Barack Obama’s chickens are coming home to roost in Asia. During his ongoing trip to America’s most important allies in the region, he has been buffeted by ill-concealed anxieties at every stop that, these days, it is better to be an enemy of the United States than its friend.
That is a formula for having more enemies, and fewer friends.
According to the Wall Street Journal, in the run-up to Mr. Obama’s visit to the Western Pacific, U.S. military planners were busy drawing up “muscular” contingency plans in the event Communist China or North Korea engage in further “provocations.”
Of course, what is worrying our allies is not simply the prospect of more provocations. It’s the steadily growing capacity of such hostile powers to act on their stated intentions to threaten America’s friends, their sovereign territories and vital interests.
The examples of U.S. responses the Journal says are under consideration involve various, mostly symbolic gestures. These include B-2 flights in the region, more port calls by naval forces and intensified exercises with allied forces. Among the other options that have evidently not yet been approved by the Commander-in-Chief are intensified surveillance near China and the transiting of carrier battle groups through the Strait of Taiwan.
Welcome as such gestures would be to nations in the Western Pacific who have been promised an American “pivot” to the region, but seen little evidence of it, they still fall far short of what is required to deter the increasing ability of China and its proxy, North Korea, to exercise hegemony over their neighbors. Even the laudable conclusion of an agreement with the Philippines (just in time for President Obama’s visit to the country) will allow renewed use of bases there by U.S. forces, but not a permanent presence.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter. Unless and until the Obama administration reverses course on the wrecking operation it has conducted against the American military over the past five years, the United States will be hard pressed to present a serious deterrent to Chinese aggression, both in its own right and via its North Korean cut-out.
Absent the wherewithal and resolve to maintain in-theater the sort of power-projection assets that would constitute a serious impediment in the future to the sorts of things Beijing and Pyongyang have engaged in of late–including declarations of sovereignty, seizures of territory, threatening actions at sea and ballistic missile tests–we must expect more of the same. And worse.
Even on those rare occasions when the Obama administration has recognized the need to establish a more powerful and enduring military presence in the area–as with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s recent announcement that two additional ballistic missile defense-capable destroyers will be stationed there, the effects of the hollowing out of the U.S. military are palpable. Due to the contraction of the Navy to the smallest levels since before World War I, it will take until 2017 to affect even this modest force-enhancement.
The truth of the matter is that President Obama and the Congress must agree to halt the further decimation of the armed services’ force structure, steps that will ensure in the future–even more than today–that we cannot credibly engage in successful pivots from one theater to another. In the absence of this sort of course-correction, we can forget about preventing, or even effectively contending with, simultaneous conflicts in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. In fact, the gestures Team Obama is now contemplating may simply catalyze conflict with a People’s Liberation Army spoiling for a fight for which we are unprepared.
Such a reversal will require: abandoning the sequestration-driven defense spending cuts; restoring the readiness; reinvesting in operations and maintenance; and abandoning the deferring and, in many cases, outright cancelation of urgently needed modernization of the military’s front-line weaponry.
The same goes for our strategic deterrent forces. Make no mistake: China and North Korea (to say nothing of Russia and Iran, among others) are emboldened by their assessment that the United States is going out of the nuclear weapons business–even as they are ramping up both their own nuclear strike capabilities and their talk of attacks against the U.S. and/or its allies.
A failure on our part to demonstrate that our nuclear deterrent will be kept effective and reliable for the foreseeable future is not simply a green-light for aggressors. It is also an inducement to those in the Western Pacific, and perhaps elsewhere, who have relied upon this protective “umbrella” to conclude that they can no longer safely do so. And that is a formula for the proliferation of nuclear arsenals with unpredictable–but possibly devastating–consequences.
If President Obama is serious about the reassurances that he has been assiduously providing to friendly East Asian nations over the past week, he must take tangible steps to show that he not only wants actually to walk the walk, but is able to do so.
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. formerly acted as an Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Reagan. He is President of the Center for Security Policy (www.SecureFreedom.org), a columnist for Breitbart News Network and host of the nationally syndicated program, Secure Freedom Radio.