We need to prioritize, and our priorities should be clear.
Nice point about which problems US power is good for.
It's not that the Mideast doesn't have big problems; it's that they're problems American involvement can't solve. Iraq and Afghanistan showed we can't reform even single countries by force. How are we supposed to reform a whole region?
Sure, we can hold back Israel from the worst excesses and deter Iran from outright war. But that still leaves nine-tenths of the Mideast's problems bleeding and unfixed. Are we supposed to sink ourselves into the Mideast for a generation just to make things worse?
But in Asia, America is wanted not for reform, but for deterrence. "Deter China" means we need a fresh military buildup, since we let the arsenal of "Deter the USSR" go to rust. But America was good at building weapons in quantity once; I have faith we can do it again. And the mission is one we know. Deterrence is what the American military is actually good at!
So while the Mideast barely wants us, and has problems we can't do more than bandage, Asia wants us very much, for a job that exactly suits our strengths.
For the Middle East, America is just the indispensable scapegoat. For Asia, we can be the indispensable deterrent. Let's go where we're wanted.
I agree that we have a much more robust economic relationship with the Far East, but a major war anywhere in the world is going to seriously impede commerce. Most obviously, that would be oil and the Suez Canal. That is why we have an economic interest in the Middle East not blowing up.
So, our Middle East policy has to be as strong as our China policy.
Check out my take on the future of American foreign policy: https://kathleenweber.substack.com/p/its-hostile-its-real-but-dont-call
I find this analysis pretty confusing. Where we should deploy US troops, money etc is about where we think that deployment offers the best resturn on investment -- not what location is the most important overall (otherwise we'd deploy marines to the London financial district). And it's not at all clear that applying US influence in the middle east takes away, rather than supports, our ability to influence the east.
The fact that Asia has a better status quo suggests useful interventions will be more expensive. Korea and Japan spend quite a bit on defense and have well-trained troops and it's not the wild west. Where a small base can potentially have region wide impacts in the middle east it would take huge resources affect the balance of power in Asia much.
Realistically, the choices the US faces with China are questions of strategic investment (and economic competition) -- do we contract with SK to expand our naval fleet, do we increase defense spending etc. I think one can make an argument that demonstrating our concern about allies in the middle east which don't have that much we want will help our position with allies in Asia (convince them we won't abandon them when it's convenient).
Look, I dunno how this all shakes out but I'm pretty sure we can't figure out how to adjust US foreign policy by only looking at how important a region is and not the cost/benefit ratio and extent to which one intervention interferes with others.
Totally agree with the premise, I just hope that Americans are able to understand the importance of defending Taiwan and regional allies (Philippines, Japan, Korea...). China is constantly signaling to its people the likely inevitability of their invasion of Taiwan (which they loving refer to as "re-unification"), but in the US public opinion is more reactive--jumping from crisis to crisis whether in Ukraine or Israel. Do Americans understand how critical Taiwan is to US national interests? Are they aware that the Philippines is a US-treaty ally? In addition to helping these countries arm themselves, the US public needs to be primed that this is the battle that matters: hopefully it can be avoided, but if not then we must be all-in.
As always, this is an excelent piece worth reading. However, there is one very important but flawed argument in your reasoning. Nearing the end of the Article, you mention that:
"The U.S. isn't dependend on Mideast oil at all. Thanks to fracking, we are a net exporter of crude. Saudi Arabia and UAE and Kuwait could get eaten by Godzilla and our oil refineries would just keep humming."
This is a common misconception about the state of U.S oil industry. I am no oil or commodity expert, but I do read a few Substack accounts whose opinions I value highly when it comes to energy topics.
Let me qoute the Green Chicken (@Doomberg) for a clearer clarification of the misconception about U.S. oil self-sufficiency. ( This qoute is from a articled titled "Molecular Tourism");
" (...). At the risk of oversimplifying, the current fleet of US refineries was built to handle heavier grades of crude than the country currently produces and has been operating uncomfortably near the top of its nameplate capacity for years. It has been more than four decades since the US last built a new major refinery, and those original investments were designed to handle oil being produced domestically at that time, along with crude imported from countries like Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela."
