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Tomgram: Tim Shorrock, American Military Power in Asia and the Trump Factor

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This article originally appeared at To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

"Did China ask us if it was OK to... build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don't think so!" tweeted President-Elect Donald Trump after shattering nearly 40 years of U.S.-China diplomatic protocol by having a telephone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

The call -- the first official contact between a U.S. president or president-elect and Taipei since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in the late 1970s -- was prime Trump. So was the tweet, a no-nonsense response to typical Chinese military provocations.

At least, that's one way to look at it.

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Of course, if China's president Xi Jinping was a social media blowhard, he could have easily tweeted back: "Did America ask us if it was OK to... maintain a massive military complex of more than 100 bases in nearby Japan? I don't think so!"

Or the Chinese leader could have tweeted: "Did America ask us if it was OK to... rent space at the massive U-Tapao military complex in nearby Thailand? I don't think so!"

Or Xi could have tweeted: "Did America ask us if it was OK to... use portions of the military complexes at Antonio Bautista Air Base, Basa Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Lumbia Air Base, and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in the nearby Philippines? I don't think so!"

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China's president might have tweeted: "Did America ask us if it was OK to... deploy troops to a military complex near Darwin, Australia? I don't think so!"

Xi could have even tweeted "Did America ask us if it was OK to... maintain four major Army facilities in nearby South Korea at Daegu and Yongsan as well as Camps Red Cloud and Humphreys; not to mention air bases at Osan and Kunsan and a naval facility at Chinhae? I don't think so!"

Had he enough characters to spare, Xi might have mentioned U.S. access to key facilities in Singapore or its other Pacific military strongholds like Hawaii, Guam, and Saipan. He could even have mentioned the "massive" U.S. military presence in Asia -- the U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. Army Pacific, U.S. Pacific Air Force, U.S. Marine Forces Pacific, U.S. Special Operations Command Pacific, and U.S. Forces Korea as well as the U.S. Eighth Army (also in Korea) -- for which there are no Chinese analogs operating in or around the Americas.

Even if Xi Jinping were to counter Trump's twitter storm with gale-force tweets of his own, it's fair to assume that the president-elect wouldn't be swayed. American leaders don't view U.S. power projection through the lens of those on the receiving end. Meanwhile, the American public remains mostly ignorant of the ways in which the U.S. garrisons the globe and rings its rivals with military bases.

Today, Tim Shorrock, a long-time Asia expert, seeks to do his part in obliterating this obliviousness with his inaugural TomDispatch article. The author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, he delves into how the election of Donald Trump will affect President Obama's famed "Asian pivot" by teasing apart the tangled history of U.S. foreign policy in that region, and analyzing what it all means for the longstanding U.S. military footprint in Japan and South Korea. Nick Turse

Cops of the Pacific?
The U.S. Military's Role in Asia in the Age of Trump
By Tim Shorrock

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Despite the attention being given to America's roiling wars and conflicts in the Greater Middle East, crucial decisions about the global role of U.S. military power may be made in a region where, as yet, there are no hot wars: Asia. Donald Trump will arrive in the Oval Office in January at a moment when Pentagon preparations for a future U.S.-Japan-South Korean triangular military alliance, long in the planning stages, may have reached a crucial make-or-break moment. Whether those plans go forward and how the president-elect responds to them could help shape our world in crucial ways into the distant future.

On November 18th, Shinzo Abe, Japan's most conservative prime minister since the Cold War, became the first foreign head of state to meet with Donald Trump after his surprise election victory. The stakes for Abe were high. His rightist Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has run Japan for much of the last 70 years, has been one of America's most reliable, consistent, and subservient allies. Yet during the campaign, Trump humiliated him, as well as the leaders of nearby South Korea, with bombastic threats to withdraw U.S. forces from both countries if they didn't take further steps to defend themselves.

Even more shocking was Trump's proposal that Japan and South Korea develop their own atomic weapons to counter North Korea's rising power as a nuclear state. That left the governments of both countries bewildered -- particularly Japan, which lost tens of thousands of lives when the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were incinerated by American atomic bombs in World War II. (Hundreds of Koreans in Japan died in those attacks as well.) Trump made these statements despite the LDP's ardent support over the decades for American wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, and the Japanese government's payment of around $2 billion annually to maintain a string of U.S. bases, primarily on the island of Okinawa, which host over 48,000 American soldiers.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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