Join 3,562 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"Just because we have the best hammer"
June 10, 2014 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Presdient Obama gave a speech (video, transcript) at the United States Military Academy last month that outlined American foreign policy.
Reaction has been mixed.

CNN: Obama outlines foreign policy vision of 'might and right'
President Barack Obama on Wednesday outlined a foreign policy vision of "might doing right," arguing that modern pragmatism requires both a strong military and the diplomatic tools of alliances and sanctions to exert influence and provide global leadership.
Brookings: Four Disappointments in Obama’s West Point Speech
TIME: Obama's West Point Speech Was Not Exciting
Huffington Post: Obama At West Point
Obama's speech was long but his message simple: "the right policy is one that is both interventionist and internationalist, but not isolationist or unilateral." It seeks to strike two critical balances. One is between "overreach" in presuming to rectify every one of the world's problems or turning our back on issues and developments that could threaten tangible American interests. The other is between over-reliance on military force simply because it is our strong suit or being overly hesitant in using it where and when appropriate.
Foreign Policy: Obama's West Point Speech Is Our Problem, Not His - "And as much as you might want a different foreign policy, it’s hard to say the president’s is not working."
Project Syndicate: America's Late Imperial Dilemma
War On The Rocks: China, Russia, and the Outlook for the Liberal International System
The American Conservative: Obama's West Point Realism
The New York Times: In Obama's Speeches, a Shifting Tone on Terror

The Obama Doctrine may be best summed up as 'Don't Do Stupid Shit,' which may be What Americans Want, But Not What They Need. But we should see Why There Is No Obama Doctrine
posted by the man of twists and turns (57 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hmmm, Mosul just fell to Al Qaeda; the Iraqi government has lost control of the northern third of the country from Syria to Iran... I wouldn't say that is Pres. Obama's "fault", but American foreign policy has kinda *not worked* since 2003.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:57 AM on June 10 [7 favorites]


Hmmm, Mosul just fell to Al Qaeda; the Iraqi government has lost control of the northern third of the country from Syria to Iran... I wouldn't say that is Pres. Obama's "fault", but American foreign policy has kinda *not worked* since 2003.

Well they had to leave the cliffhanger for Jeb Bush in "Gulf War III: The Final Revengeance" currently scheduled for 2016.
posted by Talez at 11:08 AM on June 10 [22 favorites]


Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail. However, it does mean we will give the manufacturers of the hammer's components an outsized role in our economy, at the expense of virtually every other sector of the economy and government.
posted by mondo dentro at 11:09 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


The best part was the built-in pause for applause which more often than not brought only a tepid response. This group of cadets are a product of "the Obama years", and have heard very little that would inspire them to cheer. They have just gone through four years with their instructors telling them that when you have a big hammer you use it. Whether it is whacking things or just walking through the room swinging wildly and making your opponents duck.
posted by Gungho at 11:16 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Reaction has been mixed.

I'd be able to take this a lot more seriously if it weren't for the ludicrous double standard, in which a Democratic president needs to be 100x more civilized, coherent and nuanced in order to, y'know, still not make the grade.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:17 AM on June 10 [11 favorites]


I believe it was Abraham Lincoln that said: "Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don't want the truth, because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like "honor", "code", "loyalty". We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said "thank you", and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to!"
posted by blue_beetle at 11:33 AM on June 10 [12 favorites]


The US Military, especially cadets at West Point, need to be reminded that our "freedoms" have little to do with them going off and fighting overseas. That myth needs to be publicly refuted, and I'm glad Obama kind of hinted at that.
posted by planetesimal at 11:37 AM on June 10 [15 favorites]


Uh that wasn't Lincoln, blue_beetle. That was Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men.
posted by Talez at 11:40 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


TIME: Obama's West Point Speech Was Not Exciting

Go die in a fire, you guys. Especially considering that's what you're asking other people to do for your entertainment.
posted by mhoye at 11:41 AM on June 10 [14 favorites]


