So Captain Phillips is free and unharmed and the pirates are killed or captured. Good news all around, although I think Michael Shear of WaPo gave new meaning to the phrase “gushing coverage:”
It was one of the earliest tests of the new American president — a small military operation off the coast of a Third World nation. But as President Bill Clinton found out in October 1993, even minor failures can have long-lasting consequences.
Clinton’s efforts to land a small contingent of troops in Haiti were rebuffed, for the world to see, by a few hundred gun-toting Haitians. As the USS Harlan County retreated, so did the president’s reputation.
For President Obama, last week’s confrontation with Somali pirates posed similar political risks to a young commander in chief who had yet to prove himself to his generals or his public.
But the result — a dramatic and successful rescue operation by U.S. Special Operations forces — left Obama with an early victory that could help build confidence in his ability to direct military actions abroad.
Some victory. The US Navy against 4 pirates in 15 foot launch. And by all accounts, the Navy SEAL’s acted in response to the Captain trying to escape - brave felow, him. He no doubt realized once he was clear that the pirates would be toast.
The significance here is not a “victory” but rather that the president proved he can pull the trigger. By authorizing the use of force not once, but twice, the president showed that when American lives are threatened, he will act. That should bolster his reputation somewhat with a suspicious military:
The operation pales in scope and complexity to the wars underway in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Obama’s adversaries are unlikely to be mollified by his performance in a four-day hostage drama.
Nonetheless, it may help to quell criticism leveled at Obama that he came to office as a Democratic antiwar candidate who could prove unwilling or unable to harness military might when necessary.
And as Obama’s Democratic predecessors can attest, a victory — no matter how small — is better than a failure.
Obama’s two Democratic predecessors were notorious for their seeming inability to pull the trigger on military action at times. The question of whether Clinton could have killed Bin Laden will haunt this country for many years while his Haiti operation, where US troops were prevented from landing by a couple of hundred armed irregulars, was seen at the time as an embarrassment. The Kosovo operation suffered from a lack of will to commit ground troops and end the conflict swiftly. For Clinton, a man who headed an administration that Buzz Patterson found first hand to have nothing but contempt for soldiers in uniform (Patterson and other military personnel assigned to the White House were ordered not to wear their uniforms), the inability to give the “go” signal was the result of a Viet Nam era distrust and disgust of the mlitary.
Carter was just plain inept - a dithering, hand wringing Commander in Chief who surrounded himself with pacifists - and his inability to come to a decision about the hostage rescue (it was an on again, off again operation) while previously assisting anti-regime forces in Iran and Nicaraugua to overthrow American allies, emboldened the Soviets at the time to expand their influence dramatically around the world, not to mention invade Afghanistan. The Communists figured correctly they had nothing to fear from Carter.
So our friends on the left will excuse us if we have our doubts about Mr. Obama’s ability to act decisively when the chips are down and American lives are at stake. The manner in which he handled the hostage situation is a good start toward allaying those fears.
Now, however, comes the hard part. It is time for the United States to take the lead and mount a military operation that will wipe out the scourge of piracy. If no one will help, we should do it ourselves although I think it likely that most nations are ready for such a move. And such an operation cannot be simply a raid; from what I’ve read from experts, it must be a sustained campaign that involves not only the navies of the world but also special forces to infliltrate the towns and villages along the coast where the pirates live and destroy their ability to cause trouble. This means destroying their boats, the docks, the gasoline dumps, interdict and confiscate weapons, and take other actions against targets that allow the pirates to operate.
But this situation is not as easy as simply going after terrorists or high seas criminals. Alas, our president will no doubt see the other side of the coin as well; that the pirates are simply acting in “self defense” or responding to unbearable provocations from western fishing trawlers:
This from Crooks and Liars:
I wonder which principled member of our corporate media will point out that, in the big picture, the Somali pirates are acting in self-defense?
Yes - a VERY big picture, fer sure. Meanwhile, the author quotes from a story in The Independent that gives a pass to the pirates due to (wait for it) western imperialism:
In 1991, the government of Somalia collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.
Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.
Coud this be true? Der Spiegel tells it a little differently:
Somali fishermen have another problem: toxic waste. Initially dumped on land, toxic waste was increasingly dumped at sea after the collapse of the regime of former President Siad Barre in 1991. Because the country has no coast guard, for the past 20 years the Somali coastline has had no protection against European ships dumping waste at sea. Although hard evidence was rare, there have been periodic and mysterious incidents. In early 2002, tens of thousands of dead fish washed ashore at Merca, south of Mogadishu. The causes remain unclear.
