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Intro: "At a time when many Americans think their government is inept, the 'Special Operators' get the job done. Just ask the President, who is doubling down on the Navy SEALs."

Navy SEAL trainees wait prior to taking the Drown Proofing Test. (photo: Lance Iversen/SF Chronicle/Corbis)
Navy SEAL trainees wait prior to taking the Drown Proofing Test. (photo: Lance Iversen/SF Chronicle/Corbis)

Navy SEALs: Obama's Secret Army

By Daniel Klaidman, The Daily Beast

20 February 12


At a time when many Americans think their government is inept, the 'Special Operators' get the job done. Just ask the President, who is doubling down on the Navy SEALs.

ne of President Obama's earliest kills came in April 2009. Somali pirates had stormed the Maersk Alabama, a U.S. container ship steaming across lawless waters off the Horn of Africa. The American crew of the ship had tried to overwhelm the pirates, who fled on a covered lifeboat, taking with them a 53-year-old hostage: ship captain Richard Phillips. Armed with AK-47s and pistols, the pirates stashed Phillips below deck and threatened to kill him if they didn't get $2 million in ransom.

Barack Obama, not yet three months into his presidency, had already undergone a crash course in battlefield management. He had authorized drone strikes in Pakistan and sent 17,000 troops into Afghanistan. But until now, he had not experienced the personal immediacy and political risk of a kill operation involving an American hostage-one that would play out largely in public view. Nor had he worked with SEAL Team 6, the elite "tier one" commandos who carry out many of the darkest missions in the shadow wars.

Early on in the standoff, the Navy had requested permission to use force, but the White House held back. Military commanders had already dispatched a small armada to the scene, including a destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, and a frigate, the USS Halyburton. Transport planes ferried in the SEALs, who parachuted into the Indian Ocean with inflatable boats. On April 11, three days after the hostage taking began, Obama agreed to the use of military force-but only if the captain's life was in imminent danger.

As Obama's military advisers monitored events in the White House Situation Room, the president popped in for regular updates. SEAL Team 6 snipers were positioned on different ships to maximize the chances of getting off clean shots. At one point, the Navy laid a kind of a trap for the hostage vessel, but the pirates, by sheer luck, "waltzed" around it, according to a source involved in the operation. All the while, the pirates were drifting toward shore. If they were able to reach a Somali beach with their hostage, a rescue operation would be much more difficult. SEAL boats began zooming around the pirates, using "shouldering and blocking" tactics to keep them away from shore.

By dusk on April 12-Easter Sunday-SEAL snipers on the fantail of the USS Bainbridge were in position to shoot the pirates. But with the covered lifeboat bobbing on the water, it was still difficult to get clean shots. They attached night-vision scopes to their rifles and waited. At one point, two of the pirates came into plain sight. The sharpshooters could see a third pirate through a window pointing his gun at Captain Phillips. Each sniper fired a single round, and it was over. Three shots, three dead pirates. A SEAL assault team boarded the lifeboat and took Phillips to safety.

Back in the White House, officials quietly celebrated. So much could have gone wrong. For a young president with little experience overseeing military operations, a botched job would have invited charges of fecklessness from Republicans and drawn inevitable comparisons to Jimmy Carter. The generals also expressed relief. "Mr. President, it worked out. But if it hadn't, it would have been my ass," one military adviser told Obama. "It would have been our ass," the president responded.

Obama has come to rely more and more on "special operators" for many types of missions. In an era of dwindling budgets and dispersed, hidden enemies, when Americans have become fatigued by disastrous military occupations, the value of pinprick operations by elite forces is clear. The budget for the Special Operations Command has more than doubled since 2001, reaching $10.5 billion, and the number of deployments has more than quadrupled. Now the head of that command, Adm. William H. McRaven, is calling for more resources and more autonomy. The New York Times reported on Feb. 12 that McRaven is "pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy." He wants to expand Special Operations Forces in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and have the authority to move forces and equipment as needed, assuring greater flexibility and speed.

Who can blame him? This is a Special Ops moment. The Navy SEALs, in particular, have never appeared so heroic and effective. They killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year, and just last month rescued two aid workers held hostage in Somalia. At a time when many Americans think their government is incompetent, the SEALs are public employees who often get the job done. They're a morale booster, and they know it. Which may help explain why they collaborated in an upcoming full-length feature film starring active Navy SEALs called Act of Valor-a controversial undertaking, originally intended to bolster recruitment, that some in the military regard as foolish and helpful only to the enemy.

