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Posts For: January 8, 2008

NEW HAMPSHIRE: What Hillary Does That Obama Can’t Do

What was notable about Hillary Clinton’s victory speech tonight was what was missing: No sign of her husband, or Madeleine Albright, or Terry McAuliffe, or the rest of the Democratic Sopranos who had been so notably on stage behind her in Iowa. Obama in Iowa talked about “this moment.” Tonight, Clinton talked about “this moment of big challenges.” She is substance over theory. She quickly got into the quicksand where Obama dares not tread: College loans, housing foreclosures. Her “promise of America” is her answer to Obama’s “hope and change.” She argues for American credibility and ending the war “the right way.” She is getting out of the Iowa and New Hampshire pandering and moving back to the center. This was a gracious, patriotic, confident, American victory lap speech.

What was notable about Hillary Clinton’s victory speech tonight was what was missing: No sign of her husband, or Madeleine Albright, or Terry McAuliffe, or the rest of the Democratic Sopranos who had been so notably on stage behind her in Iowa. Obama in Iowa talked about “this moment.” Tonight, Clinton talked about “this moment of big challenges.” She is substance over theory. She quickly got into the quicksand where Obama dares not tread: College loans, housing foreclosures. Her “promise of America” is her answer to Obama’s “hope and change.” She argues for American credibility and ending the war “the right way.” She is getting out of the Iowa and New Hampshire pandering and moving back to the center. This was a gracious, patriotic, confident, American victory lap speech.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Another Loser: Frank Luntz

Frank Luntz, the pollster who has been conducting focus groups on air after debates on Fox News, has just had the nerve to show up on Fox and declare that “turnout models are broken” by way of explaining how pollsters got the New Hampshire results so wrong. What about the focus group models he has been pushing every night? They predicted Obama and Romney big-time. Luntz also tries to argue that Romney’s negative ads did him in, when McCain has been running some of the best negative ads against Romney. Shameless.

Frank Luntz, the pollster who has been conducting focus groups on air after debates on Fox News, has just had the nerve to show up on Fox and declare that “turnout models are broken” by way of explaining how pollsters got the New Hampshire results so wrong. What about the focus group models he has been pushing every night? They predicted Obama and Romney big-time. Luntz also tries to argue that Romney’s negative ads did him in, when McCain has been running some of the best negative ads against Romney. Shameless.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Obama Loses to Hillary In More Ways Than One

“There is something happening,” said Barack Obama in concession. What’s happening is that this race just became a giant headache for him. All that talk about Democrats and Republicans coming together was, tonight, overshadowed by whatever wonkery he could throw out: caring for veterans, tax cuts, health care policy, nuclear weapons. He has been forced back onto Hillary’s turf of policy plans. Going forward, this Democratic campaign will be about who will promise to do what exactly for which Democratic constituent groups. And this has always been Obama’s weakest hand. The Florida primary fight on January 29th will be about Medicare purchasing power and cap and trade energy programs. The days of “hope” and “change” may just have come to an end.

“There is something happening,” said Barack Obama in concession. What’s happening is that this race just became a giant headache for him. All that talk about Democrats and Republicans coming together was, tonight, overshadowed by whatever wonkery he could throw out: caring for veterans, tax cuts, health care policy, nuclear weapons. He has been forced back onto Hillary’s turf of policy plans. Going forward, this Democratic campaign will be about who will promise to do what exactly for which Democratic constituent groups. And this has always been Obama’s weakest hand. The Florida primary fight on January 29th will be about Medicare purchasing power and cap and trade energy programs. The days of “hope” and “change” may just have come to an end.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Obama Concedes, Not All That Well

Invigorated by his win in Iowa, Barack Obama gave a brilliant speech on Thursday. Disappointed in New Hampshire, Obama is giving a stinker. Maybe he’s not the Risen Demosthenes after all, no matter what E. J. Dionne says. It doesn’t help that the big call-and-response line — “Yes, We Can” — has been adapted from the title of an autobiography by, may G-d forgive me, Sammy Davis Jr.

