I guess Regina’s on a plane / a Newsweek on her knees

So the Unit­ed States wants to re-engage the Asia Pacif­ic region.

In the wake of the wind-down and rel­a­tive fail­ure of the war/­post-war peri­ods in Iraq (ok — let’s call it a defeat: the dom­i­nant pow­er in that region is now Iran, the insur­gents are either run­ning parts of Iraq or hold the pow­er bal­ance in the gov­ern­ment, the coun­try is eth­ni­cal­ly cleansed, there is still no fuck­ing elec­tric­i­ty and the US have been forced to hud­dle their remain­ing troops in client gulf states) and the impend­ing draw­down in Afghanistan, like­ly with sim­i­lar results to Iraq, the Unit­ed States has now decid­ed to trans­fer part of and flex its not incon­sid­er­able mus­cle in the region, argu­ing that it is mak­ing up for lost time as it lost focus over the past decade.

Despite the facade of uni­ty at the recent Bali ASEAN lead­ers gig, there is clear and obvi­ous dis­qui­et across much of the region. Regard­less of this, it’s pret­ty obvi­ous that the US intends to do what the US intends to do and to hell with most every­one else. As always.

There are sev­er­al pos­si­ble rea­sons I can think of.

First­ly the Unit­ed States is now a per­ma­nent war econ­o­my — it main­tains a mas­sive mil­i­tary machine, a vast intel­li­gence appa­ra­tus and an even big­ger mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al and sup­port base and needs to con­tin­ue main­tain­ing these in order the fore­stall a crash that would dwarf 2008 if it did­n’t. Mil­lions of peo­ple and count­less indus­tries are part of this war econ­o­my and are depen­dent on the Unit­ed States either being at war or hav­ing an armed con­fronta­tion­al pos­ture around the world.

Sec­ond­ly — dis­trac­tion, and the need to be seen to be doing some­thing to counter the down­turn and those who are pop­u­lar­ly per­ceived to be in large part respon­si­ble for it. The eco­nom­ic mess they are now in is a stink­ing quag­mire that is not improv­ing despite bil­lions thrown at it, seems resis­tant to the change in fun­da­men­tals nec­es­sary, and has mutat­ed into con­fused des­per­a­tion as the dream which was nev­er sup­posed to crum­ble, falls apart. That des­per­a­tion has man­i­fest­ed itself in sev­er­al ways: the nut­ty and con­tra­dic­to­ry Tea Par­ty, which brings togeth­er dan­ger­ous­ly all the arch-con­ser­v­a­tive, para­noid, ill-informed and extrem­ist ele­ments that have been gath­er­ing pace in the USA in recent decades (or, in the case of the nation­al delu­sion they call Amer­i­can Excep­tion­al­ism, has fes­tered for many decades), the OWS move­ment, and the boo­gie man.

The boo­gie man used to be Sovi­et Rus­sia (and ‘Red’ Chi­na), then it was rad­i­cal Islam (which still has its claws in the nation­al psy­che) and now it’s just Chi­na. Chi­na is the boo­gie man. And that’s num­ber three: con­front the boo­gie man and we’ll all get our jobs/industry/global stand­ing (as con­ferred on us by Amer­i­can Excep­tion­al­ism) back. It’s an extend­ed real world Tru­man Show sce­nario — with the US play­ing Tru­man and the rest of the world look­ing in, and it runs all through Con­gress — both sides — and the admin­is­tra­tion: it’s Chi­nese cur­ren­cy manipulation/protectionism/bad labour practices/aggression/price fix­ing. Insert any or as many of those as you wish. Address those and the Amer­i­can dream returns.

So when Oba­ma makes a pro­found­ly arro­gant — racist — state­ment instruct­ing Chi­na to “play by the rules”, he is effec­tive­ly telling the most pop­u­lous and increas­ing­ly devel­oped nation in the world to do as they are told; we are Amer­i­cans, you are are Asi­at­ics, we make the rules, you have no right to do that, and to enforce our self-anoint­ed role as the glob­al rule-mak­er we’ll flex our mil­i­tary mus­cles at you as and where nec­es­sary.

The East would be so much eas­i­er if it were all still Suzie Wong.