Taking this into consideration, the US may be capable to produce large amounts of oil domestically, but it does not have the industry capacity necessary for refining this "type" of oil. The U.S, therefore, needs to import oil from other countries including the Middle east region.
The article overlooks how deterrence works. Abandoning allies in one place convinces the world that even in another place, allies will be abandoned. Besides, it may bring a catastrophe that ultimately necessitates full intervention nevertheless.
The implication behind the article's note on “dar al-harb” ("house of war") is that outside of the Muslim world all is war, but that just isn't how it was used. It's origins are from the days in which the primary antagonism with Islam came from the Eastern Roman Empire (aka Byzantium). Within the Caliphate they spoke of "dar al-Islam", or basically where Islam has control and there is peace. "Dar al-harb" is the contested regions (mostly in Anatolia, the Asian part of today's Turkey) where war was permitted and encouraged in order to bring it into the dar al-Islam.
Excellent piece. Whole heartedly agree. One tiny disagreement: We shouldn't "rejoin TPP" but forge a much better alliance. One that is truly about fostering multilateral trade, not one filled with pork and protection of dangerous IP laws for US Corporations
In terms of prioritization between Asia and Middle-East ...this makes sense. However, if you are looking at overall international prioritization... my list would be:
1) North America ==> focus on Mexico ... get it to be prosperous/safe ASAP
2) Central America ==> if you do #1 and #2, you solve your immigration problems and build a very strong and tight ecosystem. Reduce dependence on China ASAP.
3) Western Europe/Australia/New Z ==> cultural/economic alignment ...
4) India/Japan ==> Can be stable..aligned partners
China/Russia ==> Need to be managed
Also, technologically...accelerate shift of energy such that Oil markets collapse... nearly all the problems of the world are caused by resource supported economies lead by dictators.
For once I agree with Noah. A dollar spent preemptively building up Taiwan,s defenses is much better spent that funding a Ukrainian war already underway.
I do find it amusing he can't bring himself to criticize the Leftist faction of the Dem party for funding multiple wars at once and failing at each. Noah must be incensed at whomever is writing Biden,s thoughts.
Why do we have to evaluate interventions by region at all? Shouldn't we just look at each particular intervention/choice and evaluate it as it comes up? I worry pieces like this actively encourage people to imagine there is some false limitation on our ability to judge interventions in multiple regions.
Sure, we have limited troops and money but it's not at all clear that stationing troops in the middle east changes the fact that they are there to be drawn on in case of a war with China (arguably they gain experience too).
I fear this piece is like an analysis which argues that the NY tech sector will grow faster over the next 10 years than the SF tech sector -- therefore you should favor investing in NY over SF startups other things being equal. Even if true, it doesn't suggest that you should let the startup's location distract you from the buisness fundamentals. Similarly, if Asia is really the more important place to intervene then that should fall out of just looking at the costs and benefits of the particular intervention.
> a Eurasia dominated by China, Russia, and Iran would eventually force the U.S. to its knees through a combination of economic sanctions and military threats.
Like how you imagine it would be, if I may ask?
This seems too zero-sum to me.
Yes, some things (actual deployed troops, maybe foreign aid budget) are essentially a fixed resource, but I don't agree that "diplomacy" is. If anything, I think it's probably the reverse - demonstrating commitment to allies and the international order in one part of the world makes that commitment appear stronger in other parts of that world.
I will briefly quibble here: if the US does not have the power to dominate the earth, then Iran/Russia/China definitely do not either. Russia is struggling to conquer a neighbor much smaller and weaker than itself. Iran is capable of even less. China could cause massive problems across the world, but the net result (for the US) if we allowed China to dominate its neighborhood (besides Japan and Australia) and let Russia conquer Ukraine is probably far less than many think. I do not think China wants to bring "the US to its knees" in the same way Germany and Japan did in WWII.
That does not mean we should not still try to stop China from doing what its doing, but I think the lessons are different than WWII and even the Cold War.
Thanks for a succinct analysis. Very hard choices ahead for the US.
Pouring weapons into Asia may well prove to be counterproductive if it kicks off an arms race with China. In addition the US allies in the region--S. Korea and Japan--are economic and industrial powerhouses that could easily produce significant amounts of armaments if the need arises.