America’s long-promised pivot to Asia was finally gathering momentum — new security deals with the Philippines and India, expanded military exercises, and plans with allies to stay ahead of Chinese technology. But the Middle East, like a vortex, has pulled Washington back in, notes ‘The New York Times’.
And for America’s partners in the Indo-Pacific, many of which already worry that the United States is not moving fast enough to counter Beijing, the sudden focus on Gaza — with Pentagon task forces, ramped-up U.S. weapons deliveries to Israel and rushed visits to Middle Eastern capitals — feels like a loss, delaying progress on some of their most critical challenges.
“What concerns us most is the diversion of the U.S. military’s resources from East Asia to Europe, to the Middle East,” Akihisa Nagashima, a lawmaker and former national security adviser in Japan, said at a strategy forum in Sydney, Australia, last week. “We really hope that conflict is completely finished pretty soon.”
American military commanders have said that no equipment has left the Indo-Pacific. And two top cabinet officials, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, will be crisscrossing Asia with messages of reassurance, making stops separately or together in India, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia.
But what these countries all share are questions about how Washington’s entanglement with another distant war, on top of Ukraine, will be weighed against the needs of the Indo-Pacific. Many are asking: How many pledges of support to how many nations can the United States — a power stretched thin abroad and politically divided at home — actually handle?
Weapons are one area of common concern. The defense industry in the United States has struggled with shortages of ammunition being provided to both Ukraine and Israel, including 155-millimeter artillery shells. Guided munitions and more complex American systems are also being funneled to both conflicts, even as American partners in the Indo-Pacific wait for weapons deliveries of their own.
Japan, Taiwan and Australia could face delays on military equipment that has been contracted and promised by the United States.
“It’s not just hardware,” said Andrew Nien-Dzu Yang, a former defense minister of Taiwan. “You have to teach or train the people to operate those systems.”
If the Gaza war drags on, its impacts could change. While an extended conflict could further strain American arsenals, China may learn from it that urban warfare is extraordinarily difficult, perhaps deterring Beijing from following through on threats to take the densely populated island of Taiwan, which it sees as lost territory.
For some countries, the rekindled conflict over the Palestinian issue has also inflamed old beliefs that the United States is anti-Muslim, or at least too biased toward Israel. After years of watching Washington avoid confronting the often harsh mistreatment of Palestinians by both the Israeli government and extremist Israeli settlers, some no longer trust the United States to be a fair broker.
But for Japan and many other American partners in Asia, the war in Gaza risks disrupting both oil supplies and progress on security. The faster it ends, in their view, the faster the world can get back to what Washington still defines as its most important challenge: deterrence and competition with China in an interdependent world.
Asked in Japan on Wednesday if the United States was too occupied with the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine to continue its pivot to Asia, Mr. Blinken said: “I can tell you that we are determined and we are, as we would say, running and chewing gum at the same time. The Indo-Pacific is the critical region for our future.”