Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Absolutely Disgraceful

I had been meaning to write something well thought out and completely analytical on possible outcomes in Middle Eastern diplomacy as practiced by the US since the start of the Arab Spring, and I'll hope to write it up sooner rather than later, but this article just completely blew my mind.

It relates to a recent event where a US Navy ship opened fire on a fishing vessel close to the UAE.  1 civilian was killed and another three were injured.


US News and World Report apparently harbors some of the biggest idiots or most morally repugnant individuals in the business.  Just to give you a taste of what I mean, the title of the article is "With Shooting, U.S. Navy Ship Sends Message to Iran, Al Qaeda."

And what might that message be?  Well, obviously it's don't fuck with the USA or else.

Else what, you might ask.  Apparently, that else is shooting unarmed civilians.

I can't believe that this sort of garbage gets placed in prominent newspapers.  Its absolutely and mind bogglingly terrible in every sense.

This was the opinion about the 'shooting' (or murder if you consider that it was done not by us military personnel but a 'security team' on a merchant marine vessel) apparently:
U.S. officials "don't want to do anything that further ratchets up the tension," he says. "Still, if people of ill intent were thwarted, the message is: You can try, but we will stop you."
So you can try to attack the US, but they will kill innocent civilians.  Yeah.  That's a strong message to send to the world.  I feel as though this sort of blatant jingoistic propaganda is not only out of touch with reality, it is damaging to our standing in the world and our nation's moral fiber.

In what way is this activity even remotely acceptable?  This is being coached in the language of, "well we tried not to kill everyone on the civilian craft but they were threatening us!" as though that would excuse this sort of behavior ANYWHERE in the world.  I wonder if there is a parallel instance of this action in the US?  I bet it would also be swept under the rug as 'no big deal, rules of engagement and such,' right?

Or perhaps the case of George Zimmerman would suggest otherwise.  And he at least has the excuse that he's in his neighborhood!

This whole thing is just insane and morally repugnant on so many different levels, but because the rules of engagement were applied (and lets be real, what evidence is there of this actually being true?) this whole thing is liable to be shrugged off by America and be just another piece of kindling to the global fire of hatred at what we do.

If a 'message' was really sent, its that we are so afraid of you and so completely batshit insane that killing civilians is somehow a good thing to do.  Not just civilians, ALLIED civilians.  And it wasn't wrong at all according to right honorable John T Bennett.  This is completely indefensible.

There will be hell to pay for things like this...but only if your Syrian, apparently.


  1. Such is the state of the US media corporate propaganda machine. And God forbid letting anything like al Jazeera in to muddy the waters.

    The War in Vietnam had its iconic photograph of a naked girl running down a country road screaming in terror.

    And IMHO the latest War in Iraq.



  2. PFK,
    Was the US ship in international waters?
    I assume being 30 miles from uae confirms this?
    However i'm not aware of the rules in the Gulf.
    All security is based upon zones of security-did the fishing boat enter an exclusion zone ??
    Stupidity is often a 2 way street.
    I will look forward to more info on this event.

  3. Amazing to consider the whole mass of dubious assumptions behind this particular link's "thought process" . . .

    In terms of "counterfactuals" consider this . . .


    Garad, the "pirate king" is a former British soldier . . .

  4. Well...

    I can't honestly tell from this article - and I agree completely that it contains some whoppers of assumptions, many of them ridiculous - whether this small craft turned out to be a Somali Shin'yō or what.

    On a technical level a vessel in international waters is a small nation, and has every right to use force to defend itself.

    But on the "smart international diplomacy" level, wouldn't it have made more sense to send out an armed boarding party to check out what the hell this boat was doing before jacking a round into the Ma Deuce and lighting it up?

    This seems like a seagoing version of the ridiculous checkpoint and random-light-up-the-crowd-after-the-land-mine-goes-off shootings that made our guys so popular in places like Iraq and A'stan...

    As a GI I loves me some force protection.

    But as a civilian, THIS level of force-protection often seems a violently counterproductive outgrowth of the "don't-send-a-man-where-you-can-send-a-bullet" style of warfare we've been lovin' since 1942...

  5. I saw this coming:


    "The fishermen, hospitalised with gunshot wounds after the incident near Dubai’s Jebel Ali port, said on Tuesday that they received no warning before the U.S. craft opened fire, and that their craft had attempted to avoid any contact with it."

    Maybe this won't go away this time. I think the Navy done gone and screwed the pooch.

    Just consider this statement that the Navy spokesman said:

    "Our ships have an inherent right to self-defence against lethal threats."

    I think that's reasonable and something that most people can agree upon. But since when is a fishing vessel coming close to your ship a 'leathal threat?' We can't possibly be this scared of everything? Its not an Iranian ship and I can only imagine how many hundreds of other ships are going around this vessel.

    I can only see this as anything other than murder if the US is actually at or on the brink of war.


    I'm hoping that ABC News is just misquoting someone here, but they say the US Navy is operating under the assumption that there are already mines in place. WTF?

  6. Boy Oh Boy, Issa, Yusuf, and Maryam!

    Does no one remember the USS Cole's undoing? A suicide motor boat? I bet they came up with new improved ROE's, doncha' think?

    These boats are oilers and dry goods tenders that perform Unreps (underway replenishments), they are crewed mostly by USNS (merchant Marine seamen. I have been on board these puppies four times. Three times whilst
    practicing fast rope initiated ship takedowns. the fourth time, I and my sidekick were the producer/director combo that choreographed the above.

    As such, we spent 24 hours aboard. There was a USN contingent of 15 USN personnel, attached. One OIC/Helo Ops Landing coordinator. The rest were mostly comm pukes, a large part of which were women, young women Hot women.

    So, nowadays, you have to have two able bodied male sailors that can crew the 50 cals., port and starboard during a potential attack. Who says these guys were innocent fishermen? did they have innocent fishermen painted un the side of the Hull? Could they not have been Terriss freebooters or Iranian navy (not bloody likely) testing the reflexes of the crew? Was the OIC of the det. supposed to take a chance on romance, should the small craft have beared closer? Did the ROE's feature warning shots? ..... stupid, and wish to die, if this was a pre-light up obligation!

