Obama’s Pacific commitment

Obama’s Pacific commitment

Secretary Panetta already delivered a version of this message to U.S. Asian allies on his Pacific trip earlier this year, but President Obama repeated it Thursday in Australia, just for good measure:

“Reductions in U.S. defense spending will not — I repeat, will not — come at the expense of the Asia Pacific,” he told Australia’s parliament in Canberra.

The president evidently did not need a “comprehensive strategic review” to guide him in the direction the U.S. should pursue as it winds down from Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, his unequivocal commitment here goes a long way toward ending the political-strategy stalemate between the Pentagon and Congress — at least for the rest of the Obama administration.

Background and explanation: Congress effectively neutralized DoD’s onetime “strategic” document, the Quadrennial Defense Review, by creating its own QDR review (yes, a review review) that second-guessed and faulted it. But 535 members of Congress could not convincingly offer anything in its place. So absent guidance from any third major player in town, aka the White House, the never-ending battles over “strategy” pitted an irresistible force against an immovable object, with the standard Beltway result: Gridlock.

Now, however, the president has weighed in. He has made a choice — a logical, obvious, even predictable choice — but made it nonetheless. Obama has committed the U.S. to an active, long-term, hard and soft-power role in Asia, and, so long as he remains in office, the marbles will fall according to the way he’s set up the board. Although he and top defense officials will certainly take care to continue saying, “there are threats all over the place, got to be ready for anything,” etc, the formal WestPac direction could well unfreeze America’s post-9/11 strategic paralysis.

After the years and years of D.C. Asia-philes complaining about how U.S. has ignored the WestPac as it focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and counter-insurgency, it’s kind of bizarre to watch their dreams coming true in real time. Obama’s trip to Hawaii, Australia and Indonesia is getting the most headlines, but don’t forget that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton also is out there, too: She reaffirmed American friendship with The Philippines (which is getting its second retired U.S. Coast Guard cutter next year) and then went on to do the same with Thailand. Just imagine how it all looks from Beijing.

The rest of the world has to catch up to all this, however — starting with Washington itself. As recently as Wednesday, DoD’s twin titans of public affairs, Press Secretary George Little and Navy Capt. John Kirby, would not bite on reporters’ questions about whether DoD would safeguard WestPac-related, counter-“anti-access” programs in its pending budgets and reviews.

Well, there might not even be a Defense Department next year, the spokesmen said. No decisions made. Too soon to tell. Everything on table. Taking close look at everything. Hard choices.

That kind of tactic will continue to play out, but given the marker Obama has laid down, it’s going to lose much of whatever juice it still retains. The president says the U.S. is locked into the WestPac, so that means aircraft carriers, ships, fighters, bombers, missiles, troops, etc. Obama’s promise also means tomorrow’s potential reductions in budget growth will definitely have to come from other places, necessitating the strategic bets everyone keeps asking for.

That could drive the Army to run, not walk, to join the Air-Sea Battle Office to which it’s been invited, and for its staff to begin churning out PowerPoints about the value of land power in the Asia context. (“There’s a lot of water in the Western Pacific, but there are also a lot of countries, and a lot of armies,” Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has said.)

It could also spell the beginning of the end of the big U.S. military presence in Europe, which commanders say is valuable but may soon look like a luxury. Obama and Panetta both have said American troops are staying where they are in Asia, but they’ve made no such promises about the Continent.

What do you think?

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Did anyone get pumped up by Obama’s speech, considering that he can’t lead the US government through its most basic functions, doesn’t keep commitments to his own base, is unable to forge bi-partisan cooperation, doesn’t think it’s necessary to get Congressional authorization for use of military force, and forced unconstitutional legislation on the American people? He should give up on any kind of agenda that increases US taxpayer commitments. He should stay in the White House, do his job, and try not to do any more damage in his term. Telling the truth would be kind of nice, too. “Reductions in U.S. defense spending will not — I repeat, will not — come at the expense of the Asia Pacific,” : Exactly how does this pass any kind of logic test???

