Mexican political analyst Alfredo Jalife-Rahme analyzes the recent Pentagon and White House strategic and budgetary options. While an extremist fringe continues to nurture the unaffordable dream of US domination over the entire globe, President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in line with the policy initiated by Robert Gates, recognize the structural decline of U.S. power. Widening the distance from the Bush-Cheney era, they are re-channeling funds towards more realistic goals and gradually re-allocating resources to Asia and China.
On 5 January President Obama unveiled at the Pentagon the new shift in his defense strategy, a project that is outlined in a paper of eight pages entitled: “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.”
Obama argued that one could consider the long wars of the past decade as ended, a clear reference to the failure of the bellicose Bush policies which spelled, in my opinion, the suicide of the United States as a unipolar power. As the crow flies, let’s say that the strategic military defeat of the United States in Iraq (where Iran emerged victorious without having to fire a single shot) and its entanglement in Afghanistan are the factors that compelled Obama to focus on the Asia Pacific region, with a triple objective: contain China, fissure the alliance among the BRIC countries (China, India, Russia, Brazil, South Africa), and finally enveigle India.
The cost of the Bush military adventurism over the last ten years in the Middle East, which Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Laureate and former Clinton official) estimates at more than $ 3 000 billion , has seriously depleted the coffers of the United States, deepening both debt insolvency and the already colossal deficits.
The cuts in the military budget announced by Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, and General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, total $ 500 billion over 10 years (not including an equal amount that Congress will have to sustain early 2013) and apply to both ground and navy forces. The aim is to focus on the deployment of drones, emphasizing the technological superiority of the United States, thanks to the cyber security they enjoy (since the United States has its own command center, in addition to those they have in the four corners of the earth, and the one thousand military bases located around the world).
In my opinion, Obama’s new strategic shift involves abandoning Europe to its sorry fate, a limited exit from the Levant, and an ultra-concentrated presence in the Persian Gulf to deploy its aircraft carriers (which enjoy supremacy in the world) and redeployment (with the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan) in the Asia-Pacific, to encircle and contain China. This is a gracious escape into de-globalization, a phase of the United States’s evident decline.
Donna Miles, Army Forces press service, summarizes the document as follows: “The growing strategic importance of Asia and the Pacific”, “U.S. economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the vast, 39-nation region”, “among them China and India emerge as giants”, “investments should be made toward a long-term strategic partnership with India so it can serve as ’a regional economic anchor’ and enhance security in the broader Indian Ocean area, in the context of China’s rise as a regional power and concern about its strategic intentions”, “The 330,000 members of the Pacific Command (United States Pacific Command) ensure a free flow of commerce”, “It must also ensure peace on the Korean peninsula in light of North Korea’s new leadership.”
David Ignatius, Washington Post (01/07/12), said that Obama has closed the book on September 11 and is taking the budget cuts very seriously, both as regards foreign and domestic policy. “They mark a genuine shift, one of the most important since 1945,” since “even the ground forces are being sharply cut.”
Will the United States then be unable to invade two countries at the same time, and will it simply destroy them from the sky by pushing a button? Thanks to its control of the world Internet, will the United States wage cyber warfare and take control of their opponents, who naively bought the devices offered by US transnational corporations, to get themselves spied on?
According to David Ignatius, “the era that began on September 11 is over.” The announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death is what now enables the United States to be talking with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists (who are Islamic fundamentalists), what will allow troops to return to the United States, and to pull out of Europe, probably in greater numbers than expected. As a consequence, Europe may feel it has been left to fend for itself, and envisage a rapprochement between Germany and Russia, which is highly probable.
David Ignatius stressed that “Obama’s pivot” has made China nervous, arguing that the “Chinese aren’t stupid; they know America is moving forces their way.”
He predicts that we are approaching a period of rivalry and tension in the Pacific, with three axis points:
The recent expansion of the United States in Burma, where the US has hypocritically ignored human rights.
The delicate dynastic transition in North Korea, where the cooperation or confrontation between United States and China is already being decided.
The Trans-Pacific Association (TPP), to wrest commercial supremacy from China, integrating the Mexico of the neoliberal PAN party currently in power, a move highly sterile for Mexico but which would pit the TPP against BRICS.
The long-term strategic partnership proposed by the United States to India has been highlighted by The Times of India (05/01/12), which sums it up perfectly: “The United States identifies China as a threat to its superiority and seeks to associate with India.”
Obama, Panetta and General Dempsey insisted: “The United States will maintain its global military superiority” (Robert Burns, AP, 05/01/12).
But the fierce criticism from the Republican Party was not long in coming: Congressman Howard Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee of the House of Representatives, in an official statement, called it a “retreat from the world in the guise of a new strategy“, a lead-from-behind strategy for a left-behind America.”
McKeon is probably right, judging by the time Panetta and General Dempsey spent trying to convince the skeptical television audience that “the United States still has the powerful arm in the world, despite the cuts” (China Daily, 09/01/12).
General Dempsey admitted his uneasiness at the idea that some countries might misinterpret the current debate within the US about the shift and the downsizing in military spending. “There may be some around the world who see us as a nation in decline, and worse, as a military in decline. And nothing could be further from the truth.”
As for Defense Secretary Panetta, he stressed that a miscalculation of his country’s power could be “troublesome” in dealing with countries like Iran or North Korea. “The United States is the strongest military power and we intend to remain the strongest military power“, “and indeed our defense budget will still be larger than the next 10 largest countries militarily combined.”
Alfredo Jalife-Rahme is the social and political sciences Professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). His columns on international politics feature regularly in the Mexican daily La Jornadaand weekly magazineContralínea. His latest book is El Híbrido Mundo Multipolar : un Enfoque Multidimensional (Orfila, 2010).