asia

It is my hope that when a new president is sworn in that we have at least one political or military alliance, other than with Iran, remaining. Right now the smart money would say that we don’t.

For decades one of the staunchest allies the United States has in Asia has been Thailand. During the Vietnam War, Thai bases provided platforms to strike at targets in North and South Vietnam as well as staging areas for black operations (can I even uses this phrase anymore? are they now operations of color?) into Laos and North Vietnam. Thailand has contributed troops to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In an area of the world where our alliances are few and fragile, Thailand has been a bulwark.

In 2014, the Thai armed forces initiated a coup d’etat in the wake of a constitutional crisis. My expertise in Thai politics doesn’t run all that deep so I leave it to the reader to make up their own mind whether this was a proper reaction by the armed forces. Coups in Thailand aren’t terribly rare. It might even have achieved spectator sport status.

Naturally, the Obama administration can’t have this. So they sent an apparatchik to publicly upbraid the military junta:

“In a decade or 15 years, this may be seen as a watershed moment in a mutual recalibration of the (U.S.-Thai) relationship, which will entail a downgrading,” Davis said.

Russel bluntly discussed the coup and prosecution of Thailand’s democratically elected government, which the military and political opponents viewed as corrupt, during his Jan. 26 speech at Chulalongkorn University and in a subsequent television interview.

“Ending martial law throughout the country and removing restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly are important steps as part of a genuinely inclusive reform process that reflects the broad diversity of views within the country,” Russel said during his speech.

His comments likely wouldn’t have been taken so harshly had they been made in private, or through a spokesman in Washington. Secretary of State [mc_name name=’Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’K000148′ ] and others have criticized the Thai government for crackdowns on protesters and media, book bans and other actions.

However, Thais perceived Russel as an invited guest who criticized his host. Even some Thais opposed to the military coup were angered by his comments, Davis said.

“A loss of face in this country is a cardinal sin … it is hugely important here,” Davis said.

Before reading further, please consult the map at the top of the page.*

China is not warm and cuddly. It is using the weakness of the United States under Obama, a weakness he has nurtured to the extent that it may very well be baked into US foreign policy for decades, to expand China’s dominance of Asia and to extend its influence into South America, the Caribbean, and East Africa. While this strategic weakness doesn’t bother Obama, in fact, he may enjoy it, it scares the bejeezus out of our allies. When we go out of our way to insult allies (note how different this was handled than when radical Islamists engineered a coup in Egypt) there is a price to be paid:

In December, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met Prayut to sign a multi-billion-dollar railway construction agreement in a visit widely interpreted as an endorsement by Beijing of Thailand’s new military rulers.

And last week, China’s defence minister held talks with Prayut in Bangkok to harden their military cooperation, in an expanding relationship which observers say could be used as a bargaining chip with Washington.

Chinese troops are also taking part in Cobra Gold, alongside more than 20 other nations, in only their second “boots on the ground” presence, as opposed to observer status.

Without a US counterweight in Asia, allies like Korea, the Philippines,and Thailand are going to be forced into the Chinese sphere of influence. Nations who could be brought in our direction, like Vietnam, will have to make their peace with China. When we are finally faced with a Chinese threat we can’t ignore we will find that we have no allies in the region and no bases to operate from.

*Contrary to popular belief, this map was not produced by the “smart thinkers” at Vox.com