    Were I a Terris Honcho, given the fact that main ships of the line would not allow any small craft to get closer, A ship such as this would be my obvious choice to approach, given the possible USNS and USN conflict during a time sensitive (To say the least) decision making process.

    Oh Chief, The ship could not send a boarding party to check out the ship. For one, no time, if the small craft still approached, and two, the det's probably not trained to do this given its' size.

    Big army is lobbying to get rid of the USMC as a second land force. Were they to be successful, the marines would have to go back on Navy ships, and navy bases as in days of yore. I couldn't think of a better platform to serve on, Luxury up the ying yang, decent chow, girls, girls, girls, (remember There ain't nothing like a dame.)

    Furthermore, there would be no mixup on ROE's. Fisher Folk of the world, you have nothing to fear except lead oversaturation syndrome..Blub Glub, Motherfuckers!

  7. Fast: No time? To put a dinky little zodiac in the water? How the fuck long would that take, especially if they had the thing already hanging on a crane. Winch it into the water, fast-rope the boat party down the side, presto, no dead (apparently) citizens of an at-least-notional U.S. ally.

    And if you're sailing through potentially hostile (but not certainly hostile) waters and you don't have some way of figuring out whether that cigarette boat is Ahab the A-rab getting ready to detonate on your ass, or the Sheik of the Burning Sands of Dubai and his hot twin 18-year-old nieces out for a day's sunbathing without putting half-inch holes in somebody?

    NOT smart.

    So no question that there's a possibility of a Cole-type suicide craft here. But here's the problem - there's ALWAYS a possibility of something awful happening. What distinguishes a supposedly-sensible grownup from a gibbering loon is taking the time, and the risk, to figure out whether the possibility is a probability or even a certainty.

    Again, I've been in the position of the guy inside the flak jacket, and I understand about not wanting to let some gomer with a lunge mine inside the wire. But I'm not that guy anymore - I'm John Q. Public that wants to keep his country as a potential ally for non-lunatic nations. And making non-U.S. folks think of us as a bunch of cowardly, trigger-happy goofballs? Probably not a good way to go about that.

    I really think we - the U.S. military - need to rethink our obsession with force protection; IMO it's getting a trifle out of hand, as in this case...

  8. 1. Were warning shots fired? I am not a fan of warning shots, on the land, I would never allow my soldiers to use that step in the escalation of force (for reasons not worth discussing here), but, on the sea, I think a warning shot should be pretty freakin effective against anyone who might claim, "I didn't hear their warnings." I am going to assume warning shots were fired, and for some reason, the boat kept coming. (if there were no warning shots, than I would like to know what "several warnings" consisted of and how we confirmed that the warnings were received). If warnings shots were fired, why did the boat continue getting closer??

    2. What was the threat level at the time? There was mention of an intel report of Iranians moving some explosives around. What was the crew told, were they told to expect an attack? And how often does this happen. I have no doubt that Iran is using surrogates to harass the US ships, just to fuck with them, but to also test responses as part of their war planning (yes, I have no doubt they will do something crazy if Israel strikes Iran's nuc facilities). How much was this crew on edge?

    3. Yah, the idea that we are "sending a signal to would be attackers" is silly, considering anyone who is going to ram a boat full of explosives is already prepared to die. If any signal is being sent, it is, "you can try, but it probably won't work, so try something else."

    4. Hey Chief, you can be on that boarding party. No thanks, brother. There is a reason we always put local nationals at the outer rings of security, because they are the ones that will get blown up when a bomb is trying to get in. In this case, I say distance is your friend, live and let live at sea, but don't get too close, there is plenty of open ocean out there.

    5. How close was the boat? My bet, pretty damn close. If you can engage and kill a person with a .50 cal, at high sea, I doubt that was the maximum effective range of the weapon system.

    I just hate arm chair QB when we don't know all the facts. Lots of facts out there still floating in the gulf. I would be interesting to read the investigation, you know there will be one. And of course, this is where I think we fail. We have to do our own internal investigation, but I would welcome investigators from the local government to do an honest assessment, and quickly. It isn't enough for us to excuse ourselves of blame, if everything is legit, we need to let others tell our story for us.

  9. The death was unfortunate. But the USS Cole was a hard lesson. And I am sure the public clamor would have been a hundred times as bad if the Rappahannock had gone up in flames. And it would have been a funeral byre for all aboard since she was carrying in the neighborhood of 6.5 million gallons of fuel oil and jet fuel. So I'm with fasteddie and bg.

    I am told warning shots were fired and they included tracers which are hard not to notice. Prior to warning shots the ship sounded the klaxon. They also used a loudspeaker to warn the boat off. Hopefully that warning was repeated in both Arabic and Farsi - but for some reason I doubt that - but you would think that a security team on board a high risk naval oiler in such a high risk area would be taught at least some rudimentary commands in those languages.

    I see no way even a zodiac could have been launched that quickly. If she had been, what could she have done if the smallboy had been a threat?

    But maybe the Navy should develop something better than the 90-year old 50 cal to deter another Cole disaster? Most of the non-lethal means I have heard of seem like they are only good for crowd control and not for a determined suicide bomber in a high speed craft. I think they have some good floating barriers they put out when in foreign ports, but this ship was underway wasn't it? We need something better though (I can hear now ten million veteran's voices crying out not to get rid of the beloved Ma Deuce). All of the ocean chokepoints that the Navy operates in are crowded with small boats. In addition to the Arabian/Persian Gulf, many other of those chokepoints have potential for a suicide attack - cases in point are the Strait of Malacca, the Bab-el-Mandeb passage to the Red Sea, the Dardanelles and Bosporus, and the Strait of Gibraltar.

  10. I think there are two important things to remember.

    1) This is thousands of miles from the US or a war zone for that matter.
    2) If the threat was so high, why was this ship alone? With the largest navy in the world and two carrier battle groups in the area, why was this vulnerable and essential vessel all by itself?
    3) The rationale for the US Navy to be in the Gulf is to protect civilian craft from attack and make sure that no one is threatening them unnecessarily.

