How our overwhelming might and urge to overkill could make a 21st century pirate problem worse
How would he take the heat? Would he (suppressing barf) … protect America? The question was asked as if the country had actually be sold ad hoc to the People’s Republic of China as part of the world’s greatest estate sale since our integrity died at the end of the Cold War.
And this was the first real “test,” they said of the president, as if there were other options than rescue.
The fear, or should I say, the verbalized fear of many Republicans and law enforcement hardliners was that President Barack Obama wouldn’t be tough enough on “America’s Enemies.” (Does it count towards how silly that sounds when that every time I hear that phrase I see a Saturday Morning Super Evil Friends toon starring Osama, Kim Jong Il and the like?) But when it came to choosing to use deadly force on armed Somali pirates who were holding an American ship captain captive, he showed no hesitation.
(More after the jump)
A team of highly trained US Navy Seals proved that against the best trained, best equipped, most expensive military in the world you don’t stand much of a chance.
At least not in a traditional, straight up, gun-to-gun fight. Asymmetrical warfare on the other hand … hmm. Not as simple.
Some Somalis have vowed revenge. I’m not going to hold my breath there. Logically (and financially) it would still make more sense to just go for the easy boats and leave the crews relatively unmolested. No one is mourning the Russians paying the largest ransom in the history of the world to get some tanks to kill more people in their former satellites. But start killing people and you’ve just given the Navy Seals an excuse to bust out all that fancy, brutal training on your ass.
On the other end, Obama has vowed to protect the seas even if they’re too big and we don’t have enough ships. (I know! Save the US economy by building more warships! Worked in WWII! What? No?)
On yet another end, major corporations have … ahem … vowed to secretly keep paying the ransom because in the scheme of things (crews be damned) it is an “acceptable loss.” Millions in ransom in a trillion industry are pennies on the dollar.
But I can’t but feel a little wary about this celebration of pirate defeat and American success. (Or pirate booty in the face of the globalization that has assisted in the rape of Somalia.)
For one, people talk about the pirates as if this is a state problem. Somalia has been a collapsed failed state for decades. No one is minding the store. It’s every man, woman and child for themselves. That’s how you end up with pirates in the first place.
Secondly, pirates are not like soldiers or even groups like al-Qaeda or the Taliban. There is no religious fervor. There is no spiritual angle. This is about cash. The Somali pirate problem to me is like a bigger, badder, yet somehow less deadly version of the 80s crack epidemic. As Ice T once rapped on “New Jack Hustler:”
Lock me up, it’s genocidal catastrophe,
There’ll be another one after me.
Kill three pirates, tomorrow you’ll have 12. You can’t tell a young man — poor, no prospects — to politely die along with his brothers and sisters and family in the street because it’s an inconvenience to the Russians or the Americans or ExxonMobile. If the trigger has no heart, neither does that of a hungry man who will steal a loaf of bread to feed his family.
Right now, things are relatively peaceful among the armed crews and gangs. There’s so much wealth to be had and it’s so easy.
“They have money; they have power and they are getting stronger by the day,” says Abdi Farah Juha who lives in the regional capital, Garowe.
“They wed the most beautiful girls; they are building big houses; they have new cars; new guns,” he says.
“Piracy in many ways is socially acceptable. They have become fashionable.”
Most of them are aged between 20 and 35 years – in it for the money.
And the rewards they receive are rich in a country where almost half the population need food aid after 17 years of non-stop conflict.
Most vessels captured in the busy shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden fetch on average a ransom of $2m.
This is why their hostages are well looked after.
The BBC’s reporter in Puntland, Ahmed Mohamed Ali, says it also explains the tight operation the pirates run.
They are never seen fighting because the promise of money keeps them together.
Wounded pirates are seldom seen and our reporter says he has never heard of residents along Puntland’s coast finding a body washed ashore.
Given Somalia’s history of clan warfare, this is quite a feat.
It probably explains why a report of a deadly shoot-out amongst the pirates onboard the MV Faina was denied by the vessel’s hijackers.
Pirate spokesman Sugule Ali told the BBC Somali Service at the time: “Everybody is happy. We were firing guns to celebrate Eid.” (BBC)
It’s not surprising at all that these later day Jack Sparrows have become heroes in their native villages and countries. We all had our pick pocket corner Nino Browns and after the turkeys were handed out things didn’t go so well. It’s in the best interest of the region and the countries pushing their wares through the sea to deal with this issue seriously and as peacefully as possible.
With this much ransom money comes greed, which brings more crime, which brings violence, sometimes genocide, often warlords, terrorist safe havens, pain, suffering, starvation, thuggery, Civil War, regional war and cruelty. Life, already cheap, goes for an even greater discount.
The Somali people need a real future, not more religious fundamentalists and crime. I’m empathetic to the plight of the pirates and understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, but I also have seen this movie before. I know it will only lead to eventual infighting and a furthering of the violence that has plagued Somalia. While CNN and others are having a field day of condemnation for the pirates, this is no different than having to pay “tribute” money for passage — something that has happened in places like Italy for centuries. Pay-to-play. It happens everywhere. It happens in the US. It happens with mobsters and street gangs.
Their water, your boat, pay up is the mentality. They’re just doing it with grenade launchers and AK-47s on the high seas.
But what should the US do? And what should Obama do?
This depends on who this is about — the Somalis or the Americans.
If this is about us (and it almost always is), a blockade makes the most sense. No war would be involved (even though — technically — a blockade is an act of war). No one gets hurt in a blockade unless they try to make a run for it and the US will punish anyone who does that.
How long does the blockade last — forever? I don’t know. How long before the Somalis resort to eating dirt or further civil war because their country is so poor and mismanaged?
If this is about the Somalis, it’s time for the US to use their influence to get Somalia’s former overlords, Italy, France and Great Britain; their regular interlopers, the United States; and their neighbors, the African Union; to join forces to bring stability to the region.
And what does that sound like? Well, a lot like a third or fourth war (depending on who and what you count as a war we’re fighting). Of course, if the Europeans took more responsibility in the countries they trashed on their way out, some of this could have been avoided. We, honestly, should be helping, but we shouldn’t have boots on the ground like we did in the 90s. There are plenty of countries we’ve screwed up all on our own. We can’t go around fixing other folks’ astronomical fuck ups.
Like say how we’re involved constantly with Haiti when the French should just write them a gigantic check already, formerly apologize for being giant dicks for charging them for self-emancipation, then stop interfering politically and help build some hospitals with some NGOs.
But that would be too much like right, much like Obama easing up a bit on our restrictions on Cuba this week, making communication easier. Why making communication “harder” was a good idea I’ll never know. How are the people of Cuba to know how “great” America and Democracy is if they can’t rip a bootleg episode of “Friends” dubbed in Spanish? We helped bring down the Iron Curtain with blue jeans and Rock n’ Roll. This is akin to people in North Korea knowing the secrets of how good it is in South Korea and China through contraband cell phones. Communication breaks through propaganda. But I’ve often noted our Cuba policy makes little sense as it seems to be everything about hating Fidel Castro and very little about the Cuban people.
And that’s my fear. That we’ll go too far as we did in our meddling with Haiti, Cuba and Somalia in the past. I fear we’ll get ourselves a third war instead of pressuring the British, French and the AU to finally stabilizing their own mess.
Because I’m tired of Team America: World Police. Yeah, we’ve broken a lot of toys, but we’re not the only game in town. And if Europe and Africa don’t learn how to settle their own problems they’re really, really not going to like it when the Chinese start doing it for them.
Because they’ll be like us, only without the Afro-European connection. Westernization be damned. They’ll just want their way like we did, only God only knows what that way might be.