There are two ways to read this, from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates:
“I am confident that we will be spending a lot of time in the situation room over the next few weeks trying to figure out what in the world to do about this problem.”
By “this problem,” Gates was referring to piracy on the high seas off the coast of Somalia. I don’t know about you, but I’d put it like this: the recent death of eight-year-old Sandra Cantu in a small town in northern California was a horrific tragedy, and like the dozens of other stories like that — say, the murder of the little beauty queen in Colorado a few years back — the story riveted media attention for days. In the big picture, however, such stories are unimportant and, like the O.J. Simpson case, are sensationalized by the media (especially cable news channels) for their obvious value in attracting mindless viewers who want to cluck-cluck about the latest atrocity.
So, too, the “saga” of the ship’s captain held by pirates. My response: Give me a break!
In the grand scheme of things, I hope that the situation rooms at the Pentagon and the White House are devoted to the real problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and elsewhere, and not to petty piracy conducted by 17-year-old swashbucklers.
But no. President Obama himself said: “We are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region.” I’d like to think that he said that because of the media attention to the dramatic sniper attack and rescue of the captain, but I wonder. I really hope he’s not planning to do anything about it. At least, not much.
Already, Admiral Gorney, who’s in charge of the US Middle East fleet, is making noises about going into Somalia. “The ultimate solution for piracy is on land.”
Right-wing bloviators, Fox News pundits, and overweight conservatives such as Newt Gingrich spent the weekend excoriating President Obama for the seeming inability of the United States to rescue Captain Phillips. Then, when three snipers killed the three pirates, liberal and left-wing commentators made a big deal of it, as if it means something in the real world. Personally, I was disgusted with both sides who sought to politicize this tempest-in-an-Indian Ocean-teapot. Let’s drop the subject.
Worryingly, an editorial in the Washington Post is already huffing and puffing about nation-building in Somalia. Called “A Solution for Somalia,” the paper says:
“A coordinated international effort to build up a Somali government and security forces would cost many billions of dollars and take many years to pay off. It would consume U.S. diplomatic capital and be domestically controversial — like the nation-building missions underway, at last, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is also the only way to end the threats of piracy and terrorism from the Horn of Africa.”
The editorial admits that it’s super-complicated, noting that various Islamist factions, tribes, and clans are feuding over Somalia, but it concludes: “The government needs massive economic aid, training and equipment for an army and coast guard, and help in brokering political deals.” Speaking for myself, I’m not for training and equipping the Somali armed forces. We’re not even doing too well with the Iraqi and Afghan ones, yet.
The Wall Street Journal notes today that US intelligence on the pirates is extremely thin and that it “would be difficult to strike surgically at pirate camps that are intermingled with the general population.”
So far, at least, there’s little or no evidence at all that piracy is a political problem or that the pirates are somehow an extension of the pro-Al Qaeda Islamist groups that have some influence in Somalia. Sometimes, pirates are just, well, pirates.