Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | February 13, 2011

“Where Are the Carriers?”

When word of a crisis breaks out in Washington, it’s no accident that the first question that comes to everyone’s lips is:  “Where’s the nearest carrier?

President Bill Clinton

March 12, 1993 aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt

A reader at Hot Air commented as follows on my last post about the Iranian navy port visit to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (emphasis in original):

Sucks that I have no clue where our Navy and Marines’ war ships/subs/aircraft carriers/etc. etc. are right now. We used to have a notion of our US military moves, now I feel like I am flying blind.

There has, indeed, been very little reporting from the MSM on where the Navy and Marine Corps are.  It’s worth briefly unpacking this, as there is an art to “messaging” about military forces during a crisis.  The Obama administration has hardly spoken about military matters at all during this one – and for some aspects of the situation, that’s not a bad thing.  But there are other things that should have been said and haven’t been.  Here’s how it breaks down.  (I wrote about it here last week.)

First, the crisis in Egypt is internal and political.  It’s not ours to solve.  That fact governs the US administration’s “information” posture, as it should.  It would send the wrong message if Obama talked about Egypt’s political future and at the same time spoke of the US aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean or the amphibious strike group in the Red Sea.  He hasn’t done so, which is good.

That said, the US has national interests in the situation, which are independent of – and not in conflict with – the question of greater freedom and better government for the Egyptian people.  One is our generic interest in the safety of Americans, which we have wherever a crisis erupts.  There are two other unique, high-priority interests, both of which bear on regional security and the security of our allies:  namely, safe, secure operation of the Suez Canal, and the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, which entails the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula.  We have several hundred US troops stationed with the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Sinai.

The Obama administration should have spoken about these interests weeks ago.  It isn’t necessary to harp on them incessantly, but US leadership consists precisely in stating them in a crisis like the present one.  The administration has spoken a number of times about the close cooperation between US and Egyptian military leaders, but not in the context of the specific US interests that underpin regional stability.  The way Team Obama has spoken of the military cooperation, it actually sounds instead like it’s mainly relevant to the internal political situation in Egypt.

That implication misses the mark, and badly.  Reporting that high-level military leaders are coordinating with each other, but declining to specify what they’re coordinating, while talking only about the internal political situation – these activities, in combination, leave the door wide open to unfavorable interpretation.  The number of times Gates has called Tantawi is a log entry, not a statement of policy.  What the administration should be talking about is the US interests we regard as most important.

The three specific interests outlined above could each call for military back-up in one way or another.  But they should be stated as interests, without going into unnecessary detail about the forces we might deploy.  This is a situation in which a few words would go a very long way.  We need not state explicitly that “we are prepared to intervene in the Sinai.”  Stating that a secure Sinai is one of our paramount interests – from the perspective of the Canal and the peace accord – sends the message.

Sending a clearer public message about the requirement to evacuate Americans from Egypt would have been advisable as well.  Readers of DEBKAfile learned last week that the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) amphibious group arrived in the Great Bitter Lake, at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal, and speculation was rampant as to what this meant.  As outlined at the first link above, Kearsarge could be there for multiple reasons, but chief among them are (a) the potential need to evacuate large numbers of Americans with armed security provided by the Marine Corps, and (b) the fact that the Kearsarge group has been deployed since August 2010 and is due to return home – to the East coast, through the Suez Canal.

It’s hard to say whether the question mark over Canal security was a factor in USS Enterprise (CVN-65) remaining in the Mediterranean during the last week, but it may have been.  I doubt it was the primary factor:  we probably wanted to have a carrier on-call in the Med once Egypt erupted.  It’s not clear whether Enterprise has, in fact, gone through the Canal at this point, but the US Navy website now lists her as being attached to the US Fifth Fleet.  That could mean either that she is sitting in Port Said on the Mediterranean side of Egypt, waiting to go through the Canal, or that she is in transit or has just completed it.

