Concern about the U.S. move to leave Syria was compounded Thursday by the announcement that U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis will resign in February. One man won’t fundamentally alter the U.S. strategic course. We’ve been saying for years that the U.S. is overexposed and would seek to shift more of the security burden to allies and partners and manipulate global affairs from afar. Geopolitical structures are only as sustainable as the alignment of interests underpinning them. But Mattis’ resignation letter, in which he lambasted Trump’s apparent disregard for the value of long-standing U.S. alliances and diplomatic prowess, will only deepen the sense that the U.S. is a capricious and distracted power. Whatever the merits of the U.S. moves to recalibrate its global strategy, they are already creating vacuums of power that friends and foes alike are scrambling to fill. Along these lines, it’s worth noting that Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana announced that Manila would re-evaluate the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty due to Washington’s continued refusal to confirm that it covers Philippine-claimed parts of the South China Sea. Meanwhile, North Korea’s explicit demand yesterday that U.S. troops withdraw from South Korea, if not the entire region, was partially an attempt to gauge just how far and fast the Trump administration is willing to accelerate the U.S. recalibration.
- George Friedman, Geopolitical Futures