"America has been trying to do too much with too little. It's time to do less and succeed more."
-The Case For Restraint

What was a superpower for the second half of the 20th Century is moving down the ladder to great power. And we need to adjust our outlook accordingly.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:48 AM on June 10


Talez, what blue_beetle is riffing on.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:58 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


i heard bits of this on NPR here and there since he gave this speech.

i was under the impression he wasn't speaking to them so much as speaking to the nation and the world. i don't mean that metaphorically. i mean that that was the deliberate idea with him and his speech writers and other PR people. and this was just platform - an incredible platform - to speak about military stuff the way he was.

not subtle at all. and good for him. i would never want to be president because i would just cry from the sheer inability to do anything without everyone giving me shit no matter what the fuck i did and all i wanted was everyone to have food, shelter, health care, and education.

i thought it was pretty obvious it wasn't directed at the cadets alone so the reaction has kinda surprised me. but maybe the reaction is just more of this talking around and by things rather than talking directly. it's like we've never left the edwardian/victorian era and everyone can never say what they mean but must hope you intimate their meaning from the coded language and tone. you know, mrs taylor has become quite friendly with the gardener. i've seen them talking together in the garden. she does love her roses ever so much. /raises eyebrows and pours some tea
posted by sio42 at 12:24 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


US foreign policy needs to just curl up and die.

Yes, pulling out of every pie you've got your fingers in is going to cause some chaos for a while, but history tells us that with rare exception (WWII and... well, that's about it), US involvement in foreign affairs only ever makes things much, much, much, much worse.

MYOFB. Spend those trillions on making your own country less shitty.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:28 PM on June 10 [5 favorites]


American foreign policy has kinda *not worked* since 2003 1776.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:30 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Can you give me some examples of failure between 1776 and the Mexican war? I'm thinking my American history must be kind of rusty, because (unless you start counting native american relations, which might be fair but would be non-traditional), that seems to me to be pretty much where the bad mojo starts.
posted by lodurr at 12:33 PM on June 10


Considering the grand guignol clusterfuck that was US foreign policy under George W. Bush, "Don't do stupid shit" is the Magna fucking Carta. It should be tattooed in radium ink on the inside of every general's eyelids.
posted by vibrotronica at 12:34 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Uh that wasn't Lincoln, blue_beetle. That was Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men.

I could be wrong, but I'm assuming that was intentional.
posted by corb at 12:37 PM on June 10


Can you give me some examples of failure between 1776 and the Mexican war?

Reaction to the War of 1812 has been mixed.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:37 PM on June 10 [6 favorites]


Can you give me some examples of failure between 1776 and the Mexican war? I'm thinking my American history must be kind of rusty, because (unless you start counting native american relations, which might be fair but would be non-traditional), that seems to me to be pretty much where the bad mojo starts.

We tried to invade Canada in 1812 and it bit us in the ass. White House got burned down.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:37 PM on June 10 [6 favorites]


Barbary Wars FTW
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:41 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Can you give me some examples of failure between 1776 and the Mexican war?

Yes.

(Notice especially the part where the US pays off Morocco to stop pirating American ships, which gives Algeria, Tripoli, and France the bright idea of holding American ships for ransom, which leads to no fewer than three wars.)

(On preview, what George_Spiggot said.)
posted by Sys Rq at 12:46 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Since oil was discovered in the Arabian peninsula, the US has guaranteed the stability of a slave-holding hereditary monarchy in exchange for access to oil. This monarchy has, as one of it's domestic power bases, fundamentalist religion, which, in exchange for supporting the monarchy, teaches hate and retrograde societal practices, while exporting terror and their ultraconservative brand of Islam.

That's kind of been a jankety situation for some time.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:46 PM on June 10 [12 favorites]


Except why I thought oil was discovered there before the Mexican War I'm not quite sure.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:50 PM on June 10


OTOH, Sys Rq, from a European / American perspective the net outcome is rather massively to our credit.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:53 PM on June 10


So, what I'm hearing was that 1776 was just hyperbole, and you're all huge fans of refusal to ever negotiate with terrorists.* And that the US should have just rolled over in the run-up to the war of 1812.

