US President Barack Obama took the opportunity Wednesday to outline the United States’ foreign policy in a commencement speech to West Point graduates. From our point of view, the president was more confirmatory than revelatory in his core message: The United States, as the undeniable global hegemon, is getting back on its feet and it does not intend to manage the world’s problems alone.
In our 2014 Annual Forecast, we said that this would be the year that the United States finally catches its breath after spending a decade stumbling through intractable conflicts in the Islamic world. Obama underlined that prognosis Tuesday when he announced that a residual force of 9,800 troops would be left in Afghanistan through the year, dropping to just the security contingent for the US Embassy in Kabul by the end of 2016. As he conveyed in his Wednesday speech, the militant headaches expected to persist in Afghanistan will be put in the same basket as those in Mali or Yemen. In other words, the United States will be engaged in counterterrorism missions in the more explosive parts of the world, but that engagement will be restrained and refined depending on the need.
By placing counterterrorism operations further down on its list of strategic priorities, the United States will be better equipped to handle more complex emerging threats, like Russia and China swaggering along their respective peripheries. But the United States does not intend to manage these threats alone. Washington needs to resurrect a string of alliances to help carry the load. Some of these alliances could be carbon copies of those used in the Cold War, while others would require a more creative effort.
Iran, for example, is shedding its pariah status and making careful headway toward a strategic rapprochement with the United States. The US-Iranian relationship will be bumpy, but the relationship itself is what enables the United States to worry less about military scenarios in the Persian Gulf and think more about ways to get Iranian energy to Europe. Farther east, Japan is starting to officially re-embrace a military doctrine that was voluntarily shunned after World War II and is now an integral piece of US strategy in balancing against China.
When Obama travels to Poland next week, he will find in Warsaw a very anxious ally, one that has waited years for Washington to regain the bandwidth to look Russian President Vladimir Putin in the eye and see more than just his soul. Poland wants the United States to see what it sees: A resurgent Russia destabilizing Central Europe with Germany too reluctant and distracted to stand up to the threat. Along with Poland comes Romania, which just recently told the United States exactly what it wanted to hear: that Romania is willing to increase its defense budget and do its part in forging a meaningful alliance with Washington. In between, there is a mix of states along the Carpathian chain that still need more convincing.
That will take time, and a more serious show of commitment from the United States. But Obama is clearing his plate to begin doing just that.
Republishing by The Manila Times of this Geopolitical Diary is with the express permission of STRATFOR.