A scape­goat for a lame duck pres­i­dent

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

US Sec­re­tary of De­fense Chuck Hagel has re­signed, be­com­ing the first vic­tim of the Democrats’ loss in the mid-term elec­tion. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, many be­lieve, thinks it’s time to re­vamp his na­tional se­cu­rity, es­pe­cially be­cause after as­sum­ing of­fice in 2009, he has been re­luc­tant to use the armed forces in re­solv­ing any cri­sis. Even Rus­sia’s han­dling of the South Os­se­tia and Abk­hazia cri­sis in 2008 did not pre­vent Obama from “re­set­ting” Wash­ing­ton’s re­la­tions with­Moscow after he en­tered the White House.

Given the pres­sure from the Se­nate not to be mil­i­tar­ily in­volved in Libya in 2011, he with­drewUS forces two days after launch­ing air at­tacks onMuam­mar Gaddafi’s army. And de­spite the Ira­nian nu­clear is­sue drag­ging on for about a decade, Obama re­fused to push the en­ve­lope and, in­stead, opted for ne­go­ti­a­tions. Be­sides, he has re­sponded very cau­tiously to the Syr­ian cri­sis.

The same logic ex­plains the lack of ef­fec­tive US diplo­macy in deal­ing with the Ukraine cri­sis and Obama’s un­will­ing­ness to send US com­bat troops back to Iraq to take on the Is­lamic State.

Th­ese de­ci­sions, or the lack of them, did not have much to do with the Pen­tagon. But some­one had to face the mu­sic to jus­tify the im­pend­ing changes in the US se­cu­rity pol­icy for the rest of Obama’s term in of­fice. ThusHagel be­came the scape­goat.

Hagel was not the pri­mary pol­i­cy­maker in­Wash­ing­ton; he mostly res­onated Obama’s de­ci­sions and was largely re­spon­si­ble for im­ple­ment­ing his poli­cies. Be­sides, he had been crip­pled by the loss of about $100 bil­lion a year in the de­fense bud­get for the past two years, which an­tag­o­nized his gen­er­als. On one hand, the US armed forces have be­come in­creas­ingly de­mor­al­ized. On the other, the Repub­li­can-dom­i­nated Congress has be­come more in­tol­er­ant of the bud­getary se­ques­tra­tion that has led to a de­cline in US dom­i­nance in dif­fer­ent re­gions of the world.

The de­par­ture ofHagel, how­ever, can­not help much with the re­shap­ing of Obama’s pol­icy con­tour for the next two years. Even if Obama be­came more as­sertive in theMid­dle East and East Europe to rec­on­cile his dif­fer­ences with the Congress, it is highly un­likely that he would con­front Rus­sia mil­i­tar­ily and to send US ground forces back into Iraq to take on the IS. Such ac­tions are not po­lit­i­cally re­al­is­tic or ap­peal­ing. In­stead, they could thwart Obama’s fis­cal bal­anc­ing.

So, no mat­ter who suc­ceeds Hagel, the US is likely to re­main oc­cu­pied in the Mid­dle East and Ukraine with lit­tle time and re­sources left to push for­ward the “pivot to Asia” pol­icy. Obama will ob­vi­ously de­fend his next ap­pro­pri­a­tion re­quest, pos­si­bly with­out any more deep cuts in the de­fense bud­get, and pro­tect his health­care pro­gram. But on both is­sues, he is likely to be con­fronted by the Congress.

The Congress, on its part, would be more con­cerned about the rise of China and agree in prin­ci­ple to work with the WhiteHouse to make the “pivot to Asia” pol­icy a suc­cess. But for a US on the de­cline, it would be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to dom­i­nate the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, theMid­dle East and Europe at the same time. In fact, Wash­ing­ton could in­ad­ver­tently push Beijing andMoscow to forge a stronger strate­gic part­ner­ship.

Com­pared with the burn­ing is­sues such as the IS and the Ukraine cri­sis, China’s rise at most poses a mid-term chal­lenge to the re­gional bal­ance of power. The “pivot to Asia” pol­icy of Obama seems poised to hedge against the po­ten­tial change in the sta­tus quo, rather than not al­low­ing China to rise in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional laws.

While Beijing andWash­ing­ton dif­fer on the ap­pli­ca­bil­ity of some of th­ese laws, they have al­ready agreed to pre­vent in­ci­dents at high sea, as demon­strated at the meet­ing be­tween Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and Obama on the side­lines of the re­cent Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion con­fer­ence in Beijing. Still the two coun­tries have a lot to rec­on­cile to avoid in­ci­dents within the ex­clu­sive mar­itime eco­nomic zone. There­fore, the newsec­re­tary of de­fense is likely to fol­lowHagel’s path to work with Chi­nese lead­ers to ally each other’s se­cu­rity fears. The au­thor is a pro­fes­sor and as­so­ciate dean at the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, Fu­dan Univer­sity, Shang­hai.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.