One word of caution for readers: I attended a school where most of my classes were graded on a curve, so I don’t do grade inflation.

Overall: C As someone who tries to adhere to the admonition to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger”, I see little harm in listening more and talking to all the players on the world stage; however, implied in that admonition is forceful talk and action when required. In this light, there’s been little talk or anger of consequence on the national security front in the first 100 days, despite all that has transpired. Considering the President’s inexperience with national security issues, and the deluge of problems he’s faced, a passing grade is a praiseworthy achievement.

National Security Strategy: Incomplete, and my sense is the due date on this assignment is not far off. I suspect that Gen. Jones is laboring mightily on one, but excessive delays may send a message that global security problems are something to be reacted to and not planned for. You can’t shape the world if you don’t have any blueprints from which to work.

Maritime Strategy: B With the current strategy being relatively new and day-to-day operations continuing to align with the strategy, the working assumption is that the last order will remain in force. I have some concerns, however, that resources may continue to be short and not necessarily optimized for the strategy. Increased counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa are promising, though they remain a treatment for the symptoms rather than a cure.

Afghanistan/Pakistan: A Efforts in Af/Pak have been well played to date. Pressure is up on the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Washington seems to have finally convinced Lahore that they can’t just look the other way on the problems building in their western provinces. The nation building and stabilization proposals have promise, but the execution is in doubt.

Iraq: B While the current plan differs little from the previous administration’s, I was not enthusiastic about it then, either. Right now in Iraq, to get an A one must only not screw it up or allow someone else to screw it up. Recent upticks in bombings and Sunni discontent threaten to screw it up, and there are no signs the current administration is reassessing.

The Middle East: B While the Administration has not undercut Israel’s desire that any Palestinian state recognize Israel and has voiced its support for a two-state solution, the resumption of funding for Iranian-backed Hamas and efforts to make an end run around legal limits are troubling and unlikely to produce any useful concessions. In addition, with Iran pulling most of the strings on the Palestinian side, it’s unlikely the Administration will be able to make a deal possible without taking on Iran.

North Korea/Iran: D The Administration appears to have resigned itself to Iran, and as a result, North Korea and probably Syria going nuclear. Scaling back plans for land-based missile defense only magnify the potential consequences of the failure. Lots of talk was dedicated to increasing dialogue and trying new ideas, but nothing significant has been produced—or even proposed—to date. North Korea and Iran desperately want to be recognized as being legitimate and influential, so in that context silence is assent and expanding ties is approval. The good news for the White House is, this grade is probably capped at a “B”.

China: C The Impeccable incident was a strong signal from the PRC that America is not necessarily welcome to operate in China’s desired sphere of influence. The response from Adm. Blair that the incident represented a serious problem was the right one, but it should have come from the mouth of the President. In addition, the signal that the U.S. would not publicly hold the PRC accountable over a safe issue like human rights leaves me wondering in what area the Administration would ever express criticism. In the positive column, however, the U.S. continues to press China to explain the purposes behind the rapid expansion of its naval forces and maintain an increased presence in the region to counterweight China’s growing influence. The signals are mixed and inconsistent between Defense and State, which is never good.

Russia: D In 100 days the Administration has managed to give away its best leverage against Russia—missile defense and NATO expansion—and probably send a signal that Russia has a free hand in its near abroad. Russian meddling in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have gone unacknowledged in Washington, and if Russia consummates a de facto takeover of any of these states, this grade will tip to an F.

Posted by Chris van Avery in Foreign Policy, Maritime Security, Soft Power

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  • UltimaRatioReg


    How’s about this?

    Maritime Strategy: D Botched NCA handling of Maersk Atlanta situation saved by the initiative of on-scene commander and CO USS Bainbridge. Small incident casts a big shadow.

    NK/Iran: F Does not realize that both Iran and NK are most happy to engage in dialogue, as the people doing the talking aren’t the same ones doing the enriching. A fait accompli for both countries, who seem far better at power politics than we currently are.

    Russia: D- Russia WILL absorb Georgia, and go after the big prize, Ukraine, as long as it knows that the US will not interfere. Who’s to stop them? NATO?

    Overall Grade: C-/D+ Has set the wrong tone too many times in foreign affairs already, emboldening enemies (Iran, NK, Venezuela) and greatly concerning friends (Israel, Georgia, Poland).

  • Hayball


    Who’s grouchy now?!

  • UltimaRatioReg


    You shouldn’t make me laugh with a mouth full of morning coffee! 🙂

  • Jay


    Humor me, as much as you can, in an unclass environment “Botched NCA handling of Maersk Atlanta situation saved by the initiative of on-scene commander and CO USS Bainbridge.”

