Monday, April 13, 2009



At the US Naval Academy, in the green grassy square between Truxtun and Decatur Roads and the Preble and Leahy Halls stands a slowly crumbling monument to six dead men and a long forgotten war.

It is the Tripoli Monument and it is the oldest military memorial in the United States.

Originally known simply as the Naval Monument, it was carved from fine white Carrara marble quarried in Tuscany and sculpted by master stone mason, Giovanni Macali, in Livorno, Italy.

In 1806 it was carried to the United States in the hold of USS Constitution.

The monument was first erected at the Washington Naval Yard on the Potomac in 1808. Then in 1831 it was moved to the west front of the US Capital Building and placed within a fountain – where the US Grant Memorial stands today. Finally, it was moved to its present location at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland where it has stood for the last 149 years.

Few outside of the US Navy remember or recognize the names inscribed upon the Tripoli memorial, Captain Richard Somers, Lieutenant James Caldwell, Lieutenant James Decatur, Lieutenant (acting) Henry Wadsworth, Lieutenant (acting) Joseph Israel, and Midshipman Thomas Dorsey. These Naval officers were killed in action during the First Barbary War which raged from 1801 to 1805. Also called the Barbary Coast War or the Tripoli War, this conflict is the source of the line “To the shores of Tripoli” in the US Marine Hymn, and is the impetus behind the formation of the US Navy and Marine Corps, and it was the United States first trial by fire as a new and independent nation.

In the late 1700’s through the early part of the 19th century, Corsairs raiding north out of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli into the Mediterranean captured foreign merchant vessels in thinly disguised acts of piracy and demanded tribute for unmolested passage. The great seafaring powers were mostly powerless against the pirates of the Barbary Coast, primarily because they were engaged against each other and had few assets to spare for pirate suppression, and so the great nations formed an uneasy agreement with the Corsairs. Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy agreed to pay tribute to the quasi-independent Ottoman Sultanates of North Africa for more or less safe passage. The might of their navies backed those agreements up, as did the complex and often incomprehensible diplomacy of the European powers in North Africa.

Prior to 1776, the vessels of colonial America fell under the protection, more or less, of British treaties. After 1777 and throughout the revolution, American vessels were protected, again more or less, by France and their agreement with the Corsairs. But after independence, the United States became solely responsible for the protection of her vessels on the high seas. Unfortunately, the new nation had no Navy. The privateer force of the Revolutionary War was long decommissioned and would have been inadequate for the job even if it did still exist. Without a navy, the United States had only one option – tribute.

And so, for eight years, all during the presidency of George Washington, the United States paid tribute to the Barbary Pirates for unmolested passage. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were both sent to negotiate peace treaties in London in 1786. Tripoli’s Ambassador, one Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, laughed and told Jefferson that is was the duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave nonbelievers. Jefferson reported to Secretary of State John Jay and to President Washington that that to pay tribute to such brigands would only invite more tribute and encourage more attacks.

And he was right.

While in Congress the Federalists and the anit-Federalist (or in modern terms the Liberals and the Conservatives) argued over western expansion and the need, or lack there of, of a Navy, and taxation, and so on and so forth – the attacks against US shipping continued to increase, and the Sultanate of Tripoli demanded larger and larger tributes, until the size of the payoffs became unbearable. By 1800, tribute and ransom to the Barbary States amounted to over twenty percent of the US Budget.

In addition to attacks by the Corsairs, Britain had embarked on a program of impressment of US merchant seaman and harassment of American vessels on the high seas (eventually these actions and others would lead to the War of 1812) and it was glaringly obvious that America needed to defend her access to the sea lanes. Led by Jefferson (who was at odds with his own party) and supported by Washington and other founding fathers, the United Stated established the American Navy in 1794. They commissioned numerous smaller vessels and six large Frigates; the Constitution, the Congress, the President, the United States, the Constellation, and the Chesapeake. Those vessels, designed by Joshua Humphreys and built in Boston from American black and white oak, were unique in the world. They were not Ships of the Line, but were rather designed to fight independently and/or as the flagship of a squadron of smaller vessels. They were fast and powerful – today we would call them cruisers. They were considered to be some of finest warships in the world, and a tribute to American shipbuilding prowess and seamanship. Those vessels and the ones that followed distinguished themselves again and again, defeating far larger vessels and repeatedly winning the day against staggering odds. USS Constitution still floats in Boston Harbor today, the oldest and most distinguished warship on active duty anywhere in the world. Her sister, Constellation, rests in Baltimore.

