Mike Kueber's Blog

May 7, 2011

Operation Neptune’s Spear a/k/a the McRaven option

The highly successful conclusion to the search for Osama was due in no small measure to a child of San Antonio.  The commander of Operation Neptune’s Spear was William McRaven, who grew up in San Antonio and graduated from Roosevelt High School before moving on to the University of Texas in Austin for Navy ROTC and a journalism degree.

As news reports continue to describe Operation Neptune’s Spear, it has become clear that Admiral McRaven played a central role.  Although the mission was carried out by the military, the legal authority for the mission came from the CIA instead of the Department of Defense.  Thus, McRaven, whose was in charge of SEAL Team 6, reported directly to CIA Director Panetta, who reported directly to President Obama.

According to an absorbing article in the Washington Post, Operation Neptune’s Spear was known as “the McRaven option.”   He earned the assignment because, for the three years that he headed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), their “jackpot rate” – i.e., when Special Operations raids got their intended target — jumped from 35 percent to more than 80 percent.

The Post article suggested that McRaven selected the SEALs for the mission because, “SEALs have a tradition of moving in and out fast, often killing everyone they encounter at a target site….  One senior official said the general philosophy of the SEALs is: ‘If you see it, shoot it. It is a house full of bad guys.’”

That suggestion, however, is contrary to the additional facts presented in the article:

  • A ‘pattern of life’ study of the compound by intelligence agencies showed that about a dozen women and children periodically frequented it.  Specific orders were issued to the SEALs not to shoot the women or children unless they were clearly threatening or had weapons. (During the mission, one woman was killed and a wife of bin Laden was shot in the leg.)  Bin Laden was to be captured, one official said, if he ‘conspicuously surrendered.’”

When Obama refused to release the photos of Osama, he famously said, “That’s not who we are.”  I agree whole-heartedly with that sentiment, and I agree whole-heartedly with the rules of engagement for Operation Neptune’s Spear.  The distinction between the combatants/men (kill unless conspicuously surrendering) and noncombatants/women and children (don’t shoot unless clearly threatening) reflects American values when fighting a war.

As Charles Krauthammer accurately opined in his column earlier this week:

  • Bin Laden declared war on us in 1998. But it was not until 9/11 that we took him seriously. At which point we answered with a declaration of war of our own, offering the brutal, unrelenting and ferocious response that war demands and that police work prohibits.  Including bin Laden’s execution. It’s clear there was no intention of capturing him. And for good reason. Doing so would have been insane, gratuitously granting him a second life of immense publicity on a worldwide stage from which to propagandize.  We came to kill. That is what you do in war. Do that in police work and you’ve committed murder. The Navy SEAL(s) who pulled the fateful trigger would be facing charges, not receiving medals.

The Washington Post article contained four additional pieces of information that are relevant to our Monday Morning Quarterbacking of Operation Neptune’s Spear:

  1. “Several assessments concluded there was a 60 to 80 percent chance that bin Laden was in the compound. Michael Leiter, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, was much more conservative. During one White House meeting, he put the probability at about 40 percent.”
  2. Officials said Obama’s national security advisers were not unanimous in recommending he go ahead with the McRaven option. The president approved the raid at 8:20 a.m. Friday.”
  3. “During the assault, one of the Black Hawk helicopters stalled, but the pilot was able to land safely. The hard landing, which disabled the helicopter, forced the SEALs to abandon a plan to have one team rope down from a Blackhawk and come into the main building from the roof. Instead, both teams assaulted the compound from the ground.”
  4. After the information was relayed to Obama, he turned to his advisers and said: ‘We donated a $60 million helicopter to this operation. Could we not afford to buy a tape measure?’”  Since information about the downed copter was highly classified, let’s hope this humorous aside did not unintentionally reveal the actual cost of this bird of war.  

 As Obama told the SEALs on Saturday, “a job well done.”

November 1, 2010

Further news on the status of illegal immigrants in America

Recent reports from Georgia describe a new admission policy adopted by the state’s Board of Regents.  The new policy prohibits illegal immigrants from enrolling at selective George colleges – i.e., those that don’t have the capacity to enroll all qualified, legal residents of Georgia.  Currently the state has 27 illegal immigrants enrolled in five such colleges.  This new policy suggests a couple of related issues: 

  1. It’s amazing how illegal immigrants are able to flourish openly in America.  What other country would know precisely how many illegal immigrants are attending which colleges and do nothing about it?  If Houston is a sanctuary city, then America is a sanctuary country.
  2. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a state violates the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution if it refuses to provide a primary education to illegal immigrants.  Plyler v. Doe, 1982.  I wonder if someone will argue that the same principle applies to a college education in Georgia.

The GA Board of Regents policy does not affect the 474 illegal immigrants enrolled in Georgia colleges that are able to enroll all qualified, legal residents of Georgia, but some lawmakers are suggesting that the ban should be extended to all illegal immigrants. 

Georgia law, like that in three others states, requires illegal immigrants to pay out-of-state tuition, whereas the law in ten other states authorizes illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition if they meet certain conditions, such as living in the state for a specified period  of time and graduating from a high school in the state.  Sounds like the state version of the federal DREAM Act.

