Abqaiq 2019: America's Fall of Singapore

Trump has got up in front of the UN and said,

“America’s goal is not to go with these endless wars, wars that never end […] The United States has never believed in permanent enemies. America knows that while anyone can make war, only the most courageous can choose peace.”

I don’t think many realise what a profound shift that is for the US. It is essentially an abandonment of the Carter Doctrine, a tossing aside of the trillions of dollars and thousands of lives the US has spent guaranteeing the flow of oil to itself and the world. It’s a return to isolationism.

The attack on Abqaiq was done with less than $100,000 in spending, and has caused billions in damage. Despite many similar attacks by Houthi rebels against Saudi facilities, the US did not see it coming. This is a profound failure of signals and human intelligence.

Three Aegis Destroyers costing US $1.8 billion each with Raytheon SM-2 missiles off the coast of Saudi Arabia and the 88 Patriot batteries at $5 million each - $440 million in all - didn’t see a damn thing, or fire a single shot. The drones just went around and through them. $100,000 worth of gear and operators rendered useless SIX BILLION dollars worth of gear.

Just as aircraft carriers made battleships obsolete, so have cruise missiles and drones made destroyers, aircraft carriers and a whole swag of other technologies obsolete. The US may finally get the budget cuts it so desperately needs - it may as well mothball most of the USN.

I have not seen this talked about much. The world is too busy with Trump’s non-impeachment and other trivial nonsense. The US is drifting to isolationism, and even if it wanted to remain a global power it couldn’t. What the fall of Singapore was to the British Empire, Abqaiq is to the US. Americans probably won’t acknowledge this, but then the British didn’t at the time, either.

I wrote this two years ago. Nobody’s picked up on the topic except John Robb.


I don’t know, a lot happened since then: Suleimani was killed, Trump and Netanyahu are out, Raisi replaced Rowhani in Iran, Iran did a deal with China and will soon be a full member of SCO. The US has reoriented to the “Indo-Pacific”.

Are you arguing that Saudi Arabia switched sides after Abqaiq?

Nothing new about that sort of thing, well planned surprise attacks by minimal assets have been able to destroy massively more valuable assets than those employed in the attack for a long time.

Usually the accusation of isolationism against the US is an accusation of not engaging in international politics and having protectionist anti-trade policies, in some ways Trump was inclined that way, but that’s not a fair characterization of US attitudes on the whole.

The claim that missiles have made surface combatants obsolete has been made over and over again since the Israeli destroyer Eilat was sunk in October 1967 by a missile fired from a Egyptian FAC without the FAC even leaving the harbor. Yes, things are headed on that direction with the steady increase in the capabilities of AI, it’s just not news.

The post WW2 US hegemony has been in decline for some time now, at it’s peak in economic power in 1960 the US accounted for 40% of global GDP, it’s down to 20% now, if countries in South Asia, Latin America and Africa can get their shit together that trend will continue. Again, not news.


America has traditionally be isolationist tho. As to the tech, if we have a war in the SCS, that will be a nice test of all the latest gear. Not being a military hardware guru I’d still say that Russia’s hypersonic, variable trajectory missiles are the winners. I’d not want to be on a surface ship when the SCS goes hot.

There was a Marine General who played the Red Team a while back. With a few motorised rubber dinghies, nonconventional ground forces and fluid decentralised coms system he beat the most powerful military in the world. Apparently, the wargame organisers thought his approach was unfair…


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It’s not something I’ve seen discussed but I suspect there are problems with guidance with hypersonic weapons in that sensors would need to be able to look through the plasma shield that forms ahead of the projectile. The Russian supercavity torpedo (capable of traveling at hundreds of mph under water) has been around for decades but the West has never bothered to make its own version, likely because it can’t see forward.

Agreed, so what’s the problem? From my limited perspective I couldn’t care less about being a global power, the world is a nice place to visit, but a tough place to control. And anyway, we are pretty much out of money as well as motivation.


That makes nothing but sense. Inertial navigation?

For a mobile target like a ship? Not so much.

Right. For nuking a city sure, but … well, perhaps the idea is that they’d compute an intercept and then let the thing fly. I really have no idea. Putin does crow about these things tho.

Expensive way to deliver what’s essentially an unguided warhead.

Indeed, as does everyone else about their wonderful military toys, often the toys don’t live up to the hype.

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And sometimes they do! The world is a dangerous place.

It will all get sorted out in the Battle of the SCS, let’s hope it doesn’t go nuclear. We haven’t had a really proper naval engagement since Leyte Gulf. Or will China attack Taiwan first?

I really have no idea Ray, it’s all so complicated and dangerous. Init. Is China as strong as some people seem to think? Would Biden stand up if they did attack Taiwan. Would the Japanese? Anybody?


I have read a few amateur war game scenarios that predict totally different outcomes. But don’t pretend to understand the parts and players involved.

World’s gonna do what the world’s gonna do. Nobody gives a hoot what old men like us think. Just hope the stalemate lasts until my exit!