I mean, great, if that's what you want, but these things didn't happen in isolation and there weren't a ton of other foreign policy options.


--
*a.k.a. 'paying ransom to pirates', which at the time had long been the acceptable method of dealing with pirates.
posted by lodurr at 12:54 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the Barbary pirate states had not only been running the Med as a giant extortion racket, but even raiding the coastal cities of Europe and Great Britain and taking slaves. I actually mentioned the Barbary Wars as something pretty unequivocally to our credit, but the context in which my comment appeared made that unclear.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:00 PM on June 10


I would just like to point out the reason I like Metafilter is that a flip comment saying the US has never done well with foreign policy leads to a well-thought discussion about early American foreign relations.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:05 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


FWIW, Jefferson's particular installment has been cited as one of the first examples of presidential abuse of power.
posted by lodurr at 1:05 PM on June 10


P.S. Nobody has ever been very good at foreign relations. (See: thousands of years of violent conflict)
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:06 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


Foreign relations would be so much easier if your didn't always have to deal with... foreigners!
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:11 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Re: Pirates. I remember hearing that the US navy has greatly improved international shipping and trade due to being a unilateral anti-pirate force. That plus the panama canal. I actually don't know any more than this, does this ring true to anyone else?
posted by DGStieber at 1:26 PM on June 10


Talez : Uh that wasn't Lincoln, blue_beetle. That was Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men Prime Minister Churchill, in his speech upon taking office from the failed administration of James Earl Carter.

I mean, this isn't the National Association of Historians, but come on, people, make a little effort to factcheck.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:41 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Re: US foreign policy as ongoing clusterfuck w/ guns & bombs, Reagan negotiated with (and for) terrorists. He was just spectacularly bad at it.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:52 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


DGStieber: I have a conservative facebook friend who's absolutely obsessed with the idea of the US Navy as Policemen of the Sea. I think it's a pretty common idea. But like you, I have only my own guesses w.r.t. whether it makes sense. I have to think that within range of a maritime power with a competent navy, we're not that critical, and that we were only super-important in the Somali scenario because nobody else was willing to stand out front to get things started.
posted by lodurr at 1:58 PM on June 10


DGStieber I apologize for not having time to give this a little more context but one frequently cited paper in the field of international studies that lays out that argument in detail is Barry R. Posen, “Command of the Commons: The Military Foundation of U.S. Hegemony,” International Security 28

Another scholar whose work would be relevant to your question is John Ikenberry, who has a book called After Victory about, among other things, how the post-war institutions set up by the US helped get other countries to buy into and accept its hegemonic status by effectively ceding some of that power to those institutions, thus having a stablizing effect on international relations.

No time to expand here and it's kind of a derail in this thread but memail me if you want more.
posted by Wretch729 at 2:21 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Talez : Uh that wasn't Lincoln, blue_beetle. That was Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men Prime Minister Churchill, in his speech upon taking office from the failed administration of James Earl Carter General Destructo in the "Revenge of the Magnetroids" arc.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:23 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


It was however Mary Todd Lincoln who said, "I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4,000 Cubans who are trained to kill me."
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:26 PM on June 10 [7 favorites]


If we are going to have a discussion about whether US foreign policy has been successful since whenever, we should probably first answer the question: successful for whom?

The United States? The whole world? U.S. capitalists? The military-industrial complex?

posted by ropeladder at 3:23 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Uh that wasn't Lincoln, blue_beetle. That was Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men.

We didn't have this kind of carping pedantry when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.
posted by yoink at 3:37 PM on June 10 [9 favorites]


Interesting US foreign policy note: the use of waterboarding by American troops on locals resistant to their presence goes back to the Philippine-American War. Although technically, we picked it up from the Spanish who brought it to the Islands as part of the baggage that came with the Inquisition.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:48 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


history tells us that with rare exception (WWII and... well, that's about it), US involvement in foreign affairs only ever makes things much, much, much, much worse.

