Australia and the missing Obama Doctrine

Off to see the Wizard?

I love Oz.  It’s a great place, and there’s no one I’d rather have watching my six in a military operation than the Aussies.  I still treasure the officer’s hat given to me by a visiting Australian maritime reconnaissance detachment, after I gave them a tour of USS Nimitz (CVN-68) when we were in port in Dubai years ago.  I was privileged to participate, in 1992, in the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of the Coral Sea, an occasion between longstanding allies that I will never forget.  No one could have bad memories of either working with the Australian military or visiting Australia.

So the news that the US will be stationing a detachment of 2500 Marines in northeastern Australia, for what will apparently be six-month rotations, prompts a reaction along the lines of “You lucky devil dogs!”

It also raises some questions.  The first is a general but nagging one:  what is the strategic context in which this is being done?  What is the announced US national interest that it will serve?  When the US was negotiating to base missile defense components in Poland and the Czech Republic, and then in Bulgaria and Turkey, the basing agreements mapped back to an elucidated US policy for national and alliance security.  When we made basing agreements with Pakistan, Qatar, Oman, and Kyrgyzstan after 9/11, the use of airfields in these countries was obviously related to the campaign in Afghanistan (and later in Iraq).  Beefing up our presence in the tiny Red Sea nation of Djibouti has served the war on terror and antipiracy operations off Somalia.  Etc, etc.

In a period in US history when we have been at pains to draw down military forces overseas, new deployments get lots of scrutiny in Congress and the media – and that’s a good thing.  Since the end of World War II, Congress has been friendly, in general, to the deployments and basing agreements presidents wanted.  But Congress has required that the executive justify moving the military around by referring to announced policies and an explicit concept of national security.   (This is the reasoning behind the Goldwater-Nichols Act requirement for a president to author a “national security strategy,” and for the Defense Department to translate it into a separate “national military strategy.”)   The media, for their part, have maintained a small but robust thread of commentary on the topic, offering analysis that ranges from execrable to pretty darn good, and keeping the subject of basing agreements and the reasons behind them before the public.

There has been little to no discussion in US media of the new basing agreement with Australia.  This is curious:  there are serious implications from such an agreement – implications that China has already read into it, and that our other allies in the region are likely to have questions (or, more importantly, opinions) about.  When the possibility of the US developing basing options in Australia was first raised in public a year ago, it produced a flurry of headlines and opinion pieces in Asia, and was tied at the time to the confrontation between the US and Japan over a Marine air base in Okinawa.  Choosing to pursue new basing options is never a policy-neutral act, and it is certainly not one when you already have a large and longstanding force footprint in two nations in the region (Japan and South Korea, in this case).

Given the growing regional alarm over China in the year since, and the encouragement from our allies to beef up our presence on China’s perimeter, we can take it that the allies now view the US expansion into Australia with favor.  But this evolution begs the question of where the fine line will be, between a posture that deters China – surely the constructive American interest – and a posture that may not be sufficient to do so, but will ensure the US gets bloodied in any confrontation.

The question is reasonable.  The Marines to be deployed in Darwin, Australia will comprise a special purpose Marine air-ground task force, or SP/MAGTF:  a group that has plenty of capabilities for tactical action, but is not a deterrent in the terms of the threat from China.  One could theorize that the SP/MAGTF might be deployed to guard, say, one or a few of the Spratly Islands from incursions by China.  But China’s advantage in the “correlation of forces” (fine old term from Soviet military doctrine) is so overwhelming in the South China Sea that this would be an insanely unsustainable level of confrontation – unless the US simultaneously bolstered the action with a massive deployment of air and naval force.

We could come up with other scenarios involving Singapore or the Philippines, but there is little purpose in pursuing further the potential of an SP/MAGTF versus China’s strategic aspirations in the South China Sea.  The two are simply a mismatch.  Deploying an insufficient amount of force to achieve anything useful is the opposite of clever: it gets uncomfortably close to writing bad regional-security checks.  On the other hand, the alternative possibility, that getting some boots on the ground will involve the US, de facto, in skirmishes over which we may have little to no political control, is not to be dismissed.

During her years of empire, Great Britain had some experience with deploying “downpayment” forces in Europe: forces that were insufficient to deter a predatory power (principally Germany), but ultimately guaranteed that Britain would not stand by while Continental nations were menaced.  The thinking is captured in the remark of Ferdinand Foch in the months before World War I.   When asked by a British counterpart what would be the smallest British military force of practical assistance to France, Foch replied: “A single British soldier — and we will see to it that he is killed.”  The evacuation at Dunkirk, early in World War II, was the unseemly fate of a later downpayment force deployed on the Continent.

The Obama administration says the Marine basing agreement will “allow the U.S. and Australia to more effectively respond to natural disasters and humanitarian crises in the region.”  That statement doesn’t parse, which is a data point of its own.  We can’t move an SP/MAGTF to a humanitarian crisis substantially faster from Australia than from Okinawa, or even from Camp Pendleton in Southern California, for that matter.  The logistics of moving the force will involve either transport aircraft or the use of ships, either of which will have to be staged from somewhere else anyway.  Unless the humanitarian crisis is literally in Australia, or perhaps Papua New Guinea or New Zealand, there is no advantage to basing the Marines in Australia for non-combat crisis response.

