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US Picks Up the Tab for China's Security

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All right, kids, we'll begin our class on world affairs, with an article from today's New York Times.

It says that the United States is sending robotic mine clearing equipment to help protect tanker traffic through the Straits of Hormuz, in the event the Iranians try to block that waterway. Those narrow Straits, you'll remember, are how most of the oil from the Middle East and the Gulf is shipped to the world.

Protecting them is the main reason that the United States maintains a large naval base in Bahrain for its aircraft carriers and destroyers and mine sweepers and so on. All this costs us tens of billions of dollars a year. But we've always been told that it's worth it.

Back in 1980, Jimmy Carter warned that the U.S. would go to war to protect that vital region. That kind of thinking got the U.S. involved in two hugely expensive Gulf wars, and it has remained bedrock policy.

This past September, for instance, the U.S. carried out a massive joint naval exercise in the Gulf. Among the other countries practicing what they would do to keep the Straits open in the event of hostilities were the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Yemen, Jordan, New Zealand, Estonia, Netherlands, Italy, Australia and Canada -- but, apparently, not China.

Which, kids, is kind of ironic -- Why?

Because with the huge increase in domestic petroleum production, the U.S. will soon no longer rely at all on the Gulf. In fact, the country for whom the region and the Straits of Hormuz are essential for its petroleum needs is China.

You would think Americans would be furious that they're paying huge sums for China's oil security. Indeed, following Jimmy Carter's logic, it's the Chinese who should carry the burden of patrolling the Gulf. But that specter terrifies many American officials.

In the same way, you would think the U.S. might welcome China's new naval modernization program. They don't. In fact -- though the U.S. navy is much mightier than China's, many -- like Mitt Romney -- argue that the U.S. should ramp up its own naval program to keep far ahead of the Chinese.

But, wait, the story is even more convoluted: The reason the U.S. navy is bringing that sophisticated new mine clearing equipment to the Gulf is to free up other U.S. ships currently patrolling those waterways. Free them up to go where?

To the Pacific -- to join the forces that Obama is shifting to the region to confront -- the Chinese.