Obama wants to balance the need for the increasingly valuable services of special operators with a clear-sighted assessment of the strategic implications of expanding their missions. He's right to be mindful of the dangers: mission creep, hubris, a messy "Black Hawk Down" disaster. Act of Valor represents its own kind of overreach: the military knows little about moviemaking, and the film reflects that. The kinetics will doubtless impress, but the acting and the script will not. (One SEAL, about to parachute into a dangerous mission, says to another: "I'll tell you what, the only thing better than this right here is being a dad. Except for that whole changing-diapers thing.") A better movie is likely to be one starring Tom Hanks, scheduled for release in 2013, about the Maersk Alabama episode.

Other kinds of hubris get people killed, and can tarnish America's standing for years. That's partly why some U.S. diplomats, and even a few officers among the military brass, have expressed misgivings about expanding the role and power of Special Ops. Some of these critics worry that the Special Forces, if their numbers bloat further, won't be so special anymore. "The whole idea of Special Ops is quality, not quantity," says Peter Singer of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. "But there are concerns in that community of, how big could it reasonably get before it gets bogged down?"

The challenges of secret missions are many: legal, moral, practical. Few people are more aware of that than the man who ultimately pulls the trigger. Obama's generally balanced approach to such missions is captured in the story of an operation against a key al Qaeda terrorist in September 2009.

The CIA and military had been hunting Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan for years. He was a suspect in the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and had been directly implicated in other deadly terrorist attacks in East Africa, including a suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned resort in Mombasa. He was an important link between al Qaeda and its Somalia-based affiliate, and a potential wealth of information on how the jihadist networks operate. Killing him would have been a significant victory, but capturing him alive could have been even better.

After months of patiently watching him, American intelligence officers suddenly learned that Nabhan was preparing to travel along a remote desert road in southern Somalia. There wasn't much time to act. Early one September evening, more than three dozen officials assembled by secure videoconference to consider options. The meeting was led by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. After a short introduction, he called on Admiral McRaven, then head of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and one of the military's most experienced terrorist hunters. Nabhan had been under close surveillance for months. He had stayed mostly in heavily populated areas, where the risk of casualties, either to civilians or American soldiers, was too great to launch a raid. But now it looked as if Navy SEALs had the narrow window of opportunity they'd been hoping for.

McRaven told the group that Nabhan's convoy would soon be setting out from the capital, Mogadishu, on its way to a meeting of Islamic militants in the coastal town of Baraawe. The square-jawed Texan and former Navy SEAL crisply laid out the "Concepts of Operation" that had been developed in anticipation of this moment. Several options were spelled out, along with the military hardware that would be required for each, as well as collateral-damage estimates:

The military could fire Tomahawk cruise missiles from a warship off the Somali coast. This was the least dangerous option in terms of U.S. casualties but not the most precise. (Missiles have gone astray, hitting civilians, and even when they strike their target, they don't always take it out.) Such missile strikes had been a hallmark of the Bush administration. For all of its "dead or alive" rhetoric, the Bush White House was generally cautious when it came to antiterrorist operations in anarchic areas like Somalia. The second option was a helicopter-borne assault on Nabhan's convoy. There was less chance of error there: small attack helicopters would allow the commandos to "look the target in the eye and make sure it was the right guy," according to one military planner. The final option was a "snatch and grab," a daring attempt to take Nabhan alive. From a purely tactical standpoint, this was the most attractive alternative. Intelligence from high-value targets was the coin of the realm in the terror wars. But it was also the riskiest option.

Unstated but hanging heavily over the group that evening was the memory of another attempted capture in Somalia. Many on the call had been in key national-security posts in October 1993 during the ill-fated attempt to capture a Somali warlord that became known as "Black Hawk Down," after a book of the same name. That debacle left 18 dead Army Rangers on the streets of Mogadishu, and inspired al Qaeda leaders to think they could defeat the American superpower. As Daniel Benjamin, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, said during the meeting: "Somalia, helicopters, capture. I just don't like the sound of this."

