What's Old Is New Again: Will China Once Again Become America's Number One Enemy?
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Last Friday, the U.S. military formally handed over its largest base in Iraq, the ill-named “Camp Victory,” to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The next morning, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius officially declared counterinsurgency wars in the Middle East dead in -- if you don’t mind an inapt word -- the water. (He is personally in mourning.) He quoted one unnamed official describing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s planning for the new Pentagon budget in this fashion: “It’s not going to be likely that we will deploy 150,000 troops to an area the way we did in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
No indeed. As a result, in the inter-service scramble for the biggest slice of the Defense Department’s budgetary pie, the winners, Ignatius tells us, are going to be the Air Force and the Navy. Translated geopolitically, this means that the focus of future military planning will switch to the Pacific -- with this country’s largest foreign creditor, China (not al-Qaeda), as the new enemy.
In the what's-old-is-new category, this is priceless. In the spring of 2001, the Bush administration was focused on a strategic review of global military policy, led by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, which “concluded that the Pacific Ocean should now become the most important focus of U.S. military deployments, with China now perceived as the principal threat to American global dominance” and its number one enemy. In response, the Chinese were already issuing their own threats. (Terrorism, the Bush administration then felt, was for wusses and Democrats, which is why they paid next to no attention to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, despite warnings from officials of the outgoing Clinton administration, the CIA, and others.)
September 11, 2001, of course, sent them in quite another direction that -- we can only assume -- left China’s leaders thanking their lucky stars, while the U.S. military bogged itself down in two disastrous wars in the Greater Middle East. A decade later, the U.S. is economically weaker, a battered former “sole superpower” still in need of an enemy, still thinking about global energy supplies, and, if anything, more reliant than ever on a military-first policy in the world. As always, Michael Klare, author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, is ahead of the curve in grasping just what’s at stake in his new piece on “Obama’s risky oil threat to China,” and why we should be worried as the administration pivots, readying itself for its return to the pre-9/11 Bush moment. The result, a possible return to another kind of old, to – as Klare indicates – a new Cold-War-style arms race in Asia. Sigh.