Were the United States to withdraw precipitously, India would understandably look to Iran, Russia and perhaps China as allies in a tacit effort to contain Pakistan. Thus we could lose the prospect of a de facto pro-American India to balance the military and economic rise of China.
President Obama must weigh this fact against the knowledge that every year the war in Afghanistan costs our military the equivalent of building several aircraft-carrier strike groups that could be used to increase our presence and to contain the expansion of the Chinese Navy in the Western Pacific, something that would assuage the concerns of our allies there. Of course, the president would rather use the savings to pay down the deficit; nonetheless, the Navy and the influence in Eurasia that it can provide have clearly been the loser in these land wars…
Today, however, the advent of global communications, along with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the dispatch of Wahhabi clerics from the Persian Gulf to the Far East, has radicalized many Indonesians. This puts the nation’s leaders in a bind: on the one hand, they want a robust American naval presence to counterbalance China, which is Indonesia’s largest trading partner; on the other, they fear angering the wider Islamic world if they make closer ties to Washington too public.
Indonesia, whose archipelago is as vast as the continental United States is wide, has only two submarines; China has dozens. While China’s materialistic culture may soften the influence of political Islam in Southeast Asia, China also plays on the tension between the West and global Islam in order to limit American influence there. That is why President Obama’s mission to rebrand America in the eyes of Muslims carries benefits that go far beyond Indonesia and the Middle East.