As everyone left the meeting late that evening, it was clear that the only viable plan was the lethal one. Obama later signed off on Operation "Celestial Balance." The job was given to SEAL Team 6, officially known as United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU, under the command of JSOC. (DEVGRU is the most elite team in the SEALs; its members refer to others as the "vanilla" teams.) The next morning Somali villagers saw several low-flying attack helicopters emerge over the horizon. Several AH-6 Little Birds, deployed from U.S. naval ships off the Somali coast, approached the convoy, strafing Nabhan's jeep and another vehicle. Nabhan and several other militants were killed. One of the helicopters landed just long enough for a small team of commandos to scoop up some of Nabhan's remains-the DNA needed to prove he was dead.

One of the debates around such operations, then and now, concerns something called Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE). From their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, Special Ops Forces had learned that the best intelligence often comes from sifting through after-action debris. They wanted not just to kill terror targets but to rummage through their belongings-what the spooks call "pocket litter." "This is where the [political] fight comes," says a Pentagon official involved. "From that day forward we wanted to put our boots on the ground to do SSE, but the president was not supportive ... That would become the issue between Special Operations Forces and the administration." An official involved in such issues says the Pentagon misinterpreted many of the questions the president had about such operations. He was not opposed-as the Nabhan case illustrates-he just wanted to do cost-benefit analysis on a case-by-case basis.

Obama has certainly been impressed with the Special Ops-their precision and their professionalism. A wooden board that hangs above the SEAL training grounds in Coronado, Calif., is inscribed with a line that all newbies internalize: "The only easy day was yesterday." Instructors make sure "everything goes wrong" on a training mission, says Don Mann, 53, a retired SEAL and author of Inside SEAL Team Six. Mock raids include surprise booby traps, faulty equipment, and unexpected snipers. Special operators "will get off [a real] mission and say that was a piece of cake, only because they were used to difficult training," Mann says.

Still, no amount of training can teach fighters what they can learn in life-and-death situations. Better-honed skills are one clear benefit of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where special operators carried out mission after mission. Some of those went badly, of course. In one such case in 2010, SEAL Team 6 conducted a predawn raid to rescue Scottish aid worker Linda Norgrove and three Afghan colleagues from their Taliban captors. Tragically, a grenade thrown by one of the commandos killed Norgrove. Many special operators have also sacrificed their lives, including 22 on a helicopter that was shot down in Afghanistan last August. Howard Wasdin, a former SEAL whose memoir, Seal Team Six, came out a week after the bin Laden raid, says the high risk of death is built into the job. "We used to have a saying," he remarks: "Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse."

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also accustomed the special operators-and their political bosses-to cross-border operations. There was hesitation at first. In 2007, for instance, when the insurgency was raging in Iraq, al Qaeda fighters were pouring across the Syrian border to join the fight against America. U.S. intelligence believed the Syrian government had either helped or looked the other way. The Bush administration placed diplomatic pressure on Damascus to try to end the terror pipeline, but the problem persisted. Something had to be done.

In October 2008 Gen. David Petraeus ordered a bold helicopter-borne assault inside Syria. Two dozen commandos dropped out of Black Hawk helicopters into the village of Sukkariyah, about six miles from the Iraqi border. Their mission was to kill or capture Abu Ghadiyah, an al Qaeda cell leader who was coordinating the movement of foreign fighters into Iraq. A gun battle erupted and as many as nine terrorists were killed, including Abu Ghadiyah. The Americans returned to base unharmed. Syria closed down several U.S. institutions in Damascus and protested to the United Nations.

There were more such raids that the military has never discussed. Over time, the al Qaeda pipeline was effectively shut down, at least for a while.

In some lawless places, or countries that harbor terrorists, such operations may be necessary. But what about elsewhere? The Act of Valor movie shows the SEALs moving from place to place-Costa Rica, the high seas, Somalia, Mexico-treating the world as their war zone. (They cooperate with Mexican forces, but elsewhere they seem to march to their own music.) In real life they do a lot of collaborating, but there are risks even in projecting a more aggressive Hollywood image to the rest of the world.

The Rambo approach doesn't always sit well with diplomats. "If you start taking out people all over the world in other people's countries, some of whom we are at peace with, I think you'll get into some serious diplomatic issues of people saying the U.S. isn't the global police," says Ronald Neumann, a former deputy assistant secretary of state who now runs a Washington nonprofit. "There is also the risk a mission will eventually go wrong and we'll end up with lots of prisoners somewhere in the world."