    Botched? How?

    Looked like it went fine — BAINBRIDGE arrived (after P-3 & other assets tried to assess). Hostage negotations — with the FBI experts. After that broke down — mil solution worked.

    Pls tell me you aren’t subscribing to that “I heard from a SEAL friend that the op was delayed 36 hours” nonsense I saw floating on other blogs…

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Now, just what can I tell you about this when it seems you have it all figured out?

    Hostage negotiations with FBI “experts” (as if the FBI has experts at negotiating with Somali pirates). Negotiations with “tribal elders”. Entirely inappropriate. Foolhardy. Naive. Terrorism as a law enforcement issue. Treating the vessel as a crime scene, as if that will have any impact whatsoever on the problem of piracy and the kidnapping of AMCITs. Ill-advised. Slow. Indecisive. Botched. A propaganda coup for the pirates and America’s enemies, until the shots were fired. We have protocols for such situations that do NOT involve that foolishness. Had Team 6 not taken the shot, that boat may still be floating out there.

    NCA approach to this and many other issues, not just maritime, reflect the most fundamental of misconceptions and misjudgments of our enemies, and our interests. It is fundamentally wrong.

  • Byron

    URR: Concur

  • jwithington

    Atlanta? We’re talking about the Alabama, right? The American vessel attacked by pirates?

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Midn Withington,

    Yep. Maersk Alabama. One o’ them southern states that begins with “A”. Like Alabama. Or Atlanta.

  • Zen

    Grades after 100 days?

    It took much longer than 100 days for these problems to arise; it surely will take more than 100 days to fix. Additionally, many of these subjects are interconnected in ways that don’t easily lend themselves to grading.

    One of the biggest problems is repairing the damage done to foreign relations in the previous administration.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “One of the biggest problems is repairing the damage done to foreign relations in the previous administration.”

    I smell a cup of excuse being brewed….. this administration’s missteps and those if its Sec State are THIS administration’s problem. Nobody mentioned here that 100 days should be sufficient to “fix” any of the problems being faced. But they need to be faced. Time for big boy undies for the NCA and NSC. They wanted to drive? They’re driving.

  • Jay

    Zen — grades with these probs make more sense after two years, maybe longer.

    URR — Are you really using “Terrorism” as an arguement here? Well, I guess if you want to follow that line — you can justify anything you would like to see used as a response.

    Piracy is robbery, kidnapping (and, in some cases murder) at sea. All are crimes.

    It was and is entirely appropriate to call in the FBI, to negotiate the Captain’s release — Plan A. It was and is entirely appropriate to have Plan B as a back up (SEALs, etc. getting in position & learning as much as possible about the situation and setting the conditions for Plan B to work).

    As to timelines — I think this one was handled in fairly short order. I am sure you are aware of the logistics & planning times & challenges, especially given your resume on the blog.

  • Hayball

    URR and Byron: You need to rescreen “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”today, you are definitely out of sorts. Caution: “Wee Willie Winky” would just make you start biting your own leg.

    Zen: When you relieve the watch, you own the situation. Wailing “He left me a bag of worms, the bastard!” is just a waste of time. It’s called complete, inescapable, total responsibility.

    When you are the man of top of the pyramid, the power of the office can get you almost anything, if you play your cards right.
    Except time.

    3 years and a few months until the next election. Ask for anything but time.

    The enemy gets a vote.


  • Jay

    Y’all can wikipedia it — the timeline is this: Pirates take ship 08 Apr. BAINBRIDGE dispatched to the scene, 08 Apr. 09 Apr –BAINBRIDGE arrives on scene. 10 Apr — Capt attempts to escape, unsuccessfully. 12 Apr — Action taken, Capt rescued.

    (Obviously, a lot more packed inside the timeline, but still, pretty darn quick)

  • Fouled Anchor

    “still, pretty darn quick” – Yeah, unless you’re the hostage I would gather.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “Piracy is robbery, kidnapping (and, in some cases murder) at sea. All are crimes.”

    You forgot fund-raising for Al Qaeda.

    “It was and is entirely appropriate to call in the FBI, to negotiate the Captain’s release — Plan A. ”

    We will disagree on this. It is a weak and equivocating response. Indicative of a weak and equivocating policy borne of an unrealistic and Pollyanna view of the world, our enemies, and our allies.

    As far as logistics, planning times, and challenges for such an op, those are the things of contingency OPLANS, that are standing by to be executed with a “go” signal.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “The enemy gets a vote.”

    He does? But he wasn’t in the OPT and his name isn’t on the power point brief!

  • Hayball


    This one gets a “sloppy, but effective” on the comment line next to the “B-” for Government of the US.

