Jewish World Review March 6, 2002 / 22 Adar, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- AS President George W. Bush wandered across Northeast Asia, it appeared that he thought it was 1942, not 2002. He seemed to believe that the world was engaged in a twilight struggle between good and evil, and only overwhelming American military involvement everywhere could prevent a new Dark Ages from descending upon the planet.
He began his trip with Japan. Although the economy took precedence, Washington continues to reaffirm the two nations' military ties.
The United States wants Tokyo to do more, but not too much more. And America is committed to maintaining its deployments in Japan, in the face of increasing criticism, particularly from the long-suffering residents of Okinawa.
On to South Korea went the president, attempting to quiet fears created by his inclusion of North Korea in the "axis of evil" that he sees as threatening free nations worldwide. In response to Seoul's worries about his belligerence, he offered to talk with the North, but also promised to deter "aggression against Korea." Bush's view of China sensibly seems to be more competitor than partner, but he doesn't stop there. Before reaching the mainland, he promised to "remember our commitments to Taiwan" -- that is, to go to war with Beijing should it threaten to use force against Taipei.
Finally, he offered carte blanche guarantees to most everyone else. The United States, he said, would continue to "show American power and purpose in support of the Philippines, Thailand and Australia." Perhaps the only surprise was his omission of any security commitment to Brunei or Laos.
George W. Bush ran for the White House as the more restrained of the two major candidates, preaching humility and questioning nation-building. Now he is governing like a Roman emperor, lecturing his client-states around the globe. No matter how strong and how much stronger than their adversaries they may be, they must remain dependent on Washington.
American paternalism made sense in the aftermath of World War II. Japan was in ruins; defeated countries and conquered territories alike were vulnerable; the Soviet Union was competing for global influence. A U.S. defensive shield would give the East Asian states time to mature economically and politically. And they have done so. Yet Washington doesn't seem to have noticed. It has left its security guarantees and military deployments largely unchanged, as if the threat environment was largely unchanged.
There's Japan, for instance. It's an economic giant, despite its problems.
Yet its military role remains minuscule, essentially ready to provide body bags for Americans killed while defending Japanese interests. Other states remain wary of a more assertive Tokyo, but that is no excuse for the world's second-ranking economic power to shirk its responsibility for maintaining regional stability and peace, let alone for defending itself. Even more bizarre is Washington's determination to maintain 37,000 troops in South Korea as the North implodes. Seoul possesses an economy 30-40 times the size of its starving adversary; the South's population is twice as big as that of the North. The country that should deter "aggression against Korea" is Korea, not America.
Taiwan is a worthy friend, but is not vital for U.S. security. Instead of risking involvement in a war that would be catastrophic for the entire region, Washington should ensure that Taipei is able to maintain an adequate deterrent force.
Taiwan is ready and able to buy the best military equipment available. Doing so would force any Chinese leadership to think more than once before resorting to force to "resolve" the island's status.
Then there's the president's gobbledy-gook commitment to everyone else. Thailand faces no obvious threats; against whom does it need support? The Philippines has bothered to build neither a serious military capable of challenging China's territorial claims to the Spratly Islands nor a just civil order capable of deflating domestic political unrest. Manila needs to strengthen its own institutions rather than look to Washington for a bail-out. Finally, Australia sits serenely in the South Pacific, fearing not marauding invaders from China, but desperate refugee flotillas from Indonesia. There are many areas for continued U.S.-Australia cooperation, ranging from intelligence-sharing to freer trade, but no need for a defense guarantee. Canberra's primary security relationship should be with its Asian neighbors, not America.
The United States reigns supreme around the globe, spending as much on the military as the next nine nations combined. President Bush's proposed increase in defense outlays, $48 billion, is more than any other country devotes to the military. Traditional security threats remain, but primarily against America's allies, not America. And they are now fully capable of defending themselves.
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