Our recent relations with China on the high seas have not been pleasant. Two unarmed United States navy ships have been harassed by Chinese boats and ships, leading to protests and the assignment of armed warships to escort the surveillance vessels. And recently a guided missile destroyer had its towed sonar array become entangled with a Chinese submarine.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have led us to ratchet up the pressure on that country, up to and including having one of our warships shadow and prepare to board and search a North Korean freighter suspected of carrying prohibited weapons and weapons technology.
The one ship that has featured prominently in these showdowns? The USS John S. McCain.
It was the McCain that tangled — literally — with a Chinese sub. And it is the McCain that is ready to stop and investigate the North Korean warship.
No, the ship is not named for the Senator, most recent Republican presidential nominee, and the man who lost to President Obama last November. She is named for the Senator’s grandfather and father, John S. McCain Senior and Junior, both of whom rose to the rank of Admiral and served with great distinction through several wars.
Is the destroyer’s prominence in events a gesture of respect from President Obama to his defeated rival? Is it a back-handed slap? Or is it just a rather odd coincidence?
My money’s on the last. But it is certainly an unusual one. The United States has over 50 destroyers of the McCain’s class, assigned all around the world. For this one ship to be so prominent in two separate areas of tension is remarkable.