Friday, September 22, 2017

Chuck Hagel's Demise...and James Fanell's Rise...and Australia!

The dismissal of an unwilling Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense in 2014 was, I think, a watershed in the fortunes of the China hawks, both in the Pentagon and at Pacific Command.

Perhaps because it is bad form to explore the possibility that Hagel was purged for insufficient enthusiasm for a pro-active China confrontation agenda, nobody went there.  But I did.  Natch.

In 2015, I buried my analysis in a tediously long piece that was meant to give an overview of the evolution of US China policy, and provide a corrective to the "Chinese aggression" meme that China hawks like to lean on.

The narrative of escalating Chinese aggression is central to the China hawks' thesis that we need an escalating response. 

Rather interestingly, today a lot of this narrative is coming out of Australia. Google "Chinese influence Australia" and you'll get an idea of the barrage of local and global coverage keying on the skillfully shaped message that Chinese influence--though it is not illegal--must be feared.

I've recently come to the conclusion that spate of panic stricken reports emerging from Australia concerning the China menace in economics, politics, and academics are a belated and improvised substitute for what was supposed to be the real deal: a pivot from Obama namby-pambyism to steely Clinton resolve to confront China in 2016.

The unexpected Trump victory--and the determined gutting of the State Department by Team Trump--has temporarily put paid to dreams of running a united and highly coordinated global anti-China initiative out of a Clinton White House drawing on allies and assets in Asia and Europe. 

Instead, the aggressive anti-China alliance is being improvised in exile and, in Australia, with the support of James Clapper, who did a visiting scholar thing down there, the unflagging efforts of the Lowy Institute (which, in addition to serving as the FP mouthpiece of the Lowy family, which bundled for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and contributed coin to the Clinton Foundation, also employs Hillary Clinton's foreign policy major domo Jake Sullivan), and the assistance of a local flock of eager pro-US China hawks at Australian unis and think tanks and in the media.

More significantly, I'm guessing Team Clinton might be getting more than a little help from the king of PACOM's China hawks, Admiral Harry Harris, in supporting the Australian natsec establishment in eliciting a remarkably aggressive anti-China posture out of previously dovish Malcolm Turnbull.

Admiral Harris, indeed, is rumored to be ready to retire from the US Navy to take over as US Ambassador to Australia next year, which would give him the opportunity to get hands-on in coordinating the China confrontainment mission.

With this perspective, it's interesting to read what I wrote in 2015 after Chuck Hagel hit the bricks:

Now, of course, the DoD has a new boss—Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; and PACCOM has a new commander—Admiral Harry Harris, and the general consensus is that the muscular defense sector has wrestled China policy away from the milquetoastian White House.  Interestingly, Admiral Harris was previously the Pentagon’s liaison to to the State Department under Hillary Clinton as well as John Kerry, which reinforces my impression that Hillary Clinton and her foreign policy advisors have pre-loaded China policy with her supporters, and I expect things to get ugly quickly so that the nasty and awkward business of starting the confrontation can be done under Obama before Clinton enters office.
As I put it elsewhere: Hillary wants to inherit her China crisis from Obama, not foment it herself.
And maybe now we've had to outsource the crisis to Australia!
For those who want to go through a lengthy and taxing account of how the China hawks developed their narrative and strategies since 2010, there's the full 2015 piece: It's Official.  America Has a China Containment Policy

For those who want to read about Chuck Hagel getting shivved (a story I don't think anybody has told in full) read on in this tasty excerpt:

The Chuck Hagel years (Feb 2013-15) are a sore point for US hawks, and perhaps explain why they like to date the South China Sea crisis to 2012 and a period of accommodation/appeasement/common sense during which the PRC ran amok in the South China Sea, and not 2010 when the carnival really started.

In an end-2013 piece on the South China Sea, Bull In The China Shop, Professor Pedrozo, the legal muse for China hawks in the navy,  (now at the US Naval War College, the go-to institution for US SCS lawfare) gave full rein to his China hawk side.  Beginning with an epigraph from Franklin Roosevelt, “When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him”,  and concluding with an exhortation to America, with its allies, to “stand up to Chinese brinkmanship before it is too late”, Pedrozo’s piece is also remarkable for the venom it displays toward then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, PACCOM’s Admiral Locklear, and the Obama China team for its caution/appeasement in dealing with the PRC on the Cowpens incident, the East China Sea ADIZ, and the tussle over Scarborough Shoal.

A key event in 2014 was a speech given in February by a key Navy insider and China hawk, Captain James Fanell to a US Naval Institute conference, in which he stated: 

“[We] concluded that the PLA has been given the new task to be able to conduct a short, sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea, following with what can only be expected a seizure of the Senkakus or even a southern Ryukyu [island] — as some of their academics say.”

