RIMPAC! Or, Here’s Why It’s Dangerous Even to JOKE About Yelling “Fire” in a Crowded Theater

Don't blame me, blame the NavyNo matter how far Left someone is, or how anti-war, or even anti-American, I think we all could agree that one should not publish the sailing time of troop ships during a war.  A no-brainer, right?  But what if the publisher is the U.S. Navy itself?

It happens all the time.  Case in point, the photo accompanying this blog post (if you’re reading this on RSS, click through to the damn blog to see the photo.  And while you’re there, would it kill ya to actually click on a friggin’ ad once in a while?  I’m just sayin’.)

Onward!  “Sailing time of troop ships” is kind of an archaic phrase — modern ships don’t “sail,” and there is no longer a class of ships OFFICIALLY referred to as “troop ships.” But those are quibbles, and modern equivalents exist.  If you ever find yourself in possession of the knowledge that your government is about to launch a daring nighttime raid to take down Public Enemy No. 1 inside the borders of a semi-hostile ally… just to pick a wild hypothetical… if you ever have that knowledge, in the name of sweet Jesus or Loki or whoever, DON’T TWEET ABOUT IT IN ADVANCE!

Where was I?  The photo.  Below in its entirety is the caption that the U.S. Navy wrote, within the past week, describing the location of thousands of U.S. and allied sailors right now, through the day after tomorrow:

120727-N-VD564-015 PACIFIC OCEAN (July 27, 2012) Ships and submarines participating in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise 2012 are in formation in the waters around the Hawaiian islands. Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise from June 29 to Aug. 3, in and around the Hawaiian Islands. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2012 is the 23rd exercise in the series that began in 1971. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith Devinney/Released)

Who told the enemy about RIMPAC?  String ’em up! (Cue the visual of Jon Stewart touching his ear and pretending the control booth is setting him straight.)

My point, and I do have one, is not to make fun of Op-Sec rules.  One of those thousands of sailors is my son, and I’d be savagely pissed off if someone disclosed his whereabouts in a way that endangered him.  My point is the danger of “zero-tolerance” laws.

“Zero-tolerance” would mean that I’d be in trouble for this blog post even though the Navy itself provided the potentially most dangerous information.  But now I’ve increased that miniscule danger by a a hyper-miniscule amount by mentioning my son.

Think I’m kidding?  Note that the Navy did not disclose the names of any of the ships in the exercise.  But you can glance at my blog and learn my son is on the Nimitz.  The Nimitz is that big boat in the foreground of the picture, unless there’s another aircraft carrier at RIMPAC.  My son’s a second-class Aviation Boatswain’s Mate, which is one of three ratings responsible for launching and recovering fighter jets in the Arabian Sea and other war zones, and his two tours thus far have taken him to exotic places including Japan and …

Still think I’m kidding?  Ask the loved ones of Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith Devinney how comfortable they are with that caption. There’s nothing in my prior paragraph that hasn’t ALREADY been on my blog, and even if the blog never existed, there’s nothing dangerous in the graf that Osama bin-Soggy couldn’t piece together with very modest effort.  But if any jerk of a prosecutor ever wants an excuse to make my life a living hell, that paragraph could provide it.  I’d be scared to publish it if not for the fact that my life is a target-rich environment.

Be safe, son. I love you.

(Hat tip: Mom)

The al-Awlaki Killing Crossed a Line. Bravo, Mr. President.

As a frequent critic of President Obama, I feel duty-bound to have his back when he gets something right.  Obama has been criticized from both the left and the right over the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a treasonous American citizen killed by a drone-fired missile in Yemen.  But in addition to being a tactical victory, that operation is a welcome reminder that the President understands we are at war.