When Thomas Jefferson became President in 1801, the Bashir of Tripoli demanded $225,000 in tribute – an unbelievable fortune and punishment for Jefferson’s outspoken hatred of the pirates. Jefferson refused payment and Tripoli then declared war on the United States. And the First Barbary War broke out. Jefferson sent the new US Navy to the north coast of Africa and laid siege to the pirates. Led by Commodore Edward Preble, the US Navy systematically hunted down and destroyed the Corsair raiders. Over a period of two years, Preble forced the pirates from the ocean and back into the city states from whence they came. Then Preble laid siege to the cities. In the most famous incident, Naval hero Captain Stephen Decatur and a contingent of the very first US Marines sailed into Tripoli Harbor in a captured Corsair ketch renamed USS Intrepid, and retook the USS Philadelphia, which had been captured after running aground during an armed reconnaissance of Tripoli harbor. Decatur and the Marines stormed Philadelphia and took the ship without firing a shot. American ships then came alongside but Philadelphia could not be readied for sail in time. With cannon shot from the shore batteries falling all around them, Decatur and his Marines fired Philadelphia and burned her to keep her out of the Corsair’s hands. This single action of unbelievable skill and daring defines the very heart of the US Navy and Marine Corps today.

Two months later Preble took his squadron into Tripoli harbor and fought a series of running battles to smash the remains of the Corsair fleet once and for all. At the vanguard of this action, USS Intrepid, now designated a Fire Ship and packed with explosives was sailed into the harbor under the command of Captain Richard Somers with a crew of two officers and ten enlisted volunteers. They intended to sail Intrepid straight into the enemy fleet, light the fuses, and escape in the ship’s boat – hopefully to be picked up by Preble’s fleet before the Corsairs could catch them. Something went wrong and Intrepid detonated early. Somers and his men were killed in the explosion. But the battle was won and the final nail in the Corsair’s coffin came when Marines under the command of General William Eaton and US Marine First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon and an army of mercenaries marched overland and took the pirate city of Dema at bayonet point. Then they turned to advance on Tripoli itself. Crushed between Preble’s iron blockade and O’Bannon’s advance, the Bashir sued for peace. A treaty was signed on June 10, 1805.

Acting Lieutenants (actually senior Midshipmen) Henry Wadsworth (Uncle of the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) and Joseph Israel were with Captain Somers on USS Intrepid, and all three of them along with six men from USS Constitution (William Harrison, Robert Clark, Hugh McCormick, Jacob Williams, Peter Renner and Issac Downes) and four from USS Nautilus (James Simms, Thomas Tompline, James Harris and William Keith) are buried in an overgrown, weed infested lot beneath a crumbling stone monument in a small neglected park on the outskirts of Tripoli, Libya. The United States has petitioned Libya for their return for many, many years now – and so far has been refused.

Lt James Decatur (not to be confused with Captain Stephen Decatur) was killed while commanding one of USS Constitution’s gun boats, shot through the head.

Lt Caldwell and Midshipman Dorsey were killed when one of USS Syren’s gunboats was struck by canon shot and exploded.

In the end the pirates were driven back and Tripoli crushed, but the threat was far from vanquished. Another pirate war, the Second Barbary War, and the War of 1812 would follow before the world understood that the vessels of the United States of America and her allies were not to be molested. But at the end of those conflicts, they did understand – and any time that memory dimmed one had only to look upon the seas and the warships of the United States Navy standing watch there to be reminded of the penalty for attacking Americans.

And so it has stood for well over a century.

But once again our people are threatened by pirates operating from the coast of Africa. This time it’s the lawless coast of the Horn of Africa. I’ve been there, it is a terrible place. A place where life is expensive and death is cheap and no one is safe.

At first the pirates claimed to be protecting the sovereign coastal waters of Somalia against illicit fishing. It wasn’t long however, before those vigilantes discovered that piracy was far more lucrative than fisheries enforcement – and like the Corsairs of old, they were encouraged by their success and the astronomical tribute other nations were willing to pay to keep the sea lanes open and their vessels free. Like any human endeavor, if one person is successful, others will follow – and like greenhorns flocking en mass to the gold fields of the Klondike (or Warlords to the Blood Diamond trade, to use an analogy more specific to Africa), new pirates flooded the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. The lawless land of Somalia gives them refuge and a free hand. The warlords there, like the Bashirs of the Barbary Coast before them, take their tribute. And every ransom paid only encourages them more.

Piracy is not a problem in Somalia, it’s the national industry.

Make no mistake, there is nothing romantic about these pirates. They are lawless criminals, violent and ruthless men who have killed hundreds and looted billions and demand ever more every day. You only read about the big ships, the ones full of weapons or relief supplies. You rarely hear about the private yachts and the smaller ships sailing for the Suez Canal. These vessels disappear without a trace, their crews and passengers raped and murdered, their cargo stolen and sold openly in the markets of Yemen and Somalia, and vessels themselves liquidated on the black market.