In the spring of 2004, fishermen spotted two large containers floating in the water near Bosaso. Whether they were deliberately tossed overboard or accidentally fell of a container ship in rough seas is unclear. The Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, which also reached the African coast, unearthed dozens of containers of toxic waste and deposited the waste along the Somali coast. According to a United Nations report, many coastal residents suffered “acute respiratory infections, heavy coughing, bleeding gums and mouth, abdominal haemorrhages, unusual skin rashes, and even death.”
Experts and environmentalists have long been aware of the problem. In 2006, a team of specialists sent to the region to investigate discovered nine toxic waste sites along 700 kilometers (435 miles) of coastline in southern Somalia.
The UN envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, said last October that the UN has “reliable information that European and Asian companies are dumping toxic waste, including nuclear waste, off the Somali coastline.”
Clearly, there’s problem here and it’s not western imperialism or even grasping capitalism; Somalia has no government. The jackals of the world take advantage of that. And the UN - even though they are aware of the problem - do nothing. And when something newsworthy comes out of all of that, wake me up.
Rapacious businessmen are taking advantage of the chaos in Somalia by bullying the few Somalis who try and make a living as fishermen and dumping toxic waste - including some low level nuclear waste - along the shore where there was already a problem thanks to the Somalis themselves dumping waste on land. There is some evidence that the Mafia are making a killing by contracting with firms to dump their waste off the Somali coast.
Now just to set the record straight, there is absolutely no evidence that 300 Somalis have died of exposure to nuclear waste nor has their been a clear link established between the dumping of any toxic waste and the death of any Somali.
Here’s a Greenpeace scientist:
A senior scientist with Greenpeace Research Laboratories in Great Britain, David Santillo, says while it would be difficult to prove that exposure to industrial waste is the sole cause of such health problems, he believes there is a link.
“It could well be that some of those health effects are a result of exposure to radioactive material and in that case, for some people, regrettably, the prognosis could be very devastating,” he explained. “There could be people who simply would not recover.”
Obviously, the key to ending piracy and the illegal dumping is for Somalia to form some kind of government - a task that has been beyond their capabilities for going on two decades. The UN is in its usual throwing-its-hands-in-the-air- mode of doing nothing and spending a lot of money showing it. If ever there was evidence needed that the UN is not only a useless organization but one that actually makes matters worse, the situation in Somalia is it.
Meanwhile, our intrepid Somali pirates know they have western liberals on their side as long as they can show that the reason they board ships, terrorize people, take crew members hostage, kill with impunity, and barter for ransom is because they are only acting in “self defense” against rancid capitalists and western governments who allow the practice of dumping and illegal fishing with a wink and a nod. This appeals to many on the left who will now see the problem as a question of “fairness” and will agitate that the president forgoe knocking the stuffing out of pirate infrastructure in favor of a “negotiated” solution. Piracy will continue, hostages will still be taken, governments and businesses will still be forced to pay ransom - but liberals will feel better about the whole thing.
Sure, let’s negotiate; just as soon as their isn’t a ship, a dock, or a boathouse left standing in those villages and towns that assist the pirates in their lawlessness. And capturing and hanging a few pirates wouldn’t hurt either.
Does the president have the judgement to pull the trigger on this, a much more problematic operation where civilians are likely to be killed and the loss of American life is probable? That will be Obama’s first real “test” and not some quick thinking by a brave captain and the dead eye marksmanship of our SEAL’s.
Once again, the fusion of great minds is evident as Ed Morrissey agrees with me:
This should actually be the next mission for the US Navy after freeing Phillips. We don’t need a quarantine and inspection to identify some of the boats and ports in question; I’d bet dollars to donuts we’ve already identified most of them. Our next step after killing the pirates on the lifeboat is torpedoing their ships in their home ports without inspections or even warnings. Somalia’s failed state can’t impose order on these areas, but if the pirates become a liability rather than an asset to these facilities, they’ll get the heave-ho soon enough.
In the future, we don’t need the lawyers and the FBI negotiators, and we especially don’t need to legitimize Somali “elders”, either. Iklé has that right; piracy is not a bank robbery. The entire point of piracy is to capture ships in territory where no nation can claim sovereignty and therefore work outside the civil law. The proper response to that is military, not some notion of cops and robbers. When pirates find out we’re serious, and when enough of them wind up at the bottom of the ocean, they’ll think twice about seizing American or Western shipping.
I’m not so sure the townsfolk have the strength to give the pirates the “heave ho” which is why I recommend taking Ed’s idea and expanding it by sinking all boats, destroying every dock, every business that caters to the pirates. Yes, it is horrible that we would be destroying very poor people’s ability to make a living. Spreading some green as compensation for legitimate boat and business owners would help there. But it has to hit home to everyone in those towns and villages that the pirates are more than a liability.