A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.
-- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, “Fear God and Take Your Own Part,” 1916
A century ago, America had an articulate and educated president who understood the strategic necessity of sea power.
But then, that president was a graduate of the great educational institutions of America where he had studied in detail naval strategy and who as a student wrote a paper titled “The Naval War of 1812” that remains a full 100 years later an oft cited standard study of that war. Before he was president, Theodore Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy and his orders to the commander of the US Navy’s Asiatic Squadron, Admiral George Dewey, are credited by Dewey himself with victory at the Battle of Manila Bay. When a peaceful solution to conflict with Spain could not be found, Roosevelt gave up his office to become a cavalry officer of the US Volunteers and leader of the famous Rough Riders where he would win the Medal of Honor for his astounding heroism in battle.
Despite his many faults, and despite valid criticism of his actions and policies, Theodore Roosevelt remains one of America’s truly great leaders, a genuine cowboy, a war hero, a peacemaker, a diplomat, a scholar, a conservationist, a naturalist, a military strategist, a consummate politician, a humanitarian, and a president who truly understood the machinations of politics and the workings of power on a global scale.
More, Roosevelt, despite being born to privilege was always and ever aware of his responsibility as a leader to both the nation and to history.
Today … well, yes, today.
Today, America is being lectured on naval strategy by a guy who doesn’t know the difference between "straights" and "strait."
But then it gets better.
"China gets 91% of its Oil from the Straight [sic], Japan 62%, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been a dangerous journey. We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world! The U.S. request for Iran is very simple - No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!"
If you need an example of a non sequitur logical fallacy, this is a pretty good one.
As usual, Trump begins as he always does: power is for profit.
Trump never reminds you that power comes with responsibility, because he doesn’t believe that. No, for Trump power is about one thing: money.
Specifically, Trump implies US sea power is something we do for profit and then, somehow, he ends up at Iranian nuclear ambitions via US domestic energy production.
As I said, a non sequitur logical fallacy in that one most assuredly does not follow the other.
But then, that is the hallmark of this administration.
Everyday with Trump is like that Calvin & Hobbes cartoon where Calvin is completely unprepared for Mrs. Wormwood's question and just starts shouting random answers: The Gettysburg Address! War of 1812! Lewis and Clark! Spaghetti!
Let us begin here then: US strategic power isn't a business.
We do not profit from our military.
Other nations do not pay us for protection, nor should they.
We don't project sea power for the purpose of making a profit, but rather to secure the sea lanes for our own use and that of our allies.
The Strait of Hormuz is a strategic chokepoint, one of the most critical waterways in the world. Not just because it is the primary passage for Gulf state oil, or because it allows the US military access to our allies (and our enemies) and US commercial interests access to their markets, suppliers, and customers, but because what happens there to both our enemies and our allies affects the entire world.
This is the very purpose of sea power; something previous presidents have understood in detail.
The fact that other nations benefit from our military power is incidental.
Also, it should be noted since Trump himself specifically used the example: Japan does not have a navy.
Japan has a Maritime Self-Defense Force to protect their sovereignty and their interests in their own waters.
But the nation does not have a blue-water navy to protect their commerce on the high seas.
This is by design.
Japan does not have a navy because the United States and her allies defeated Imperial Japan at the end of WWII and the agreements which ended that conflict and Japan's formal acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration dissolved Japan's military forces. When a new Japanese government was formed following the war, it specifically declared: "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes" and they put that in their new constitution verbatim as Article 9 in 1947. And what an example, and an admonishment, to the rest of us.
For the last 70 years, the US has provided protection, at least in part, for Japanese shipping on the high seas – as America does for all of its allies. Not for profit or for prestige or for conquest, but because it is in our best interest to ensure freedom of the seas for all nations, friend and foe alike.
Because when freedom of the sea lanes is not enforced for all, war follows. Always.
This is what Roosevelt meant when he said, A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.
As to China, do you believe it is in our best interests that the Chinese navy became the peacekeeping force in the Arabian Gulf? Or the Russian navy? Or the Indians? Really?
For some reason, I am suddenly reminded of the decline of the British Empire and how it ceded control of the seas to younger, more vital nations in the interests of saving itself a few pounds.
But I digress.
Trump’s assertion that "we don't need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy [sic] anywhere in the world!" demonstrates a profound ignorance of history, the purpose of US strategic power projection, and global energy production.
War in the Gulf is bad for the entire world, both now and into the future.
It is in our best interests to prevent that conflict and to keep that waterway open and free to passage of all vessels whether we get a single drop of oil from the Arabian Gulf or not.
Moreover, and beyond the geopolitics of the Strait of Hormuz, all energy is not the same.
All energy production is not equal.
And production of energy is not the same as the process of acquisition, refining, and distribution of the materials necessary for the production of that energy.
Nuclear energy, for example, requires materials and technologies far beyond the simple mining of uranium. And it is the same with oil or gas, wind or solar – or oxen pushing a cane-mill around and ‘round for that matter.
Trump's declaration that the US is the largest producer of energy in this context implies not only that all energy production is the same, but all forms of energy are interchangeable at all levels of our civilization and are produced at the same rate, for the same cost, and at same level of technology and purpose.
This is patently ridiculous in all regards.
Trump’s comment is a gross oversimplification of an incredibly complex subject.
For example, not all crude oil is the same.
Did you know that? Trump doesn’t seem to. The majority of our congressmen and Senators don’t seem to know this.