Last time I checked, the White House was holding out for revenue enhancements. I listened to the OMB Director on the radio the other night, and they are pretty much aiming for 23% government spending to GDP. Theorem # 1 is that the US is pursuing a maritime strategy. Theorem #2 is that Asia is the new Europe. Since these two ideas are not entirely contradictory, the strategic priorities that can be derived from the union of #1 plus #2 are pretty straightforward. Eventually, one has to get past the point where the baseline keeps moving downward and no one really knows what’s going on. The process and the outcome may not be rational, but if one assumes that what comes out of the “super committee” is the way ahead, at least you have something to plan against. Then and only then can the ORSAs do their little CAIV thing to figure out how to get the biggest bang for the buck.

We used to have the capability to fight two major wars and one minor war. Where are we now? Only able to fight one major war? Putting all our capabilities into the Asia-Pacific area and leaving Europe and the Middle East to defend themselves?

Of course we would win. With the political support (will) of the American people the outcome would be inevitable, but at high risk of being a smooth operation with decisive results and minimal loss of life. But no matter how much we spent, it would be like that.

So, the US has Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand on our side.
China has North Korea, Burma, and Pakistan.

Which side will Indonesia and Malaysia choose?
Which side will Vietnam choose? — Vietnam has fought recent wars with both the US and China.

Singapore has been a US ally for decades, but will they really stand against their ethnic brethren in China?

And if there is a war in Asia and the Middle East at the same time? Will we have enough Air Force, Army, and Navy to fight two major wars simultaneously?

Yes, as long as the wars have the political support of the American people to endure the cost and hardship. The topline budget, force structure and systems are adequate, especially if we have the opportunity to withdraw from Iraq & Afghanistan and reset & recapitalize. And, especially if we have the political will to end wasteful expenditures in the defense budget and re-invest towards reset and recapitalization and readiness. A decrease in the top line of the defense budget however, creates a greater risk of implosion of the whole defense enterprise.

Thank you for the answer. I’ve been fearing that if a new round of cuts happen we will barely be able to commit to one major war at a time. And if I was an enemy leader, at that time, in the theater not at war is when I would launch my campaign. “Peace Through Strength. Weakness Invites Aggression.” Someone important said that, correct? ;-) I’m all for “ending wasteful expenditures in the defense budget and re-investing towards reset and recapitalization and readiness.” Including keeping 11 Carrier Strike Groups, buying more ships for the Navy to keep it above 300, buying the F-35Bs and Cs the Marines and Navy need. Buying the F-35As the Air Force wants, even buying more F-22s if we can re-activate the line?, developing the next generation bomber, and developing a 6th generation fighter.

My opinion, a cut to DoD’s topline would likely result in bad decisions, cutting the wrong things, while keeping pet projects alive for political reasons. The resulting impacts to personnel & readiness could create vicious circles that risk the whole enterprise. I think DoD’s budget should be kept flat to slightly increasing (for inflation), and all levers in the federal government should work to forcing DoD to cut its waste and live within its means. The thing is F-35 represents the continued pattern of failure that leads us to schedule delays, cost overruns, fewer systems, and worse overall readiness. If we don’t cut or kill it, the pattern will continue over and over again. It also makes a lot of people mad, causing divisiveness, increasing internal friction, putting the whole nation at increased risk.

I am wondering, if you had say 8 Russian built Su-35S heading towards 8 of our planes. What would you rather have meeting them on our side? Eight F-35As or 8 F-16E’s? (assuming we would replace the cancelled F-35A with F-16Es).

Vietnam is almost certainly going to side with the United States. They’re been increasing military ties recently, and can feel the heat from a resource-hungry China.

Malasia — I have no idea. Not much of an expert.

Indonesia is a wash. Could go either way. As you said, there are ethnic ties. On the other hand, Indonesia is in Southeast Asia, and firmly under the shadow of China’s ambitions. I would say that they would swing towards the U.S., unless there is some kind of major power shift towards China as the new regional hegemon.

My mistake — replace Indonesia with Singapore. I certainly think that Indonesia would side with the U.S. for similar strategic reasons, though.

