Austin Bay: America’s Next Wars: Lose One, Hold One?

Austin Bay

Can the United States only fight a war with a chance of victory?

According to Navy’s Senior Officer (CNO) Admiral Mike Gilday, the answer is yes — at least when it comes to the US Navy fighting its fair share of the war.

According to Stars and Stripes, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 12, Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo, asked Gilday, “What impact would this have on the Navy’s ability to meet its operational needs in (Europe) if we had to.” Withhold naval forces from Europe to deter Chinese aggression in the (Pacific)?”

Gilday responded that the current fleet of about 298 ships “is not large enough to handle two simultaneous conflicts”. The Navy is “big enough to fight one and keep a second opponent at bay, but in terms of two total conflicts, we’re not big for that.”

Given the real threat posed by Communist China – whose navy is already larger than the US Navy – this is a stunning statement from the Navy’s senior officer.

Consider the elements of information and narrative warfare — and the Biden administration emphasizes “perception” above all else. At least Gilday’s assessment is considered a faux pas of diplomatic perception – it signals weakness. At the hyperbolic maximum – admittedly extreme – Beijing’s imperialist dictatorship could read this as an invitation to attack Taiwan. In the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, you should never dismiss the excessive and idiotic aggression of a dictatorship as impossible.

Important caveat: Ukraine’s fierce resistance to Russian aggression should give the Beijing aggressors second and third thoughts.

Unfortunately – Gilday uncovers an unfortunate vulnerability. My American political statement: He wants more money for the Navy and its ongoing procurement programs.

Another reason? Anyone sensitive on the Senate Armed Services Committee knows that the US military is designed to “fight one and hold one.”

The first “one” means a war that must be won at all costs.

In this strategic bond, we’re betting that we’ll win whoever we fight first, and then win whoever we’ve held—or hope we’ve held.

“Win, Hold, Win” – a bumper sticker representing the organizing principle.

In July 2001, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hinted through a Pentagon leak that America would no longer build – and pay for – a military built to combat a “two-war strategy.”

By the late 1990s, a bipartisan Washington consensus believed that the US no longer faced the strategic threat of simultaneously fighting major Atlantic/Europe and Pacific/Asia wars.

In a column written in July 2001, I suggested that Rumsfeld would tell America that World War II and its Cold War aftermath had finally reached a strategic terminus. The Cold War was the long farewell to World War II as American and Russian troops faced each other in a divided Germany. America’s direct involvement in Asian troubles such as the Korean and Vietnam Wars was the consequence of defeating Japan – and subsequent confrontation with communist China and the USSR.

To do justice to Rumsfeld’s 2001 (but pre-9/11) context, he addressed a late 1990s Pentagon planning concept to fight “two major regional wars.”

Rumsfeld wanted to balance Pentagon strategy with budget, if not strategic threat. Since 1993, Congress had passed the so-called end of the Cold War as a “peace dividend.”

As for reality? In 1993 Russia was broken. In 1993, China appeared to want to make money. In 2022, China is “the striding threat.” That’s Pentagonese for America’s toughest enemy.

In his written comments prior to testimony, Gilday used the slang to clarify his point: “Sea control and power projection are essential to U.S. national security and long-term economic health.” China, “our Tempo threat, clearly recognizes this at …”

In 2018, Congress required the Navy to deploy a fleet of 355 ships “as soon as possible,” but the fleet was reduced due to budget requirements. China’s fleet already includes 355 ships.

Lose the big one, what’s the hold?

Austin Bay is a syndicated columnist and author.


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