    Seriously, this is a screwup and I am very skeptical of any US investigation into this matter. There is way too much on the line for the actual events to be honestly reported. We have a US military vessel killing civilians under dubious circumstances at best.

    I don't begrudge a soldier the right to self-defense, and I've been in situations where it is very unclear whether or not we should kill this sucker. The problem is that its never what it seems. The guy digging by the road is really just taking a shit and trying to be a good citizen by covering it up. The shady guys on the hill are really just shepherds and the rocket is just an oddly shaped log. War happens to be a rough time to discover that you, as a civilian, do not have the freedom of movement you might want or feel entitled to. BUT THIS IS NOT WAR. We are not at war with Iran, we are not at war with India or the UAE. We are not at war with fishing boats or at war with speed craft. There are bases in Afghanistan where soldiers walk around with their weapons unloaded, what are our ships doing with .50 calls locked and loaded in the Gulf? Are naval ships always in some sort of odd high alert mode?

    Furthermore, this 'embarked security team' are not soldiers (I'll gladly take this back if someone can find out more about who these jokers are). As far as I can tell these are contractors, and these douches are not good at restraint. They kill people and are not known for their restraint. These guys do not deserve the benefit of the doubt IMO. Furthermore, they could have toasted that boat from several clicks out with a .50 cal so to say that boat was close is not obvious.

    Look, there were probably errors on both ships. But its on the US Navy to be better, just like its on the US Army. This loss of life is tragic and unnecessary.

  11. PF, Until I seem some evidence to support your theory that this is a "screw up," I am inclined to give the Navy the benefit of the doubt that they followed their rules of engagement and that this just a kinetic version of a tragic boating accident. And your point about the "embarked security team" introduces a prejudicial bias that seems to be intended to remind us of the idiocy of Blackwater in Fallujah. I am not sure if that is relevant at this point, again, we know little facts.

    Totally agree that .50 cal is an old school solution to a new world problem. Sonic weapons are very effective, they have been used by the Navy against Somali pirates.

    And do you really believe we are not at "war" with Iran? We are at war with Iran in the same way we were at war with the Soviet Union for decades. It is all in the shadows, but just because tanks aren't clashing, there is still a clash of wills, and military is serving their purpose on both sides by attempting to influence adversary public policy. (you've been around, do you not honestly believe that Iranian surrogates kill US soldiers in Iraq and AF?)

  12. bg,
    when did a clash of wills fulfill the definition of war??
    did u get this as a quote from-ACT OF VALOR?

  13. Re the id of the gun crew: The Navy usually does (or did) have a small (4-6 man) security detachment aboard USNS ships. Perhaps they have now replaced them with contractors or with merchant marine crew members as there has been a lot of talk about phasing out these active duty security teams. They are or were typically just MA ratings (Navy equivalent of an MP).

    Many Navy (or Coast Guard) security detachments in or near ports are in small (30-40 ft), hi-speed, armed patrol boats. IMHO an escort of one of these would have been a better option if it had met the Rappahannock just beyond the Hormuz narrows. Sonic blasters sound promising. And didn't Raytheon field a heat ray with the Army???

  14. Pentagon timeline:

    2:50pm The vessel, a motorized skiff, sighted at 5 miles, approaching Rappahannock from starboard (right) side at 20-25 knots.

    2:51pm The skiff now at 1200 yards when it turned inbound, headed directly for the Rappahannock

    2:51pm Rappahannock begins first phase of non-lethal warnings, radio, flashing lights. At 900 yards, the crew on the skiff ignores warnings and continues course directly at Rappahannock.

    2:52pm Now at 150 yards, skiff continues to ignore non-lethal warnings and continues course at Rappahannock.

    2:52pm As the skiff approaches 100 yards, the Rappahannock security team opens fire with a 50-caliber machine gun, killing one and wounding three others on board. The skiff slows for the first time, turns and circles around the stern and moves slowly up the port (left) side.

    2:53pm About 90 yards off the Rappahannock, the skiff comes to a stop. Rappahannock goes to full speed to put distance between the two vessels. The skiff is then seen departing the area.

  15. "We are at war with Iran in the same way we were at war with the Soviet Union for decades."

    And you'll note that we were very, VERY careful not to shoot at, much less kill, Soviet personnel. For the simple reason that turning a cold war into a hot one when both sides have nuclear weapons is a very, VERY bad idea.

    Now we've just spent a decade re-proving the maxim that next to going in against a Sicilian when death is on the line the next-worst idea is getting involved in a land war in Asia. So we'd want another one of these...why?

    And I've BEEN in that boarding party, bg; I was one of the poor simple bastards required to go inspect the vehicles coming through the gate, armed with my little mirror on the pole to look underneath for the explosives knowing that if they WERE there that I was gonna get the posthumous Bronze Star for saving all my buddies inside the firebase... I'm not saying that I liked it or that is was a great idea. What it was was better than being like our Soviet enemies, who were willing to shoot first and ask questions never. That was supposed to be the POINT of being a GI; that we WEREN'T the Bad Guys who just killed people for looking at them the wrong way. That we took chances ourselves rather than kill innocent people.

    Fuck, guys, we can sit around and argue technicalities and practicalities and who-did-what-to-whom all day long.

    But the bottom line is that we've spent the last decade getting the reputation as a heavily armed whacko that shoots Asians because we're afraid of them. That's not a good way to increase our geopolitical influence in South Asia, and I would suggest that we should be thinking - as a nation, as citizens, as armed services - of ways not to explain or excuse this but to prevent it happening again.

    Not because we want to be fuzzy-huggy kumbaya singers, but because people and nations tend to distrust and arm themselves against those people and nations that seem to be dangerously reckless in their use of armed force, and that generally tends to make life more difficult.