But perhaps the greatest concern Americans should have is that we aren’t asking questions about this agreement.  It constitutes a change of our strategic military posture in the Far East.  Effecting it as if it’s “business as usual” detaches the move from a specific policy justification and makes it general.  Having a general, a priori disposition to base troops abroad is a characteristic of empire – as is the absence of critical interest from the citizenry when new basing proposals are announced.  Australia is an old and superb ally, but even with old and superb allies, troop deployments and basing agreements should require specific justification from a policy on identified threats, and from a strategy for using force to counter them.

One other thing we know about the agreement with Australia: it will reportedly involve support for the operation of US bombers, strike-fighters, and transport aircraft from an Australian air base southeast of Darwin.  The US Navy will make more stops in Sterling, on Australia’s west coast, as well.

Sailors and airmen have always enjoyed port calls and deployments to Australia, but the transits burn lots and lots of fuel.  Facilities in Australia are a long way from anywhere; decisions to deploy forces to them have to consider fuel and transit time to a greater extent than with any destination other than one of the poles.  Depending on how robust this new presence is, it could have a real impact on the operational posture of US forces elsewhere in the region.  Cutting $60 billion a year from the defense budget for the next 10 years, while adding deployments to Australia, doesn’t compute unless other things are curtailed.

We ought to be asking what those things are – but then, we ought to be asking for a foreign policy statement outlining why we’re doing this in the first place.  To date, Obama has basically adjusted the policies of previous presidents and reacted to security crises driven by events elsewhere.  The basing agreement in Australia is his first foreign policy move that indicates an actual initiative for change.  I can come up with reasons for an enhanced US posture in Southeast Asia, although I wouldn’t handle it in the manner Obama has chosen; but we shouldn’t have to interpret signs and oracles to figure it out.  Shifting our force footprint in this way is a major move, and it ought to be explained with, essentially, an outline of an “Obama Doctrine.”

The nature of the China problem in Southeast Asia makes a US deterrent posture important.  But the key to that posture is not ambiguous subtleties and minor, carefully downplayed force deployments.  The key, rather, is precisely the element the Obama administration has not provided: a seminal statement of US interests and will.  An SP/MAGTF in Australia is not a clearly intelligible signal in that regard – nor is it a security compact with the American people, as the clearly articulated Truman and Reagan Doctrines were.

We should never get used to our forces being based overseas without such statements and compacts.  It may seem minor and harmless to make a basing agreement with one of our best allies, but what’s missing from this action could be very costly down the road.  China is likely to probe an ambiguous signal from the US; she is certain to complain about an unambiguous one.  All in all, I’d rather have China complaining.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.

38 thoughts on “Australia and the missing Obama Doctrine”

  1. I think we aren’t hearing a lot of questions about this because conservatives tend to like new military bases and liberals tend to like whatever President Obama does.

  2. The size of the force seemed to me very paltry for any functional purpose and I’m glad that OC seems to share this view. I don’t know what an appropriately sized deterrent force would be (2 or 3 MEUs? a Marine Division? – even in a much more adequately funded military that would be an awfully large unit to spare). In any case an indication of some (any?) initiative by the incumbent administration is welcome and cute (though not so much as those adorable Koalas) but hardly encourages one to contemplate the development of coherent, robust and well resourced strategy.

    Apropos of which OC seems to assume that the sequestration will go through and will not be reversed. This may be realistic but hardly radiates Optimism and is therefore rather inconsistent with the name of the blog. N’est pas, Commander?

    1. No way. Area 51 isn’t moving. All those voters in Beatty, Pahrump and Indian Springs aren’t giving it up. Harry Reid wouldn’t allow it.

      As feckless as Obama has been in foreign policy, I am pretty sure there is a military rationale behind the move, and Obama was convinced of the merits of having an increased Australian presence. Whether Obama agreed to send as many troops as would be required is another question.

      Now, if Ron Paul were President, fuggheddaboudit.

  3. ” But this evolution begs the question of where the fine line will be….”

    This drives me nuts but evidently it’s becoming a bizarre feature of the modern vernacular. I hold OC to higher standards than others, however.

    1. Chuck, I was impressed with the website. I will have a hard time choosing btween the t-shirts or mugs. Maybe both?
      Infer and imply are my hot buttons and the always difficult period inside or outside parentheses (too many exceptions).
      Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any merchandise available for my concerns.
      Perhaps the Australia move is to re-enforce the obvious concerns. To re assure smaller partners and communities that share like interests with us. Symbolic I suppose.
      Australia is a large and secure footing to extend influence toward China from another direction.
      Extending and implementing several possibilities toward the other guy is nothing new.
      I am not implying nor do I wish you to infer that I think the President can think ahead. He probably saw the move on television and will give a speech later on unionizing the military.

    2. You’re right, cm. I doubt that I will straighten up and fly 100% right on this one any time soon, however.

      I have my own set of pet peeves in this regard, and after a long career of brow-furrowing over them, I am making peace, one peeve at a time, with the failure of mankind to adhere to a proper standard.

