Obama’s foreign and defense policies have been assertive, to say the least, especially in the Middle East and the Pacific. He has sanctioned far more unmanned drone strikes than Bush did; extended the security services’ intrusion into Americans’ privacy; allowed the CIA to continue its rendition program; approved trials of accused terrorists by flawed military tribunals; and has not shut Guantánamo Bay.
Moreover, the US is increasing its troop presence in the Pacific at a time when it already has more military force in the region than all other countries combined. Six aircraft carriers, with their accompanying support vessels – indeed, 60% of America’s entire navy – are now stationed in the Pacific.
In addition, Obama’s administration has been conducting talks with the Philippines to increase and enhance naval cooperation. And Singapore has been persuaded to host four advanced naval ships. Australia has established a base for marines in Darwin and another for unmanned spy planes on the Cocos Islands.
That is not all. In a move that has received little or no publicity, congressional Republicans added a clause to the Defense Appropriation Bill for next year requiring the Obama administration to consult with countries in the Western Pacific about stationing even more forces – including tactical nuclear weapons – in the region. Senator Richard Lugar has advised me that since there has been little or no objection to the amendment from the White House, he sees no reason why it will not pass the Senate.
At a recent security conference in Singapore, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta emphasized the American military build-up in the region. Afterwards, he went to Vietnam, allegedly for discussions about the US Navy’s use of Cam Ranh Bay, a major American base during the Vietnam War.
The US, like Australia, denies that all of this adds up to a policy of containment aimed at China. But few in the Western Pacific see it that way.........