Others worry that the military is conducting spy missions without the same kind of scrutiny that is given to the CIA or other civilian agencies. "The challenge is, how do you balance operational efficiency, JSOC's main talent, against the need for oversight?" says Marc Ambinder, coauthor of a recent e-book on Special Ops. Military critics have their own concerns. "One of these days, if you keep publishing how you do this, the other guy's going to be there ready for you," fumed retired Army Lt. Gen. James Vaught at a recent conference in Washington. He was speaking directly to Admiral McRaven: "Mark my words. Get the hell out of the media!" Vaught knows a thing or two about how things can go wrong. He ran the task force that tried to rescue the U.S. hostages in Iran in 1980, which became a fiasco after aircraft ran into dust storms and encountered other unexpected problems.

McRaven responded to Vaught's criticism by saying that the military is in a different era now and needs to be more open. "With the social media being what it is today, with the press and the 24-hour news cycle, it's very difficult to get away from it," he said, adding that "not only does the media focus on our successes, we've had a few failures. And I think having those failures exposed in the media also kind of helps focus our attention, helps us do a better job." McRaven also defended Act of Valor as a natural progression from earlier portrayals of Special Ops in Hollywood. He recognized the value of such images as a recruitment tool, and related them to his own experience. His infatuation with the military and Special Ops began, he said, when he saw John Wayne in The Green Berets.

With Daniel Stone and Aram Roston in Washington, D.C., and R.M. Schneiderman in New York your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+24 # Activista 2012-02-20 23:11
"If you start taking out (KILLING) people all over the world in other people's countries, some of whom we are at peace with, I think you'll get into some serious diplomatic issues of people saying the U.S. isn't the global police," says Ronald Neumann"
what is the definition of assassin - terrorist? How old were the pirates "Armed with AK-47s and pistols, the pirates stashed Phillips .." 12 year old?
The basic question is what we are doing to their homes ..
+7 # Karlus58 2012-02-21 09:47
Please don't take me wrong. I am not in favor of assasination. But in these instances, if we do have the capability, it seems the most prudent choice. Imagine had we pursued and captured Bin Laden as we did without the invasion of Iraq.
+8 # futhark 2012-02-21 16:33
On what grounds would Bin Laden have been arrested (or assassinated)? He was never charged with being involved with the planning or execution of the 9/11 attacks and consistently denied any connection with them other than applauding them.

Is selective assassination of people the executive branch finds irritating the best alternative to invasion and leveling a country that has not attacked us?
+2 # foxglove16 2012-02-21 22:35
In reply to your second paragraph: Yes!
0 # foxglove16 2012-02-21 22:41
These are not "people the executive branch finds irritating". These are known players in terrorism.
Look, I'm a liberal to moderate. I read RSN and truth out and find it represents my view more than not. But get real! There are some bad guys out there and if they had their way, republicans would look like Michael Moore! Do I think it's a realistic fear that they would have their way? No, and I think the Seals are part of that.
+3 # Timaloha 2012-02-21 10:24
The release pressure on the trigger of an AK-47 doesn't care how old the finger is that applies that pressure.
+1 # Activista 2012-02-21 20:19
These "pirates" are children of fishermen that were prevented from their life - fishing - by WARS.
Do not make heroes out of Navy Seals killing children .. this is sick.
$10.5 billion?
+14 # Billy Bob 2012-02-21 17:57
I'm even more concerned with the damage our militarized society is doing to our own home. This country is slipping down a slippery slope to being unrecognizable as a representative democracy.
+42 # gracchus 2012-02-20 23:13
Is this sick vicious murder-to-order posse supposed to be a source of any emotion but repulsion and disgust to any American who has ever honored the ideals and principles our country has pretended to defend?

