While much of the focus on the president’s defense strategy has centered on the reduction to the Army and to the Marine Corps, the overarching strategy changes America’s defense position across several dimensions. Not all of them are uniformly negative.
I will not get into the discussion of overall military spending. Like any other federal bureaucracy, the Department of Defense can be made more efficient. Unlike many of the others, DoD has been focused on efficiencies for many years, and more to the point, cutting the wrong thing can be exceedingly dangerous. However, this should not prevent us from cutting the right thing.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly in the new defense strategy.
The good: One can only imagine what it feels like in Zhongnanhai, knowing that the CCP is the only force that will see more of the American military in their midst. In fact, the president has repeatedly shown an unexpected, unadvertised, and thus largely unknown determination to protect and preserve our interests in southeast Asia (in northeast Asia, he hasn’t been much better than his predecessors, but not much worse either). The greater emphasis on our allies in the Pacific received far more attention outside the U.S. than anything else (BBC, twice). For the first time, the United States is making it clear it has concern about the “peaceful rise” of the Chinese Communist regime, and it is prepared to put resources in place to address that concern. That is a change, and a good one.
The bad: Unfortunately, the concern the Administration has about the CCP is only a regional one. The idea that the regime would seek to build its power and prestige outside East Asia is surprisingly absent here. Given that Zhongnanhai has already established alliances with the mullahcracy of Iran, numerous tyrants in Africa, and the Pakistani military (and through them, the Taliban), Washington’s newfound concern for the CCP is thus dangerously limited. Or, as Nadia Schadlow put it in the Weekly Standard:
This geostrategic pivot toward Asia, accompanied by an emphasis on high technology Sino-centric warfare, fails to account for the character of conflict in most of the rest of the disordered world.
One can be certain that the CCP will not “fail to account” for the rest of the world. This leads us to . . .
The ugly: The overall weakening of the American military will make it that much harder to actually achieve the excellent goal of holding the CCP, its tyrannical allies, and its terrorist proxies in check. While Zhongnanhai may find things more difficult in Asia, the regime will likely find eroding American power easier in the rest of the world.
The question then becomes this: will America then weaken itself in Asia to face those other threats abroad? Or will she swallow hard and reverse the manpower and strength reductions that are part of the newly current strategy? This is the question the president, his would-be Republican opponents, and the American people must address – preferably this year.