What is the position of Texas colleges vis-à-vis illegal immigrants?  Surprisingly, Texas is one of the ten states with liberal in-state tuition laws.  In 2001, Texas passed a law that enables illegal immigrants to be pay in-state tuition and received financial aid.  Illegal immigrants even take up spaces at the state’s exclusive colleges – 569 at UT-Austin and 304 at Texas A&M.  Approximately 1% of Texas’ public college students (@10,000 out of 1,000,000 total qualify under this law. 

It must be a sign of the times that a Texas law that prohibited illegal immigrants from attending primary and secondary schools led to the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision – Plyler v. Doe – that required states to provide free public education to illegal immigrants.  Then, 20 years later, Texas became one of the most liberal states in granting enrollment privileges and financial aid to illegal immigrants who, in turn, were squeezing qualified, legal residents of Texas from spaces at UT-Austin and Texas A&M.  Maybe the Texas legislature is a bit schizophrenic.

October 27, 2010

Regrets, I’ve had a few.

Earlier this week, I was channel surfing and stumbled across a debate between the two gubernatorial candidates from Florida – Alex Sink (female) and Rick Scott.  Other than noticing how the candidates were clearly not ready for primetime (they were uncomfortably ill-at-ease), I was struck by their pathetic responses to a predictable question from CNN moderator John King – “What’s your biggest regret?” 

Because that type of question is commonly posed to politicians, I was surprised that Sink and Scott gave such feeble answers.  Sink looked like a deer in headlights and struggled to find an answer until she finally gave a phony answer in blatant political babble – i.e., she doesn’t have any regrets because she is a person who prefers looking forward instead of looking backward.  I wonder what she thinks about those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Scott’s answer was not much better even though his response sounded prepared.  He smugly responded that he wished he had more kids and explained by saying he loved his girls.  That’s so deep.  I wish John King would have followed up by asking why he and his wife didn’t have more kids.

These politicians should have realized that King’s question was serious and not to be trifled with.  Haven’t they heard that famous “Regrets” song?  No, not “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.  I’m referring to Kenny Chesney’s, “A Lot of Things Different.” 

People say they wouldn’t change a thing,
Even if they could.
Oh but I would.
Oh, I’d done a lot of things different.
I think we’d all do a lot of things different

In the song (written by Whisperin’ Bill Anderson and Dean Dillon), Kenny lists a lot of things he would have done different.  Things like:

  • I‘d spend a lot more time in the pouring rain without an umbrella covering my head.
  • And I’d stood up to that bully when he pushed and called me names, but I was too afraid.
  • And I’d a gone on and saw Elvis that night he came to town, but mama said I couldn’t.
  • And I’d ‘a went skinny dipping with Jenny Carson that time she dared me to, but I didn’t.
  • I wished I’d ‘a spent more time with my dad when he was alive.  Now I don’t have the chance.
  • I wish I had told my brother how much I loved him before he went off to war, but I just shook his hand.
  • And I wish I had gone to church on Sunday morning when my grandma begged me to, but I was afraid of God.
  • And I wish I would’ve listened when they said Boy, you’re gonna wish you hadn’t, but I wouldn’t.
  • There was this red dress she wanted one time so bad she could taste it.
    And I should’ve bought it, but I didn’t.
  • She wanted to paint our bedroom yellow and trim it blues and greens, but I wouldn’t let her.  Wouldn’t ‘a hurt nothin’.
  • She loved to be held and kissed and touched, but I didn’t do it not nearly enough.
  • And if I’d ‘a known that dance was going to be our last dance, I’d ‘a asked that band to play on and on, on and on.

Since I am a politician (albeit currently unemployed), I need to be ready for the question, “What are your major regrets?”  My response will be:

1.   Dating.  I wished I had dated more in high school.  There are a variety of reasons or explanations for why I didn’t (I was raised on a farm in a family of all boys, I didn’t have a car or a lot of money, my friends did minimal dating, and I wasn’t interested in girls), but I should have been interested in girls and I should have realized that life without girls in it is not nearly as full as a life with girls in it.  All of which reminds me of a Brooks & Dunn song – “Put a Girl in It”:   


You can buy you a brand new truck
Chrome it all out, jack it way up
You can build you a house up high on a hill
With a pool and a pond and a view to kill
You can make all the money in sight
But you aint livin the good life

Til you put a girl in it
You aint got nothin
What’s it all worth
Without a little lovin
Put a girl in it
Some huggin and some kissin
If you’re world’s got somethin missin
Just put a girl in it

You can buy a boat and a shiny set of skis
Have some fun in the sun, float around in the breeze
You can lay out on a blanket by the lake
Drink a cold beer, polish off another day
Kick on back and watch the sky turn red
A sunset aint a sunset

Til you put a girl in it
You aint got nothin
What’s it all worth
Without a little lovin
Put a girl in it
Some huggin and some kissin
If you’re world’s got somethin missin
Just put a girl in it

You can write you a country song
The DJ wont put it on
They wont dance or sing along

