Why the Pivot to Asia Makes No Sense

Asia - Satellite image - PlanetObserver

Asia – Satellite image – PlanetObserver (Photo credit: PlanetObserver)

“America’s Pivot: One Big Contradiction”
Justin Logan

The Diplomat
January 25, 2013

I rarely discuss the topic of China in this space, for a couple of reasons. First, I discuss it at length in other fora, most often in Silicon Hutong and The Peking ReviewSecond, I think there are enough other more pressing topics to debate when it comes to the future of the U.S. Occasionally, though, I need to make an exception, and in this case Justin Logan’s thoughtful critique of our China policy demands I do so.

The Asia pivot fails three critical tests. First, it is a failure to match ends with means. The U.S. military lacks the doctrine, forces, and resources to fight and win even a limited conflict in the region, and appears to lack the will to create them within the current and looming constraints on budgets.

Second, it exposes latent hypocrisy, the failure of our rhetoric to match our reality, and thus it undermines our credibility. We say the shift has nothing to do wit China, when in everyone’s eyes, including those in the Pentagon and their opposite numbers in Beijing, it has everything to do with China. In Logan’s words, “if the success of America’s Asia policy relies on China’s elites believing our official rationale, the policy is in trouble.”

He’s absolutely right. And when we promulgate official rationales for policies that are blatantly at odds with reality, our global influence is shot in the foot.

Finally, the Asia Pivot demonstrates a lack of strategic imagination. Given the challenges America faces both at home and abroad, and given the priorities the government must now face as the nation ages and our infrastructure demands upgrades, global forward engagement of a rising hegemon is simply unsustainable. What is more, it encourages our allies to behave as free riders on a system we are creating.

The wisest choice for the US would be to forgo the neo-containment approach of the Pivot. Instead, we should revert to a posture that allows China enough rope in the region to prove itself a hegemon, thus inciting other countries in Asia to take greater responsibility for their own defense and for the balance of power in Asia.

The current administration is on the firing line for this approach, but this is not a partisan issue. It is, instead, a generational change in strategic focus, and if the current administration does not make the necessary choices, it will be left for successors to clean up the mess.

Adelson and Macau

Sheldon Adelson - Caricature

Sheldon Adelson – Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

“New Questions about Sheldon Adelson’s Casino Operations in Macau”
Matt Isaacs, Lowell Bergman, Stephen Engelberg

I trust PBS to be fair, balanced, and unbiased in its (often superb) reportage about as much as I trust Fox News to be the same, which is to say I don’t. PBS’s editorial bias is more implicit than explicit, but it is there nonetheless.

That said, they’re onto something here.

What is concerning about Adelson’s behavior is the appearance that he owes greater obedience to a foreign power (China, via its Macau-based officials) than to the United States government. No American citizen or corporation should ever leave that issue in doubt when operating abroad. To do so is to put at risk the very premise that foreign operations of U.S. companies redound to the overall interest of the U.S. and its citizens.

Mr. Adelson may wish to consider that while he considers the value of his U.S. operations. Macau is going great guns, no doubt. But the political and economic risk exposure of those properties is immense. If, ten years from now, Shel is back in Vegas with his tail twixt his legs, will he have burned his bridges?

More important to the rest of us, will he have damaged political support to U.S. companies establishing operations overseas?

How to Get Counterfeit Chinese Parts Out of the US Military

China Top Source of Counterfeit U.S. Military Electronics – Bloomberg.

A U.S. Air Force maintenance personnel service...

A U.S. Air Force maintenance personnel service a Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-3 engine of a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress aircraft assigned to the 410th Bombardment Wing at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, Marquette County, Michigan (USA) on 18 October 1984. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a disturbing piece, and the knee-jerk reaction would be to redline all of the Chinese manufacturers and bring the production home. But that’s not really the answer.

The better approach would be to hold the prime contractors responsible, rather than the suppliers. A factory in China could care less about the Department of Defense, but L-3, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheonall do.

Make these companies responsible, set up a penalty clause in all defense contracts (make it an addendum) and place the burden on them. Otherwise the problem will not get solved.

The Enemy We Need?

David Rothkopf

David Rothkopf (Photo credit: New America Foundation)

In Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf offers one reason we are looking to turn America’s relationship with China into the next Cold War.

Many in the United States have a rampant, untreated case of enemy dependency. Politicians love enemies because bashing them helps stir up public sentiment and distract attention from problems at home. The defense industry loves enemies because enemies help them make money. Pundits and their publications love enemies because enemies sell papers and lead eyeballs to cable-news food fights.

I have lived in and dealt with China long enough to know that we should not delude ourselves about that country or its intentions. This is a relationship unlike any we have known in recent history, at once a market, a resource, and a competitor with whom we share a mutual dependency. We are confused about how to deal with them, and they with us.

China may well wind up being our enemy at some point. But we serve ourselves poorly by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is a fine line between wise preparedness and reckless provocation. Our debate should be on where that line is, and once decided we should step right up to it – but not across.

It’s Our System, Not China’s Cheating

China’s Not the Big Trade Cheat Harming America’s Domestic Economy – Print View – The Daily Beast.

Zachary Karabell at The Daily Beast takes strong exception to Mitt Romney‘s characterization of China as the big villain in Main Street’s economic downturn. While I suspect Karabell’s partisan motives and disagree with some of his premises, I do agree with this point:

But in terms of pure competitive advantage, all of the many American freedoms and cultural incentives to be innovative, be entrepreneurial, build a business, or go to college to create a career do not change one iota the sclerotic inability of government to urgently and productively invest for the common future. American government did that for the middle years of the 20th century to great effect, and even in smaller ways in the 19th century. No longer.

Karabell stops short of mentioning the name of Dwight Eisenhower, but that is who he is talking about.