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Nothing is normal or acceptable about what is happening in the Red Sea.

The largest war against merchant shipping since World War II is raging despite multiple countries escorting ships by the Houthi strongholds in Yemen. Multiple nations are conducting escort duty, but the command, control, and structure seem piecemeal, stove-piped, and uncoordinated despite American attempts to marshal a coalition.

The daily strikes and counterstrikes are increasing in intensity and reflect a broad campaign conducted by Iran and China to wear out and overwhelm the longstanding U.S. presence in the region. The debacle of the Afghan departure was the unforced error that initiated this asymmetric drive to destroy the American Grand Strategy, which had worked for decades. World trade has been significantly disrupted; up to 25 percent of world trade for key commodities passes through the Red Sea.

The Houthis have been resilient and have risen in stature and prominence with the inability of the U.S. Navy and others to subdue them. They are being lauded as “unstoppable” despite daily and nightly raids and missile attacks. The ability of the Houthis to disrupt world commerce and now sink ships is becoming a rallying point in Middle Eastern culture.

US Mired in Military Action While Chinese Merchant Ships Pass Untouched

The failure of the United States to develop a coordinated coalition willing to protect the sea lanes signals several weaknesses.

The European Union is now establishing a separate naval force to conduct escort of EU member nation merchant vessels. This EU effort is a breathtaking sign of dissatisfaction with the American-led effort of Operation Prosperity Garden, which has struggled to attain full participation.

For years, there was confusion over the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its view of military units vis-à-vis the burgeoning EU view of military units. The EU constantly referenced units historically aligned with NATO—this alternate universe of who controls what military units has now achieved an operational impasse. With the greatly diminished size of the European militaries from Cold War days, most countries can offer, at best, one vessel at a time to the Red Sea Operation.

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