I have yet to be convinced that our involvement in Kosovo made things worse, or that getting involved was the wrong thing to do. I will grant 100% that we got super lucky in that the Serbs finally overthrew Milosevic, but even so, that was a case where doing something was better than doing nothing.

Come to think of it, I still think throwing Saddam out of Iraq was the right thing to do, too. We totally blew it in the aftermath, but I prefer having him not there.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 6:03 PM on June 10


Re: US foreign policy as ongoing clusterfuck w/ guns & bombs, Reagan negotiated with (and for) terrorists. He was just spectacularly bad at it.

How many times did Reagan commit high treason anyway? By my count three: Pre-election Iran hostage taker negotiations, Iran-Contra, and Iraq chemical weapons.
posted by Talez at 6:37 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


How many times did Reagan commit high treason anyway?

[ ♬ ]
Y'know there are
pirates and emperors but they're really the same thing
Even the ones who say they just wanna let freedom ring.
Well they do it big
or they do it small
But only one goes down when they break the law
While the Big One claims "This really don't apply to me"
[ ♬ ]
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:49 PM on June 10


Re: Pirates. I remember hearing that the US navy has greatly improved international shipping and trade due to being a unilateral anti-pirate force. That plus the panama canal. I actually don't know any more than this, does this ring true to anyone else?

In The Dread Pirate Bin Laden, the case is made that piracy has been marginalized largely because of international laws & agreements that make piracy an international crime against humanity at large, prosecutable by anyone who catches them. He then extends the idea to making terrorism an international crime in the same way.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:14 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


MYOFB. Spend those trillions on making your own country less shitty.

QFT
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:01 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


(Notice especially the part where the US pays off Morocco to stop pirating American ships, which gives Algeria, Tripoli, and France the bright idea of holding American ships for ransom, which leads to no fewer than three wars.)


If I am not mistaken didn't Obama just open the floodgates to similar problems with his five terrorists for one deserter swap?
posted by Gungho at 8:30 AM on June 11


history tells us that with rare exception (WWII and... well, that's about it), US involvement in foreign affairs only ever makes things much, much, much, much worse.

I think we handled ourselves quite nicely in WWI, so there's that.
posted by Gungho at 8:32 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


If I am not mistaken didn't Obama just open the floodgates to similar problems with his five terrorists for one deserter swap?

I keep trying to figure out the logic of this complaint and it just doesn't pencil out. We're upset that terrorists might have an incentive not to kill US soldiers? I mean, for this to matter at all you have to imagine terrorists who see no pay-off in killing US soldiers but who are suddenly incentivized to capture them. But it's always going to be a lot easier to kill a bunch of US soldiers than to capture them (you can kill remotely or via suicide bombing etc--to capture you have to overpower the soldiers without killing them).

So you have to imagine that there's a bunch of terrorists sitting around who are looking at a US army base and saying to themselves "you know, we could kill a bunch of those soldiers, but really, where's the fun in that? It's just got stale!" and who then hear about this swap and say "Oho! This brings new life to the game! Forget about killing these guys, let's capture a bunch of them and wait until the next time the administration is trying to wind up a war and has a bunch of "enemy combatants" on its hands that it's going to have to release in the near future anyway!"

As weird hypotheticals go, it's a pretty pointless thing to be concerned about.
posted by yoink at 9:11 AM on June 11 [5 favorites]


"So you have to imagine that there's a bunch of terrorists sitting around who are looking at a US army base..."

Um, No. These people are now more likely to capture soldiers and civilians in the HOPE that they can exchange them for Gitmo detainees. A dead soldier is not a bargaining chip.
posted by Gungho at 10:21 AM on June 11


If I am not mistaken didn't Obama just open the floodgates to similar problems with his five terrorists for one deserter swap?

I dunno; how's that working for the Israelis? They do it often enough.
posted by lodurr at 10:24 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


A dead soldier is not a bargaining chip.

