Don’t Mess with the SEALs

“(Members of the Navy Seals were flown in by fixed-wing aircraft. They parachuted into the sea with inflatable boats and were picked up by the Bainbridge. . . . Seal snipers at the stern rail of the Bainbridge fixed night-vision scopes to their high-powered rifles, getting ready for action…

Pirates be warned…

By Chuck Muth

Pirates, ye be warned.  Here’s a quick New York Times synopsis of how the hostage situation off the coast of Somalia ended over Easter weekend…

“(Members of the Navy Seals were flown in by fixed-wing aircraft. They parachuted into the sea with inflatable boats and were picked up by the Bainbridge. . . . Seal snipers at the stern rail of the Bainbridge fixed night-vision scopes to their high-powered rifles, getting ready for action…

“What they saw was the head and shoulders of two of the pirates emerging from the rear hatch of the lifeboat. Through the window of the front hatch they saw the third pirate, pointing his AK-47 at the back of Captain Phillips, who was seen to be tied up.

“That was it: the provocation that fulfilled the president’s order to act only if the captain’s life was in imminent danger, and the opportunity of having clear shots at each captor. The order was given. Senior defense officials, themselves marveling at the skill of the snipers, said each took a target and fired one shot.”

Now, we’re certainly glad everything worked out for the best for Captain Phillips – although none of us who have read about the kind of training Navy SEALs go through are really completely surprised at how things turned out once the SEALs were brought into the equation.

The question I have, though, is about the rules of engagement – “act only if the captain’s life was in imminent danger” – which the SEALs were forced to operate under in this circumstance.  I mean, doesn’t being captured on the high seas by armed pirates, in itself, constitute “imminent danger”?

It’s easy to be a Monday Morning Quarterback in a life-and-death situation like this, but once you get to the point where you have to call the military in, especially the SEALs, it seems to me that’s the time to let those on the scene make the decisions and do what they’ve been trained to do when THEY believe the timing is right – not wait until someone is in “imminent danger.”

Indeed, had Capt. Phillips been killed in the rescue attempt, can you imagine how many people would have questioned whether or not just pointing a gun at him after days of capture constituted an “imminent” threat”?

President Bush’s failure to let the military do what it’s been trained to do in Iraq – particularly after the cluster-$#&% of the first battle of Fallujah – went a long way toward undermining support for the war, not only among civilians in general, but with Bush supporters and many in the military, as well. 

Obama got away with one this time.  Let’s hope the experience has taught him to trust his military personnel a little better the next time.

And make no mistake, there WILL be a next time.

Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy grassroots advocacy organization.  The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Outreach.  He may be reached at chuck@citizenoutreach.com

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