Or at least, on some days he understands it.  Occasionally his “I’m-not-Bush” compulsions overwhelm his commander-in-chiefness, as when he pre-announces a retreat while announcing a surge, or when he floats the indefensible idea of trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a few hundred yards away from Ground Zero.  But eventually he backed off both of those bad ideas, as well as his grand-standing promise to close Guantanamo.  On a more positive note, the take-down of Osama bin Laden was a gutsy call and a genuine triumph for the Obama presidency.

Writing in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen is troubled by the legal ramifications of killing an American citizen, although he admits that “a little ‘yippee’ emitted from me when I heard the news.”

Something big and possibly dangerous has happened . . . in secret. Government’s most awesome power — to take a life — has been exercised on one of its own citizens without benefit of trial. A guy named Barron and another named Lederman apparently said it was okay. Maybe it was. But I’d sure like to hear the attorney general or the president explain why.

Two thoughts:  I’d like to hear that explanation as well, but I’m not holding my breath during an election campaign.  And, somehow I’m pretty confident that these two “guys” in  the Justice Department, who apparently drafted a legal memo supporting the legality of  killing al-Awlaki, will not end up demonized in anything like the manner of John Yoo.

I voted against Mr. Obama, and intend to do so again, but from the start I’ve been looking for silver linings in his presidency.  Here’s one: Taken as a whole, the Obama presidency is tugging America in the direction of bipartisan support for the war against Islamic fascism.  America may become safer as a result.

Glenn Greenwald on Norway: It Must Be America’s Fault

Photo from Wikipedia

While the world waits patiently to see if Norway will join Oklahoma City [Whoops! and Virginia Tech! and Columbine!] in the modest panorama of non-Islamic terrorist atrocities (thereby doubling the size of the panorama), Glenn Greenwald is getting out in front with a predictable gambit: Blame America First.

Still, I can’t help noticing, and being quite bothered by, the vast difference in reaction to the violence visited on Western nations such as Norway and the violence visited by Western nations (particularly our own) on non-Western nations.  The violence and indiscriminate death brought today to Oslo is routinely and constantly imposed by the U.S. and its closest allies in a large and growing list of Muslim nations.  On a weekly basis — literally — the U.S. and its Western allies explode homes, mangle children, extinguish the lives of innocent people, disrupt communities, kill community and government leaders, and bring violence and terror to large numbers of people — those are just facts.  And yet a tiny, tiny fraction of attention, interest and anger is generated by such violence as compared to that generated by the violence in Oslo today.  What explains that mammoth discrepancy in interest, discussion, and media coverage?

What explains the discrepancy? The false premise explains it.  The difference between “collateral damage” — an ugly but accurate term — and the deliberate targeting of random innocents explains it.  The other thing that explains it is that unlike Greenwald, most people in our society are, ya know, on our side.

It’s also interesting to note that Greenwald implicitly assumes that the attack is probably “jihadi” related.  Why else go into detail about Norway’s participation in the wars in Afghanistan and Libya?  He’s less interested in giving Islamists the benefit of the doubt than he is in saying “we’re just as bad.”

(Photo of Glenn Greenwald from Wikipedia — I totally can’t be bothered to figure out all their licensing blather, but I think that means it’s in the public domain.)


Quick Take: VDH on Obama’s Afghanistan Speech

Victor Davis Hanson on last night’s presidential speech about Afghanistan:

We are on the hinge of history, unsure whether we swing to 1974 and give up, or swing back to 2006 and win. For those who demand immediate and complete withdrawal, a victorious Taliban will likely do to women and liberal reformers what the Vietnamese once did when they sent millions to camps or fleeing the country for their lives.Bottom line: I tried to fathom the president’s speech, and I sympathize with his dilemmas, but I have absolutely no idea what his ultimate strategy is — and can only pray the enemy does not either. And Afghanistan was supposed to be the “good” war that Obama once chest-thumped about and campaigned on with promises of seeing it stabilized, while the “bad” war in Iraq is one that he is now taking credit for, through following the very Bush-Petraeus plan that he once demonized.

And, I might add, the Afghanistan war is the one my favorite sailor is supporting through his service.

