Scurvy Dogs of War

The late William F. Buckley, political conservative icon and founder of National Review, must be clawing at his coffin lid. The print version of National Review, while Buckley held the reins, was often an over-the-top exposition of the more unsavory facets of the political Right, but Buckley managed to keep it semi-respectable. National Review online, however, always seemed to be written by the sort of thugs you’d find in a Bertholt Brecht musical.

In a recent NR online piece, military historian and former classics professor Victor Davis Hanson comes across like a rabid war mongrel. Frothing over the recent Somali pirate caper involving a U.S. flagged merchant ship, Davis insists that, "To end Somali piracy, disproportionate measures against the shore should be taken – for every one pirate assault, a lethal air assault should immediately follow." It’s perhaps understandable that Hanson doesn’t mention what Somalia offers in the way of suitable air-strike targets; underdeveloped nations like Somalia don’t have any. Hanson probably doesn’t understand that, because like so many hawkish military historians, he doesn’t understand anything about the military. He doesn’t know much about warfare theory, either. He calls for extreme (though ineffectual) military measures in response to something he admits "may not be a matter of American national security" committed not by a peer competitor or a group of global extremists but by "two-bit pirates." When a giant purposely crushes an anthill, he’s not pursuing a political objective; he’s feeding his perversions. That, like waterboarding someone 183 times, is not the sort of thing a global hegemon needs to be doing, Victor.

Thing are even wackier at the other end of the nut farm. In a December 2008 Weekly Standard piece, Barnacle Bill Kristol suggested that "the Marines would no doubt be glad to recapitulate their origins [on the ‘shores of Tripoli’ during the Barbary Coast wars] and join in by going ashore in Africa to destroy the pirates’ safe havens." In the same issue, Seth Cropsey also proposed that we address the pirate peril by invading Somalia. "Americans ought to know the limits of relying on naval power alone to stop piracy as a result of the nation’s experience in the Barbary Coast wars," Cropsey wrote. "Notwithstanding the offshore victories of larger American frigates, a successful conclusion was only reached by combined naval, Marine, and mercenary action that captured the Tripolitan town of Derna."

Comparing Thomas Jefferson’s Barbary Coast wars to today’s situation in the waters off Somalia is an apples and elephants analogy. The Somali government, such as it is, isn’t demanding "tribute" from the United States, and it’s as likely to get its pirates under control as the Afghan and Pakistani governments are likely to tame the Taliban. Moreover, today’s U.S. Navy isn’t a small fleet of wooden frigates. I’ll repeat this as often as necessary: simply placing two or even just one of our 11 carrier strike groups – with their self-contained wide ocean surveillance, maritime lift, escort, communications, and special force capabilities – off the coast of Somalia would shut down the pirate shenanigans faster than you can say avast!

The opinions of Kristol and Cropsey on matters of war and peace are even less credible than Hanson’s. Kristol, Weekly Standard editor and founder of the infamous Project for the New American Century, is a sterling example of how far a boy with a low IQ can ride on his father’s connections and Rupert Murdoch’s money. Cropsey’s credentials as a warfare expert mainly consist of his membership in neocon think-tanks like Kristol’s PNAC and its parent organization, the American Enterprise Institute. Still, Kristol and Cropsey have stronger grasps of military and foreign policy matters than their fellow PNAC and AEI denizen Long John Bolton. As the folks at point out, Bolton, our former ambassador to the UN, told his chums at Fox News that attacking Somalia would be "the prudential response" to our buccaneer conundrum, just as he said last year that attacking Iran would be "the most prudent thing to do," and as he asserted in 2002 that we were on a "prudent course" with Iraq.

In a saner American century, the likes of Hanson, Cropsey, Kristol, Bolton, and the rest of the war clowns would have been laughed off the world stage years ago. Bathetically, in the American century we have, the masses, washed and unwashed, take them as seriously as they take professional wrestling and TV evangelists.

