Everyone but the emotionally dead had to feel joy at the news that a pretty young blonde American had been rescued from her Somali pirate kidnappers. Equally thrilling was to learn that the rescue had been a pinpoint operation by our courageous Navy SEALS, who managed to snatch the maiden, and kill nine  kidnappers while losing none of their own team.

That welcome bit of uplifting news came as our president shared with us the ongoing struggle that is the State of the Union.

Despite the continued difficulties many of us face in terms of daily survival, it was heartening to know that the country was still strong enough to venture and achieve such a mission in the most dangerous parts of the world.

It was stirring. It was downright inspirational.


Remember “Wag the Dog”? The 1997 hit comedy featured a spin doctor and Hollywood producer who, in order to distract the public from a presidential sex scandal, convince the public of a non-existent war. The tail wagging the dog. The art of power through distraction.

In light of the continuation of this sort of spectacle into the Obama era, I’d like to propose a new term for our time: “Wag the seal.”

For this is the second time—and presumably not the last—that Obama has gotten a lift from those daring fellows. And in both cases, close scrutiny raises the question of just who is being had.

Each produced a magnificently advantageous moment for a president sweating a tough and uncertain re-election. But Obama was hardly the only winner. Another beneficiary is surely the Pentagon, which is under severe pressure to restrain itself and cut its size and costs, and could use a favorable performance. Though the US military seems incapable of “winning” the complex and mind-bendingly expensive foreign adventures it launches almost like clockwork, it does seem able to execute small, limited operations that please the public.

And of course there is the retinue that profits from all this, the “one percent” who derive substantial profits from the permanent war economy. Not to mention the oil and mineral companies and all other foreign exploitation, er, exploration industries, whose continued high profits are largely dependent on the continued projection of American strength throughout the world.

Finally, as always, there is the media. For it is at root about good story-telling. And was there ever a better story than a pretty maiden rescued by dashing and clean-cut lads from drooling savages?


They tell us that the Somali mission was executed by the same Navy SEALs unit that carried out the biggest coup of the Obama administration if not the past decade: taking down the man who was America’s  most reviled, and perhaps feared, symbol of danger: Osama bin Laden.

Most people, reliant on the coverage of major news organizations, rest content that America justly and efficiently dispatched bin Laden. Only those with keen antennae—or those who read accounts questioning the contradictory, irrational and unnecessarily opaque explanations of exactly what happened, realize that something was wrong with that operation. Something more was going on. What exactly it was—whether that helicopter that crashed did not really manage to disgorge its SEAL occupants unscathed, whether the man who we are told was hurriedly dumped into the ocean before proper public verification of his identity was definitely the man who terrorized the world, whether the people living in that house in Abbottabad were unavoidable casualties or executed by design—these things we still do not know.

But one thing is clear: that raid did wonders for Obama and the military. No one dare call Obama a wimp.


When you look carefully at the Somali rescue, you see similarly troubling patterns of manipulation, and the pursuit of propaganda victories cloaked as legitimate policy.

Consider the circumstances: an American citizen, albeit one with seemingly the most admirable intentions, was kidnapped along with a foreign colleague while leaving a charity mission in a region with heavy pirate activity. The US began monitoring her situation, and when, we are told, signs indicated that her health was dangerously deteriorating, the authorities launched their operation.

What are the criteria for such operations? At any given time, some Americans may be being held by kidnapers in various parts of the world. As far as we know, most do not benefit from the attention of the US military. In fact, we don’t even know how many are being held because the numbers are kept under wraps—try asking the FBI. In any case, another American was kidnapped in Somalia recently, and his kidnappers have adopted dramatic measures to make sure that another raid is not attempted.

The stated reason for the timing of the rescue of 32-year-old American Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted, her 60-year-old Danish colleague, was that Buchanan’s health had declined precipitously. Yet concern for the health of Americans is not a settled notion at all. In fact, the majority of Republican candidates for the presidency, the same ones who cheered the rescue, oppose guaranteeing the most basic health needs of all American children.

That Buchanan was in captivity for some time, and that her release came at a propitious moment when Obama was under the maximum media spotlight, cannot be dismissed. Neither can the central role of Obama’s discredited counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, whose shifting narratives of the bin Laden raid remain unresolved and have lowered faith in Obama’s veracity among some Americans. It is important to note Brennan’s close relationship with the Saudi royal family, whose survival depends on keeping sea lanes open near the Horn of Africa where the Somali pirates ply the waters.

So, though as humans we cheer the good result of this particular adventure, we must concede that this is not really about health or even saving lives. It is about “sending a message.” But does the message really get sent to those who would harm Americans? There is little evidence that armed intervention is a deterrent. Indeed, the kidnappers of the other American being held in Somalia seem to have upped their threats of violence since the raid.