So, again, how, exactly, is it a bad thing that terrorists who once would have engaged in relatively economical efforts to kill soldiers (bringing civilians into this is stupid, as there's clearly no way this trade would have been made for a civilian), now are incentivized to make much more difficult, much more expensive and elaborate (therefore rarer) efforts to capture those soldiers and not kill them? Why is a relatively large number of dead troops a better outcome than a relatively small number of captured live troops?

All of which, of course, is to leave aside the fact that the Taliban is not considered by the US State Dept. to be a terrorist organization and that only one of the traded detainees was accused of anything like "terrorist" acts.
posted by yoink at 11:58 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


The debate that is occurring in the US about the prisoner swap at the moment is quite extraordinary. As Jon Williams pointed out, Events in #Iraq extraordinary. But silence deafening from political class in US & UK. Mosul embarrassing for them, catastrophic for Iraqis.

Iraq is standing at the brink (the US's enemy Syria is pledging allegiance to the Maliki govt, that's weird enough), both Iran and Turkey are getting ready to do something up north, and you guys are positioning yourselves for midterms.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:08 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


I’d like to have the best hammer. I’d build a shed. Maybe two of ‘em. That’d be sweet.

“Uh that wasn't Lincoln, blue_beetle. That was Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men Prime Minister Churchill, in his speech upon taking office from the failed administration of James Earl Carter.”

No other person has been misidentified as Abraham Lincoln more often than actor Jack Nicholson.
Even the former leader of your United States of America, James Earl Carter Jr., thought he saw Abraham Lincoln once while being attacked by a giant rabbit... But it's been proven he only saw the actor Jack Nicholson.
The actor Jack Nicholson was at his peak brilliance in the film “A Few Good Men.” You probably thought you saw something similar to Abraham Lincoln, but I assure you, it was only the actor Jack Nicholson.

Your theater critics have yet to discover how neural networks create self-consciousness, let alone how the human brain processes two-dimensional retinal images into the three-dimensional phenomenon known as suspension of disbelief. Yet you somehow brazenly declare seeing “My American Cousin” is believing? Your theatrical illiteracy makes me shudder, and I wouldn't flaunt your ignorance by telling anyone that you saw anything other than the actor Jack Nicholson, because if you do, Prime Minister Churchill will shoot you in the back of the head.

“If I am not mistaken didn't Obama just open the floodgates to similar problems with his five terrorists for one deserter swap?”

Yeah, what use would intelligence on the Haqqani network be in Afghanistan? Op commander in Pakistan Sangeen Zadran who had Bergdhal in custody would be a high value target for a drone str…oh, wait.

On a completely unrelated note, I love pro-wrestling. When Hulk Hogan hulked up and demolished Sgt. Slaughter for draping the Iraqi flag over him, man that was awesome! Especially after Slaughter teamed up with General Adnan and took pictures with Saddam Hussein, that was insane. But he learned his lesson, boy. And teamed up with regular guy Hacksaw Jim Duggan and beat the Nasty Boys. Good times.

“We're upset that terrorists might have an incentive not to kill US soldiers?”

It’s one of the reasons the Wehrmacht fought so hard against the Soviets. The ‘no prisoners’ thing. Yeah, why the hell not fight to the death if they're going to come kill you whether you throw your hands up or not?

Freign policy, imho, is about letting shit go. Not substituting ‘stuff’ for ‘shit’ there, but the traditional figurative use of ‘shit’ as ‘chaotic toxic morass we need to leave behind and flush.’
Seeking vengeance you have to dig two graves because (if you kill your object of vengeance) even if you physically survive, you’ve abandoned the law and the things you’re seeking vengeance FOR. You’re dead to those things.
Once you have the power to ignore oversight, to ignore the restraints of civilization, will you care about restoring those things? Or just go on kicking ass.
Pretty clear from history the answer is the latter.

So, knowing when to talk, let things settle non-violently, is critical.

