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Growing U.S. Military Presence in the Gulf Leaves Obama with Fewer Options

The sabre rattling in the Persian Gulf continues with the deployment of the USS Ponce. Up until recently, the vessel was simply an aging transport ship destined for the scrap heap, but it appears that the Navy has retrofitted the ship, turning it into a command and control station for a variety of missions designed to put pressure on the Iranian regime. The New York Times reports:

The first mission of the reborn Ponce was designed to be low profile and defensive, as an operations hub for mine clearing in the Strait of Hormuz, a counter to threats from Tehran to close the vital commercial waterway. In that role, the Ponce will be a launching pad for helicopters, a home to underwater diver teams and a seaborne service station providing fuel and maintenance for minesweeping ships.

But with the relatively simple addition of a modular barracks on the deck, the Ponce can also be a mobile base for several hundred Special Operations forces to carry out missions like hostage rescue, counterterrorism, reconnaissance, sabotage and direct strikes. Even with the addition of the barracks, there is ample room for helicopters and the small, fast boats favored by commandos.

This latest deployment, as well as last week’s report of a steadily increasing U.S. military presence, may have unintended consequences for U.S. policy. Every step forward makes it more difficult for the Obama administration to back down. There’s not a lot of news in the very slow running contest between the United States and Iran, but the fuse on this bomb is lit, and at some point either Iran is going to back down, the United States is going to back down, or there is going to be war.

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  • Mrs. Davis

    You make it sound like Obama would not like to have an incident with Iran in mid-October.

  • Mrs. Davis

    p. s. The war has been going on since October 1979. It won’t end till the theocracy is gone, no matter what the NYT tells you.

  • dearieme

    On words:

    “retrofitted”? Really? What’s wrong with “refitted”?

    “USS Ponce”? Really? Named by someone unfamiliar with British slang, I take it. Or even worse, named by a wag familiar with British slang.

  • Kris

    “The first mission of the reborn Ponce was designed to be low profile”

    Mission accomplished! This only made page A7 of the NYT. [/sarc]

    I shudder to think of what will happen if the US ever goes to war against an intelligent and semi-capable enemy.

  • Anthony

    Let’s not prematurely forecast war – we’re still heavily leveraged from our last two.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    The only reason I can see for the Iranians to start a war is if they think Obama is too weak to pull the trigger. Otherwise why should an American military buildup increase the likely hood of war? It never has before. I remind everyone that we had 130,000 troops in Iraq and that didn’t start a war, we have NATO troops on Iran’s other boarder in Afghanistan, and that hasn’t started a war. It’s weakness that invites a war, and Iran doesn’t see a military buildup as weakness.

    Besides these sanctions are going to fail they always do, we had sanctions on Saddam Hussein and it just created a black market with Iraqi oil being smuggled everywhere. Within 6 months Iran will be smuggling oil everywhere as well.

  • J. Scott

    If the race gets close, Obama will start a war with Iran. He will then be running as a “war time president”—combined with incumbency, he will be tougher to beat.

  • Thrasymachus

    Odd to see this decision framed as a *narrowing* of President Obama’s options concerning Iran.The way you’ve described this ship’s capabilities, it seems to me that the military threat tree facing Iran (and hence the political threat tree facing Governor Romney) has just fanned out a whole bunch of scary new branches.

  • Jim.


    It takes Obama less than two years to add as much to our national debt as those two wars.

    Put together they’re about $100-$150 billion a year. Obama’s deficits (every year!) are ten times that.

    If America makes the appalling mistake of re-electing him, Obama will probably (try to) spend enough to add about five or six times as much to our debt as those wars will.

    You can’t blame our debts on wars, period. These are peacetime debts, caused by an over-generous entitlement state, and ObamaCare (unless it’s REPEALED in early 2013) just makes the problem worse.

  • Eurydice

    I guess I don’t see how an increased military presence is supposed to create more options.