  16. To all,
    todays usa today reports that the US Navy did not issue warnings.
    What's a poor boy to believe?
    Well i for one will say-why not chop the water line with the 50 and just sink the fish boat. Result couldda been achieved w/o loss of life.
    But of course i wasn't there, and it's hard to second guess a guy on a gun.
    I never did get the Tonkin incident digested, so i doubt that this incident will ever get resolved.

  17. jim, didn't see the movie.

    I don't think the definition of warfare has changed, but what it looks like will always evolve. Does an electronic attack of critical infrastructure count? Does having surrogate forces (that you train, fund and task) kill armed combatants count? I say yes, it is a war. They are attacking our center of gravity (fear of attrition and quagmire), and we are attacking theirs in regards to their nuclear efforts. I have no doubt in my mind that the next successful attack on the US, by either a nation or non-nation state, will come in form of a computer/infrastructure attack. Will people die? Not directly, but the economic toll will be catastrophic. Is that warfare?


    Thanks for the timeline. That does sound like a crappy use of escalation of force, I would have preferred to see some better nonlethal warnings. I understand that we can't outfit every ship with sonic weapons, etc, but I wonder if there was a good reason no warning shots were fired before aiming center mass. That is what I would like to learn. Sounds to me like either some bad training or bad ROE (either way, a "screw up" is looking more and more likely).


    Fair enough. I am just tired of the whole thing. I think a lot of us feel that way. We've screwed this thing up so bad, my life isn't worth being the one bright shiny act of demonstrated compassion that will never make up for past or future acts of stupidity.

  18. I spent about a year if my life floating around on Navy ships in the Persian gulf. This was before the Cole but even then we prepared for the possibility of some kind of small boat attack. As always, security posture is driven by circumstances and in the Gulf one is never at the lowest state of alert.

    The gulf is a very crowded piece of water and there was never really a time I can remember when there wasn't a dhow, fishing vessel or some other boat within visual range of our flattop. Everyone knew the rules of the road though, and although there have been incidents when warnings were given, and a couple of cases where warning shots were fired, this is the first time in, I believe, a couple of decades when we've actually shot at another vessel.

    Given the history, I think this is most likely a simple case miscommunication with tragic consequences. The Indian crew said they saw the warning lights but didn't understand what they meant. It doesn't look like they heard the b2b radio calls. It's not clear what other non-lethal measures, if any, were used. The Navy says the boat was about a hundred yards away when it was fired upon - that's considered very close. Previous incidents where warning shots were fired at Iranian boats the distance was about 200 yards.


    Agree with Fast about time to employ a zodiac. It doesn't take long for a boat to close 1000-1500 yards at 25-30 knots, much less 100-200. Besides, it's illegal to board vessels in international waters for merely being nearby.

    At the end of the day I doubt this incident says much about US force protection measures which have worked well in the Gulf for a couple of decades now. There's nothing that indicates, as of yet, that there is anything more here than a tragic miscommunication. Ironically, just earlier this year two Italian Marines providing security on an Italian-flagged merchant ship shot and killed a couple of Indian fishermen - and this was off the coast of India and not in the Persian Gulf. Maybe there are lessons there but it's hard to tell from one data point.


    I'm not sure why you assume some ill-intent. I'm also not sure where you're getting the "contractors" from, nor why you would lump all "contractors" together and make disparaging generalizations about them. It's not like the ship's crew, particularly the bridge crew, were not witness to the incident and it's likely whoever was in command of the vessel at the time gave authorization to fire. Ultimately the ship's CO will be held to account if there was any criminal behavior or negligence. Unlike the other services, the Navy is pretty good at firing CO's who fuckup.

    Also consider that the sailor (it was most likely a sailor the manned the gun, not a contractor) stopped firing when the boat turned and slowed - he could easily have unloaded, sank the thing and killed everyone aboard. That he/she didn't implies a measured and restrained, if mistaken, use of force.

  19. I wish I had asked FDChief to write this for me because I think he just nailed it. Well said.

    Unlike this twerp:
    "Iranians better get the message to chill"

    "While we can expect the utmost in professionalism from our forces, the same can’t be said for the likes of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which may prefer provocation."

    It's a really sad day when this is even remotely debatable.

    mike, thanks for the info on the ships and course of events. I was concerned about the nature of the 'security team' because in some of the stuff I read they were listed seperately from the USN personnel. You'd think they would want to clarify this sort of thing, but maybe not.

    FYI, the UAE investigation is already pretty divergent from the US accounts. Starting with the claim that the ship was in UAE water versus international waters.

    Iran does plenty of shady stuff.
    I wouldn't call it a war, and I don't think its appropriate for our ships to be locked and loaded in a non-war zone. It isn't necessary. Especially if the US Navy and Coast Guard 'control' these waters as thoroughly as they do.

    Where's the escort? Where's the air cover? If we're THAT concerned about another fishing boat bombing, why not pursue ways that don't end up with dead innocents. I don't know, but you can almost see the bombs dropping on Iran if the situation was reversed.

    Or maybe that's what we really want after all.

  20. PF Khan,

    There's no need for escorts much less air cover for the small boat threat. That's what security teams are for. Again, this is the first incident of someone getting killed (that I'm aware of, at least) in over two decades of operating in the Gulf.

    Also, it looks like this ship is all civilian crew with a USN security team on board. I had thought it was a USN crew as well - that may have changed since I was in the Navy.

  21. Chief: "...we've spent the last decade getting the reputation as a heavily armed whacko that shoots Asians because we're afraid of them. That's not a good way to increase our geopolitical influence in South Asia, ... we should be thinking - as a nation, as citizens, as armed services - of ways not to explain or excuse this but to prevent it happening again."

    Agreed. I am not splainin' or scusin', just saying we should not hang the poor bastards on that 50 cal unless we find out some dark details. If anyone should hang it is not them, but the policy makers that put them there. And it seems to me that we have been in that particular gulf since Christ was a corporal, and not just in this administration or the last one.

    ranger: "Well i for one will say-why not chop the water line with the 50 and just sink the fish boat. Result couldda been achieved w/o loss of life."

