April 13, 2009

Pirate Resolution and Escalation

I was very happy to hear about the resolution of the recent crisis involving the hostage-taking of Captain Phillips. It is unfortunate for the pirates that they decided not to negotiate an end to the crisis sooner. Other Somali pirates reported anger at the resolution is ridiculous. What is their suggestion? That they deserved the ransom? Whiniest bunch of pirates ever.

Vicissitudes in the negotiations were very disturbing, until the pirates made the mistake of simultaneously exposing their heads and shoulders to expert Navy SEAL snipers who were authorized to fire by the captain of the USS Bainbridge. President Obama had given the order to fire on the pirates if the captain's life was threatened. An AK-47 to the back of the hostage was convincing enough.

In the wake of this ordeal, President Obama has vowed to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia. The pirates, for their part, have made what could be a stupid move on their part. They're letting their anger get the better of them.

"From now on, if we capture foreign ships and their respective countries try to attack us, we will kill them (the hostages)," Jamac Habeb, a 30-year-old pirate, told The Associated Press from one of Somalia's piracy hubs, Eyl. "(U.S. forces have) become our No. 1 enemy." [...]

"Every country will be treated the way it treats us. In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying," Abdullahi Lami, one of the pirates holding a Greek ship anchored in the Somali town of Gaan, told The Associated Press on Monday. "We will retaliate (for) the killings of our men."

I thought it was a bit silly when I heard people referring to these pirates as terrorist earlier this week. It's not terrorism every time someone commits a crime, (no matter how bold, or stupid or unusual) even if they do have brown skin and a different religion than you do. Terrorism is different; it's ideological. Crimes of piracy are motivated by greed; the motivation is money. This is why the pirates had a seeming business relationship with ships in the area. They threaten a ship and the company pays them off. It's more like a large scale mugging than it is an act of terrorism.

But this new tone struck by some Somalis in response to the hostage rescue raises the possibility that we will be facing something more like terrorism, something driven by revenge rather than dollars. This could just be bluster, or it could be a dangerous new course for Somali pirates.

(BTW - here's a great backgrounder on the challenges posed by Somali piracy. h/t @huzzah70)

One thing that really bugged my as the crisis dragged on, however, was the rhetoric of right-wing media demagogues regarding the handling of the crisis. Jumping to the conclusion that these pirates were terrorists was par for the course; some people call everyone they don't like a terrorist. Worse than that, I had an increasing feeling that right wingers, still smarting from recent political failures, were ready to hang their hat on this issue if it went south.

The internets provide what I was not willing to spend the time culling on my own: video footage of bloviators maneuvering into position to cast Obama as ineffective. Hope had returned to right wing media in the form of the possible death of Captain Phillips. Watch the video and tell me if you don't feel a little angry (and perhaps in need of a shower) after listening to Glenn Beck's comments about the Navy.

On the upside for Obama, Brit Hume declared this the "test" of Obama that Joe Biden warned would come. Guess what, Hume. Obama passed the test. I cannot say the same for the test of relevancy daily facing right-wing media.

Posted by James at April 13, 2009 5:23 PM
Create Social Bookmark Links

Hume considered *that* the test?
Where the hell has Hume been?
The economic crisis doesn't strike him as a test?

Posted by: Julie at April 13, 2009 6:09 PM

I thought the whole Korean missile thing was the test? Is everything that happens now going to be labeled "the test?" Why do we have a media?

Posted by: Maggie at April 13, 2009 6:19 PM

The media is there to provide thoughtful analysis. What, you don't think that was thoughtful analysis?

Posted by: James at April 13, 2009 6:45 PM

Interesting how the media is all over piracy this year and ratcheting up every week...we've been dealing with HoA piracy for years. A few things...

1. The same rules of engagement we use for counter-terrorism at sea apply to other "non-state actors" like pirates. But you're right, to paint these thugs as terrorists is a bit disingenuous. In fact, even moderate Islamists know piracy is bad for business - the Unified Islamic Courts did a good job of keeping pirates out of business for the brief time they were in power in Somalia.

2. This particular event was very high profile, great PR for the Navy, and absolutely not any sort of "test" outside of the logistics of getting ships and SEALs on scene. That we are pretty much required (and really don't need Presidential authorization) to use force to protect US citizens from imminent danger like this makes the decision to use force a "no brainer".

3. All the ships in the world won't defeat the pirates. History shows time and again that you defeat piracy on land. It will have to be the same in Somalia, and it will be expensive, dangerous, and involve all aspects of power - hard and soft.

4. I couldn't finish the video. These people are so f**king stupid. And I heard the same crap on the radio. What these people don't understand is that PLANNING SHIT LIKE THIS TAKES TIME. We'd love to throw SEALs and Marines at these thugs at a moments' notice but the fact of the matter is that THEY ARE NEARLY 100% COMMITTED TO ONGOING COMBAT OPERATIONS and if you want to use them to do something special on the side you have to figure out which ones to use, pull them out of what they're doing, move them to an HQ for briefing and planning, then move them thousands of miles to the scene, then wait for the opportunity. THAT'S WHY THIS TOOK ALMOST A FREAKING WEEK TO DO! (which is pretty damned fast considering...) People - especially the media - have trouble understanding a basic physical principle of the universe we live in; that you can't be everywhere at once and it takes time to travel from A to B.

Posted by: Bull at April 13, 2009 10:17 PM

It's never fair to make people watch a video of Glenn Beck.

Yes, this wasn't any sort of presidential test. The Fox brigade would undoubtedly agree now that the crisis is over. If things had taken a tragic turn, we'd be treated to criticisms of Obama's command of the military. Personally, I don't see how this could have been handled any differently.

Thanks for your insights. I don't have a sense yet whether this pirate situation is on a worsening trajectory or not. I suppose we'll see if the pirates match their bluster with new tactics. I don't know if more violence is going to be an effective business tactic for them. The area is being monitored for terrorist activity. Willd the Somalis decide to make this ideological?

Posted by: JP at April 13, 2009 10:41 PM

Hang on, Bull. These guys are seals. Are you saying they need information and planning? WTF? You mean you can't just drop them in somewhere and have them figure it out? I want my tax dollars back!

Posted by: briwei at April 14, 2009 11:16 AM

Back to The Test. I think the new puppy will be "it." The peeing, the gnawing, the crying, the pooping, and when he's old, the euthanizing. That'll be the test, surely.

Regarding the SEALs: I thought their deployment _was_ fast. People thought it should've been faster? It's not magic, people. Reality check: While many fine items once seen only on "Star Trek" have come to be, transporters are not in existence yet.

I'm sorry there's no video of the SEALs popping the pirates. Is it wrong to want to see that? So I'm wrong. So spank me.

As for piracy in Somalia, Bull is correct. Overfishing meant there were many unemployed fishermen with dependants who needed to bee fed, which led to the need for alternate income, which led some to piracy. The ruling nutjobs skim a nice chunk of the pirates' takings, so they've no motivation to stop it. Add to that that most shipping companies don't augment their ships with guards. They analyze the possibility of being boarded by pirates, factor in the cost of ransom if it happens, and voila--pirates make money. What ought to happen is these ships should have their own guards _or_ choose different shipping lanes.

Banking on the intervention of the navies of the world should not be part of their business plans. Think of that as another type of bail-out.

Posted by: Patti M. at April 14, 2009 4:14 PM

Copyright © 1999-2007 James P. Burke. All Rights Reserved