Enterprise deployed from the East coast on 13 January and arrived in Lisbon, Portugal for a port visit the day after the first major demonstration in Egypt on the 25th.  After entering the Med on 31 January, she conducted flight operations in the central Med.  From there she transited to a port visit in Marmaris, Turkey that started on 8 February.  Her port visit in Marmaris was reportedly for four days.

Enterprise has been scheduled to head to Southwest Asia – the Persian Gulf/Indian Ocean area – where San Diego-based USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) is on-station.  USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), which has been deployed since September, has concluded operations there and is probably heading for home port in Bremerton, Washington (no doubt with stops for R&R along the way).

All of these forces are on scheduled deployments.  But there is wild and largely inaccurate speculation about them, and there are no statements from the Obama administration to clarify what their presence means wherever they happen to show up.  Providing this clarification is not a matter of chasing around after gray-hull sightings, offering explanations; it should be done by separate political statements of US interests. Because Egypt’s government is in flux – i.e., an important geopolitical condition has changed – US interests and policy priorities need stating.

No reference at all need be made to military forces.  And when the questions about them start to come, the administration can say, “Well, we don’t talk about those specifics.  I’ve stated what our concerns are.  I’m confident we can address any contingencies that might crop up, but there’s nothing to be specific about right now.  We’ll work with Egypt to ensure that the Canal stays open and safe and that the peace accord in the Sinai is honored.”

If the Kearsarge group, with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked, has been supporting evacuation operations, a public commendation would be nice.

J.E. Dyer blogs at Hot Air’s Green Room and Commentary’s “contentions.” She writes a weekly column for Patheos.


  1. good post.

    but I wonder if any public US statement about what we were prepared to use our military to prevent might not have been against our interests. It might have forced the Egyptian military into an awkward position.
    We have been and are counting on the Egyptian military, are we not opticon?

  2. You mean we haven’t mothballed all of them yet?!?

    • anybody other than the US have as many as 2 or 3 carrier groups these days?

      • Anybody but the U.S. have as many geopolitical commitments these days? Not that I agree with all of them. Our ground troops other than a vanishingly small contingent of trainers (perhaps) would start coming back home from Germany, the Balkans and South Korea at 10% per month starting tomorrow if I had my druthers. And all our foreign aid and UN contributions above our strict per capita fair share would stop as well, which would quickly allow for indications as to who our useful allies are.

      • The notion that the purpose of carriers is purely (or even more than very slightly) to take on other carriers is rather silly and as Sully says the multitude of and importance of U.S. commitments is quite incomparable to any other country.

        The TRUTH, Fuster (if you can handle it), is that this world has oceans and those oceans have to be guarded by a navy with ships. Lots of ships. Carriers, destroyers, cruisers, attack subs, ballistic missile subs. And who else is going to do it? YOU ensign Fuster?

        (Although perhaps Commander OC has some ideas).

        • I sure can handle that truth. I also can handle the idea that there are other countries with interests in guarding those oceans and with the wealth to build the ships required.
          It may be in our interest, but it’s not our interest alone and it’s not necessarily in anyone’s best interest for one nation alone to rule over the entirety of the world’s oceans.

          • That multipolar world has, of course, been tried, several times. It can lead to unfortunate incidents.

          • Sorry Fuster, that was a bit of a cinema allusion and a (failed) attempt at humor. The basic point, however stands. A stable strategic environment, freedom of the seas and the maintenance of free channels of commerce is dependent on an adequate U.S. Naval presence. Everyone, even our competitors (e.g. China) benefit from this even as the attack us or cat call from the Peanut Gallery. The free rider problem (troubling in all sorts of areas including corporate governance/change of control issues) is annoying and it would be great if everyone pitched in to a greater extent. As is, however, there is not one else who is willing to do it and in our own interest we must. Of course we can rather easily afford it, especially if we deal with our budget issues (repeal ObamaCare, flatter taxes, free-market entitlement reform, etc…)

            • s okay, cav. I recognized the Nickelson, and I understand the idea of policing, just wonder if it’s really in our job description.
              I don’t see why we have to be standing on every wall, everywhere.

