Push for Controversial Trade Deal Continues With Pitch From Defense Secretary

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Monday trumpeted the administration’s so-called Pacific pivot and urged passage of legislative power that critics say will allow a massive corporate-friendly trade deal to be rammed through Congress.

Carter made the remarks during a speech at the McCain Institute of Arizona State University ahead of his inaugural trip to Asia, which begins with visits to Japan and South Korea.

He emphasized that the U.S. is forging ahead with its Asia-Pacific focus “to secure our enduring interests” and said that the region’s growth represents “an enormous opportunity” for the United States.

Carter outlined how he said the U.S. would be investing in areas relevant to the the region’s “complex and dynamic security environment”:

Carter also mentioned U.S. arms systems currently deployed in the Asia-Pacific, like

Carter’s speech also focused heavily on the other part of the “one-two punch”—the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The Defense Secretary said the U.S. will be able to capitalize on the region’s “customers” with the passage of vastly opposed Trade Promotion Authority, aslo known as fast track, which would speed passage of the controversial and secretive trade deal currently under negotiations. The TPP, he said, is “as important to me as another aircraft carrier.”

Though critics have challenged these supposed benefits of the deal, Carter said the TPP would offer U.S. job growth. He also said the trade deal would require the other 11 nations in the trade deal to “adopt the standards that we hold ourselves to here in the United States, such as: government transparency, intellectual property laws, a free and open internet, environmental protections, and workers’ rights. TPP would also lower barriers to American goods and services in the Asia-Pacific’s fastest growing markets.”

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In contrast, watchdog organization Public Citizen has characterized the trade deal, dubbed “NAFTA on steroids,” thusly:

Digital rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have exposed the deals potential threats to an open internet, while environmental organizations like Friends of the Earth have called it “a potential danger to the planet, subverting environmental priorities, such as climate change measures and regulation of mining, land use, and bio-technology.”

As for Carter’s optimistic portrayal of the Pacific pivot, including saying, “Over the next century, no region will matter more for American security and also for American prosperity,” analysts such as Foreign Policy in Focus‘s Walden Bello and John Feffer have written that the so-called shift, in fact, represents a retreat.

Bello has written that the pivot “has intensified the already intense militarization of the area,” adding that the so-called re-balance (pdf) “is not novel. It is simply a return to the pre-9/11 global military posture of the George W. Bush administration, which redefined China from being a ‘strategic partner’ to a ‘strategic competitor.'”

He adds: “To many analysts, the Pivot actually represents a retreat from the comprehensive global military dominance that the neoconservative faction of the U.S. ruling class attempted under Bush.”

Feffer echoes that point, writing last year, “The administration’s much-vaunted pivot looks ever more like a divot—a swing, a miss, and a hole in the ground rather than anything approaching a hole-in-one.” He adds:

“The lumbering aircraft carrier known as the United States should be executing a pivot that lives up to its name: a shift from the martial to the pacific,” Feffer concluded. “Instead, it’s just roiling the waters and leaving instability in its wake.”

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