So you think Donald Trump is the biggest threat to world peace? And Barack Obama engineered America’s “pivot to Asia”?
It was actually Hillary Clinton, emphasising the necessity of a “strategic turn” for the United States, who launched the pivot to Asia in an October 2011 article titled “America’s Pacific Century”. The tone was martial: “Our military is by far the strongest and our economy is by far the largest.”
The South China Sea duly featured: “Half the world’s merchant tonnage flows through this water”. Informed observers didn’t need a manual to spot Clinton’s subtle cue alerting them to the danger of China’s “nine-dashed line”.
Clinton’s essay preceded Obama’s November 2011 speech to the Australian Parliament in which he officially announced the pivot. The key theme was the US as a “Pacific nation”. The tone was mostly combative. Only after 10 long confrontational paragraphs did a meek “effort to build a cooperative relationship with China” appear.
As a presidential candidate in 2008, Clinton’s tone was way more composed. She admitted that the US budget deficit was largely funded by Chinese purchases of US Treasury bills. She then seemed to be subscribing to the widely held notion in the Beltway that the root of US global hegemony is economic.
Five years later, Clinton had substantially changed her mind to write her pivot essay. The source was none other than the intellectual/conceptual author of the pivot: Kurt Campbell, then US assistant secretary of state for Asia.
Campbell is classic revolving door material – Marshall scholar at Oxford, active duty in the navy, a job at the Pentagon under Bill Clinton, and at the State Department in the first Obama term under Hillary. It took him a full two years to “win” the bureaucracy/intellectual battle inside Foggy Bottom that resulted in Hillary Clinton’s essay and Obama’s speech.
From the beginning, the pivot’s focus was of course China – an attempt to reach a delicate balance between economic partners/strategic rivals. Obama may have been progressively swinging towards “rival”. But, already in mid-2010, the decision had actually been Clinton’s. In a conference in Hanoi, she announced that the US had a “national interest” in “respect for international law in the South China Sea”.
That was the crucial moment when the evolving US-China showdown in the South China Sea actually began – framing the whole subsequent pivot as a provocative, over-militarised gambit liable to spin out of control.
Kurt Campbell is now the CEO of an Asia-centred advisory group. He’s also associated with the Washington think tank Centre for a New American Security (CNAS), a neocon-neoliberalcon mix. It’s CNAS that came up with the geopolitical road map to be adopted by a future President Clinton. Key signatories include Campbell, the godfather of the neocons Robert Kagan, and Michele Flournoy, formerly with the Pentagon and a co-founder of CNAS.
“Extending American Power: Strategies to Expand US Engagement in a Competitive World Order”, as the report is titled, predictably peddles Exceptionalism. It extols “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea – which is code for the US navy forever controlling the sea lanes straddling China’s supply chain. It calls for a no-fly zone in Syria – which would pit the US air force against the Russian air force. And it’s a sucker for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – the China-excluding, Nato-on-trade-style arm of the pivot.
Clinton, the real pivot champion, was of course a huge supporter of the TPP from the start. But during the presidential campaign, she flip-flopped. If elected, there’s no question the TPP will be promoted no holds barred.
Clinton’s CNAS road map made a surreptitious appearance during the first, contentious presidential debate, when she aligned no less than three of the Pentagon/US Strategic Command’s five existential “threats” to the US in the same breath.
While discussing cyberattacks on the US, Clinton managed to expand in one sweep from cyberspace to Full Spectrum Dominance – the official Pentagon doctrine since 2002.
“Whether it’s Russia, China, Iran, or anybody else, the United States has much greater capacity. And we are not going to sit idly by and permit state actors to go after our information, our private sector information or our public sector information,” she said.
The message was clear; the Pentagon is closely watching – in every domain – these three “existential threats” who happen to be the key powers closely involved in Eurasian integration: Russia, China and Iran.
The “Full Spectrum Dominance” doctrine also implies nuclear pre-eminence. The guarantee of a US first nuclear strike – arguably against one of those top Pentagon existential “threats” – is a crucial vector of this doctrine, to which the pivot to Asia is subordinated. No wonder pivot champion Clinton, during the first debate, could not reject the doctrine.
And yet Trump, in one short sentence, actually may have ruled out World War III if he becomes president. He said: “I would certainly not do first-strike”.
The CNAS report is essentially a diluted version of the Pentagon’s Full Spectrum Dominance. China, as well as Russia and Iran, are essentially seen as hostile powers bent on Eurasian integration – standing between America’s “Pacific Century” and an irreversible, tumultuous decline. This is a bipartisan, neocon/neoliberalcon feeling in Washington. And pivoting, nuclear first-strike Clinton is their Great White Hope.