Pirates; Now the Hard Part
The Easter Sunday rescue of the skipper, Richard Phillips, of the SS Maersk Alabama was exactly how piracy should be handled. My only criticism, outside allowances to tactical considerations of our SEALs on the spot, was the slowness in response. The order, from Obama, of shooting only in the face of “imminent” harm, belies a fundamental mindset that these pirates are somehow entitled to due process. Certainly, a brilliant Harvard lawyer, like Obama, should be aware of the fundamental legalities that were worked out by the ancient Romans that pirates operate outside any civilized norms and deserve not of the courtesies afforded to people who choose to subscribe to those civilized norms. There is only one policy, one solution, to piracy–summary execution.
But, though the outcome was positive–a failed piracy attempt, our crew alive and free and three dead pirates–Obama backed into this happy outcome. His order of “imminent” harm gave away the game. It was Obama, prime minister to the world, that crafted that order. What Obama, president of the United States should have immediately recognized was that it was American sovereignty under attack, it was protections of the Bill of Rights for America’s citizens that were under attack. It was these principles that were paramount and required immediate and muscular defense. It is these principles that take precedence over even the lives of the crew. Had this attack come from a governmental entity on the Horn of Africa, this would constitute an blatant act of war. Along the Horn of Africa, Geneva Conventions don’t apply; these are non-uniformed combatants who don’t even deserve Gitmo.
And, so, we have a lot of luck that allowed a happy conclusion to l’affaire Alabama. Obama still has the legacy of a robust Navy that actually had assets in the area that could be brought to bear rapidly. Obama had the advantage that American individualism is still the norm and this allowed a successful repelling of the pirate takeover. And, of course, was the brave actions of the skipper, Phillips, who was able to spare his crew and ship and move the venue to a lifeboat. Finally, thanks to the Navy, Phillips was kept at sea which made his eventual rescue so much more easy.
We also had the luck that this pirate takeover took the pirates by surprise since the usual script, a passive surrender by the crew, did not occur.
But, the ante is now raised. Unless there is strong follow-up resulting in the repeated forceful repellings of pirates by American flagged and/or crewed ships, these pirates are going to specifically seek out American ships if for no other reason than to kill Americans in revenge. The long term result is that the American military is going to need to more than double down in supressing piracy along the Horn of Africa. This is going to include action at sea and direct military intervention against the pirate’s land bases.
The pirates lost nothing last Sunday. The three pirates killed were bottom feeders in the pirate chain of command; completely expendable. Nor, did last Sunday’s rescue, measurably dent the pirate operations; certainly not the profitability of these piracy operations.
Unless, the US Navy significantly ramps up its operations, there’s just too much money for last Sunday’s setback to serve as a deterrent. Moreover, this money isn’t just buying a lot of cars, whores and booze for the pirate warlords. A significant fraction of this money is making its way into the hands of Islamic terrorists. These pirate warlords only exist at the sufferance of what passes for governmental authority in Somalia. A sufferance purchased by cutting Islamic Imperialism in on the profits.
Which brings us to the final point. Self defense. Like something that fires lead; not those idiot devices like slippery foam that sounds like a project out of the Dangerous Book for Boys. I suspect that part of the successful repelling of the pirates off of the Alabama was facilitated by a stray pistol or two in the duffels of the Alabama’s crew. Oh yes, those things aren’t allowed by company policy so we’ll probably never know. But, especially when its your butt on the line, gun restrictions and guns laws are largely observed in the breach.
Now, every American is now going to carry a particularly steep price on his head; those that aren’t killed outright when the next American flagship is successfully boarded. Which means that our government is going to have to actually trust that individual Americans can defend themselves responsibly. (A fact more than amply supported by our experiences with “shall-issue” concealed handgun permits.) We are going to need to arm our merchant ships and our merchant marine. A modern naval cruiser traveling at 35 knots (about 40 mph) is going to be unable to respond fast enough. That means that this high seas criminality is going to have to be dealt with on a “retail” level. That is, merchant crews, trained to spot a boarding and, with lethal force, repel such boardings. The administration and State Department is going to have to insist that armed merchant ships and armed American merchantmen will be allowed access to foreign ports.
Also, handling piracy on an immediate level has a way of preventing these incidents from blowing up into major international crisises. Imagine how much different the history of the last eight years would be if the pilots of the four 9/11 airliners were armed. Everyone used to make a big deal about resisting a hijacking. And, guns, heaven forfend! We’d have airliners blowing up and crashing out of the sky! Which was just what happened on 9/11. In the same fashion, there would be no international incident with an American warship involved had the Maersk Alabama been armed. Just the bodies of four dead pirates to be quietly kicked overboard.
Obama better enjoy last Sunday’s victory. It isn’t going to last long unless he’s willing to follow through.