Monday, April 13, 2009

Fighting Piracy, Part 2

Well, the stakes have gone up in the Somali pirate conflict. American high technology and some effective subterfuge dispatched the three young pirates who held the American merchant ship captain. Unfortunately, that trick will only work once. What happens from this point will likely involve considerably more blood, and some of it will be our guys, or our allies, who bleed.

The right wing radio freaks are calling for Obama to get tough. The Somali hotheads are calling for retaliation. I don't like the trajectory of this. We need to be smart. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what being smart entails.

Perhaps ThomasLB's suggestion of convoying ships through these dangerous waters makes sense. Perhaps interdicting the pirates near the Somali coast makes sense; after all, they do have bases that they work from. Perhaps changing the rules of engagement makes sense. But, are these and other actions likely to be 100% successful? No. More ships and crews will be captured in the near future. Will the pirates conduct an ugly demonstration of what will happen if we continue to use force against them?

And, what do we do about the 200 hostages and roughly 10-12 ships now held? The right-wingers say nothing about whether they consider these people and ships expendable. The death of three pirates has definitely changed the game for the hostages, negatively for certain. Has the price of their freedom gone up exponentially? We will soon find out.

This entire situation is a mess. Can the countries whose ships are threatened make threats serious enough to scare the top bad guys into remission? Our history of failure to accomplish objectives in Somalia doesn't seem to be overly intimidating. Perhaps we will be goaded into making an ugly demonstration of what our power can do. Chaos would result, at least for awhile.

The military and political strategists must be in a state of high anxiety. I'm glad this is not my problem. But, if the consensus is that we must stop piracy (and stop the payment of huge sums to really bad guys), Americans and our allies must be up front about the cost in lives that will surely be paid. It is not what anyone wants, but maybe there is no other way out.

We celebrate one ship, one crew, and one captain who were saved. I have the feeling we will be crying soon.


ThomasLB said...

I saw a news report from Africa that said Somalia has been without a central government since 1991. They have no police department, no fire department, no electricity, no running water, no sanitation. It sounds a lot like Afghanistan- lots of little clans, all armed, and not very nice.

Ultimately, the piracy will only end when Somalia is stabilised.

How we do that, I have no idea.

Eusebius said...

Most of the news reports seem to be describing ground assaults. But the pirates seem to be using "mother ships" to extend the range of the speed boats. It would seem to me that with our surveillance capabilities, we should be able to track a mothership involved in a hijacking after the fact and sink it with relatively little risk to our forces. Then we can pick up survivors. Anyone know why that wouldn't work?