Under Biden, the United States looks to a free and open Indo-Pacific
US Vice President Kamala Harris with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore during his Southeast Asia tour in August. / Kamala Harris Facebook
Through Thitinan Pongsudhirak September 4, 2021
If the former President of the United States Barack Obama is known for his “pivot to Asia” geostrategy and President Donald Trump for the free and open Indo-Pacific, there is now a geostrategic synthesis under President Joe Biden. It can rightly be called the “pivot to the free and open Indo-Pacific” of the United States.
While Asia remains the scope and the Indo-Pacific the main arena of rivalry and competition between the United States and China, the Biden pivot focuses on the shadows and influence of China in South East Asia. This will likely put more pressure on ASEAN’s unity and its central role as a broker for regional peace and security. In turn, when ASEAN is more separated than together due to superpower rivalry, the regional neighborhood is likely to become more unstable.
Although the US withdrawal from Afghanistan received sensational and dismal media coverage given the precipitous collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban’s rapid takeover, Biden rightly stands by his decision. As CNN and other international media blasted the US president for leaving Afghanistan to fend for itself and endangering countless lives, especially of women who have been granted more rights and freedoms, unplugging was a calculated bet that was long overdue.
While Washington has spent over $ 2 trillion over the past two decades, precarious peace and order in Afghanistan can only be maintained with continued US largesse and military intervention. As Biden noted, if the Afghans are unable to keep their own country for their own future after so much financial and military assistance from the United States to train and sustain an army of 350,000, then Washington’s efforts have failed. been in vain and a lost cause.
Certainly, the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater was originally intended to attack Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in the Washington DC area there. has two decades. It was President George W Bush and his inner sanctum, driven by the “neo-conservative” movement, who transformed a limited war against bin Laden and al-Qaeda and their Taliban backers in 2001 into more “democratic globalism” broad consisting in making democracies. of the congenitally tribal Middle East, featuring the capture and occupation of Iraq from March 2003. The initial mission deviated so much that the US military became an indefinite occupying force in Afghanistan and Iraq long after bin Laden was tracked down and killed in Pakistan in May 2011.
America’s insanity and failure in the 21st century in the Middle East is therefore attributable to the misguided and disastrous misadventures led by the “neocons,” who were determined to dominate and reshape the region in an irreproachable manner. The problem now is what will happen next when the United States leaves Afghanistan Now and Iraq by the end of the year.
The new challenge will be to prevent Taliban-ruled Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for Islamic militants and militias determined to export their ultra-conservative ideology elsewhere. The same goes for the Iraq-Syria theater and the wider Middle East which previously faced the expansionist threat of the Islamic State (IS) and its ambition to set up Islamic caliphates to recreate glory and l civilizational influence of Islam since its thousand year heyday. since.
If the Islam-inspired terrorist networks can be managed without spreading to other parts of the world, then the Middle East quarter will likely return in the pre-September. 11 status quo of internal conflicts, tribal wars, infighting and competition between the great powers for influence through client regimes in power.
Afghanistan is one example. No major power of the British and the Russians in their nineteenth century “great game” and of the Soviets in the 1980s to the Americans for the past two decades could subdue Afghanistan. Those who tried eventually left bruises and bumps. In turn, as soon as the foreign invaders leave, the Afghan clans and tribes begin to fight against each other again. This is an age-old pattern that is now likely to unfold again. The Taliban were one of the anti-Soviet forces of the 1980s that gained the upper hand to seize power in Kabul. The mistake made by the Taliban was to become a bedmate with bin Laden and a sanctuary for al-Qaeda.
Southeast Asia has a major stake in the Middle East quagmire as it is home to the largest Muslim country (Indonesia) which, along with Malaysia and Brunei, generally practice moderate and secular forms of Islam. . Southeast Asia is also home to significant Muslim minorities in the southern Philippines, southern Thailand, and the westernmost Rakhine state in Myanmar.
The mid-2000s saw the rise of a regional terrorist outpost, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which became a serious regional threat based in Indonesia. But Indonesia and other governments in Southeast Asia have coordinated and worked effectively together to meet the OMC challenge. The grievances of Muslims in the southern Philippines and the southernmost provinces of Thailand have also been rooted more in ethno-nationalism than in Islamic expansionism inspired by ISIS.
But now is the time to be extra vigilant. It bodes well that the Taliban and ISIS disagree, but terrorist expansionism in Southeast Asia could gain strength with the US withdrawal. Malaysian-Muslim ethno-nationalist insurgents in southern Thailand could also radicalize if their goals continue to be thwarted without compromise or compromise on the part of Thai state authorities.
On the other hand, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and later Iraq allows Washington to refocus and reorient its attention and resources elsewhere. This is how the recent high-level visits of Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, followed by Vice President Kamala Harris, will be seen in Southeast Asia. ASEAN governments and political communities have been steadfastly silent in response to the short-term loss of US credibility and prestige over the Afghanistan controversy, as they anticipate a shift in focus. towards South-East Asia in the Indo-Pacific geostrategic framework. Exiting Afghanistan can only be justified if Islamist expansionism is contained while the Biden administration prepares and mobilizes its Indo-Pacific pivot to balance China’s aggressive maneuvers in the South China Sea and Mekong region. .
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, PhD, is Professor in the Faculty of Political Science and Director of its Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.
This article first appeared in the Bangkok Post.
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