USS Trump Pivots to Asia

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.

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  1. Plenue

    Pfft. China cares about waters (more or less) close to China. They won’t be the ones ending fleets to the other side of the world. What they do though is build a lot more of their hypersonic carrier killer missiles and fill the shorelines with launchers.

    1. Patrick

      Yeah, I think China is likely to respond by doubling down on butter over guns. They know that more rapidly growing civilian & industrial infrastructure wins the long game in any great power conflict.

      1. RBHoughton

        Agreed. China’s neighbors will see this as another chapter in the choice of trade or war with China offering the trade and USA the war. We come and propose something that fits with our wishes de jour and the Asians say how interesting whilst discussing it in detail and eventually forming a response amongst themselves to avoid and evade all or most of our intentions.

        If our offer was for better health, education and wealth opportunities we would do better imo. Oz is in a particularly difficult position. A few chaps appear to have made undertakings to the west that the entire population repudiate. They need to have a full and frank domestic discussion before the thousand foreign soldiers along the northern coastline become ten thousand.

    1. Brian Daly

      I was surprised to a degree by this Bannon talk. I know nothing about him, and had no feel for his agenda.

      One surprising thing was his relatively clear dissection of how crony capitalism in the US led to financial crisis. And how unfair it has been to the middle class.

      I am also not familiar with this strain of thought that identifies Judeo-Christian belief and practice as the natural and correct check on the excesses of the finance industry.

      In this short discussion, I got no sense of how specifically Judeo-Christian principals are to exercise this restraining function. Outside of through the hearts of believers who may happen to be charge at these various financial institutions.

      Does he think government regulation is not the correct method of restraint? I somehow don’t think even Jesus will overcome the opportunity to make millions, risk free, by handing off the downside to the taxpayers.

      I also found his arrogance as a “True Believer” chilling on several fronts.

      Like many of Trumps states objectives, reigning in risky actives of financialization seems to stand in opposition to his stated goal of cutting regulation on banks.

      The whole situation seems ripe for disaster.

      I had a shred of hope that even though Trump promised to increase military spending, he would stick a less confrontational, interventionist foreign policy.

      The Trump administration right off the gun appears headed towards a worst of all worlds situation.

      1. tony

        When Jesus found moneylenders at the temple, he drove them out with a whip. Christianity has a long tradition against usury, so that is probably the place to start.

    2. jsn

      I think Trump may be an intuitive master of miss-direction keeping prying eyes off the real action, which in the campaign appeared to emerge from a black box as sudden unexpected results.

      The current fake, if it is that, appears to lead to Curtis Sliwa at Defense!

      1. John Zelnicker

        @jsn – In fact one of the points that Trump made during the campaign is that he thought there was far too much transparency in the area of foreign affairs with the US showing its hand when it might be better if we didn’t do so.

        If he is half the negotiator he claims to be, there will be a ton of misdirection to keep everyone else off balance. I think Carolinian, below, is correct. We will find out what Trump is going to do only when he actually does it.

    3. Carolinian

      But the article says Guiliani is frontrunner to be Sec State, not Bolton. Elsewhere Rudy’s called frontrunner for Attorney General. I’d characterize this article as idle speculation by somebody who knows nothing. We’ll find out what Trump is going to do when it does it–same for appointments. Trump did say he wanted to beef up the military during the campaign so that much at least is from the horse’s mouth.

      1. Katharine

        This sounds exactly right. The only thing we can do at this stage is docket what is said and done and try to get clear which members of Congress may be most useful to us in different connections. Speculation about hypothetical developments that may only be conjured up as smokescreens for some other development entirely is a waste of time and energy.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        Rudy is not frontrunner for the AG. You are out of date. There are lots of articles today (NYT, WSJ, including a NYT editorial) on the objections to the idea of Giuliani as SoS.

        1. Brad

          Right, and Trump may back down, but Giuliani shows where Bannon-Trump want to go. The whole elite from Obama to Bannon agree on the pivot against China plus a second front. The disagreement is over which second front – the ME or Russia? But nobody is seriously pushing for three fronts, not even Americans are that crazy. Watch the relation of Bannon-Trump to Saudi Arabia. that’s where all the contradictions of their politics concentrate.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            One of my colleagues said. believe it or not, that he’s rather have Giuliani as SoS than in any domestic position he’d be up for (AG or Homeland Security) because Giuliani would crack down on civil liberties and would seek to integrate local policing with national policing and surveillance.

  2. different clue

    What a stupid brainless ass. What exactly is the point of seeking decent relations with the Other Great Nuclear Weapons State if one turns around and seeks bad relations with the Second Other Greatest Nuclear Weapons State after that?

    I guess Trump really is just as stupid and not-smart as I noted months ago in these comments. Wharton or no Wharton ( or wherever it is he went to school), he is just an idiot-savant who knows how to grub for money. The fact that he would appoint to State someone like Giuliani who is too proudly stupid to understand what the real ecoNOMic aggression and colonialization issues which China presents really are . . . indicates that Trump is too stupid to think. Or even know what thinking is.

    My God! If pieces of shit like Giuliani at State are what we get from President Trump, then I might as well have voted for the Working Class Party candidate here in Michigan. What was the point of stopping the Clinton before it kills again, if Trump is just a right-wing Clintonite anyway, and appoints a whole bunch of Clintonite-under-the-skin garbage dirt filth like Giuliani to sensitive and important cabinet posts?

