Nothing is normal or acceptable about what is happening in the Red Sea.

The largest war against merchant shipping since World War II is raging despite multiple countries escorting ships by the Houthi strongholds in Yemen. Multiple nations are conducting escort duty, but the command, control, and structure seem piecemeal, stove-piped, and uncoordinated despite American attempts to marshal a coalition.
The daily strikes and counterstrikes are increasing in intensity and reflect a broad campaign conducted by Iran and China to wear out and overwhelm the longstanding U.S. presence in the region. The debacle of the Afghan departure was the unforced error that initiated this asymmetric drive to destroy the American Grand Strategy, which had worked for decades. World trade has been significantly disrupted; up to 25 percent of world trade for key commodities passes through the Red Sea.
The Houthis have been resilient and have risen in stature and prominence with the inability of the U.S. Navy and others to subdue them. They are being lauded as “unstoppable” despite daily and nightly raids and missile attacks. The ability of the Houthis to disrupt world commerce and now sink ships is becoming a rallying point in Middle Eastern culture.

US Mired in Military Action While Chinese Merchant Ships Pass Untouched

The failure of the United States to develop a coordinated coalition willing to protect the sea lanes signals several weaknesses.

The European Union is now establishing a separate naval force to conduct escort of EU member nation merchant vessels. This EU effort is a breathtaking sign of dissatisfaction with the American-led effort of Operation Prosperity Garden, which has struggled to attain full participation.
For years, there was confusion over the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its view of military units vis-à-vis the burgeoning EU view of military units. The EU constantly referenced units historically aligned with NATO—this alternate universe of who controls what military units has now achieved an operational impasse. With the greatly diminished size of the European militaries from Cold War days, most countries can offer, at best, one vessel at a time to the Red Sea Operation.

So is that ship an EU ship or a NATO nation offering the ship to the U.S. coalition? The answer is yes.

Meanwhile, the Indians are essentially running a third distinct maritime escort operation.

The U.S. Navy has a perfect track record (so far) in defending itself and U.S. Flag ships in transit. They are doing heroic work but are running frenetically all over the court in this deadly badminton game. In contrast, Chinese and Russian merchant vessels are passing relatively serenely and unscathed. It appears China and Russia are not paying war risk insurance rates, which drives more cargo to their ships.

China has suddenly developed a new merchant line to leverage the situation: Sea Legend Shipping. The Chinese have weaponized merchant shipping flows and pricing—a form of unrestricted warfare. The Chinese have become very good at rapidly forming front and shell companies. The American government developed the art form, especially under the Dulles Brothers, during the 1950s, and then forgot about it.

China, Iran Have the Momentum in Diplomatic Initiatives

China is deftly moving on diplomatic initiatives. The optic and value proposition are pretty clear; while the United States is flailing at keeping the shipping lanes open, China is very easily able to position itself as the “responsible alternative to the U.S. in the Middle East, just as many are questioning Washington’s long-term commitment to the region,” wrote strategist Peter Singer in a recent op-ed. The Chinese are leveraging the buffer of Iran as plausible deniability that they have anything to do with the Houthis.

However, Iran’s dependence on China represents a clear connection and subordination to Beijing, whose voracious appetite for Iranian oil keeps the Iranian regime in power. Beijing covets a pipeline from Iran to Pakistan, which, once done, will be extended into China.
The Houthi resilience in the face of pervasive American-led counterattacks has given them high esteem in the minds of those opposed to Israel, the United States, and the West. This may be one of the calculated outcomes the Iranians planned for, and as the benefactors of the Houthis, they are nonetheless benefitting from this rise in perception. Iran has unleashed a diplomatic offensive to isolate Israel and the United States, which has been helped by Israeli distraction as they focus on the destruction of Hamas and Washington’s attempts to maintain safe passage through the Red Sea.

Iran, China Project Diplomatic Influence on the Caribbean

Iran is very serious about projecting influence and presence right into America’s front yard of the Caribbean. Iran has plans for its presence around the Panama Canal and has set up naval commands for the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in a manner that mimics the American global combatant and functional commands. Iran is ever present in Venezuela and has plans for a naval base there. None of this should be dismissed as unrealistic—Iran is deadly serious about these matters.

The Chinese efforts are much more broadly known, but the Iranian diplomacy campaign in the Americas has succeeded and taken root with totalitarian leaders. The Iranian effort grows while the U.S. State Department focuses on flying alternative lifestyle flags above U.S. Embassies in virtue signaling, which only diminishes the respect for American interests.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was going to bring back the adults to rebuild the American image in his view. So far, no American diplomacy adults have been sighted, and Iranian and Chinese initiatives are lapping State Department efforts at a brisk pace.

All viewpoints are personal and do not reflect the viewpoints of any organization.

This article first appeared in Epoch Times and was reprinted with permission.

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