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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bayonets, horses and the US Navy: Who is out of touch?

The most talked-about line in the debates last night came from President Obama. As the HuffPo reports:
President Barack Obama mocked Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Monday for his repeated attack over the size of the Navy, which he has said proves the president doesn't prioritize national defense.

"You mention the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets," Obama said during the final presidential debate. "We have these things called aircraft carriers and planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."

"It's not a game of battleship where we're counting ships, it's 'What are our capabilities?'" he said.
The media and pundits are loving that obviously pre-practiced line. But I am reminded of a brilliant - and very frightening - August 2012 article written by Commander J. E. Dyer, a retired US Naval intelligence officer who served from 1983 to 2004.

Here are some excerpts:
While Russia’s “interfleet naval task force” tootles around the Eastern Mediterranean making like it doesn’t know from Syria, China and India have joined the naval game in the Eastern Med. Both have a regular naval presence off the coast of Somalia, and each has dispatched its most recent antipiracy task group – now relieved on-station – to conduct port visits in the Med. The Chinese units are visiting ports in the Black Sea as well.

Iran has her uses as a foil in the emerging drama, and India and Russia will make use of her if they can. They are less worried about Iran than they are about China and Sunni Islamism – especially as united with the Arab Spring.

Speaking of China, her task group has completed a port visit in Ukraine (“In your face, Russia”), and is now conducting separate port visits in Bulgaria and Turkey. The visit of People’s Liberation Army Naval (PLAN) ships to the Black Sea is unprecedented, as will be their visit to Israel at the end of their Med circuit. Yes, they’re scheduled to go to Israel too.

China’s deployment is a signal of competition with Russia and India – separately and together – for the future of the Eastern hemisphere. The Chinese visits to Ukraine and Bulgaria are as in-your-face as it gets, Russia-wise; Moscow is very sensitive about foreign navies in the Black Sea. China’s deployment is not an expression of solidarity with her northern neighbor.

The naval competition is heating up all around Asia. The activity in the Med is one facet of it, and an indicator of the strategic significance of the Med to the calculations of the Asian powers. Neither Russia, nor India, nor China can tolerate seeing herself flanked by the power of the others in EASTMED. They all three see a necessity for being there because of geographic realities and their competition elsewhere.

... All of East Asia is gravely concerned about China’s naval shows of force. A Russian admiral spoke openly last week of the Russian navy seeking foreign bases in Vietnam and the Seychelles as well as Cuba, a clear signal of Russia’s intention to act as a counterweight to Chinese power in South Asia. (Clear statements of intent rather than coy denials are a new set-out for the Russians on this matter. One more reminder that everything has already changed.)

It’s open season on the status quo in the Eastern hemisphere. In the last three years, nothing in geopolitics has been clearer than that.

It is essential to reiterate the reminder once more that none of them would perceive either a significantly increased threat or important new opportunities if the United States were still acting according to our character since World War II. We no longer are, and the current proliferation of foreign naval expeditions is what had to result.

This has all been foreseeable. If the US is not using its power, the world will revert to its historically normal condition: everyone armed, arming up further, and seeking to enlarge his sphere of influence and push the boundaries against smaller, weaker powers. Some nations are less aggressive than others, but there’s no room for non-aggression. The Pax Americana is dead.
After reading that, Obama's petty sarcasm makes it look like he is the one who is out of touch with today's geopolitical realities, not Romney. Obama's refusal to assert its naval power is creating a very dangerous - and very destabilizing - scramble for position worldwide, and the chances for war have increased as a result.

Unfortunately, the morning-after analyses will ignore this critical discussion so that people can laugh at Obama's zinger.