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Yasushi Tomiyama

【#263】Battle against Islamic State Could Become Turning Point for Obama Foreign Policy?

Yasushi Tomiyama / 2014.09.10 (Wed)

September 8, 2014

     Signs of changes in the U.S. inward-looking mood are seen now that two American journalists have been killed by the radical Islamic State militant group that has taken control of northwestern Iraq and northeastern Syria. We must closely watch whether the Obama administration's battle against the militant group could turn around its foreign policy that has featured a negative attitude toward overseas use of force.

Signs of U.S. public opinion changes
     Signs of U.S. public opinion changes emerged in a poll reported by Pew Research Center on August 28. The percentage increased from 17% last November to 31% in August for respondents who say the United States does "too little" in terms of helping solve world problems. The percentage for those answering "too much" dropped sharply from 51% to 39%.
     The change was remarkable particularly among supporters of the Tea Party grassroots movement close to the Republican Party. Of Tea Party supporters among the Pew poll respondents, a majority of 54% answered "too little" against 33% saying "too much," reversing last November's poll results in which 22% said "too little" with 54% answering "too much." Such change is startling for Tea Party movement supporters who tend to favor isolationist foreign policy.
     Among Republican politicians feeling U.S. opinion changes, Senator Rand Paul and other major Tea Party-backed lawmakers expected to run in 2016 presidential election campaigns have begun to call for hardliner policies against the Islamic State group.

Future course of “pivot to Asia” policy is worrisome
     Since the end of World War II, the United States has tended to become inward-looking after any major war and soon resume intervention in international problems in the face of new challengers threatening U.S. interests. The then Soviet Union's invasion into Afghanistan in 1979 prompted the United States to end an inward-looking policy taken after the Vietnam War. After the Cold War with the then Soviet Union ended, the 2001 massive terrorist attacks in New York and Washington prompted the United States to launch a battle against terrorism.
     Will the Islamic State group's challenge lead to a U.S. foreign policy shift as did the Al-Qaeda terrorist network's attacks in 2001? The Islamic State group may have no potential to implement terrorist attacks on the U.S. mainland. But it reportedly has some 3,000 militants from European and other Western countries. Among them, "maybe a dozen" might have U.S. nationality, a Pentagon spokesman said. The U.S. government would have to be alert to what these militants would do in their home country.
     The international community has entered a new age where any country must fight against enemies including not only other countries but also international terrorist organizations. On September 5, President Barack Obama vowed to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State group. But how far he will use military force is uncertain.
     If the Obama administration goes all out to destroy the terrorist organization, it will be all right. But a matter of concern to Japan is whether the U.S. administration may effectively shelve its "pivot to Asia" or "rebalancing towards Asia" policy. It is growing more important for Japan to amend its constitution to get prepared to respond to all possible threats.

Yasushi Tomiyama is Senior Fellow and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.