Our latest piece for Examiner.com looks at today's successful rescue of Captain Richard Phillips from pirates off the coast of Somalia. As administration officials bragged about President Obama's authorization to use military force--and his decision to deploy special forces for the operation--we were reminded of JFK's famous quote about "victory having a thousand fathers."
To be sure, Mr. Obama deserves some credit. He understood that it was unacceptable to allow the lifeboat, carrying Phillips and his captors, to drift toward the Somali coast. If the merchant captain was taken ashore, his rescue would become virtually impossible, and negotiations to free him would be much more difficult, with warlords and others maneuvering for a piece of the ransom pie.
Giving his commanders the latitude they needed, President Obama issued orders that allowed them to take action, if necessary, to save Phillips' life. He also approved an order that sent Navy SEALs aboard the USS Bainbridge, the first naval vessel to reach the scene. But such directives are standard in this type of operation. Failing to send in the SEALs--or pre-authorizing the use of military force--would be unthinkable.
Put another way, today's successful operation was not a triumph of executive decision-making from the White House situation room. Instead, much of the credit should go to the on-scene commander who had the authority to act--and did so (decisively) when the opportunity presented itself.
Kudos also to the SEAL snipers who eliminated Phillips' three captors with three head shots. At the time the operation began, the lifeboat carrying the hostage was about 80 feet behind the Bainbridge, under tow by the destroyer.
That would seem to be an easy shot for a trained sniper, but it's worth remembering that the lifeboat was bobbing in the warship's wake--hardly a stationary target. Additionally, the "enclosed" design of the craft made it difficult to determine what was going on inside and target the pirates at exactly the right moment.