A top Defense Department leader quickly reversed course Tuesday on her bombshell statement that the vaunted “Pacific pivot” of U.S. forces was a dead issue because of budget cuts after receiving push back from her Pentagon superiors.
“Right now, the pivot is being looked at again, because candidly it can’t happen” given budget constraints and other worldwide commitments, Katrina McFarland, the assistant Defense Secretary for Acquisition, told a Washington D.C. crowd Tuesday.
The entire rebalance of forces to the Pacific region put forward by President Obama as a major strategic initiative had to be “reconsidered,” McFarland said at an Air Force forum hours before the Pentagon released its fiscal year 2015 budget proposal.
McFarland’s remarks set off a scramble among Pentagon officials to determine exactly what she said and in what context. In short order, McFarland issued a statement saying: “The rebalance to Asia can and will continue.”
McFarland said she had only been intending to re-inforce the position of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that “the shift in focus to the Asia-Pacific requires us to ‘adapt, innovate, and make difficult (budgetary and acquisition) decisions’ to ensure that our military remains ready and capable.”
A number of military analysts have already questioned whether the Pentagon and the nation have the will and the wherewithal to go ahead with the Pacific pivot to counter the rise of China in an era of declining defense budgets and continuing challenges in the Mideast, Africa – and now, Europe.
In a conference call Monday on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s conflict with Ukraine, defense analyst Eric Schmitt said the threat to Europe would have to be balanced against the Pacific pivot in the allocation of resources.
Schmitt, an American Enterprise Institute analyst, said the Pacific pivot “had been put on hold even before this” latest dispute with Putin.