AT GROUND LEVEL By Satur C. Ocampo (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 20, 2013 – 12:00am
Last Tuesday I was invited to take part in an international conference held in Manila, titled “Engaging Peace and Sovereignty, Building Peoples’ Solidarity.” It dwelt on the US strategic “pivot” to Asia-Pacific, US militarism, intervention and war.
I listened with much interest to the inputs of several speakers on the varied aspects and implications of the so-called pivot, delineated in “Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” a Pentagon document released in January 2012 with President Barack Obama’s endorsement. (On June 16, 2012 this column discussed the document, focusing on America’s wars.)
I did not get to listen to all the speakers sharing their experiences, coming from Australia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Afghanistan, Jordan and the Middle East, Kurdistan, Colombia, and Puerto Rico. But I can share some points in the initial synthesis of the presentations.
The takeoff point of the discussions was the Pentagon document’s declaration, which says:
“US economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities. Accordingly, while the US military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.”
The rebalancing entails the deployment to Asia-Pacific of 60% of US maritime forces by 2020, while maintaining US capability to do the following: defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates; deter and defeat aggression by adversaries; counter weapons of mass destruction; effectively operate in outer space and cyberspace; maintain effective nuclear deterrent; and conduct counterinsurgency operations.
Two factors that impel the rebalancing, the document stresses, are: 1) the changing geopolitical environment (China’s rising economic and military power) and the US financial conundrum (its $16.7-trillion national debt, intractable fiscal deficit); and 2) the need to protect America’s economic vitality and national interests, while withdrawing (despite no clear victory) from its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Also, the conference took note of President Obama’s statement on the pivot issue. He said:
“With most of the world’s nuclear power and some half of humanity, Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation… As President, I have, therefore, made a deliberate and strategic decision — as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future…”
Skepticism pervaded the observations of most of the speakers on America’s capability to carry out its pivot program and maintain global leadership. Cited as reasons were the US’ preoccupation with the continuing global financial-economic crisis and the dragging recovery of its economy; the trenchant statements of China’s military “hawks” amid that country’s military build-up and expansion; political constraints in US dealings with its regional allies; and the volatility and continuing tensions in other global regions and war theaters (Middle East, Africa).
Over and above these factors, speakers from country to country invoked the growing peoples’ struggles against and resistance to the maintenance and expansion of US overseas military bases, and to US militarism, intervention and war as a vital element that could influence the success or failure of the American project.
Still, the common complaint from anti-US bases movements in host or allied countries is that their ruling elites back up the American project because their vested economic and political interests are directly tied up with US economic and corporate interests.
These elites, in fact, openly or covertly collaborate with the Americans in violating the host countries’ national and territorial sovereignty, and in disregarding international laws and statutes forged under United Nations auspices.
Country speakers denounced criminal offenses perpetrated with impunity by US military forces. These crimes include genocide, massacre, torture, rape, internal displacement of people, and several other forms of “collateral damage”.
Forceful criticism of US activities was delivered by the speaker from South Korea. Besides the large-scale US-South Korean war games becoming more provocative to North Korea, she said, the building of a US naval base in Jeju Island has caused huge environmental destruction and is now the focal point of sustained protests.
The consensus at the conference was that, however the US defines its objectives as beneficent, the bottom line is the expansion and consolidation of its hegemony — to maintain America’s global economic, geopolitical and military supremacy “amidst persistent financial crisis and decline.”
This has been America’s bottom line since its initial adventure as an imperialist power in 1898, when it instigated a war against Spain to grab the latter’s colonies, specifically the Philippines.
As proof, an American speaker cited the statement of US Marines Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, who saw military action in the Philippine-American war (1899), in China, Central America, the Caribbean, and Europe. He was awarded two medals of honor. Butler later confessed:
“There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to… I spent 30 years in active military service… and during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism…”