President Barack Obama’s foreign policy “pivot” towards Asia, announced with an eye-catching visit to Myanmar and Cambodia at the start of his second term of office, appeared to be thwarted this week.
Operation Pillar of Defence derailed his visit, demanding attention he wanted to devote to advancing US trade relationships and encouraging political freedoms across Asia.
Instead, he was obliged to dispatch Hillary Clinton to help forge the ceasefire agreement, to deploy the US 6th Fleet ready to evacuate US citizens and make calls to Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammad Morsi to prevent the unravelling of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
Some have mistakenly suggested that the Obama administration had proposed to “switch off” its relationships in the MidEast. True, Mr Obama’s first-term record of engagement in the Middle East was decidedly patchy, and declining American influence after the Arab Spring might not be an ideal platform.
True, too, that Mr Netanyahu’s support for Mitt Romney soured an already troubled relationship and that Mahmoud Abbas looked ever more detached from Palestinian politics this week.
But US interests, far more compelling than personalities for Mr Obama as determinants of his country’s foreign policy, continue to run through the region. America remains profoundly interested in the resolution of the Syrian civil war; in confronting Iran; and in constructively engaging with pro-Islamist governments.
The US is not “switching off” relations with Israel, either. The Obama administration was unequivocally supportive of Israel during the fighting. That will be reassuring for Mr Netanyahu, who faces the Israeli electorate in a month. With a ceasefire in place, Obama may feel that US interests also include real progress on peace talks. Israelis and Palestinians should prepare for more, not less, US engagement in their affairs.