Wednesday, January 28, 2015
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Chuck Hagel — the Asia pivot is still on

By
April 01, 2014 |

Russian troops are massing menacingly on Ukraine’s eastern border. The civil war in Syria is still raging, and 33,000 American troops fight on in Afghanistan. So where is Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel headed this week? To Hawaii – for a meeting with defense ministers from Asia, the region the Obama administration still considers its top foreign policy priority.

“Asia is one of the great success stories of the world,” Hagel told me in an interview in his Pentagon office last week. “There is really today in Asia, in the Asia Pacific region, no open conflict.”

“What’s happened in Ukraine is a good example of brute force, of hard power,” he said. “(And) hard-power conflict is always going to be with us.”

But the administration remains convinced that deploying “soft power” tools of diplomacy, security cooperation and trade can often prevent hard-power showdowns. In that realm, Hagel said, “Asia-Pacific has pointed the way,” he said.

After his meetings in Hawaii, which will include soft-power sessions on trade and disaster relief as well as military cooperation, Hagel will head to Japan and China for thornier talks about security problems, including territorial conflict over islands in the East China Sea.

Hagel’s trip is a deliberate statement to those who think the crisis in Ukraine means the administration should delay its long-promised pivot to Asia or even pivot back toward Europe again.

That won’t happen, Hagel insists. The U.S. will stand by its NATO allies in any confrontation with Russia, he said, but there’s no plan to increase American troop strength in Europe.

The White House has ballyhooed its actions in ordering U.S. military units to bolster Eastern Europe after Russia’s seizure of Crimea. But in fact, they haven’t amounted to much: 18 fighter jets deployed to Poland and Lithuania, an extended Black Sea cruise for a Navy destroyer and about 300,000 prepackaged field rations (but no weapons) for the Ukrainian armed forces.

U.S. support for Ukraine “has not pulled any assets away” from Asia or any other region, Hagel noted.

That minimalist military response to the Ukraine crisis stems mostly from Obama’s desire to avoid escalating the conflict. Even if Russia moves troops into eastern Ukraine, Hagel said, the United States is staying out.

But it also reflects the Obama administration’s larger map: Eastern Europe isn’t among the president’s top priorities. Asia still is.

Ironically, though, after spending much of his first year as secretary of Defense reassuring European and Middle Eastern leaders that a “rebalance” toward Asia didn’t mean neglect for other parts of the world, Hagel now finds himself reassuring Asians that the pivot is still on.

That’s partly because of skepticism from some of his own people. This month, Assistant Secretary of Defense Katrina McFarland told a conference that budget cuts meant the pivot was being reconsidered “because, candidly, it can’t happen.” (She retracted the comment, presumably under pressure from her bosses, later the same day.) And last week, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Adm. Samuel Locklear, told Congress that he didn’t have enough submarines or landing craft to carry out his missions adequately.

Questions about the global perception of U.S. military retrenchment, in Asia or anywhere else, get Hagel agitated.

“We’ve got over 330,000 personnel deployed in the Asia-Pacific, 180 ships, over 2,000 aircraft,” he said. “It’s the largest combatant command we have in the world.

“I’m always a bit amused, perplexed, by people who say we’re retreating from the world,” he continued. “Where are we retreating from?” And he ticks off all the areas where U.S. military forces are active – not only East Asia and Europe and Afghanistan but the Middle East and Africa as well.

So yes, the budget plan Hagel sent to Congress this month calls for a smaller Army, a smaller Marine Corps, fewer planes and fewer ships than planned. But the Defense secretary says that shouldn’t matter.

The answer, he said, is to do more with less, both by helping friendly countries improve their own defenses and by relying on quality instead of quantity. The troops and ships and aircraft the United States deploys may be fewer than before, but they are more capable than their predecessors.

On the big, long-term picture, Obama and Hagel are right: Asia and the Pacific are the most important region for U.S. interests. In trade, for example, U.S. exports to Asia are significantly larger than exports to Europe. Europe has NATO to keep the peace; Asia, without an equivalent regional organization, still relies on the U.S. Navy. And China is a dynamic, rising power – unlike Russia, which may be dangerous but isn’t growing in most other ways.

“That’s the big one,” Hagel said. “We’ve really got to pay attention to that relationship and get it right.”

But other crises and other regions keep getting in the way, as do the fiscal pressures that are pushing the defense budget downward with support from Republicans as well as Democrats.

Hagel, a former Republican senator and Vietnam War Army sergeant, got his turn as Defense secretary at an unenviable moment: a period of shrinking budgets, when tough choices among priorities can’t be dodged.

This month, that means convincing leaders in Asia that the United States really can do more with less, and that it won’t be distracted from its focus on the Pacific by hard-power crises in Ukraine or anywhere else.

Doyle McManus is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. Readers may send him email at doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 2 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Rich GiddensApril 01, 2014 - 9:20 am

    Our weakened and diminished economy can no longer sustain a global military along with a strategy of bearing the burdens of a an empire but not reaping any of the benefits thereof. We are now once again suffering the miseries of both an economic and security malaise like the doldrums of the mid 1970's. We need another Ronald Reagan to inspire and lead. We need to restore faith in America and free up the economy from government tyrants out to tax and regulate business out of existence. It may be too late for America's future as Obama still tries to pursue a 1970 Euro socialist style of governence and direction for America.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • @Rich GiddensApril 01, 2014 - 11:29 am

    Who would you vote for, for President and Vice President in the 2016 elections?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Recent Articles

  • Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • .

