US Navy forces have been pouring in and out of the region over the past few months, including the carrier Strike Group 12 led by the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, Expeditionary Strike Group 5 led by carrier USS Boxer, Iowa Jima Expeditionary Strike Group, and even elements of the US Coast Guard. Canada and NATO have also sent naval forces. It is the largest amassing of off-base naval forces anywhere in the word at present.
However, given the size of the US armada in the Gulf, the question remains as to whether the assemblage is a show of force or the next step in a much-speculated war plan for 2007.
CBS News released a report early this week saying that the Pentagon is planning for an even more significant buildup in the Gulf. Department of Defense officials did not refute the claim but simply called it 'speculative'.
While many critics of the US-led Iraq War are calling the war a failure and claiming that the US is spread too thin for another serious combat front, the US show of force in the Gulf is a reminder of US military strength.
Others note that while the US is fighting a complex multi-front war, its would-be enemy, Iran, is in a very similar situation with proxy fronts on the Lebanon- and Syria-Israel borders, its sponsorship of the insurgency in Iraq, a growing discontent from neighboring Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia, and, with students burning photos of the Iranian president in public, even signs of popular agitation at home.
As US political leaders such as Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut) distance themselves from the Iraq Study Group's recommendations for a negotiation-based strategy for Iran and Syria, the Bush administration may have recouped for itself the necessary political capital to launch a multi-pronged response to Iran, using a "well we tried that, now let's try this" justification for more serious steps.