How­ev­er, there are prob­lems with this. First­ly the Unit­ed States has­n’t been a peace­mak­er in the region since the end of the Kore­an War. Its adven­tures took the lives of mil­lions in South East Asia in the 50s, 60s and 70s includ­ing hand­ing Cam­bo­dia to Pol Pot and then sup­port­ing him when the Viet­namese tried to resolve the hor­rors. It played an active part in the coup that over­threw Sukarno in Indone­sia, the after­math of which was the extend­ed hor­rif­ic mas­sacre of up to a mil­lion peo­ple some of whom were con­demned on a CIA pro­vid­ed hit list, plus a 30 dic­ta­tor­ship. It then sup­port­ed and armed the inva­sion of East Tim­or and has recent­ly begun work­ing with the same Indone­sian spe­cial forces cur­rent­ly ‘sup­press­ing’ the West Papuan inde­pen­dence move­ment with vio­lence.

The only part of Asia where you could argue that it’s main­tained the peace is Korea.

Its mil­i­tary sits per­ma­nent­ly at the Chi­nese sea-bor­der, nuclear armed, and con­tin­u­al­ly prods at their ter­ri­to­ry with spy planes and ves­sels in a way that they would nev­er tol­er­ate at home if it were to be reversed. It con­tin­u­al­ly encour­ages the dis­putes between Chi­na and oth­er South East Asian nations in the South Chi­na Sea where it is an agent provo­ca­teur foment­ing mis­chief.

Indone­sia, Malaysia, Sin­ga­pore and Thai­land repeat­ed­ly rebuffed its attempts to join the joint task force guard­ing the Straits Of Malac­ca. It’s the last thing any of them want.

Sec­ond­ly, the idea that the US mil­i­tary can, to quote Oba­ma, “ful­fil its com­mit­ment to the entire Asia-Pacif­ic region” by mil­i­tary pos­tur­ing is absurd. The only time the US and Chi­na entered into a shoot­ing war the US was rout­ed, all the way down the Kore­an penin­su­la, and it was only able stop the shoot­ing by using all its mas­sive mil­i­tary mus­cle to force a stale­mate that con­tin­ues to this day. And that was against a peas­ant army with a mas­sive dis­par­i­ty in arms and tech­nol­o­gy. At the end of 2011 no such dis­par­i­ty exists and world’s largest mil­i­tary — in num­bers — would like­ly rout any con­ven­tion­al US mil­i­tary assault or threat again.

Third­ly, it’s not your region — look at a map — go away. At least that seems to be the unspo­ken in large parts of the region. It was notable that the Thai gov­ern­ment quick­ly reject­ed US naval help in the floods ‑aside from map­ping assis­tance lat­er on, as Hilary rushed into Bangkok. The phras­es “Glob­al reces­sion” or “Glob­al Down­turn”  have huge cur­ren­cy in the west at the moment, but there is no reces­sion in most of Asia, no down­turn, quite the oppo­site. Across the region, despite end­less pre­dic­tions of immi­nent col­lapse from the west, every­one is doing quite nice­ly thank you. The Thai floods have had a huge glob­al impact across a range indus­tries from cars to elec­tron­ics to food — they hit stock prices in Wall Street and Tokyo — but their $10Bn price tag is but a blip in a growth pat­tern that is reflect­ed across Asia.

And they want to keep on doing nice­ly. US bull-in-a-chi­na-shop desta­bil­i­sa­tion is nei­ther desired nor help­ful as Asia comes into its own as an eco­nom­ic pow­er­house. The rules of the par­ty have changed and the USA has gone from hand­ing out the dance cards to being a wall­flower, albeit an armed one look­ing for an excuse to bare those teeth.

Bizarrely the agree­ment is to place 2,500 Marines in Aus­tralia, in Dar­win. This places them not at the foot of Chi­na but square­ly under­neath Indone­sia. How odd. Well not real­ly — I doubt any­one clos­er to Chi­na would have them.

Aus­tralia must be rather thrilled to be asked. It already has B‑52’s in the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry from time to time and Aus­tralia has long been the junior part­ner in the West­ern Alliance des­per­ate to be seen as a major play­er but nev­er quite get­ting there, so one can imag­ine the glee in Can­ber­ra when this was agreed.

There was a time when Aus­tralia was con­vinced Indone­sia was going to invade and built a mul­ti-bil­lion dol­lar series of bases across the top of the coun­try to defend against this. Any of the hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ock­ers who have been to Bali could’ve told the mil­i­tary that Indone­sia can’t even keep the traf­fic lights going reli­ably, let alone trans­port an inva­sion force across water and desert. It was absurd and must have caused some mirth in Suhar­to’s Jakar­ta (espe­cial­ly as the Aus­tralians were also arm­ing his troops on the oth­er hand).