    War-with-China is NOT what Middle America voted for. But if that’s what Middle America gets, it will bring to mind the old saying about voting: ” They told me if I voted for Goldwater, I’d get a land war in Vietnam. Well . . . that’s what I did. And that’s what I got.”

    If Trump has any people reading these threads, I hope they take the following message back to Trump: Please don’t be such a feco-cephalic as to appoint a piece of fece like Giuliani to State.

    1. jgordon

      Look on the bright side! At least Giuliano is better than Victoria Nuland.

      We were screwed no matter who won in 2016. Since the Democrats look as if they’re committed to suiciding and Trump is giving every appearance of being as big and worthless a sellout as Obama, let’s start a new party. I thought of a name for it: the Deplorable Party!

      Rules for membership:

      1. Nationalism/America first.
      2. No corporate funding
      3. No identity politics or social issues.
      4. No war, period.

      How about it?!

      1. different clue

        If somebody actually believes this is worth trying, and is serious about it, and would expend more better effort for the Deplorable Party then for any other Party or officeseeker; then I in all seriousness believe they should go right ahead and try it.

        At the worst, it would be an experiment which goes nowhere.

    2. Andrew Watts

      When did the Republicans say they would reduce tensions with Russia? The House Foreign Affairs Committee just passed the ‘Caesar’ Syrian Civilian Protection Act of 2016. The legislation calls for an assessment of a no-fly zone to be imposed on Syria within 90 days after it’s been passed.

      Question: “Can we impose a no-fly zone in Syria without going to war with Russia/China/Iran?”

      Answer: “Nope!”

      This isn’t anything I’m worried about. The no-fly zone was always some half-cocked idea used as an attempt to intimidate Assad into resigning. However, that doesn’t mean the Republicans are going to suddenly find themselves open to any reconciliation with Russia regardless of Trump.

      1. jgordon

        Trump is solely responsible for foriegn policy now. The Republicans could legislate that pink unicorns live on the moon for all the good it’ll do them. Of course, if Trump goes along with this nonsense that’s different. I still don’t think Trump is insane though.

        1. skippy

          Running for preznit on a lark because his reality TV show had diminishing returns and thought harassing his viewer base could transcend to the political sphere, where win or lose it would increase or safeguard his brand name….. call it what you want….

          Disheveled Marsupial…. imagine Obama without inhibition and a use car salesman mentality…. wheeeee….

          1. jgordon

            He did win the presidency against most expectation (the Satanic occultists I follow on YouTube were predicting a certain Trump win all along), a strong indication that he’s doing something right.

            If he is totally incompetent then his competition was even more incompetent than he is. Plus, now the faux left should be mobilizing the antiwar and civil liberties fervor that’s been mysteriously missing under the Obama regime. Let’s see how it goes.

            1. skippy

              Whether damage can be done to the Duopoly or not remains to be seen, its a Flexian thingy. So far someone has only passed gas in the Green Room and it seems the script writers have become increasingly desperate to concoct new episodes.

    3. lyman alpha blob

      China wouldn’t challenge 350 ships sez Ghouliani? He’s probably half right – China probably isn’t stupid enough to stretch their economy thin by trying to build 350 + ships of their own. 350 missiles though? Put those together and we’ve got the start of a new Pacific reef. See – Trump and the Ghoul are environmentalists not warmongers!

      My guess is this is just pork and throwing a bone to the MIC. It’ll be like the F-35 but in the ocean!

      1. craazyboy

        I have been wondering how the USG expects to win an arms race with China, who has about 1 billion slave laborers to deploy on the effort, if we pushed them that direction. And if half of them would be making cruise missiles, we are doubly toast.

        We really need to put our old dinosaurs out to pasture. They can dress up like WW2 Generals and play out their global dominance fantasies all they want. Just don’t bother us with them.

        1. integer

          Seeing these types live in a bubble anyway, how about a Truman Show style free-range enclosure for these guys? Their actions would be decoupled from having any effect on the real world, and they could go on thinking that they are the rulers of the world. John McCain, Henry Kissinger et al. would be free to start all the virtual wars they want! Also, ensuring that their illusion is maintained would be a great jobs program.

        2. pictboy3

          Probably because the Chinese are reliant on other countries for raw materials, most of them in the US camp.

          1. makedoanmend

            Russia is a pretty good supply of raw materials and misguided US foreign policy has been pushing the “neighbors” together pretty solidly these last 5+ years. If this the belligerent tone contintues, I suspect the ties might just solidfy further.

            Not really smart. Not at all.

          2. Lord Koos

            How many factories does the US have compared to the Chinese, I wonder? We beat the Germans in WWII because we could manufacture the Sherman tank faster than their tanks could blow them up. Hard to imagine something like that happening with China.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        I saw a presentation eight years ago by a Canadian Naval official. He said China has surpassed the US in ship construction and already on track to shortly have more ships than the US in terms of #s. Of course, this is not a measure of their size (as in carrying/fire power) but the raw stats sounded pretty alarming.

        1. Patrick

          These days, bigger isn’t better when it comes to navy anyway. Pretty much the whole world is building guided missile destroyers.