      I do most sincerely sympathize with your perspective on this, as it has been mine for many years. After reading some time back about the penchant of Jimmy Carter for correcting grammar, syntax, and the use of idioms in White House memos, I decided that my purpose in life lies elsewhere. We can each only do so much in our four-score years and six.

      That said, I never mind when others take the trouble to keep us all honest. Point well taken.

  4. I see it’s time for another brief explanation of Optimistic Conservatism, cavalier.

    OC doesn’t mean taking an irrationally sunny view of bad trends in policy — the sort of dismissive, complacent mindset that “it will all work out.”

    Rather, OC is a belief in the demonstrated power of good living and good policy. When all around you are in despair over what our society and polity have come to, OC is the belief that doom is not inevitable, because there IS a positive, successful way to live and govern ourselves.

    In the realm of national security policy, OC doesn’t foolishly believe that we will remain secure no matter how weak, tentative, or inexplicable our policies. Rather, it recognizes that dodgy postures and bad policies lead to bad outcomes, but firmness, explicitness, and constancy actually make a positive difference. It’s not all just a big, confusing mish-mash.

    Some things are the right thing to do, and some the wrong. OC isn’t a Pollyanna attitude about doing the wrong things, it’s optimism about doing the right ones.

    1. I think OC is taking my my little digs at her Optimism a bit more seriously than I intend them. To clarify, they are usually proffered at least partially and sometimes mostly in jest.

      That said, my own optimism tends to fluctuate inversely with the Incumbent’s approval rating and his recent (if mercifully short) excursion above 45% has hardly had a calming effect.

      I have never found OC Pollyannish in her exposition and analysis of the issues, rather uniformly informative, penetrating and entirely realistic.

      I think there is every reason to be optimistic that our domestic economic predicament can be addressed quickly and for most quite painlessly if the right policies were to be adopted. This would be terrific in and of itself and of course a robust economy would significantly strengthen our strategic posture. While on this point I am also confident various more or less significant policy changes could improve our situation and the general peace, stability and prosperity of the globe a great deal I am somewhat less so than with respect to domestic issues. While OC’s consideration of these issues tends to be comprehensively thorough and incisive I am not always convinced of the the changes she explicitly or implicitly prescribes. Moreover, this is one issue where the most expert and more clear sighted public figures often leave me in unsatisfied confusion. There is no Ryan Budget for foreign policy. Needless to say, whatever we do a far more robust and well funded military than is currently in prospect seems warranted.

      All of this is quite beside the point unless we get a very dramatic change in our political configuration and I do mean in 2012. On this point the aforementioned and absurdly high approval rating, the idiocy in the polls, the relentless pro-Obama anti-Republican propaganda and the sundry confusion, defensiveness and meandering of various leading Republican voices induces considerable concern.

      Not surprisingly, perhaps, it is OC’s recent analysis of the politics that I find less than entirely convincing and perhaps a bit more Optimistic than the situation seems to warrant. This is unsurprising because OC specializes in through research of facts, logical suppositions to be deduced from such and rigorous analysis of same. The current mad state of our politics hardly lends itself to this process and it is perhaps inevitable that very few, to include even OC, are able to make much sense of it. In the absence of such sense I find careful pessimism to be the slightly safer course.

      1. On the plus side I saw a poll earlier this week that I will try to find that says that something like 70 to 82 percent do not want cuts in the DOD and want to keep spending the same or to increase it. The most likely Republican nominee, Mitt Romney has been most explicit and detailed in his commitment to adequately funding defense. If he can make this point effectively this will make it easier for him to win and to then have a mandate to pursue this agenda.

        One grasps for reasons to be optimistic where one can.

        1. Indeed, there are grounds for optimism if we change the direction of government in the US.

          As regards foreign and security policy, my perception is that Romney would be good. If Obamacare had not been implemented, I would consider it a low-cost move, domestically, to simply elect Romney, in part because I think he would handle security policy in the more traditional way that is becoming daily more necessary.

          Unfortunately, Obamacare WAS implemented. It will do away with the basis of our liberties if it is not repealed — even if SCOTUS rules against the mandate. Romney’s approach is wrong for that. He’s a big-government guy, in the sense of agreeing that government needs to have a policy on everything, and that nothing can function without government setting thousands of detailed rules for it.

          But the situation we had before Obamacare was passed was already one governed by thousands of rules, many of them in conflict with each other, and with the putative goals of public policy (like “affordable health care”). Government rules for health care are, in fact, the REASON why it has become so expensive and hard to navigate for the patient. Romney doesn’t seem to understand that, in an actionable political sense.

          Or, if he does, he simply accepts it as politically untenable to do anything about it, other than tinker a bit on the margins. Anyway, I think Romney would be good on security policy, but I’m very concerned about his big-government-ism domestically.

          1. Delusional Optimism

            I’m going way of topic on a very important and interesting post that is especially deserving of individual consideration but just very quickly will indulge in some of the Delusional Optimism I’m inclined to condemn.

