Chuck Hagel addressed a group of Marines in San Diego yesterday and afterwards tried to answer questions. One Marine asked:
My question is that, given that the administration’s primary focus is on the Pacific theater, how has all of the issues popping up in the world today, Russia, Iraq, Africa, the rest of the theaters pretty much affected that current mission? And how do you foresee that affecting the mission in the future?
Clueless Chuck responded:
[T]hat’s a question I got often when I was in India and Australia. And the trip I just came from was my sixth trip to the Asia Pacific area in the last year-and-a-half. I’ve got four planned this calendar year. And so I get that question all the time. It’s a legitimate question for the very reasons you asked.
The world is exploding all over. And so, is the United States going to continue to have the resources, the capabilities, the leadership, the bandwidth to continue with the rebalance toward the Asia Pacific? And the answer is yes.
Thank God. We can all rest easy now.
It’s heartening that Hagel has noticed that the world has “exploded” under President Obama’s watch. He exaggerates, though, in claiming that it’s “exploding all over.” It hasn’t really exploded in the Pacific theatre, to which Obama so famously pivoted.
I don’t mean to downplay China’s maritime territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam, and others. But in the scheme of things, they pale in comparison to the rise of ISIS.
ISIS, after all, is in the midst of conquering large chunks of territory and has threatened, credibly, to attack the U.S. homeland. ISIS isn’t involved in territorial disputes, it is swallowing up territory, some of which contains significant natural resources and all of which can be used as a base for attacking the U.S., just as al Qaeda, a weaker outfit, did.
Like China, Russia is involved in territorial disputes. But unlike China, Russia has already annexed territory and is massed threatening on the border of more territory into which, reportedly, it is launching rockets.
In light of these developments, none of which should have been unforeseen, did Obama pivot away from trouble towards a region of comparative stability? Why, with what even Obama knows now, does he continue to do so?
Hagel, as the weak-minded often will, tried address this concern through a series of cliches:
Now, that said, as I’ve said, with that rebalance, which will continue, and we are committed to do that, we’re not retreating from any other part of the world. Great powers can’t pick and choose which challenges and threats they’re going to deal with. There is no power on Earth like the United States of America.
Good to hear. But what was the total pullout of troops from Iraq if not retreat? What is the coming Afghanistan pullout if not retreat? And how can a country pivot from one region to another, while slashing its defense budget, without retreating “from any other part of the world”?
Hagel concluded, “”We’re in more countries, involved in more operations with more partners all over the world than we’ve ever been in.”
We may have a handful of advisers in plenty of countries, but we’ve retreated from Iraq, we’ve retreated from Libya, we’re retreating from Afghanistan, and we refused to become engaged in Syria even in the “unbelievably small” way that Obama originally contemplated. Even Hillary Clinton, who touted the pivot to the Pacific, acknowledges the problem.
In a world that’s “exploding,” how can one defend severe cuts to defense spending? This, I take it, was the thrust of the Marine’s question to Chuck Hagel.
Unless one believes that the U.S. will not experience fallout from the explosions, the cuts are indefensible. And if we are exempt from fallout, why pivot to Asia? Why not pivot home?
Clueless Chuck Hagel isn’t the only one who has no answer.
Via Jeryl Bier at the Weekly Standard.