Skip to main content

Is America's 'Strategic Pivot' Towards China Premature?

In the cover story of our inaugural issue back in April, we took note of the Obama administration's strategic pivot towards Asia and the commensurate shift away from our entanglements in the Middle East and South Asia. In a new essay in the Journal Society, the communitarian sociologist Amitai Etzioni takes a dim view of this strategic move:

The shift reminds one of the old parable about a child who was looking for his lost dime next to the lamp post, not because it was there that the dime went missing—but because it was there that the light made searching easy.

In Etzioni's view, China is not the more important challenge facing America, but the more convenient one. Our problems with Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the nations transformed by the Arab Spring are "extremely taxing and frustrating," Etzioni writes, and require all sorts of diplomatic, strategic, and tactical nuance. Not a conventional warfighter's cup of tea at all. Pentagon planners prefer dealing with an old-fashioned, big nation-state adversary -- and so, of course, do defense industry lobbies that manufacture the slick hardware best suited to such a face-off. The hyped-up worry over China, when it comes from these quarters, has a certain "please don't throw me into that briar patch" ring to it.

Given how far China must go before its military and economy truly catch up with ours, Etzioni writes, we can safely put off the task of containing Beijing. He isn't saying that China won't eventually become a force to reckon with, just that the pivot is premature.

It should be noted, though, that when Etzioni says he favors maintaining a focus on our challenges in the Middle East, he has a certain notion of what that means. Etzioni is one who believes that waging a series of strategic assaults on Iran would be preferable to allowing the Islamic Republic to acquire nuclear capability -- a view I find hard to stomach for reasons laid out brilliantly here.