These men are not freedom fighters. They are not enforcing the sovereignty of Somalia, there is no sovereign Somalia. They are not the duly appointed maritime security force of the Somalia government, there is no such thing and no such government. They are not the victims of racism or the model of democracy in action (though I agree that Somalia itself is the predicable result of decades, if not centuries, of failed foreign policy and proxy wars by nations the world over – however, this fact does in no way justify the actions of the pirates. Period. If you think so, you're simply rationalizing brigandage and anarchy to prove your point – and you can look up which logical fallacy that is on your own). They are most certainly not defending their country from the depredations of the West as reported by Al Jareeza, this is nothing more than a load of hogwash manufactured whole cloth. The actions of the pirates, and pirates they are and make no mistake, belie all of these idiotic notions. The fact that the pirates attempted to take the M/V Alabama, loaded with relief supplies for Kenya and operating well outside Somalia waters shows how utterly in error such nonsense statements are.

No, these men are nothing more than the Corsairs of old, reborn. They have found a lucrative and repeatable way of extorting enormous amounts of money from other nations – including their own people and fellow Africans. The money and assets they take benefit only a few and the most ruthless, and do nothing to relieve the festering horror that is Somalia. Indeed, the actions of the pirates and the warlords directly increase the isolation of Somalia, and reduce aid and relief to the region. These men are criminals of the worst kind, they prey on their own neighbors as well as maritime targets of opportunity.

This threat is expanding every day. The pirates raid further and further from their bases. They demand bigger and bigger ransoms. They have threatened to kill any and all French and American citizens (including relief workers) in retaliation for what they perceive as transgressions against what they increasingly see as their right to control the high seas. This threat against Americans is tantamount to a declaration of war, the same as the Bashir of Tripoli two centuries ago.

It’s not a matter of avoiding those areas. We cannot. Our vessels cannot. Any ship transiting the Suez Canal and the Horn of Africa, and increasingly anywhere in the western Indian Ocean is at risk. Those risks translate into massively increased insurance costs, fuel costs as vessels have to move faster and further to avoid capture and attack, and increased delays in shipping. These things have a direct impact on you, on fuels costs, on the costs of goods, on the safety of your fellow countrymen, and on the world economy.

Just as our ancestors before us, we are faced with two choices, pay tribute or fight.

Unlike our ancestors we have a powerful and fully capable Navy and Marine Corps who were born in just this sort of fire and are supremely aware of our legacy and history and would like nothing better than to hunt these bastards down and wipe them from the face of the Earth.

Make no mistake, folks, we cannot live in peace with these people, just as you could not live in peace with criminal gangs who break into your house to steal and rape and murder.

It is time to halt the shortsighted policies of the previous administration, stop decommissioning ships that were specifically designed for this mission – the FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Class Frigates. Dozens of these ships have be decommissioned in recent years in favor of new, advanced, pie in the sky technology ships, designed to fight mythical hi-tech bogymen from the Cold War. This is a mistake. The FFG-7 is small, fast, relatively inexpensive to operate, capable of sustained endurance, and armed with a 3” main battery and capable of carrying two advanced combat helicopters. These ships are ideally suited to this mission, and we already have dozens of them. Strip out the anti-submarine weapons, and fill the resulting space with Marines. With a cruiser for command and control, the pirates won’t stand a chance.

And while we’re at it, now is the perfect opportunity to mend the fences trampled by the previous administration. It’s time to join forces with those nations who were once our traditional allies, such as France, and who are willing to stand up and fight.

No other American vessel should ever again fall into the hands of pirates.

No dime of American money should go to tribute or ransom.

However it’s managed, this threat must be exterminated now.

If you doubt me, stand before the Tripoli Monument and read those names again:

Captain Richard Somers

Lieutenant James Caldwell

Lieutenant James Decatur

Lieutenant (acting) Henry Wadsworth

Lieutenant (acting) Joseph Israel

Midshipman Thomas Dorsey

and all of the others who have given the ultimate sacrifice so that we may be free.

Followup post is here: Somalia



To those of you running Google searches about Teddy Roosevelt and Eden Pedicaris and the last of the Barbary pirates - that would be a really good example of why you shouldn't get your history from Hollywood. Don't get me wrong, John Milius' The Wind and the Lion is one of my very, very favorite movies ever, but it's a complete load of historical fiction.


There was an event called the Pedicaris Incident where an American citizen was kidnapped from his home in Morocco. Sort of. The man's name was actually Ion Pedicaris and he did became friends with the brigand and kidnapper Razuli - which is similar in broad strokes to the events of the movie. And Teddy did send the Atlantic squadron, and he did supposedly say, "This government wants Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!" - though it was at a fund raiser and not an official declaration of the government. But that's about all the movie got right. There was no military action, the situation was resolved through diplomacy, with the help of France and Spain - and has nothing whatsoever to do with the Barbary Wars.

On the other hand, Milius' "prequel to The Wind and the Lion, Roughriders, is much closer to historical accuracy and is also a damned fine movie. Highly recommended.