  • Anthony

    @9: Jim, regrettably you missed the point (war is serious matter – young men die in frightful numbers on battlefields and dollar cost is only one factor – not ideological fodder).

  • Viceroy

    “Mrs. Davis” wrote:

    “p. s. The war has been going on since October 1979. It won’t end till the theocracy is gone, no matter what the NYT tells you.”


    Mrs. Davis, this statement is very short-sighted. Twenty-six years before 1979 the US and the UK overthrew Iran’s democratically elected leader.

  • Anthony

    The warned me if I voted for McCain something like this would happen.

  • Peloponesian

    There is no doubt that this is setting up for the mid-October suprise. Obama will stop at nothing for re-election.
    Sad thing is, if we ignored Iran and continued the sanctions, Ahmadiwhatever would have nothing to get attention. As long as we pay attention to him, he’s going to keep pushing.

  • JPS


    “this statement is very short-sighted. Twenty-six years before 1979 the US and the UK overthrew Iran’s democratically elected leader.”

    You know, there are a lot of Iranians who oppose their regime, who do not wish for war with the United States, and who would prefer much friendlier relations with us, who deplore our overthrow of Mossadegh.

    I grow weary of seeing this point cited as though it leaves the Iranians no choice but to pick the fights their rulers do with us. Since the revolution the regime has been using it to insist that these problems are all our fault. You are not being broadminded by echoing them.

  • Bubbafett

    The USS Ponce is named after a city in Puerto Rico.

    The city is named after Ponce De Leon.

  • Anthony

    Anthony @5 & 11 is not Anthony represented @13. I don’t take political cheap shots….

  • giant_bug

    I wonder what the Brits think of our naming a warship the “Ponce”. (It’s British slang for queer, donchaknow?)

  • Jon Brooks

    Viceroy – You mean the guy that worked with the Axis powers during WW2? I say good work CIA.

  • Jon Brooks

    Opps sorry:) That was his dad.

  • Doug Santo

    A growing U.S. military presence in the gulf does not leave the U.S. with fewer options with respect to any potential conflict. The opposite is true. A larger military presence provides for increased options military and otherwise. It puts friendly and hostile governments in the region on notice that the U.S. may be serious with respect to public and private statements we have made. It puts the weight of American military force and capability behind U.S. statements indicating to friend and foe that we can achieve what we say we can achieve. It puts diverse, powerful, and exceptionally lethal assets within a few hours or even minutes of potential hot spots. It provides for increased intelligence opportunities. It changes the political dynamic in the region and gives the U.S. and our allies the upper hand in negotiations on any subject. At the same time, increased military presence does not force the President’s hand in any way.

    Doug Santo
    Pasadena, CA

  • M. Simon

    How about this option: The US expects an Iranian collapse. Wants to be close to watch what goes down.

    How about this option: The US expects an Israeli nuclear strike and wants to be up close and personal to collect data.

  • LTC (ret) John

    “I guess I don’t see how an increased military presence is supposed to create more options.”

    Did you mean “fewer options”? If not – Without a sufficient force level, one cannot employ, well, force. That leaves you without an option other than stick with sanctions only, or give up.

    If you did mean fewer then I suppose WRM is saying that if you increase the force in the area, it will straightjacket you into using it or withdrawing it all, only (?)

    I am not sure I follow this argument fully.

  • DonM

    Of course with military assets on hand options are increased in number.

    With no military assets, there are no military options. With only 1 asset, you can attack one place, out of 4 places you could attack. With 2 assets, you could attack 2 places out of 4, or attack with both assets in one place, providing 10 options.

    Of course there are more options with more assets in place.

  • fred

    Faster, please.

  • CosmicConservative

    Wow, only one comment on the most likely reason the buildup is happening. This isn’t about US vs Iran. This is all about being prepared for yet another attempt by the Muslim theocracies in the region to destroy Israel. Our fleet is there to ensure that Iran doesn’t get sloppy and start shooting at US targets, and, more importantly, to keep the Persian Gulf oil flowing.