The fact that such incontestably criminal behavior is now the norm in our cynical, rotting imperial system is testimony to how disgracefully, we have failed to live up to our putative standards. There is only shame in lionizing hired killers.
+12 # wcandler1 2012-02-21 05:31
Exactly! They have not begun to think this through. What happens the first time Chinese SEALs capture the Delhi Lama in Nevada,and take him back to Tibet? Hillary Clinton has said: "In a call to her Pakistani counterpart this month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated the Obama administration’ s counterterroris m ‘red line’: The United States reserved the right to attack anyone who it determined posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, anywhere in the world." (Jan. 16, 2012)
Hey Guys, that is you and me, if Hilary or someone decides this blog is on the wrong side of the 'red line'.
+25 # Karlus58 2012-02-21 09:44
Everything went wrong when Bush invaded Iraq without reason, except..."they Might" attack us. That , to me, was the beginning of the end.
+19 # JanisL 2012-02-21 12:18
I have been in a state of chronic horror as my government commits ever-worsening crimes against our democracy and internatioal treaties; stating in bluster that "the U.S. doesn't torture" did NOT make it true, George Bush! It is the height of deceit and hypocrisy. The abuse of semantics was a hallmark of the Bush adminstration's treasonous lies and crimes against humanity. Such behavior has consequences, and we will see them "blow back" in our faces in the future. Our country is being run by sociopathic, way overpaid military bullies who are collecting more in one month in pay and copious benefits than most Americans make in a year--all for betraying every one of us with their treachery! They should be courtmartialed. We don't need 1,000 admirals and generals. We don't even need 250. Mr. President, order a major RIF, cancel the insane retirement gold-plated parachute that gives generals OVER $250,00 per year in retirement pay! This "gift" that Bush and McCain slipped into the 2007 defense budget needs to be repealed, now! Service in the military was never intended to make those who serve wealthy!
+17 # cordleycoit 2012-02-21 00:04
What is happening is the conversion of an effective fighting force into hit men and women for the executive branch. Will the SEAL teams be corrupted like Delta Force was into thugs and drugies? "Don't be annoyed have them destroyed." is not a quote from the Constitution. The praetorian Guards were Rome's finest troops but were quickly corrupted into king makers and thugs.
+13 # luvdoc 2012-02-21 00:06
...looks like the pentagon, and the industry that supports (and makes obscene profits from) finds (or creates) 'terrorists' all over the world has found something to do. Kind of like Cowboys and Indians...luvdo c
+3 # Lenny 2012-02-21 00:29
All lined up - NAKED? Hmmm....
+17 # CarolynScarr 2012-02-21 00:49
As far as the operation supposedly intended to rescue the U.S. hostages in Iran in 1980, there is reason to believe that the operation was blown in order to defeat President Carter in his reelection bid.
+16 # sandyboy 2012-02-21 02:52
I fear I'm going to be in the minority here, but "lionizing hired killers" and bleating about the death of pirates is way off base. Yes, the US does a lot of bad things, such as assassinating one of its own citizens for daring to preach against American imperialism. But we must look at this on a case-by-case basis. How would you feel if your relatives were being held for ransom and the SEALS rescued them and shot the criminals? Gratitude would be your emotion. Frankly, I don't care if the guy pointing an AK47 at me is 12 or 62, he deserves all he gets. I'm no right-wing nutcase, but we can't blame the SEALS for the fact that some operations they're sent on are wrong-headed, and in the case of hostage rescues we should be thankful for their skill and bravery.
+8 # Valleyboy 2012-02-21 02:57
Could only get through the first few paragraphs - this is a sick article glorifying "the president's first kill".
+16 # Ralph Averill 2012-02-21 03:24
"We used to have a saying," he remarks: "Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse."
That expression originated from the Hell's Angels motorcycle club decades ago.
Enough said.
-5 # Robt Eagle 2012-02-21 05:37
Just a small bit of info, it was Donald Rumsfeld who came up with the concept of more Spec Operators to be more cost effective and get more missions accomplished with greater success ratios.
+3 # JayMagoo 2012-02-21 05:52
The killing of Osama bin Ladin and the rescue of Capt.Phillips from the Somali pirates both demonstrate that the "bad guys" not only don't play by the rules, they depend on us to follow rules which they use as a shield. The burden is on us to use Special Ops teams like the Seals wisely. At times the only guidelines are what seems to be the only right thing to do when killers and pirates know we are restricted by our own determination to follow rules. Bin Laden followed no rules when he murdered 3,000 Americans of Sept 11, 2001 and he thumbed his nose at civilized society. The Somali pirates held hostages, no excuse for that, either. In both cases the "good guys" won. But in situations like these, it's imperative that we monitor our forces carefully, and don't let the few successes cause us to wander into activities where the moral justification is not so clear. The world is a dangerous place and we have to break the rules sometimes. The hand-wring about "hired killers" is part of the argument and rightfully forces us to be certain in each case that our military forces act only when they have to.
+1 # Doubter 2012-02-22 11:57
"we are restricted by our own determination to follow rules"

"we have to break the rules sometimes."

