The War of Jenkins Ear

by Dave Schuler on August 21, 2014

In reaction to the murder of James Foley by ISIS terrorist and the president’s subsequent remarks, the editors of the Wall Street Journal call for the president to take a stand:

The question now—what the world wants to know now, Mr. President—is what are you going to do about it?

Six years into this Presidency, we know Barack Obama can do empathy. We know he can channel a family’s grief for a murdered son and express a nation’s outrage. What we don’t know is if he can muster the will and fortitude to defeat an enemy that is growing in strength and danger on his watch. This is what America and the world need from a President when killers are on the march.

The War of Jenkins Ear was a war between Great Britain and Spain whose precipitating event was the maiming of Robert Jenkins, a British merchant ship captain. Capt. Jenkins’s ear was actually displayed before Parliament to drum up enthusiasm for the war which ultimately lasted nine years, inflicting terrible damage on people and property in the New World colonies, largely because both sides employed privateers.

None of the alternative strategies before us is particularly attractive. Should we declare that journalists who put themselves in harm’s way have themselves to blame it won’t drown out incitements to respond and the political pressure will mount as the atrocities continue. There are no moderate insurgents to support. That is a fiction.

Taking steps which are unlikely to result in a resolution of the problems won’t resolve the problems as should be obvious enough. This cycle will repeat again and again. And, finally, Americans don’t have the stomach for the loss of American life and property and the indefinite occupation of a good part of the Middle East accompanied by the severe repression of a good part of the population that would be required to end these problems once and for all.

Playing golf sounds pretty appealing right about now.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

... August 21, 2014 at 9:30 am

I would argue that since the journalist put himself into that situation, his death is less tragic than those of, to name one group, the Yazidhi, who are stuck there. And it certainly doesn’t require spending more American lives and treasure (or credit) in an area where we clearly don’t know what the fuck we’re doing.

... August 21, 2014 at 9:40 am

As for the golf: he wanted the job, and spent a lot of time and money to get it. Then he did it all to get the job again. If he doesn’t want to do the job, he should resign. As it is he’s looking more and more like Nicholas II, who didn’t really want to be Tsar.

steve August 21, 2014 at 3:21 pm

It was a horrible way to die. It was barbaric. Is it really a whole lot worse than dying as collateral damage from a bombing? I don’t think this should what we are planning on doing one bit.


... August 22, 2014 at 9:19 am

I see now that IS has become the most dangerous enemy we’ve ever faced, according to SecDef. Quite a promotion from the group the Administration was laughing at back at the start of the year, so I guess we’d better gear up for WWIII. (Maybe Paul Krugman is behind this?)

Or, just maybe, the Intel people and/or the Administration are simply casting about desperately from day-to-day and don’t understand the problem themselves….

TastyBits August 22, 2014 at 10:55 am

By 2006, the Bush Administration had put in place an effective anti-terrorism program. The terrorists had to be right 100% of the time. If they did anything wrong, they would get caught.

Money transfers through banks, electronic communications, internet sites, and people were all monitored. Couriers would be nabbed, and they would be “interrogated” by the host country. If the leaders used a cell phone, it was droned.

This may have been dismantled and replaced with a kinder and gentler approach.

You do not fight terrorists on the battlefield. You fight them in the shadows. That is where they have an advantage, but as with night vision goggles, those shadows can be illuminated. The terrorists are still operating in darkness, but you can see them clearly.

This approach assumes that terrorists are criminals are animals to be hunted and slaughtered. They have no rights, and they should be sliced apart to be used as bait for other terrorists – chum the waters.

jan August 22, 2014 at 11:11 am


I don’t understand the differing stances and words used by the president and people in his administration. Obama described ISIS, not that long ago, as a JV kind of group. Now, as you noted , the SOD calls ISIS basically the worst of the worst, and should be taken as a real threat to the security of this country.

We often refer to the growing gap in equality. Well there seems to be a growing gap in the POVs among our top government officials too. And, amidst these conflicting, contrary opinions you have no tangible foreign policy or strategy being voiced. Instead we have a commander-in-chief becoming increasingly isolated in the WH, operating in solidarity with unelected, self-selected cohorts, rather than working in tandem with elected representatives of the people, as he incessantly escapes reality by running away to golf courses.

steve August 22, 2014 at 12:09 pm

TB- They have largely abandoned the far war for the near war. We are set up to catch the far war terrorists. Of course, we really need to use the word terrorist properly. A lot of the people fighting with IS now are not terrorists, they are Iraq military fighting the Shia who were screwing them over. Plus, folks keep forgetting that the other side is not stupid. They have adapted to avoiding our electronic surveillance.