Invigorated by his win in Iowa, Barack Obama gave a brilliant speech on Thursday. Disappointed in New Hampshire, Obama is giving a stinker. Maybe he’s not the Risen Demosthenes after all, no matter what E. J. Dionne says. It doesn’t help that the big call-and-response line — “Yes, We Can” — has been adapted from the title of an autobiography by, may G-d forgive me, Sammy Davis Jr.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Huckabee Goes to Michigan

Michigan, the next state to vote, has long been assumed to be Mitt Romney territory because his father was its governor decades ago. Now it seems wide open. There is no reliable recent polling (ie, polling since Iowa) in the state. A Detroit News story from today is all over the map about whether Romney, McCain, or Huckabee could win. John McCain won in Michigan in 2000. Earlier stories suggested that Huckabee would be doing an eight-city swing there later this week. Little wonder. After Iowa and South Carolina, Michigan traditionally has the largest percentage of evangelical voters. A defeat in Michigan for Romney really would be his death knell.

Michigan, the next state to vote, has long been assumed to be Mitt Romney territory because his father was its governor decades ago. Now it seems wide open. There is no reliable recent polling (ie, polling since Iowa) in the state. A Detroit News story from today is all over the map about whether Romney, McCain, or Huckabee could win. John McCain won in Michigan in 2000. Earlier stories suggested that Huckabee would be doing an eight-city swing there later this week. Little wonder. After Iowa and South Carolina, Michigan traditionally has the largest percentage of evangelical voters. A defeat in Michigan for Romney really would be his death knell.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: The Difference Between Hillary and Bill…

…is that Hillary has actually won New Hampshire, while Bill Clinton only placed second in 1992.

…is that Hillary has actually won New Hampshire, while Bill Clinton only placed second in 1992.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Hillary Loves…Edwards?

What a beautiful spoiler Edwards could be for Obama, keeping 10 percent of the anti-war, anti-corporate, anti-Washington vote to himself. Watch Bill Clinton praise Edwards’s courage and his wife’s strength at his next media event.

What a beautiful spoiler Edwards could be for Obama, keeping 10 percent of the anti-war, anti-corporate, anti-Washington vote to himself. Watch Bill Clinton praise Edwards’s courage and his wife’s strength at his next media event.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Food Fight

Today, the “insider” buzz was that the “very powerful” Culinary Workers Union was prepared to endorse Obama.  The implication was that the early Nevada primary, where the Culinary Workers hold sway, was going to add to the Obama momentum. Tonight,  reports Fox’s Major Garrett, the highly principled union might now be switching its support to Hillary. You gotta love that deeply principled, idealistic, disciplined Democratic base.

Today, the “insider” buzz was that the “very powerful” Culinary Workers Union was prepared to endorse Obama.  The implication was that the early Nevada primary, where the Culinary Workers hold sway, was going to add to the Obama momentum. Tonight,  reports Fox’s Major Garrett, the highly principled union might now be switching its support to Hillary. You gotta love that deeply principled, idealistic, disciplined Democratic base.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Playing the Race Card

If Barack Obama fails to meet expectations, as it now looks like, prepare to hear the race argument for the next few months. What the bigoted white New Hampshire voter tells the pollster, the argument will go, is different than what he does in the privacy of the voter booth. Listen carefully and you can hear the first of many Bob Herbert columns being typed.

If Barack Obama fails to meet expectations, as it now looks like, prepare to hear the race argument for the next few months. What the bigoted white New Hampshire voter tells the pollster, the argument will go, is different than what he does in the privacy of the voter booth. Listen carefully and you can hear the first of many Bob Herbert columns being typed.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: John Edwards Announces He Will Run for President Forever

“I am in this race until we have restored the American dream.”

“I am in this race until we have restored the American dream.”

