The Middle East, and Its Oil, Are Crucial to China’s Grand Strategy

September 8, 2020 | Paul Wolfowitz
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Under President Obama, the U.S. announced a “pivot to Asia,” to be accompanied by a retreat from the Middle East. The Trump administration has, in many respects, taken a similar approach. According to conventional wisdom, such a reorientation is made possible by America’s growing energy independence. But, writes Paul Wolfowitz, few have noted the inherent paradox in “pivoting” from the Middle East to East Asia:

How can a strategy that aims to protect this country’s large and growing interest in the Asian Pacific region, with both its future opportunities and potential threats, and particularly one with a focus on China, say little or nothing about China’s critical and growing dependence on the energy resources of the greater Middle East? Not to mention the even greater dependence of Japan and many of our other friends and allies in the region on that vital energy source?

Yet the Obama administration strategy called “the Pivot” did precisely that. And to a surprising extent so does the Trump administration’s “Indo-Pacific Strategy,” despite some important departures from Obama with respect to China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

As a strategy, the Pivot suffered from a fundamental flaw, reflected in that phrase “energy independence” still often heard from the Trump administration even though Trump has partially reversed the retreat from the Middle East. The U.S. may have become energy “self-sufficient,” but East Asia most definitely has not. The Middle East, in particular, remains to this day the indispensable energy source for the economies of both our most formidable competitor in East Asia, China, and our most important ally, Japan, not to mention other important friends and allies in the region. Retreating from the Middle East makes little sense as part of a strategy for protecting American interests in the Asia Pacific.

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