According to an April 13 Bloomberg story by Jeff Bliss, unnamed "defense officials" say "The U.S. military is considering attacks on pirate bases on land." One can’t help wonder what kind of bases the U.S. military thinks the pirates have: the ones Dr. Evil left behind when Austin Powers chased him out of Africa? I can guarantee you their "bases" look nothing like the embassy we’re building in Baghdad. Somali piracy is a direct result of abject Somali poverty. That’s why the pirate they captured on the recent caper is only 16 years old.

Hey. What do Somalis call a 16-year-old pirate? An intern. What does the Pentagon call a 16-year-old Somali pirate? A number-two man.

James "Jim Boy" Carafano, a right-wing tank thinker at the Heritage Foundation (Bolton, Cropsey, and Hanson have Heritage ties as well), told Bloomberg’s Bliss "There really isn’t a silver-bullet solution other than going into Somalia and rooting out the bases." There isn’t a silver-bullet solution at all, nor are there much in the way of bases to root out, but as we have discussed, there is at least one superior option that hopefully involves doing whatever the Navy comes up with (throwing carriers at the problem) after JCS chairman Adm. Mike Mullen makes the maritime service look “broadly and widely and deeply” at the problem. (“We’ve actually been focused on this issue for some period of time," Mullen said on ABC’s Good Morning America. “We’ve had a focus on it,” he reassured us. He promised us, "There are many, many people working on it right now.”)

Neil Livingstone, chairman and chief executive officer of ExecutiveAction LLC, a Washington-based anti-terrorism consultant, told Bliss it’s futile to concentrate anti-pirate efforts solely at sea. "It’s a massive area," he said. "You can’t patrol all of it." Livingstone is another security expert who knows nothing about military capabilities. The assets of a carrier strike group or two, directed by E-2C Hawkeye surveillance aircraft, can patrol that area handily.

Unnamed "security analysts," most likely Carafano and Livingstone, told Bliss, "The U.S. should take as its model the 1801 decision by then-President Thomas Jefferson to send a naval force to assault the land bases of Barbary pirates." Gee, is there a network where all these war mongrels get together and decide on how they’re going to talk us into their next stupid war, do you think?

If they are going to cite historical precedent, they’d serve us better by pointing to more recent case studies. Operation Restore Hope, the Big Daddy Bush and Bill Clinton excursion into Somalia, began in December 1992 as a humanitarian mission and turned into a cluster bomb. That’s what happens when you put boots on the ground in a place you know nothing about. Things didn’t go appreciably better when we paid the Ethiopians to invade Somalia for us in 2006, and the air raids we supported them with reinforced what I said earlier about suitable air-strike targets: the best ones our AC-130 gunships could find were Somali villages.

Somalia does not offer tangible military objectives. There are no pirate seaports or forts or barracks to bomb from the air. And if we invade, how do Kristol and the rest of the brownshirt Bubbas suppose our Marines will tell the pirates from the other starving Somalis? By their jolly swaggers and the parrots on their shoulders?

Smart Power poster girl Hillary Clinton apparently has "many, many people" working on the pirate issue as well. An April 15 BBC headline read "U.S. Unveils Plan to Tackle Piracy," referring to Hillary’s announcement of her State Department’s new "counter-piracy initiatives" designed to address "the scourge of piracy." (Arr, and that’s the salty kind of talk we like to hear, Madame Secretary.) Hillary’s plan includes four "immediate" steps: (1) sending "an envoy to attend" a meeting, (2) calling "for immediate meetings," (3) tasking a "diplomatic team to engage" in meetings, and (4) directing her team to meet and "work with shippers and the insurance industry." As silly as they sound, Hillary’s team meetings make more sense than the standard kill-kill-kill mantra we get from the neocon Kilroys.

I will always maintain that a smooth operator in the back of an airborne E-2C Hawkeye controlling a carrier group’s assets could ensure that any pirate who boards a merchant ship in the in the NPZ (No Pirate Zone) would be mumbling into a Navy SEAL’s gun barrel within hours. But the simplest and cheapest way to tackle the piracy scourge might be for all ships transiting the POA (Pirate Operating Area) to pull up their metal boarding ladders and stow them on deck. You can count the number of Somali pirates who are really, really motivated to swing a grappling hook over a gunwale then climb hand over hand up the side of a pitching ship on the fingers and toes of a porpoise.

Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.