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Major Media Embarrassment

This close race on the Democratic side ought to be the occasion of a moment of pause and reflection on the part of the mainstream media, whose coverage of the past five days in New Hampshire has clearly been a disgrace and a disaster. It’s clear from the results that the news audience was completely misled by the reporters and editors and pundits who blanketed New Hampshire after Barack Obama’s victory and led most people to believe Obama was going to win the state by 15 or 20 points as late as 6 pm tonight. They wanted it and they saw it in every tea leaf. Don’t worry, though; there will be no self-examination. They don’t go in for it.

This close race on the Democratic side ought to be the occasion of a moment of pause and reflection on the part of the mainstream media, whose coverage of the past five days in New Hampshire has clearly been a disgrace and a disaster. It’s clear from the results that the news audience was completely misled by the reporters and editors and pundits who blanketed New Hampshire after Barack Obama’s victory and led most people to believe Obama was going to win the state by 15 or 20 points as late as 6 pm tonight. They wanted it and they saw it in every tea leaf. Don’t worry, though; there will be no self-examination. They don’t go in for it.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Hillary’s Tears

I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton was helped by her display of emotion on Sunday, and I don’t think that’s any reason to start theorizing. If she was acting, it was a very good bit of acting — unlike her husband, who always overacted. If she wasn’t acting, then for the first time in her entire public life, she displayed an honest and believable emotion besides anger. Either way, she showed a form of emotional intelligence we haven’t seen from her before.

I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton was helped by her display of emotion on Sunday, and I don’t think that’s any reason to start theorizing. If she was acting, it was a very good bit of acting — unlike her husband, who always overacted. If she wasn’t acting, then for the first time in her entire public life, she displayed an honest and believable emotion besides anger. Either way, she showed a form of emotional intelligence we haven’t seen from her before.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: McCain’s Victory Speech

It was McCain at his best:

“I didn’t go to Washington to go along to get along. I went there to serve my country, and that, my friends, is just what I intend to do if I am so privileged to be elected your president.”

“Nothing should unite us more closely than the imperative of defeating an enemy who despises us, our values and modernity itself. We must all pull together in this critical hour and proclaim that the history of the world will not be determined by this unpardonable foe but by the asperations, ideals, faith and the courage of free people. In this great, historic task we will never surrender. They will.”

It was McCain at his best:

“I didn’t go to Washington to go along to get along. I went there to serve my country, and that, my friends, is just what I intend to do if I am so privileged to be elected your president.”

“Nothing should unite us more closely than the imperative of defeating an enemy who despises us, our values and modernity itself. We must all pull together in this critical hour and proclaim that the history of the world will not be determined by this unpardonable foe but by the asperations, ideals, faith and the courage of free people. In this great, historic task we will never surrender. They will.”

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: What About Immigration Hard-Liners?

So let’s see. Immigration is the most important issue in the history of the planet. Republican voters, we are told, are viscerally and passionately opposed to illegal immigration and they’re not too crazy about legal immigration either. Immigration. Immigration. Immigration.

It is striking, therefore, that the two candidates in the Republican field most associated with a soft stance on immigration — Mike Huckabee and John McCain — have won the first two primaries. At some point, as I keep saying, immigration foes are going to have to demonstrate that taking a hard line on immigration is key factor in winning at the ballot box if they are not going to prove merely that they have mistaken their own rage for the mood of the general public. Politicians aren’t going to continue with this crusade if it doesn’t generate votes.

So let’s see. Immigration is the most important issue in the history of the planet. Republican voters, we are told, are viscerally and passionately opposed to illegal immigration and they’re not too crazy about legal immigration either. Immigration. Immigration. Immigration.

It is striking, therefore, that the two candidates in the Republican field most associated with a soft stance on immigration — Mike Huckabee and John McCain — have won the first two primaries. At some point, as I keep saying, immigration foes are going to have to demonstrate that taking a hard line on immigration is key factor in winning at the ballot box if they are not going to prove merely that they have mistaken their own rage for the mood of the general public. Politicians aren’t going to continue with this crusade if it doesn’t generate votes.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: The No-Money Primary

With John McCain projected to win New Hampshire on the Republican side, and Mike Huckabee having won in Iowa, and Fred Thompson choosing to make a last stand in South Carolina in two weeks, and Rudy Giuliani waiting for victory in Florida in three weeks, the story is that nobody is going to have any money. McCain is broke, and this victory isn’t going to improve his financial prospects enormously. There’s no evidence Huckabee is raising lots of cash. Thompson is out of funds. My guess is that Rudy’s December was so dreadful that he’s running low.