    No more, no less.

  • Kathy Kinsley

    “Mrs. Davis says: “p. s. The war has been going on since October 1979. It won’t end till the theocracy is gone, no matter what the NYT tells you.”

    Or the LAT or CNN/NBC/CBS/ABC or just about everyone else. They declared war on us back then. We’ve been ignoring it. About time we think again.

    The people aren’t our enemies there. And I think if the gov’t got…well…gone…that they’d stand a FAR better chance than any others in the region to have a truly free society.

    They know the truth of what C.S. Lewis wrote many years ago: “”Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good
    of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live
    under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.
    The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may
    at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good
    will torment us without end for they do so with the approval
    of their own conscience.””

  • John Russell

    “Ponce” is Anzac slang for a pimp. Kind of funny when applied to an aging old tramp with temporary living quarters aboard.

    Even if the ship is named for some city named “Ponce” it is still a long way from evoking the martial bearing of a warship. There is a Blue Balls, PA but I don’t think I’d want to have that be my answer when somebody asked what was the name of my ship.

    Personally, I think Ponce a good name for a ship in a fleet commanded by a man who is so smart he knows a Navy medic is called a “corpse man.”

  • teapartydoc

    BHO must have everything in place in case he needs to start a war in order to save his presidency.

  • Rhoda R

    Why are we assuming that our military assets are in place to discourage the Iranians? Given Obama’s hostility toward the Israeli, I’d think it was more to restrain/threaten them.

  • wes george

    Having your military chess pieces strategically positioned to accommodate a range of possible scenarios logically increases Obama’s game options, unless one assume some kind of irrational political honor code is in the mix whereas Obama could be goaded into face saving “kinetic” action if the Iranians insulted us somehow. Seems unlikely. Unless, of course, that’s the plan, a la USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin.

    However, the real fear– forbidden to be mentioned in the polite MSM, but we citizens can see it clearly — is that if Obama’s poll numbers don’t improve, the President might be cynical enough to decide to “rise to the Iranian threat”, styling himself a modern-day Churchill, say, about October. Oh, the irony.

    If things spin into a real crisis — $300 a barrel oil, rationing, or some kind of WMD exchange with Israel or the battle theatre expands to include other players such as Russia, Turkey, Syria and/or China, then does Obama have it in him to suspend habeas corpus and with it the coming election?

    Seems unlikely, but much of history seemed unlikely at the time until the cone of possible future trajectory collapsed to a single vector. After the fact, historians would tut-tut Obama’s disdain of the Constitution and egomaniacal urge to power had long been on display.

    The key variables seem to be how poorly Obama is polling in the next 60 days and whether he’ll let a perfectly good crisis go to waste, combined with how badly the Iranians wish to avoid a confrontation with the US in the short term.

    And there are the unknown unknowns. Do any of our enemies (or allies) have their own October Surprises to take advantage of, or perhaps to perturb, the electoral chaos? Obama and the 3 am call?

    Remember that wars only happen when all parties involved agree that it’s in their best interest.

  • Kris

    “Viceroy” @12: And don’t forget the Crusades!

  • Retreat

    War! War is something we should avoid there is so much we could do than kill people we don’t know a thing about. The sad thing is more women and children get killed more then the people fighting the war . U.s troops should run for there lives let the people that start the wArs fight it them selves give the president from Israel and the president from Iran some swords and let them kill eachother and who ever wins then that country wins the war just leave the u.s out of it. And for those u.s troops that want a war don’t get caught by those killer out there they don’t play they chopping heads off . Be afraid I would and fight for your lives don’t just sit there and wait your turn to die fight for your life your worth it

  • Retreat

    Do you people believe that Obama really has the power to go to war? If you think that he would use war to get reelected a second term. For all you people that don’t no there are many channel before u.s troops are sent to fight the only way Obama can send troops to war with channel is if we are in direct threat.

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