            I think OC is exactly right in her assessment of Romney. Still while a technocrat with supreme confidence in his management abilities rather than a committed small government conservative, I don’t think the former Massachusetts governor is an oblivious fool. Given the numerous flaws in ObamaCare inherent in the legislative process which produced it, in the endemic conceptual and practical defects of the bill and the horrendous state of the economy I very much doubt that he would think that it can be dealt with at the margins and would absolutely try to repeal it. He would realize its devastating effect on the health care system, the economy, the budget and, not at all irrelevantly to the governor, his presidency.

            Mitt Romney has been accused of watching the polls too closely and the polls say that ObamaCare is unpopular and getting, if ever so slowly, more so. RomneyCare, by contrast was popular in Mass at the time of its passage and continues to be today. The motivation for passing the latter now would now dictate repealing the former.

            The problem, of course, is that whatever he might want to do as president, his association with RomneyCare makes it difficult to present a clear and convincing argument against it and to fully take advantage of its unpopularity. Moreover, even if he does win his inability to take advantage of this issues is almost certain to decrease his margin of victory, shorten his coat tails and weaken his mandate. All of this will make repeal, ObamaCare’s unpopularity notwithstanding, that much more difficult.

            There are, therefore, many reasons for pessimism, but I don’t think the Romney’s reluctance to dispose of ObamaCare if elected is one of them.

        2. There is a poll cited by Karolyn Bowman at AEI with 30% of respondents wanting to increase defense spending and 43% keep it the same. Only 27% want cuts. I don’t know how well the initial cuts have been publicized, much less the magnitude of the sequester but the result themselves are certainly reason for optimism and a political opportunity.

          I did see the 82% number cited in some item or another on Real Clear Politics last week but haven’t been able to find it after a cursory check.

  5. Actually, Cousin Vinnie, there isn’t a military rationale behind this move. That’s the point. If there were, a career intelligence officer whose professional expertise is in analyzing military rationales would be able to find it.

    I interpret this as a political marker. It’s not an intelligently designed one, however. My main point remains that we shouldn’t have to interpret it. The president should lay out the policy that is driving this posture shift.

    1. Thanks for not blowing up my shallow crap. Can I take it back?
      Politics is the point man for the military. For good or bad.
      A question please ( I asked a few weeks back, but football took over).
      Is there going to be a reckoning between the the United States and Iran sooner or later. Good or bad, for whatever reason.
      I am not influenced by the talking heads on television or the current trend of supposition.
      Bad blood on many levels for many reasons involved here.
      I include 1st person or proxy action. How will this shake out?
      I understand things can change tomorrow, but as things stand today.

  6. “The Obama administration says the Marine basing agreement will “allow the U.S. and Australia to more effectively respond to natural disasters and humanitarian crises in the region.””

    I find this stated justification as part of a somewhat disturbing trend. Have we gotten so squishy that when we deploy our troops somewhere that we declare, as the primary reason, that we’re doing so for humanitarian reasons? I’m fully aware that the “humanitarian crises” rationale is probably not the true driver of this policy, but what has happened to us as a nation that the office of the President would even *say* that, and do so without any sort of apprehension? I put this in the same category of having NASA pursue a mission of “Muslim outreach.” I find it all unsettling and indicative of how we as a nation are more focused on less important things at the expense of more important things.

    This all being said, I fully support using the US military to respond to natural disasters. It serves a political goal and usually creates lots of good will toward America. Not to mention the lives saved and other on the ground benefits to those poor people who just suffered through a tsunami, earthquake, etc…

    As an aside, Australia is the country of my birth. Having visited Australia a number of times and having Australian relatives, it is easy to see what a great people Australians are. They always seem to be in a chipper mood and have a great outlook on life. The mystery of the strategic reasons of sending 2,500 troops aside, I’m glad that we are, at least to a degree, strengthening our ties to that country if for no other reason than as a “thanks” to Australia for fighting alongside us in every major war we’ve ever fought in since the 1860s.

  7. RE — I agree, the Aussies are tops. The strength of our ties to Australia makes it harder to criticize an off-kilter policy move like this. I understand that it seems safe to people, in a visceral sense, to send troops to the territory of such a good friend, and from an important standpoint, that’s true. Our Marines won’t be hounded out of Australia by a national mob with torches and pitchforks. It’s all the rest of it that we’re backing into without a credible poicy explanation.

    I also agree that it’s problematic for a president to proclaim that we’re stationing troops abroad in order to respond to natural disasters. If we’re the world’s fire department now, we need to start collecting taxes and fees.

    wreed — Iran. This one is too hard to call, for a couple of big reasons. One, Iran doesn’t WANT a collision with the US. The mullahs want to drive us out of the Middle East by making our position there increasingly untenable. They don’t want to provoke a pitched confrontation with us. They want something to hold over us while they promote turmoil and install proxy troublemakers around the region.

    Second, there is a lot of internal dissent in Iran. The 2009 election showed that a very large number of Iranians, probably a majority in my view, want to see their government reconstituted along more liberal, reformist lines. This doesn’t mean they’re about the sign the Declaration of Independence, but it does mean that in the context of their Persian cultural heritage, they have a clear idea of changes they would like to see made.