    Captain and crew of Maersk Alabama get an “A”.

    Not that there actually is a report card. Or that any of us has input to the gradebook, which doesn’t exist, either.

    Election day, however…

    (Cue the “Sixty Minutes” sound effect)…tic,tic,tic,tic,tic,…..

  • Hayball

    “But he wasn’t in the OPT and his name isn’t on the power point brief!”

    I know. Sometimes life is just an ole mama dawg with big teeth and a bad disposition.

  • Jay

    URR — Wow.

    When you make statements like “As far as logistics, planning times, and challenges for such an op, those are the things of contingency OPLANS, that are standing by to be executed with a “go” signal.” — you lull people who don’t know any better that we have a plan for every situation, assets anywhere we need them at any given time, and that intell and distance don’t mean anything. Not to mention real eye-balls on the situation and patience.

    Now I am curious as to what you think of our response to the EP-3 incident off Hainin some years back. Really curious as to what you would have *wanted* to do in that situation.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Despite my shortcomings, I have done some work with planning and executing short-fuze missions. It isn’t that time and distance, or assets don’t take time. It is that, knowing that, there is planning aforethought so that what needs to be on a short string is, in fact, there.

    Here’s a ferinstance: The firing battery that goes with the fly-away battalion at 2d MarDiv at CLNC has their stuff staged, inventoried, and maintained in readiness for the 30-day period in which they are assigned as part of RDF. This even includes some pallets of expendables and Class IX parts. Or used to. The battery had 24 hours to be wheels up out of Pope AFB or MCAS CPNC, which included notifying, mustering, loading, and road travel to the APOD. Why? It was all pre-planned and scripted. And rehearsed often.

    Now, if we can bring 30-odd vehicles, and six howitzer tubes in 24 hours, perhaps Tm 6 can get out of where they are somewhat faster? And you can bet that an AMCIT hostage situation was in the notebook. We have been talking about the Somali piracy issue for many years.

    The P-3 situation? What’s that got to do with Somalia? What was done with that happened in closed diplomatic channels, likely. Never happened aga

  • UltimaRatioReg

    *Burma Shave*

    Never happened again.

  • Jay

    URR — Your points are understood, however, since this was really a remote area, and at sea, I think there are magnitudes of difficulty.

    Your troops and equipment were on short notice and well practiced. They went from staging to the APOE to the APOD. Or could be landed somewhere else.

    And, unless there were other assets in the area, the SEALs were going to go to where again?

    Let me hazard a guess that the MAERSK ALABAMA is not a great mission staging platform. Even if the SEALs could have brought everything they would have liked to have with them.

    We would be lucky if an SSGN or another sub was around.

    If not, since, BAINBRIDGE seemed to get there fastest (perhaps not first — nod to the Aviators…), with robust support (until an Amphib could get there), it just made sense to use her.

    Granted, all we (meaning those of us not involved in the op, but armcharing admiraling it) had on CNN and other networks was some cell phone calls (and the networks attempt to replay the scenario with computer generated scenes).

    I am sure there are “the ship has been taken” and how to retake it — well practiced scenarios.

    This situation posed an interesting wrinkle (the lifeboat, the hostage in close quarters with the pirates).

    It is the wrinkles that slip you up.

    There is no other way to judge this event, I think, than by the outcome. Simply put, success. Your D grade is simply unfair and inaccurate.

    But now the larger and more difficult areas to address — how to deal with “piracy” on a larger scale.

    I’ll wait for your EP-3 answer. If you want, admin can give you my e-mail address & we can just continue this LtCol to CDR.


  • Byron

    A thought from my aged brain percolated through with the coffee this morning (and remember, I started out as a descendant of Cajuns who was drinking cafe au lait at the age of 5, so my coffee is a mite on the strong side): I expect that a great deal of the time spent was getting a platform in place that had the right angles of fire for the SEAL shooters. Second, while all SEALs are excellent marksman, there aren’t that many qualified snipers in a platoon, which means they might have had to bring in one or two more from another platoon. This was a really crappy target: big boat moving up and down, and a hair side to side, and a little boat that was moving a LOT.

    So some 12 to 18 hours could have been spent just getting the stage set to get the right conditions for the money shot. Just guesswork on this old civilians part 😉

  • Hayball


    Re: percolation and aged brains, I so know what you are talking about.

    Re: last paragraph your last post, yup, more fishing than hunting on that trip, just might be.

    You have learned much, but you are not a Jedi yet. I mean that in the most complimentary way possible, both to you and the SEALS.


  • Byron

    Not me sir, I’m not even a Padawan…I’m the rankest amateur amongst the professionals…and speaking of rank, I’m going to take a shower 🙂