              If we didn’t have a government redistributing all our money into a military that benefits the rest of the world as much or more than it does the US; if we could just cut cut out 2/3 or more of that entitlement program for the world, we could afford better healthcare for the bulk of the population and not just the old salts.

              (tactless Sully? call me tactless will ya?)

              • Better than witless, which also presented itself, the situation requiring a ….less

                And, I think you need to develop more situational awareness, or perhaps explore pharmaceuticals the quicken up neurological transmission. That was days ago.

              • I’m slow, sully, but I’m steadily annoying.

  3. The way I see it is that

    1. This is far from over. In Egypt or anywhere else there are these “spontaneous” mass demonstrations. The Egyptian military is about to have its hand forced, and a crackdown is inevitable. Order and function will have to be restored someway. When the military of a third world nation is involved that someway usually involves more than a little er.. um.. coercion.

    2. Where the US carriers are is of little real consequence in this situation.. We would really like it to be a serious show of some sort of modicum of control or authority, but that is not going to be had on this trip.

    Obummer hasn’t the command authority, the sovereign interest (will), or courage to actually deploy any of our rapidly dwinding assets much of anywhere.

    3. There is also another issue and it isn’t trivial. There are too many hot embers about to burst into flame, and they are in too many places for us to deploy enough to (if “we” had the will to do it) exert any influence on the situation.

    My old man warned me about such situation back when I was in 8th grade. I had just earned my NRA Sharpshooter pin (50 ft indoor .22 rifle – 3 position). He was proud, but also wanted to warn me of over confidence… “Remember, if you have to do that “for real” it isn’t paper… it’s a person or dangerous animal. – Same thing really-”

    He got that really cold look that was like a dark cloud suddenly blotting out the sun. “If you find that you are in that position, you better be ready to kill the [SOB]. Never, ever, ever, point a gun at anybody that you don’t mean to kill or he’ll stick your gun [you get where he was going] and pull the trigger…”

    The question that is begged, does Obambi have the command authority enough to actually pull the trigger? That’s the problem. The “enemy” should be absolutely and positively sure of what he would do…

    Meanwhile Somali pirates still prowl when we have several squadrons of mothballed frigates and destroyers that could have dealt with the issue… Afghanistan has the Taliban is laughing at us fretting over collateral damage and crippling Rules of Engagement..

    Somehow I think their perceptions are that the Enterprise might as well be from the United Federation of Planets. They are just waiting to pick off the hapless redshirts.

    We are inviting more mischief, unrest, and eventual violence for which we won’t have anywhere near enough carriers to exert “influence”.



    • You hit the real issue here: Obama will only pull the trigger in certain limited tactical situations — e.g., if our citizens in Egypt are about to be taken hostage or our embassy is besieged. But he will do so, not as the leader of the most important power in the world, but as a politician, deperate to avoid literally becoming the son of Carter.

      We saw his leadership style when the financial crisis hit in 2008: duck and cover. Here, where a Muslim country is involved, it’s duck and stay covered until the his bro in the Muslim Brotherhood take control.

  4. Thanks for the good post J.E. But, given commercial satellite capabilities, I’m a bit surprised there isn’t a website that provides near real time data on where naval forces are. Perhaps a pay site; but surely a site. If nothing else small nations would be willing to pay the relatively modest amounts likely required, as well as large shipping firms, corporations with large overseas staffs, etc.

    And, would it really be wise to transit an ultra high visibility asset such as Enterprise through the Suez canal during a crisis where it could conceivably be bottled up, even if only for a few days, by sabotage to a couple of merchant ships and then serve as the focus of a hostage crisis on a cosmic scale?

  5. Well if we take him at his word, he doesn’t believe ‘armies and navies, have a big part to play in history’ He seems like the Henry Wallace we were spared from in 1944, in spades.

  6. “Somehow I think their perceptions are that the Enterprise might as well be from the United Federation of Planets.”

    Funny you should say that Mighty Fahvaag. I believe the USS Enterprise played a crucial role in Star Trek IV.

    • Yes.. it did… it was a “nookular wessel” docked in Alameda, which is where it might as well be for all the good it will do tooling around the Med.

