In November 2011, President Barack Obama announced a “rebalancing of focus toward Asia.” Later dubbed a “pivot” by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, this policy change called for measures that would “deepen U.S. credibility in the region.”
The “pivot” has meant troop deployments in Australia, naval deployments to Singapore, military exercises to be renewed in the Philippines and continued in South Korea, and a relocation of 60 percent of American warships into the region’s waters.
While much of the world’s attention is focused on the drama on Russia’s western front, specifically Ukraine, the “pivot” to the east and southeast of Asia is relevant and all of one piece. Russia and China see this as an escalation of the long-held strategy of U.S. military encirclement of those countries.
It is also a continuation of a U.S. foreign policy in which bellicosity and violence trump dialogue and diplomacy. Thanks to a compliant and, therefore, complicit mainstream media, the American public is distracted from that which much of the rest of the world hears loud and clear.
Knowledge of the “pivot to the Asia-Pacific” and of U.S. actions and reactions in Ukraine is essential to understanding that a different, or shall we say “real pivot,” in American foreign policy is needed, one that might bring us back from the brink of new “cold war” and make us actually more secure.
As to the Ukraine, consumers of our mainstream news can see that Vladimir Putin and Russia have been demonized. Opinions were shaped by the reported words of Clinton, “Russia’s actions in Crimea are similar to what Hitler did back in the 1930s.”
And Secretary of State John Kerry, who condemned Russia’s “incredible act of aggression,” threatened economic sanctions (since applied) and said, “You just don’t [today] behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext” — conveniently forgetting recent U.S. history in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.
This demonization helped to conceal the reality of history. In 1990, Secretary of State James Baker, wanting to expedite the reunification of West and East Germany, assured Soviet head Mikhail Gorbachev there would be “no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction one inch to the east.”
That broken promise coupled with the recent well-documented European Union and U.S. courtship of Ukraine and support of the overthrow of democratically-elected President Viktor Yanukovych, has left Putin and Russia understandably paranoid about the security of their western front.
Add the geographical criticality of Crimea and the ominous presence of NATO bases in Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and Turkey, and U.S. military bases and warships, and the identification of the real aggressor becomes less clear.
Considering this and relevant, contemporary U.S. history lends credibility to Putin’s recent words, paraphrased, “the U.S. has come to believe in their exceptionalism. They act as they please: they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle ‘If you are not with us, you are against us.’”
A tour around the part of the world on Russia’s and China’s eastern front reveals widespread resentment of the U.S. military. Within the countries affected by the “pivot”:
— Koreans object to the 28,000-plus U.S. military personnel on over 80 U.S. bases in their country.
— Okinawans oppose U.S. military bases covering 20 percent of their island.
— The people of Guam, where there are over 12,000 U.S. military personnel, attribute the high cancer rate to military toxins.
— Marshallese are unable to return to islands irradiated by atomic bomb testing over 60 years ago.
— Residents of the Marianas protest live-bombing exercises on their islands.
The majorities in 65 countries at the end of 2013 found the U.S. to be considered the most significant threat to world peace, according to Gallup. All these voices call for a “real pivot” by the U.S.
It is time we demand a different worldview from U.S. leaders, who disregard how words are heard and deeds are seen in other lands. It is a consequence of a deeply held and, frankly, juvenile investment in American exceptionalism. The journalist Chris Hedges described the problem: “Hypermasculinity has triumphed over empathy. We speak to the world exclusively in the language of force.”
It is time for a “real pivot.”
On Friday, April 11, international scholars will address consequences of the “pivot” at the University of Maine. For information, visit http://bit.ly/pivotUM.
Dud Hendrick of Deer Isle is a former president of the Tom Sturtevant Chapter of Veterans for Peace in Maine.