In case you hadn't heard, the 23rd convoy of U.S.-flagged Kuwaiti tankers has passed safely through the Strait of Hormuz. The Pentagon statement read, "The transit was uneventful with no unusual Iranian air or surface activity reported." America can rest easy now. Or can it?
Despite recent polls that suggest Americans by and large support U.S. policy in the Gulf, the jury is still out on just how much security the presence of U.S. ships out there buys us. All the more reason to pay careful attention to current Pentagon talk of a reduction or "tailoring" of U.S. forces in and around the Persian Gulf.
First, what does a "tailoring" or "fine tuning" of our naval presence there mean? Well, it means that the USS Okinawa, a helicopter landing ship, and its six mine-sweeping helos will head for home shortly. That will surely make the sailors on the Okinawa and their families feel safe, but will it make America more or less "secure"? Also coming home is the battleship Iowa, which has been hovering outside the Gulf for months now, presumably prepared to fire its cruise missiles at Iran should Silkworm missiles come our way. Does the withdrawal of a battle group tip the delicate balance of American security -- and which way?
The answers to these questions depend on your particular school of thought when it comes to the subject of U.S.-Iranian relations -- and intentions. One theory holds that the Iranians of late have busied themselves with attacks on ships other than those under U.S. escort and hence, so the thinking goes, it may be time to reduce the U.S. forces. Score one for the Ayatollah for discretion.
On the other hand, you might be of the suspicious school of thought. Iran is gearing up for its annual January offensive, and we would just as soon watch from home. Why get further in harm's way than we may already be? And besides, with all these calls for an international arms embargo (even the Soviets and the Chinese may be getting on board), the Iranians may have to fold their tents and call it a day out there, and we would be left with no mission but to let Kuwait be Kuwait and go home. Might as well start practicing.
Last come the true Washington insider-cynics. They see this reduced presence as a matter of disguised budgeteering. This way the next time Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci goes before the House Armed Services Committee, he can rattle a few pennies in the Pentagon piggy bank and show how we saved a few on the Gulf.
It may be a while before we know which theory of security holds water, or it may be as soon as the passage of the 24th convoy through the Gulf. Let's hope we don't learn the answer the hard way.
The writer is an off-the-air reporter and producer for ABC News at the Pentagon.