‘Demonizing China’

Obama’s first choice for Joint Chiefs chairman criticizes Pentagon, military for focus on China

• May 17, 2012 4:25 pm


Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, who was President Obama’s initial candidate to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a speech this week that the Pentagons’ new battle concept is "demonizing China."

Cartwright also revealed that the recent $487 billion in defense cuts was planned long ago, and he said that at least an additional $250 billion in cuts will be made, on top of a possible automatic cut of as much as $600 billion later this year.

Cartwright, who lost out in the race for chairman of the Joint Chiefs amid criticism over his personal life, said the military will be forced to change strategy or "hollow out."

On the Pentagon’s new Asia battle concept, which is designed to counter China’s high tech weapons, Cartwright said during the speech in Virginia Beach: "Air Sea Battle is demonizing China, and that is not in anybody’s best interest. And we’re pivoting to the Pacific. It’s really a poor choice of words."

The comments were made during the U.S. Naval Institute’s annual Joint Warfighting Conference on Tuesday.

U.S. officials have said the Air Sea Battle Concept is covertly directed at China and that its ideas can be applied to other states with high-tech arms such as Iran.

However, Obama administration policymakers approved the new concept last fall with the secret provision that U.S. officials who discuss it state publicly that the concept is not solely directed at China.

Air Sea Battle grew out of the failure of the military to adequately coordinate air and naval forces during Pentagon war games over the past 10 years.

The games showed that U.S. forces would be defeated in a future conflict by China’s use of anti-satellite missiles and lasers, anti-aircraft carrier ballistic missiles, cyber warfare capabilities, and other high-tech arms.

Pro-China officials in government have opposed that new battle concept—which calls for building up forces with new aircraft, strike capabilities, and regional alliances—as turning China into an enemy.

Conservatives in the military and policy communities argue that China’s military and Communist Party leaders are engaged in a covert strategic nuclear and conventional forces buildup designed to force the United States to abandon its alliances and military presence in Asia.

Cartwright, during his tenure as vice chairman, clashed repeatedly with then-Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen over how to respond to China’s military buildup and also over U.S. military policy in Afghanistan.

On U.S. missile defenses in Europe, Cartwright also adopted a soft-line policy view. He said that, like the Air Sea Battle Concept with China, U.S. plans for phased missile defenses in Europe have upset the Russians because the later phases will be capable of countering Russian long-range missiles.

The Russians are worried "about our ability to reach and touch one of their ICBMs and disrupt the balance of power," he said.

On deploying the advanced SM-3 Block 2b in-ground interceptors that will be able to knock out any long-range missile, Cartwright said, "Maybe we shouldn’t [deploy], I don’t know. But I think we have to find a solution."

Russia has demanded legally binding restrictions on U.S. missile defenses in Europe that so far the Obama administration has rejected.

However, statements by President Obama to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Seoul in March indicate the president is prepared to make concessions on missile defenses if he is reelected in November.

On the decline of U.S. defense spending, Cartwright warned that the size of U.S. military units—ground forces, air wings, and naval formations—has continued to decrease in size but not always in ability to use lethal firepower.

Under the current cuts, the military is being stretched, and Cartwright has recently heard of shortages.

"At some point you have to change the strategy or hollow the force," he said. "And left to our own devices, we would normally hollow the force."

Cartwright also criticized the administration’s use of the term "pivot" to Asia because he believes it falsely signals U.S. allies in other parts of the world that the United States is disengaging.

"It’s really a poor choice of words unfortunately because basically the rest of the world interprets that as you’re turning your back on them and disengaging, and that’s not our intent," he said.

Cartwright, a former jet pilot, also criticized the Pentagon for continuing to focus on developing manned aircraft, which he said are being limited by human capabilities.

By contrast, unmanned aircraft are cheaper to operate, can be stored with fewer costs in peacetime, and operate 24 hours a day, far beyond the limits of human pilots in cockpits.

Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy, said Cartwright’s comments indicate he was the wrong person for the chairman’s job.

"The nation is fortunate in the extreme that Gen. Cartwright’s personal indiscretions precluded him from being chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," Gaffney said.

"His recommendations on these issues and so many others bespeak a lack of judgment and responsibility at a time when both are needed more than ever in the Pentagon and Washington."

Cartwright ran afoul of many Marine Corps senior officers after he left his wife for another woman.

His first wife, Sandee Cartwright, had told associates of the general that she was prepared to go public in identifying personal indiscretions.