        2. RBHoughton

          I guess I am an optimist. I am ever hopeful that those people whose authoritative mindset has brought the world to its present poor situation will begin to wonder whether they have got it right.

          Recognition of error is the first step to rehabilitation.

          If that’s the case, Chinese investment in war equipment will stop when the West stops.

        3. Ben

          What is not clarified is that the modern fleets of ships China has been building is a replacement for its 40 year old vintage fleets currently still in service.

      3. Synoia

        China will pivot to Central Asia, build roads and railways there, abandon shipping by sea, export to the America’s via Antwerp and Rotterdam, and continue to extract jobs from the US, aided by US corporation looking for cheap slave labor.

        It might also provide virus infected parts for the US’ IOdioT roll-out, and military equipment.

    4. Sandy

      Mission already accomplished from my POV and we’re not even at inauguration yet. A clear message has been sent around the world: America can no longer be relied upon. Rather than a stable cop, we’re a bunch of wild idiots who don’t know what we want (look at the contrast: Obama to Trump). I’ve been reading international papers for reaction, and it’s all going how I planned. They’re questioning their reliance on the US for military backing and realizing it’s naive to count on us when we’re in societal decline. How can they expect a bunch of poor people in Middle America without mere health insurance to hand over their sons and their taxes to fight their battles, what with their strong social benefits and what not?!

      There’s a Spiegel article in today’s Links, and there’s Australian op-eds about pulling away from America and questioning the alliance more. I even wrote to professors of foreign policy in Australia earlier this year warning them that Americans have no allegiance to this alliance, and most aren’t even aware of it; such a counter to the way Australian leaders speak of ANZUS with reverence! Now, they realize, their “shared values” with the US are actually quite opposed. There’s also no chance that Japan, Korea, etc engage fully with the US in aggression towards China. USS Trump will be left idling in the Pacific, all alone, while Asia gets on with global leadership and production versus destruction.

      Mission accomplished. Stop relying on us. Let’s see how amazing your social welfare system is when you have to pay for your own defense. We are the ones here with the geographic advantage, to hell with the one-sided “alliance system.”

      Trump could be a lame duck on Day 1 but the message of his election has already done enough.

      1. pretzelattack

        we weren’t “fighting their battles” for the most part, although we always claimed to be, evoking images of us soldiers being met by flowers extended from a grateful populace.

  3. integer

    I will just point out that the leader of the Australian Labor Party, Bill Shorten, was recently on TV saying that Australia should be conducting “freedom of navigation exercises” with the US Navy in the South China Sea. Of course this was when Clinton was considered a sure thing and so was the TPP. Penny Wong’s statement indicates a 180˚ pivot from this position on the basis of Trump’s win. I will also point out for the record that Penny Wong is a member of the LGBT cohort, which I would not feel the need to do had Clinton’s campaign not been so focused on this issue.

    The media in Australia parroted the US corporate media and showed shameless favoritism to Clinton during the election, including during the primaries. Also, successive Australian governments (with the exception of Rudd/Swan) have been economically illiterate/dishonest and happily allowed Australia’s economy to be strip-mined by the usual Western suspects, as well as China. It will be very interesting to see how all this shakes out for Australia.

    1. integer

      Navy should be authorised for freedom of navigation in South China Sea: Marles
      October 7 2016

      Australia’s navy and airforce should be “fully authorised” to conduct freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea, including within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands built by China, according to Labor defence spokesman Richard Marles…

      In July, Mr Shorten said: “The international tribunal’s decision should be the final ruling in the matter and therefore we should be authorising our defence forces to engage in freedom of navigation operations in international waters.”

      1. JTMcPhee

        And what does “freedom of navigation” actually mean?

        To the military of the West, it means “the global commons,” which is not at all the benign notion that decent people might take it to mean:

        A few days ago I received notice of a New America Foundation (NAF) hosted conference in Washington, D.C. called “Beyond Primacy: Rethinking American Grand Strategy and the Command of the Commons.” At the conference NAF released a formal report on the subject: Whither Command of the Commons? Choosing Security Over Control.

        The authors, Sameer Lalwani, Research Fellow at NAF and Joshua Shifrinson, Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School explained their perspective, “This paper… takes U.S. command of the commons as a given, but asks whether there are less costly and more appropriate ways to achieve it in an increasingly multi-polar world.” “Command of the commons”, they explain, means “the ability to project military power and engage in trade at times and places of its choosing while denying the same privileges to others.”

        For us commoners the idea that we would take military command of the commons “as a given” is both infuriating and preposterous. Which raises the question. Why did they use the word at all? There was no pressing need. The thesis, that the United States can no longer afford to spend trillions of dollars to maintain an armed presence everywhere on the planet and can no longer dictate to the rest of the world and must devise ways to cooperate without undermining our security, could have been just as well presented without using the term. Substitute the words “the seas” for “maritime commons” and the argument doesn’t suffer.

        But NAF self-consciously did use the word “commons”, indeed so extravagantly that it was repeated more than 200 times in this brief 21 page document, twice as many times, interestingly, as they used the word “military”. So they are making a point. But what is the point?

        A commons is widely accepted to have certain characteristics. Resources are collectively owned and shared. A commons is inclusive rather than exclusive. People can access it on a more or less equal basis. Benefits are equitably shared. A commons is meant to be preserved. The military has a structure and a mission antithetical to the preservation and expansion of the commons. To call for the military to command the commons is to call for its weakening and decline. Perhaps the authors recognize this since the piece talks only about commanding the commons. There is nothing about protecting the commons.

