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Biden’s Handwringing Over the Houthis is Going to Get U.S. Navy Sailors Killed

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Middle East, political entities - Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Eritrea, Djibouti, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel

This week marks the eighth month of the U.S. Navy’s combat operations against Houthi forces in Yemen. That’s four times longer than the first Gulf War. While Navy sailors have remained vigilant, fighting their ships, and eliminating a portion of their adversary’s combat capability, the Houthis and their Iranian enablers remain entirely undeterred.

The Houthis have scared commercial mariners away

Commercial mariners have gotten the message. After more than 50 attacks on shipping in the waters off Yemen, which have killed three, the marine transportation industry has all but abandoned the Red Sea. This caused one Commanding Officer of the Navy ships in the region to call the strategic sea lane a “ghost town.” One must wonder why the U.S. has a Navy in the first place.

The exodus of civilian shipping has only caused the Houthis to concentrate their kinetic effects on allied naval forces, creating the most intense combat conditions since World War II. In a sobering expose this week by the Associated Press, commanders of the U.S. Navy vessels involved described the nearly non-stop barrage of missiles and drones. In each case, the ships had only seconds to respond.

One officer said, “We only have to get it wrong once,” implying that if the Houthis succeed in executing just a single strike successfully, any of the ships could experience what occurred in 1987 when the USS Stark was struck by two Iraqi Exocet air to surface missiles during the Iran-Iraq War, which killed 37 sailors and nearly sunk the ship.

The Navy is running out of time

Time is not on the Navy’s side. Consider that Israel’s much-vaunted Iron Dome system has an estimated success rate of 95%, meaning that 5% of all incoming attacks strike home. In the AP article, Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said, “We’re sort of on the verge of the Houthis being able to mount the kinds of attacks that the U.S. can’t stop every time, and then we will start to see substantial damage. … If you let it fester, the Houthis are going to get to be a much more capable, competent, experienced force.”

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Such was the case when a strike by another Iran-backed militia killed three Army soldiers and injured dozens of others last year in Jordan. The forces defending the base mistook the adversary’s drone for an American one.

Why is the world’s strongest Navy being put in the position of a pincushion? The sad fact is that the service’s hands are tied by a White House too fearful to eliminate the threat in Yemen, as well as their support from Iran. Instead, the Biden team is foolishly clinging to the Administration’s “relentless diplomacy” policy which did nothing to deter Russia from invading Ukraine in 2022. While the White House has said nothing about taking the fight to the enemy in Yemen, the Houthis are boasting about what they are doing.

Israel has a clear objective

Contrast this to Israel’s approach in their war with Hamas. Their objective is clear: destroy Hamas. This is just what the U.S. needs to do: establish and achieve the goal to destroy the Houthi’s means of attacking both shipping and Israel. When the Trump Administration killed Iranian Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani in 2020, it forced Iran’s leaders to recalculate their months-long escalation against U.S. forces. Standing up to the Houthi attacks and Iran’s material and financial support will have the same effect.

And you can be sure that China’s President Xi Jinping is not only noticing such dithering by Biden’s Defense Department, but he is also embracing it and factoring it into his timeline to take Taiwan as early as the end of this year.

In an interview last week, former Commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) General Frank McKenzie stated that President Biden disregarded his advice and selected the worst of the four options he developed for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2021. He is clearly making the same ill-advised decisions regarding Iran right now.

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Why doesn’t the Navy hit the Houthis harder?

In the previously cited AP article, author Jon Gambrell described the sentiment of Naval personnel on the scene in the Red Sea, “Officers acknowledge some grumbling among their crew, wondering why the Navy doesn’t strike harder against the Houthis.” We can only hope that current U.S. CENTCOM and Navy leadership are more effective than McKenzie in arguing against the Administration’s feckless and failing policy towards Iran and the Houthis. If they don’t succeed soon, the Houthis are going to get their lucky break, and the blood of U.S. Navy sailors will be on Biden’s hands.

This article was originally published by RealClearDefense and made available via RealClearWire.

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Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, U.S. Navy ret., is the CEO of Ocean STL Consulting, LLC, former  acting and deputy administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as former acting undersecretary and assistant secretary of Commerce. Prior to NOAA, he served as an oceanographer in the U.S. Navy, completing his career as the commander of the Navy Meteorology and Oceanography Command and founding director of the Navy’s Task Force Ocean.

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