      Perhaps a with a Klingon Bird of Prey renamed the Bounty, and a couple of humpback whales we’ll be fine.

      All of the chaos related time travel paradoxes be um… cast into the abyss…. family blogging here… not that JE hasn’t heard her share of “salty” language…

      Even Spock learned to cuss in that Trek…

      r/John “I watched the first run original Star Trek” – TMF

  7. Given that there have been references to both U.S. Enterprise, CVAN 65 and USS Enterprise, NC 1701, I’m impelled to mention that Mr. Sulu reprised my role in CVAN 65.

    • but without the XXL tunic.

      • Far sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is, to have a tactless frog.

        But if you will open up wide, I have a little treat for you anyway in the form of a new lyric for Frank related to a subject in which he was well schooled, the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre:

        Nineteen Twenty-Nine
        It was a very good year
        It was a very good year for Sigiliian boys
        Of innovative means
        Who basked in the lights
        Of the Chi town scene
        When they were lined with green.

        • Come to the light fuster you shy amphibian. Others on facebook are creative about their posting names. . . An appropriate name will be easy to conjure: Anuran DePrinzio comes to mind.

          • loverly poem, my svelte sululy

  8. “Perhaps a with a Klingon Bird of Prey renamed the Bounty, and a couple of humpback whales we’ll be fine.”

    A Klingon Bird of Prey with that cloaking device would probably be pretty useful here and there. Not to mention the beaming powers that such vessels possess. We could beam the Muslim Brotherhood to the North Pole.

    “Given that there have been references to both U.S. Enterprise, CVAN 65 and USS Enterprise, NC 1701, I’m impelled to mention that Mr. Sulu reprised my role in CVAN 65.”

    George “sully” Takei?

    • You think “Sulu” was a chance character name?

      • I suppose it never crossed my mind. If the character came from a “Sully,” I would have figured that he would have had a green uniform and a scally cap. And instead of a “Federation” insignia on the chest, perhaps a Fighting Leprechaun insignia.

        • Yer havin yer leg pulled.

          3-1 the name was thought up as Zulu and changed slightly for TV.

          • I’m rather aware of the leg pulling.

            And I’ll take the other side of that 3-1 wager. They already had their African representative with Uhuru. They needed their Asian rep and got Sulu (not Zulu!). Someone call Gene Roddenberry to confirm.

            • Actually Rodenberry wanted to cast a Uigher for the role to round out the ethnic mix of the cast. And he also wanted to add human interest by reaching for diversity of appearance when it became plain that Leonard Nimoy would not accept the prehensile ears planned for his character. The name of the planned conning officer was originally an acronym describing Rodenberry’s desires.

              After they settled on Takei as the closest they could find to a Uigher they couldn’t decide on a better name than the acronym. Hence SULU became Sulu.

              • Which is actually fortunate because in some early drafts the acronym was SUFU.

            • RE, Zulu wouldn’t refer to the people, but to a naval term.

              • It was too easy make the African connection though. I couldn’t restrain myself.

              • As part of the PC program the Navy sent out new signal manuals changing Charlie to Congo and Zulu to Zip; but then they quietly recalled them all.

  9. And that’s why you can’t have a television show of your own, Ritchie.

    • Why do you hurt me fuster?

      • Don’t let the cute little red coat and white vest fool you. He’s a frog, optimised by evolution to lie in wait, leap, and bite.

        • ya think …….. theoptimisedamphibean’s

          naw, sounds too much like one them faux pubs down in Greenwich Village.

          • Recently revised this:

            King David, that cad,
            Done Uriah quite bad,
            Sent off that Hittite,
            To star and fall in a fight,
            With Bathsheba sojourned,
            Then was re Absolom torn,
            ‘Til his death after morn,
            And by one and all scorned,
            So he publicly mourned,
            Did the premier Augustine,
            And kept his new Queen,
            Who stayed hale and well met,
            For her Sol was God’s pet,
            To Adonijah’s regret,
            Why all the pain and upset?
            So the stage for Sheba was set.

            • nicely schemed, Augustine.

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