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Posted by on Apr 13, 2009 in Media, Politics | 8 comments

Reaction To Captain’s Rescue, Pirates, And Obama Role Flood New And Old Media

Reaction to NAVY SEAL snipers killing three of Capt. Richard Phillips’ captors and freeing him in an operation that reportedly involved coordination of military in the field, the Defense Department and President Barack Obama is now pouring in via the new and old media — even as the pirates issue new, ominous threats.

Reaction isn’t all consistent (political considerations clearly play a role in some of the new media reaction and it has been even moreso on conservative talk radio). Here is a cross section of reaction to the resolution of what promises to be a growing story: the battle of countries against pirates working off the coast of Somalia. Pirates have already vowed to kill American and French sailors in retaliation for the military action that ended in the deaths of three of their comrades in international crime.

NBC’s Chuck Todd:

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CBS News offers this excellent report on the operation which includes footage of the freed captain:

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The AP’s analysis starts this way:

The U.S. economy is showing only glimmers of life and two costly wars remain in the balance, but President Barack Obama’s “no drama” handling of the Indian Ocean hostage crisis proved a big win for his administration in its first critical national security test.

Obama’s quiet backstage decision to authorize the Defense Department to take necessary action if Capt. Richard Phillips’ life was in imminent danger gave a Navy commander the go-ahead to order snipers to fire on the pirates holding the cargo ship captain at gunpoint.

US News:

Sunday’s rescue of hijacked sea Captain Richard Phillips from his Somali pirate kidnappers dominates today’s headlines, with President Obama’s performance in the standoff receiving much praise. Under the headline “An Early Military Victory For Obama,” the Washington Post says the incident was “one of the earliest tests of the new American president,” and “the result…left Obama with an early victory that could help build confidence in his ability to direct military actions abroad.”

MSNBC’s First Thoughts (Chuck Todd who is featured in the video above is part of the team that wrote this):

While it might not have been the 3:00 am moment that Hillary Clinton’s campaign described in that now-famous TV ad, President Obama passed his first military test as president, when Navy SEALs rescued Capt. Richard Phillips, killing three Somali pirates who had captured him and detaining a fourth. The bottom line, the Washington Post says, “Had yesterday’s rescue at sea gone badly, the political damage for Obama might have been severe. But aides said the outcome should be seen as a success.” We also can tell you that the Obama administration is pleased with the communication between the Navy, Pentagon, White House, FBI and Department of Homeland Security — as a lot of agencies and departments had a piece of this crisis.

Obviously, Obama and the Navy will get the most credit for taking action. The questions that remain: Doesn’t this highlight the issue of the rogue state that is Somalia? After all, the country was the scene of the first embarrassing foreign policy crisis on Bill Clinton’s watch, and its previous ties to al Qaeda make it a country that may end up popping back up on this president’s radar. Congress is the ultimate reactionary institution, so what legislation having to do with maritime operations will Congress pass that will add to the burdens of either the DHS or the Pentagon, or both?….

The Week offers this roundup.
The Christian Science Monitor:

The dramatic Navy rescue Sunday that freed an American cargo ship captain from his Somali captors could begin to change the calculus of the rampant piracy in some of the world’s most traveled and dangerous waters.

….His rescue amid snipers’ bullets could entice Somali pirates, who have so far largely refrained from violence, to consider retribution. “There are second- and third-order effects,” said Admiral Gortney. “This could escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it.”

At the same time, the incident could escalate efforts by shipping nations to respond to the problem in a more effective way. A key question is now how much the higher profile of the issue, due to the Alabama affair, will prod nations into action. To date, the economics of the issue alone have not compelled a strong coordinated response. The owners of merchant ships have calculated that the risk of having a ship hijacked by pirates is small enough that paying a ransom – and seeing insurance costs rise – is cheaper than arming themselves to deter the problem.

“That should tell us something about just how low the threat of a pirate attack is,” says Peter Leeson, an economist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and author of “The Invisible Hook,” a book on modern piracy.

The Washington Post:

For President Obama, last week’s confrontation with Somali pirates posed similar political risks to a young commander in chief who had yet to prove himself to his generals or his public.

But the result — a dramatic and successful rescue operation by U.S. Special Operations forces — left Obama with an early victory that could help build confidence in his ability to direct military actions abroad.

Throughout the past four days, White House officials played down Obama’s role in the hostage drama. Until yesterday, he made no public statements about the pirates.

In fact, aides said yesterday, Obama had been briefed 17 times since he returned from his trip abroad, including several times from the White House Situation Room. And without giving too many details, senior White House officials made it clear that Obama had provided the authority for the rescue.


U.S. President Barack Obama passed his first test as commander in chief with flying colors in approving the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips, but the pirates of Somalia have vowed they will strike back.

U.S. Navy snipers, their commander fearing that Maersk Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips was in imminent danger, killed three of Phillips’ captors and captured a fourth. The gunfire ended an incident that began Wednesday when pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia. They were repelled but took Phillips with them and held him in a lifeboat as Navy vessels converged on the site.