  1. Damn straight. Fourth generation warfare strategy and tactics has too long concentrated on land conflict. Viktor Bout and these guys show we have to go after supremacy on the sea and in the air, too.

  2. Excellent post, Jim.

    The only thing I'd add is that we are going to have to figure out how to fix Somalia at some point--not on our own, absolutely not on our own, and this is another case of remedying the shortsightedness of past administrations and working with our traditional allies. While sinking the pirates' boats will solve the symptoms for a time, we can expect to either maintain a perpetual patrolling force (unlikely) or to see pirate activity gradually resume once it seems like the mission is accomplished (probably); in either instance it's likely to be less painful in the long run to try to make Somalia a successful state.

    Mind you, I'm aware we tried that already and failed, and I have no illusions about how hard, expensive and deadly such an effort is likely to be. But the piracy isn't merely the problem, it's also a symptom. And it's essentially the entire Somalian economy, such as it is, making Somalia not unlike 17th-Century Port Royal in a number of unflattering respects.

    It's going to take a helluva lot of political will to say we're going back to Somalia. I don't even know if even President Obama has that much political capital or can generate that much international goodwill.

  3. Agreed.

    Obviously, the underlying problem is Somalia itself and the situation there, and the rest of the impoverished Horn of Africa Nations as well. Hell, almost all of Africa in general.

    However, one size fits all won't work, each nation and each problem must be fixed as a separate part of the problem.

    And that is not going to be easy, and may not be possible at all. Everything is against peace in Africa. Everything.

    But that's another post altogether now, isn't it?

  4. My version of this post had none of the color and only a small bit of the history -- but I knew you were working on this for today, Jim, so I thought I'd let you fire the first full broadside.

    And I have to agree with you on the FFG-7 class. Very fond of frigates for some types of missions.

    Dr. Phil

  5. And speaking of Frigate sailors, howdy Chris.

    What continues to confound me is that under a war hawk administration, with a republican congress, we did nothing but shitcan every useful ship and weapon system - in favor of building shiny new ones, of course.

    They've talked for years about this mythical pie in the sky Littoral Combat Ship - while decommissioning the FFG's, a littoral combat ship, with the ability to fight on the high seas. Jesus fucking Christ. Then they've spent billions on the CGX concept, and had the first five Aegis cruisers already bought and paid for and easily converted to the littoral mission - and in fact those ships were the only cruisers actually still used as cruisers in this last conflict, the newer ones being little more than dedicated cruise missile launchers.

    Then there's the B2 and F-22, billions, hundreds of billions, for aircraft that were designed to fight the fucking Soviets, and we just keep buying them. One B2 costs a prince's ransom and can't be used for anything. Gah, this whole topic pisses me off.

  6. "They are most certainly not defending their country from the depredations of the West as reported by Al Jareeza, this is nothing more than a load of hogwash manufactured whole cloth."

    Yeah, otherwise they would not have nabbed those Egyptian fishing boats.

    The US has to get serious about Information Warfare in that region.

    I was gong to say that dropping a canister round from space on Al Jazeera would be a good start, but those fools are a good barometer of the situation - best keep them broadcasting.

    Dropping one right offshore of one of those pirate villages would not be a bad idea, though . One minute, a bunch of pirate vessels moored in a sheltered bay. The next minute, it looks like Paul Bunyan just took a dump on their fleet.

  7. I meant to say, developing that canister round capability instead of paying for F22s we don't need would not be a bad use of taxpayer dollars.

  8. First the Aegis, now you're telling me we're mothballing Perry Class frigates? Holy frack, just WTF was Rumsfeld thinking (and I'm pretty sure it was him and not Gates)?

    But are you advocating opening a third war? IMHO I don't think we should at this point. Sure, the Navy isn't being stretched with these wars, but the Marines are. And the Navy already has a mission. It should definitely be handled better than it has been. However, I don't think we have the economy to prosecute another full scale war at this time. We should work with the French (who have been taking a very hard line on the Somalia Question longer than we have, but then again, the French aren't known for their generous attitudes toward Africa) and British to solve this. Heck, we could even bring the Chinese into a joint mission which might mitigate certain other conflicts on the horizon.

    One of my commentators expressed surprise that the SEALs had to be air dropped and asked why we don't have them on all the ships in a combat zone. You and I know that the SEALs (Delta, Rangers, etc) are being used for certain agencies wetwork and are still kinda busy.

    It would also be a logistical issue. Just how many Predator and Global Hawks would we divert, how many Marines could we take from Afghanistan, what part of the globe that we are currently patrolling would we leave open by diverting warships? I agree that this is the Navy's founding job (well this and breaking the Slave Trade) and they want to get at it, but what are we willing to sacrifice in the short term to get the job done?

