The Military Must Follow the White House’s Lead on South China Sea Policy

The Military Must Follow the White House’s Lead on South China Sea Policy
President Barack Obama and the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Honolulu, Hawaii, Dec. 19, 2015 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

The World War I-era French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau once famously declared that war is too important to be left to the generals. The same, it appears, can be said of admirals.

Last week, the Navy Times ran a blockbuster story revealing that the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific, Adm. Harry Harris, and the combatant command he leads, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), are not happy with the White House’s approach to dealing with China’s adventurism in the South China Sea. According to the Navy Times, Harris is “arguing behind closed doors for a more confrontational approach to counter and reverse China’s strategic gains” there. He is, says the paper, “proposing a muscular U.S. response to China’s island-building that may include launching aircraft and conducting military operations within 12 miles of these man-made islands.” Harris’ efforts, however, are meeting resistance from the White House “at nearly every turn.”

Now, on one hand, what we have here is not unusual. Military officials often leak stories like these when they feel that their views are not being heard in the halls of power in Washington or when they are on the wrong side of a policy decision. Anyone who followed the Afghan surge debate in 2009 will remember the steady barrage of leaks from military officials intended to pressure their higher-ups in the Pentagon and the White House. When it comes to PACOM, these sorts of stories are likewise becoming standard operating procedure, and they are not always done off the record.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.