Over the last year, the United State has been confronted by numerous foreign policy challenges. Russia’s gamble in Ukraine and now Syria, China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, countering the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, and the menace of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) all beckon American resolve. The global nature of these various challenges requires U.S. policymakers to work with our friends and allies. Just as importantly, policymakers will need the support of the American people. The Department of Defense has named the ongoing campaign against ISIS “Operation Tidal Wave II.” By doing so, it may be sending the wrong signals to both the American public and U.S. friends and allies.
Two? What was the first operation? The original operation was conducted 73 years ago during World War II when the United States and Britain decided to destroy oil refineries in Ploiesti, Romania. According to the Air Force Historical Support Division, Allied intelligence estimated the refineries in Ploiesti provided Nazi Germany as much as one-third of its fuel requirements. Obliteration of these sites would severely inhibit Nazi Germany’s war effort while helping the allies. Over the span of seven months the Allies crafted their strategy and trained in Libya. At that time, bombers flying from England lay out of range, but those taking off from the Middle East could reach Ploiesti.
On the morning of August 1, 1943, 178 B-24s took off and conducted a low-altitude bombing mission. There were a few problems with the overall operation, though. First, U.S. Army Air Corps bombing doctrine did not employ low-level mass bombing campaigns. Second, operational planners mandated radio silence, which was problematic since the B-24s came from different bases. Hence, the operation was less successful and resulted in hundreds of deaths and the destruction of about half of the bombers. Even worse, damage to Ploiesti’s refineries was temporary and within months Nazi Germany resumed production.
What is behind the name of a military operation? Boosting the morale of those tasked to execute it, underscoring resolve, energizing allies, and re-assuring the home front. That considered, there are serious issues with the name Tidal Wave. Tidal Wave does not inspire confidence given the historical precedent and the current situation involving ISIS. In the wake of the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, American public opinion of the U.S. government’s handling of terrorism has declined to new lows. The Pew Research Center conducted a poll between December 8–13 and found only 37 percent approve of President Obama’s handling of terrorism while 57 percent disapprove. Policymakers should understand that naming a current operation after one that resulted in astoundingly high casualties and failed would inspire little confidence.
Moreover, U.S. allies and friends are important in a world of growing challenges. While the United States maintains a robust network of alliances in Europe (e.g. NATO) and the Asia-Pacific (U.S.-Republic of Korea, U.S.-Japan), strategic partnerships have also emerged when U.S. interests aligned with a particular country. Take, for example, Singapore. The U.S. and Singapore do not have a formal defense agreement, but both countries cooperate in the military-to-military area and Singapore hosts U.S. military assets. Singapore has even gone as far as re-dredging its port to host U.S. carriers. Such success is built upon mutual respect and trust between both countries.
A NATO member since 2004, Romania has been an important partner for the United States, particularly in the realm of missile defense and the Global War on Terrorism. Despite pressure from Russia, in 2011 Romania agreed to host elements of the second phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), the U.S. contribution to a NATO missile defense architecture shielding NATO countries and boosting protection of the United States against the threat of ballistic missiles. Deveselu Base in Romania is now home to an Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system. The U.S. Navy is in control of this site, which became operational in December 2015. Allies such as Romania are critical for U.S. national security interests. The missile defense system provides the United States and her allies with the ability to defend against potential aggressors including Iran.
Romania has been a staunch partner, friend and ally in peacekeeping and stabilization operations, and servicemen have been killed or wounded in theaters of operations including Iraq and Afghanistan. Romania and the United States were surely on different sides during most of World War II and the Cold War, but the Romanians have proven to be staunch friends, allies, and partners for over two decades. Without allies such as Romania, the United States would have a more difficult time fielding and operating complex systems, especially missile defense, and confronting the rise of all forms of violent extremism. Hence, it is odd that U.S. policy planners would name an operation that does little justice to the important role Romania has played and continues to play.
For these reasons, it is hard to understand why U.S. policy planners would name an operation that did not achieve its original goal. While there is no public data on how Americans perceive the name of Operation Tidal Wave II, knowing the history would likely impact their already negative perceptions about how the government is handling terrorism. The name is also inconsiderate of the post-Cold War alliance with Romania. The authors are reminded of Washington Post writer Christian Davenport who wrote an article titled In choosing its battle names, the military must know its target audience. While it is important there is public acceptance, so too must our military operations reflect respect for our allies. “Operation Tidal Wave II” does not.
An article by Grigore Scarlatoiu and Mark Olson
Grigore (Greg) Scarlatoiu is Executive Director, Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).
Mark Olson is Research and Program Associate, Global America Business Institute (GABI).