What Would JFK Do?
"Tell us again daddy about the Missiles of October."
The year was 2030 and the Internet was a dim memory. For that matter, so were ATMs, supermarkets and running water. In that dark and diminished age campfire stories had made a comeback. People especially liked stories about the good old days. How good it was and all the magical things everyone had. Talking about them almost brought them back.
The family sat round the wood fire amid a small cluster of houses in Nebraska and daddy, who was formerly a history teacher at a community college, had a particularly good recollection of 2015. So he told a tale of the crucial events of that year.
"They say that in 2015 president Obama was at a loss over how to the Russian president's expansion into Syria, which was in a place full of riches and strategic importance to Merica. The president couldn't just kick him out, because as you know, Russia had nuclear weapons."
The children shuddered. They did not need to be told. Daddy continued.
"Not knowing what to do and seeking inspiration, Obama took to walking the corridors of the White House, a grand place full of old treasures and things. In one particular spot there was a portrait of an earlier president: John F. Kennedy. It wasn't much of a picture. Just a painting of a man in a gray suit thinking hard on a problem. And strange as it may seem the rumors said the portrait spoke to him!"
"Did the JFK painting really talk to Obama Daddy?"
"It might have been imagination, but then again years before president Kennedy had been in the same fix. In October of 1962 Kennedy had to figure out a way of pushing Russia back from the island of Cuba without starting a war, and he succeeded. Whether the picture simply suggested ideas to Obama or actually spoke in words, we'll never know. What's for sure is that a lightbulb went on in Obama's head. He rushed back into the situation room and asked his military advisers. He had one question for them: "how did Kennedy back Khrushchev out of Cuba?"
"Mr. President," they said, "he imposed a naval blockade. And if you're ready to consider military options now, we can show you the plan we've worked out for squeezing the Russians out of Syria."
Now president Obama didn't really understand the meaning of blockade and retorted: "I don't want military options." So his advisers explained.
"A blockade could be construed as an act of war, legally speaking." President Obama frowned at this news. "But it doesn't look like war and that's why president Kennedy used the tactic in Cuba. You can use it and not be shooting." Obama's face brightened up at this intelligence. Seeing the president's mood had changed, military aides pressed on.
"As you know Mr. President the Russian expeditionary air force in Syria is militarily insignificant compared to ours. It has 32 fixed wing combat aircraft -- a token force -- and it can hardly sustain more than a handful of sorties per day for any length of time." They quoted an estimate which elaborated the point.
While much of the media attention has focused on advanced Russian warplanes like the Sukhoi Su-30SM Flanker-H multirole fighter and Su-34 Fullback, U.S. Air Force officials note that there are only four each of those late-generation jets present in the theatre. Russia’s real combat power in the region comes from its force of two-dozen Su-25 Frogfoot close air support aircraft and Su-24 Fencer bombers.
Another recently retired U.S. Air Force official said, “Four jets might buy you eight to twelve sorties in a twenty-four hour period for a few days, but the pace wouldn't be sustainable,” the former official said. A typical squadron needs a minimum of six aircraft to sustain operations. “More likely they brought four to launch, plus two reserves—one spare and one in repairs.”
Obama knitted his brows in perplexity. "I don't see where this line of reasoning is going. Isn't a blockade a navy thing? Why should it affect the Russian air force?"
"Well Mr. President," the advisers continued, "if the Russians are every going to have an expeditionary air force worth a damn, they are going to have to expand and support it heavily. There are rumors that the Russians will bring in 50 more aircraft and maybe a motor rifle regiment to guard the airfield.
"That would bring the total number of personnel and aircraft involved up to about the same size as a United States carrier air wing. A force that size needs ships -- and plenty of them -- to bring the food, fuel, bombs and spares it would need. Even as it is, they're straining their shipping already." The military men dug up another citation from a newspaper account.
Meanwhile, vessels of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, bristling with weapons, men and materiel, have been slipping quietly through Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait heading to the Russian naval stronghold at Tartus in Syria and the air base of Latakia.
The Bosphorus Naval News reported a recent ‘drastic increase’ in Russian naval vessels transiting between the Black and Mediterranean Seas.
In the past year, there were 142 Russian warship movements through the Bosphorus, compared with 105 the previous year. But in the month to October 2, there have been 25 Russian warship movements, nearly double last year.
Photographer Yoruk Isik, who watches ship movements, said: ‘The most important development we have seen is that commercial ships have also been used to carry military equipment, although not explosives.
‘There are prefabricated barracks, water tanks and military trucks. We saw the logos used by Russian troops deployed in Ukraine. Every day last week there was a Russian military ship in the Bosphorus. Some days, two or three ships went through.’
A naval officer spoke to the president. "The Navy has a pretty good idea what it takes to sustain a carrier air wing in operation. About 20,000 tons of aircraft fuel, ordnance, and food. Huge ships moving in rotation. That's what it would take to support the Russian expeditionary force in Syria. If they don't come up with that kind of supply, it's just a bunch of airplanes sitting on the runway doing nothing."
Obama was transfixed and listening hard. Another aide showed him a Russian news story of life at the Russian base in Latakia. The story showed barracks under construction, cafeterias, infirmaries, workshops, etc. The text read:
In just a couple of months a neglected airfield in Latakia, Syria, became the strategic center of Russia’s military operation against Islamic State. RT got chance to see firsthand everyday life at the Khmeimim airbase – from sauna trucks to mobile bakeries.
Modern Russia has never conducted any military operations far from its borders and the scene of operations in Syria is hundreds of kilometers away from Russia’s nearest military base. There are hundreds of servicemen and pilots at Khmeimim airbase and providing convenience for them far from home, as imminent danger from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) looms just 40 kilometers away, is a challenge for the supply service.
"Logistics is Russia's Achilles heel. Right now most of that supply comes through a handful of ports on the coast of the Levant. It has to. There is no economical and secure way to transport the required tonnages over road or air. The ports are everything. Blockade the ports and you strangle the Russians."
Obama was waiting for the punchline. Since it was not forthcoming he asked his military advisers directly. "How do we blockade the ports?" he asked. "And won't that provoke a shooting war with Russia?"
"No Mr. President. All we need to do is mine the ports. The Navy has torpedo tube deployable mines that can lay an impenetrable barrier of smart mines right off Latakia. The Russians have nothing to stop the mining and nothing to clear it with. After we mine the ports, we advise the Russians of the fact. No captain will take a ship past the minefield."
Obama sat long and hard pondering these words. At last he rose from his chair and thanked his military advisers. "I thank you gentlemen. You've given me the key to solving the entire crisis!"
The military advisers sat around him beaming. They would back Putin down!
"I shall call President Putin at once and tell him that while I could mine Latakia and leave his entire expeditionary force trapped on the beach since I value his friendship and role as a partner for peace, I will intentionally desist from checkmating his forces as a gesture of goodwill. To that end, please direct all naval assets capable of laying mines to sail away from the Mediterranean to at least a week's transit distance."
"But Mr. President ..."
"Thank you gentlemen. You don't know how much I am indebted to you."
"Daddy, why did they call the events of 2015 the Missiles of October?"
"No child. They didn't call it that. Most of the accounts these days spell it "Missiles". But it's the Misses of October."
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