The Threat of ‘Anti-Access’ and Public Delusions About Security

John Glaser, November 12, 2012

Those with a hand in crafting US foreign policy are always more explicit about their strategies than those in the servile political and pundit classes who have a bullhorn to the ear of the American public. The result of this is that the public are under grand delusions about what motivates US foreign policy. It’s far easier to listen to a speech from your district’s representative or to what Bill O’Reilly screams about than to actually attempt to understand policy from those who implement it.

US warships in the Persian Gulf

Take, for example, a piece in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, the main establishment journal, by Andrew Krepinevich, a West Point graduate with a PhD. from Harvard who has served on the personal staff of three Defense Secretaries and now heads the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think-tank. Here is a key sentence:

The challenges that China and Iran pose for U.S. security lie not in the threat of traditional cross-border invasions but in efforts to establish spheres of influence in, and ultimately to control access to, critically important regions.

Now, if that is how most Americans understand the supposed top two greatest threats the country faces, I’ll eat my foot. What the public sees constantly streaming on television, across headlines, and rushing out of politicians mouths is that Iran and China are outlaw states that are threats to the security of Americans. And that’s why polling generally shows Americans are troubled by these two threats.

Krepinevich’s piece is subtitled “Why the Pentagon Should Focus on Assuring Access.” The last word there is important. US foreign policy centers around “access.” The threat to the US emanating from China and Iran is not that they will attack us – that is a virtual impossibility. Rather, it is that those states will “establish spheres of influence” and therefore deny US military “access.”

These are referred to in Pentagon parlance as “anti-access” or “area-denial” scenarios. A Department of Defense paper that was released last January focused on the potential increase of these scenarios going forward. It said, “the United States must maintain the credible capability to project military force into any region of the world in support of [its] interests.” Notice the technocratic description of empire. The notion that any state or non-state actor would dare deny America military access to their territory is patently unacceptable.

This is the mindset that informed the Carter Doctrine – literally the cornerstone of US foreign policy in the Middle East, which colored every policy and perspective on the region since its induction in Carter’s State of the Union address in January 1980. “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region,” Carter declared, “will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

US Navy fleet in Asia-Pacific

Suddenly America began to consider the Middle East part of its own territory. Any move by any state to gain influence in that region will be regarded as an “assault” on the United States worthy of military action in – they regard it – self-defense.

And thus the threat from Iran is not the status of their nuclear program per se, but rather its rising influence and how it might impact US control of Persian Gulf oil. A secret memo written in 1982 to the National Security Council regarding the threat from Iran put it succinctly, arguing that “whoever is in control of the Gulf’s” oil, “is in a position to have a very large political as well as economic influence in the world.”

You can see this strategy now playing out in the Asia-Pacific region as well, due to China’s rising influence. Not long before Obama announced his “Asia Pivot” strategy of surging US military presence throughout the region in order to contain China, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke at an International Institute for Strategic Studies meeting in Singapore and argued for “sustaining a robust [US] military presence in Asia.” He spoke of overcoming “anti-access and area denial scenarios” that the US military faces in Asia, which threatens America’s access to strategic markets and resources.

China represents a threat to the professional statists in Washington who benefit from having dominion over the world. Unless the Pentagon can span the entire globe at will with little or no resistance, it is a loss for them.

But Americans don’t understand it this way. They see Iran and China as a threat to their personal security. If only they could get beyond political soapboxes and Bill O’Reilly.




13 Responses to “The Threat of ‘Anti-Access’ and Public Delusions About Security”

  1. Its the Hobbesian mentality at work.

    "If the US government doesn't spend trillions of dollars each year dropping bombs, torturing and spying on the world, the foreigners will come here and kill us all!"

  2. One point that is evident, though made in most ridiculous way is the difference in US foreign policy and its public perception.
    I do believe in educating the public. I try my best in illustrating, perhaps with my comments, caricaturing it. Public cares not.
    Major policy wonks take care of molding public opinion with their high flying, scholarly (sic) arguments. They are experts, I have no doubt about it. However, public has no access to their research methods or well stocked libraries with books, scholarly papers.
    Public libraries do not keep anything more than few books. Mostly from authors without pedigree.
    Discussions become complicated because of emotional outbursts from parties having opinions that border on insane justifications for or against US policy.
    I want all to understand the gravity. Not the propaganda and publicity.
    …and I am Sid Harth@elcidharth.com

  3. [...] Threat of ‘Anti-Access’ and Public Delusions About Security John Glaser, November 12, 2012 Print This | Share This | [...]

  4. [...] · 1 day ago Its the Hobbesian mentality at [...]

  5. Once one leaps into a chasm leaving a solid platform, even if it was full of ever widening holes, the gravity of your situation has but one conclusion.

    The problem is not the leap but that the disintigrating platform is beyond repair so why will you stand there until you don’t have a choice of leap or fall.
    Try stepping away from it, preferably back away, and begin planning not to save all the othets on it. But toprepare with others how to avoid what coming mess will befall.
    The libertarian is a good mindset but mostly it is standing on that platform mentally masterbating about how fast and wide will be the spat after gravity wins
    Information is no good without the wisdom to form and then implement solutions to your dillema.
    That we are not doing and prefer instead to think intellectualizing is a cure.
    But damn. While we talk the fn patients are dying.
    As an alternative a true Libertarian grouping must be formed not so much on the current platform but outside of it
    IT must start providing economic opportunitys of its adherents and finding ways those afherents can protect each pther from the fall, a safety net.
    ANDthen go on to gain others who, there is giong to be a fall in civil liberty, cansurvive with asmuvh as they can of them and say to hell with tjose too ignorant or lacking conizace of what they live within.
    The growth of minds dif not come fromestablished structures that ended dark ages but in truth fromgar seperated individual and small centers of learning acting out sideod established sociatal rigidity.

  6. I do believe in educating the public. I try my best in illustrating, perhaps with my comments, caricaturing it. Public cares not.

  7. [...] CSIS report. In some ways, Washington is taking this news kicking and screaming, desperately boosting US military presence in the Middle East and Asia. But “If Washington continues to cling to its existing role on [...]

  8. [...] CSIS report. In some ways, Washington is taking this news kicking and screaming, desperately boosting US military presence in the Middle East and Asia. But “If Washington continues to cling to its existing role on [...]

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