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Game of Thrones: Panetta Making Waves In Asia

Visiting the deep water harbor at Cam Ranh Bay, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta took another step towards the most important US foreign policy shift since the 1940s as he talked about the importance of access to the prime ports of Asia to America’s emerging grand strategy in the east.

Fresh from the announcement of a US-Singapore agreement on the “rotational deployment” of US ships in its habor and with a top aide flying to the Philippines to pursue another basing agreement, Panetta spoke of deepening US-Vietnam military and political ties.

According to a Reuters report, the initial Chinese military response was low key.

Chinese Lieutenant General Ren Haiquan noted the U.S. decision to increase the number of warships in the Pacific during remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore on Sunday.

“First, we should not treat this as a disaster,” Ren said.

“I believe that this is the United States’ response to its own national interests, its fiscal difficulties and global security developments,” he said in comments reported by Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television.

On a more somber note, news comes that a top Chinese intelligence official is being held on charges of spying for the United States.

More than six months after the new US strategy began to take shape last fall, coverage of the new realities in the Pacific by the mainstream media remains scatter shot and haphazard. This is a problem; the Obama administration is committing the US to a path in Asia that has profound implications for the future of world politics and for American military and political responsibilities. At Via Meadia we think they are getting the big picture right, but the absence of public debate and discussion of a strategic shift this consequential is troubling.

Admittedly with naked face-eating cannibals in Miami and corpse dismembering, bisexual porn stars fleeing to France there are a lot of distractions out there, but the biggest step in a generation for American foreign policy deserves systematic and sustained attention even so. Let’s hope this improves; distinguishing between noise and news is the essence of what good media should do and while Asia coverage is beginning to improve, we still have a long way to go.

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  • Kris

    “the absence of public debate and discussion of a strategic shift this consequential is troubling.”

    This perfectly illustrates my problem with your “Pivot” / Game of Thrones coverage. This “shift” might be consequential (and the Game is certainly worth covering), but it strikes me as a very natural and obvious development. (It is almost ineluctable, Comrade!) Doesn’t the current Chinese policy almost dictate that of all the other players? Just what else could Foggy Bottom be doing? I don’t claim to have a greater grasp of geostrategy than you, so what am I missing?

  • thibaud

    Not “troubling” at all. The inattention of the public is also perfectly understandable.

    For starters, the US is simply leveraging alliance relationships it already had. Nothing really new here at all.

    Secondly, the force that’s propelling the greater emphasis on allies is the obvious, dreary and depressing fiscal reality facing the US.

    In other words, this is as much about American desperation to squeeze more out of a diminishing military budget that’s going to be whacked hardest by – irony of ironies – the libertarian champions of small government.

    The central figure in this ho-hum mini-drama is Grover Norquist, not anyone on the NSC staff.

  • Kris

    thibaud, we agree that there doesn’t seem to be much new here, but we disagree about the causes. First, even if the US military were stronger (and expected to remain so, something I favor), I’m not sure this emphasis on allies would or should be any different. I want the US to be the beat cop of this imperfect world, not the dictator.

    A second point, which we’ve disagreed about before: There is an isolationist libertarian faction (call it the Luap Nor wing) that indeed wants, as a goal in itself, a small US military. Many libertarians, however, and certainly most small-government conservatives, explicitly exempt the military from their government downsizing. Given the current state of the US economy, they see a need to significantly cut spending, but given their druthers, the military is one of the very last things they’d cut.

  • thibaud

    Paul Ryan’s preferred budget would decimate the US military. Deny it if you like, but austerity in Britain has already had this effect, and starving the government beast in the US will have the same result.

    The Tea Party influence on the GOP and the nation is already doing great mischief. It will harm American capabilities and interests around the world if it’s not unchecked and rolled back, as Buckley did to the John Birchers during the last century.

  • thibaud

    correction: “if it’s left unchecked and not rolled back” a la Buckley and our grandparents’ version of the TPers, the Brother John Birch society.

  • Kris

    thibaud@4: “Paul Ryan’s preferred budget would decimate the US military.”

    1. As I recall, top Democrats attacked Ryan’s plans as being “unserious” or “unfair” specifically because it excluded defense from major cuts. Could you please back up your allegation?

    2. It is very easy to “fund” many things so long as you are running trillion dollar deficits. If you think this is sustainable, then there is no point to our discussion. If not, you must identify areas to cut. Most Republicans, and even most of the dreaded small-government Tea Partiers, systematically place defense at the end of the line for cuts. Most Democrats do the opposite. I find it odd which of the two sides you choose to focus your fire on.

  • Again, help me here:

    Is thibaud targeting Republicans per se? Or or is he bewailing what he considers a rather pervasive and growing libertarian(izing) influence on both Republicans and independents alike (and perhaps even on a few stray Democrats)? If his concern is with the latter then I definitely share it.

    And given that this latter influence is often perceived to be more “of the Right,” more business-minded and more “practical,” as such is it likely to cut more or less ice with middling or swing voters than the customary bleatings of “peacenik” Democrats? If your answer is “more ice,” then – call me ignorant – but again, I can definitely understand what thibaud is concerned about.

    As for “what to cut,” I agree that over the past 4 years this generation has been made painfully aware of certain implacable economic realities. And yes, I know it’s much too late for regrets. But I can’t help wishing: If only we’d been half as painfully aware of them during the utopian economics of the Golden Decade (1995-2005) – a period in which, as I understand it, endless and limitless prosperity was going to be ensured by a combination of stagnant wages (proportionate to both productivity and household expenses) and infinitely expanding credit and housing prices.

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