What if they run a race without money? They will have to depend on media interviews and YouTube stunts rather than commercials. They will want to debate more. They will have to try to make news with speeches. Kind of exciting.

Only Mitt Romney, with his huge personal fortune, has the money he needs. The problem for him is that he has surely spent far more than we know already — and contrary to the blather of the last 48 hours, he evidently didn’t “close” well in New Hampshire with his new “Washington Is Broken” message. And with a cold eye, he would have to wonder whether he really has found his voice or has  learned a hard lesson. He could double down and stay in the race and outspend everybody, but rich people tend not to set matches to their wealth when the prospect of return is questionable. New Hampshire was surely his best shot in the nation.

There is no way on earth to know who is going to win this, but Romney’s two losses make it most unlikely that he will be on the podium in Minneapolis in August.

With John McCain projected to win New Hampshire on the Republican side, and Mike Huckabee having won in Iowa, and Fred Thompson choosing to make a last stand in South Carolina in two weeks, and Rudy Giuliani waiting for victory in Florida in three weeks, the story is that nobody is going to have any money. McCain is broke, and this victory isn’t going to improve his financial prospects enormously. There’s no evidence Huckabee is raising lots of cash. Thompson is out of funds. My guess is that Rudy’s December was so dreadful that he’s running low.

What if they run a race without money? They will have to depend on media interviews and YouTube stunts rather than commercials. They will want to debate more. They will have to try to make news with speeches. Kind of exciting.

Only Mitt Romney, with his huge personal fortune, has the money he needs. The problem for him is that he has surely spent far more than we know already — and contrary to the blather of the last 48 hours, he evidently didn’t “close” well in New Hampshire with his new “Washington Is Broken” message. And with a cold eye, he would have to wonder whether he really has found his voice or has  learned a hard lesson. He could double down and stay in the race and outspend everybody, but rich people tend not to set matches to their wealth when the prospect of return is questionable. New Hampshire was surely his best shot in the nation.

There is no way on earth to know who is going to win this, but Romney’s two losses make it most unlikely that he will be on the podium in Minneapolis in August.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Were We Hyped?

Exit polls are showing a five-point race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It appears we have been snookered by the Change-Hope hype. I was having conversations based on the press reports over the past 24 hours about whether Obama would beat her by 25 or 30 points — with journalists.

Exit polls are showing a five-point race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It appears we have been snookered by the Change-Hope hype. I was having conversations based on the press reports over the past 24 hours about whether Obama would beat her by 25 or 30 points — with journalists.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Democrats in Exit Polls Are Talking Meshugah

Eighty-seven percent of Democrats in New Hampshire, according to exit polls, say the economy is not so good or poor. That’s nearly nine out of ten Democrats. The unemployment rate in New Hampshire is 3.4 percent, making it the ninth strongest state in job terms in the country. It has not been hit hard, according to most reports, by the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The per-capita income of $38,000 per year is the seventh-best among states in the country, and it has the fewest number of people in poverty of any state in the union. What on earth are they talking about? Doesn’t a voter’s feelings about the economy have to comport with some minimal sense of reality, of life as it is actually lived by the voter himself and his neighbors?

Eighty-seven percent of Democrats in New Hampshire, according to exit polls, say the economy is not so good or poor. That’s nearly nine out of ten Democrats. The unemployment rate in New Hampshire is 3.4 percent, making it the ninth strongest state in job terms in the country. It has not been hit hard, according to most reports, by the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The per-capita income of $38,000 per year is the seventh-best among states in the country, and it has the fewest number of people in poverty of any state in the union. What on earth are they talking about? Doesn’t a voter’s feelings about the economy have to comport with some minimal sense of reality, of life as it is actually lived by the voter himself and his neighbors?

