National Security & Defense

The Pentagon’s Groveling Apology to China for Flying Near a Contested Island

B-52 Stratofortress over the Pacific, July 2009. (US Air Force)

On November 13, President Obama claimed that ISIS was “contained.” One day later, ISIS painted bloody red lines on Paris streets. The credibility of American foreign policy took another big hit.

Then came Saturday’s Wall Street Journal report that last week, “an American B-52 bomber on a routine mission over the South China Sea unintentionally flew within two nautical miles of an artificial island [Cuarteron] built by China.” This seemed like good news, suggesting that Obama was challenging — under cover of an “unintentional” foray — China’s imperial project in the East China and South China Seas. That would be welcome, because China’s project intends to subjugate U.S. allies, seize lucrative energy reserves, and dominate crucial trade routes. And Obama seems to realize this. At November’s APEC summit, he offered “shared commitment to the security of the waters of this region and to freedom of navigation.” In October, President Obama sent an American destroyer within twelve miles of another artificial Chinese island.

My hopes in the president were misplaced.

RELATED: The U.S. Navy Must Act to Ensure the Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea

First off, it’s telling that the White House hasn’t commented on the B-52 report. This is the administration’s go-to response for a story they want to go away (if the administration likes the story, we get leaks and Hollywood movies).

But the Pentagon’s response has been equally telling. Instead of broadcasting that America will reject China’s claims in the East China and South China Seas, and instead of asserting that American forces will of course operate in international territory, the Pentagon groveled before China, offering apologies. The Journal reports that the B-52 aircrew is being investigated and that the Pentagon is hinting that “bad weather” led the crew to make a mistake. It’s Scapegoating 101.

RELATED: Could U.S. Brinksmanship in the South China Sea Mean War with Beijing?

Unfortunately, this supplication to China is also Strategic Incompetence 101. First, as evidenced by this situation, if the U.S. is unwilling to operate over international waters without qualification, those waters become Chinese. This yields the strategic initiative to China. It also contradicts the B-52 deployment in the first place. Assuming that the B-52s were flown from Guam (the closest squadron deployment), this must have been a mission focused on China. In part, that’s because B-52s have advanced oceanic-surveillance capabilities. But with Guam a significant distance away from the South China Sea — 2,200 miles — this mission clearly wasn’t for flight hours.

#share#Regardless, this incident encapsulates President Obama’s foreign-policy absurdity. After all, while China carves its empire, Obama continues to claim that his China policy is successful. This success is proven, he says, by China’s pledge to try to cap its carbon emissions by 2030. It’s an unbinding, unenforceable pledge from a socialist kleptocracy.

Nevertheless, the true absurdity of Obama’s delusion is clear only in the light of history. Imagine if President Truman had allowed Stalin to seize Berlin in 1948 in return for Stalin’s pledge to try to hold free elections in 1964. On the contrary, consider how President Truman actually dealt with Stalin during the 1948–1949 Berlin crisis (in which Stalin blockaded Berlin’s western zones). Vastly outgunning U.S. forces in Germany, the Soviets threatened war. But when the question arose of whether or not the United States was going to stay in Berlin, Truman declared: “No discussion . . . we are going to stay — period.” He launched the Berlin airlift and put his faith in American deterrent power and American values. And he won the day.

#related#Of course, today, many would castigate Truman’s blunt speak as gung-ho idiocy, unbefitting of “smart power” and nuanced American leadership in a complex world. But Truman knew that the conduct of an effective statesman isn’t just about dealing with the moment, but also about anticipating the horizon. General Clay, commanding U.S. forces in Berlin during the crisis, also understood this truth. Consider Clay’s cable to Washington at the start of the crisis: “We are convinced that our remaining in Berlin is essential to our prestige in Germany and in Europe. Whether for good or bad, it has become a symbol of the American intent.”

Truman knew that if the United States abandoned the small territory of Berlin, that action would eviscerate American credibility around the world and the Soviets would gain the strategic upper hand in the Cold War. Allies would doubt America’s word, and our adversaries would know America’s weakness. Sadly, last week’s B-52 incident proves that President Obama does not grasp that purpose and credibility are essential components of an effective foreign policy. And American enemies are taking advantage: In 2016, expect historic foes China and Russia to strengthen their alliance against us.

— Tom Rogan is a writer for National Review Online and Opportunity Lives, a panelist on The McLaughlin Group, and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. He tweets at TomRtweets. His homepage is

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at

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