    I think the big fight for them, if they got the chance to argue it out or vote in an unprejudiced election, would be over what role the ayatollahs should have. Some of them reformers would like to see the ayatollahs separated from government completely, but I suspect the end result would be something more in the nature of a compromise.

    The compromise they would probably come to, though, would be a sufficiently positive one that the West could take a break from worrying about nuclear weapons. With a different government in Iran, I predict the West, the UN, IAEA would all (a) get more cooperation, and (b) be happy to agree that Iran was using nuclear technology peacefully and in good faith.

    I don’t think Iran will literally swear off nuclear weapons any time soon. (That is, reaffirm the swear-off that theoretically took place when the Shah signed the Nonproliferation Treaty in the 1970s.) Vigorous affirmations of that kind will be held in reserve by the Muslim nations of the Middle East as long as Israel is not an NPT signatory and has nuclear weapons. I predict Iran would continue to finesse her NPT obligation in that regard, even under a new government.

    But that wouldn’t mean a differently-regimed Iran was still in the gunpowder, treason, and plot mode. Removing the radically committed Twelver Mahdists from the heights of power in Iran is the key. Iran has always been independent-thinking in both geopolitical and religious terms, and a liberalized, non-psychotic Iran could be a welcome counterweight to the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey in the Islamic world.

    If Iran does get within days of detonating a nuclear device, we may have to take some form of military action. I don’t assess Iran is there yet, although I think she could be within 8-10 weeks of a decision to go for it. I think Iran is in the stage now of trying to time that “breakout” properly, to draw the least pushback from the US and/or Israel. Interestingly, Obama’s relative unpredictability may be the main asset he has in convincing the Iranian leadership that now is not the time to make a big boom.

    I’m not much for picking narrow windows of vulnerability for things like this, but one obvious possibility is the period after election day in 2012, if the US elects a new president. It’s a little-noticed fact, but obvious in retrospect, that actors like Iran, Russia, and Hamas all got busy in the weeks after Obama was elected, when it was clear that the US administration would change direction, and started or ramped up things they had kept quiet or not gotten started before Bush was a lame duck.

  8. Thanks!!!!! The only thing I think I know is,as with many totalitarian
    regimes, the ones in power love capitalism and good profits for themselves. The Revolutionary Guards,Quds, etc are running low (none) competion corporations. That will be hard to give up.
    I was discharged from the Army late 1970. I was transferred to
    Sumter, S.C. with a clothing chain.
    Shaw AFB:Many f-4 wings there. Extensive training for foreign nationals. I have always fondly remembered the Iranian Air Force Officers. They were a very smooth group of guys. Some Royal. Well educated, well traveled and so polite (not the Middle East fake variety). They were very sophisticated, but not in a stuffy way. Were very western.
    We shipped a LOT of clothing back to Iran for them. Have wondered what happened to them after the revolution. Probably nothing good.
    The American f-4 Zipper Freaks were an intense group of guys.
    The f-4 zipper freak guys American) were really wired

    1. Prior to the Iranian revolution, Iran used to send some of their military to our Army’s Judge Advocate General’s School in Charlottesville, VA. As a gesture of thanks, the Shah sent the school — a picture of himself.

    2. “, the ones in power love capitalism and good profits for themselves. The Revolutionary Guards,Quds, etc are running low (none) competion corporations. That will be hard to give up.”

      That’s not capitalism.

      1. Chuck, the profit motive aces ideology for those in power. Call it whatever you wish. We could call it a very limited stimulus.

  9. Jennifer

    I think we have met: I was RAN. I was a watch officer at MIC Sydney and later ran the analytical dayshop there in the early-mid 90s. However I can’t put my finger on a time/place. It could have been anywhere from ONI thru NDHQ, Esquimalt, JICPAC or FOSIF WESTPAC (hah! that dates me). Could have been a MARINTCON etc too. Were you on Coronado when Admiral Unruh was COMTHIRDFLT?

    You might be over-analysing this. The current US administration has done a lot of damage to brand USA here in South-East Asia. Jakarta has been asking some worried questions of Canberra on this issue, they sense US disengagement at worst, and geostrategic policy drift at best.

    I believe there have been some carefully worded but quite strong comments made by Canberra at the last annual ministerial knees-up, an the discussion between Russell Offices and PACOM has been its usual very frank and focused self over the last couple of years.

    This move is very reassuring to Jakarta, Gombak Drive and Jalan Padang Tembak! it’s a solid token of regional engagement in a way that does not tick off Jakarta, the Sings or Kuala Lumpur.

    After all, the US non-base that dares not speak its name in Singapore is chokka, so such a token cannot be put down there. Not that there’s room anyway, with the US already leasing 330 of the lovely old houses in the old British Singapore Naval Base’s officer’s married patch (love what you guys did with the Terror Club).

    The operational benefit is much easier access to the Mount Bundey exercise and firing ranges etc. You blokes do a lot of work there now as the range is enormous and the airspace is basically empty.

    PACOM has wanted better access to the exercise areas and ranges for years, it’s just the logistics which have been hard. This makes them easy.

    So operationally, it’s an explicable call. Politically, the Chinese are going to be ticked off. They have been gathering leverage and influence in Timor L’Este, and other SEA countries recently. Checkmate.

