Gates Stays

It’s all but official now that Robert Gates will be staying on as secretary of defense after Obama takes office.:

[Senior adviser David] Axelrod said Obama enjoys and invites strong opinions and there will be no “potted plants” in his Cabinet. 

Gates has been negotiating with Obama emissaries over his deputies — some will be retained, and some new — and how the Pentagon will be run.

It’s obvious that Richard Danzig will be getting an understudy’s job somewhere in the mix.

I like the move because Gates hasn’t hesitated to crack down on incompetence, particularly in the Air Force. As for those lefties saying that the new national security team looks too hawkish for their taste, they must not have been paying attention. Obama told anyone who would listen that he intends to pivot attention to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ahoy, Galrahn

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Galrahn weighs in with a provocative analysis of the situation at sea around the Horn of Africa and declares that the USN’s approach is working precisely because it’s encouraging other counties to deploy ships and work together:

The US policy has been to do nothing and allow the development of an international response. We are witnessing the slow and sometimes painful strategic gains of this policy, and it all good for the United States. Let it develop and feel good about it, because for once we are witness to our nations maritime strategy producing our intended national goals. It is obviously very difficult to stomach in the rapid information flow of the information age, but the desired result is not the United States to manage this problem unilaterally, rather we want to solve this very difficult problem in a multinational way, and we find ourselves on the verge of our desired national objective to dealing with this problem.

OK, but I question some of the logic along the way, namely:

Not a single US flagged ship has even been approached by pirates (one might say they are intentionally avoided), and not a single US mariner has been taken hostage. After a year of what is often described as sophisticated attacks, not a single action has been taken against the US due to the threat of US response. The United States still lacks any reason to get involved against Somali piracy, and has responded appropriately by doing nothing.

Well, that probably has more to do with the pirates’ lack of opportunity than any fear they have of the US. Bear in mind that US-flagged ships constitute just a bit over 1 percent of the world’s merchant fleet. That’s right: according to the most recent statistics, Old Glory flies over just 347 of the 31,477 vessels engaged in hauling goods. That said, we clearly do have a dog in the fight, as shipping companies are beginning to point out:

Frontline Ltd., which sails five to 10 tankers of crude a month through the treacherous Gulf of Aden, said it was negotiating a change of shipping routes with some of its customers, including oil giants Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Chevron, a move that could boost costs by up to 40 percent.

In case you haven’t noticed, the economy’s a bit fragile right now. Big increases in the cost of transport won’t help.

Meanwhile, in the good-news department, both the Russians and the Saudis plan to contribute more hulls to the overwatch force, and the Germans might join in later. The Indians, meanwhile, are enjoying the prestige that comes with having shot up a pirate whose occupants were dumb enough to have fired an RPG at a frigate. As Galrahn points out, however, they’re sensing a bit of a leadership vacuum at sea.

Supply Issues

The US is trying to find new supply routes into Afghanistan because the Taliban and their friends are causing trouble for convoys on both sides of the Khyber Pass:

A week ago, a bold Taliban raid on a NATO supply convoy on the Pakistani side of the pass forced authorities to temporarily close traffic through Torkham [the first Afghan border town]. For days after the attack on the 23-truck convoy, many of the hundreds of truckers who regularly traverse this treacherous route were stranded, forced to watch their profits dwindle. Pakistani authorities reopened the NATO supply route through Torkham on Monday after assigning extra security to the convoys.

But on Tuesday, a day after the reopening, dozens of truck drivers seemed far from certain that their troubles were over. The attack in the Khyber tribal area on the Pakistani side of the border last week was one in a series in recent months that has cost NATO suppliers millions in losses this year. In March, insurgents set fire to 40 to 50 NATO oil tankers near Torkham. A month later, Taliban raiders made off with military helicopter engines valued at about $13 million.

The solution in part lies in running supplies through Russia, which illustrates why getting into a pissing match over Georgia or missile defense is not such a hot idea at the moment.

A New Toy

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US Special Forces has acquired a new UAV, with a twist: It’s a helicopter. And it’s got some real capability:

“The Hummingbird is designed to fly 2,500 nautical miles with endurance in excess of 24 hours and a payload of more than 300 pounds. The autonomously-flown A160 is 35 feet long with a 36-foot rotor diameter,” according to Hummingbird-maker Boeing’s rather brief entry on the craft. “It will fly at an estimated top speed of 140 knots at ceilings up to 30,000 feet, which is about 10,000 feet higher than conventional helicopters can fly today.”

Surveillance, strike, supply, even casualty evac all appear to be potential tasks. Cool.

Patience

Obama intends to wait until 2009 before asking for repeal of the don’t-ask-don’t-tell. Sullivan disagrees:

I understand the need not to repeat Clinton’s errors, especially at the very beginning of an administration. Delaying and consulting is fine. But the way in which gay servicemembers, risking their lives for their country as we speak, are still regarded as radioactive in the Democratic establishment, enabled by the internalized homophobia of the Human Rights Campaign, is appalling.

To me, however, this is a wise choice. If the administration and the active-duty military are together in seeking repeal, there will be no room for the Republican hard core to oppose them.

Buy Them Off?

Naval War College faculty member Nikolas K. Gvosdev has an idea for dealing with the pirates:

It is interesting to note that the historical comparison with the Barbary Pirates gives us both models–force and accommodation. President Washington, for instance, did negotiate tribute arrangements to protect American shipping. Even after the “shores of Tripoli” incident, the U.S. would alternate between using the stick and the carrot.

There has been some interesting discussion about the possible applicability of the Petraeus model — an approach to tribal elders in the coastal villages about forming “sons of Somalia” groups that might be paid to act as “coastal security” — whether there might be impetus for such a move remains to be seen.

Whatever works, I say.

Pirate Petri Dish

Josh Marshall, no military guru he, is nonetheless onto something as he looks briefly at the piracy situation:

Historically, the rising incidence of piracy has frequently, if not always, been a sign of the receding reach of whatever great power has taken on responsibility for policing the sea lanes. The decline of the Hellenistic monarchies in the Mediterranean before the rise of Rome. Caribbean piracy during Spain’s long slide into decrepitude and before England decided she lost more than she gained from it.

The Barbary pirates are an exception, given that they ran amuck when the Royal Navy was at the zenith of its ascendency in the Med, but, yes. And the fecklessness of the folks running today’s USN doesn’t help.