When asked what sort of generals he wanted when fighting his European wars, Napoleon is reputed to have responded: "Give me lucky generals."
It was more than a facetious quip. "Luck" does play a role in war but, as in sports and politics, it often comes to those who are prepared and poised to take advantage.
This often gives way to the saying that it's better to be lucky than good.
Just how "good" at his job U.S. President Barack Obama is remains unclear. What isn't in dispute is that he can be lucky. At the moment his luck is spelled S-E-A-L.
Twice now, U.S. Navy SEALs have inadvertently given Obama a boost -- first in their daring raid and assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, and then again by their equally daring parachute drop and rescue by helicopter of two hostages held by Somali pirates or hijackers, who were all killed. There were no "friendly" casualties.
SEAL Team 6 -- the same group that knocked off bin Laden -- is Obama's good luck charm of the moment. Deservedly, the SEALs (acronym for Sea Air Land) relish their elite reputation. So far, they've performed with the dash and efficiency of a Tom Clancy novel or a James Bond movie.
Real life isn't always so co-ordinated and successful.
Obama also should be credited with nerve for approving the rescue venture.
Had things gone wrong in the Pakistan and Somalia raids, Obama would have suffered the consequences -- as Bill Clinton did when, on his watch in 1993, Rangers and Delta Force troops went into Mogadishu to capture Somali warlord Mohammed Aidid, and instead 19 U.S. soldiers were killed, their mutilated corpses dragged through the city.
Jimmy Carter also lost an election in 1980, partly because an attempted helicopter rescue of Americans held hostage in Iran turned into a fiasco. The helicopter collided with a transport plane, killing nine and causing the mission to abort.
A factor in Obama's favour today is that U.S. forces are better trained and more adept at improvised warfare today than they were after the retreat from Vietnam and the in early 1990s. Again, Obama was "lucky" that the SEALS were ready.
While SEALs are the poster-boys of derring-do at the moment, one could argue that the British SAS has been doing these sort of operations since the end of WWII. Usually with no advance publicity and no boasting afterwards.
Several books have been written by former SAS types that methodically, and without undue chest-beating, tell harrowing adventure tales in parts of the world that most have never heard of.
The American media make a greater fuss about their military than the British do -- sometimes to the embarrassment of SEAL and Special Forces, who prefer discretion to shouting from rooftops.
In 1976, it was the Israelis who were the gold standard for daring rescues. A C-130 Hercules flew Israeli troops unnoticed into Entebbe Airport in Uganda to rescue 105 Jewish and Israeli hostages who were passengers on a hijacked Air France airliner. A bunch of hijackers were killed, as was the Israeli commander Yoni Netanyahu.
Canada's elite force, JTF 2, is largely unknown and is shrouded in so much secrecy that although they served in Afghanistan, there's no public record of what they tried to do, what they failed to do, what they actually accomplished.
That's the way our government likes it.