        The NAF report focuses on the “maritime commons” but never mentions the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), a legal document that emerged from a movement to recognize the seas and the sea beds as commons to be used for the benefit of humanity, equitably shared.

        In 1970, the United Nations declared the seabed, ocean floor, and subsoil to be:

        “The common heritage of mankind… (T)he exploitation of its resources shall be carried out for the benefit of mankind as a whole, irrespective of the geographical location of states, whether landlocked or coastal, and taking into particular consideration the interests and needs of the developing countries… ([It ensured) the equitable sharing (of its) benefits.”

        Given its support of the military commanding the commons it would have been instructive to hear NAF’s perspective on the U.S. involvement in negotiations over the UNCLOS. Carol Thompson Professor of International Political Economy at the Northern Arizona University offers insights into that history. She writes,

        “The apparent first act for enclosure of the seas was by President Harry Truman, who declared in 1945 that the United States had the exclusive right to exploit its territorial waters, defined as on or under the continental shelf. From 1945 to 1957, 41 other enclosure declarations or laws were enacted by various countries. In response, by 1956, landlocked countries started discussions for a United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) to halt these national territorial claims.”….

        Freedom, my arse.

      2. Edd

        And Australia is rejecting the authority of international tribunal that Timor is bringing Australia to for their dispute over their entitlement of resources and boundary of the sea between them.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    Out of the Clinton/Nuland frying pan, into the ….

    What worried me most about Trumps election was not Trump, but who he would surround himself with. And while this bunch isn’t exactly the worst possible (just think Bolton), it don’t look good either.

    What does seem a bit off about an Asia strategy is that his economic strategy alone could plunge China into crisis. A fast rising dollar with more protectionism is a terrible mix for China as the Yuan will never be able to maintain its de facto peg, and any devaluation is likely to lead to major capital outflows at just the wrong time. While this may seem good to the Bannons of this world, a China in crisis is a China that will seek solace in ultra nationalism – and China has plenty of people in power who would have no hesitation in using military force on their neighbours. And they may figure the best time to strike is while the US is still heavily tied up in the Middle East. I feel for my Taiwan friends, this is not good news for them.

    I doubt Trump thinks strategically enough for this, but the only hope if they follow this line is that it is a cover for a rapid Middle Eastern/European disengagement. Despite the rhetoric, I get the impression that there is a Trumpian strand of right wing thought that quite likes and admires Putin. This may be an attempt to out hawk the neocon hawks as a strategy for a broader disengagement. Surely the smarter heads in the Republican party know full well that to go, for example, for a 350 ship Navy will be prohibitively expensive – the DD(X) destroyers are $4 billion each and don’t seem to work very well in rough seas, which seems a bit of a problem. Increasing Navy numbers is pointless if the Chinese can put holes in carrier landing decks, and nobody will know if they can do that until the war goes hot.

    This is also super bad news for Australia. They are caught between historic alliances with the US and a dependence on China trade. There is no easy way out for them.

    1. Jim Haygood

      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.”

      Suddenly landlubber Guiliani is an old salt, just as the eclownomist Greenspan once transformed himself overnight into a natural gas analyst. Americans are nothing if not intellectually agile. ;-)

      Guiliani sounds just like ol’ Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan’s defense secretary. In fact, Giuliani might be plagiarizing Cap’s old speeches — we had better look into this.

      Windmill tilts such as building a 350 ship navy are precisely the sort of economic idiocy the 1980s Soviet Union would have engaged in. Massive, negative rate-of-return malinvestments are how one completes the euthanasia of the middle class.

      There’s a word for countries like the US and Australia, who are always spoiling for a scrap outside their borders: LOSERS.

    2. integer

      My understanding is that the Australian economy is now highly dependent on Chinese investment, to the point where it is a national security issue imo. Venal Australian politicians thought they could have the best of both worlds by using the US alliance to guarantee security in the region while allowing unchecked foreign investment from China, some of which is directly controlled by the CCP.

    3. craazyboy

      “for a 350 ship Navy will be prohibitively expensive – the DD(X) destroyers are $4 billion each and don’t seem to work very well in rough seas”

      It’s our stealth self-sinking boat! Plus, it can shoot $1 million guided projectiles up to 80 miles. No missiles needed!

      Next, Lockheed-Martin has a submarine on the drawing boards!

      1. RMO

        Well, it could shoot the $1 million rounds if the Navy were willing to buy them… I bet anyone in the high command of the militaries of the nations that are currently the official “bad guys” in Washington’s opinion have been pissing themselves laughing at the U.S. weapons programs for the last couple of decades. I’m sure they can see the extent to which it’s just an exercise in graft.

        Maybe Lockheed-Martin can just copy the design of the Zumwalt class, install larger seacocks to allow quicker scuttling and call it a submarine. Oh hell, why not just give the big military contractors the key to Fort Knoxx and some free trucks to haul away the gold?

      2. Synoia

        Next, Lockheed-Martin has a submarine on the drawing boards!

        Well, sort of. It also flies at supersonic speeds.