    Delhi is also going to be pleased. Let us hope it is a step towards an Alliance between US-IN-AS.

    Even our own [adjectives deleted by Mark] government has just reversed their [adjective deleted by Mark] poor policy of refusing uranium sales to India for their civil power program. Hey… progress.

    Warmest Regards

    Mark Bailey (RAN rtd)

  10. Too much over-thinking going on here.

    This is primarily a two-fold message, primarily to China and secondarily to our allies in the region. It’s designed to offend China minimally while implying that if the message isn’t heeded, the potential for far more serious consequences exists.

    The message to China is; don’t force us to actually do something consequential, as we could as easily establish a real presence, instead of the symbolic one we’ve now established. For a variety of reasons; from economic to military to political, we don’t actually want to confront China in any meaningful way. While the same rationale applies to China; we’re reminding them that they don’t really want to confront America militarily by seriously threatening our regional interests and allies. As the downside of actual confrontation is far too negative for both sides, with literally no upside for either side.

    Shortsighted idiots however, reside on both sides and China’s economic ascendency encourages the contemplation of grandiose schemes and unrealistic estimates of the potential for geopolitical dominance by an apparently ascendant China. Of course, Obama’s general demeanor and America’s geopolitical vacillations, encourage that type of thinking.

    To our allies, this is a symbolic gesture designed to assure them that if push comes to shove, we will stand up to any Chinese bullying.

    Posturing, pure and simple with the futile hope that the Chinese will be intimidated by the implied threat of America’s kinetic military potential.

    Unfortunately, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons demonstrate America’s current lack of political resolve far more convincingly.

  11. Misunderstanding this deployment only arises if you are determined not to agree with anything this President does – and if you completely uncomprehending as to the nature of what foreign policy is all about. (Or perhaps JED – as is her wont – misread the press statements)

    In addition to affirming and re-invigorating our long-standing bonds with Australia (a diplomatic objective), we are establishing a resource which will enable speedier and more effective military deployment of US military assets in the South pacific region – an area of growing strategic and economic importance (a military objective). We are also letting the Chinese and our local allies know that our committment as a Pacific Ocean power is for keeps (military and diplomatic objectives).

    Obviously, our future Pacific policy must have regard to the fact that China has become a major world power, and Russia remains a powerful presence in the North Pacific. China has attained its new eminence, not because of US weakness, but because this nation of more than 1 billion people has followed our example (at least, in economics) and junked the failed ideologies of Marx and all his works. I may add, that having spent the entire cold war pointing out the stupidity and inefficiency of command economics we can hardly be upset or surprised at the result of China taking our advice. The challenge of China is how to maintain our vital interests in the Pacific Basin. China is in the process of displacing Europe and the US as the primary foreign presence in Africa. It has done this by being far less concerned about the ethical aspects of dealing with corrupt locals, while at the same time being seen as less arrogant and “colonial” in their attitudes towards the locals. We and our Western allies need to start thinking about these things in the context of the emerging nations in the Pacific and far East. In the meantime, we are affirming our presence and committment in the region.

    Ther is no military solution to China. We could never “defeat” China in a war – anymore than it could defeat us (We could, of course, destroy each other as viable societies). We also have to accept that they have vital interests, as have we. In the end, we are never going to go to war over Taiwan. We know it, and they know it. But Hong Kong suggests that the resolution of the Taiwan issue is likely to be peaceful. China is a pressure cooker, and its rulers know that wealth-destroying conflict is not in its interests. the danger for us in the region is getting involved in Proxy conflicts with China or Russia. The Pacific Basin is rich in esources. It is in our best interests that the allocation of these resources is determined by fair and honest trade and market economics rather than corruption, or, God forbid, conflict. In this regard, the strengthening of civil society in the region, and support of international law best serve US interests. Obama has signalled our committment to both.

      1. I have no problem whatsoever with the stationing of US forces in countries where the population actually wants us. And this is important in the context of the Pacific Basin. Because of the misbehaviour by some US servicepersons the continuing presence of US forces in Okinawa and other places has become deeply unpopular with the locals, and politicians, responsive to public opinion, may not be able to fend off demands for the closure of US bases forever.
        I am certainly against foreign “wars of choice”, and foreign interventions where the case for US involvement is not directly compelled by US interests.

        Incidentally, there is certain unspecific criticism of the policies of this administration in the Pacific Basin. What exactly was the policy (if any) of the previous administration in the region, and how did it differ?

        I think Mark Bailey actually identified some of the positive changes in policy under this administration. Having done so, he realized that he would have to throw some crumbs of anti-Obama sentiment in JEDs way to make the medicine go down somewhat more palatably.

  12. Mark Bailey — welcome! Your name does sound familiar to me. I wasn’t on Coronado when Unruh was there, but I wonder if you were one of the officers from the MIC with whom a group of us spent the day in May 1992, when we were in Sydney on the USS Blue Ridge. (Awesome pierside parking spot, right downtown. The carrier, on the other hand, had to anchor out in the harbor — ha!) We had a tour of MIC Sydney and then visited some public sites and had a big barbecue afterward. Super time.