No, the message is being sent to us. It is no coincidence that these kinds of affairs always involve the most, pardon the expression, black and white of elements. How often do you hear about a person of color who is being held hostage, has gone missing, or was killed. Or of someone obese, or physically unattractive? Think back over the tabloid stories that have sustained the media for months at a time and riveted the American people. Jessica Lynch. Pat Tillman. Natalee Holloway and Robyn Gardner. When are the villains more nuanced, run-of-the-mill criminals without distinguishing stories? Pirates indeed. It’s almost as if the same fictional producer in Wag the Dog now shuttles permanently between Hollywood and the White House.

GRAPHIC: : http://vir4l.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/obama_i_got_this.jpg

25 responses to “Wag the Seal”

  1. antoinepgrew says:

    Americans like rescuing Jessicas, whether Lynches, Buchanans, whatever. Like selling cars: need the babe.

  2. GW says:

    Jessica was a blond soldier who was freed from capture…at the same time an black female soldier was also freed at the same time…she got little press…..
    Jessica has apparently come out to give her side of the story…which may had differed from the “nightly news”

  3. tremper says:

    1st:  who the heck is this Jessica?  what was she doing in such a place anyway?  and lastly what was she sick from or of… just being in such a place?  no follow up to this story, something smells fishy..was she more than was reported to be?

  4. sim swan says:

    right on! the sudden story reeked of opportunism.  9 dead.  

    They should not be called pirates because somalians suffered the dumping by western european and other vessels of nuclear and other wastes along their ultra remote coasts.  Result: deformed children, cancer, other diseases in theirvillage populations.  Somalia complained.  The “civilized” world ignore them until the day they, in desperation, caught a ship.  And then another,and the press calls them pirates.

    • John Loftus says:

      sources please?  The UN says the “defending our national waters” story is a hoax.  These pirates go beyond 200 miles offshore to hit rich targets. 

  5. CQ says:

    If I’m remembering correctly, weren’t the SEALS who supposedly killed OBL the same ones who were shot down in a helicopter in Afghanistan?

    In which case, what will happen to the SEALS from the same unit who spared THIS Jessica from the pirates?

    And is THIS Jessica story as far-fetched as the OTHER Jessica story and, for that matter, as the spin the military put on the OTHER suspicious shooting of a good guy in Afghanistan (Pat Tillman)?

    • John Loftus says:

      There is only  one Seal Team, but it’s founder called it “Team Six” to let other countries think we had at least five more.  In practical terms, it is all the same unit, with as many as 600 members.  SEAL stories are usually misreported by people who boast to the press trying to look like an insider.  When the stories are corrected, some people think it was the government caught in a fib.  not so.  no one in Spec Ops is an authorized spokesperson, only the President. Pat Tillman was a great soldier killed by our own side.  The generals lied to cover it up, and then were caught by Army whistleblowers.

    • Lee Chen says:

      At their advent in 1979-80 there were two SEAL Teams: 12 platoons in SEAL Team One and SEAL Team Six comprised of 75 operators led by the legendary Richard Marcinko.

      By 1987, SEAL Team Six essentially turned into DEVGRU (Naval Special Warfare Development Group).

      In or around 2010, they were “renamed” again. The nomenclature is allegedly classified but probably has much to do with the rise of JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) and extra-judicial killings of US civilians.

      Today, there exist approximately ten SEAL teams of four to six platoons each (non-classified).

    • F. Rogman says:

       You don’t know what you’re talking about.  The Teams were commissioned in 1962 by Kennedy.  There were two: ST1 and ST2.  Other teams were commissioned later, in 1983, drawn from the UDTs and existing teams.

    • Lee Chen says:


      I “don’t know what I’m talking about” yet you seem to ignore the fact that we’re speaking specifically about:

         Seal Team Six

      not “ST1 and ST2”.

      Incidentally, USN SEALs were commissioned 25 May 1961.  Not “1962”.  This coincided with JFK’s speech to Congress w/r/t expansion of American capabilities in unconventional warfare.

    • F. Rogman says:

       “At their advent in 1979-80… there were two SEAL Teams: 12 platoons in SEAL Team One and SEAL Team Six”

      Wrong and wrong.  Like I said, you don’t know what you’re talking about.  Save your dissembling straw man rebuttals.

    • Lee Chen says:

      Sir!  Yes, Sir.

      Sir!  You are right about everything,  Sir.

      Sir!  You need not even comprehend what is written to be right about everything,  Sir.

      Sir!  You tell me when SEAL Team Six was constituted.  Sir.

    • CQ says:

      Thanks for explaining about the SEAL team (singular), John.