        1. abynormal

          that’s plan B for these costly leaks: the Coronado, which was built at Austal’s Mobile, Alabama, manufacturing facility, is just the latest of the LCS ships to be hampered by engineering problems. On July 11, the USS Freedom, a Freedom-Class LCS built by Lockheed Martin in Wisconsin, had seawater leak into one of its main diesel propulsion systems and was forced to return to port for repairs. In January, the USS Fort Worth, another Lockheed-built ship also suffered propulsion issues after engineers attempted to use gears without adequately oiling them. The subsequent damage will cost $23 million to repair, according to the Navy.

          Similarly, the Lockheed-built USS Milwaukee broke down after metallic debris was discovered in its filtering system, which subsequently damaged the ship’s clutch system.

          While teething problems are expected on newly built ships, the extent of the issues experienced aboard the Navy’s newest ships are largely unprecedented in modern shipbuilding, and have subsequently brought the ire of Congressional detractors who believe the entire $15 billion project too expensive and unnecessary.

    4. Sandy

      If Australia were smart they’d be hiring some policy consultants from Switzerland now to figure out how neutrality works.

      Don’t buy the “huge land mass, small population” line. Think of Australia as a chain of islands and the dusty Outback as sea water. The Chinese could build a colony somewhere in central Australia and it wouldn’t matter. The capital cities can be defended, and the sea lanes could be protected with an air force. But why would China shut down those sea lanes anyhow? It would choke their own economy not having access to those commodities.

  5. pretzelattack

    so, we were actually voting for a choice between a war with china or a war with russia. or maybe a war with russia with china joining in on russia’s side, versus a war with china with russia joining in on china’s side.

    1. Andrew Watts

      I believe that’s called the horns of a dilemma. Or maybe the Thucydides trap? Both can be applied equally.

      “Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too.” -Marcus Aurelius

    1. Liberal Mole

      Don’t we get 1/3 of our steel from China at this point? I guess the government will have to commandeer those billionaire mega-yachts instead to do their patrols, ala Dunkirk.

    2. Tom Skowronski

      todde: I agree. We do not have the shipyards to build this many. We would have to buy them from Korea or Japan.

  6. Aumua

    Imagine this: “Secretary of State Rudy Giuliani.” Ok, now open your eyes. What else really needs to be said?

    1. EndOfTheWorld

      Trump himself was saying that stuff about a bigger naval fleet in his campaign speeches toward the end. I thought he was just trying to get votes in ship building/naval states. But now Rudy is saying this is the real plan, apparently. Before they build all these ships, they should ascertain that the American technology is actually superior to the Chinese technology. It’s been reported that a lot of our recent weaponry is substandard.

      Anything that comes out of the transition team right now is not necessarily the gospel truth. Could be they’re just giving China something to think about before negotiations begin. If they can scare China a little without actually spending the money on a lot of ships, that would be Trump’s style.

  7. Other James

    The Australian government, formerly under Tony Abbot, and now Malcom Turnbull, is being dragged into a rightwing vortex not dissimilar to the one that ate the Republican Party. The major difference is that the minor parties that represent the extreme right hold the balance of power in the Senate, the ability to amend and stop legislation, a position they are using to their maximum advantage.

    On the other hand, the opposition Labor Party is probably the last true ‘third world’ centrist neo-liberal party in the world, and their polling shows it. At the most recent election, this year, they were still beaten by an incoherent and fractured government, and their popularity, particularly of their leader, Bill Shorten, is way into negative territory.

    So how will Australia respond to the Trump ascendancy? Certainly not with any clear sighted revision of Australia’s role in the emerging world order. Much more likely to kicking cans down the road, ducking for cover where possible, sending contradictory messages to Asian and empire governments alike, and in the end somehow managing to diminish itself from its current middle order status. And if the property bubble bursts, the entire focus of the country will turn towards navel gazing. Which might be better than naval gazing, since we only have one supply ship, two canoes, and a few low-tech subs we’re trying to replace.

    1. integer

      Yep. Whatever happens I just hope that (the vast majority of) Australia’s politicians and their sycophants suffer.

      1. integer

        Adding: When the time is right I plan to do my part to make sure history is not kind to these greedy, shortsighted, and hubristic pricks. I am significantly younger than them and I have a long memory.

  8. Clive

    If these beltway types spent, oh, about five minutes in any of the Asian countries they are trying to “pivot” to and actually took time to listen to what the people (and governments) of those countries think, they’d realise that an aggressive and interventionist US is viewed with the same concern / despair as an aggressive and interventionist China. First rule of advertising and marketing — known since, oh, the 1950’s at least — if you are to create a compelling proposition, you have to at least make out like you’re giving people something better. “Try new, improved Tide Ultra — better than the other leading brand”.

    1. Sandy

      Agree, see my comment above. Our “allies” are not interested in aggression towards China. This plan is DOA.

    2. Emma

      Trump isn’t yet in the White House so I’ll refrain from making (extreme!) judgements and remain cautious instead. However, the people he would appear to be surrounding himself with are not the types to entertain any form of a different distribution of global power than they’ve been used to in more recent historical times. Like you Clive, I’m concerned too that there may well be an increased risk (to the whole world) they view the region in the simplest terms of a US-v-China scenario and apply policies to suit without valuable and beneficial regard to those other interdependent and neighboring nations within the region.
      There are today a few key emerging and converging challenges posed by global economic integration and climate change which are effecting us all. So during this volatile period of great transformation, in place of an antagonistic approach, steering us towards a multilateral one which emphasizes partnership would be wise and most advantageous.

