Bull From the China Shop

As counterinsurgency (COIN) marches into the expanding ranks of failed U.S. military doctrines, the military-industrial-congressional complex casts about for a new raison d’être. Since manpower-centric, generational occupations of broken countries we can’t fix have finally fallen out of favor as our foreign policy tool of choice, the American warmongery is back to championing a high-price, high-tech force posture reminiscent of the Cold War days.

The “China Shop,” my label for an ad hoc cell within the neoconservative think-tankery, is consuming swaths of bandwidth in an attempt to make Americans believe an expanded, modernized Chinese navy is about to grab control of the world’s oceans and make us all work in laundries and restaurants for sub-minimum wages or something equally implausible but nonetheless horrifying to the rank and file of the insentient Right. A May 20 article by Human Events columnist Robert McGinnis warns us of “China’s High Seas Aggression.” A Wall Street Journal op-ed piece from the same date by Michael Auslin of the infamous American Enterprise Institute sends chills up our spine with haunting tales of “Asia’s Troubled Waters.” An ad placeholder at Military.com’s Defense Tech blubbers, “It’s Springtime for China’s Blue Water Navy.” Swim away! Swim away!

At the heart of this latest wave of Sinophobia is a pair of recent articles by U.S. Navy Commander James Kraska, a judge advocate general (AKA “lawyer”) who frames himself as the next coming of Ray Spruance. Kraska is a senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), one of the oldest right-wing think-tanks in the country. Contributors to FPRI publications constitute a pogues gallery of neoconservatism: Max Boot, Eliot Cohen, Donald and Fred Kagan, James Woolsey, and more. Kraska is also on the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College, which is a de facto neocon think-tank. (Professor Mackubin Thomas Owens, an associate dean of academics at the college, was co-author of the neocon manifesto Rebuilding America’s Defenses. He is a regular National Review online contributor and is also, by sheer coincidence I’m sure, a senior fellow at FPRI.)

Kraska follows the playbook used by nearly all pseudo-intellectual war peddlers, which prescribes specious emotional arguments based on flimsy premises and propped up with false assumptions, facetious analogies, contrived facts, and references to the unsupported claims of one’s neo-cronies.

In “China Set for Naval Hegemony,” a May 6 article for The Diplomat, Kraska blames China’s maritime force buildup on Bill Clinton, blames the Chinese navy for something two commercial cargo ships did, and infers that China spends more on its navy than we spend on our Navy when in fact China’s entire defense budget is roughly 10 percent of ours at the very most. But Kraska saved his wackiest shenanigans for an article in the winter 2010 edition of FPRI’s Orbis magazine (which just happens to be edited by Mackubin Thomas Owens) titled “How the United States Lost the Naval War of 2015.”

In this hallucinatory glimpse at a bizarro future war, Kraska fractures history to an extent that the head of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth would balk at. “Over the past five hundred years all of the world’s foremost powers achieved their position of leadership through reliance on unsurpassed naval capabilities,” Kraska claims. Even “Russia reached the apex of its standing on the global stage through naval power.”

Author Kraska and editor Owens, both instructors in an accredited, graduate-level program of military theory and history, should know that all three of those statements are bunkum of the nth magnitude. Neither Napoleon nor Fredrick the Great nor Adolf Hitler had any naval power worth writing Mom about. Russia became a superpower when the Red Army repelled Nazi Germany’s Heer in World War II. Cold War Soviet naval forces were never designed to do more than intercept U.S. carrier forces a maximum of 1,000 miles from the Russian coasts, and their consistently abysmal material readiness made even that modest goal unrealistic.

This is pure parochial tall-tale telling, but it goes over big with Kreska’s bosses at the Naval War College, so it’s full blurt ahead and damn the realities.

It’s in that vein that Kraska asserts the Army can fail “as it did in Vietnam” and America will survive, but the Navy can “never fail.” News flash, Jim Bob: America’s reign as global hegemon is taking a jackknife into an empty pool because the Army has failed to defeat a foe that doesn’t even have an army, yet the Navy is failing to defeat a fistful of teenage pirates from Somalia and nobody is batting an eye patch.

Kraska’s crowning achievement is his description of how the Chinese manage to sink the carrier USS George Washington with a ballistic missile and make it look like the GW put itself on the bottom by accident. Nobody believes incontrovertible evidence that the Chinese sank the carrier, which is somehow Colin Powell’s fault, and the whole affair comes about as a result of globalization and environmentalists and (again) Bill Clinton, and the usual assortment of hand-wringing sheet soakers who have “forgotten that the history of international security and freedom of the seas was a story intimately woven into the material of world politics, forming the basis for an Anglo-American world order.” He really said that. Seriously. Not in the middle of the piece where you might accidentally skip over it, but at the very end where nobody could miss it.

Kraska’s scenario reflects an abject ignorance, even for a JAG officer, of air and naval combat capabilities, and it sketches a political-strategic plotline that wouldn’t even be plausible in one of those young-adult fiction books Tom Clancy writes.

Lamentably, as laughable as the likes of Kraska and Owens are, movers and shakers in our capital take them seriously. These two highbrow hooligans teach at the nation’s most prestigious war college (the only one that confers a master of arts degree). They and entirely too many like them play influential advisory roles in the highest levels of our executive and legislative branches, yet the only thing they really know is how to ingratiate themselves in the halls of power. When called upon to provide expert opinion on whatever subjects they pretend to have mastery of, they seldom know what the hell they’re talking about, but that’s okay because the people posing the questions never know what the hell they’re asking about.

And so it is that when our nation’s decision-makers dredge the Capital’s intellectual sewers to discover what American needs to keep itself safe, Kraska and Owens and Boot and Cohen and the rest of them will say we need more naval carrier strike groups because the 10 we have are stretched thin by too many global commitments.

The truth is that 10 carriers are more than we really need. Eight would be more than sufficient. Two could begin putting the Chinese navy on the bottom right after lunch and be done in plenty of time for midrats. If the Navy is stretched thin it’s because it keeps signing on for missions it isn’t really designed to perform (like helping the Air Force and the CIA bomb the bejeebus out of Muslim weddings) to justify its bloated budget to Congress.

Giving the Navy more ships would merely be giving it more ships to get sunk. What the Navy needs are systems capable of defending the ships it already has from mines and torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, relatively low-tech weapons they been vulnerable to for decades.

But Congress won’t hear that message from ideology-driven fools like Commander James Kraska.

Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.