"What could have been a huge problem disappeared because Denny knew the generals over there and called and said, 'Hey, we know each other, let's work this thing out,'" said Haines.
The above quote comes from today's Baltimore Sun piece titled, "Forged in the crucible of Annapolis" which notes that three members of the USNA class of 1968 (Mike Mullen, Jim Webb, and Dennis Blair) now hold, or will soon hold, key positions in the highest echelons of our government.
The potentially "huge problem" the quote refers to, though, was that little incident that occurred back in April 2001 when an EP-3E (P-3 airframe) modified to conduct certain, uh...collections, had a nasty aerial encounter with two Chinese intercept planes that wound up with one Chinese plane and pilot "buying the farm" and an expensive and sensitive U.S. airframe crash-landed on Hainan Island (just off the Chinese mainland in the South China Sea).
And just to comprehend the significance of the quote (which comes from Admiral Blair's college roommate), when he talks about Blair 'knowing the generals' he's not referring to a bunch of American flag officers over at PACOM headquarters on Oahu...he's talking about Chinese generals.
That's pretty powerful stuff.
Just through the contacts he had developed over the years, but mostly through those he had developed as a four-star in charge of our largest (geography-wise) theater command, he developed enough of a personal relationship with China's shot-callers to be able to help defuse a situation that could have gotten very ugly, very fast had a few critical indicators gone the other way.
This kind of makes you think of General Zinni back when he was CENTCOM, or about the way people describe Bush the Elder when he put the Gulf War coalition together (based on Bush's previous governmental postings, he literally knew most of the key world leaders whose support he needed to oust the Iraqi Army from Kuwait).
To me, it's also a reminder of why practitioners are often better leaders and problem solvers than are pure theoreticians. When a global crisis does erupt, I would take a Tony Zinni, a Dennis Blair, or a Colin Powell any day of the week, and twice on Sunday before all the eggheads from The Fletcher School, the Kennedy School, and SAIS put together.
Of course, like anything, too much elbow-rubbing can have a downside, as John recently pointed out on a comment to a Right-Side-of-Lowell post (https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=3046628493283608233&postID=6874853412305370328) when he mentioned how Admiral Blair's relationship with the Indonesian government didn't exactly wind up well for the East Timorese, who, I have no doubt, weren't so much concerned with Mr. Blair's level of "hard" or "soft" social capital as they were with the persecution they faced at the hands of a military dictatorship.
I'm sure many friends of the Tibetans and the Taiwanese won't be huge fans of the appointment, either.
Still, it's nice to think that anytime the proverbial three-in-the-morning phone call starts with "How are the wife and kids?" the chance that someone on one end will then try to kill the person on the other end after hanging up seems somehow diminished.
And that can't be all bad!