Maybe bullshit, as in Fanell seizing on the  “everybody has a warplan for every contingency” thing to make China-bashing hay.  But the key element was that Captain Fannel was the head of intelligence for PACCOM…and he had gone off rez.

And he had gone off rez at the same time that Secretary Hagel was prepping for a make-nice trip with the PRC.

Fanell’s comments come at the same time that Washington is arranging a trip for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to Beijing, with the expressed goal of enhancing U.S.-China military-to-military relationships. U.S. military officials want this relationship, among other reasons, to prevent some of the tense encounters between U.S. and Chinese ships in recent years.

In that context, Washington officials, when asked about Fanell’s comments, dismissed them.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, who has been in Beijing laying the groundwork for Hagel’s visit, went a step further.

Asked about Fanell’s “short, sharp war” assessment, Odierno responded: "I've seen no indications of that at all."

And Fanell’s speech to an obscure conference about East Asian hypotheticals miraculously received the widest possible attention in the non-specialist media.

Fanell was reassigned i.e. demoted in November 2014 (took a while, didn’t it?  Admiral Harris, at the time the nominated but not yet confirmed Commander, Pacific Command, promoted from Commander, Pacific Fleet [and Fanell’s boss], did the dirty, perhaps as a condition of his new employment). 

Navy Times reported:

Fanell's views have supporters inside naval intelligence, and he has become a high-profile spokesman for a more alarmist view of the rise of China than those espoused by Navy senior leadership, an intelligence source who spoke to Navy Times said. Fanell's articles on China have been published by Hoover Digest, Naval Intelligence Professionals Quarterly and the U. S. Naval Institute's Proceedings.

So Fanell was gone, but guess what?  Two weeks later, Hagel was gone as well!

Supposedly Hagel was booted because he wasn’t up to the IS challenge, but I wonder.  I’m not alone.  Per US News & World Reports at the announcement of Hagel’s involuntary retirement:

“I can’t figure out what he did to merit being voted off the island,” says Eric Edelman, who until 2009 served as the undersecretary of defense for policy, essentially the No. 3 position at the Pentagon. 

 “He gave them the strategy and the budget they asked for and wanted,” Edelman says. The White House has planned for a military drawdown after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a reset toward a renewed presence in the Pacific. “I understand there were a few occasions when he may have leaned a little too far forward on his skis with regards to ISIS. But it’s kind of hard to figure out what it is they found lacking in his performance.”

US Middle East policy in 2015 is, for lack of a better term, still totally for sh*t under Ash Carter and still characterized by conflicted flailing and an utter unwillingness by the US uniformed forces to re-embrace the jihadi tar baby, a sentiment that Hagel shared completely, but Asia policy…well, galloping along in the new hawkish direction.

Fanell retired too, but his January 31, 2015 retirement party was pretty much a victory lap and a sounding of the China threat tocsin.  In his farewell speech, Fanell said:

[T]he Communist Party of China’s designs stand in direct contrast to espoused U.S. national security objectives of freedom of navigation and free access to markets for all of Asia. 

This not only threatens our own national security, but is also very clearly upsetting the entire Asia Pacific region has enjoyed for over 70 years. 

The challenge, as I have seen it, is for intelligence professionals to make the case, to tell the truth and to convince national decision and policy makers to realize that China’s rise, if left unchecked or undeterred, will necessarily disrupt the peace and stability of our friends, partners and allies.  We should not have to wait for an actual shooting war to start before we acknowledge there is a problem and before we start taking serious action.  The “Rebalance” is a good first step forward, but it must be backed up with a real, tangible deterrent force and we must stand-up to Beijing’s propaganda and bullying campaign, especially those that come at the expense of our allies and partners.

To continue the synchronicity of Hagel & Fanell’s careers, Hagel’s retirement ceremony took place three days earlier and was, we can say, shrouded in defeat & failure:

A senior Pentagon official told NBC News at the time that Hagel was asked to step down because the president no longer had confidence in his ability to lead the military as it struggled to defeat Islamic extremists waging war in the Middle East.

'He wasn’t up to the job,' the official said. 


Today Earnest's stand-in, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, said 'friction' between the White House and the Pentagon is 'something that predates this administration.'

Schultz said the White House believes it has 'good relationships with the military leaders.'


With Hagel gone, the US on track to extract new defense guidelines from Japan, and with the DoD in the hands of the China hawks, it was clear to the PRC it was time to make hay while the sun shone and get its facts on the water for a prolonged period of China containment struggle, one that might endure for the next decade factoring in the possibility of two terms for Hillary Clinton.


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