  9. DJG

    As usual, and as was the case in the Obama administration, we have loads of civilians who know nothing about history and nothing about tactics dragging us toward war. A “two-ocean war”? It sounds like something from the oracle of Delphi:

    An empire in a two-ocean war. Many risks. What is the will of the master of the world ocean, Poseidon?

    [And just as the knuckleheads in among the conserva-Dems wanted to drag us into a land war in Iran, so that we can complete the set and have seven or nine land wars going in the Middle East and the Maghreb these knuckleheads think that we will waltz into China and force a surrender. And then we can bring all of those t-shirt factories back home as plunder. This is the same failure of the credentialed class, just in the snarling Republican style.]

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      The two-ocean war capability sounds very familiar. The Army is supposed to need a capability to engage enemies in two theaters — or something to that effect. These kinds of policy statements usually flow out the mission and capability assessments which originate from the military establishment. I believe these assessments represent military intent much less than they represent procurement and funding line intent. Worse still, I worry that procurements and funding line issues long ago swamped out any genuine concerns for building quality weapons and only engaging in wars serving the best interests of Empire — not that I’m in favor of either enterprise. I feel that the profit motive has taken primacy.

      If one faction of our military and “diplomatic” elite sees their bread buttered by their take from combat engagements and another faction sees their bread buttered by costly procurements — designed for cost rather than their military effectiveness — we could too easily find ourselves sucked into a dangerous war contrary to our Imperial interests and have only costly and ill-suited weapons to use in our defense.

  10. DJG

    I object to this false equivalence from the Financial Times:

    “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.”

    Jeremiah Wright is a lot of things but “black nationalist” isn’t exactly one of them. Yes, he was infected by the vulgar anti-Semitism that is all-too-common among the black community–and reinforced, by the way, by Christianity. Yet if you listen to the “controversial” sermon, Wright was saying that America is damned because racism is at the base of the society and its history. And voilà, the vulgar racism of the Republican Party.

    I worked with people who attended Wright’s church. He didn’t mince words, and sometimes, it was highly amusing. I recall one of my co-workers reporting a sermon about black-on-black crime, along the lines of: “And then Reverend Wright said, ‘Those Polacks don’t go around hitting each other on the head and stealing things.’ ” Then she looked at me. Ooops. In that case, it was funny, revealing, and harmless. Wright is no Bannon. But it makes the Financial Times seem wise to equate the black experience with the distemper of our local sketchy vulgarian “white nationalists.” This is how “white nationalism” will be made to seem normal. Hey, black people do it!

    1. Rhondda

      I growled when I read that passage as well. I don’t think the media is trying to normalize “white nationalism” — I think they’re trying to form a tire, set it on fire and hang it around Steve Bannon’s — and by extension Trumps — neck.

      Initially I thought when I heard his name, “Isn’t Steve Bannon Johnny Quest’s dad?” And then as I woke up this morning, it came to me: Johnny Quest’s dad’s name was Race Bannon. Ha ha ha. That’s a 10 bagger (of the propaganda kind: ‘priming’) for sure.

      I read those Podesta emails and my takeaway was the media is completely p3wned by the Clintonites — or whatever we want to call it. The Borg, as Pat Lang says? As I have watched the social contagion hysteria crest over the last few months and then boil over in the last few days, I can see that the media is like the Clintons — putting on a purple suit. But the propaganda and lies and the people pushing them all remain the same.

      1. RMO

        Geez, how often do I have to answer the REALLY important questions that come up here before people listen? As I pointed out yesterday Jonny (“Jonny” is the correct spelling) Quest’s dad was Dr. Benton Quest. “Race” Bannon was the secret agent/pilot/bodyguard assigned to the Quest family! Those who forget their past are doomed. This is important stuff people! :-)

        What are the kids learning in school these days anyways? I bet most of them couldn’t remember all the words to the Gilligan’s Island theme song! It just makes me despair.

    2. Katharine

      Wright is a Calvinist preacher in a tradition going back to Jonathan Edwards and beyond, totally intelligible to anyone who ever sat through a few brimstone sermons in their youth, and actually milder than many. The mainstream media never wanted to acknowledge that because it didn’t fit their preferred narrative, which ran on a strong undercurrent of racism. Apparently the Financial Times still likes that narrative, which is interesting information about it.

  11. flora

    Trump’s military ‘pivot to Asia’ announcement could be used to distract or mollify cold-warriors, divide their attentions, while tensions with Russia are lowered. Just a guess.

    Interesting interview with Stephen Cohen:

    “If Trump moves to heal ties with Russia, establishment will oppose him fiercely.”

