While no violent skirmishes have taken place to this point, the waters surrounding the islands have become the scene of repeated dangerous provocations as Chinese and Japanese vessels venture into disputed areas the face of opposition, at points engaging in water cannon exchanges.
The federal government shutdown debacle finally ended, but its effects live on. In this case, continuing to effect America's Asia-Pacific pivot, our big geopolitical shift from fateful over-engagement with the Islamic world of the Middle East and Central Asia to heightened engagement with the rising Asia-Pacific.
Can the Europeans ever overcome their parochial defense thinking and construct a European defense capability? I believe they can, but it will take a dose of straight talk and tough medicine from Washington to point them in the right direction.
While Hagel clearly has his views of the world informed in part by a lifetime as a card-carrying Republican, he has shown himself to be the 'quiet do-er,' just getting things done.
America is being judged by what's going on in the Washington clown show. The right-wing faction behind it is like the proverbial barking dog that catches the car -- no idea what to do now. And almost certainly no real grasp of the trouble it's causing.
Is Obama getting them right? Well, it looks like pretzel logic at times, and I can't imagine that what we are seeing is the unfolding of an overall scenario, but he may be on his way to extricating himself from impasses on Syria and Iran.
Whether one thinks the turn of events in Syria and Iran were stage managed by the Obama team, or as many of his critics claim the lucky result of a muddled and fumbling U.S. policy, the fact remains that the Obama administration is on the cusp of engineering a major reset of the Middle East's geopolitical landscape.
While the Obama Administration is in the surreal situation of suddenly mounting its biggest congressional lobbying effort since national health care on behalf of missile and bombing raids against Syria, it's important not to lose site of a more coherent aspect of the president's geopolitics.
Amazingly, neither Obama nor Kerry has stated their best and most obvious case for airstrikes against Syria: without the strikes, or the credible threat of strikes (see below), the Assad regime will deploy them again and again, and win the civil war hands-down.
Anyone who believes limited strikes will not escalate into larger scale commitment is underestimating the complexity of the conflict. And besides, the United States isn't even committed to a regime change.
For a guy who has worked for the last few years at low-balling the complex challenge of Syria, President Barack Obama has uncannily found just the way to make it bigger than ever.
Missile strikes, as limited and justified as they may be, are an act of war against the Assad regime. Yet, I get no sense that the United States has any clear idea of our strategic or operational end state.
The Department of Defense has no more important responsibility than supporting and protecting those who defend our country, and that means we must do everything possible to prevent military suicide. When one of us faces a challenge, we all must stand together.
Focusing more on the Asia-Pacific region has long been in the cards as Asian economies rebuilt and rose to the fore in the decades after World War II and the ruinous Pacific War that was such a critical and yet underplayed part of it.
Damascus is eerily calm tonight while Damascenes nervously hunker down for what Washington is billing as a short duration Mediterranean-based cruise missile assault on Syrian military installations. The limited objective: "Punish" Syria for deploying chemical weapons "on a large scale" (Obama's words) against innocent men, women and children AND deter Assad from doing it again. Washington has done just about everything but take out ads in Syrian newspapers: The target is not Assad, nor is the attack directed at shifting any balance of power toward the "secular" Syrian opposition. Although the war drums are beating, the exact timing of the attack, should it come, remains a mystery.
Even if the effort to contain al Qaeda were properly considered an armed conflict, President Obama himself has recognized that all wars must end. The president should take the next step and declare that only law enforcement rules now apply.