    Agreed. And those gunners I believe were trained or should have been trained to do exactly that. Maybe they did but did not get the aim just right. Those skiffs are pretty low to the water with very little freeboard. Aiming at the water line could have sent slugs into the deck where those fishermen were probably sacked out on their run into port. What is the 'cone of fire' for an M2 at 150 yards - pretty small I would guess. If that skiff was still doing 25 knots they were probably doing some porpoising or at least some small bounces. Or it could have been a nervous gunner?

    bg - "... I wonder if there was a good reason no warning shots were fired before aiming center mass."

    I believe warning shots were fired. The timeline, although specifically not mentioning warning shots, does not mean that they were not fired. And I have read other DoD accounts that said that warning shots were fired.

  22. Andy - Don't forget the 'Vincennes' in 88.

  23. bg-

    Thanks for commenting as always . . .

    -"And do you really believe we are not at "war" with Iran? We are at war with Iran in the same way we were at war with the Soviet Union for decades. It is all in the shadows, but just because tanks aren't clashing, there is still a clash of wills, and military is serving their purpose on both sides by attempting to influence adversary public policy. (you've been around, do you not honestly believe that Iranian surrogates kill US soldiers in Iraq and AF?)"-

    Agree as to your description of what I would call the "spin", but disagree as to this policy.

    Basically, it's not the same as the USSR/Cold War struggle, nor could it be. What exactly is the "clash of wills" that you are talking about? A clash over what exactly? What do we wish from Iran, that is what could they give us that was worth going to war over in pursuit of US national interests, at this point in time?

    Ours and the EU's sanctions are bringing the Iranian economy to its knees. The official view of US intelligence ( the NIE of 2011) is that they gave up developing nukes in 2003. We are overextended and tired after a decade of war.

    So, a pre-emptive war? Regime change? Where have we seen this before?

    of course there is the LIBOR scandal . . . and Israel . . .

  24. Pentagon Timeline:

    2:50pm The vessel, a motorized skiff, sighted at 5 miles, approaching Rappahannock from starboard (right) side at 20-25 knots.

    2:51pm The skiff now at 1200 yards when it turned inbound, headed directly for the Rappahannock

    2:51pm Rappahannock begins first phase of non-lethal warnings, radio, flashing lights. At 900 yards, the crew on the skiff ignores warnings and continues course directly at Rappahannock.

    2:52pm Now at 150 yards, skiff continues to ignore non-lethal warnings and continues course at Rappahannock.

    The Pentagon timeline has the offending vessel closing from 5 miles to 1200 yards in a minute. Make that two minutes to generously allow for the rounding off of seconds in the timeline. Now falling back on my grammar school math and measurements lessons, that would make the speed of the vessel 4.3 miles/2min or 2.15 miles/min. A 129 mph (or 112 kt) vessel?

    Between 2:51 and 2:52, vessel covers 1050 yards, a speed of about 35 mph (30 kt).

    At the "officially" estimated speed of 20-25 kts (use 25 to be generous), it would have taken over 12 minutes to close a 5 mile distance between the two vessels, if the Rappahannock were stationary. Since the small boat was said to be approaching from starboard, the time would have been longer.

    Have I forgotten something from 5th grade?

  25. On second reading, perhaps the "sighted at 5 miles" was not the distance to the vessel at 2:50, but a reference to the first sighting some 15 minutes prior? Still, a hell of a compacted timeframe for what was claimed to have happened.

    As to "stitching the water line" with the machine gun fire, I would estimate the freeboard of the Rappahannock to be at least 60 feet, making any and all close in fire pretty much "plunging" in nature. I'll let someone else do the trigonometry, but 20 yards elevation over a target 100 yards away is a fair downward angle. "Stitching the waterline" would be quite difficult, especially if the vessel was indeed presenting a bow profile and traveling at 25 - 25 kts, as claimed.

  26. seydlitz,

    I do see very strong similarities between today's conflict between the US and Soviet Union. True, it is no where near the scale, and the consequences do not rate global thermal nuclear war. However...

    1. Surrogate wars. Like the cold war, Iran is fighting surrogate wars against the US. They have done so against US armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan where Iranian surrogates attack US troops in a war of attrition. See IRGC Quds Force.

    2. Espionage and Sabotage. We have spies, they have spies. Their spies are primarily interested in protecting their regional security, our spies are probably more focused on the nuclear and delivery system technology. See MOIS. See STUXNET.

    3. Consequences. No, not WW III, however, anyone who believes that Israel isn't itching to pull the trigger and bomb an Iranian nuc site is fooling themselves. If that happens, Iran is perfectly capable of striking back world wide through proxies, surrogates, etc, and you can not underestimate their capabilities in the gulf against our Navy.

    Clash of Wills:

    US's will is to stay in the region and have influence (Iraq, Af, Persian Gulf and oil controlling routes). Iran's will is to continue to move forward with their nuclear program, probably as a bargaining chip for something. Of course. Neither wants to back down and show weakness.


    Iran wants the US out of the region (surely they have a rational fear that the US will push for regime change, with Iraq and AF with US presence, and Syria Regime going away, Iran is isolated), and the US wants stability in the region for purposes of keeping the spice (oil) flowing and keeping Israel from doing something nuts that could hinder that. Oh, and the US has an interest in not looking weak, we are, after all, Americans.


    My opinion, because I don't see the inner workings of the US policy makers, I think the US policy is a bluff. We allow news stories and rumors to persist that we might start a war with Iran, because that keeps Iran coming to the table. But I can tell you this, we don't want to go to war with Iran, and great efforts are being made to prevent any such hot war.

    You can absolutely draw parallels between Iran and the Iraq regime change in 2002-2003. However, here is the good news, IMO. The lessons learned by the intel community in 2003 are still fresh in our minds. The political environment is different, in 2002, politicians and even DoD, wanted to go to war with Iraq. Today, NO ONE wants to go to war.