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Myths Shattered

Iowa and New Hampshire seem to have shattered a few prevailing myths, some of which I have long supported:

“The primaries are too early, the campaign is too long”:  Voters didn’t seem to care, even as an endless stream of columnists decried the endless campaign.  Obama, and to a lesser extent, McCain and Huckabee have done more to encourage civic participation than any motor voter bill or short campaign schedule.

“Iowa is irrelevant and unrepresentative”:  Iowa — again! — has been an opening shot across the bow of the the other states, forcing them to react. Iowa never guarantees a long-term winner, but as Rudy Giuliani has learned, you ignore it at your peril.  Yes, it is full of old codgers and home schoolers. But, like New Hampshire, it makes retail politics a part of the presidential primary process.  Putting any other combination of states earlier in the process hands over the entire system to a television ad war.

You can’t beat high name ID:  On the Republican side, the first candidates to have universal name identification with voters have always won: Reagan in 1980, Bush in 1988, Dole in 1996, Bush in 2000. This time around, Rudy Giuliani had 100% name ID from the gitgo. It didn’t help.

Iowa and New Hampshire seem to have shattered a few prevailing myths, some of which I have long supported:

“The primaries are too early, the campaign is too long”:  Voters didn’t seem to care, even as an endless stream of columnists decried the endless campaign.  Obama, and to a lesser extent, McCain and Huckabee have done more to encourage civic participation than any motor voter bill or short campaign schedule.

“Iowa is irrelevant and unrepresentative”:  Iowa — again! — has been an opening shot across the bow of the the other states, forcing them to react. Iowa never guarantees a long-term winner, but as Rudy Giuliani has learned, you ignore it at your peril.  Yes, it is full of old codgers and home schoolers. But, like New Hampshire, it makes retail politics a part of the presidential primary process.  Putting any other combination of states earlier in the process hands over the entire system to a television ad war.

You can’t beat high name ID:  On the Republican side, the first candidates to have universal name identification with voters have always won: Reagan in 1980, Bush in 1988, Dole in 1996, Bush in 2000. This time around, Rudy Giuliani had 100% name ID from the gitgo. It didn’t help.

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Ron Paul: The Charles Barkley Defense

An annoyed Ron Paul responds to Jamie Kirchick’s article exposing the racism, anti-Semitism, anti-gay sentiments and overall charm of the writings published in, among other venues, the Ron Paul Political Report, as follows:

The quotations in The New Republic article are not mine and do not represent what I believe or have ever believed.  I have never uttered such words and denounce such small-minded thoughts….When I was out of Congress and practicing medicine full-time, a newsletter was published under my name that I did not edit.  Several writers contributed to the product.  For over a decade, I have publically taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name.

Ah, so the Ron Paul Political Report featured articles expressing views a man named Ron Paul found abhorrent, did it? This is reminiscent of the hilarious denunciation by Charles Barkley of his own ghostwritten autobiography. The only difference is that Charles Barkley was a basketball player at the time, while Ron Paul is a sitting member of Congress and a candidate for president of the United States. If he did know about what was published under his name and he’s lying about it now, he’s a blackguard as well as a disgusting public figure. If he didn’t know, he’s a pathetic buffoon who sold his own name to racists and intellectual thugs. Not sure which is better.

An annoyed Ron Paul responds to Jamie Kirchick’s article exposing the racism, anti-Semitism, anti-gay sentiments and overall charm of the writings published in, among other venues, the Ron Paul Political Report, as follows:

The quotations in The New Republic article are not mine and do not represent what I believe or have ever believed.  I have never uttered such words and denounce such small-minded thoughts….When I was out of Congress and practicing medicine full-time, a newsletter was published under my name that I did not edit.  Several writers contributed to the product.  For over a decade, I have publically taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name.

