President Barack Obama’s visit to Australia and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s embrace of Obama’s plan to bring US influence and military hegemony to the South East Asian region should not have come as a surprise to observers. It’s been in the offing for some time.
The move is exactly in line with America’s AirSea Battle Concept, a plan that was developed in 2010 by the US think-tank Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA). The opening lines of their document titled AirSea Battle: A Point-of-Departure Operational Concept goes straight to the point:
The US military today faces an emerging major operational challenge, particularly in the Western Pacific Theater of Operations (WPTO). The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) ongoing efforts to field robust anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities are threatening to make US power projection increasingly risky and, in some cases and contexts, prohibitively costly. If this occurs, the United States will find itself effectively locked out of a region that has been declared a vital security interest by every administration in the last sixty years. It will also leave longstanding US allies and partners vulnerable to aggression or, more likely, subtle forms of coercion. Consequently, the United States confronts a strategic choice: either accept this ongoing negative shift in the military balance, or explore options for offsetting it.
This is welcome news for the neoconservatives who have been advocating ever since the demise of the Soviet Union that Chinese power needed to be confronted over the long term.
However, the Middle East, and Israel in particular, have never been far from neoconservative thinking – even when the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union was at its height. Then came 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ which provided the neoconservatives with an opportunity to deal a blow against Israel’s enemies while China simmered very quietly on the back-burner.
Unfortunately for the neoconservatives, their plans for the Middle East didn’t quite work out as they had hoped. A quick decisive victory in Iraq became a protracted insurgency that virtually ended up being a civil war. Relying on the quick decisive victory where jubilant Iraqis were expected to welcome the US forces as liberators was to trigger a domino effect where other Arab nations would rise up and demand to be ‘liberated’ just like Iraq. That way all of Israel’s enemies would be dealt a mortal blow leaving Israel with no resistance to contend with as they created their Greater Israel surrounded by Israeli and US-friendly Arab states. They had eight years to do it in while they had a sympathetic president but their plans were spoilt by the Iraqi’s intransigence and the neocons simply ran out of time with the Bush presidency.
They had hoped a McCain Republican presidency may have followed through after Bush but this too was thwarted when Obama swept in on promises to end the wars. While the wars didn’t end, Obama did run them down, and with the end almost in sight in Iraq as the troops get withdrawn at the end of the year and the US looking for a way out of Afghanistan, Obama seems to think that now is a good time for the US to start looking a new ways to affirm American supremacy in the world. And what better way than easing into a confrontation with China.
However, for the neoconservatives, there is still the unfinished business of the Middle East and an Israel that still has enemies that are inhibiting their dreams of a Greater Israel. Israel and their neoconservative supporters still want to confront Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon but they know they can only do this by taking on Iran in order to isolate Hamas and Hezbollah who are supported by Iran. They had hoped at one point that Obama may oblige but, while he came out with the rhetoric regarding Iran’s supposed ‘nuclear weapons program’, Obama was not quite politically ready to take on Iran over allegations of a nuclear weapons program – especially after the Iraq fiasco when similar claims were made.
Senior neocon warmonger Max Boot writing in Commentary outlines the neocons concerns:
The prosaic reality is that America must commit to both the Middle East and Far East. That means maintaining a healthy level of defense spending and avoiding further cuts on top of the $450 billion that has already been lopped off this year. We must build up the Navy and Air Force without cutting much if any force structure from the Army and Marine Corps. Such a commitment may appear to be costly at a time of skyrocketing federal debt, but the costs of ignoring either region–and letting our enemies have their way–will be higher than we can bear.
Boot also highlights the neoconservative's ability to display their arrogance and also their propensity to see enemies where none exist; since when, for example, has China been an enemy? And the US has let them ‘have their way’?
The new US-China paradigm highlights the stark difference between the two powers. Whereas the US overtly flexes its military muscles coupled with bribes to leaders to ensure its needs are met, China simply writes out a cheque to ensure that its needs are met – and most nations are willing to oblige China by accepting their cheque and shipping whatever China needs directly to them. Why can’t the US do the same? Why the need for confrontation?
The answer is… Well, that’s another essay.