Bill Collier- The precipitous departure of the United States from commitments abroad, a process of unilateral disengagement, has many security experts concerned that prospects for conflict are increasing. Regardless of who wins the election in 2016, even if that person reverses the trend, the damage to America's reputation as a reliable ally may be permanent.
In blazing and sensational headlines Israel National News, otherwise known as Arutz Sheva, delcared that America's President had actually threatened to shoot down Israeli planes if they flew over Iraqi airspace to attack Iran. It is also being alleged that the American administration's attempts to sabatoge Prime Minister's speech before the Congress were motivated by a desire to protect its deal with Tehran. Finally, it has even been alleged that the current American President is funneling US tax dollars help opposition parties defeat Israel's current Prime Minister in his nation's elections.
While many would argue that none of these allegations are true, the real issue is that they are being made and believed in certain circles. If true, they would indeed be a sensational reverse course in American foreign policy which would tend towards severing America's alliance with Israel and which would amount to a tacit acceptance of Iranian hegemony over the region. But if they are not true and are still believed the effect on regional powers would be the same: they would have to shift for themselves.
What we can see in the situation in the Ukraine is in fact key to understanding the currently emerging dynamic. The Ukraine was promised uncoditional guarantees of its borders by the US, Britain, and Russia in exchange for giving up the nuclear arms it inherited from the Soviet Union. The Ukrainians gave up the weapons. When the Russians seized the Crimea, and as the Russians are invading eastern Ukrain with proxy forces supplied and bolstered by the Russian military, those guarantees of Ukraine's borders are meaningless.
No matter how you wish to parse the original agreement, no matter how you wish to find some loophole in that commitment, the perception around the world is simple and stark- the old agreements and commitments made by the US and the West in general are totally useless.
Currently the United States is disengaging from much of the world. For instance, there has been a US Carrier Task Force in East Asia since after World War Two: today there is none. In the Middle East the US is clearly "leading from behind" and the pace and goals of the agenda are being set by Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE, who are determined to defeat Salafist extremism and its Islamist ideology even as America's President refuses to even give a name to that ideology.
American backing is becoming as useless as thin air in the minds of many. The question is not whether a new Administration can change this, even if a total course reversal is undertaken. The damage is done: whoever wins the 2016 election, even if they reverse course, many world and regional powers have "learned" that if the "wrong" candidate wins another election they might not honor the commitments of their predecessors.
Lest anyone lay the sole blame on President Obama, the lack of commitment to allies and friends started under George W. Bush. The Bush Administration also refused to deal with the growing menace from Iran's nuclear program, it reduced the US military footprint in many locations, it allowed Pakistan to holds its logistic train to Afghanistan hostage, and when Russia went after Georgia it offered lip service. America's willful retreat from the world started before President Obama came into office.
One might argue, as might such political thinkers like Rand and Ron Paul, that the US is foolish to make such commitments and become so entangled in the world, but the coomitments were made and to the world at large they were useless.
This is what leads to the potential for real conflicts, conflicts we have deemed impossible. One should consider the possibility of long, drawn out land wars in Asia and Europe as being entirely within the realm of possibilities. As many nations with aggressive intent see the US and the West fading into the background, lobbing nothing more than rehtoric while they reduce their defense capabilities, they will see an opportunity to take action. As US allies realize they have to shift for themselves they might feel compelled to take preventive measures in their own defense against their aggressive neighbors.
Some might argue that letting these things sort themselves out is the right thing, they might argue that the US has no business trying to keep world peace, and they might argue that even when the US keeps its commitments it only makes more enemies and gets no respect or appreciation from those it helps. These arguments are not without their merit, but our question is less about the rightness or wrongness of US policy. The real question is what will its effect be.
Increasingly, experts and even diplomats are saying aloud what had been said only in low tones- the US and the West will not keep commitments, therefore if you wish to protect yourself, act on your own, do not wait for what Washington or Brussels has to say about the matter.