    (Incidentally, there is a one-time “approval” requirement for new commenters. It keeps down the spam. But feel free to comment at will now that you’re “in.” Comments should post without delay from now on.)

    For Mark and GB, I get the motive behind this action, believe me. The concern I have is that it has been done without an announcement of policy, without collaboration with Congress, and without a public discussion. Obama has not outlined why he is doing it, yet it IS a freighted move, angering China and sending the “signal” everyone is — no doubt — correctly reading here.

    Obama has done this already with the deployment of US military “advisors” to Uganda. That move, fortunately, is not guaranteed to anger another major power. (It may result in an unpleasant encounter with torches and pitchforks, however.)

    He also ignored presidential custom by involving us in the Libya operation without outlining a justification for it from US security policy, or defining operational objectives, leaving the latter instead to France and the UK.

    There are two important aspects of this failure. First, stating US policy explicitly is at least as significant to deterrence as force deployments, and often more so. Of course, the US has said over and over again that we want to keep SCS/SOM free for navigation and trade, and that our additional interest is in a peaceful, unforced resolution of the competing claims there.

    But what is needed now is a more explicit statement of what we will oppose, along the lines of the formulation of the Truman Doctrine. I’m always glad to reassure Indonesia, but doing the least you can to give reassurance about your involvement certainly smacks of that question posed to Ferdinand Foch on the eve of WWI. It cedes the initiative to the saber-rattling power (China, in this case), as French and British policy ceded it to the Kaiser. It tells the saber-rattler that you are willing to confine yourself to gestures, and that your posture will be based on hoping it won’t come to more than that.

    The second aspect, especially of concern to Yanks (since it’s our government doing this), is the essential imperialism of the move. I’m speaking here of how it sits with Obama’s obligation to derive military justifications from the people and our representatives. In these terms, he has blazed back in time right past Whitehall, and gone straight for Rome.

    It seems that Obama and his inner circle are operating on the false perception that it is “ops normal” for the US government to sling military force around without a by-your-leave from the domestic constituency. Those of their political stripe have been retailing that narrative for at least five decades, and it appears they’ve been drinking their own Kool-aid.

    But in fact, since the establishment of the US national security apparatus in 1947, our force deployment and basing decisions have been made through a collaborative and largely public process involving Congress, and relying on statements of policy and strategy from the executive. The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 added some specifics on the procedural side, particularly for justifying the US force posture and specific uses of force.

    The standard of US presidents is to actually submit their force deployment decisions to these procedural mechanisms, rather than merely keeping the mechanisms in place and paying them lip service. The mechanisms require explanations and justifications that are persuasive to the people, including the political opposition in Congress.

    Bush II used them in fighting the war on terror. Even Clinton, whose Balkan operations were considered “off the reservation” by some US lawmakers, was effectively held to the conventional vetting standard by the Republican majority in Congress and a press that was more vigilant then than it is today. Bush I was a consummate user of the national security mechanisms. Reagan used them, Carter used them, Ford and Nixon used them, etc. etc.

    Obama, however, has now on three occasions proceeded without effective reference to these mechanisms. It should be of concern to us that his doing this doesn’t bother Americans MORE. Our independent, unitary executive requires vigilance from the people; passivity on our part is a condition for creeping imperialism — an imperialism, moreover, much more like that of ancient Rome than like the European empires of the colonial era.

    The fact that Obama sends a coy, unvetted “signal” that is congenial to our worldview doesn’t make it less coy and unvetted. Coy, unvetted signals with US force — even “small” ones — will come back to bit us in the tuchus.

    1. “The concern I have is that it has been done without an announcement of policy, without collaboration with Congress, and without a public discussion”

      Yes, for the reasons you’ve stated, it’s abysmal governance. But Obama’s (and his closest advisers) natural inclination is to rule, not govern. Of course, no President is immune to the wish to rule by decree but if Washington best exemplifies the rejection of undue power in the executive, Obama may well be his polar opposite.

      Perhaps even more importantly and distressingly, Obama, his advisers and most liberals haven’t a clue as to why the points you’ve enumerated are of such profound importance.

      That’s partially because when one has ‘a cause’ in which one deeply believes, the temptation to accept that the end justifies the means is almost irresistible.

      But the deepest reason is because of the very nature of Obama and his cronies:

      “Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties:

      1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.

      2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests.

      In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves.” –Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, 1824.

      “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive”. C.S. Lewis

  13. Jennifer: Mark Bailey — welcome! Your name does sound familiar to me. I wasn’t on Coronado when Unruh was there, but I wonder if you were one of the officers from the MIC with whom a group of us spent the day in May 1992, when we were in Sydney on the USS Blue Ridge. (Awesome pierside parking spot, right downtown. The carrier, on the other hand, had to anchor out in the harbor — ha!) We had a tour of MIC Sydney and then visited some public sites and had a big barbecue afterward. Super time.

    That was probably it, I recall that visit to Blue Ridge: I had been told I was going to the MIC but did not post in there until ’93. Like all good intelo (not that the RAN had them officially at that time) you wangled what you could and that was one of the things I wangled. Steve Wiskar and Dave Scott were there too IIRC, as was Fred Smith, the USN LO. I am still in touch with Steve.

