Video: US 'Has to Fix' Middle East Before It Can Credibly Pivot to Asia, Says Vali Nasr

As the United States begins to scale back its presence and strategically retreat from the Middle East, China is starting to play a bigger role and expand its influence in the region. “Just as we’re pivoting East, the Chinese look to be pivoting West,” said Vali Nasr, Middle East expert and author most recently of The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, in a talk last night at Asia Society New York.

In a discussion led by Mary Kissel of the Wall Street Journal, Nasr sharply criticized the Obama administration’s foreign policy, with special attention on China and what he regards as a premature withdrawal from the Middle East. “Our Asia policy is really greatly dependent on our Middle East policy, and we’re not able to free ourselves of it. I would think that one outcome of the current crisis in the Middle East, Syria, Iran, Egypt, is that if the United States truly wants to go to Asia, it has to fix the Middle East.“

The election last week of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president, Nasr believes, is a “game-changer.” “He’s not able to change the entire system. He has limitations to his power, but there is a subtle shift in terms of whether or not can we use this opportunity, even the pretext of this opportunity, to play a different game.”

For more nuanced discussion on Iran, ongoing unrest in Syria and instability throughout the Middle East, and U.S. and China policy toward the region, see highlights from the evening below, or click here to watch the entire video.

Video: Highlights from Vali Nasr's talk (4 min., 28 sec.)

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Justin McDonnell is an Online Editorial and Public Programs Contributor at Asia Society.