    Solano News

    2 Solano road projects get green light

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A1

     
     
    Youngster battles brain cancer a 2nd time

    By Susan Winlow | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Rush Ranch seeks docents

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A2

    Health officials report 1st Solano flu death

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A3, 5 Comments | Gallery

     
    Kroc Health Fair offers free screenings

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

     
    Fairfield police to offer parenting class

    By Ian Thompson | From Page: A4

    Frazier schedules coffee in Suisun City

    By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A4

     
    Vacaville police to offer law enforcement academy

    By Ian Thompson | From Page: A4

    Vanden to host science fair

    By Bill Hicks | From Page: A4

     
    Woman with Solano ties caught up in tax fraud case

    By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A4

    Coalition members review tobacco control report card

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A5

     
     
    Motorcyclist leads CHP on afternoon chase

    By Ian Thompson | From Page: A5

     
     
    American Legion Post schedules head-shaving fundraiser

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A6

    Vacaville Toastmasters welcome guests

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A6

     
    Chipotle fundraiser to benefit Armijo newspaper

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A6, 2 Comments

     
    Dramas, thrillers lead week’s box office openings

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B8

     
    Fairfield police log: Jan. 26, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

    Fairfield police log: Jan. 25, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

     
    Fairfield police log: Jan. 24, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

    Suisun City police log: Jan. 26, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

     
    Suisun City police log: Jan. 25, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

    Suisun City police log: Jan. 24, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

     
    .

    US / World

    Gold nuggets stolen in smash and grab

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

     
    CSU chancellor looks to increase graduation rates

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

    Officials lose track of billions in funding

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

     
    Bill would treat e-cigs the same as regular cigarettes

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

    Police: Parents who killed selves, kids feared apocalypse

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

     
    Military has wide discretion on Bergdahl charges

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

    Gunmen storm Libya hotel, killing American, 9 others

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

     
    Famed civil rights protesters to have arrest records erased

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

    Secret talks in Jordan try to win release of hostages

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

     
    ‘Wicked storm': Blizzard drops 2 feet of snow on New England

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

    On Auschwitz anniversary, leader warns Jews again targets

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

     
    NTSB: Systemic flaws in safety oversight of gas pipelines

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

    Catholic church in San Francisco to phase out altar girls

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

     
    .

    Opinion

    Economic recovery, brought to you by technocrats

    By Jared Bernstein | From Page: A11

     
     
    .

    Living

    Today in History: Jan. 28, 2015

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Community Calendar: Jan. 28, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

    Horoscope Jan. 28, 2015

    By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B6

     
    We live close to my nephew but he chooses to remain distant

    By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B6

     
    10 Things: 10 fresh takes on Super Bowl guacamole

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

     
    .

    Entertainment

    Christina Aguilera to perform ahead of NBA All-Star Game

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    Common, John Legend to perform ‘Glory’ at Academy Awards

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    Katie Holmes to guest on ‘Ray Donovan’

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    .

    Sports

    Deflated topic: air pressure in footballs

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1, 1 Comment

     
    Rose’s shot lifts Bulls over Warriors 113-111 in overtime

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Lynch at Media Day: ‘I’m here so I don’t get fined’

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

     
    Falcon boys drop 69-61 SCAC loss to Bethel

    By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Local Report: Armijo boys roll past Napa 69-41

    By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B1

     
    Nadal loses; Sharapova to play all-Russian semi in Australia

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

    Belichick and The Beast talk but don’t say much at Media Day

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

     
    Serena Williams advances, Venus out of Australian Open

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Getting fired from New England led to Carroll’s reinvention

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Sharks in ‘dogfight’ to secure playoff berth

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Jury convicts 2 ex-Vanderbilt players of raping woman

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Rio official says there’s ‘no plan B’ for Olympic sailing

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Golfer Allenby stands by story, says truth will come out

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Tony Stewart returns with a swagger not seen in 2 years

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Shooters find not every basketball is same in college game

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Patrick heads into 2015 in final season with team, sponsor

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Manfred hopeful of A’s getting new ballpark in Oakland

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Christina Aguilera to perform ahead of NBA All-Star Game

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Super Bowl, Tiger make Phoenix center of sports universe

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Long after Twitter feud, Revis, Sherman pledge respect

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    The distinctive international flavor of Super Bowl Media Day

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    This date in sports history for Jan. 28, 2015

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

     
    .

    Business

    US home price gains slow in November on weaker sales

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

     
    FTC clears Albertsons’ purchase of Safeway

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

    .

    Obituaries

    Donald Wesley Johnson

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

     
    Joseph Phillip Raiff

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

    Clarence E. Morgan

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

     
    Don Johnson

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 9 Comments

    Dzhon Athanc

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

     
    Julia P. Tan

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

    Woodrow Allen Oakley

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Sally Forth

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

     
    For Better or Worse

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

    Pickles

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

     
    Beetle Bailey

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

    Baby Blues

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

     
    Frank and Ernest

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

    B.C.

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

     
    Baldo

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

    Blondie

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

     
    Dilbert

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

    Rose is Rose

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

     
    Get Fuzzy

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

    Wizard of Id

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

     
    Peanuts

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

    Zits

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

     
    Garfield

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

    Sudoku

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

     
    Cryptoquote

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

    Bridge

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

     
    Word Sleuth

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6