It was great to see President Obama signing an accord with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to station several thousand U.S. Marines in Australia, thus deepening what is already one of America’s closest defense alliances. It was only a few years ago–in 2007 to be exact–that Australia elected a Chinese-speaking prime minister (Kevin Rudd, now the foreign minister) and all the talk was about how Australia needed to expand its ties with China, now its largest trading partner. But China’s aggressive behavior since, which threatens regional stability, has driven Australia to draw ever closer to the U.S. The same phenomenon is evident across East Asia; even Communist Vietnam is seeking American ties to ward off the looming Chinese hegemon. The new accord is a sign the U.S. is having some success in balancing the growth of Chinese power–something that should remain a priority for the future.
But the Washington Post is right to warn that we cannot be so focused on pivoting to the Pacific that we lose sight of the major dangers that still confront us in the Middle East. With the looming withdrawal from Iraq and the drawdown from Afghanistan, there is a temptation in Washington to say that we must redirect scarce military resources to the Pacific. There is no doubt we need to increase our naval and other military deployments in the region to counter China’s rise. But we cannot afford to decrease our commitment in the Middle East–not at a time when the entire region is being swept by political upheaval, when Iran is on the verge of going nuclear, and groups such as Hezbollah and the Haqqanis remain as potent a threat as ever.
The prosaic reality is that America must commit to both the Middle East and Far East. That means maintaining a healthy level of defense spending and avoiding further cuts on top of the $450 billion that has already been lopped off this year. We must build up the Navy and Air Force without cutting much if any force structure from the Army and Marine Corps. Such a commitment may appear to be costly at a time of skyrocketing federal debt, but the costs of ignoring either region–and letting our enemies have their way–will be higher than we can bear.