Is the United States planning to understate its commitments to the Middle East in favor of a robust competitive stance towards china? As the American political class is growing weary of “forever wars,” they are calling for disengagement from the Middle East and planning to spend more resources in the Western Pacific. This recent idea came from Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo), who debates that American commitments to global liberal supremacy went hand-in-hand with the waging of the never-ending war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
Hawley calls for the U.S. for redistributing its efforts towards Asia, arguing that China represents a generational threat that might exceed the Soviet Union in magnitude. Hawley plans to erect military capacity in eastern Asia, prioritizing alliances with partners across the region and also “[counter] malign Chinese influence in other areas, from Africa to Latin America to our colleges and universities at home.”
For an anti-imperialist and a self-declared, this might sound like an expansive program. Hawley’s commitment to both anti-imperialism and exit from the Middle East are limited and opportunistic (he supports continued arms sales to the UAE, and continued U.S. military engagement with Saudi Arabia, as well as withdrawal from the JCPOA, and endless military action against Iran) we can nevertheless wonder whether such ideologies can be sincerely held and can layout an actionable pathway for ignoring militarized confrontation and “forever wars” in the Middle East.
Forlornly, Hawley’s principles are self-contradictory and represent a false choice even it is taken sincerely. Even for those who most feverishly wish it be so, the prospect of the United States disengaging in any substantial way from the Middle East remains uncertain at best. Hawleys gives away the game by quoting Africa, Latin America, and the Western Pacific as the areas of competition with China. All these regions might offer a battleground for influence between Beijing and the United States. Moreover, this idea of the U.S. can or will prioritize these areas over the Middle East is fantasy.
However, the Middle East continues to control the world’s most energy resource. It’s abiding political divisions. Offers a handful of opportunities for superpower meddling. The U.S. doesn’t need to pick sides in the Saudi-Iran dispute as robustly as it has been done in recent years, also it should not eliminate or pile up regimes elsewhere in the region. Inevitably, the United States and China will get involved in the conflict between Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran. We don’t have to trust that geopolitical competition between the United States and China will in all, or even most, respects copy the dynamics of the Cold War. Moreover, any discussion that frames
China as an immense and direct threat to the United States will essentially lay the foundation for global rivalry. Emphasizing China will not lead to the end of Imperialism or the end of the wars in the Middle East. Definitely, to the extent that the U.S. and China competition involves anything like the dynamics of the Cold War. We will see every conflict in the world rhetorically weaponized as an opportunity to fight against the Chinese influence.
Any kind of effort to characterize China as an existential threat to the United States necessarily implies a level of conflict that will justify U.S. intervention anywhere in the world. The solution for a less domineering foreign policy is not to play up the risk of Beijing in the hopes that the U.S. will stop superseding elsewhere, but rather to carefully rethink what establishes a threat to U.S. fundamental values, and what the United States must detriment to meet that threat.