Thursday, April 16, 2009

Captain Richard Phillips, Somalia, and why success is vital in Iraq and Afghanistan

In October of 1993 I was a much younger man in a much different world. I was a new Second Classman (junior) at the Virginia Military Institute. In the glory of those fall days, I proudly walked the grounds of the Institute with my chest held high displaying the sterling silver Airborne Wings I had earned at Fort Benning. I wore the same wings that my father had worn some thirty years earlier and I was enjoying my youth and the potential of my future.

October 1993 was also the same time that Army Rangers, Delta Force operators, Navy SEALS and Air Force PJs engaged in the tragic Battle of Mogadishu which led to the death of 18 American soldiers. As I watched this small battle unfold on TV, I became very aware of the commitment I had made to my country and the cost I might be asked to pay. I felt the awesome tradition of those Airborne wings, which dated back to Normandy, resonating on my chest and I quietly resolved to live up to that tradition.

In the fall of 93, those of us at VMI bound for the military talked about going to Somalia and how we would react, what role we would play as newly minted second lieutenants. But those conversations fell short and silent. The UN and the US abandoned Somalia, the country imploded and for all intensive purposes became and still remains a failed state.

I am convinced that Somalia is the country it is today because we did not stay the course. Instead of doing the right thing, we did the easy thing. Instead of taking the lead on providing security, we abdicated our reason and rationale to the UN. In the aftermath of Somalia’s ashes what rose to the surface was a toxic mix of criminals, Islamic militants and warlords. It was not until 2006 that any semblance of governance began to rise – 13 years after we left. The push to stabilize Somalia was driven by Ethiopia and Kenya after it became clear that Somalia’s anarchistic nature was not sustainable and could destabilize its neighbors: much like the events of Liberia and Sierra Leone.

While today Somalia has what appears to be a central government, it has no ability to rule. Mogadishu looks on impotently as pirates prey on ships in Gulf of Aden and operate with impunity in Somalia’s territorial waters. This is also the reason that the US Navy SEALs had to recently shoot three pirates to save a kidnapped American citizen - Captain Richard Phillips. This is what happens when you begin a military campaign and fail to finish it. This is what Iraq could have been if Bush had given into Obama (as a Senator), Durbin, Schumer, Reid, Kennedy, Murtha, and Pelosi. Hanging Iraq around Bush’s neck was great politics and strategically brilliant. It was also, in my opinion, an immoral and disgusting display of politicizing a war.

So now what? Our government is puzzled over what to do and is asking how do we deal with pirates? How do protect people, our ships, and our interests? To answer this question, I would direct our current administration to read the lyrics of the “Marine Corps Hymn.” We have dealt with this problem before “on the shores of Tripoli.” We engaged the Barbary States who preyed on our ships and ransomed our crews because our law makers in that day realized paying ransoms cannot be included in the cost of doing business. In Michael Oren’s Book, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: The United States in the Middle East, 1776 to 2006, he provides an excellent historical account of our conflict with the Barbary States, the similarities are startling.

Some good may good may come out of this conflict with the Somali pirates. For example exposing the Law of the Sea treaty for the canard it really is, convincing law makers on Capital Hill to not cut defense spending, increasing the size of our pathetically small Navy and to abandon the futile concept of the “1000 Ship” navy that is made up of our Navy combined the with fleets of other nations. I hate group think – especially in military matters.

As a nation, we have no right to be shocked or surprised that Somalia is in its current state. Bill Clinton failed to support our military in Somalia with armored support and 18 soldiers died while Bubba was foundering for answers. He failed in Somalia just like he failed to work to prevent the death of 900,000 Rwandans, failed to kill Osama Bin Laden, failed to respond to Khobar Towers, WTC 93, the embassy bombings, and the USS Cole. As the Clinton administration was raiding the funds of the Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense to pay for more entitlement programs, the people that we refer to as “terrorist” were busily engaged in planning and funding an operation on several continents, through sophisticated financial channels to fly 2 planes into the World Trade Center. Cutting defense for entitlements, sound familiar?

You know looking back on it, perhaps those glorious Fall days at the Institute in October of 1993 were not so peaceful after all. I hope the Obama administration learns from the mistakes of our past: the appearance of peace is not peace at all.


  1. Similar to you, I was one year removed from active-duty, two years removed from my time in Desert Storm/Shield, and back in the AF Reserves. It's although the answers to an exam were in plain view--or already provided--but for reasons unknown, no one peaked to double check before submitting--I know, bad analogy, but in the real world, you always consult first.

  2. To append, anarchy abounds in Somalia.