On Tuesday, President Obama sent the USS Lassen to the South China Sea where it sailed within 12 nautical miles of one of China’s artificial islands. Publicly, the Chinese are outraged, but behind the scenes they are probably snickering considering what happened the last time the U.S. Navy sent China a message.
Back in 1996, when the Chinese were harassing Taiwan, President Clinton sent two carrier groups to the area. And one of them led by the USS Nimitz sailed right through the Taiwan Strait. Now that sends a message. Why? Because the ships sailed very close to China, and the closer you get, the more enemy territory comes under your guns. The Nimitz could have inflicted some serious mayhem on a wide swath of China that day (click the map to enlarge):
The Chinese had their Silkworm cruise missiles back then, but perhaps the Navy was confident in their countermeasures. Of course, during the intervening 20 years we have transferred a tremendous amount of technology to the Chinese, so their anti-ship weapons are far more sophisticated now. Sending a carrier that close to China today might not be feasible. And I would be surprised to see it considering how the USS Theodore Roosevelt pulled out of the Middle East two days after the Russians started launching cruise missiles at ISIS on October 7th.
Perhaps there will be more “Freedom of Navigation” operations, but if it ends after this puny show of force, the Chinese will likely be emboldened rather than deterred – just like the Russians are now in the Middle East.
I’m for scaling back our imperial footprint, but it has to be done in such a way that our military rivals don’t sense weakness.