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.

Why the Navy Needs to Re-Think Its Newest Ship

An MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter prepares to land...
An MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter prepares to land aboard the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1). (Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery)

Galrahn over at Information Dissemination provides a slightly technical but extremely readable account of why the U.S. Navy’s grand strategy and deployment plans are out of sync with the capabilities it is fielding, and how it is tailoring the strategy to justify its procurement of the Littoral Combat Ship rather than starting from strategy and building platforms to suit. (“Questionable Assumptions“)

I am a longtime Navy booster, but I have become discouraged in recent years by the Pentagon’s failure to procure and field ships (especially surface combatants of any size) that are capable of achieving their mission in a timely, economical manner. It is enough to make me pine for the days of the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates, despite their design limitations.

Ignoring the program’s teething pains in coming up to operational readiness, Galrahn offers us a chapter and verse listing of the strategic issues surrounding the LCS and its capabilities. This is a discussion that should concern every American taxpayer, regardless of political persuasion, because it cuts to the heart of the massive procurement dysfunction in the Pentagon.

Panetta: The Wrong Message

WASHINGTON (July 1, 2011) Official portrait of...
WASHINGTON (July 1, 2011) Official portrait of Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta. (Dept. of Defense photo/Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Report: Defense Secretary Panetta Defends $860,000 Cost for Weekend Trips Home | CNSNews.com.

Leon Panetta is being called to task for racking up US$860,000 in personal travel costs to his home in California since becoming Secretary of Defense.

To me the issue is not whether he should have flown commercial (probably not – he is in the chain of command) or whether this will make a dent in the DoD budget (absolutely not.) Rather, the issue is that when you lead an organization with a budget that is the largest single line item in any government on the planet, every penny you spend sends a message. When you spend the people’s money like this, you are telling every civilian, officer, and enlisted man on the payroll that they, too, should be entitled to such perks.

This is the wrong message to be sending to the troops, and it is the wrong message to be sending to the American people. It reflects a tin-ear insensitivity to the challenges the department faces.

It is time to end the spendthrift ways of our government, and that effort must begin with the Pentagon. Panetta has demonstrated his lack of disposition to lead that effort.