I didn’t watch the speech — life intruded, I was meeting with contractors as part of a committee considering proposals for a new heating system for St. George’s church.  As head of the property committee, I spent $13,000 of unbudgeted money making emergency repairs to the existing steam heating system, but it’s toast — that boiler will never be turned on again.  Now we have to spend an order of magnitude more money, also unbudgeted, to have a forced-air system in place before the weather gets cold.  Forward in faith!

Props to the Prez for Getting bin Laden

Got it done.

I’ve been highly critical of President Obama in the past, and I have no doubt that I will be again.  I’m opposed to essentially his entire domestic agenda, and I hope to help vote him out of office 18 months from now.


On the foreign affairs and national security front, Obama’s performance has been a mixed bag — which is to say, much better than on domestic matters.  After the newly elected President retained Bush’s defense secretary, I started tagging some of my posts with Bush’s Third Term.  Obama went on to allow the Iraq war to stay won, and properly escalated in Afghanistan.  (I’m puzzled by Libya, but hoping for the best.)

For at least the next 20 months, Obama is my president, and on some level I wish him well — particularly in his role as commander-in-chief.  I have nothing but contempt for Rush Limbaugh’s pre-election “I hope he fails” rhetoric, or for his sarcasm in the wake of Obama’s success this week.

The 1980 debacle at Desert One

The SEALS did the most dangerous part of the mission, of course, but don’t underestimate the danger Obama stared down in giving the green light. The mission went off flawlessly — but there was no guarantee of that.  The compound could have been more heavily defended, multiple helicopters could have been lost.  It’s not hard to imagine an outcome like Desert One in 1980, which cost eight American lives and contributed to Jimmy Carter’s defeat.

The safer route would have been to have a Predator launch a missile into the compound — zero chance of American casualties, and presumably 100% casualties in the compound.  But that would have meant the death of multiple women and children, and no guarantee that bin Laden would subsequently be identified.

Despite the risks, despite not being certain that bin Laden was even in the compound, Obama signed off on the mission.  It could have ended badly, but it did not, and Obama deserves enormous credit for a landmark victory in the war against Islamic fascism.  Congratulations, Mr. President, and thank you.

Now about that healthcare bill…


Teacher’s Beard Was A Reminder of Bin Laden in More Ways Than One

He shaved before Obama's speech

A teacher in Washington state found a unique way to keep the memory of the 9/11 attacks alive:

Weddle has wanted to cut his beard for years. His wife, Donita, has wanted him to cut it, too. But for Weddle a vow is a vow and so he hadn’t even trimmed it until Sunday night.
Weddle was a substitute teacher in Wenatchee when the infamous al-Qaeda terrorist attack occurred on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, killing 3,000 Americans.

Weddle was so caught up in the news that he neglected to shave. A week or so later, he vowed not to shave until bin Laden was captured or proven dead. He figured it would just be a month or two.

Looking like that, he would have been ill-advised to visit Pakistan. (H/T: Neo)

Oh yes, commentary… I’ve been more focused on reading than on writing.

Obviously it’s a huge victory for Obama, who deserves credit not just for authorizing the raid, but for insisting on putting boots on the ground rather than just firing a missile from a drone.  In addition to ensuring that Osama is actually dead, the commandos apparently scooped up every computer and thumb drive they could find. Apparently hundreds of analysts are pouring through the captured files now, although why some official thought it was a good idea to leak that fact is beyond me.

Delighted though I am in the outcome, I have to say I thought Obama’s flowery speech Sunday night was a bit unseemly in its striving to take credit for the achievement.  When Saddam was captured, President Bush left it to the local ambassador to make the announcement.

Pakistan has a lot of explaining to do.

Finally, chalk up yet another outstanding mission for the Navy SEALS. I may get in trouble with my son for saying this, but how did the Navy end up being the go-to service for elite snipers and commandos?  Wouldn’t you expect that it would be the Marines or Army?