Make up my mind. Which of these mutually exclusive 'rules' do we follow?
+2 # Merschrod 2012-02-21 06:01
The essence is in doing the pinprick operations as a response and tactic in asymmetrical conflicts. The usual movement of troops is not appropriate and causes more damage to local people and national reputation, and can escalate into a mess that neither side wants.

The theme of under supervised or an un vetted presidential decision is valid and a concern, but these operations, as described, are anything but a single decisionmaker going off a deep end. It is not like having a team of thugs in the presidential barracks as under many autocratic personalities.

When it comes to the population in these scenes, survey data among the Pukhtoon (Tribal areas of Pakistan)indica tes that the majority does favour the drone attacks “if well targeted.” The special ops operations are more accurate than drones for sure.

Push back against the heavy hardware and massive armed forces budget - support special ops.
+7 # RMDC 2012-02-21 06:09
Of course, it was Donald Rumsfeld's idea to greatly increase the number and scope of special operations forces. He planned for about 70,000 of these elite, secret, and personally managed terrorists. Obama is just doing what his neo-con handlers tell him to do. That does not make him, however, any less stupid or guilty of murder or terrorism. No people or nation will put up with terrorist raids or drone strikes. Obama is only creating more and more enemies. They may not have the means to fight back right now, but they are developing the will to and someday they will fight back.

All colonial powers use hired killers and terrorists like the US special ops. It is how nations try to make their empires safe. They just need to murder people or small groups that get out of line. We have leaned to hate it when the French, British, Belgians, or Dutch did it. And now we are learning to hate it when the American do it.

No nation can consider itself honorable if it keeps a corp of highly trained killers and terrorists.
+11 # Andrew Hansen 2012-02-21 07:07
Haven't read much of Klaidman but appreciate his commentary here. The photo is stark and provides additional insight to the machine that the current US democracy (mutation of it?) has created.

The only diversity in the fifty or so young men in the picture is the shade of blonde and type/location/p resence of a tatt. In the context of the 'quality, not quantity' quote from Singer at one more of the [group]think tanks. It is easy to see how the administration and in turn the military have been pushed off the rails.

I feel for these young men. For each, whether the strictures in the now silver-screen glory come crashing down or the illusion somehow persists, the damage is beyond measure.

Even the opportunity cost of having lived a life that institulizes violence instead of creativity is heavy. What could each of them achieve in another profession...

As Chalmers reminded, each of us crosses the Rubicon when complicit in a society based on military dominance.
-1 # MidwestTom 2012-02-21 07:48
Why are we at war in the middle east? If we need oil, why not drill in our country? we know that Alaska has vast quantities of oil, the Tar Sands in Canada have more oil than Saudi Arabia. Do we really need to send young Americans to their deaths so we can not cause possible environmental damage to roughly 10% of Alaska? If we go to war with Iran we will lose multiples of what we have lost in Iraq. At the present time there is not viable alternative to oil in our country, without it our economy stops, alternatives may be coming but they are decades away from being widely used. Meanwhile what do we lose about 1 American soldier to every 20,000 barrels of oil?
+11 # Billy Bob 2012-02-21 17:51
We did drill in this country. We don't have enough to support ourselves. Oil is not the solution. Puting trillions of tons of tar in the air and into our ground water isn't a solution.

Not only that, but oil is a FUNGIBLE COMMODITY. Look it up. We will NEVER use "our" oil, because THERE IS NO "OUR" OIL. Oil is GLOBAL. We buy it from the global market.

The idea we can drill ourselves out of this mess is A BIG FAT LIE.

