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

Leave a reply