TastyBits August 22, 2014 at 12:18 pm

I suspect that al-Qaeda with tanks in Iraq is more of a threat to Saudi Arabia than the US. That would be my first priority, but if you are going to establish a Caliphate in the Middle East, the US is where you start. At least, that is what I am told.

TastyBits August 22, 2014 at 12:47 pm


While President Bush was in office, the US adapted as the terrorists changed. Using human couriers became as dangerous as electronic communications. Picking up one of these guys provides a lot of intel, and it provides additional insight into mapping the network.

The target may not be communicating electronically, but there are numerous people around him that are. Those people may not be physically located near the target, but they are operationally part of the target’s sphere.

Most of this was outside the US. The US was working with the European intelligence services in addition to the other more “flexible” countries.

The NYT and other leaks hurt these programs and burned intelligence sources greatly, but they were the major reason the terrorist never launched a second attack. Every mistake the terrorists made was a setback.

It was Cold War 2.0, but for the 21st century men, the terrorists are simply misunderstood. With a hug and a flower, the terrorist will become gentle lambs.

steve August 22, 2014 at 1:37 pm

TB- Yet, they have not successfully attacked in the last 6 years either. No one I know or read in the intel community is as confident as you are about our abilities in the intel area. Some politicians may be, but no professionals. We have always been, and always will be vulnerable to the lone assailant. That is far, far different than what is going on in Syria and Iraq.

You are correct that at one point AQ thought the far war needed to be settled first, or at least that view has been held by a number of intel pros. However, IS split with AQ. It has been rumored that they wanted to focus on the near war. There are also claims from those writing in this area that AQ had let down efforts on the far also.


... August 22, 2014 at 2:27 pm

I know that whenever the Shia screw be over the first thing I do is start cutting of the heads of the first Christians I get my hands on. Every. Single. Time.

Fucking Shia hoser scumbags…..

... August 22, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Jan, you didn’t hear? A few weeks back the Administration ALMOST admitted it had been wrong about ISIS and blamed their almost mistake on … wait for it … wait for it … faulty intelligence assessments. I may be misremebering, but I seem to recall this same bunch of tools heaping scorn on such excuses a few years back.

So remember, kids, don’t do stupid shit, such as use the same excuse today that you laughed at yesterday, lol!

TastyBits August 22, 2014 at 3:29 pm


When President Obama first took office, they dialed back everything, and within a year, there were two incidents. (I do not have time to look them up.) After that, they dialed it back up.

It is not 100%, but it is a lot harder for the terrorists than most people think. The intel guys do not get on TV by saying everything is OK.

A lone assailant is a lone assailant. If the Boston Bombers were wearing trenchcoats or sheets, it would be nothing more than two crazy white guys blowing up people because of some dumb-ass shit they believe.

President Obama never admitted he was wrong about terrorists, but he kept and/or enhanced the Bush programs. This is what drives his opponents batshit crazy, but I am a results oriented guy. If he was killing all the other terrorists, he could go hot tubbing with Osama bin Laden for all I care. (When, he was alive.)

War is the wrong paradigm. Terrorism is like espionage. It operates in the shadows, and you combat it in the shadows. You do the dirty work offshore, and you try not to shit where you sleep.

jan August 22, 2014 at 11:26 pm

Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer (Ret.), a CIA-trained former senior intelligence office appeared on a DC radio station, WMAL, saying the failure to rescue Foley was because Obama was slow to give the go ahead. This seems to be the common denominator in this president’s command and execution of foreign policy leadership, and why he is often seen by others as a weak, feckless, ineffective POTUS.

I’m hearing from my friends in the Pentagon, they are giving him every single option way ahead of time. And let me give you a little secret here: The reason that raid into Syria failed to get Foley and those guys was because the president drug his feet. He waited too long, the intel got stale, and by the time we actually gave the “go” word it failed because we just didn’t react quick enough.


The citicism for actions taken by the last president has done a 180 turn and now considered jusified by Obama’s acolyes, now that he is conducting himself in the same fashion — debt ceiling increases, NSA abuses and executive overreach, war interventions, political polarization, lack of transparancy, increased poverty etc. Why people can’t see how hypocritical this is, is beyond me.

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