The USS Theodore Roosevelt fiasco shows how paranoid the Pentagon is about China

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Your friend and humble narrator owes the Navy an apology. Last week, this reporter thought the Navy was the most dysfunctional service on the planet, but the past seven days has shown that the Navy’s latest meltdown just reflects a wider insanity that has infected the entire U.S. military.

To wit: When it comes to China, every uniformed and civilian leader in the United States is completely paranoid. (It doesn’t help that the Fat Leonard scandal took out all the Navy officers who actually understand how China works.)

The Pentagon is fixated on China as an existential threat to American security. They worry that if the U.S. military retreats anywhere in the world, China will come rolling in like a sea to drown U.S. influence in former allies, such as the Philippines. (This is a 21st Century take on all the dominoes falling should South Vietnam fall to the communists.)

In the spirit of Easter, let’s start with a crucifixion. The news of the week was former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly losing his job after he traveled thousands of miles to lambaste the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s former captain and crew for having the gall to worry about sailors needlessly dying from the plague spreading on the ship.

Modly was particularly incensed that the aircraft carrier’s former skipper Capt. Brett Crozier wrote in his letter about the dire conditions aboard the Theodore Roosevelt and asserted that the United States is not at war right now, according to an audio recording of his comments obtained by Task & Purpose.

“Well, we’re not technically at war, but let me tell you something: The only reason we are dealing with this right now is because a big authoritarian regime called China was not forthcoming about what was happening with this virus,” Modly said. “And they put the world at risk to protect themselves and to protect their reputations.”

Modly also warned the Theodore Roosevelt’s crew that as much as they were afraid of the coronavirus, they would be “pretty fucking scared” if hypersonic missiles were fired at the ship in combat.

OK, let’s start with the fact that China is still testing rather than fielding hypersonic missiles, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency’s most recent report on the Chinese military.

Secondly: You don’t need to tell sailors or any other service members that their lives would be at risk in combat operations. They already know that – and they signed a contract anyway. They also know the difference between war and peace.

Now, your friend and humble narrator is not so naïve to believe war with China is impossible. China is building the most modern and capable military in the world, so it makes perfect sense for the U.S. military to wargame how it would beat the People’s Liberation Army.

In some ways, China is more dangerous than the Soviet Union in the cold war because the Chinese economy is the second largest in the world. That dwarfs the Soviet Union’s tiny economy, which was run into the ground by the country’s ideological and senile ruling elite. (Sound familiar?)

Right now, the Chinese military is on a buildup that is scheduled to be finished in 2049. It only has two aircraft carriers currently, compared to the U.S. Navy’s 11, and while China’s true defense budget is a state secret, it announced in March 2019 that it would spend $178 billion on its military that year. By comparison, the Defense Department’s fiscal 2019 appropriation was $686 billion.

Still, the U.S. military seems hell bent on taking insane risks to show China that it can throw down anytime and anywhere. For example, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, actually said the Theodore Roosevelt could go “right back out to sea if needed.”

Without naming China, Milley warned potential adversaries that they would be making a “tragic mistake” if they tried to take on the U.S. military during the coronavirus crisis.

“The Teddy Roosevelt in and of itself has got about 400 COVID-positive test results so far out of a crew of 5,000, and although that is significant for that particular ship, we think, our assessment, both the PACOM commander and Joint Staff, myself, et cetera, is that if required in time of contingency planning, the T.R. would be ready,” Milley said during a live-streamed town hall.

What Milley is essentially saying is that the Pentagon expects the Theodore Roosevelt’s crew to come back with their shields or on them, especially considering that more than 3,000 of the aircraft carrier’s sailors are now in quarantine in Guam, including one sailor who is in the intensive care unit.

As of April 11, a total of 550 Theodore Roosevelt crew members had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Navy. That represents 75% of the 753 sailors Navy-wide who have the disease.

Even under wartime conditions, sending the Theodore Roosevelt on a combat deployment right now would be insane, but the Pentagon and the Navy have lost all sense of proportion when it comes to the threat China poses.

Up next: Expect defense officials to warn the American public that fluoridation is a Chinese communist plot to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

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Jeff Schogol covers the Pentagon for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for nearly 15 years and embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Haiti. Prior to joining T&P, he covered the Marine Corps and Air Force at Military Times. Comments or thoughts to share? Send them to Jeff Schogol via email at schogol@taskandpurpose.com or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.