Is âPacific Pathwaysâ a necessary pivot, or a military budget grab?
ON THE scale of
outrages emanating from Washington, D.C., which has become a byword for
tomfoolery and cockamamie schemes, it barely registers. Yet let us pause for a
moment to contemplate the US Armyâs new initiative known as âPacific Pathways,â
established to counter threats in the Asia-Pacific region.
Note that the
21st century has not been kind to the Army. Since 9/11, it has engaged in two
protracted and debilitating conflicts. The Iraq war, launched in 2003, finally
ended more than eight years later in something other than victory. The
Afghanistan war, begun even earlier, shambles toward its own ambiguous
conclusion, having become the longest and least popular war in the nationâs
One might think that the soldiers whoâve born the brunt of these
wars have earned a breather. But Army generals apparently disagree. Demonstrably
uninterested in taking stock of what their exertions in the Greater Middle East
have yielded â how much gain for all that pain? â they are hard at work
searching for new venues in which to demonstrate the Armyâs relevance. For
relevance translates into budget share, within Pentagon circles the ne plus
ultra. âThis Weâll Defendâ provides the Army with an appropriately crisp
official motto. But the âthisâ that generals defend most fiercely is their slice
of the Defense Departmentâs budgetary pie.
One of the top underreported
news stories of recent years is this: The United States is done with invading
and occupying countries in the Islamic world. Whatever course events in Syria,
Lebanon, Egypt, or Iran may follow, Washington is unlikely to dispatch thousands
of US troops to fix the problem. Done that. Didnât work.
their families may view this shift in policy as a welcome development. But for
Army generals, it represents a threat far more dangerous than that posed by Al
Qaeda or the Taliban.
As the global war on terror peters out, what does
the Army exist to do? For the Armyâs top brass, the question has existential
implications. They have apparently found their answer by looking East, the Obama
administrationâs much-ballyhooed âpivotâ toward Asia offering the Army a chance
to rebrand itself. Goodbye parched desert. Hello steamy jungle.
national security circles, âpivotâ is a euphemism, shorthand for âpaydayâ as the
Pentagon salivates over the implications of Chinaâs rise. In evaluating how
China might threaten regional stability (itself a euphemism for US hegemony),
Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps planners have had a relatively easy time
conjuring up scenarios allotting major roles for their own service. By
comparison, the Army has lagged behind. Until now. Pacific Pathways signals the
Armyâs intention of claiming a piece of the action.
Rest assured that the
Army is not gearing up to fight China, not yet anyway. Instead, Pacific Pathways
envisions relatively small elements milling about the Far East so that whatever
happens, whether act of God or act of evil-doers, the service wonât be left out.
General Vincent Brooks, who heads US Army Pacific, explains the logic. âForces
that are already in motion have an advantage in responding,â he says. âWe can no
longer afford to build units and put them on a shelf to be used only in the
event of war.â
As a recent article in the Washington Post explains,
Pacific Pathways is already setting off alarms â mostly in the Marine Corps,
which sees the Army horning in on its turf and therefore threatening its own
budget share. Thus the tradition of bureaucratic interests perverting policy
The observer is left to wonder what part civilian
leaders play in all of this. Where is the commander-in-chief? What are the views
of the secretary of defense? Do they want the Army, not yet home from
Afghanistan, beating a pathway to the Pacific? Do their opinions even
As for the generals, they should consider this possibility: The
âthisâ that they are called upon to defend just might refer to the place where
Americans live. Here. Keeping our Army on the shelf, held in readiness rather
than looking for trouble, suits many of us just fine.
Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at
Boston University, is a retired US Army colonel.