Not all oil is created equal. The oil from Saudi Arabi and the oil squeezed out of Canadian Tar Sands is not even vaguely similar.
Oil is graded by three factors, viscosity, volatility, and toxicity.
More viscous oil is thicker. What does that mean, thicker? Well, what it means in practical terms is that it takes more energy to move that oil, to pump it out of the ground, to transport it, to refine it.
And more energy means more cost.
Which means the final products made from that oil are more expensive.
More volatile oil contains the most desired light compounds, the kind of stuff you make gasoline from for example. But those compounds evaporate quickly, that’s what volatile means. It’s also much more flammable. And so this more volatile oil requires more advanced processing, safety, and transportation technologies to prevent it from evaporating, or exploding, during extraction from the ground, during pumping and transport, during refining. Meaning you can’t use just any tanker or any pipeline or run it through just any refinery.
Toxicity refers to how poisonous the oil is. What percentage of the oil is made up of toxic sulfur compounds for example. Oil heavy with sulfur compounds is very difficult to process, it's extremely expensive to refine it into lighter products -- such as gasoline or jet fuels. And that production produces huge amounts of toxic compounds that have to be disposed of. The majority of oil in the world is highly toxic, including much of the oil produced in North America.
With advances in recovery technology, yes, the US now pumps a huge amount of oil, or gets it from Canadian tar sands. But much of that oil is heavy, thick, toxic low volatility crude that can't be used for our most common energy requirement, i.e. transportation. Because that oil is thick toxic goo, i.e. heavy sour crude, we export it, mostly to Asia where it's used for bunker oils, heavy fuel oil, lubricants, industrial processes, plastics, and etc.
And we still have to import light sweet crude (low viscosity, volatile, low sulfur) oil to refine into gasoline, diesel, kerosene, heating oil, jet fuel, and so on.
So does the rest of the world.
But then there's the dismount.
“The U.S. request for Iran is very simple - No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!”
That’s what Trump said. That’s where he ended up. There.
And yet, literally, the sentence immediately prior to that is, “We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world!”
No nuclear weapons?
No sponsoring of terror?
Iran is far away. If the US did not maintain a presence in that region, then Iran would have no beef with us. Right? So why would they sponsor terrorism or wage nuclear war against us? Why then would we care what they do?
Israel, you say? What if Iran attacks Israel?
According to Trump’s own statement, that’s not our problem.
I mean, we don’t make any profit from defending Israel, do we? We don’t get any energy from Israel. So who cares, right? Why is it our problem? Why don’t they just defend themselves?
You again? What now?
Oh, I see. That’s different.
Except, of course, it’s not. And I am being sarcastic and not actually suggesting we abandon our allies and the nations of that region simply because we might not directly profit from them.
We do need to be there.
Not just because of Israel. Or Saudi Arabia. Or Kuwait. Or our other allies such as the U.A.E and Bahrain.
We do need to be there.
Not because we do or do not profit from the region but because securing the sea lanes for our own use and for that of both friend and foe alike is in our best interest.
We need to be there in the Middle East, because what happens there affects us all.
We need to be there because, like it or not, the United States cannot stand alone and because being an ally cuts both ways.
We need to be there because if we are not there to secure the sea lanes – and thus access to the Gulf – then someone else will be and that nation will control the global economy.
We need to be there because America is part of that global economy and what affects our allies – and our enemies – impacts us both directly and indirectly. Because our trade and production is global. Because if Japan and China and other nations that are a critical part of our economy are cut off from light sweet crude oil produced in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, it will have a direct and immediate and unpleasant impact on our nation.
Beyond that, money from oil is what powers the banks of the U.A.E and other Middle Eastern financial centers. Those banks in turn fund a huge amount of the global economy. If Saudi and Kuwaiti oil money stop flowing through those banks – because war closes the Strait of Hormuz for example – then very, very likely the global economy will collapse and fall into chaos the likes of which will make 2007 look like a bad day at the track. All the fracking wells punched into your water table, all the tar sands crude oil, and all the natural gas in the world, will do you not a goddamned bit of good when the critical parts you need to run your economy come from nations cut off from their energy sources and the global economy has imploded into massive recession. And, unless you own a Tesla, you can't run your car on it either, or transport goods over your highways or down your rail lines.
Trump's childish boast of America's energy production in this context is not only a non sequitur, it demonstrates a staggering lack of understanding of global economics.
Trump ranks every relationship by how it might profit him, the manifestation of a life of selfishness.
Donald Trump sees everything in terms of money. For him power is merely a means to profit, and profit means more power. But the world is far, far more complicated than that and Trump can’t even manage to string together two pitiful tweets and maintain a coherent train of thought between them.
Our president, like far too many American leaders, is an ignorant fool. He is the product of privilege without responsibility, of power without education or temper, of might without compassion or empathy.
A century ago, we had a president of vast intellectual curiosity, a scholar and a diplomat and a warrior, a man who won both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Medal of Honor, and a leader who understood in his very bones the complexity of global politics and the absolute responsibility of power and privilege. Statesman. Scholar. Soldier. Intellectual. Humanitarian of compassion, sympathy, and respect for his follows. In this regard, Roosevelt was not at all dissimilar to the men who founded the United States itself.
Over the last century, as the traits we demand of our leaders have diminished, so has our nation.
Force is never more operative than when it is known to exist but is not brandished.
-- Alfred Thayer Mahan, US naval strategist, “Armaments and Arbitration, Or, The Place of Force in the International Relations of States,” 1912