Obama may have bypassed foreign policy in his State of the Union speech, but US commitments abroad remain crucial writes Asia Sentinel’s Khanh Vu Duc

The most memorable moment of the State of the Union address by President Barack Obama on Tuesday might not have been the address itself but what happened after: US Senator Marco Rubio’s strangled dive for a drink of water during the Republican response, which has been the subject of much humorous discussion.

Nonetheless, while the president’s address focused primarily on urgent domestic issues, what will undoubtedly be the biggest foreign policy issues facing the United States weren’t mentioned – theMiddle East, nuclear Iran and North Korea, and the US’s relationship with China.

Obama in the Forbidden City, Beijing. Pic: Asia Sentinel.

The Middle East Bog and Nuclear Ambition
Despite President Obama’s best efforts to disentangle the United States from the Middle East, events such as the Arab Spring continue to draw the US back into the region. After having withdrawn from Iraq, and with plans to scale back from Afghanistan, the US remains unable to part completely with the region while the Syrian civil war continues, and a potential nuclear Iran threatens Israel.

Thousands of Syrian rebels and civilians have died while aspiring to remove the corrupt regime of Bashar al-Assad from power. However, as has been the concern of some US and foreign officials from the start: who are these rebels?

Jahbat al-Nusra, one of the rebel groups fighting against the Assad government, was accused by the US government as being a terrorist organization as an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq. While not all rebel groups are labeled as such, these concerns, in addition to reports of war crimes perpetuated by all sides, have continued to trouble the US, which has so far refused to directly intervene.

Beyond Syria, there are of course Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the potential Israeli response. The US will be hard-pressed to find measures to deter Iran’s ambitions and ease Israel’s fears. Should the unthinkable happen – a preemptive Israeli strike and a possible regional conflict as a consequence – theUS will undoubtedly find itself drawn back to the Middle East.

In addition to Iran, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions continue to threaten peace on the Korean Peninsula and throughout Asia. Walled off from the rest of the world, North Korea carried out its recent nuclear test despite efforts to curb such activities by the US and United Nations. What remains true is that efforts to curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions will not prove effective as long as China continues to support its neighbor. At present, only China possesses the influence necessary to dissuade North Korea from further nuclear tests.

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