    “[Stephen Cohen]: I don’t know how much time we have, but let me step back for a minute, because we need the context. One issue on which Trump was very different from Mrs. Clinton and from the whole foreign policy establishment, was on our relationship with Russia. We now – this is me speaking, not Trump – we are in a Cold War much more dangerous than the 40-year long Cold War that we fought and ended. There are three places where Russia and America could very easily suddenly be in a hot war. That’s the Baltic regions, that’s Ukraine and that’s Syria. Trump has said that he wants to do something about it to improve it. What he said is very fragmentary, but very different from what other people have said. He says he wants to work with President Putin, he said he thinks it would be great if Russia and the U.S. united to fight terrorism in Syria. He hasn’t said anything about Ukraine. These are pressing issues. If Trump were to move, and he shouldn’t do this publicly, he should begin privately but if he were to move towards a detente, as we used to call it, a reduction of conflict in a relationship with Russia and to open cooperation, let’s say, in Syria – he will find himself opposed by a fierce and powerful pro-Cold War coalition, Democratic and Republican, and including the media, here in the U.S. He will have to fight very hard. The other side of that story is, is that foreign policy is the one area where an American President can do things pretty much on his own. He doesn’t need Congressional support unless he wants a treaty. The question is, is Trump really going to do it, and you might ask, if President Putin is ready for this – I think he is! Whether Trump will now move – we’ll see.”

    1. Rhondda

      I lean toward what you suggest — that this may be a distraction for the entrenched powers that would otherwise align themselves in opposition. Like I said of that asshat Bolton yesterday — a chew toy thrown to the dawgs.

  12. pictboy3

    I take a much more hawkish view on Asia than most of the commentariat here. I think we’ve spent so much time calling out the US (and rightly so) for its hypocrisies and generally poor decisions, that we seem to think that the rest of the world is a benign community of responsible powers, that would just get along if only America wasn’t sticking its nose in everyone’s business.

    The truth is that there’s plenty of bad in the world, and we’re probably not responsible for even half of it. China is an extremely nationalist, authoritarian state, that shows every intention of expanding its influence outward. Containment was always going to be the least worst option with regards to them, unless you believe that somehow an authoritarian state held together by a booming economy and imperial nostalgia would just decide one day that they don’t mind letting their neighbors continue on without interference.

    What are the other scenarios? We back off and let them have their way, either prompting an arms race in the area with South Korea and Japan, and perhaps some of the other SE nations, or allowing them to get absorbed into the Chinese orbit (something I very much doubt most of them want). Or we can try and wait them out and hope the next couple generations of Chinese aren’t as interested in the imperial dream. From what my cousin who lives there tells me, that isn’t likely to happen. And even if it did, you would likely see an internal power struggle that could erupt and drag all the regional players into it anyway. And all of this is assuming there isn’t some kind of economic meltdown in China which creates all kinds of chaos.

    If it were me in charge of our foreign policy, I’d be doing something very similar. Normalize relations with the Russians, which we should have done after the 90s when we had our best opportunity to do so, and put up a harder front towards the Chinese, a converse of what we did with detente in the 70s. Russia, whatever its faults, is a democracy and far closer to the west in terms of politics and culture than perhaps they would like to admit. China is not, and almost no authoritarian regime gives up its power without some kind of struggle. I think the question for us is, do we want that struggle to be in a weakened China with limited reach, or a China that has its tentacles spread throughout the entire region, if not further?

    1. integer

      I have similar concerns about China, which I briefly referenced in a reply to PlutoniumKun’s comment above. It (my reply) is currently in moderation.

    2. JTMcPhee

      …and so the Realists(tm) make the pitch for the ineluctable necessity of continuing the Great Game, under bare-knuckles-in-purple-velvet gloves …

      “Wir konnen nicht anders,” and so we die… dragged down by our appetites and idiocies..;

      1. pictboy3

        The Great Game continues on forever, the only thing that changes are the players. And if you’re not a player, you’re simply a pawn.

    3. olga

      Greatly disagree with your viewpoint – “We back off and let them have their way…” The answer is yes – back off … and perhaps try some cooperation for a change. Why is everything in the west always framed in terms of threats, enemies, competition, winners and losers…? Have you thought about that? Might another world not be possible? One of cooperation and benefits to most. The world you seem to favour guarantees spoils for corporations only – and not the regular folk (they only get wars and deprivation). It makes me wonder whether Trump’s easing of tensions w Russia is just a sideshow – to pry Russia out of the Chinese orbit, while fundamentally not giving up on the hegemonic outlook. I hope the Russians understand that… (And you seem not to notice that out-competing China in its on neighbourhood is a futile undertaking… inching up its way to 1.5 bil in population and huge investments in infrastructure, education, and rising living standards, China is a formidable foe (if one insists on defining it as a foe) – so go ahead and try to outdo it… remember Soviet Union in Afghanistan…?)

      1. pictboy3

        We’ve been cooperating with them since the 90s. After all, normalizing trade relations with them is what spurred their economy and has enabled their massive economic gains. And what exactly has it gotten us? Most of their population is still in poverty, while our economy has been hollowed out to the point that the military warns of deindustrialization as a national security threat. Meanwhile, they’re trying to claim the entire South China sea as their exclusive economic zone in one of the most transparently ridiculous territorial claims of all time, and building up their military to back up those claims, and they’re constantly probing the Japanese over the Senkakus, trying to put their foot in the door to claim jurisdiction over them.

        The Chinese are simply more patient than we are, but don’t mistake that for a lack of ambition. They’re currently using demography as a weapon against the Tibetans and Uighurs, with the aim of importing enough Han that the native ethnicities become minorities in their own homelands. And you should ask the Vietnamese how interested the Chinese are in cooperation.