At least you're honest enough to admit that the wars bush started are because of oil and nothing else.
+1 # Glen 2012-02-23 16:06
Very good, Billy. Excellent comments I must say. Most of the oil myths are just that: myths. Any oil coming down the pike is dirty and being sold overseas. Even much of the natural gas being fracked out of the ground is being sold outside the state it is being pulled from.
+2 # Doubter 2012-02-22 12:03
An 'alternative energy source' "Manhattan Project" is long overdue.
+11 # Dale 2012-02-21 08:35
On May 1, 2011 the Navy Seals murdered Osama Bin Laden and NATO bombed Qaddaffi´s Libya compound in an assasination attempt. In the days since the May 1 events I am astounded at the media celebration of the killing Bin Laden and the glee for Qaddafi´s demise. There is not the slightest hint of any views that remotely resemble an element of doubt or criticism. This article largely follows that line that murder has a virtue when America eliminates its presumed adversaries. This media induced mindset is a main reason George Bush was able to make new American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and codify torture as policy. Now Obama is carrying on in Bush´s violent way. President Obama is as capable as George Bush of ruthless pursuit of the Imperial Ambition through official terrorism. Murder is not the right way, morally, politically or any way, to deal with the state of our world, be it Islamic extremism or imperial war and assassination. While the terrorism of the desperate may be viewed by the victims of oppression as the only option, it is only feeding the Imperial Beast what is needed to continue killing. Popular protest is the way. I recall reading as a student in the early 1960s Herbert Marcuse ONE DIMENSIONAL MAN, which viewed the omnipotent system as immutable. Then the 60s took off. It is past time for a repeat.
+10 # GabbyHayes 2012-02-21 08:50
The Seals enjoy more notariety and publicity than any secret military group in the world. The value in these guys (technically sailors, just as I was once) is that they kill an assassin, with minimal cost to his family and neighbors. no one can argue that killing is a good thing, but zeroing in on the target of a raid is far better than carpet bombing, daisy cutters, or even cruise missiles or drones. These guys work very hard to be very good at a very limited task. We are not at war with pakistan, but we managed to deal with a threat they harbored (knowingly or not). If we were going around killing aid workers and indigenous groups, priests and nuns (as our surrogates did in the 1970s and 80s) you'd have me as an ally. Those were dark and horrible times. If there is a person who has committed a serious crime, he should be arrested, and if he resists or the risk is too great, he should be optically sanctioned with extreme prejudice.
+3 # WFO 2012-02-21 09:44
Goy units of fodder for Greater Israel.
+5 # reiverpacific 2012-02-21 10:57
First off, I admire SEALS just for their toughness in enduring the training which weeds them out, and I do believe that the retention of a certain amount of highly trained forces is more truly a "defense" department than a hugely bloated military-indust rial behemoth, wasting the taxpayer's money on hardware and toys without limits, destroying so much of the planet in it's wake.
Israel's Mossad and Britain's MI6 (like 'em or not) are even more effective because their deployment is swift, unannounced and focussed, unlike the US because of the unfortunate tendency of the owner media to saber-rattling and chest-puffing prior to SEALS moving in to wherever or whatever it is, thereby diminishing their effectiveness.
I'm totally unqualified to analyze military strategy- as I'm unqualified to make remarks on women's reproductive freedoms. I'm taking a layman's common-sense perspective which, if we have to have a military, let it be lean and mean, truly defense-oriente d aimed at proven threats and keep the rest of a much smaller land sea and air force, to help those victims of disasters in the US and it's neighbors, defen instaed of attack and truly be a force for good.
-And shrink the CIA to support status or, as Grover Norquist was wont to say about government "To a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub", or as JFK wanted to do, "Tear it up and scatter the fragments in the wind" or words to that effect -before they murdered him for turning towards peace.
+5 # sandyboy 2012-02-21 11:18
Ralph Averill: I don't think the "live fast" motto came from Hells Angels. It was originally "and leave a beautiful corpse" and originated in a 40s Bogart flick, later quoted by James Dean. Incidentally, Hells Angels gang was began by an ex-veteran, and took its name from a USAF squad nicknamed Hells Angels as in the old film of that name!
+5 # Glen 2012-02-21 13:33
Right, Sandyboy, many a veteran came home as damaged/angry/d isenfranchised as veterans always have. Rationing tires and gas led to many a person turning to motorcycles. Gangs were almost inevitable. Over time there were many gangs. And - many a couple eloped on a motorcycle in those days. Your quotations are correct, sir, by the bye.
+2 # Mike Farrace 2012-02-21 12:09
This story was fascinating. I admire the men and women who do difficult, dangerous things to defend our country. I also admire our President for using them thoughtfully. This President has always looked before he's leaped and this story is more evidence that it's his M.O.

