Not since the days of the Roman Empire have regional warlords commanded so much authority to craft their own military and diplomatic policies apart from the central government. The United States calls its warlords combatant commanders and the title is not misleading. These combatant commanders are always looking for new wars and conflicts, all of which are in the personal interests of them and their top military echelons, but certainly not in the general interest of the American people.
American combatant commanders rule over their own virtual fiefdoms, which the Pentagon calls areas of responsibility or AORs. The Roman Empire’s warlords were called proconsuls and they were military commanders appointed to govern newly-conquered territories. These Roman AORs, known as proconsular imperia, differed little from modern-day American AORs. However, the Roman proconsuls were much more answerable to the Roman emperors than American combatant commanders are presently to the President of the United States.
The U.S. military-intelligence complex has divided the world into AORs over which combatant commanders exercise authority over U.S. military, political, diplomatic, and, increasingly, economic decision-making. These commands – U.S. Central Command, Pacific Command, European Command, Southern Command, Northern Command, and Africa Command – also involve themselves in the military and political activities of nations within their AORs that are either allied with the United States or dependent on U.S. security arrangements. Conveniently, the chief of the U.S. European Command also served as the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, the military chief of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Effectively, NATO is an integral part of U.S. military hegemony.
In the third century AD various Roman governors took up arms against one another to vie for the emperorship of the collapsing Roman Empire. Today, the same phenomenon is taking place among America’s warlords who are attempting to expand their AORs at their rival’s expense.
One of the most aggressive of America’s combatant commander warlords is the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, or PACOM, Admiral Harry Harris. While at the vanguard of Obama’s ill-conceived and dangerous military pivot to Asia, Harris recently appeared to extend his AOR to the area already claimed by the U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM. White CENTCOM chief General Joseph Votel has been busy squaring off militarily with Iran in the Persian Gulf, Harris, in a speech in San Diego, spoke of his AOR encompassing the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, a clear indication that Harris is expanding his military governate to the Indian Ocean and South Asia.
Harris recently used the term Indo-Asia-Pacific to describe his military rice bowl before a group of military industrial complex group called the San Diego Military Advisory Council. Like a dictatorial Roman general, Harris warned Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and his government against making any more anti-American statements. Duterte has rebelled against Harris’s wishes by adopting a conciliatory policy toward China in the South China Sea maritime dispute and demanding that the United States withdraw its Special Forces troops from the southern Philippines. Duterte hails from the southern island of Mindanao.
Further enraging Harris was the statement by Philippines Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay that his country would no longer be treated as America’s little brown brother. The tradition of Harris’s Navy is that Filipino stewards once catered to every whim of U.S. naval officers, from cooking their meals and shining their shoes to cleaning their toilets and pressing their uniforms. The paternalistic attitude toward the Philippines by officers like Harris has never truly died out.
Harris let the San Diego militarist group know that his patience with Duterte is wearing thin and he issued the Philippines president a stark warning: We have been allied with the Philippines for a long time. We have shed our blood with them… We fought side by side during World War II. I consider our alliance with the Philippines to be iron-clad.
In other words, Harris threw down the gauntlet and let Duterte know that the U.S. Pacific Command would not tolerate any movement of the Philippines toward either neutrality or a pro-China policy. What makes Harris’s statement alarming is that it was always in the purview of American presidents and secretaries of state to issue demarches to foreign leaders. Under Obama, that authority has now fallen to combatant commanders and it is a further sign that American diplomacy has been seized by the Pentagon and its highest echelons.
Harris’s extension of his military interests to South Asia means that his AOR and that of CENTCOM now maintain the same militarized Line of Control in disputed Kashmir as that of military rivals India and Pakistan. The region of Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan and Ladakh in Kashmir claim cultural and historical ties to the Buddhist kingdoms of the Himalayas and would like to go their own way. But they sit astride the PACOM-CENTCOM border. Perhaps Harris and Votel will play poker at the Fort Myer officers club near the Pentagon to decide who will have ultimate authority over these secessionist territories.
Like rival Roman governors, Harris and Votel are vying for influence in the same regions. Unlike two generals playing some military video game, Votel and his client Pakistan and Harris and his client India are nuclear competitors in a dangerous region. Any conventional skirmish along the Line of Control that separates Indian and Pakistani forces in Kashmir or along their national border threatens to accelerate rapidly into a regional nuclear conflict, one that could plunge the United States into a war.
Harris is also moving his Indo-Asia-Pacific theater closer to CENTCOM-land by expanding PACOM maneuvers in the Indian Ocean. Recently, PACOM held exercises with Sri Lankan military forces in the restive Tamil region of northern Sri Lanka and it is pushing for the same naval basing rights it now enjoys with India – the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) – with both Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
Harris envisages a four-power allied naval coalition consisting of the U.S., Australian, Indian, and Japanese navies confronting China in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The Japanese Navy recently joined the American Navy in exercises in the South China Sea meant to send a warning to China. However, many countries in the South China Sea still recall that it was Japan and its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere that subjugated their homelands during World War II.
They and China suffered the same fates as a result of Japanese military aggression. Harris and his military cronies in Pearl Harbor and San Diego seem to forget the lessons of World War II and how Japanese aggression united the peoples of Southeast and East Asia against a common imperial Japanese enemy. For these military amateurs in Asian history, it is as if the Japanese attack of December 7, 1941 on Pearl Harbor occurred in some parallel reality.
As PACOM moves west in the Indian Ocean and CENTCOM sets its eyes to the east, there will eventually be an intra-military feud over what military governate handles the expanding Chinese naval presence in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa; which U.S. governate will have control over proposed U.S. military bases on the strategic Yemeni island of Socotra in the Gulf of Aden, and what military jurisdiction will oversee the Chagos Archipelago in the southern Maldives chain, controlled by Britain but claimed by Mauritius, part of the Africa Command’s AOR.
One matter overrides all others. American generals and admirals have no right under U.S. or international law to divide the world into personal playgrounds. Either combatant commanders should become obscure footnotes of history, like their Roman forbearers, or the basic tenets of international law should be formally scrapped under Imperium Americana.
By Wayne Madsen