BANGKOK — As Chinese missile testing in the waters around Taiwan grew increasingly aggressive in 1996, the U.S. sailed two aircraft carrier groups to the island that Beijing claims as its own, and China was forced to back down.
It employed a similar response to Hamas' surprise attack on Israel a month ago, dispatching two carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean in a rapid and massive show of force meant to deter other countries or Iran-backed proxy groups such as Hezbollah from joining the fight.
But what is still viable in the Mideast is increasingly less practical with China, which in 1996 had no carriers of its own and little means to threaten the American ships, but now has the world's largest navy, including three aircraft carriers, and a coastline bristling with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles.
Instead, ongoing exercises in Hawaii, which conclude Friday, highlight part of a new American approach to Pacific defense and deterrence, with a focus on small groups of mobile land forces operating from islands like those off China's coast.
In the exercises, the largest-scale training held in Hawaii so far, more than 5,000 troops from the 25th Infantry Division, along with units from New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand and Britain and supported by the U.S. Air Force, have been practicing fighting in an island jungle environment against an advanced enemy force, with exercises including paratrooper drops, a long-range…