        I’m all for cooperation, but that should mean we go into things with our eyes open. China is run by a corrupt, authoritarian clique. We spend so much ink wringing our hands over the US supporting dictactors in the Middle East, and yet the fact that we have normal economic relations with one of the worst human rights violators in the world might as a well be taboo. Cooperation is just a fig leaf for dividing up the spoils between the US and China, which is what will inevitably happen if we follow your advice. I want a US foreign policy that actually promotes human rights and democracy, rather than using those as excuses for realpolitik. But we don’t get there by simply opening the door for tyrants in closer proximity.

        1. Cluelessfool

          Your attitude would be principled if it actually paid attention to empirical history. Want to emphasize human rights? Start at home and work on the entrenched racism, economic oppression and state sponsored violence. Then magically withdraw US military/CIA coups in minnows like Honduras and Haiti. Go a bit further and stop the cozy relations with noted human rights luminaries like Israel and Saudi Arabia. At least learn the basics of the Dulles Bros , Kissinger, and the newer generation of humanitarian interventionists before cheering on one more dumb military buildup.

          And really, based on Trump’s donors, you’d think the combover in chief would target Iran first. Sheldon Adel son would cheer it on. I just hope it does not happen.

          At the end of the day these BS military threat articles are just veiled advertisements for the MIC.

    4. Edd

      The U.S. aReady has some eight hundred military foreign bases half of which around China, 60% of US navy off the shores of China. You must be on drugs or alcohol to claim US is giving way to China.

      1. pictboy3

        I’m well aware of our current positions around China. What I’m arguing against are commentators here that want us to just up sticks and leave the entire region, as if that would help anything. And I don’t understand why on earth we continue to trade with them and support their economy when they’ve simply used that wealth to try and challenge the security status quo there that’s been in place for decades, making all their neighbors incredibly jumpy in the process.

        In Europe, it’s us who have been pushing the boundaries continually up to the Russians doorstep. It’s no wonder they’re acting defensively. But it’s not us who have been expanding our presence in SE asia, at least until very recently. If someone has some evidence to the contrary, I’d be glad to see it, but until then, it seems pretty obvious to me who is trying to expand their influence.

        1. Edd

          How does China challenge the security status quo in Asia? By virtue of China developing into a richer and more advanced economy? It is like someone saying he feels his security challenge because his neighbor becomes more educated, gets better job and richer now. If you are referring to the reclaimed islands in SCS, I think one could not blame it on China for it is a response to American threats of sending frequent naval fleets, nuke subs and surveillance aircrafts to threaten the security of China and US building, expanding more military bases in Philippines, Guam, …
          I suppose China would not take such very serious military threats from US to its security lying down, would you?

  13. rd

    China will continue to focus on asymmetrical warfare technology. If you can take out the US aircraft carriers and the GPS etc. satellites then the US is left with a few boomer subs and cruise missile cruisers. The Chinese can develop those technologies at a fraction of the cost of building a bunch of aircraft carriers.

  14. annie moose

    Trump University official university of the US military.
    Trump steaks official meat of the US military.
    Trump water official drink of the US military.

  15. Brad

    Reading that Bannon clip (thanks) and looking at the Trump Admin’s prospective picks, this is looking more and more like the Double Down on Dumbya (Bush) crowd that were at first so enthused by GW’s Homeland security and Iraq war initiatives, and GW’s pseudo-ignorant cracker demeanor. And then it all went inexplicably bad in Iraq and with the economy. Then horror of horrors the Black Kenyan Muslim Socialist lurched from the shadows into the White House, pied-pipering behind him a decidedly young, secular, feminine and multiracial horde!

    So this befuddled crowd had a sad and got mad at the RINOS. Thanks to the Trump-Clinton combo, they have the WH all to themselves for a historical moment. This time they’re gonna Do Dumbya Right By God!

    So I fully expect a Dumbya Disaster times 2 result. The wild card is Trump himself, a narcissist psychopath who does not care about anything but himself. AKA the ideal American capitalist. Bannon OTOH actually cares about “Judeo-Christian Capitalism”, Fully Robed Capitalism (I claim this as a trademark :-) but Trump would even throw Bannon under the bus if necessary.

    Meanwhile note that Bannon carefully toes the mainstream American imperialist line on Putin, Iran and Israel. (But Saudi Arabia? Maybe boosting defense spending elsewhere to compensate for cutting back on the Jihadist Mothership? Would fit with the Drill Baby Drill policy, thanks Obama, good handoff). They want to “do Bush right” by getting back to the pivot against China before 911 blew up in GWs face. That should mean not getting bogged down elsewhere, as in the ME, but Trump’s team shows every sign of doing just that , doing a “two front war” with Giuliani snapping at the leash. Only difference may be a temporary truce with Putin, which these guys see as a third “front too far” right now. Otherwise this crowd refuses to learn anything. They’ll never return from the China front to deal with Russia. Or else they’ll start something with Iran and never get to China. Putin +1, everybody else zero. Take that Brzezinski!

  16. Patrick H

    I’m not convinced that either the emphasis on law’n’order or the call for a military buildup are really a departure from the campaign rhetoric. Trump repeatedly praised the police and said his administration would have their backs. And he repeatedly promised to expand the military — though he also said it wouldn’t be used as a global policeman.

  17. vidimi

    this is the scariest thing i’ve read about trump yet.

    have we dodged a nuclear world war instigated against russia only to have a nuclear world war instigated against china?

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