    While I look on both our respective governments with horror (your President and our Prime Minister both appear to love spending yet to disdain creating national wealth), that wheel will eventually turn and more sensible government re-emerge.

    They will have a lot of poor to very poor public policy and much economic damage to repair. The Spaniards are starting to pay that particular piper as we speak.

    The more I look at this recent decision, the more I suspect it a perfectly valid PACOM concept which has been picked up for domestic political purposes. If, as you say, the normal internal processes in the USA were not followed it adds a bit of weight to that suspicion. I know that the idea has been mooted several times in the past.

    You might be interested to know that the reaction in Jakarta so far as I have been able to read it has been quite favourable.

    Regards: Mark Bailey

  14. I feel really sorry for all my Australian friends because of the manner that evil socialist, Julia Gillard, has utterly destroyed the Australian economy (Even worse was the way she beamed like someone in rapture when her companion in evil, President Obama, was addressing the Oz parliament).

    As everyone knows, such is the destruction that Gillard has visited on Australia that there are queues at every airport and seaport of unemployed Australians trying to get away from their blighted homeland and into Indonesia, China, and of course, the British Isles, or anywhere else that will take them. This is a lesson to us Americans as to what comprehensive healthcare and cradle to grave welfare can do to a once lucky nation.

    (I also blame socialism for the rubbish performance of the Oz rugby team in the recent World Cup)

    Best regards to all my Aussie pals of all political colors,


  15. A serious question for the retired-Analysts (not that we ever actually do retire).

    In my place of employment (no longer military or connected to the ADF), a bright young analyst has noted the following about a particular source.

    It’s an open source, with a heavy bias openly displayed. it is the sort of subject bias that drives the PC-brigade half-insane.

    The source also aggregates media reporting, and produces statistics from this.

    I rate these statistics as C2 on the Admiralty scale. The text material the source offers I’d not rate as very useful (call it D4 to E5).

    The bright young analyst had said of the statistical data that it too is not usable *due to the heavy bias of the source.*

    The assumption behind this appears to be that because the source is biased, the statistics are therefore biased and cannot be used. However, these can and have be verified as C2 and about 80% accurate factually, being just aggregated media with the errors of fact in the original media reports.

    I’d like any views retired analysts have on the concept that statistical data can have an inherited bias due to the source it can from.

    My own view is traditional – statistical data is statistical data and has no inherent or ‘inheritable’ bias. It does have a grading (Admiralty Scale again) but that’s it.

    Another retired USN analyst of my aquaintance rejects the notion outright. He believes it an artifact of an EMOTIONAL rejection of the source, due to its biases. If so, this is a serious flaw in the bright young analysts capability as an analyst. Emotion has no place in analysis.

    Mark Bailey

  16. I’m not an “analyst”, Mark, but I would have to agree that information coming from any partisan source should be treated with suspicion, and independent verification of the veracity, integrity, and completeness of the information would have to be obtained before their reliability could be rated. For example, a poll of Washington Times readers, answering a question devised by Frank Gaffney, and relating to President Obamas foreign policy, might not accurately reflest the opinion of the American electorate on the success of the President’s policies in this area – even if you trusted the WT not to mess with the poll results.

    Of course, in a post Robert Macnamara world, the real problem isn’t necessarily the reliability of primary information but its misuse for political reasons. Uranium ore in Chad and poison gas trailers come to mind. And the consequential statistics? Thats’s another story. How about: one trillion bucks, countlesss lives, and untold damage to US foreign policy interests. I’ll leave the math to you.

    best regards


  17. Mark Bailey — apologies for the delay in responding. A sad bout of being under the weather, followed by the Thanksgiving holiday, kept me away from the computer.

    There is clearly no way for statistical processes themselves to directly introduce political bias. They can produce other kinds of bias, which can be held to produce political bias as a secondary effect.

    But in any statistical process, the selection of “populations” — the input on the front end — is generally held to produce some amount of some kind of bias. Even a news aggregator makes a selection choice at the front end. Unless it is populated by literally every news source on the planet, there will be “bias” in the output according to someone’s criteria.

    Even the choice to take a “news aggregator” approach can be held by some to introduce bias. There is an interpretation process required to produce “news,” which of course may not — according to some parties’ viewpoints — reflect “reality.” Someone can always complain that any process of human interpretation is producing bias. Aggregating a lot of bias just produces a bigger yield of bias, if you think there was bias — systematic or specific — at the outset.

    Bottom line: bias is in the eye of the beholder. There are aggregators that consciously seek to aggregate from the major mainstream political viewpoints, as a means of ensuring balance for their output. But in their case, of course, there is inherent bias in what any given human thinks is major or mainstream, and how he identifies the political viewpoints. Some leftists may think Huffington Post is mainstream and Democratic Underground is hard-left; others may consider Politico more in the mainstream, and HuffPo just outside it. Some rightists may see Drudge Report as excessively or wrongly “right”; others may consider AP and AFP leftist but generally reliable, while still others write off both agencies — etc, etc.

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