Monday, April 13, 2009

Is Somali Piracy Our Problem?

Today there are articles all over the blogosphere and mainstream media about piracy, and what if anything should be done about it. I have previously written favorably about the traditional response to piracy -- destruction of suspected pirate ports, and summary execution of pirates. I've seen a number of people on the right take up the call for massive retaliation against pirate nests on the coast of Somalia. For example, Rick Moran writes,
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

Is a unilateral major anti-piracy operation really in the U.S. interest at this time? Why is it the job of the U.S. to tackle the dirty job of eliminating Somali piracy? Up to this point, the threat to U.S. shipping has been minimal. And the latest incident ended in disaster for the pirates. No Americans were lost. Why should we take on a thankless task, for which we will be harshly criticized, and in which every action will be scrutinized in an attempt to find fault with the U.S.? 

How about letting the countries whose shipping has suffered the most, or whose trade is most threatened by piracy take the lead for once? We could back their action and maybe provide support if asked. Wouldn't it be better to let someone else smash the ports into rubble and kill a bunch of civilians? We could quietly cheer from the sidelines as pirate bases were eliminated.

Instead of leading another major world-police action that is almost guaranteed to be under-appreciated, why not work to make sure U.S. ships are better protected, and send some q-ships to the area to disrupt pirate operations and discourage attacks on U.S. flagged ships? This would be far cheaper and cleaner than a major nest-clearing operation. And it would effectively demonstrate that U.S. vessels are dangerous targets. These pirates aren't suicidal terrorists. People looking for ransom can be deterred. Why attack a possibly armed U.S. vessel, when there are a lot of easier pickings around? If the pirates deliberately target the U.S., and our limited defensive efforts prove to be not enough, we can always go with a policy of massive retaliation in the future. Why do it now?

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