Too Late For US Naval Deterrence In Red Sea After Biden Misled World On Houthi Attacks

Tyler Durden's Photo
by Tyler Durden
Friday, Dec 22, 2023 - 01:00 AM

It has become clear there's a full-blown Houthi war on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. Weeks ago, we featured commentary that cited US defense officials who were frustrated that the Pentagon was being held back from responding forcefully against Houthis positions in Yemen by the Biden White House.

President Biden stood accused of "downplaying" the threat, as statements in Politico have underscored, "Some current and former military officials were frustrated by the administration’s initial response to the Houthis’ Sunday attacks on the ships." This as some top military brass pushed for a more forceful response, lest the Iranian proxies grow more emboldened.

But more emboldened is precisely what has happened, as container ships are coming under drone and missile attack on a daily basis at this point, triggering delays and rising prices on goods as major liners avoid Red Sea transit altogether.

USS Carney destroyer, via US Navy

Fast-forward to this week, now nearing the end of December and The Wall Street Journal has run an alarming but apt headline this which spells out U.S. Naval Deterrence Is Going, Going, Maybe Even Gone.

Increasingly, Biden's desire to make nice with the Iranians in order to keep global energy prices down ahead of the 2024 election is translating to a posture of 'looking the other way'and some analysts worry it's too late to reestablish deterrence

The Commander-in-Chief hasn't so much as ordered a military response when American warships in waters off Yemen themselves come under direct attack. Again, this is what has deeply frustrated Pentagon leaders, who feel handcuffed. In its fresh commentary, WSJ points to the reality and immediate consequences of the US Navy coming under attack, but failing to respond or decisively hit back

Recently the news broke that the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Carney had fended off several missile and drone attacks in the Red Sea. While Biden administration officials tried to frame the battle, for a battle it surely was, as the Carney’s defending nearby merchant ships, it seems clear that Iranian-supplied Houthis were targeting the Carney directly as well as the commercial ships it was accompanying.

This was only one of several recent assaults on American naval assets in the region. They have happened despite the presence of the Ford carrier strike group in the eastern Mediterranean and the Eisenhower strike group in the Gulf of Aden—a conventional level of naval deterrence that should have reduced aggressive activities by U.S. enemies. Instead, Iran attacked American ships and allies.

But still, if the last 20+ years of the so-called global war on terror has taught Washington anything, it is that it's hard to deter a hardened and determined ragtag army of insurgents with things like giant naval assets sitting off a coast which are designed to fight bigger, conventional wars.

Ships burn as White House dithers...

The WSJ along with beltway think tanks worry this shows US naval power to be in decline. We should add that this is perhaps but one symptomatic indicator that US Empire itself is in decline and in retreat amid foreign policy failure after failure. Writes WSJ further:

These events show that American naval deterrence is failing, and a recent report from the Sagamore Institute concludes that it could soon evaporate.

The report, “Measuring and Modeling Naval Presence,” models the effect of various ships and combinations of ships across a mix of maritime regions. The model pitted an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the U.S. Navy’s current utility platform of choice, against a People’s Liberation Army Navy Luyang III destroyer in several locations ranging from the high seas to the waters approaching the Taiwan Strait. It suggested that the deterrent value of American Navy ships operating in close proximity to a determined adversary has recently declined.

As expected, the report ends with a call to further bloat Pentagon budgets, saying "The Navy’s budget, size and force architecture all need urgent attention from Congress if the U.S. is to preserve its ability to deter its enemies. Failure to do so imperils global trade as well as America’s place in the world and the safety of its people."

The below headline also just about summarizes the situation perfectly well...

But, we should add, there's many other factors too. For starters, Washington has chosen to rush headlong into foreign quagmire after foreign quagmire.

From bases in Iraq to Syria, to naval battle groups in the Mediterranean and Mideast waters, this adventurism overseas has ultimately given the Iranians and their allies easy targets as US troops and assets are 'sitting ducks' - placed conveniently close to hostile forces. In the case of Syria, the US is engaging in massive oil, gas, and wheat theft - as an outgrowth of its last decade of regime change efforts against Assad in Damascus.

Simultaneously, the US has essentially given Israel a blank check to execute its war in Gaza, and consistently refuses international efforts at reaching lasting, permanent ceasefire. Washington is left with no exit and no ultimately strategy, yet all the while wants to see oil prices kept down, and trade routes open. As is usual in the region, the US wants its proverbial cake and to eat it too.

* * *

And as a reminder of the prescient Rabobank commentary we just featured...

Concerningly, Marine Tracker data suggests that the launch of Operation Prosperity Guardian has not been sufficient to prevent freight companies from diverting their largest container ships away from the coast of Yemen. The loss of prestige for the global hegemon will not have gone unnoticed by America’s adversaries, who will be emboldened by any signs of weakness.

Adding to the concern has been the lukewarm response of major allies invited to join Operation Prosperity Guardian. Canada committed no ships and opted instead to only send a clutch of staff officers while Australia (an AUKUS ally who fought with the United States in Iraq, Vietnam and Korea) also refused US requests to send a warship to the Red Sea.

The Australian Government claims the refusal was due to a preference to focus on interests in the Asia-Pacific region, but local media has suggested that it is actually because none of Australia’s 7 frigates and 3 air-warfare destroyers are appropriately equipped to deter attacks from cheap Houthi (Iranian) drones for any length of time. If this really is the case, it is an astonishing gap in capability that highlights the extent to which conventional fleets face disruption from small, cheap and agile adversaries. That doesn’t bode well for the security of supply chains elsewhere.

Of course, the situation in the Red Sea has created winners as well as losersThe winners again appear to be Russia and China.