Battle of the Red Sea

When is President Biden going to go on the offense?

Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ryan U. Kledzik/U.S. Navy via AP
The USS Carney in the Mediterranean Sea in 2018. Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ryan U. Kledzik/U.S. Navy via AP

“The U.S. helicopters returned fire in self-defense, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews. The fourth boat fled the area.” That is how the U.S. Central Command describes an incident at the Red Sea on the last day of 2023, in which Houthis on four small boats attempted to board and seize the Maersk Hangzhu. The battle started after the helicopters responded to a distress call from the container ship.  

The defensive tone in “returned fire” and “self defense” marks President Biden’s approach to enforcing freedom of navigation on the high seas. This started with the Barbary Pirates. As early as 1801, American vessels — bearing Letters of Marque and Reprisal — were off northern Africa to fight what became known as the first Barbary war, battling piracy to secure free maritime commerce. Our Marines still sing of the “shores of Tripoli.” 

When the Marines belt out “we fight our country’s battles in the air, on land, and sea,” they hardly think of merely returning fire or defending themselves. Yet, in the battle of the Red Sea, those seem to be the key tenets. Mr. Biden’s entire foreign policy career is marked by shying from confrontation. Fearing escalation, he was the only cabinet member to oppose the high mark of Barack Obama’s presidency, the 2011 raid that found Osama bin Laden.  

Now concerns of escalation in war dominate White House statements and briefings. More than 60,000 Israelis have left their homes near the Lebanese border following constant Hezbollah shelling. Yet Washington leans on Jerusalem to let diplomacy keep the terrorists off its border and avoid widening the war beyond Gaza. Similarly, each time Kyiv begs for offensive weapons, Mr. Biden says no, then, a day late and a few Atacms short, agrees. 

Fear of escalation leads enemies intent on unseating America as world leader to, well, escalate. As our sailors refrain from confronting Communist China’s aggression in East Asia, Beijing cements islands as military bases in maritime territories claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, among others. Once the South China Sea becomes President Xi’s private lake, he alone would decide who sails there and even on the rest of the Pacific.

Unlike the ever-growing People’s Liberation Army, the ragtag band of brainwashed Houthis are no match to America’s might. Or at least they shouldn’t be. Adopting the Nazi “heil” salute and the goose step, the Yemeni group sounds a battle cry of “death to America, death to Israel, a curse upon the Jews, victory to Islam.” Unlike in World War II, America can end the Red Sea menace fairly quickly by hitting Yemeni bases and missile launchers. 

Then again, the Houthi hatred of America and Israel echoes another ideology-based Mideast power. The Tehran Khomeinists have long targeted the “great Satan” and “little Satan.” Mr. Biden has unsuccessfully courted the Islamic Republic from day one, hoping for a diplomatic breakthrough on the nuclear file. And now Iran possesses enough fissile material for three bombs, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. 

It almost seems as if America’s diplomats are less interested in Iran’s nuclear progress than in avoiding confrontation with the mullahs. As a result, Mideast offshoots of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank are on the march. It is past time for America to take a stand. Resuming the role of defender of the high seas is a good start. Rather than acting in self defense, it’s time to get on offense.

The New York Sun

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