  9. John the Scientist, well, Al Jareeza is the pet project of Qatar, which currently is a favored ally and someplace we used as the jumping off point into Iraq. And Al Jareeza gives the arabian monarchies more headaches than they give us.

  10. a war hawk administration, with a republican congress, we did nothing but shitcan every useful ship and weapon system - in favor of building shiny new ones, of course.One might suspect that the war hawks were more interested in campaign contributions and pork-barrel projects than actually winning a war.

    Steve - we're probably going to have to do it. I do think that we need to harden the merchant ship targets (2 ships got grabbed today) first. We can also try a little "Sons of Somalia" payola (give the local "government" some cash to build a coast guard) but I don't hold out much hope for that.

  11. This should be required reading.


  12. Sounds like a good place to apply a few Q-ships.

  13. Last week, at one of the dinners at my sister's house, I was seated next to a woman who gets all of her news from talk radio. At one point, she asked me if I thought it was O.K. that Obama had said "such and such". I replied that I wouldn't think it was O.K. for him to have said "such and such" if he had actually said that...and that she might want to get her quotes from the person she's quoting instead of listening to what some ass on the radio told her he had said.

    I take two things from this episode.

    1. We have a President who used the military as they're meant to be used. He articulated the mission and its goals. He set the rules of engagement. He got the fuck out of the way and let the experts do their jobs.

    2.Saving one merchant Captain from four pirates achieves nothing in the long run (although arguably, it makes us all feel good and certainly makes the Captain and his family feel good). Having said that, I'm fairly certain that the pirates' hierarchy (such as it is), have sealed their own fate by forcing the U.S. to decide that we have our own horse in this race.

    Solving the Pirate Problem and solving the Somalia Problem are two different things. Pursuing a third war isn't necessary to solve the first problem. That little boat full of pirates came from a bigger boat full of more pirates. That's strictly a Naval affair. And if the Navy is turned loose on the problem, it won't be all that long before the Pirate bosses on land run out of minions to order around on the sea.

    (That's my ill-informed 2¢)

  14. Chris, oh I agree we have to handle the situation, but not because of the pirates. (and here Steve will dispute his earlier point of not opening a third war) We should close Somalia as an alternative hiding place for Al Qaeda. This is what's known and plugging all the holes before engaging the mouse in Pakistan. However, this won't just be a Naval operation. We'll need boots on the ground, and right now those are in short supply. We'll also need the capital to nation build in Somalia, also in short supply. (here Steve rants and raves against the Bush Administration's short sightedness by encouraging Ethiopia to support the sectarian government in their bid to repulse the Islamic Courts, but then dropped the ball on follow through) And then you have the political ghosts of Blackhawk Down. That's going to be a tough sell for a President who already has a full plate. If we can solve the problem of Somalia being a failed state, we'll also solve most of the pirate problem at the same time. (As an FYI, pirates have been very active in Indonesian waters for the past 30 years, they operate differently though, selling the cargo of the ships without asking for ransom)

  15. Nathan, as Steve said, solving the Somalia problem will solve the pirate problem (at least in that region). Conversely, addressing piracy without addressing the core problems in Somalia will only temporarily treat the symptoms of Somalia's failed statehood; which will ultimately mean that even if we eradicate the current pirates, we will be committing to either an indefinite naval presence... strike that--who am I kidding? We won't have an indefinite naval presence, because eventually a future administration will say, "Why are we patrolling for pirates when there aren't any pirates, and why aren't our trading partners and allies ponying up to police the region?" And then we'll pull our ships, a few at a time, and then after a few years some Somali fishermen's guards and/or "retired" pirates will remember how awesome it was to have spending money and maybe a Beemer, and how easy it is to hit those Ukrainian freighters, they're so lightly defended....

    So, yeah: we simply wipe out the pirates, we're just resigning ourselves to future piracy. We have to help Somalia fix itself, make it a civilized state in the sense that crime doesn't really pay as well as a gig playing it straight.

    Can we do it without a war? It would be nice, but may not be possible. Does that mean we should start a war? Mind you, my nature is a pacifist's; but my pragmatic history/foreign policy student side says we may need to make a show of force, albeit we should finish our business in Iraq and Afghanistan first. We're already overextended.

    Aside from needing to finish what we've already started, there's also the fact that Steve's also right about the political cost of going back to Somalia: the ghosts of Black Hawk Down are part of what I was referring to earlier when I questioned whether Obama has that much political capital. The short answer is he doesn't.

    Any effort in Somalia should be multinational, as well, and not just for the usual reasons: on top of what might be moral or desirable or humanitarian, the fact is that Somalia has become a problem for just about everyone, so everyone ought to chip in to sort it out. Again, however, we may have a problem of political will: some of the victims of the pirates are themselves engaging in questionable activities in the area (e.g. arms smuggling) and may not be interested in global attention being fixed on the region. (Why, China! Why would you think everybody just turned and looked at you when I wrote that? It must be your imagination!)