    BTW, I am starting a Masters Program next month, so you guys might see me around a bit more in the pub. Greatly appreciate the feedback and logic checks as always. I intend to keep my entire thesis unclass, so I might be asking for some help along the way. (it won't be on Iran....tired of this topic)

  27. Al -

    I caught that 5 mile comment also, but like you I figured it had been an earlier sighting or radar contact. At that time and up until the skiff was about 1300 yards to starboard it was on a non-threatening bearing. But then what probably set off the alarm bells was when the skiff steered what looks like a radical 110-degree turn to port and headed directly at the Rappahannock's starboard beam. The guy on the skiff tiller probably realized at the last minute he would have to go astern of the big gray boat instead of trying to pass in front.

    Agree on your plunging fire comment.

    Wonder if the Rappahannock was carrying that new 50/50 biofuel mix the Navy is putting in the Great Green Fleet and in their jetfuel?


  28. Just for the sake of balance,


    'The "Indian fishermen were not warned to move away by the US Navy," General Dahi Khalfan said, according to Khaleej Times daily. "The crew ... told the Dubai police that they did not move towards the ship and instead attempted to avoid it." "According to our findings and testimonies of the injured, I believe that they told the truth," the daily quoted Khalfan as saying. '

    The General quoted here is the Dubai Police Chief.

    Is there a way that both set of events actually happened?

  29. FYI, considering that the US is now reporting that Iran is 'trying to disrupte' traffic and oil all over the Middle East, its clearly the case that:
    a) Iran has the initiative despite a complete inferiority in military capability
    b) the US is again placing soldiers and sailors in 'harms way' for the sake of a domestic political audience
    c) Iran knows that despite the build up of military forces, they are not going to be attacked by the US or Israel.

    d) the crazies and morons are still running the show, especially in the Middle East.

  30. PFK,
    Come on-give me a break.
    Who cares who runs Iran???
    Let's care about the Homeland.
    Thank you baby jesus.

  31. jim - I think that he was talking about US morons running the show in the middle east, no?

    PFK - "Is there a way that both set of events actually happened?" I assume you are asking if both the fisherman's story and the Rappahannock's story happened truly (as they saw it). If so, my answer would be yes, why not?

  32. jim,

    To paraphrase MLK, "Crazy anywhere is a threat to sanity everywhere."

    You are right, the crazy morons in our country should be our top priority, though.


    I asked if it was possible for both to be true because they seem to contradict one another. Can you both try to avoid and head directly for a ship at the same time?

    Could this have been the case of a misjudged intercept course? If so, why was the first reaction to shoot the boat and not to adjust course?

    I don't know. I find it hard to believe that if the fishermen were trying to avoid contact with the boat that the sailors on the Rappahannock behaved appropriately.

  33. bg-

    Look forward to hearing more on your MA thesis . . .

    I look at it quite differently. I think one has to consider the strategic effect of essentially two lost wars. In Iraq we have a Shiite dominated government closely linked to Iran. The Kurds in the north are also very friendly with Iran. The Iranians are the strategic winners from the 2003 Iraq invasion, not us. Our more or less "friendly" government in Afghanistan requires our firm support and their longer term outlook isn't particularly good, which means a return of the Taliban in some guise, although they are not particularly friendly to Iran. Still the enemy of my enemy . . .

    Iran is not a threat to our control of sea lanes as long as we don't pursue "regime change" which it seems we are doing. We are still suffering the fall out from the last time we did that in regards to Iran in 1954. Iran has suffered a long history of foreign domination and not much history of aggression against their neighbors (more reactions), so why play to their worst experiences?

    We have a declining influence in the region overall due to our own strategic blunders and weakening economic situation. Another wild throw (as in 2003) of the geo-strategic dice is not going to improve our situation. Our policy of dominance is unsustainable in the long term.

    I would add that we are also pursuing regime change in Syria, which may be in Saudi interests, but isn't probably in ours.

    I think much of the problem is that we have started to believe our own "warrior hype" and in our own assumed virtuosity in using violence to attain our often confused goals. Both dubious assumptions imo . . .

  34. PFK -

    Was that gun team reckless? I cannot answer taht and neither can any of us until more details are released.

    There is an ongoing investigation, or perhaps three separate ones. However it sounds like to me that the Dubai Police Chief has already made up his mind, so the Emirati investigation will probably follow his line. But even he has called the shooting a "mistake" and never used the word murder or reckless that I have seen.

    And since it appears that no bomb was found on the fishing boat, then it was probably not a terrorist, and therefore not a good use of force. I do not hold to the opining of some that it was a probe, although I suppose that could be possible.

    As far as your questions: "Could this have been the case of a misjudged intercept course? If so, why was the first reaction to shoot the boat and not to adjust course?

    To the first question I would say yes, of course it was, on both parts, not just the Rappahannock.

    To the second question I do not believe it would have been possible if the relative speeds given are correct. The fishing boat was approaching at 25 knots and the speed of the Rappahannock is given as 20 knots in Wikipedia. That plus with her size and mass it would have been hard for her to overcome inertia to even get up to her max speed and take evasive action. Kind of like an 18 wheeler trying to avoid a sports car. But how do you or I know that maybe the Rappahannock wasn't trying to avoid that fishing boat?

  35. PFK,

    One problem is there isn't any systemic international warning system. B2B radio is the most common method, followed by visual and audio warnings, but there's no international standard that all mariners will understand and recognize. The US Navy has been pretty consistent in its warnings and most understand them, but not all. Maybe because this was an Indian crew they didn't understand what the ship was trying to signal. The Indian crew said they saw the visual flashing but didn't interpret it as a warning. In light of that it seems pretty obvious that each side interpreted the same event differently. That's pretty common actually.

    With regard to who is supposed to "give way" that generally falls to smaller, more nimble vessel. A ship the size of the Rappahanock cannot avoid a collision with a small boat capable of speeds in excess of 30 knots, which is the case with this fishing boat.


    I agree with BG there is a kind of covert "war" going on with Iran but there's no real interest to take the "relationship" to the next level (war) by either side. So it's mainly posturing, brinkmanship, covert action, and overt non-military measures.