Hey, I wonder what I’d look like if I grew my beard really long…


Astonishment at Obama’s War-Making Overwhelms Consideration of the Merits of It

Illustration by Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff

I keep waiting for my opinion about the intervention in Libya to snap into place.  For? Against?  Too soon?  Too late? But every time I try to pin it down, my mind flies off on a different tangent, enthralled by the bizarreness of it all.

It was nearly three years ago that Senator Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination, in part on the strength of having the purest “surrender-at-any-cost” position on Iraq.  Who then could have predicted the following headline: “Nobel Peace Prize Winner Enters Third War“?

I blogged too quickly the other day about “Libya, Where the French Lead the Way” — although France fired the first shot, it quickly became a U.S.-led operation.  Obama has pledged to hand over leadership of the mission “in a matter of days, not weeks” — but hand it over to whom?

Here’s another great, ironic headline: “Gadhafi is Facing a Coalition of the Unwilling.”

The US government, wary of getting stuck in another war in a Muslim country, would like to hand control of the mission over to NATO, but the alliance is divided. At a meeting on Monday, NATO ambassadors failed to agree on whether the alliance should take control of the mission. NATO involvement would require approval by all 28 members. …

Britain and Italy want the alliance to be in charge of the operation, however. Rome has threatened to restrict access to its air bases, which are crucial to the mission, if NATO does not take over control. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has suggested that Britain or France could also take control of the mission, but some NATO officials doubt if either country could handle the operation by itself, according to Reuters.

And what precisely is the mission that would be handed over?  Regime change, protecting Libyan citizens, degrading Gaddafi’s power to attack his people — the mission depends on whom you ask on which day.  Leslie Gelb, who has served in the departments of Defense and State under Democratic presidents, offers this explanation:

The reason why neither President Obama nor his coalition partners in Britain and France can state a coherent goal for Libya is that none of them have any central interest in the outcome there. It is only when a nation has a clear vital interest that it can state a clear objective for war. They’ve all simply been carried away by their own rhetoric.

Obama’s actions may be inconsistent with his prior record, but George Will’s opinions are consistent.  Will is a conservative anti-hawk who opposed the surges in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Unsurprisingly, he thinks Libya is a bad idea, and I think he may be on more solid ground.

In Libya, mission creep began before the mission did. A no-fly zone would not accomplish what Barack Obama calls “a well-defined goal,” the “protection of civilians.” So the no-fly zone immediately became protection for aircraft conducting combat operations against Gaddafi’s ground forces.

America’s war aim is inseparable from — indeed, obviously is — destruction of that regime. So our purpose is to create a political vacuum, into which we hope — this is the “audacity of hope” as foreign policy — good things will spontaneously flow. But if Gaddafi cannot be beaten by the rebels, are we prepared to supply their military deficiencies? And if the decapitation of his regime produces what the removal of Saddam Hussein did — bloody chaos — what then are our responsibilities regarding the tribal vendettas we may have unleashed? How long are we prepared to police the partitioning of Libya?

I and many others are astounded and concerned by the fact that Obama has launched a military action so quickly.  Jonah Goldberg, another columnist with whom I more often agree than otherwise, argues instead that Obama acted too slowly:

Back in February when the Libyan revolution was fresh and had momentum on its side, even a small intervention by the U.S. — say, blowing up the runways at Moammar Kadafi’s military airbases or quietly bribing senior military officers — might have toppled Kadafi. Members of his government were resigning en masse. Pilots were refusing orders to kill fellow Libyans. Soldiers were defecting to the rebels. Libyan citizens openly defied the regime in Tripoli. Nearly everyone thought the madman’s time was up.

That was the time to seize the moment, to give Kadafi a shove when he was already off-balance. If the dictator had been toppled when the rebels were gaining strength, America’s support would have been written off as incidental, with the Libyans taking credit for their own revolution.

But such an approach would have required America to run down the court alone, out ahead of its allies and the international community. For Obama the multilateralist, that would have been too much unilateral hot-dogging.