  16. Steve, no I'm not advocating a new war in Somalia - just the opposite in fact.

    I'll have a follow up post up here shortly, explaining exactly what I am advocating.


    Also, speaking of Steve, I posted the following on his site, Storybones in response to a question there. I think it bares repeating here:

    Question: Why did the Bainbridge need SEALs? Why did the SEALs come by air. Why didn't the Navy do something else. Etc.

    Answer: Navy crews all have people specially trained in boarding and assault and weapons, I used to be one of them. It is possible that the ship's gunners mates could have made those shots, with a somewhat lower probability of simultaneous kill. However, SEALs have advanced training and very specialized skills - and these SEALs where specially trained as snipers - and the difference is that they train and practice this exact skill repeatedly and because of that using SEALs, and these SEALs in particular, means that there is a very high probability that you'll get 3 kills for 3 shots all at the same time - and if you think you could do it, I suggest you give it a try sometime, let me know how you do. The SEALs were in the area (and by area I mean the Arabian [Persian] Gulf) and could be on scene in hours via air. Dropping them from air was the quickest and easiest solution, and the navy does that kind of thing all the time - we specifically train for it.

    Now, adding the SEALs gave the on-scene commander (probably Bainbridge's CO's or the Squadron Commodore if embarked) greatly expanded options (assume that sniper capability wasn't the only thing they brought with them). More options are always a good thing in any military situation.

    The biggest problem in a situation like this, is failure to take action. The longer you wait, the more the tactical equation shifts to the adversary. Every second counts, and the longer you allow the adversary to have the tactical advantage, the more likely you are to lose all options. If the pirates could secure world favor, if they could secure assistance from shore, or escape in the night, or get the captive off the life boat and onto a fueled go-fast (and I can think of at least half a dozen ways to pull that off) and then to shore the show is over - then everything is on their terms, including whether the hostage lives or not. The pirates are clever and intelligent men, and growing more bold and experienced every day. Most are experienced and hardened guerrilla fighters from the wars in Somalia - every second that the hostage remained on that lifeboat, the odds shifted towards the pirates.

    What most people fail to understand is that a ship like Bainbridge has limited force options in a situation like this - they can choose to blow the pirates out of the water or not. They could make an armed assault using ship's boats, and most likely lose a couple of sailors and most certainly the hostage. They could negotiate, which they were doing. But between no force and deadly force they don't really have a lot of options (there are a few, but I'm not going to discuss those at the moment). Adding the SEALs gives the them those intermediate options, just like adding a SWAT Team or FBI Hostage team to a police standoff gives the cops additional options.

    As to why there aren't SEALs on every ship, well, because SEALs are expensive. And because 99% of the time their special skills would be wasted, and going stale. And it's not necessary, special assets such as SEALs, Diver Rescue, Salvage, and Special Transport and Weapons and Intelligence can be on-scene anywhere in the world usually within 24 hours or less. Far more efficient, far more specialized and tailored to the situation, and far more cost effective for you the taxpayer.

  17. Steve, Qatar butters its bread on both sides, and I'm not sure I agree that the Arabian monarchies get a greater headache out of Al Jazeera than we do. It's just that I don't advocate moving against them because they are what might grow to be an actual press in the region, just as Pravda and Izvestia grew to be somewhat respectable papers after the former USSR collapsed (although that trend is reversing). Also, they are a good barometer of the opinion of what passes for a middle class over there, which is also will be the core of any nation-building experiment.

  18. Also, they are a good barometer of the opinion of what passes for a middle class over thereExactly. Agree with AJ or not - they do very often represent exactly how the Middle East views the West, and the US in particular.

    Take the story I linked to in the post above, Al Jazeera reported that "European" vessels were dumping large quantities of radioactives in Somalia waters - and this justifies the pirates who are only attempting to stop western exploitation. This story was picked up gospel by a number of organizations.

    Upon examination, the story is ridiculous and without a single shred of proof, and really makes no sense whatsoever (you're going to dump high level radioactive wastes at sea? Why would you transit the Suez to dump it in shallow water off Somalia where it's bound to be detected sooner rather than later instead of, oh, say, deep international water not under either coastal or space based observation? Duh. Seriously, hell, even Italy isn't that stupid ;) There are many, many things in that story that don't add up, the volume of waste in question, the ships carrying it, the ports they would have to onload in, the transits they'd to take, the lack of radioactives detected, the lack of material washed up on the beach, the lack of satellite photos, and etc - and yet, and yet, many people who read Al Jazeera believe the story to be true. And it's spread beyond that readership - right into black supremacist websites and news here in the US.

    What does that tell you?

    It's tells me we need to plus up the diplomatic corps and the state department, and that we have a lot of work to do repairing the damage years of cold war tactics have done.