Particularly with terrorists. I mean, the Taliban in Pakistan have been getting their asses handed to them (Rehman, Mehsud, maybe even the grocer *shrug8) and the TTP doesn’t seem to be intimidated.

Get in a shootout with someone wearing a suicide vest, about the most you can say from a foreign policy standpoint is that they’re pretty committed. The target - the objective - has to be something other than their physical existance or acts to which they're fully committed.

Anyway, we’re releasing … or trying to … people from Gitmo - regardless of prisoner exchange.

Last tangle we had (before Bush dropped a few hundred K on Abu Sayyaf for the Burnhams ) was with Ray Davis (in which we paid two and a half million ) over trying to free Aafia Siddiqui who is NOT in Gitmo but in the federal pen in Texas.

The TTP tried to trade Bergdhal for Siddiqui, Obama (et.al.) didn’t go for it. Mostly because she’s a convicted mass murderer (other debatable elements aside). The prisoners in Gitmo have not been convicted of anything (again, debatable elements, their worth, crimes, etc. aside).

And negotiating with terrorists, despite the hard ball rhetoric from politicians who have never been anywhere near getting their boots dirty (we've got, who, McCain who's 240 years old. Graham, Harkin, maybe 15? or so others) , is the most successfully used strategy in dealing with them.

Indeed, getting them to talk invalidates their SOP of trying to get attention by blowing things up.
(Of course, there's negotiating and "negotiating," Col. North sounding off on this just kills me. Trading prisoners - evil. Delivering missiles to Iran - basically ok.)

Re: lodurr's comment - Three years ago the Israelis – who, yeah, I believe may have some familiarity with terrorism - cut loose 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for a non-com.

Additionally - the Anbar Model – wtf was that? Bush gave money and guns who were killing Americans in some cases the day before.
The trick there isn’t buying. The trick is making sure they stay bought.

But minimizing terrorism as the main form of resistance from an enemy is the first step in addressing should be the objective of counterterrorism. It deprives them of conceptual mobility and ties them to a given position (and, most beneficially, a tactic other than terrorism)
I've got Galula's Counternsurgency Wafare in my bag right now. Written in '64. It's not like it's a new idea that if an enemy holds no territory and refuses to engage on yours, you're not going to win by adopting the same tactics.
You tie them down. Bring them to the table. Then you gain the initiative.

That said, kidnapping is an entirely different animal. The FARC has been snatching people for years. It’s routine. Practically a cliché for Columbia. Mexico too.
Of course, that often makes NGOs stop working in the area. I agree with KokuRyu Iraq is, and has been, a travesty on this point.

But, expanding it a bit, y’know who else kidnaps people? Our pal India. Rapes the shit out of them too.
Enjoy scenic Uttar Pradesh and the Taj Mahal. Make sure your K & R insurance is paid up.

Oh, wait. Y’know who really undermines U.S. counterterrorism policy of making no ransom to hostage takers? Yeah, Kidnapping and Ransom insurers.

Look, the whole “they’re gonna kidnap ‘em now” idea – stupid as it is, because tactically it’s a gigantic pain in the ass to extract someone such that it’s a specialized endeavor much less assaulting a hardened position like a base rather than just blow up a nightclub or something – is predicated on the idea that suddenly rank and file troops are gonna be worth something.

I mean, that’s the thing. The idea that, previously, a non-coms life wasn’t worth swapping for. Now it is. And that’s a real shame all of a sudden. From people who just love “the troops” so, so, very much.

And of course, that’s wrong in addition to being stupid because the only way Joe Sergeant is going to see anyone arbitrating for him is through the U.S. government.

Someone insured on the other hand… oh, say a private contractor who might not know he’s carrying $2.4 million in Kidnap and Ransom insurance… because multinational outfits are under no obligation to obey U.S. government policy - the kidnappers get paid, the insurance company collects premiums, and all the risk is transferred to the hostage - everyone wins!
It’s an act of terrorism to kidnap a U.S. citizen, but most payments are made under the table (contravening counterterrorism policy)

It’s how you fund outlaw organizations. Rob banks. Sell drugs. Find someone with a U.S. passport, put a bag on them, profit.