So Obama slowed things down to set up the play he wanted rather than the play the moment demanded. As a result, Kadafi regained his balance.

Sorry, Jonah, but as bewildered as I am with how fast Obama has moved, I can’t support the idea that he should have moved even faster.  At least his initial forbearance was consistent with his history as “Obama the multilateralist.”

A friend said to me on Facebook the other day, “So I’m not happy about this third war, but seriously, aren’t you hawkish types in favor of this sort of thing? And if not, why not?”

My difficulty in pinning down how I feel about the Libya intervention stems from being flabbergasted that we’re in the situation at all.  But let me take a shot at it.

I’m obviously not opposed in principle to the use of military force by the United States.  I’ve never stopped supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But we can’t fix every problem everywhere, we’re stretched financially and militarily now, and I think the Libyan intervention was probably a mistake.

But now that we’ve done it, I hope it’s successful. I don’t root for any American president to fail, especially not in his role as commander-in-chief.  “Success” would mean Gadhafi goes quickly and gets replaced by a new tribe that’s at least marginally more democratic, and the U.S. gets disentangled in “weeks, not months,” to use a more realistic version of Obama’s timeline.  It could happen that way, but I’m not optimistic.

On National Security, Obama Eventually Tends to Get it Right

War is different from crime-fighting.  Prisoners of war logically should be treated differently from people accused of crimes.  No battlefield reading of Miranda rights while the gunfire continues.  No presumption of innocence, no standard of “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

President Obama, to his credit, recognized this reality again yesterday in signing an executive order providing for the resumption of military tribunals and a system of indefinite detention for some of the prisoners housed at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The executive order recognizes the reality that some Guantanamo Bay detainees will remain in U.S. custody for many years, if not for life. The new system allows them the prospect of successfully arguing in the future that they should be released because they do not pose a threat.

No mention in the order or in Obama’s statement about the ill-fated promise to close Gitmo within a year of becoming president.  I’m opposed to just about everything the Obama is doing domestically, but on national security matters, he tends to end up in the right place, despite some initial missteps.

I just finished reading Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars on my Kindle.  The downside of the Kindle is that I now do not have a hardbound copy of the book to display next to my copies of Woodward’s four books on the Bush administration.  But as with the Bush books, or three of them anyway, I came out of the book feeling better about the President than I did when I started reading.

I criticized the President for announcing a drawdown date at the same time he announced the much-needed escalation of the war in Afghanistan.  But the book makes it clear that although electoral politics certainly played a role, the primary purpose was to put pressure on the Karzai government to step up its efforts to take responsibility for the country’s security.  And the administration immediately began to make clear that July 2011 would be an inflection point, not a withdrawal date.

I’m opposed to pretty much everything Obama is doing domestically, but on national security issues he tends to eventually get it right, despite some initial missteps.

(Note: I’ve added Obama’s Wars to my Amazon widget in the right-hand column. If you order that or any book after clicking into Amazon through my widget, I supposedly get a tiny cut of the action.  I’m just sayin’.)

Thanksgiving Day Ruminations on America, Its Defenders and Its Enemies

Enough about turkeys today.  Let’s talk hawks and doves, taking as our text the work of two good writers with very different world views.

Clifford May, who leads the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, starts his Thanksgiving Day column by giving thanks for the members of our nation’s armed forces.

At this moment, such men and women are far from their homes fighting an enemy whose goal is to make us submit — to them, their laws, and their authority. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran’s Islamist revolution, put it succinctly: “People cannot be made obedient except with the sword!”We can argue about the best strategy for defeating these sworn enemies of America and the West — of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and moderate Muslims. But we should not be debating whether to be a bit more obedient; whether to appease this enemy; whether we can, through soft words and conciliatory deeds, make ourselves inoffensive to him; whether this conflict is our fault, at least as much as his.