  19. Eric,

    I'll stand by my opinion. When the house is on fire, you put it out first and then go after the arsonist. Note that I'm not saying you do one to the exclusion of the other...just that one of them is a first priority.

  20. When the house is on fire, you put it out first and then go after the arsonist.Damn, Nathan, I really, really like that. I do. And, Eric, militarily speaking, Nathan is right.

  21. They've talked for years about this mythical pie in the sky Littoral Combat Ship...Gah, this whole topic pisses me off.No shit, says the former LCPO for the Communications Division of the CIUWG-1.

    Nathan, you surprise me. You pretend to be a fritter-head, but in fact, your opinion on this matter is insightful, defensible and right on target. I'll expect your solution to the Middle East problem by the end of the day. ;-)

  22. Nathan, Jim: I may have been misunderstood insofar as I'm not saying you leave the pirates out there doing their thing and go straight into Somalia. Besides which, going into Somalia isn't a politically viable option, anyway, which makes it sort of moot to talk about who to go after first even if there was some kinda crazy way to bypass the pirates.

    But the bottom line is that going after the pirates is treating a symptom. You may deal with the symptom before you deal with the problem (if you deal with the problem: going into Somalia isn't a politic--oh wait, said that already, didn't I?), but the problem is going to continue producing symptoms indefinitely until it's treated.

    Truth be told, I'll be surprised if there's that much official action. What I really expect to see is "Hey, why don't we just drive the long way around the burning neighborhood, or carry a fire extinguisher in the trunk?" Because going into Somalia to put out the fire is not a politi--sorry.

    I think the problem with the pithy saying (and I admire the pithiness of it--it really is great) is that as far as I can tell there really isn't an "arsonist." The Somali pirates aren't the fire, they're the toxic fumes from the burning slag. Or maybe that's a lousy reach for a metaphor, too. The point is that yes, you go after the pirates, and logically you go after the pirates as Step 1. And if I omitted that as overly self-evident, mea culpa. But there will always be more pirates as long as Somalia is a failed state was actually my point. And I'm not advocating a war there, either--let's be clear on that score. But the most you're going to do by only "going after the pirates" is to effect a hiatus in their activities until you inevitably pull away, so long as Somalia is a failed state with an economy largely driven by--wait for it--piracy.

    That's an unfortunate situation, because going into Somalia isn't a polit--well, you get the idea.

  23. Eric, I don't disagree with you. But it's not going to happen.

    Read the next post.

  24. And I'm not advocating a war there, either....And just to clarify that line: I don't want a war in Somalia. I don't want a war anywhere. And if there's a way for the international community to do something "about" Somalia without a war, I'm in favor. I have no idea what that would be, and I'm afraid armed conflict with the warlords would have to be a part of the solution, but it's not like I'm happy about that.

    Not that my opinion matters. Going into Somal--sorry, doing it again.

  25. I did, and I think the next post is excellent. Or should I say that there? Unfortunately, while I think your proposals there are very pragmatic, I'm not sure they're not just a topical creme on the herpes of Somali piracy.

    Hrm. You probably didn't need that image, did you?

    Although, that having been said, I agree with you that we've got a really mixed record on the nation building front, and that any ability we have to "fix" Somalia rates between "small" and "none." And to be clear: I can only say "mixed" because the few nations we've successfully built we built up from essentially nothing with no resistance and massive injections of money that we were willing to spend out of abject fear of Communism (the leading success stories being W. Germany and Japan, with a few other Cold War examples between 1945 and, what, maybe 1950?). Fixing hostile armed states has consistently failed, and on top of that I doubt the U.S. has the means or will to engage in anything like the Marshall Plan ever again.

    The problem is that Somalia is making itself our problem--and everyone else's, too: it's one thing to be a failed state, and another thing for the leading symptom of that failure to be criminal trespasses on international trade.

    Please understand that I'm pragmatic enough to recognize and accept that the United States can't save everybody. Maybe not even anybody. But I'm not sure Somalia is going to give us much choice in the matter, which (and I want to be especially clear about this) is a Huge Fucking Problem. Because I'm not optimistic about our abilities to fix Somalia, and at some level I'd even be happier if we weren't likely to end up as point for any international efforts. I guess one other thing maybe I haven't communicated is that I feel like we're choosing between lesser evils; and either choice is indeed a terrible one.

  26. Janiece,

    Of course, I think I'm a genius, so I thank you for recognizing it. But, uh, you're quoting someone else there.

  27. Lots of good comments...

    It really seems to me there is a lot of very fuzzy-headed strategic thinking when it comes to piracy, all over the place.

