This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years. [Emphasis added.]
– President Barack Obama, Sept. 10, 2014
Iran-backed Shia rebels seize much of Yemen, force president to flee.
– News report
By controlling Yemen, Iran controls access to Red Sea and Suez Canal. Iran already controls access to Persian Gulf. Much of world oil supply at risk.
– News report
Saudi Arabia feels threatened, enlists Egypt to help expel Shia rebels from Yemen.
– News report
We are suffering from Leadership Deficit Disorder.
– Oliver North, Lt. Col., USMC (ret.)
While listing this lugubrious litany of dangerous disorder, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Our government’s ineptitude is indeed farcical, but the results may well prove to be tragic – for the region and for the world. “Leading from behind” appears to mean that our leaders have their brains in their behinds.
But if you think I exaggerate, listen to this analysis.
From 1874 to 1967, British naval, land, and later air forces were stationed there to protect the outlet from the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean. This represented a key choke point on the trade route from Europe via the Suez Canal to India and beyond. But then the Brits left.
Aden harbor was the site of the suicide bombing of USS Cole by Al Qaeda in 2000. The ship was almost sunk, with 17 killed and 39 wounded. Earlier in 2000, a similar attack had been attempted against USS The Sullivans, but the small boat was so overloaded with explosives that it sank. However, Al Qaeda is nothing if not persistent, and they succeeded against the Cole.
The Sullivans is the only U.S. Navy ship named after more than one person. The name honors the five Sullivan brothers who were killed when their ship was sunk off Guadalcanal in World War II. From this incident we learn the following: (1) This was the greatest loss by any American family in World War II. (2) It is unwise to station close relatives together in wartime. (3) Freedom isn’t free, but some pay a very high price, while others are freeloaders and ingrates.
The waters around Aden are infested with Somali pirates. We cheered the rescue of Captain Phillips of the Maersk Alabama, when Navy SEALS simultaneously shot the three pirates holding him hostage. But we have the right − in fact, the duty − to question why these waters were infested with pirates in the first place.
And now, Yemen is also a hotbed of terrorist activity. There the bomber of Northwest flight 253 had 80 grams of high explosive sewn into his underwear. There Imam Al-Awlaki e-mailed his protégé, the Fort Hood shooter, advice on attacking fellow soldiers. In 2011 Al-Awlaki was killed by a drone firing (appropriately enough) a Hellfire missile.
But there is a limit to what air strikes can accomplish. Sometimes what is needed is a team of SEALS, Force Recon Marines, or Green Berets − or a sniper and his spotter. When all else fails, one can use the method of Carlos Hathcock and his more recent disciples.
Does this sound brutal? Is killing a few enemy leaders more brutal than air strikes or ground assaults in which hundreds or thousands of young troops are killed? By any moral standard, killing a few leaders is less brutal − more difficult, perhaps, but less brutal.
Aden remains a key choke point in the flow of world trade. It remains vulnerable to terrorism and piracy. When I played “The Barren Rocks of Aden,” I was reminded that Aden used to be a British naval and air base, and I realized that the world would be a safer place if it still were.
There are many video clips of bagpipe music on the Internet that do not originate in Scotland or Ireland. The love of music is universal. But is the love of freedom, which the skirl of pipes evokes, also universal? Recent events in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, and Egypt cast doubt on this idea, but at least one can hope.
If Luxembourg can form a pipe band, perhaps others can take the place of the British in patrolling the waters around Aden. Clearly, the United Nations is not up to the job. To call the U.N. impotent is to insult eunuchs. At least they have an excuse for inaction.
The United Nations has been called the United Governments, to indicate that most of the 193 member regimes are far from democratic and do not represent their peoples. But even this title is optimistic − often the U.N. is very far from united. Many member regimes range from authoritarian to despotic. For example, can any sane person claim that the Iranian theocracy, with its unelected “Supreme Leader,” represents the Iranian people?
Two world wars and socialism have reduced Britain to the status that it can barely protect its own sailors and marines, much less protect the shipping of other nations. Clearly, Britannia no longer rules the waves. No one does. The U.S. Navy is the world’s most powerful, but repeated cuts and widespread responsibilities have stretched it thin − perhaps too thin.
For example, one reason we were failed to rescue Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans from Benghazi on 9/11/12 was that there was no longer an effective Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. As Jeff Cooper put it:
Unarmed men, and unarmed nations, can only flee from evil. And evil is not overcome by fleeing from it.
People often ask, “Who made America the world’s policeman?” America didn’t rip the badge of world policeman from the shirt of the United Nations, which had been wearing it honorably. No, we found the badge lying in the gutter, where the “world community” had discarded it. We picked up the badge, cleaned off the mud, and looked around to see whether anyone else wanted it. When no one did, we pinned it on our own shirt.
The problem is not that we appropriated the badge. The problem is that no one else wants it, but we no longer seem to have the desire or the ability to wear it effectively. If we are unwilling to increase the size of our military, or at least maintain it, then we need to join with other free nations to create an effective force. This assumes that other nations would be willing and able to join us − a dubious assumption at best. So it almost certainly is up to us. The alternative is chaos, with the vacuum filled by Russia, China, Iran, and other miscellaneous thugs.
In the early 19th century, in the days of sailing ships and muzzle-loading guns, international chaos was less dangerous. Nevertheless, President Jefferson did not tolerate it. When North African pirates interfered with the free passage of ships, he sent the infant U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to solve the problem. They did so, the origin of “To the shores of Tripoli” in the Marines’ Hymn.
But in the era of 9/11, with long-range missiles and nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, chaos is far too dangerous to tolerate. Yet to a great extent, we do tolerate it. People who tolerate the intolerable will themselves become intolerable − and eventually extinct.
The key verse of “The Barren Rocks of Aden” is this:
Come on, laddie, beat the drum
Let them know that we are come
Friends will cheer and foes will run
From the barren rocks of Aden.
On the contrary, our current foreign policy seems designed to discourage our friends and embolden our enemies. The rocks of Aden were made barren by nature. Our foreign policy was made barren by choice. Perhaps it is time to make another choice.
The sound of bagpipes is still stirring. The rocks of Aden are still barren. The waters around them, and the other key choke points along trade routes, still need to be patrolled against pirates and terrorists. But who will do it?
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