Ah, so the Ron Paul Political Report featured articles expressing views a man named Ron Paul found abhorrent, did it? This is reminiscent of the hilarious denunciation by Charles Barkley of his own ghostwritten autobiography. The only difference is that Charles Barkley was a basketball player at the time, while Ron Paul is a sitting member of Congress and a candidate for president of the United States. If he did know about what was published under his name and he’s lying about it now, he’s a blackguard as well as a disgusting public figure. If he didn’t know, he’s a pathetic buffoon who sold his own name to racists and intellectual thugs. Not sure which is better.

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A Game of Chicken in the Persian Gulf

Jennifer Dyer, a Commander (Retired) U.S. Naval intelligence offers this analysis as a guest of Connecting the Dots:

How should we think about the incident in the southern Persian Gulf on Sunday in which Iranian speedboats operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) acted in a threatening manner toward a task group of three U.S. Navy ships?

The ships in question were the USS Port Royal (CG-73), a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser; USS Hopper (DDG-70), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, and USS Ingraham (FFG-61), an O.H. Perry-class frigate. Navy and press reporting on the event indicate that the U.S.N ships acted precisely in accordance with their rules of engagement, attempting to establish contact with the Iranian boats, and to deescalate the situation. Hopper, speaking for the task group, issued warnings to the speedboats, and the boats eventually broke off and departed the area. The AP summary also indicates Hopper came close to using her M240 deck-mounted machine gun, but did not. Hopper assuredly had her gun crew manning its station, which would have been easily observed from the Iranian speedboats, and probably influenced the IRGCN decision to leave the area.

Three significant things may be said about this incident. First, U.S. rules of engagement are intended to deescalate unplanned situations, if at all possible. The reason for this is not to prevent carnage at any cost, or to behave in a pusillanimous. manner, but to restore control of the initiative and tempo to U.S. forces. The principal obligation of any commander under his rules of engagement is self-defense. But long experience with operating under U.S. rules of engagement enables a good commander to preserve his option of effective self-defense, without being drawn into action on the opponent’s timeline. We always prefer exercising our own operational agenda, on our timetable, over letting the opponent dictate it to us. The assignment of this task group was to enter the Persian Gulf for operations as directed by the U.S. Fifth Fleet Commander — and by deescalating the speedboat situation, the group stayed on task. It also avoided letting Iran provoke the U.S. into escalation at a higher level of command, either military or political.

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Jennifer Dyer, a Commander (Retired) U.S. Naval intelligence offers this analysis as a guest of Connecting the Dots:

How should we think about the incident in the southern Persian Gulf on Sunday in which Iranian speedboats operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) acted in a threatening manner toward a task group of three U.S. Navy ships?

The ships in question were the USS Port Royal (CG-73), a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser; USS Hopper (DDG-70), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, and USS Ingraham (FFG-61), an O.H. Perry-class frigate. Navy and press reporting on the event indicate that the U.S.N ships acted precisely in accordance with their rules of engagement, attempting to establish contact with the Iranian boats, and to deescalate the situation. Hopper, speaking for the task group, issued warnings to the speedboats, and the boats eventually broke off and departed the area. The AP summary also indicates Hopper came close to using her M240 deck-mounted machine gun, but did not. Hopper assuredly had her gun crew manning its station, which would have been easily observed from the Iranian speedboats, and probably influenced the IRGCN decision to leave the area.

Three significant things may be said about this incident. First, U.S. rules of engagement are intended to deescalate unplanned situations, if at all possible. The reason for this is not to prevent carnage at any cost, or to behave in a pusillanimous. manner, but to restore control of the initiative and tempo to U.S. forces. The principal obligation of any commander under his rules of engagement is self-defense. But long experience with operating under U.S. rules of engagement enables a good commander to preserve his option of effective self-defense, without being drawn into action on the opponent’s timeline. We always prefer exercising our own operational agenda, on our timetable, over letting the opponent dictate it to us. The assignment of this task group was to enter the Persian Gulf for operations as directed by the U.S. Fifth Fleet Commander — and by deescalating the speedboat situation, the group stayed on task. It also avoided letting Iran provoke the U.S. into escalation at a higher level of command, either military or political.

