Asia, Barack Obama, China, Defense Department, export controls, John McCain, military spending, neoconservatives, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, pivot, technology transfer, The Wall Street Journal, Trump
It looks like the Trump administration is going All Neocon on its Asia grand strategy. Or is it All Obama? Interestingly, both approaches have shared the same main features, and depressingly, both are dangerously incoherent and disturbingly resemble the course that Mr. Trump apparently has chosen to follow. .
The essence of neoconservative strategy in Asia consists of bloviating about the risks to America’s national security from China in particular, pushing for a stronger American military response, and with equal vigor backing economic policies that inevitably boost China’s military strength. And the quintessential example is Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.
McCain has voted for his entire career in favor of the U.S. trade policy decisions that have enabled China to amass literally trillions of dollars worth of trade surpluses with the United States, and therefore finance an enormous military buildup that he himself has warned directly threatens American interests in Asia. He’s periodically voiced concerns about the lax U.S. export controls that have enabled China to secure some of America’s best defense-related technology. But he’s never sponsored any steps capable of solving this problem.
What McCain has focused on has been boosting military spending and stationing more of these forces, in large part to counter burgeoning Chinese ambitions. And recent Trump administration moves make clear that the president and his top advisers have been listening. As The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month:
“The Pentagon has endorsed a plan to invest nearly $8 billion to bulk up the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region over the next five years by upgrading military infrastructure, conducting additional exercises and deploying more forces and ships….The proposal, dubbed the Asia-Pacific Stability Initiative, was first floated by Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and has been embraced by other lawmakers and, in principle, by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the head of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris. Proponents haven’t developed details of the $7.5 billion plan.”
The Journal account goes on to remind readers that the Obama administration had pursued its own military “pivot” to Asia, but that it was “disparaged by critics as thin on resources and military muscle.” And of course, the former president refused to respond effectively to China’s predatory trade practices, and only very late in his second term began rethinking flood of advanced defense-related knowhow to the PRC.
President Trump has of course spoken repeatedly of acting forcefully to overhaul America’s China trade policies. But his administration’s actions so far have fallen far short of this mark.
The mind-blowing upshot: In a military conflict with China, the United States forces could find themselves fighting against, and taking casualties from, Chinese units and weapons that have been paid for and researched by their enemy. Is that the kind of first so many Americans voted for?