There should always be a crystal-clear reason to use force, period, but especially this type of operation which falls short of war and can more easily be hidden from the public eye. I think every such operation should by law be entered into some public record. Not the details necessarily, but enough information to pre-empt misuse.

I'm also for more visibility and transparency, but I don't agree with the McRaven's view, if it is the glorification of acts of assassination. When the military starts making their own propaganda movies, that's when we need to cut their budgets or legislate to forbid it. They should be allowed to advertise for recruits in a way that honors the sacrifice that is required to be a Navy Seal, but not with the glorification of the acts themselves. These difficult and morally profound acts are sometimes necessary, but should never be intentionally exploited. Period. End of story.

Also, these lethal, elite forces should be small and flexible and kept that way. They should be used sparingly to exact justice after a wrong has been committed when there is no other way, but not preemptively.
+12 # Innocent Victim 2012-02-21 12:22
In the days of our lost republic, when congress acted as one of three equal branches of government, it had the power to keep track of our War Department. Congress knew not only how much money War spent but how it spent it. Now all Congress does is appropriate the public money, and NO ONE knows where it goes - in violation of the long lost Constitution.

The power to make war or NOT Congress surrendered at about the time that War became Defense. Now, we don't even bother about having a casus belli, let alone a congressional declaration. We just send in JSOC to kill foreigners or OUR OWN citizens without any international sanctions or judicial niceties. The American people know all this, but they are persuaded by the media, by Hollywood, that giving up our Bill of Rights and violating the norms of international conduct will end terrorism. We'll see if the supply of terrorists is limited by our new strategy of unrestricted, international assassinations. Can we kill them faster than they are recruited by the hatred our strategy inspires? I don't think so!
+2 # Billy Bob 2012-02-21 17:53
+1 # Doubter 2012-02-22 12:17
I don't think the strategic objective is to "kill them faster than they are recruited," but rather to assure an adequate supply to justify the ever growing offense budget.
+1 # C.H.Winslow 2012-02-21 13:22
I find very good arguments on both sides of this issue, a fact that is a credit to RSN members. The utilitarian view gives support to the use of Special Ops as a way to engage in global policing at less cost and with less harm. The contract for individual rights view, argues against any kind of act utilitarianism. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the world could contract for some kind of useful global policing (using special ops), willing to swap the advantages of ending war for a small probability of being an innocent killed for the "greater good". I take my cue, however, from Kant and hope that special ops is only used as a part of regular military actions in cases where Congress has declared war (in some fashion). No easy choices here.
+4 # Glen 2012-02-21 14:05
There is nothing new here, except the style in which these excursions are carried out. There was a time when the U.S. cooperated with other countries to go in and take out whoever might threaten the west. Most folks didn't even hear of those arrested at the turn of the millennium who planned to do a bit of terrorising on New Years Eve. I only know of two of them because they were arrested in the Bahamas close to where I was staying.

Folks either disappeared or were taken to trial for these activities. No country was attacked, much less bombed due to these arrests or the origin of the folks being dealt with.

Today, as so many other methods carried out by the U.S. military and government, it is well known and citizens do have the opportunity to learn of those groups and methods.

It is all very well planned, but much more aggressive and war-like. Never kid yourselves that that these groups are genuine assassins. And they do break international laws and boundaries.
+3 # reiverpacific 2012-02-21 15:33
By the way, if you remember from RSN last year, it was a security firm made up of ex-navy SEALS whom Michael Moore was eventually obliged to hire as his personal bodyguard subsequent to the release of "Fahrenheit 9-11", after numerous threats on his life, which they saved more than once by putting themselves between and disarming the cowards who attacked Moore from the shadows (wonder if some of them were CIA thugs).
It works many ways.
+2 # sandyboy 2012-02-22 09:17
Thanks, Glen. I know that Hells Angels type gangs originally used army surplus bikes after WW2. Incidentally, legendary Sonny Barger offered the Angels as a search n destroy unit at the time of Vietnam. The army declined.
+1 # Glen 2012-02-23 13:23
I didn't know that about Sonny. He lived for a time in Oakland CA. I met him in a pool hall, briefly. Most all of them were great guys until they hit the bikes. Then of course, there was that little incident at Altamont. That pretty much ended the good days and memories of the sixties. Well, that are truckloads of drugs.

Other biker gangs/groups could be fun, but the angels and a couple of other groups struck fear into the hearts of pretty much everybody for a while.

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