(Continue from issue #254)
Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the US Pacific Command in Hawaii, was slated to start work as ambassador to Australia in May. Suddenly, out of the blue, the Trump White House announced on April 24 that Harris would be assigned to South Korea. Australian Prime Minister Malcohm Turnbull was not able to control the opposition to Harris in control even in the more conservative business community. The fact that Harris was born in Japan to a Japanese mother was not a reason for Pastreich’s objection to his new appointment, even though in general Koreans remember deeply the savage invasion and crude ruling of Korea by Japan. Pastreich raised multiple salient reasons for his objection. Pastreich reasoned his objection on several levels. First, assigning a military officer as ambassador to Korea when SK and NK are trying to develop peaceful ties and the world is anticipating the U.S.-NK to hold a summit meeting to discuss denuclearization is extraordinary. Second, as a US military officer having a close ties with the far-right faction in Japan and receiving an award, ‘the order of rising sun’ at the same moment, Harris’s appointment is odd.
Furthermore, as the previous Commander of then the controversial Quantanamo Prison Camp (3/2006-6/2007), Harris had received a series of promotions ultimately to be the Commander of Pacific Command without any public scrutiny was also extraordinary while Gina Haspel, appointed as the director of CIA, and Mike Pompeo, the former CIA Director and the New Secretary of State, both had to answer questions about their involvement with Quantanamo. The book, Murder at Camp Delta, authored by Joseph Hickman with six years of research has described in detail the overdosing of prisoners with anti-malaria drugs with known psychoactive effect whereas Harris publicly claimed those death cases as suicide events. John Kiriakous, former CIA employee was sentenced to jail for revealing to the public the human experimentation at the Quantanamo prison camp. Pastreich certainly has given enough grounds to raise objection to Harris’s ambassador appointment whether it is a promotion or demotion or not, but his story of Harris may be linked to the ‘Pivot’ policy deserves our attention.
Pastreich’s essay went far deeper than Harris’s career, his analysis of the shifting of strategy on national defense security as dictated by the US military establishment is very profound and to large extend explains the evolvement of ‘Pivot to Asia’ up to its current status. It was no surprise that the US military has factions broadly named by ‘war on Iran’, ‘war on terror’, ‘war on China’ with their emphasis on preparing for war and focusing on obtaining sufficient defense budget to make more battleships, aircrafts and submarines. I was surprised by learning that there were groups, mainly working level experts, believing in a far more important national security threat by climate change and land and ocean environment. This group is gaining strength in the Pacific Command with a history over a decade long. They are concerning with the threat of climate change and its impact on the effectiveness of US military, thus they are focusing work on electric batteries, alternative energy infrastructure and forming new alliances.
The above faction on climate change and new alliance rose to a peak when the Pacific Commander, Admiral Samuel Locklear delivered a speech at Harvard University (3-9-2013) claiming climate change as the primary long-term security threat in Pacific region. In a documentary movie, entitled, ‘the Burden’, made by military veterans (2015), it showed the serious effect of fossil fuels not only on climate change but also on military effectiveness. (The US military is overly dependent on oil)Thus it makes sense to work on batteries, alternative energies and forming new alliances, especially collaborating with China. This type of thinking was reflected in Obama’s declaration with Xi at the Hangzhou Summit (9-3-2016) about dealing with climate change.
However, the ‘new alliances’ group posed direct threat to the ‘war on China’ group (and their traditional or legacy military alliance system – island chain surrounding China) who wanted to stick to anti-China strategy, seeking more overpriced ships and fighter planes and rewarding defense contractors and generals with cushy retirement packages. Admiral Locklear’s speech triggered a fast strike back by the right-wing for-war groups and military industrial complex. (K Street lobbyists and far right organizations) Cecil D. Haney as the Commander of Pacific Fleet was replaced by the right-wing hardliner Harry Harris (10/16/2013) who then was nominated within a year for promotion to replace Admiral Sam Locklear as the Commander of Pacific (9/2014). The nomination was confirmed by the Senate in December, 2014 but the ceremony was delayed to May due to a Navy internal investigation. Harris had been very vocal while in Command of the Pacific Fleet and Headquarter making anti-China rhetoric and demanding defense budget increase to the point of annoying the White House (Condoleezza Rice and Obama) on occasions.
The rapid changes in Naval command and Trump Administration’s staff turn-over certainly does not help in clarifying and executing the US Pivot to Asia policy. In 2012, the US Navy invited Chinese Navy to participate in the 2014 Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC). Recently, the US Navy is uninviting China to the RIMPAC 2018, citing reason that the previous invitation had not served the purpose of deterrent to make China de-escalating the buildup of her navy. This is obviously a right-wing statement. It seems clear that the right-wing is gaining control of the US military (Pentagon and Navy) and the civilian Administration (Defense Secretary, General James N. Mattis, White House Security Advisor, John Bolton, Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and CIA Director, Gina Haspel mentioned above), together they are waging a confrontational position towards China. With Trump mixing national security issues such as the NK and Iran nuclear threat and trade and commerce problems such as trade balance with China, EU and others in the same pot, stirring the pot with anti-China sentiment as the sole ingredient is definitely not a good recipe for solution. Peter Navarro (Pro-Tarriff and anti-China), Assistant to the President, Director of Trade and Industrial Policy, and the Director of the White House National Trade Council, a newly created entity in the executive branch of the U.S. federal government, was rumored to move up to head the National Economic Council (NEC) but ultimately Larry Kudlow got the job which may signal that a trade war is avoidable..
The assumption that many Asian countries welcome the ‘Pivot’ program could be erroneous with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) gaining momentum. The fact that Australians showed no welcome to Harris’s ambassadorship to Australia and the possibility of signing a new free trade agreement among China, Japan and SK as well as the recent private Summit of Indian Prime Minister Modi and China’s President Xi contemplating closer relationship could be interpreted as a no-confidence vote on the US ‘Pivot’ policy on its current course. Therefore, the Trump Administration is better advised to redefine the ‘pivot’ policy to produce win-win results for the U.S. and Asian countries including China rather than targeting China creating a stressful Pacific.
Ifay Chang, PhD, Trustee, Somers Central School District and President, TLC Information Services.