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In Obama trip to Israel, clues of US redirection

President Obama's trip to Israel provides more clues about possible downsizing of the US role in the world. If true, the US must be clear to allies and friends.

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Israeli schoolchildren hold Israeli and American flags as two women standing in for President Obama and Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres walk past them during a march 19 rehearsal for Obama's visit at Peres' residence in Jerusalem.

Reuters

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Like submarine sailors peering into a periscope, other nations are watching the United States for clues about its ability or willingness to live up to its historic role as a global superpower. Signs of the slightest US withdrawal from world affairs would delight America’s adversaries and send shivers among its friends.

Three months into President Obama’s second term, the clues – possibly hinting at a downsizing of the US role – seem more prevalent than ever.

As he takes his first trip abroad as a lame-duck president, the trip itself – to Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank – is being played down by the White House as not offering any major breakthroughs. In fact, the biggest question hanging over the trip is whether the president can reassure Israelis that he truly will act to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. US credibility on this point remains uncertain.

Another clue is the unusual sight of American B-52 bombers flying over South Korea in recent days. The Pentagon is trying to reassure South Korea of the US commitment to its defense by parading the Air Force warplanes in the skies.

The longtime Asian ally has recently doubted Mr. Obama’s willingness to sacrifice troops if North Korea makes good on its threats to use its recently tested atomic bombs and missiles. Some in South Korea are even calling for the country to develop its own nuclear weapons rather than rely on US retaliatory power.

Then there is a directive issued this week by the new Defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, to reexamine the nation’s defense strategy. This sends confusing signals because a new strategy was heralded only last year.

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