  6. Soularddave says:

    These operations, as theater, are certainly more nuanced and compelling than merely the switching of the “threat level” from yellow to orange when the public needed to be distracted. BTW, have those “threat indicators”  been retired? I don’t remember them being hauled out when various “plotters” were apprehended.

    I like these things being discussed here, because it keeps my “sham detector” calibrated.   Goodness knows, there’s always a media generated list of “events” that need to be analyzed.  I think Snopes cannot keep up with them all.

    • Russ Baker says:

      Snopes is good with correcting misperceptions using commonly accepted standards. Here, we’re more focused on delving into the–, as you put it– “nuanced” ways that disinformation flows.

    • John Loftus says:

      Russ, I am a huge fan of your work but do not always agree.  My first reaction was that SEAL ops take a LONG time to plan, and are not spur if the moment press opportunities.  But your article made me rethink that; this is a new paradigm for rescue by force and it did happen in an election year.  But post hoc propter hoc is not always accurate although it is always logical.  Thanks for making me think.

    • Lee Chen says:

      Special Forces operations are planned long, long before they are enacted.  Yes.  However, please consider that there are currently no fewer than two-hundred-twenty such “plans” just waiting to be run by JSOC and other commands.  Reference Operation Northwoods for an excellent example of a planned operation that took 39 years of refinement to go live.  Special Forces (and most especially their adjuncts) are also constantly training under “drill” conditions.  Drills can go live (and do) quite often.  When this happens involved parties are not 100% aware of the actual agenda (and nor should they be – “compartmentalization”).

      Also, existing plans all contain various nexus points which are “drop-in & serve”.

      Consider the more than forty _known_ drills, exercises and operations surrounding the 9/11 psy-op.  An unprecedented concentration and for very good reason.  Ask yourself how many personnel involved with that actually knew what the reality was until it happened.  Very few.  Hence lots of promotions, no censures, no demotions, no resignations, etc. ad nauseum.

      The world political stage is a very complicated illusion and special forces have historically always played a key part.  Formally “planned” or not.  (Think Plato’s Cave)

  7. WarDepartment says:

    It would be interesting to see how Navy Seals would do in a face-off against elite special forces of other wealthy, highly developed countries.  We know they can take out rag-tag bands of African pirates or an aging Islamic radical (or so we were told).

    How and why the Pentagon and White House choose  these particular special-ops missions is a compelling question.

    Glad you mentioned Jessica Lynch.  To her everlasting credit, I believe she herself debunked the Pentagon’s fable about her captivity and rescue in Iraq.

    • John Loftus says:

      Their have been cross-training opportunities with Germany and UK.  The various American Spec Ops groups usually do pretty well in foreign competition, mostly because we spend so much time and money on training and marksmanship. (Same reason our national guard pilots consistently outperform Air Force’s  “Top Guns.”)

    • F. Rogman says:

       Cross-trng “opportunities”?  Cross-trng takes place on a regular basis with nearly a dozen foreign SOF units, including the Germans & Brits.

  8. CD67 says:

    Two things yank my chain about this story, but maybe my memory isn’t that good:

    1) wasn’t there a helicopter crash that killed most of the Seals that took part in the BinLaden assassination operation shortly after it happened?

    and 2) the Somalian pirates, (according to an article from the “2010 Project Censored” book ) are also protecting their waters from various trespassers and others, which is something you absolutely never hear about… We may not approve the method they use, but they absolutely do seem to have good reasons for doing it… And THAT never gets mentioned in these stories.

    (I apologize for using a FOX”NEWS”  link for the first point, but it’s all I could find quickly this morning. Let’s just say that I did read it somewhere else at the time…. ; ) )

  9. Morocco Bama says:

    It’s almost as if the same fictional producer in Wag the Dog now shuttles permanently between Hollywood and the White House.

    “Almost”? You’re much to kind. There’s no “almost.” It’s a fer sure thing , imo.

    Great analysis, by the way. I share your sentiments. I guess that’s why I just ignored this mainstream story, altogether.

    • John Loftus says:

      I was a federal employee once.  I blew the whistle on 60 Minutes  in 1982 on ex-Nazis working for US intelligence. There are lots like me in Washington who would have blown the whistle on any “wag the dog” story.  That stuff did happen in the Eisenhower administration, but less and less since.

    • Lee Chen says:

      Insidious and well documented.

      See: Operation Paperclip.

    • CD67 says:

      We all would like to believe there would be lots like you in Washington… or that the current administration would live up to its promise on transparency.

      But the fact is that there are more evident repercussions to blowing the whistle these days than ever before. See the Sibel Edmonds story for example (boilingfrogspost.com)…

      I disagree that these things happen less and less with time. I do think they’re getting smarter at it.

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