As Tensions with Iran Escalate, US Policy Shifts Toward Asia

Article Summary
A series of military maneuvers and increasingly belicose statements have created a tense standoff between the United States and Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. But the sabre rattling is unlikely to result in a regional war, argues Abdul Zahra al-Rekabi. Instead, a US-Iranian Cold War is likely, as both countries are eager to avoid a costly confrontation. This is especially the case as the United States devotes more of its attention and resources to East Asia, where it is seeking to confront China’s growing hegemony.

The opening of the Iranian nuclear file; the deterioration of the crisis between Iran and the West in general; Iran's military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf; and its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz - not to mention the US threats [these actions have provoked] - are all elements contributing to a frightening picture of potential regional developments, especially if the US and Iran continue to hold to these maneuvers, threats and positions.

However, Obama's declaration of a new US defense strategy has shattered this horrific image, both in theory and in practice. Moreover, [US-Iranian developments] will be limited to a cold war. Indeed, Tehran will not risk crossing any red lines, regardless of all its maritime maneuvers, missile threats, verbal hostility and controversial regional policies. For its part, Washington will not go too far in strangling the Iranian economy, [because] it does not want to force the Iranian hand; nor does it wish to escalate the crisis and wind up encouraging - intentionally or otherwise - the establishment of a military alliance between Iran, Russia and China. Especially given that the new American strategy is focused on the Far East, in a bid to halt the growing influence of China, the regional giant.

Washington will channel its military, political and economic [strategies] to South Asia in anticipation of China competing with it for global leadership, especially since [all] the related prospective reports are asserting that the worsening of the US financial crisis and the resulting deep cuts to its military spending could go so far as to enable China to win [the status of lone superpower] from the US in the future. These factors may, on the other hand, simply contribute to a multi-polar future involving several leading powers, including China.

These new American strategies announce the beginning of a cold war in the Far East and the Pacific between the US and China. It is possible that Washington has adopted this strategy to focus on [East Asia] to a greater degree than the Middle East or other regions. Withdrawing from Iraq, preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan and [thus allowing] the Taliban to return to power in Afghanistan are further proofs of this more devoted and multi-faceted strategy [in East Asia].  [The US] wants to confront China, reduce its mounting influence and limit its growing ambitions in both that region and the world.

Therefore, the US will focus on Asia and pay more attention to the Far East and the Pacific at the political, economic and military levels. This was confirmed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her interview with the American magazine Foreign Policy when she said that our priorities are to focus on the economic and strategic future of the United States by consolidating our relations with Asia, whenever the need arises to confront the rising influence of China in the region.

Clinton added, that during the next ten years, “we [the US] will be seeking to become more intelligent and both time and energy efficient so as to further defend our leading role, secure our interests and promote our values.” She said that “the focus on increasing investment and strengthening US diplomatic, economic and strategic relations in Asia and the Pacific are among the most important tasks which ought to be carried out by US politicians over the next decade.”

It should be mentioned that President Obama has personally implemented this new strategy before it was even announced. In fact, he participated in the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, which was held in Hawaii due to the exclusion of China. [He did so] in order to be the first US President to attend such a summit.

There is no doubt that the announcement of the new US strategies has made observers and analysts focus on the size of the United States’ remaining interest in the Middle East following the announcement of these plans.

It is true that the US has not forgotten Washington's commitment to the regional issues related to security, stability and peace. But according to ABC News, Washington [has already] started moving away from the Middle East so as to focus on its dream leadership role, channeling its ambitions toward South Asia .

In any case, the potential development of a new Cold War are limited in South Asia. However, this does not mean that Beijing will draw down its anti-Washington policies in the Middle East, while Washington is in no rush to fight a new war in the region after its experiences in both Iraq and Afghanistan. What is currently taking place between the US and Tehran is still part of a cold war which may lead to compromises and deals [being struck] between the two countries.

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