If you can’t cut a deal, you’re in trouble. Because if you kill the hostage, it’s bad PR (you’re just killing helpless peons), if your schtick is killing random people, you’re not going to have the resources to keep someone alive long enough to cut a deal when you actually want to. Which is why Bergdahl was kept alive for that long in the first place. Like one Sgt. is just sooo f’ing critical to their material operations.
I've played a lot of Stratego, and I've found this not to be so.

I mean, of course Bergdahl was a bargaining tool. But that’s the point - bargaining works both ways.
As soon as they’re willing to negotiate – no matter how uneven seeming the trade – the terrorists lose. ‘Cause now they’re not terrorists. They have come to the table. They’re negotiators now.
Do they call him Angus the Bridge Builder? No.
Do they call em Angus the Roof Maker? No. No.
But negotiate for one hostage ...

On the upside (relative only to this sphere of thinking), politically motivated ransoms are often written off by insurers. Not sure about Lloyd’s or Inkerman, but AIG won’t cover you if there’s a demand to release hostages.

Hiring Flash Gordon to come get you, or make sure you’re not snatched in the first place, would be a better way to spend the money. ‘Ounce of prevention…’ all that, as has been bounced around here lately.

But thus far the Congress has refused to discuss the value of not having K&R backdoor payments end running the law and sabotaging the presentation of a unified front.
They haven’t done that for years. Years and years. Since, IIRC, the 80s when they passed the law after the Iranian Hostage thing.

And why start now when you can blame Obama, lambast everyone who’s not on your page as a traitor, etc. Why not, when you can score political points and it’s not you that bears the cost of any pain or suffering?

So many people love the idea of fighting, especially when it's not them doing it, and seem to be determined to maintain this illusion of glory as opposed to just plain hard work and preparation in achieving success.

God save us from "Great Presidents." People forget how terrible times have to be to make them seem "Great" 100 years later.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:46 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


five terrorists for one deserter swap?

HAR HAR AND HIS DAD HAS A TALIBAN BEARD AMIRITE?
posted by dirigibleman at 1:07 PM on June 11


The political class' silence over Mosul, Tikrit et al. is simple. They were the ones advocating intervention in Syria. Remember how Metafilter's groupthink congratulated itself on how the peoples of the UK and US stopped that? Well, ISIS forming a proto-caliphate is a direct consequence. Sometimes, just sometimes, the experts have expertise.
posted by Hugh Routley at 10:34 PM on June 11


Washington Monthyl: Brooks, Wieseltier: Cries of American Weakness by the People Who Weakened America
But there’s another dimension of our foreign-policy problems that almost everyone but me has been too polite to mention: A small chorus of critics who are themselves damaged - gnarled, frightened, and waving Salome-like veils of erudition and idealism to disguise their obsession with a world they seem driven to remind us is colder, darker, and harder than Obama and feckless liberals ever imagined.

Wieseltier and Brooks are members of this “blame the feckless liberals” chorus, and they put themselves on display last week in a manner so predictable and annoying that it begs a little deconstruction.
via Brad DeLong's Grasping Reality
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:19 PM on June 15


Gungho: "So you have to imagine that there's a bunch of terrorists sitting around who are looking at a US army base..."

Um, No. These people are now more likely to capture soldiers and civilians in the HOPE that they can exchange them for Gitmo detainees. A dead soldier is not a bargaining chip.

The point. You missed it.

Here it is again, with bigger letters and smaller words: If the terrorists choose to capture instead of killing, that's infinitely better from the POV of their victims.

And from our POV, as relatives, countrymen, and human beings.

It's what "civilized" nations do in war: accept surrender from the side they defeat in a battle.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:01 AM on June 16


« Older An interactive visualization of Boston's subway sy...  |  How To Catch A Chess Cheater: ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments