The Old Superb

A trial balloon that Obma will end the War on Terror, and a (British) patriotic sea-shanty.

At Balkinisation, Jonathan Hafetz discusses an important speech by Jeh Charles Johnson, General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Defense, at the Oxford Union on 30 November. Key grafs:

But, now that efforts by the U.S. military against al Qaeda are in their 12th year, we must also ask ourselves: how will this conflict end? It is an unconventional conflict, against an unconventional enemy, and will not end in conventional terms [….]

In the current conflict with al Qaeda, I can offer no prediction about when this conflict will end, or whether we are, as Winston Churchill described it, near the “beginning of the end.”

I do believe that on the present course, there will come a tipping point – a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, such that al Qaeda as we know it, the organization that our Congress authorized the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed.

At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an “armed conflict” against al Qaeda and its associated forces; rather, a counterterrorism effort against individuals who are the scattered remnants of al Qaeda, or are parts of groups unaffiliated with al Qaeda, for which the law enforcement and intelligence resources of our government are principally responsible, in cooperation with the international community – with our military assets available in reserve to address continuing and imminent terrorist threats.

At that point we will also need to face the question of what to do with any members of al Qaeda who still remain in U.S. military detention without a criminal conviction and sentence. […]

I suggested in February that Candidate Obama campaign on a declaration that Al Qaeda has been defeated and the War on Terror over. He didn´t. But the idea has clearly moved from liberal corners of the blogosphere to a seriously entertained policy option.

Johnson is low enough in the pecking order to be disowned if there´s a blowback – but high enough for this to be a real trial balloon. I couldn´t find the usual weasel words about ¨only a personal view¨ in the speech. It looks as if Mitch McConnell has enough troubles for opening another front of conflct to be unappealing right now.

My prediction: there won´t be a blowback absent another serious terrorist incident (not just a scare) involving American citizens; Obama will wait till after the 2014 mid-terms not to give Republicans ammunition for the mid-terms, but will move soon afterwards to clear the issue for the Democratic candidate in 2016. So he will eventually keep his 2008 promise to close Guantanamo, after a mere six or seven years of lawless detention since Bush left the White House.

Obama´s stately pace reminds me of Henry Newbolt´s rollicking sea-shanty (text, music):

The “Old Superb” was barnacled and green as grass below,
Her sticks were only fit for stirring grog;
The pride of all her midshipmen was silent long ago,
And long ago they ceased to heave the log,

So all day long and all day long behind the fleet we crept,
And how we fretted none but Nelson guessed;
But ev’ry night the “Old Superb” she sailed when others slept,
Till we ran the French to earth with all the rest.

O ’twas Westward Ho! for Trinidad, and Eastward Ho! for Spain,
And “Ship Ahoy!” a hundred times a day;
Round the world if need be, and round the world again
With a lame duck lagging, lagging all the way.

HMS Superb was a real ship, a Royal Navy 74-gun ship of the line in the Napoleonic wars. The barnacles were sadly myth: at the battle of Algeciras Bay in 1801,

The Superb was a relatively new ship and had not been long on blockade duty. As a consequence she was the fastest sailing ship-of-the-line in the fleet.

But her fighting qualities were not. At Algeciras Bay, the Superb destroyed two larger Spanish ships and captured a third. The bold tactics that won Nelson decisive victories were only made possible by the huge ship-on-ship superiority of the Royal Navy over its adversaries.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

10 thoughts on “The Old Superb”

  1. Re the Superb: get a room! ; >

    I am fine with backburnering the War on Terror, when the time comes. And it may have come already.

    But for heaven’s sake, don’t talk about it!! Just do it. If you talk about it, whatever remnants remain will get all bent out of shape again, testosterone-y, their Irish up, or however you want to say it, and start making trouble again. We should ignore them as much as possible, rhetorically, imho.

  2. And the Benghazi events fit into this hopeful scenario how? This administration has already been making an effort to pretend away the struggle which has been wished on us. It’s not going well.

    1. As I read it, the Benghazi attackers were Salafist jihadis (either Ansar al-Sharia or Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), whose objective is to overthrow secularized governments like Libya´s, in predominantly Muslim countries, that do Washington´s bidding. They don´t share bin Laden´s eccentric and ambitious heighten-the-contradictions agenda of attacking the USA directly, whether or not they adopt the glamorous al-Q label.
      For years to come, being an American diplomat in much of the Near and Middle East is going to stay dangerous, as the underlying tensions – support for Israel and oil kingdoms – won´t go away. Can you still call this sort of conflict a war? Johnson thinks not. I agree.

