Wednesday, February 23, 2011


"When you respond to pirates with kid gloves as we have, this is what you get."

In the past I have argued here that the Somali pirates were not cut from the same sailcloth as Captain Morgan and Blackbeard. These pirates did not tend to sack any ports, murder passengers, or steal ships. All they were doing was taking a ship hostage, getting paid a ransom of more money than their entire family had seen in the past 100 years, and letting people go. When faced with stiff opposition, they would run away.

Things changed, recently. Four Americans who were going from port to port handing out Bibles were taken hostage from their boat and executed during negotiations with the US for their release. After gunfire was heard on the boat, the US stormed the ship, capturing 13 of the pirates and killing two.

Previously, because they were largely non violent, were not taking lives, and were not acting as rapcious and bloodthirsty as pirates of old, I argued that a lawfare approach was best, along with a strong show of US presence to intimidate these men. Now that lives have been lost, that all changes.

Now the US has a responsibility to step up as Britain did centuries ago, and deal with this swiftly, decisively, and in a manner which prevents anyone from thinking its a good idea to try being a pirate. Because make no mistake, piracy is evil and wrong. Modern men think of Johnny Depp when they think of pirates, zany and entertaining, but mostly harmless. The real pirate is a brutal thief and murderer, no better than a home invasion crew or carjacker that kills people.

In the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, the British Navy trying to stop piracy are the bad guys, something even the producers of that series realized was not very tolerable so they invented an absurd all powerful corporation version of the British East India company, which didn't exist at the time the movies are supposed to be set (roughly the late 1600s although they are riddled with anachronisms).

The British Government had a policy: piracy was punishable by death, always. If a captain did not have a reasonable expectation of getting pirates back to the British government (often the case with their navy going to all parts of the globe), they were authorized to execute the pirate on the spot. All pirates taken back to England were tried and executed, unless very unusual circumstances were involved. Their bodies were prominently displayed to help discourage other pirates.

Now the world should respond in the same manner. Every pirate caught should be tried and rapidly executed. Every pirate base should be sacked and destroyed. Every pirate ship should be obliterated. The source of their weapons should be tracked down and defunded, blocked, and the people selling them imprisoned. No one should ever pay a single dime of ransom for their ships or people; the pirates involved should inexorably be hunted down and executed.

The problem we face is that for now the risk of piracy is extremely low and the rewards are immensely high. This arithmetic needs to be reversed immediately, making the risk immense and the reward extremely low. President Obama, as a man who calls himself black, has a unique position to act against Somali pirates without being called racist or anti-African.

I don't want to see Somalia turned into glass, I don't want to see the coastal towns obliterated and everyone killed, and I don't want to see ships shelling Somalia in response. It should be targeted, specific, and ruthless so that pirates are dealt with in such a conspicuous and shocking manner that it discourages others from even considering the option. To continue as we are now is unacceptable and simply encourages more of this behavior, because Somalia isn't the only place this is happening and now they have blood on their hands.

No comments: