Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Four Somali Pirates Tested President Obama

They lost.

Even though only four pirates lost to the U.S. Navy, the outcome is significant in America’s modern involvement in the Mideast. Had the Obama Administration failed the test, President Obama would have joined Presidents Carter, Reagan, and Clinton. The Mideast has been a blackhole for recent American presidents.

President Carter first lost Iran to the Ayatollah Khomeini and the radical mullahs. He then presided over the national humiliation of 52 American diplomats held hostage for 444 days. The rescue mission he authorized turned into a disaster in the desert. America appeared impotent while Iran remains the Godfather of Radical Islam.

Carter’s successor, President Reagan had his moment of weakness in the area. He dispatched the Marines to Beirut to stabilize Lebanon. A truck bomb exploded in the Marine Barracks on October 23, 1983, killing 220 Marines, 18 Navy sailors, and three Army soldiers. The tragedy could have been averted, but the rules of engagement forbad the Marine guards from loading live ammo in their weapons. They watched helplessly as the bomber drove into the Barracks lobby.

President Reagan pulled the Marines out of Lebanon in February 1984. The effect was an image of American weakness and lack of will. Osama Bin-Laden took note.

President George H. W. Bush sent U.S. military forces into Mogadishu, Somalia. Under President Clinton, military units were dispatched on October 3, 1993 to seize Mohammad Farah Azid, a Somali warlord. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin refused requests to provide the units with the heavy equipment they requested. The result was the Battle of Mogadishu, memorialized as Blackhawk Down. Two Blackhawk helicopters were shot down in attempting to aid a force of Rangers, Navy Seals, Delta Force, and Air Force Specials Ops. 18 Americans died, and some of their bodies were desecrated.

President Clinton on December 15, 1993 ordered the military to cease active operations, except for self-defense. The forces were then fully withdrawn in 1994.

The withdrawal reinforced Osama Bin-Laden’s view that America lacked will.

On June 25, 1996 the Khobar Towers, housing U.S. military, were bombed in Saudi Arabia. 19 Americans died.

President Clinton sent in the FBI to investigate.

Bin-Laden struck again on August 7, 1998, bombing the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

President Clinton sent in the FBI to investigate.

An emboldened Bin-Laden then bombed the U.S.S. Cole on October 12, 2000, killing 17 sailors. Under the rules of engagement, the sailors on the Cole could not fire on the unauthorized small boat approaching them.

President Clinton sent in the FBI to investigate.

Then came 9/11. President Bush sent in more than the FBI.

President Obama faces a problem with the pirates off Somalia. They extorted $100 million from shipping companies last year in over 100 hijackings. Pirates are also active in the 550 mile Malacca Strait between Indonesia and Malaysia/Singapore. They are not as active in the South China Sea as they were in the 1990’s once China executed a full boatload of pirates.

To date, the shipping companies have acquiesced in the piracy, refusing to arm their crews and readily paying ransoms.

Pirates have historically been outlaws in international law. The British Navy, during the Pax Britannica, had an effective solution to piracy. Pirates were hanged from the yardarm.

Confusion exists today under international law over the proper handling of terrorists, although universal jurisdiction exists. The United States entered into an agreement with Kenya in January to have pirates tried in Kenya. The Navy has turned captured pirates over to Kenya rather than deal with them in the United States.

Confusion need not exist. Article I, Section 8, Clause 10 gives Congress the power “To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations.”

The major obstacle to eliminating the piracy problem is the recalcitrance of the ship owners. They prefer to pay off the pirates rather than risk a fight that will endanger the lives of sailors or the vessel and its cargo. The owners lack the will.

Let us commend President Obama on the resolution of the Maersk Alabama hijacking and rescue of Captain Richard Phillips.

The initial impression was once again American weakness as yet again the FBI (Hostage Negotiation Team) was dispatched to the scene. The New York Times opined the “Navy’s Standoff With Pirates Shows U.S. Power Has limits.” President Obama was strangely silent on the situation.

In fact, President Obama authorized the use of deadly force, two Navy Seals teams were dispatched, and orders were that the four pirates were not to be allowed to go free. President Obama remained silent because he did not want to repeat President Carter’s mistake. Not only was America held hostage by Iran, but so too was President Carter.

The New York Times was wrong; the issue is not one of power, but of will. President Obama showed the will, and the message will be heard throughout the Mideast.

He passed the first test, but the second, the tougher, is still to come – the elimination of the Piracy and the Somali pirates’ viper nests. President Obama need not declare a war on piracy - just implement one.

Conservatives complained for 8 years that liberals not only blamed everything on President Bush, but also never praised him for his successes. Conservatives should not fall into that rut.

The means of substantially reducing the Piracy risks are well known:

Arm the crews

Place armed escorts on the vessels

Remove the permanent ladders on the sides of the vessels

Destroy the mother ships

Follow the money trail and then freeze it


Rescue the hostages ashore and then destroy the shore bases

The French are not messing around when French vessels are attacked. They have engaged in several rescue efforts, killed pirates, and apparently today attacked a mother ship.

Let Obama learn from the French. Viva Le France!

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