  3. My prediction: there won´t be a blowback absent another serious terrorist incident (not just a scare) involving American citizens; Obama will wait till after the 2014 mid-terms not to give Republicans ammunition for the mid-terms, but will move soon afterwards to clear the issue for the Democratic candidate in 2016. So he will eventually keep his 2008 promise to close Guantanamo, after a mere six or seven years of lawless detention since Bush left the White House.

    A sensibly imagined narrative….

    But I think you’ve got this one wrong in regards to timing Mr. Wimberly. The country won’t be able to change quite that fast. And that’s primary because of the video of the twin towers going up in flames and down in rubble. The constant replays, in glorious slomo, have permanently etched themselves into multigenerational neurons. And as you know there is all sorts of science showing how images of this sort distorts long-term rationality. Because of this, Americans cannot think sensibly AT ALL about Guantanamo or Al Qaeda. I’d add 4-6 years to your prediction. Maybe more. Which is to suggest: it will be handed off to Hillary and she’ll reluctantly close Guantanamo in her second term.

    As a side issue: I don’t hold Obama responsible for not being able to convince the country that closing Guantanamo is a good thing. He is dealing with mass psychosis here: a sick defensive state of mind. I suspect he wishes he could have that promise back. It will be interesting to see how he “realizes” this in his autobiography. That is, if he has time to write one after Hillary puts him on the Supreme Court.

    1. “I don’t hold Obama responsible for not being able to convince the country that closing Guantanamo is a good thing.”

      Well, of course you don’t; He’d have to have attempted to convince the country of that, before you could reasonable say he wasn’t “able” to do it. I noticed no effort at convincing anybody of this, just a preemptive cave.

      There’s no reason you couldn’t safely imprison the people at Guantanamo somewhere on US territory, it’s not like we, of all nations, have no experience running prisons. They’re not there for safety, but to further the argument that they’re somehow not under US jurisdiction, and so not subject to constitutional protections which would clearly apply were camp Gitmo somewhere in Arizona.

      The job of persuading Americans that we might as well house them in some facility in the US was not trivial, but well within Obama’s rhetorical capacities. If he had ever chosen to undertake it.

      1. Right on, Brett! But the trial balloon suggests to me that Obama will at least follow élite and public opinion if it shifts, as with DADT. He´ll encourage those who want to stick their necks out, like Johnson. Perhaps more, as he doesn´have to worry about reelection. Koreyel is also right that this is an issue where Obama will be mindful of his legacy.

        1. Keep in mind that the “flexibility” he gains from not having to worry about reelection extends to offending the left, much more than it does the right. He never stood to lose much from offending conservatives, they were never his to lose.

          It’s YOU he doesn’t need anymore, not me. Don’t be surprised if the real Obama revealed by the lack of another election is less to your liking than you’ve been supposing he would be.

          He is a man of the left, so you’re going to like some of it. Don’t expect to like it all. I expect you’re going to find you were played to a much greater degree than you ever realized, in the coming years.

          1. Whoever thought he was a man of the left, in economic and social policy? A centrist Clinton Democrat, who ran in the 2008 primaries to the right of Edwards and HRC, he only looks lefty by the crazy standards of Paul Ryan. I think my Anmerican friends expected more on civil liberties from an (honorary) African-American and a trained constitutional lawyer. But nobody was played. Well, maybe Glenn Greenwald.

          2. Trained constitutional lawyers are often the last people you should expect to be good on civil liberties; They’re not so much trained in explaining, as explaining away.

          3. I agree with Brett and James; President Obama is a center-right compromiser who likes consensus, and doesn’t understand how economic systems work. Nor does he understand how ecological systems work. Either that or he’s duplicitous. Why else would he be so tractable on civil liberties, so silent on the benefits of Obamacare, so conciliatory to Republican obstructionism? He writes great speeches, but he doesn’t act upon them. He squandered the last chance we had at universal tax-supported healthcare, he signed away the bill of rights with NDAA, he not only increased the use of torture, he’s taken to killing people via drone attacks without even token judicial review. He persecutes whistleblowers like Bradley Manning while letting banksters and mortgage brokers go free from fraudulently sinking the economy. He doesn’t even have the balls not to approve the KeystoneXL pipeline, or to take any action on global warming besides a mild improvement of CAFE standards. Heck, a carbon tax and dividend could save the environment and the economy with one simple bill, and he stays silent. He doesn’t have to do any of that stuff: he does it because he wants to.

            I knew what to expect, though, when then-senator-Obama promised to filibuster Bush’s FISA legislation if it included retroactive immunity for the telecom companies, but he voted for it, instead. I call him, “The Great Capitulator.” Yet I voted for him anyway.

            You bet he doesn’t need us progressives.

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