Second, the unusual things about this situation were that the speedboat crews dumped boxes in the water, and made the provocative communication (“You will blow up”) to the U.S. Navy ships. It is, in fact, routine for our ships in the Gulf to encounter Iranian speedboats, 24/365. They very often maneuver — with zest and verve — around our ships, although rarely in a dangerous way (i.e., with bad seamanship). This incident was unusual because of the special provocation, but we have no good ways of knowing beforehand when such special provocations will erupt again. This is obviously a problem from the standpoint of warning. Which approach of Iranian speedboats might be an actual attack?

Third, small speedboats are the very devil to deal with through armed force. Hopper’s M240 (a mounted 7.62mm machine gun) was the best tool available to the three ships in question, but its range is not even 2,000 yards, and its accuracy outside 1,000 yards against a fast, maneuverable target will be iffy. The machine gun would produce suppressing fire — but if the attacker doesn’t care if he survives, and if he attacks in enough of a swarm, something will get through.

Our 5-inch naval guns would be worse than useless against such a target — in the dhow- and freighter-infested waters of the Persian Gulf, they would be bound to hit something, just not the IRGCN speedboats. A ship-launched helicopter (between them the three ships probably have at least two) is another option, but is also vulnerable to shoulder-launched missiles and machine-gun fire from the speedboats themselves. This problem is difficult enough that a truly determined, suicidal speedboat attack is more likely than not to complete potential missions like launching a rocket at a U.S. warship, or detonating pre-deployed explosives with a radio remote.

The Iranian speedboats constitute, as they did in the Royal Marines incident last March, a type of problem that rules of engagement per se can’t adequately address. Moreover, it’s not possible to guarantee prior warning to our forces that the next speedboat formation is the one that’s going to actually attack. To take summarily effective precautions against a speedboat attack would require action at the political level. The relevant tools include a demarche by the U.S. to Iran (e.g., warning Iran against operating its speedboats under specified conditions), and a Notice to Mariners — the former being more pointed, and a ratcheting up of tensions between two nations; the latter potentially inviting the contumely of all the nations whose flagged ships ply the Gulf. These are considered drastic measures; we have normally only used them when we actually went to war (e.g., during Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom). The delineation of the conditions for breach of a demarche also becomes problematic for sound operations. If, for example, we tell Iran not to put its boats within five nautical miles of a U.S. warship, Iran will assuredly post boats at five nautical miles plus one inch off the port quarter of U.S. warships. All such delineations have the effect of standardizing what we prefer, for operational reasons, to retain unadvertised discretion over.

Of course, our national authorities can also promise Iran unspecified retaliations for any incidents of this kind in the future. If you’ve followed me this far, you will quickly deduce that announcing such triggers can cede Iran the initiative — in particular the initiative to mount ambiguous. incidents that cast doubt on our justification for responding. Retaliation warnings may or may not be appropriate here, but they work best for deterring behavior that is unmistakable.

The U.S. Navy is carrying out U.S. policy merely by being present in the Persian Gulf, and patrolling it for U.S. purposes. Our presence there every day is a neon sign to Iran that we will not tolerate Iran trying to close the Gulf, or to exercise an exclusionary hegemony over it. We tend to forget that being in Iran’s face every day IS policy, just as deliberately crossing Qaddhafi’s “Line of Death” was, in the 1980’s, and deliberately transiting the former Soviet Union’s excessively-claimed territorial waters. The U.S. Navy constantly monitors, and seeks to adjust and train to, the speedboat threat; in each of my deployments after the first Gulf war, such training and intelligence were high priorities. But it is inherently dangerous. to walk the tightwire of forward naval engagement. In a sense, this latest incident occurred not because U.S. policy isn’t working, but because it is. The Fifth Fleet Commander, and CENTCOM, will review this whole incident thoroughly and look for operational changes to make, but in the end, the policy of the United States has always been that we don’t need to suppress all other maritime activity, in order to maintain our own naval — and national — posture effectively.

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