to admit), will add to the region's volatility.  The Gaza fighting - encouraged by Tehran, which provides the rockets to Hamas - could, if not stooped soon, lure Israel into another dangerous ground war, and destroy its peace trety with Egypt.  And the Syrian civil war may produce a failed state that could become a new jihadi mecca.
 
So no wonder Secretary of State Clinton has left Asia for the Middle East. That's where her focus should be now.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
About this blog

Trudy Rubin’s Worldview column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. In 2009-2011 she has made four lengthy trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the past seven years, she visited Iraq eleven times, and also wrote from Iran, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, China, and South Korea.

She is the author of Willful Blindness: the Bush Administration and Iraq, a book of her columns from 2002-2004. In 2001 she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary and in 2008 she was awarded the Edward Weintal prize for international reporting. In 2010 she won the Arthur Ross award for international commentary from the Academy of American Diplomacy.

Reach Trudy at trubin@phillynews.com.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
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