Interview: Former US spy chief sees shift toward Asia
In an interview, Admiral Dennis C. Blair - the former director of national intelligence - says the US needs to back moderate Islamic societies, and urges Israel to keep pace with a changing Middle East.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Over the last year, the US intelligence bureaucracy has scrambled to keep up with the fast-changing events of the Arab Spring, from the crowded rows of protestors in Tahrir Square to the chaotic battlefields of Libya. Twelve months before the revolutions began, Admiral Dennis C. Blair was the man responsible for managing those often disparate agencies. As Director of National Intelligence, his job was to direct American eyes and ears on the ground.Skip to next paragraph
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Now retired, Admiral Blair sat down with Elizabeth Dickinson at a conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to discuss how events are evolving. He argues that the moderate Islam of Southeast Asia merits American support, past efforts at democracy prevention have been poorly conceived, and it's time for Israel to think twice about its foreign policy in the context of the changing Middle East.
Elizabeth Dickinson: What are the security priorities for the United States right now in Malaysia, and the region of Southeast Asia more broadly?
Dennis Blair: Southeast Asia is an area in which there is a form of Islam which is both devout and progressive, and therefore to be supported. It's an area in which I see a congruence of American interests and local interests: to have tolerant societies and become more prosperous. You can go into the Strait of Malacca and the umpteen tankers going through [it every day] and all that stuff, and that's all true, but I think [our interests are] really more fundamental than that. I think American interests are served when there are sections of the world that have representative governments, politically open economic systems, and are willing to take a stand against some of the more extreme ideologies that there are around the world. I've always found that the countries that I've worked with around here, be it Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, or Indonesia have had their values and their objectives in the right place and we've got to work with them. It's not too much more complicated than that.
ED: How do you see that relationship shifting, if at all, under the Obama administration – particularly with the renewed focus militarily on the Pacific?
DB: I think it's probably a little less there than meets the eye. I don't think the so-called neglect of Southeast Asia was ever as bad as some said, and consequently, the reawakening is probably not as dramatic.