The Biden Administration, in a rush to abandon Afghanistan, is leaving the Pacific exposed – with no US carrier battlegroup. Why, how, under what circumstances, with what reasoning – would a US President leave the Pacific without a carrier? What could go wrong? Lots.
Start with facts. The Wall Street Journal reported on 26 May, Biden’s Pentagon plans to redeploy the USS Ronald Reagan – christened by Nancy Reagan 20 years ago – to the Middle East. The “aging” USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, after two deployments, will go home. The problem is this decision highlights a lack of strategic foresight – or that is the impression. See, The Missing Aircraft Carrier
First, Biden leaves the Pacific theater open to China. That means China can threaten freedom of navigation across the South China Sea, move on disputed islands near Japan and elsewhere. Or China can ramp up hostile activities from their militarized, illegal, artificial islands in the South China Sea, including harassment of the Philippines, Vietnam, and others. A US carrier had to warn China in April after an incursion in Philippine waters “raised alarms.” See, e.g., Freedom of Navigation in South China Sea Critical to Prosperity, Says Indo-Pacific Commander
Experts note: “China has runways and dozens of hangers for fighter aircraft … as well as anti-ship cruise missiles, anti-aircraft batteries and missile defenses,” has used the islands “to begin pressure campaigns in the Spratlys, Paracels and even the Natuna Sea (claimed by Indonesia).” See, China’s island fortifications are a challenge to international norms
What they could do now is place “mass fighter deployments” on these artificial islands. Absent a US carrier; timing is perfect to lock down power projection. Reversing that move, delaying, interrupting, or protesting it would be hard from the Persian Gulf.
Once China’s artificial islands are fighter-flush, China can pick targets of interest, including perhaps Taiwan. Then, armed to the teeth, able to move swiftly with minimal or non-existent US presence, they could see an unexpected opportunity, unforced error, unusual opening.
They know Biden’s team has been weak, incoherent, fumbling, and distracted by events in the Middle East, Afghanistan to Israel, as well as by record Russian troops poised near Ukraine.
As one military expert observed: “These islands should be considered an existential threat to Taiwan.” And that was with a US carrier in the region. What about now? Once the Reagan is redeployed to the Gulf, it is their months. That raises another error or bit of wishful thinking.
Biden was so interested in vacating Afghanistan that he pledged – with no peace accord, no tripwire or troop presence to sustain the Afghan government and deter terror resurgence, that he would “fulfill the antiterror mission … from over the horizon.” What does that mean?
Permanently stationing a US carrier in the Gulf may sound good, but with ships and carriers scarce – and Biden’s anemic military budget – that is a double misfire, or the Journal noted “misuse of naval resources.” The right answer was keeping troop presence on the ground.
What is more, when we pin ourselves down, adversaries like China and Russia see opportunity. The longer we stay pinned down, the more enticing – and bigger – their windows of opportunity.
Our absence from the Pacific – whatever the Biden crowd thinks of China – is an invitation to Communist Chinese aggression, regional overreach, expansion of stated hegemonic aims. How could it be otherwise?
The backdrop for future bad behavior – or added encouragement to China – is Biden-Harris’ relative ambivalence toward revelations, hard to scotch, that China’s Wuhan Virology Lab did enhance a coronavirus that allowed COVID-19 to ravage the world, leaked it, sought to cover up the fact.
If America will not rally our allies to confront an offense against all humanity, why would America – or Biden’s America – step up to thwart China taking disputed islands, or worse?
All of this makes another point. A looming deficit in US naval power made inevitable by poor planning, low budgets, and wishful thinking presents another urgency, getting back to strategy. From a static perspective, we are ahead. From a dynamic perspective, with China modernizing, we are on track to nobble ourselves. We need to focus on national defense or miss the chance.
In the end, China may recall Trump, Reagan, and Bush, earlier American leaders like Macarthur, Eisenhower, Marshall, Bradley, and Patton – and pause, wondering if the American People are the pushover Biden is. Let us hope they pause – until we can get a carrier back their way.
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