Nor should we still be describing this global conflict as “overseas contingency operations” against “violent extremists” — phrases that cloud meaning and obscure understanding. The simple truth: Just as Nazism arose from within Germany, and Communism from within Russia, today radical and bellicose ideologies, movements, and organizations have arisen from within Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other Islamic countries.

I agree “we should not be debating … whether we can, through soft words and conciliatory deeds, make ourselves inoffensive” to our enemies.  And yet that debate continues.

I met Robert Wright at Princeton, where he was a year ahead of me, and over the years I’ve followed his commentary I’ve found that I respect him more than I agree with him.  He’s a thoughtful writer who presses his anti-war case without demonizing those who disagree.

Wright has a column in the online New York Times this week in which he argues that the war in Afghanistan is “Worse Than Vietnam.”  Afghanistan is the longest war in American history, and more expensive than Vietnam and Korea combined.  Wright argues that by making war in Afghanistan and Iraq on anti-American jihadists, “we’re creating them faster than we’re killing them,” although he has the grace to acknowledge that this view is “impressionistic.”

All told, then: in terms of the long-run impact on America’s economic and physical security, the Afghanistan war is as bad as the Vietnam War except for the ways in which it’s worse.

Still, the strategy in whose name both wars were launched, containment, makes sense if wisely calibrated. [Side note: how did the launch of the war in Afghanistan have anything to do with “containment”?] A well tuned terrorism containment strategy — dubbed containment 2.0 by the foreign policy blogger Eric Martin — would require strong leadership in the White House and in Congress. It would mean convincing Americans that — sometimes, at least — we have to absorb terrorist attacks stoically, refraining from retaliation that brings large-scale blowback.

That’s a tough sell, because few things are more deeply engrained in human nature than the impulse to punish enemies. So maybe the message should be put like this: Could we please stop doing Al Qaeda’s work for it?

The idea that retaliation is counter-productive has a logic to it.  The argument deserves to be taken seriously… but it leads to untenable places.  I fervently hope that America never gets to the point where it can “absorb terrorist attacks stoically.”  As the first commenter (of more than 300) on Wright’s blog post put it, “Neville Chamberlain could not have written a better article.”

Back to Clifford May:

We live in uncertain times. In the early 20th century, terrorism meant a bomb thrown into a carriage. Today, it means a passenger jet slammed into a skyscraper. Tomorrow it could mean the detonation of nuclear devices, the use of biological weapons to spread dread diseases, or even cyber attacks on our electronic infrastructure.

In the past, we fought godless enemies who killed without remorse. What could be worse than that? An enemy who believes the God he worships commands him to slaughter “infidels,” an enemy who loves death — his own and even that of his children. If that is not evil, nothing is.

Should we be thankful for this enemy and this war? No, but perhaps we can be thankful for the fact — and I believe it is a fact — that we Americans, most of us, or at least enough of us, are equal to the challenge we face.

This blog was founded on the premise that — paraphrasing something Edmund Burke apparently did not actually sayall that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.  America is not without flaw, but I firmly believe it is the greatest force for good in the history of the world.  And people who deliberately fly airplanes into buildings are evil.

On this day of giving thanks I’m deeply grateful to the men and women of the American armed forces.  I pray for the well-being of all of them, but I’ve got a special stake in one. Harry, be safe, and thank you for your service.

Obama’s Mixed Signals on Afghanistan

The prize for elegant metaphor of the day goes to Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal:

With a wink of its left eye, the Obama administration tells its liberal base that a year from now the U.S. will be heading for a quick Afghan exit. “Everyone knows there’s a firm date,” insists White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

With a wink of its right, the administration tells Afghanistan, Pakistan, NATO allies and its own military leadership that the July 2011 date is effectively meaningless. The notion that a major drawdown will begin next year “absolutely has not been decided,” says Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The winks are simultaneous. When it comes to Barack Obama’s “war of necessity,” pretty much everyone thinks he’s blinked.

It’s no way to run a war.