In 2012 the threat posed to the Aus­tralian nation by Indone­sia is zero.

And so Hillary is going to Myan­mar. It is, so the media has been primed to tell us, on the cusp of democ­ra­cy. It seems nobody has told the gen­er­als this — hun­dreds of polit­i­cal pris­on­ers remain in jail with lit­tle move­ment beyond a token release ear­li­er this year as part of a gen­er­al amnesty.

Myan­mar has been des­ig­nat­ed ground zero by the USA in the impend­ing con­fronta­tion with the boo­gie man. And sit­ting across the bor­der — giv­en the US his­to­ry in South East Asia — it’s very, very scary.

The US attempts to find a client state here is like a page out of the cold war his­to­ry books, it’s South Viet­nam, Guatemala and Cam­bo­dia all over again, and with­out the teeth that give it cred­i­bil­i­ty unless they go nuclear.

And then there are no win­ners.

Here’s Fran­cis Wade from the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Voice of Bur­ma, in an Al Jaz Op/Ed, giv­ing a more detailed view of all this (and I’d sug­gest read­ing the whole thing, it’s pret­ty pow­er­ful):

Omi­nous signs already sug­gest that the US will sad­dle up to repres­sive regimes in order to realise its over­ar­ch­ing pri­or­i­ty for return­ing here, that of con­tain­ing Chi­na and pen­e­trat­ing deep­er the region’s mar­kets.


His­to­ry tells us how­ev­er that the stan­dards the US sets for its allies are wild­ly incon­sis­tent and arbi­trary. Much of the talk on Bur­ma among White House offi­cials is of “reform”, and less so that of “democ­ra­cy”, allow­ing Naypyi­daw some flex­i­bil­i­ty in the bench­marks it is required to meet.

One hopes that Myan­mar is slow­ly head­ing in the right direc­tion, but it’s worth not­ing that the civil­ian leader is a for­mer gen­er­al and is still head­ing a gov­ern­ment absolute­ly under the thumb of the same mil­i­tary who have been the bad guys for decades. The 2010 elec­tion was almost uni­ver­sal­ly decried as fraud­u­lent, but despite that, the cur­rent US admin­is­tra­tion is sidling up to them as they did so many times with awful regimes in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, Africa and the Mid­dle East in the 20th cen­tu­ry.

This sort of embrace of ‘reform­ing’ despot­ic regimes by the US has a recent prece­dent too: it was less than a decade back when Libya and its leader were warm­ly wel­comed back into the cir­cle of nations by the last US Admin­is­tra­tion and the UK as reform­ing. I’m more con­fused than ever by the rights and wrongs of the last ten months in Libya but the hypocrisy there is glar­ing.

This will not end well.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Simon Grigg on Face­book
November 23, 2011 at 5:30 pm

the post to Face­book think does­n’t seem to work prop­er­ly any­more for some rea­son.

Simon Grigg on Face­book
November 23, 2011 at 5:30 pm


Peter Eyley
November 24, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Excel­lent analy­sis, “When Will They Ever Learn”

George D
November 26, 2011 at 3:00 am

All the talk of “glob­al” slow­down affect­ing NZ seems a lit­tle bizarre, from where I stand. Yes, Europe an North Amer­i­ca are stag­nant. Yes, they’re includ­ed in our top ten trad­ing part­ners. But the rest are round­ed out by coun­tries in our region, which are grow­ing between 6–10% over this and sub­se­quent years(excluding Thai­land, the next few months). If we want that, all we have to do is focus there. Yet it nev­er makes the news until 1/3 of a coun­try is under­wa­ter or an Aus­tralian is killed or arrest­ed. NZ’s unreg­u­lat­ed news media is active­ly harm­ing its inter­ests, and the same can be said for the Unit­ed States. No won­der they (from the bot­tom to the top) don’t under­stand. Flawed lens­es will always cre­ate the wrong impres­sions.

November 29, 2011 at 9:47 am

CSIS says:


November 29, 2011 at 10:01 am

Inter­est­ing. The CSIS is pret­ty far right though http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Center_for_Strategic_and_International_Studies

November 29, 2011 at 10:23 am

Yeah I know, and in Jakar­ta at least their interns gen­er­al­ly arrive on State depart­ment schol­ar­ships

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