Yves here. The latest news from Team Trump is a big departure from the president-elect’s initial stance of favoring more modest ambitions for the US in order to focus resources on domestic priorities. But as soon as Trump won the Republican nomination, he moved sharply to take up more traditional party messages, such as a much greater emphasis on law ‘n order and calling for a military buildup.
The most charitable spin one can put on Giuliani’s priorities, which one would assume mirror Trump’s, is that more better pork is the price of winding down our involvement in the Middle East and de-escalating with Russia. We will presumably have better intel on how this decidedly belligerent posture came about (assuming these press statements are official views, as opposed to more Trump throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks) in coming days and weeks.
By David Llewellyn-Smith, founding publisher and former editor-in-chief of The Diplomat magazine, now the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics website. Originally posted at MacroBusiness
From The Australian:
The frontrunner to become Donald Trump’s secretary of state has revealed the US president-elect is committed to building a “gigantic” military force to thwart China’s ambitions in the Pacific.
Rudy Giuliani, the New York mayor during the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and who is assisting Mr Trump’s transition to the White House, said yesterday the military expansion would be designed to allow the US to fight a “two-ocean war’’.
The hawkish comments are a strong sign the Trump administration will not neglect the Asia-Pacific region, and follow the president-elect’s criticisms during the election campaign that America’s NATO allies and Japan were not pulling their weight.
“We (will) take our military up to 550,000 troops (instead of) going to 420,000,’’ Mr Giuliani told global business leaders in Washington. “We (will) take our navy up to 350 ships, (instead of) going to 247.
“At 350, China can’t match us in the Pacific. At 247 ships, we can’t fight a two-ocean war; we gave up the Pacific. If you face them with a military that is modern, gigantic, overwhelming and unbelievably good at conventional and asymmetric warfare, they may challenge it, but I doubt it.”
So, I guess the USS Trump is not going the abandon Asia after all. On the contrary, it’s going to re-engage with a battleship instead of a trade deal, in true Ronald Reagan Cold War fashion.
This unsettling conclusion is reinforced by the first of Trump’s appointments, from the FT:
Personnel is policy, as they say in Washington. By that measure the appointment of Stephen Bannon as Donald Trump’s White House chief strategist marks a stunning watershed in US politics. As the chief enabler of the rise of the alt-right — via the hardline conservative Breitbart News, which Mr Bannon ran until he was tapped to head Mr Trump’s campaign — his elevation tells us a lot about how Mr Trump plans to govern.
Imagine if after his 2008 victory Barack Obama had appointed the Reverend Jeremiah Wright — his controversial former pastor and a fiery black nationalist — as senior White House counsellor and you get some flavour of the shock value. To put it bluntly, an ethno-nationalist will be at the heart of Mr Trump’s White House.
The implications of Mr Bannon’s role are enormous. Members of the alt-right, which is a shadowy group of internet-driven outfits that disdain even the most Jacobin strains of Republican conservatism, celebrated the news on social media.
…Mr Bannon will be in immediate conflict with Reince Priebus, the mainstream Republican who will be Mr Trump’s White House chief of staff. Crucially, Mr Bannon will be reporting directly to Mr Trump rather than to Mr Priebus, which will give him the chance to change the president’s mind on decisions already taken.
The alt-right has strongly nationalistic foreign policy leanings. That’s not necessarily a bad thing given it will push back the neo-conservatives that have had the US gallivanting around the world forcing regime changes all over for successive administrations but it comes with its own problems, not least being great power conflict!
Meanwhile, Penny Wong wants to disengage from the USS Trump, via Peter Hartcher:
The Labor party has decided to step back from Donald Trump’s America and reassess while putting more emphasis on Asia, a break in the longstanding bipartisan consensus towards Australia’s chief ally.
While stating that Labor remains committed to the alliance with the US, the party’s foreign affairs spokerperson, Penny Wong, says that “we should not be naïve”.
“We are at a change point, and face the possibility of a very different world and a very different America,” she writes in an opinion piece for Fairfax Media.
“We need to consider a broader range of scenarios than was previously within contemplation.”
…It is time for Australia to work more closely with countries in Asia, she says.
“We need to work with our regional partners during this period of uncertainty to identify areas of common interest and jointly seek to influence US thinking on these,” Senator Wong writes.
First amongst these, she says, is how to keep the US constructively engaged in Asia: “Put simply, Australia needs a better road map in Asia.”
This is consistent with the urgings of Labor elder statesmen such as the foreign affairs minister in the Hawke government, Gareth Evans, who this week has advised: “Less America. More Asia.”
Sounds pretty naive to me. After two decades of ignoring South East Asia we’re going to stroll back in and “engage”? Don’t get me wrong, it’s the right thing to do, I just wouldn’t expect a marvelous response.
As for China, we’re already very heavily engaged. We need to be limiting our exposure there.
The reason for that is obvious. If the USS Trump is going to pivot a muscled up military to the Asia Pacific, specifically to cow a rising strategic rival in China, then we can expect all sorts of unpleasant corollaries:
- US Pacific alliances are going to become more not less active as the US deploys its new China Cold War Pacific fleet in exercises, tests China’s resolve in the South China Sea, tests alliance resolve on the same issues, and generally makes demands along the lines of ‘why are you supporting our strategic rival’, perhaps even on such things as Aussie iron ore building Chinese aircraft carriers;
- demands for military build-ups in allied militaries will accelerate, no doubt sourced from US suppliers and fully integrated with the USS Trump. Australia’s defense bill is going to rocket;
- the US is quite likely to be tough on Chinese trade as well. Indeed, I can’t see why one would bother rebuilding the Pacific fleet if one’s objective is not to basically out-gun, out-spend, out-trade and outright suppress the rise of China.
China is of course likely to respond with a military build-up of its own.
Australia’s great strategic straddle is about to rip not just our trousers in twain but perhaps send a leg either way as well.