Til you put a girl in it
You aint got nothin
What’s it all worth
Without a little lovin
Put a girl in it
Some huggin and some kissin
If you’re world’s got somethin missin
Just put a girl in it

If you’re ridin in your truck
Put a girl in it

If you’re gonna have a party
Put a girl in it

If you wanna live the good life
Better put a gir-r-rl in it 

2.   Notre Dame.  When I was a senior in high school, I received a four-year Army ROTC scholarship, which would provide me with a free education at virtually any major college in America (only a few Ivy League schools didn’t have an ROTC program).  At that time, I was a huge fan of Notre Dame and had dreamed of going to school there.  But I was also a small-town/farm kid who had never been away from home.  I obtained the application from Notre Dame, but never sent it in because I didn’t have the courage to move that far away from home.  Instead, I applied to the University of North Dakota, which was only 50 miles away.  I have no idea how my life would have been different if I had gone to Notre Dame, but that’s the path I should have taken.

 3.   Law School.  I went to college while the Vietnam War was coming to an end, and I was heavily influenced by the anti-war movement.  A major philosophical component of that movement was the pursuit of personal freedom and the rejection of materialism, imperialism, and conformity.  With that philosophy, I found it difficult to strive for excellence in during my years in law school.  Although my work ethic prompted me to work solidly and earnestly, I didn’t have the ambition and drive to excel that I have always had, both before and after law school.  I have no idea how my life would have been different if I had taken better advantage of the opportunity to learn law at the University of Texas, but I should have taken that path.  

Although I regret the decisions described above, I don’t regret my chosen path because everything has worked out to my satisfaction.

September 11, 2010

The law is a jealous mistress and a bramble bush

Filed under: Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 8:56 pm
Tags: , , ,

Back in 1976, first-year law students at the University of Texas were taught that the law was a jealous mistress and a bramble bush.  Both of those metaphors provide insights to anyone considering an intellectually challenging career.  

The Bramble Bush was the title of 1930 book by Karl Llewellyn.  The book was intended to prepare students for the study of law.  I don’t recall if I ever read the book, but I recall being told the moral of the story – namely, the study of law was complicated and frustrating and the deeper you explored, the more frustrated you might feel.  But you should remain hopeful that in the end everything would fall into place and make sense.

The moral of The Bramble Bush is actually quite similar to the statement, “The law is a jealous mistress and requires a long and constant courtship.”  This statement was written in 1829 by Joseph Story, a Harvard law professor and U.S. Supreme Court justice.  The moral of this statement is that to be successful at the study of law, you need to give the subject lots of attention and not be a dilettante.

How does this relate to career planning?  I suggest that The Bramble Bush and Mistress metaphors apply not only to the studying of law, but also to any studying or occupation.  I remember giving my son Mikey some advice about how much studying to do in college while he was preparing for medical school.  My advice was that he should put as much effort into college as he was willing to put into the remainder of his working life.  If he wanted to excel in an intellectually challenging field like medicine, he must be prepared to conquer the bramble bush, and then continue devoting attention to his medicine mistress.

  • If you think of school or work as requiring 40, 50, or 60 hours a week, you need to determine how much of a commitment you are comfortable with.  If you really enjoy a field of study and the related work, then put in 60 hours to get on the fast track and stay there.  But don’t plan to put in 60 uncomfortable hours a week during college or early in your career and then expect your load will lighten because it won’t.  If you start your career on a 60-hour track, it will stay there unless you get derailed.  No one wants a derailed career.
  • Other people don’t love their field of study or the related work and may prefer to do a lot of living outside of their career.  These are the 40-hour people.  In my opinion, they should spend this much time on their education and early career.  Then, later in their career, they will be in appropriate slots for this level of commitment.

I’ve had experience with 40-, 50-, and 60-hour plans.  During college, I was so excited to be there that I studied around the clock – more than 60 hours a week.  I remember that, although I loved football, I couldn’t spare the three hours to watch Monday Night Football.  I didn’t burn out because I enjoyed it and was rewarded with excellent grades.  After three years, though, I started to buy into a lot of liberal philosophies that questioned materialism and the Protestant work ethic and that placed a higher value on having a social conscience and being noncompetitive.  My last year of college and three years of law school became a time of mediocre grades, but advanced personal development.  My years in Austin were as fun as could be.  After law school, I shifted into a mid-range 50-hour week and stayed there the remainder of my working career.  That level of commitment allowed me to do well at what I was doing and still have a significant away-from-work life.  No regrets.

So, what happened to Mikey?  He apparently took the middle road from the beginning – i.e., he studied hard, but had lots of fun attending college in Austin and medical school in St. Louis.  His studying in Austin was good enough to get him into medical school, but not good enough to get him into his preferred (less expensive public) schools.  And he is hopeful that his studying in medical school has been good enough to get him into an Emergency Medicine residency.  He picked this residency not only because it matches his grades (Emergency Medicine residencies are in the middle of the scale for ease/difficulty of obtaining), but also because it offers a lifestyle that allows a full life away from work.  So far, so good.