What I find most interesting about the recent set of SpecOps successes is the implications. These come in two flavors:
1) The SpecOps guys appear to have a pretty free hand. Several of the missions, including this one, are the kind of thing that would have been “bumped upstairs” for approval — and likely would not have got it from Bush or any other Republican, on the ground that it would cause howls from the New York Times and sundry other operators.
We know for sure (because we’ve seen it in speech and action) that President Obama knows nothing whatever about the military, and that his advisory circle takes Clintonian contempt for medal-jinglers into deliberate pig-ignorance of anything resembling military matters. This makes it fairly easy for the military people who advise him to slip things by; all they have to do is descend into jargon that Cheney (for one) would have found transparent, but none of the people around Obama have any comprehension of. If there were a way to settle the bet, I’d put my hundred against your ten that Barack Obama has “signed off” on any number of things he didn’t understand, but was convinced that he did understand.
But the results have either been successful or successful cover-ups of operations that didn’t work, and that, in turn, has redounded to Obama’s benefit in terms of even Rightists offering him grudging approval. In effect, he’s King Log on the subject, and that’s turned out well for him politically as well as for the United States in the “war on terror” in general. Would that we could convince him to do the same for general governance, particularly in economics.
2) The military, themselves, appear to be iterating in on something I’ve wanted to see for a long time: concentrating on the kingpins and not the goons.
The Laws of War as they presently exist clearly show the influence of the European system as a descendant of the quasi-feudal States. It’s OK, even praiseworthy, to machine-gun grunts in columns of droves, but going after the Princes who set the whole thing up in the first place is a no-no. This has for years struck me as precisely backwards. In the commonest case, the average foot soldier has little or nothing against his opponent across No Man’s Land that isn’t the result of propaganda emanating from his (self-declared) Betters. It’s the leadership who are responsible for setting up the conditions necessary to have a war, and by the Geneva Conventions and the other Laws of War, including the Executive Order against “targeted assassination”, those leaders are sacrosanct. This is an unhealthy echo of the days when a Prince and his circle of chums could decide to attack the neighbors for entertainment, in the confident knowledge that only the churls and serfs would suffer any ill effect.
The SpecOps guys don’t appear to have much patience with that notion. Modern technology has given them both the ability to hit relatively circumscribed targets and the intelligence to find out where they are. Those who complain that Ansar al-Awlaki or Osama bin Laden did nothing but talk miss the point. It’s the talk that results in footsoldiers blowing people up. Stop the talk by doing away with the talkers, and the inspiration isn’t there any more.
Imagine yourself with a drone armed with Hellfire missiles, translated somehow to the Reichsparteitage in, say, 1937. Hitler, Himmler, and Goering in one go, and the likelihood of the German Government continuing on the course we all remember would have been nil. This is not to say all the results would have been positive — you would be prosecuted for War Crimes and hung, for instance — but 1940 to 1945 would have very likely have been a good deal more peaceful.
I personally would be very happy with a system that concentrated on the leadership, rather than wasting ammunition blowing away grunts. If somebody wanted that to be reciprocal, yeah, I’m fine with that. Under our system, politicians are interchangeable parts — not even Obama, with his radical notions of how things ought to go, has really been able to move the vector much, considered in large, and in general if somebody shoots one President there are plenty of wannabees waiting in the wings. The sort of regimes likely to wage war on us, either conventional or by terrorism and stealth, are led by people who are unique and irreplaceable. Put a cruise missile into the West Wing, and things would go on much as before; send little bits of Bashir Assad into low earth orbit, and Syria would become a very different place in short order. (Whether “different” means “better” or “worse” would have to wait on events, of course — but the United States wouldn’t even be significantly different; vide John F. Kennedy and aftermath.)
From visible actions, it would appear the SpecOps community feels much the same, and I’m glad to see it — and to see that Obama’s inaction based on ignorance has both encouraged that tendency and given him reason to continue inaction.