    Countering piracy is one of the very oldest naval missions, but one that never seems to really get stale. Ultimately it is an inherently naval function: the idea is to guarantee the freedom of navigation of your ships and the security of your sea lines of communication, which is generally a _defensive_ operation. The offense ashore stuff may or may not be relevant and may or may not be effective, but if you can defeat the pirates at sea every time, you've got the problem solved.

    Of course, throughout history, nation states have gone ashore to deny pirates safe haven, with mixed results. While the pirates tactics' have not relied much on infrastructure ashore in the past, that is changing as they become more sophisticated, wealthier, and more capable.

    I'm not sure the US Navy will ever have enough presence in the Gulf of Aden and the Somali coast to adequately defend all the US and allied vessels operating there. That means something else besides US Navy patrols with large warships will be necessary.

    "Fixing" Somalia has been proven to not be a very practical alternative. Somalia simply doesn't want to be fixed. Moreover, this part of the world hasn't changed much since before the dawn of known human history. Empires have risen and fallen in some of the adjacent regions (Ethiopia, Kenya, etc), but things have never been much different in the Horn.

    That doesn't leave a lot of options, and they are all pretty unfortunate and distasteful: kill the pirates on sight, destroy their bases ashore, and never, ever, pay ransom. It may not eliminate piracy entirely, but it will eliminate the biggest motivator: the big payoffs they pirates have been getting from the shipping companies.

    It's a bad deal all around: we will look like the bad guys if we do what has to be done - the strong "picking on" the weak. It's one of those vexing features of the fourth generation world.

    Also I generally agree with everyone about the FFGs: we spent 10 (maybe 100s) of times as much to build a couple of LCS ships with less littoral capability, and the LCS's don't even _FLOAT_. The Navy is just hopelessly broken.

    But I looked it up and we haven't gotten rid of as many FFGs as I thought - there are still 30 in commission.

    Janiece: Stable Door? Really?
    Speaking of broken, it's horrifying what the Navy has done to Coastal Warfare.

  28. CW, we haven't decom'd all of the FFG's yet. Originally they were scheduled for complete removal from the fleet by the end of 07. However, the block IIB Burke's were delayed, and then there was the budget cuts. So a number are still around, however, the Navy still has it in mind to get rid of the Frigate class altogether in favor of the LCS and CGX. Though I suspect they'll get neither. I was briefly involved in LCS development (IW Module) and there are major issues - all depending from the fact that the ship has no mission, and every mission. When they get done shoving in everything that everybody insists they've got to have, it'll be a fucking CVN. When they compromise and pare it down to the bare essentials that we can actually afford and then build it - it'll be a Frigate.

    Nobody can seem to see this though.

    And the CGX is worse.

  29. Nathan, the first part of my comment was directed at Jim. The second was directed at you. Blogger's been eating spaces after html code, so it wasn't clear. Sorry about that - and I'm still waiting for that Middle East solution.

    CW, I have to admit I'm tired this evening - your analogy went over my head. Are you implying the IUWG missions are closing the door after the horses have run off?

  30. Jim, thank you for an excellent lesson in history.

  31. Good post.

    A couple of minor points, the Marines consider themselves to have been founded in 1775 (IFIRC), I once had a squad of them in my platoon, mixed training brigade at Ft Monmouth.

    And while not afloat HMS Victory is still in commission and is older.

    By the way, in WWII the USS Constitution was flagship of 10th Fleet and the latest carrier of the name Intrepid is afloat in NY Harbor.

    prereaded - what Palin claims to be do with briefing books.

  32. Warner,

    All true, however...

    The Bluejackets and Marines and the colonial navy were disbanded after the Revolutionary war, and while there were maritime services during Washington's tenure and Adams' the birth of the modern United States navy and Marines dates from this period - though we always say that the Revolution is our effective birth so as to include the colonial/revolutionary forces.

    HMS Victory, while still in commission, is not considered an active duty warship - she is, in fact, permanently dry docked as a museum an is no longer afloat. USS Constellation is considered an active duty warship of the US Navy and is treated as such and is manned by US Navy Sailors and Marines. This is the reason I caveated my statement with "active duty" warship.

  33. I had never realized they were actually disbanded during that time, although I knew there wasn't much going on.

    Another fun Navy factoid, there are oak trees from the period of the Ironsides construction carefully preserved by the Navy for planking if needed.

  34. Support the effort to repatriate the men of the Intrepid from Tripoli - See: Remembertheinterpid.blogspot.com

  35. Anonymous, I'm having a hard time believing that your comment isn't spam.

    First, you posted as anonymous, which is a tad odd for somebody who has a blog on blogger.

    Second, your link doesn't work. That may be because it's misspelled.

    Third, how about a little information in the comment instead of just dropping an imperative command and a broken link?

    I'm willing to cut you some slack here, since you appear to be supporting a cause I agree with, but I'd really like you to leave a decent descriptive comment why my readers should visit your site and include a working link. Thanks//Jim


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