Compared with most of the military crises and challenges any president of the United States faces during his term of office, this was a small and straightforward one, but it contained many important lessons for President Obama and the American people.

First, U.S. Special Forces today remain probably the best in the world. Ironically, in large part that is because they have had so much practice over the past seven and a half years in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and in the war on terror that the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have insisted on renaming more innocuously…..Second, the president and his highly experienced secretary of defense, Robert Gates, wisely gave the military specialists a free hand to plan and carry out the actual rescue…..
Third, while it has been fashionable for many American pundits to take cheap shots at France and the French for so long, their special forces were in the heart of the action at the same time America’s were.


Rolling Stone’s blog:

Is it me, or do all of the Mission Impossible details of the Captain Richard Phillips pirate rescue have you mouthing the words “Jessica Lynch” tonight?

Three sniper bullets, fired at distance, at night, simultaneously felling three pirates on a bobbing boat — one of whom was targeted through a portal window? It strains the suspension of disbelief.

Dick Polman:

The Pirates lost a double-header yesterday, bowing to the Reds in Cincinnati, and losing their heads to American Navy snipers in the Gulf of Aden. Surely all Americans, spanning the political spectrum, will breathe a sigh of relief today, now that the high-seas crisis is over and the merchant captain is out of harm’s way.

Neverthless, within the carping confines of the American right, there surely will be a wee frisson of disappointment. Late last week, conservatives were busy with the usual mockery of President Obama, eagerly anticipating his failure to resolve the Somali pirate standoff in American’s failure…But wait, what’s this: It turns out that Obama twice signed off on the use of force, at 8 p.m. Friday and 9:20 a.m. Saturday, essentially authorizing Navy SEAL snipers to fire at the pirates whenever the Navy commander judged the captain’s life to be in imminent danger. When a pirate was spotted pointing an AK-47 at the captain’s back, the kill order was given. End of crisis.

Wasn’t Obama, the inexperienced touchy-feely wimp of right-wing caricature, supposed to bow down to the pirates, thereby justifying conservative mockery? Wasn’t he supposed to follow their script, and validate their disdain?

Curses! Arrrgghhh!

…..The bottom line, however, is that the president authorized the operation and it succeeded. Obama’s antagonists are free, of course, to minimize his role and deny him any credit…but it’s a sure bet they would be assigning him all the blame if the crisis had ended badly. Their credibility on this crisis may be strong within the friendly confines of their echo chamber, but it’s considerably less so in the outside world where most Americans live.

Red State:

Each day the tension and humiliation of a nation grew. The emboldened pirates fired upon our men of action, who thus restrained could not yet act in kind. The terrorists’ defiant lack of fear inspired their fellows to target other American vessels. All while the community organizer in chief flipped through his conflict resolution handbook.

But here, at long last, the captive captain is free. He leapt clear and our faithful Navy, apparently at last free to take the safety off, rid the world of three contemptible degenerates and have the fourth in custody to question. So the bold leap into the sea frees the President of the burden to act.

In the end, Captain Phillips wasn’t saved by the President, but by his own courageous plunge and the deadly professionalism of our men with guns. The President, you see, was saved by the Captain.

Marc Ambinder:

Perhaps I’m reading this wrong, but I’m fairly certain that the pirate drama and its resolution says absolutely nothing about President Obama. You could make the case that the White House wants to show that Obama is deliberate and cautious when it comes to authorizing military force — fine — but this was a hostage rescue mission, the U.S. has specially-trained counterterrorist forces for precisely this sort of thing, and military aciton was almost inevitable. Really, what this weekend’s drama was, was a test of the National Command Authority, the NSC’s ability to communicate with commanders in the crisis, and some good field training for Navy SEALs.

Ed Morrissey:

Our next step after killing the pirates on the lifeboat is torpedoing their ships in their home ports without inspections or even warnings. Somalia’s failed state can’t impose order on these areas, but if the pirates become a liability rather than an asset to these facilities, they’ll get the heave-ho soon enough.

In the future, we don’t need the lawyers and the FBI negotiators, and we especially don’t need to legitimize Somali “elders”, either. Iklé has that right; piracy is not a bank robbery. The entire point of piracy is to capture ships in territory where no nation can claim sovereignty and therefore work outside the civil law. The proper response to that is military, not some notion of cops and robbers. When pirates find out we’re serious, and when enough of them wind up at the bottom of the ocean, they’ll think twice about seizing American or Western shipping.

American Thinker:

With the rescue of Captain Phillips, Barack Obama met Reality. The US Navy shot three pirates even though they were Politically Correct pirates: Muslim, Black, African, probably sad sack desperadoes. It didn’t matter, because they held a gun to our national head — in the person of Captain Richard Phillips.

Obama reacted the way a US president should, by letting the Navy and FBI act. In this single moment, Obama became Obushma. Because that’s how George W. Bush would have acted. That’s how the British Navy would have acted in its heyday. It’s how freedom of the seas has been protected for two centuries.

It’s up to the New Media to keep asking the question: Are we seeing Obamunism or Obushmanism?

It’s the crucial question. We know that crises will keep coming up. “Events, dear boy, events,” as Harold MacMillan reportedly said.

