National Command Authority: the ultimate lawful source of military orders. The term refers collectively to the President of the United States (as commander-in-chief) and the United States Secretary of Defense.
As a test of President Obama's decisiveness and leadership in defending the United States and its citizens, the jury is still out for me on the hostage situation off the Horn of Africa to this extent: The on scene commander took action when it appeared the hostage was about to be killed by the pirates, and he was enabled to do so based on authorities to act provided by the President as well as SOP rules of engagement in a hostage situation that would dictate action to prevent the imminent murder of hostages. However, that is not the same as the military taking affirmative action to rescue Capt. Phillips under orders issued by national command authority (the President).
So, my question is, why didn't the President, as National Command Authority, affirmatively order the military to effect a rescue of a US citizen as soon as humanly possible under these circumstances? A destroyer is on station and at the time of this rescue, they were TOWING the boat at a distance of 75-80 feet. What is the point of putting a U.S. destroyer on station in addition to the other military assets and not using the firepower? The Navy Seal sniper team that took down the pirates parachuted onto the scene during the night. Perhaps the assets to effect a rescue were not on scene until they showed up, but that's hard to fathom when a guided missile destroyer with a crew of hundreds is shadowing a 28 ft. lifeboat.
As my governor Mitch Daniels once said to returning Iraq soldiers, "you hit the lottery the day you're born an American". Whats that mean? It means that if you as an American citizen get taken hostage by pirates on a lifeboat off the Horn of Africa, a U.S. destroyer and Navy Seals are coming in to get you.
One interpretation of the course of events is that the military were NOT ordered to rescue the guy, but instead were instructed to secure his release peacefully unless there was no other way. If so, I've got a problem with that.
Update: To be completely clear, the President gets full credit for the positive outcome and his actions in insuring that the military men and women on the scene were fully empowered to do what was necessary to secure the safe return of Capt. Phillips. As details continue to emerge about this incident, that may grow in significance as some of the cable news shows are reporting that the U.S.S Bainbridge actually rammed the boat to prevent it from possibly reaching the Somali shore. This incident went down on Obama's watch and had Capt. Philips perished, he would most certainly have been blamed for that. Conversely, the President gets full credit for the rescue of an American citizen by our military of which he is the Commander in Chief.