BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT
By now, those of us deemed non-essential for society’s proper operation during this time of pandemic have probably seen something online or in the news about the purportedly “heroic” US Navy Captain Brett Crozier and his four-paged letter pleading for help for his coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
Presently, 100 crewmembers of the Theodore Roosevelt‘s complement of 5,000 sailors have tested positive for coronavirus. One-thousand of the ship’s crew have been offloaded to nearby Guam to be put into isolation, with another 2,700 expected to be removed from the ship for quarantine by the week’s end. A meager ten percent of the crew will remain onboard the leviathan warship in order to maintain its nuclear reactor, maintain a fire suppression squadron should trouble erupt, and keep the all-important galley open. That I am even able to write this with certainty (because this information has been released to press outlets, such as Axios) is a grotesque failure of operational security.
Here is what Foreign Policy assessed recently:
While top officials insisted Wednesday that the remaining crew aboard the ship would be able to respond to a crisis, the Navy’s decision to offload most of the USS Roosevelt has created a strain on the carrier fleet, as the USS Ronald Reagan is also docked and undergoing maintenance. The coronavirus has spread to at least 93 sailors aboard the Roosevelt, senior Navy officials said Wednesday. The Pentagon has not confirmed the initial source of the outbreak, though the ship made a port visit to Vietnam in early March as the novel coronavirus spread across Asia.
This is undoubtedly a tragedy unlike anything that even a seasoned veteran of the Navy’s officer corps, Captain Brett Crozier, is accustomed to. After all, getting sick at sea is something that happens to civilian cruise lines and the occasional landlubber who comes aboard, but getting slapped with the 21st century plague while on patrol in potentially hostile waters is unprecedented. It makes sense that Captain Crozier would want to seek help from his commanding officers.
Yet, here’s the rub: Captain Crozier, clearly–understandably–concerned with the lives of his crew wrote a detailed letter, a combination of complaint and distress call, to his commanders in Washington, D.C. The key problem is, according to the Department of the Navy, Captain Crozier did not relay this information through “secure channels.”
He sent his four-paged letter “far and wide” according the US Navy.
In other words, a man who controls one of the most expensive and powerful weapons in America’s mighty arsenal leaked what is ordinarily highly classified information to the public. Specifically, his letter ended up in the pages of the ordinarily military-bashing San Francisco Chronicle.
Make no mistake: this is precisely what Captain Crozier intended.
Contrary to what some may believe, a captain in the United States Navy has a first duty to the country rather than the crew. Part of that first duty means protecting critical information about the vulnerabilities of his ship.
In this case, the Theodore Roosevelt is a big, beautiful nuclear-powered aircraft carrier–known as a “supercarrier”–with nearly 5,000 crewmembers, and a little less than 100 aircraft, ready for war. The ship is designed to deploy deep into potential enemy territory and unleash Hell upon whoever is giving the United States trouble geopolitically.
The US Navy maintains 11 of these ships, which are constantly shifting primarily between the United States’ home waters, the Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific (I still prefer “Asia-Pacific”).
The movement and coordination of a US Navy aircraft carrier is not an easy thing to do. It is a logistical marvel to behold. Maintaining such a magisterial engineering feat while constantly keeping it combat-ready, while deployed for long durations so far from home, is an additional feat that few countries have managed to replicate (and when they do, it is infrequent and with far fewer numbers than what the Americans can muster).
The United States does this on a routine basis. The fact that we can deploy these wonders of the seas with what appears to be relative ease underscores America’s might–and instills understandable fear in the minds of our enemies.
Thanks to the commanding officer of the Theodore Roosevelt, the Chinese, Russians, North Koreans, and Iranians now all know that America’s ubiquitous form of power projection has been weakened. Sure, other carriers can be called to replace the stricken carrier. But that will take time. And in geopolitics, wasted time is wasted opportunity…and it can be a once-in-a-lifetime opening for an enemy.
Right now, tensions are at all-time highs with the People’s Republic of China, who have already been testy in the Indo-Pacific region. China is attempting to show its strength as it has been blamed for the outbreak of COVID-19 by some in the West (and it was already on an aggressive path against the West between the Hong Kong protests and the “trade war.”) Reports have suggested that in the last month, China purchased 1.4 million new units of body armor for its troops while China’s air force engaged in the most aggressive acts of brinksmanship in Taiwanese airspace in years.
So, too, have the North Koreans gotten more hostile. Given their relationship with China and their nuclear weapons program, Pyongyang could decide to start trouble now (although reports indicate that Pyongyang is actually reaching out to the West for assistance in managing its own COVID-19 outbreak).
Meanwhile, the Iranians are getting even more twitchy as COVID-19 devours what little political stability they had at home.
Since the Theodore Roosevelt is clearly out-of-commission until it can be cleared of the infection, the Pentagon is moving the USS Harry S. Truman out from its deterrence mission against Iran in the Persian Gulf and will likely redeploy it to the Pacific, in order to fill the gap left by the Theodore Roosevelt. Iran has already been getting aggressive, as it embraces what I believe is a use-it-or-lose-it mentality with establishing themselves as the dominant regional power in the Middle East.
The absence of an American carrier at such a volatile moment just might be the opening Tehran thinks it needs to press whatever advantages it might be at risk of losing in the long-term (particularly as Iran’s key ally, Russia, continues to battle America’s key regional partner, Saudi Arabia, in the ongoing oil price war).
All of this because the Captain of the Theodore Roosevelt wanted to vent to the public his frustration at having to contend with COVID-19. Had he followed proper protocols and simply alerted his commanding officers about the outbreak on his ship and requested permission to quietly offload the afflicted crewmembers, that would have been one thing. After all, the captain does have a responsibility to his ship and crew–and right now his ship and crew would not help the United States in its mission to deter potential Chinese or North Korean aggression.
Yet, the good captain opted to take his problem public. That is a court martial-able offense. Today, the Navy announced that it was relieving Captain Crozier of his command. In typical fashion, the media is attempting to make a hero of Crozier (simply because they think Croziers made the Trump administration look bad). This is an embarrassment. As citizens, each and everyone of us should be upset that a man entrusted with one of the most important–and expensive–taxpayer-funded weapons system broke the chain of command to make a political statement during a time of international crisis. In so doing, Captain Crozier laid bare a critical vulnerability that a coterie of American rivals may decide to take advantage of–which could prompt a major war.
Captain Crozier is not some hero and he deserves whatever scorn and punishment he receives.