More than six decades after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United
States conception of security has failed to evolve from the bloody
island-hopping days of the Pacific war. The same misconceptions that
underpinned the analyses leading up to World War II and during the Korean War
dangerously reverberate among Washington's policymakers. This has become even
more evident lately as President Barack Obama repeatedly emphasizes America's
place in Asia-Pacific and Capitol Hill agonizes over a $1 trillion cut to the
The case against cutting back on the US military presence in the West Pacific
is best encapsulated by J Randy Forbes, a Republican congressman from Virginia
and chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, who argues
in a recent article that forward-deployed military assets allow the
United States to deter or respond to crisis situations without having to "fight
our way in".  That is all well and fine - if the significant threat to the
US or regional security is as clear and present a danger as Forbes presumes it
Nonetheless, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are surging forth,
declaring the South China Sea an area of vital US interest and promising that
defense cuts will not affect US military presence in Asia. Perhaps Washington
mistakenly believes that its only leverage in the West Pacific lies with its
military assets; however, one must also not ignore the government's apparent
apprehension towards China as a key motivator.
What is interesting is the source of this fear - a historic, deep rooted
presumption that Asian political orders do not engage in internal disputes,
leading to the false impression that any state policy emanating from Beijing
(or Pyongyang) represents a consensus and a doctrine.
It's not just China that has been subjected to this prejudice. The State
Department analyzed Imperial Japan under the same light in the months leading
up to the Day of Infamy, ruling out the possibility of negotiating an end to
Japanese expansion into China without applying crippling economic sanctions.
This conclusion was reached under the notion that dissenting views within the
Japanese Imperial Army could not exist because of its collectivist tradition.
It would be unfair to reduce the origins of the war to this single disposition,
but the fact that Washington failed to imagine internal division within the
Japanese military hints at the undercurrent of cultural bias in the
The same preconception colored US interpretation of North Korea, China and the
Soviet Union during the Korean War. Archival evidence points to significant
division among communist leaders and even within the North Korean leadership
throughout the war.  Not only did policymakers not imagine the possibility
of internal division during the Korean War, the notion that North Korea was
some kind of a puppet state in a monochromatic communist bloc held firm through
the Cold War.
Historically, too many US policymakers have jumped on single or a handful of
actions by an adversary that they knew little about to determine US policies
abroad. Furthermore, studies that attempted to ''objectively'' discern the
political and societal culture of the group in question, such as Ruth
Benedict's The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, often than not merely
consolidated preconceived notions of that society.
So why is it so difficult for Washington to imagine internal division? Analysts
are certainly aware that open discussion of government policy is restricted in
authoritarian states, but why does that necessarily exclude internal discussion
and conflict between agencies and within the leadership?
Returning to the Obama administration's anti-Beijing offensive, the new
policies are being developed based on presumptions regarding China's intentions
in a time when committing to a mere prediction is the most inappropriate.
Yes, Beijing has been heavy handed in approaching issues regarding its
surrounding waters and ties with Pyongyang appear to be deepening. 
Nonetheless, this does not mean that some kind of monolithic force is driving
the country towards some sinister end like Forbes seems to be implying.
According to many China scholars, there is an ''explosion of intellectual
ferment'' in China and US analysts are mostly ignoring the phenomenon. 
China of the 21st century, finally recovering from the legacy of Maoist
anti-intellectualism, is showing more socio-political diversity than ever
The number of people with college degrees has increased from 0.4% in 1982 to
8.9% in 2010 and thousands of foreign-educated professionals are repatriating
every year. On top of this, high-ranking members of the Chinese Communist Party
are showing increasing willingness to break from the pack and engage in
self-criticism. It is now safe to assume that the country is not ruled by
People's Liberation Army, but rather by a diverse group of people whose
ideologies range from militarism to progress liberalism.
A long-term US policy in East Asia must take into consideration both the
current transition and the transformative capacity of the Chinese leadership.
Instead, Washington appears to be forcing Beijing's hand by increasing its
military presence in the region, which will inadvertently strengthen the very
group of people that the US does not wish to see in power; a self-fulfilling
prophecy of sorts.
Perhaps the immediate question that one should ask is how having physical
military presence on Asian and Australasian soil will make a difference in the
security of the region. It does not diminish Chinese investments in military
hardware nor significantly stall North Korea's provocative actions.
In fact, the military assets currently placed in Northeast Asia do not
guarantee the territorial sovereignty of South Korea along the Northern
Limitation Line nor protect Japanese territorial waters around Senkaku Island
because Washington rightly avoids provoking Beijing.
Washington acts like it is preparing for a new protracted Cold War to
militarily and diplomatically contain Beijing, but its rationale is crude and
the oversimplified method yields little actual changes for America's regional
allies. The United State should do better - in fact, it must do better.