John Amato, among other things, notes the continuing negative spin put on the White House response by conservative talk radio and adds:

I imagine the ditto-heads would have liked to see the entire area nuked to show the world how mighty and tough we are, but instead we just took care of the incident and rescued our mates. If it had been Bush or McCain this would have been treated like the story it was. A terrible tale of piracy on the high seas.

John Cole:

This pirate crisis appears to be another one of those political Rorschach tests that shows how detached from reality some people can get when it comes to defending or attacking a politician…

….Maybe I am alone, but I hardly view this as a test of the President. Unless I am mistaken, all he had to do was sign off on rules of engagement and stay out of the way, and I don’t mean that to denigrate Obama, but because that really is all any President could do. We have a massive Navy with several hundred ships, highly trained professionals in the SEALS, highly trained professionals in the FBI and in the crews of the naval vessels tailing (and in one case towing) the raft, and you just need to let them do their job. This didn’t happen because heroic efforts by Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod in consultation with Obama produced a dashing plan a la the The West Wing. This happened because our very entrenched military and national security apparatus can handle little things like this without flinching.

That isn’t to take anything away from what the guys on the scene did, as that appears to have been one helluva shot they took. They also deserve real credit for their prior restraint, and waiting until the right moment to make things happen. They really acted like, well, professionals. But heaping all sorts of praise on Team Obama seems to me to be just as silly as flaming them for this. They acted prudently and cautiously, as anyone who has watched the President for any period of time would have expected him to behave.


So? So Obama did the right thing (at the right level of visibility) and so did the military. The situation was resolved. To the right – Obama did a good job. Get over it and understand that it wasn’t his job to “call the shot.” He gave the on-scene commander, through his authorization to use deadly force, the latitude to make that call himself without seeking further permission.

To the left – this was no more a “military victory” than was Ruby Ridge or Waco. Quit trying to make it more than it is. If you think popping 3 rag-tag pirates is going to be interpreted by Iran or North Korea as a demonstration of our military might, you’re dreaming. Obviously, had it gone bad, it would have reflected badly on the US. However it didn’t (thankfully). But it proves nothing more than in the situation presented – a hostage situation – we were able to resolve it to our advantage. That’s good and it reflects well on us. But a “military victory”? For heaven sake, get a clue.

Daily Kos’ DarkSyde:

This should never have been a political issue. And for most red, white, and blue Americans it was about as non-partisan as it gets. But nutballs on the fringe right just couldn’t help themselves: while armed terrorists were holding a brave, innocent American at gunpoint, a few extremists elements were barely able to contain their glee at the thought of the terrorists winning, or at least for Phillips to remain captive or worse, all so that they could try and make the President look bad for a news cycle or two. What was for the rest of the nation a joyous Easter miracle has right-wing eliminationists furious. They’re angrily denouncing the details of the rescue, vainly trying to revise events to fit their failed ideology. It’s revolting, beyond the pale, and something this nation will not soon forgive or soon forget.

John Aravosis:

Let’s not forget Obama’s Republican predecessor’s first national security test. You remember, when George Bush capitulated to China and apologized after they took our airmen hostage. Then there was Bush’s second national security test, stopping bin Laden from striking America. That one didn’t go so well either. And in eight years, Bush never did catch bin Laden, nor did he give any indication that he cared to.

James Joyner:

President Obama did what any president would have done: authorized the Navy to use deadly force (i.e., kill people) if they deemed Maersk Alabama captain Richard Phillips to be in mortal danger. They did and they did. (To paraphrase Maverick, “I had the shot. There was danger, so I took it.”)

So, what’s the headline? “When You Mess With the Best, You Die Like the Rest”? No, it’s “An Early Military VIctory for Obama.”

….But has there been a president in American history who hesitated to authorize force in a situation like this? Jimmy Carter authorized the ill-fated Desert One rescue of the Iranian hostages. Bill Clinton ordered the Somali warlord-hunting mission that led to the infamous Black Hawk Down incident. Both caught flak for the failure of those missions. But of course Obama was going to authorize action — at the discretion of the professionals on the scene — to save the life fo the captain. To have done otherwise would have been morally unconscionable and politically suicidal. I can’t imagine it ever crossed his mind to say No.


I’ve said (mostly in comments over at Peach Pundit) that I would support President Obama when I could. Well, for the second time in 11 weeks I’ve found an issue on which I can support the actions of President Barack Obama (I largely agree with Obama’s policy on Afghanistan, which was the first time I could agree with him). The rescue of Richard Phillips, Captain of the Maersk Alabama, which was hijacked by Somali pirated last week, was a good thing. Obama allowed the Navy the freedom to take the action they did which thankfully saved the life of the Captain.

Obama is correct that piracy off the coast of Somalia must be dealt with. Unfortunately, others around the world have paid these pirates enormous sums of money (piracy costs as much as 16 billion a year) which of course only encourages more piracy. This situation was resolved without paying any ransom, and there are now three less pirates in the world. My only hope is that next time we don’t take so many days dithering around before we take decisive action

For more blog reaction GO HERE.