Like pretty much all Americans, I’m proud of the skill and bravery our armed services displayed off the coast of Africa. I’m also thrilled that Captain Richard Phillips, whose courage during the affair appears to have been quite genuine, was safely rescued from the pirates. It also doesn’t hurt my feelings that a bunch of right wing blowhards, some of whom were accusing Barack Obama of cowardice and inaction at the very moment the operation was underway, now have (another layer) of egg on their faces.
But before we go too far overboard with this gush of martial revelry, perhaps a little perspective’s in order: as impressive as the operation was, we didn’t exactly take out the Third Reich this time. This was a straight up fight between the world’s one remaining superpower and four Somali thugs (actually three at the time of the rescue).
The public enthusiasm over the operation reminds me a little of the domestic response to Ronald Reagan’s 1983 invasion of the tiny Island of Grenada (although one shouldn’t take the comparison too far: taking down the pirates was clearly lawful and necessary, while the Grenada invasion almost certainly was neither). But whatever the merits of the decision to act in both cases, the military outcome (in terms of whose firepower would win out in the end) was never in much doubt.
Nevertheless, the Grenada invasion produced a huge spike in Reagan’s domestic popularity, as people celebrated America’s success in winning a “war” again after the defeat in Vietnam. The timing was especially fortunate for Reagan, since it came just two days after 241 US servicemen were killed in a bombing at their base in Lebanon.
I have to wonder whether at least a little of the ensuing “we can still kick us some little country butt” bravado wasn’t still onboard when, some 20 years later, another Republican president decided to undertake the invasion of another (much more formidable) nation, Iraq.
Hopefully it’s the lessons of that real war in Iraq, rather than this quick brush with the pirates, Obama will keep in mind when considering whether to use military force in the years ahead.
So, congratulations to everyone involved in the recent operation, including the Commander in Chief: but let’s not let it go to our heads.