    As far as "regime change" goes, despite assertions that Israel controls our foreign policy and despite claims over the last six years that we're on a "march to war" with Iran, I think it's pretty obvious that we have no intention of overthrowing Iran militarily. Would we like a different government or a different set of rulers in Iran? Sure, and we are prepared to make things difficult for Iran's government through diplomatic and economic means toward that end. I think the Iranians understand this pretty well and they are careful to moderate their activities to keep from crossing any red lines.

    Overall, I think this does share some features with the Cold War, but obviously there are major differences too. Like the Cold War, I think the biggest chance for open, armed conflict will come from a mistake by one side misinterpreting a red line.

  36. Andy-

    Interesting comments. I too agree with bg's description.

    I'm arguing against what I see as our current Iran policy which seems to be pretty much as you state. As long as we're not really serious about overthrowing Iran "militarily" we can use sanctions to bring their economy to a shambles . . . not to mention other various little "acts of war" thrown in that they had better not (over)react to . . . Brinkmanship with the Iranians . . . (and Syrians . . .)

    But regime change? Of course not. And we obviously know what we're doing. It couldn't be that we have been in something like "free fall" with our ME policy in terms of strategic theory for the last six (?) years . . .

  37. Andy: "With regard to who is supposed to "give way" that generally falls to smaller, more nimble vessel. A ship the size of the Rappahanock cannot avoid a collision with a small boat capable of speeds in excess of 30 knots, which is the case with this fishing boat."

    Actually, size of vessel has nothing to do with the international standards for "right of way" in crossing situations involving two powered vessels (See Rule 15). If a powered vessel (the fishing boat) is approaching your powered vessel (Rappahannock) from starboard, the "give-way" vessel (Rappahannock) should give way while the "stand-on" (fishing boat) vessel maintains course and speed. Since the fishing boat was said to be traveling at a speed greater than or equal to the Rappahannock, the fishing boat should have been safely able to accomplish the crossing.

    I can assure you that the above is a source of great consternation to captains of the many ferries plying the waters of Puget Sound during recreational boating season, since the idiot recreational boaters approaching from the starboard must be given right of way. Fortunately, wise and courteous boaters will make an obvious course change to surrender their "stand-on" and most idiots are too intimidated by the size of the ferries to cause too much of a delay in ferry navigation. But there are the discourteous few that demand their "right" and cause the ferries to defer to them.

    In a meeting situation, such as the above, it the responsibility of both vessels' skippers to evaluate the relative course and speed of the two vessels to ensure a safe crossing, but the "give-way" vessel is responsible for any speed or course alterations to allow the "stand-on" vessel to safely cross. That's what was taught to me in 1958 by the Coast Guard Auxiliary when I took the course at our local yacht club, and it remains that way. In US waters, the Navy was established "exclusion zones" or the like around their vessels, but that does not apply in international waters.

    I am not excusing away the fishing boat, but since the Rappahannock was clearly not a surface combatant vessel, I can see where a poor choice (but totally legal crossing decision) may have been made by the skipper of the fishing boat.

    Way too much info missing here, and the "timeline" is a bit confusing, as it sounds as if the Rappahannock was not operating at cruise speed. Nor is it clear whether the "speed" attributed to the fishing boat was it's speed over the bottom or the "closing" speed - the sum total speed of two approaching vessels.

    The "tactical" situation is going to remain a "he said, she said". The "political" situation is a whole other ball of wax.

  38. Al,

    Thanks for the correction. I guess my experience is colored by working on an aircraft carrier where we rarely moved for anyone and if we were doing flight ops we moved for no one.


    Agree with respect to mid-east policy, but with Iran it goes back much further than six years. There's simply a lot of bad blood between us.

  39. Andy-

    As you know there's a difference between our current ME policy, especially since say, 2006 . . . which presents itself well in terms of strategic theory (two lost wars) . . . and our long and difficult history of relations with Iran which does not.

    2006? It was at that point - more or less - that we collectively walked through the looking glass so to speak. We lost any relationship between state power and "rational instrument" to achieve a suitable political purpose, became victims of our own political dysfunctions. Had there been such a purpose it would have been the result of "grand" strategic planning . . . ideally. Still it's not like we don't have the state and private institutions in place to carry out exactly such a task . . .

    From a strategic theory perspective, we're too incoherent to even start . . .

  40. seydlitz: "We lost any relationship between state power and "rational instrument" to achieve a suitable political purpose, became victims of our own political dysfunctions."

    What is the political purpose in the US today? Has the gaining of "power" overcome any socio-economic objectives? Has the US mentality succumbed to the notion that "might makes right", or "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing"? If so, then it would appear to me that our dysfunction is based upon this type of objective. We don't need no rational instrument, we just need to win - whatever "win" means.

    Perhaps that explains the "incoherent" nature of what we do?

  41. Al-

    Basically imo the purpose is maintaining a state of dominance, both home and abroad. The assumption being that this will profit various corporate investors in the US political system, their material interests being the seen as the same as US "national interests". This all performed under a canopy of "total propaganda" following Ellul.

  42. seydlitz,

    Honestly, I think the US has done a great job with that 'state of dominance' in the Middle East so far. Before this incident, I had something I planned write where I said so more explicitly.

    Think about it, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain are all 'critical' US allies (why Yemen is critical, I don't really know, but it makes more sense than Afghanistan being on the same level as Japan). All of them were in the middle of something that could have turned out very negatively for the US. So far, the US still pulls all the strings.

    The status quo has been preserved in a very impressive way to date.

    The problem is with states that don't support our status quo. The US appears to have no idea how to get their support without resorting to armed conflict. It feels as though the US and Iran are not necessarily in a Cold War to me, but are instead playing chicken at 2mph.

    Seriously, everyone can see that there is a collision in the future and everyone bemoans it and then we continue driving on the same path. It feels ok because it seems off in the distance, but the trajectory of our activities is conflict. What that looks like is my personal concern. Provided no ground troops are required, and I don't have to participate, fuck it. But you'd think we would know better by now.