Singapore and the US are very close Allies, the USN will base LCS class ships there in the near future.

Less to work with but still stretched all over the globe with the same commitments to defense. Par for the course. This is going to bite us in the rear someday soon.

You can blame greedy contractors for record spending resulting is less of everything.

All these countries need to manage Americas decline. Remember unlike us they are all becoming rich from China’s rise.

The best way to do this is to make a big deal of American inclusion while at the same time quietly changing the fundamentals on the ground. So the Thais balance big press conferences with eh US Ambassador with buying Chinese frigates. The Singaporeans lets a few LCS dock in exchange for keeping American markets wide open to transshipped Chinese goods.

While Americans may feel that their special role in the region is to be the policeman the fact is that on the ground their special role is to buy Asian products and grow their economies. All the SE Asian countries are working to cement that role in place despite US domestic resistance.

I think you mean F-15Es. F-16Es are only operated by the UAE.

I don’t think its an either/or decision…

There are ethnic ties between Indonesia and China. There is also some very bad history between Chinese Indonesians and Indonesians. See 1998.

One wonders how the worlds largest Muslim nation feels about having 3000 marines stationed on it’s doorstep ready to invade.

Certainly is a propaganda coup for Muslim extremists — the US may be on the run from the mujahedin in the middle east but still on the lookout for peaceful Muslim countries to threaten.

Australia is a long way from China but it’s notable that every other country in SE Asia that turned down US bases could foresee what the foreign relations blunder that Australia has created for itself.

The problem is the political support and the will of the people in the current domestic environment is absent, in my opinion. America is lacking competent leadership at the political level “across the board.” If congress cannot come to an agreement from the “ridiculous super committee” to cut a measly $1.2T over 10-years how in the world can we fix the nightmare of $15T and an additional $9T in the next decade? The president is mistaken to think we can keep these commitments if congress fails to do its constitutionally mandated job.

It’s a hypothetical scenario. Since the F-35A is supposed to replace the F-16C and D models, I chose the F-16E as one of the two choices. I’m assuming that if the F-35A was cancelled while F-16Cs and Ds were being retired because they have surpassed their maximum flight hours and need to be retired for safety reasons. That if they aren’t being replaced by F-35As then we would replace them with F-16Es. So thats why I presented the hypothetical that way. So we have two possible scenarios. One is where F-35As meet Su-35Ss in an air to air combat scenario and the orther is we have F-16Es (because the F-35A was cancelled) going up against the eight Su35Ss. Which plane would a US fighter pilot rather be flying in to meet the Russian planes, which plane would be more successful. The F-35A or the F-16E?

Barry is just a puppet. Obviously, the mystery guy with his hand up his back IS serious about WestPac.

Since the Euro is going to collapse, the Europeans can hook everyone up with a job in their new Army to keep everyone busy.

Cut OUR corporate taxes so we can bring back manufacturing and sell them stuff.

We need to re-read the Constitution and then implement a new foreign policy. We need a strong Navy to keep the sea lanes open for trade. We need to triple the Army Reserve and the National Guard to defend our national borders. We need an Air Force to maintain a missile and satellite capability. The world policeman,invading and occupying other countries for political reasons, regime changing, and nation building duties are not mentioned in the Constitution.

And there is also the NATO alliance, which seems to be changing course away from a focus on joint force large scale armed combat.

Consider these excerpts from Obama’s speech to Parliment in Westminster Hall, London, earlier this year.

“At its core, NATO is rooted in the simple concept of Article Five: that no NATO nation will have to fend on its own; that allies will stand by one another, always. And for six decades, NATO has been the most successful alliance in human history.”

“… our efforts in this young century have led us to a new concept for NATO that will give us the capabilities needed to meet new threats — threats like terrorism and piracy, cyber attacks and ballistic missiles. But a revitalized NATO will continue to hew to that original vision of its founders, allowing us to rally collective action for the defense of our people, while building upon the broader belief of Roosevelt and Churchill that all nations have both rights and responsibilities, and all nations share a common interest in an international architecture that maintains the peace.”

Here is a link to the full text of the speech.


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