  43. PF Khans-

    How the "Arab Spring" plays out is still very much an unknown quantity. Saudi Arabia seems the biggest winner so far, but that could change. I don't see where the US gains much of anything from this, given the price we are paying to maintain this dominance which is unsustainable in the long term. Military power (or is it more our obsequiousness to military symbolism?) is the only source of state power where we still enjoy unquestioned superiority, so our tendency is to focus on that, all the while our social "foundation" crumbles. Military adventures and the associated chest thumping provide us with about the only meaning that we can share as Americans given that we've pretty much scrapped any traditional ideals.

    "Too big to fail"? Is that what what it comes down to, in regards to the US . . . ? Just another sad version of American exceptionalism?

  44. seydlitz,

    I respect that opinion, but its worth remembering that Israel has relied on almost entirely the military 'foundation' for its dominance in the Middle East and it has thwarted every attempt by the Arabs to beat/reject them.

    The reality is that the social 'foundation' might not be completely necessary provided a strong enough military basis. 1948 was a long time ago. Palestinians are still stateless and appear to be ready to go another decade before that changes. Social movements can't beat firepower; not when the firepower is very committed. That's why I'm extraordinarly skeptical that a) Syria is not already a proxy war and b) that Assad will fall in anywhere near the near term.

    Still, my point wasn't that the US is 'winning' the Arab Spring, just that it hasn't lost...yet. And that's actually an accomplishment for all the anti-Americanism going on in the area. Americans have been allowed to have their cake (support democracy) and eat it (retain the rights to do what they want and run the world). That's not an everyday achievement.

  45. PF Khans-

    "that Israel has relied on almost entirely the military 'foundation' for its dominance in the Middle East and it has thwarted every attempt by the Arabs to beat/reject them."

    This is a very narrow view of strategy I'm afraid, which misses the actual sources of power that Israel has, or increasingly had, at its disposal. Their military strength has been greatly augmented by their political power, ability to get European powers, but especially the US, to support them in their policy goals. The Israelis have been able to position themselves so well on occasion that no military action was even necessary.

    As to the US's "support of democracy", that might sell to a narrow audience at home, but who in Europe or the Middle East, or Africa, or South or East Asia . . . believes that today given our long history of support for repressive regimes? Ditto with "human rights" . . . What you see as "not an everyday achievement", I see as having little or no connection with US actions/intentions at all. Rather we see a temporary commonality with Saudi interests, the one's who are bankrolling a lot of the "spontaneous movements" we see popping up. In other words, we don't really exist as a "rational actor" representing a coherent political community on the world stage at this point in time, but rather play the stooge for Israeli, Saudi, Chinese, Corporate, Wall Street interests . . . we the American people are not the masters of our own house/state . . .

    Our current policy of dominance is a product of our own political/strategic dysfunction and its actual utility is collapsing. While we retain the military capability to impose coercion/force, the actual applicable situations for this are few and how they translate into actual strategic effect/policy success opaque and ambiguous.

  46. seydlitz and ranger,

    "we the American people are not the masters of our own house/state"

    Couldn't agree more. All I was saying is that the Arab Spring could easily have turned out far more disastorously than it has for US 'political interests' be they actually Chinese, Saudi or American in nature. Thats still a really nifty trick shot. Trick shots won't win a game, but they are worth identifying as a measure of skill; that was my only point.

    As for Israel, I think their situation is more akin to a party in a revolutionary state or civil war than normal foreign relations. That's why I think their military is a much bigger piece than you give credit for.

  47. PF Khans-

    "As for Israel, I think their situation is more akin to a party in a revolutionary state or civil war than normal foreign relations. That's why I think their military is a much bigger piece than you give credit for."

    Please describe this a bit more . . . I don't discount their military power, but rather put the emphasis on their political clout, which I find unique in terms of strategic effect . . . or do you disagree?

  48. So I relate Israel's problems more to the issues that were faced by people during a revolutionary state. In essence, these states are difficult because you have no shared history or macro-level body that can rectify your claims versus your enemies.

    One example would be the Mexican Revolution. It went on for decades not because there were necessarily good reasons for fighting but because no one had the power to compell the others to stop fighting and because no one would disarm for fear of eventually being routed or destroyed.

    There is just absolutely no trust between Israel and their neighbors. Without that trust, you don't actually behave as you would amongst other nations or political entities. We can have treaties with other nations that don't need the threat of force behind them because there is both trust and an expectation that arbitration or other forms of conflict resolution are possible and will have a detrimental effect on whoever breaks their word.

    In another sense, there are options besides violence that make violence and the threat of force much less important in inter-state relationships.

    This doesn't really exist with Israel and the Arabs (although I suppose you could say it did with Egypt under Mubarak). The peace there has and continues to exist because violence and the threat of violence keeps Israel on top and the Arabs are not strong enough to overthrow that state. But this threat of force is exactly what prevents a true settlement and normalization between nations. Israel doesn't want much more than it has and so it maintains a high level of security which keeps it going and hasn't really felt the overstretch that comes with overexpansion (except maybe in Lebanon).

    The situation reminds me of the Congo, Somalia, Afghanistan and dozens of other places around the globe where divisions have prevented any sort of reconciliation between groups and there is ALWAYS the threat of violence behind any and all political moves. That's not to say that there are not differences, but to me the clearest difference is not the political savyness of Israel but rather its complete military dominance and unwillingness to overexpand. It has not hit an overreach position (probably why they don't want to fight Iran head to head) where the balance of power might not end up in their favor and they are forced to negotiate.

    I suppose their special relationship with the US helps keep the Arabs at bay to a certain extent, but ultimately the military firepower is there because Israel doesn't trust anyone to have their back if things get really bad, so its hard for me to see that as too important.

    That's just my opinion, though.

  49. PF Khans-

    Interesting thread. How exactly do you see the original topic of this thread now . . . ? Interesting question.

    US policy is my main interest here. As to "special relationship" that used to belong to the Brits, and it hasn't been taken away . . . None as far as I know have joined them or taken their place . . . unless can be shown otherwise.

    Israel? Mexico.

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