Swatting Gnats With Assault Rifles In the Horn of Africa

How our overwhelming might and urge to overkill could make a 21st century pirate problem worse

The celebrating crew of an American vessel who fought off Somali pirates and whose captain was recently rescued by Navy Seals. (AP Photo)

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 … ahemvowed 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.

42 thoughts on “Swatting Gnats With Assault Rifles In the Horn of Africa

  1. Usually I’m into keeping the violence at a low level. Unfortunately, in this case I’m not sure one could do that. Obama needed to be quick and decisive, or he’d have ended up with the same problem Clinton did when he sent a crack team against a small force. It tainted his presidency. The other problem is that these pirates have been holding up shipping for years. their attacks on American shipping means that they are getting bolder. I’ve read that the reasons nations usually negotiate with them or don’t try them ifs because the various pirate groups are tied into terrorist networks; essentially, they’re holding that part of the world hostage. It’s a much bigger problem than the capture of one tiny ship, and these are not people who negotiate.If the US is to regain its place in the world it has to be seen as strong enough to negotiate with enemy foreign powers AND as a country that won’t tolerate kidnappings. Because if a bunch of pirates could get away with this, then anyone else could too (and there are plenty of cases around the world where tourists and others have disappeared).

  2. Something needs to be done in order to get Somalia in complete order. Having said that, I also feel that the folks on the opposite side of the issue need to take a closer look at their practices. Folks don’t up and proclaim piracy without some reason whether sinister or sincere.

  3. Um, okay Snob…I love you and all, but what exactly is your point? You acknowledge that piracy is terrible, make an analogy to the actions and behaviors of wayward drug dealers here in the United States, and…then what? Should President Obama not have ordered their execution? Should the NAVY Seals not have done what they’re trained to do in order to free the Captian? Honestly Danielle, when you first heard about a ragtag band of rifle toting blacks taking some sea-lovin’ white folks hostage, didn’t you already know them kiddies were as good as dead? Halting piracy isn’t something to qualify. Killing pirates, or muggers, or stick up men, or child abusers, or low rate villans of any sort isn’t something to feel terrible about in print (or, in this forum, in the digtal space). Those morons stormed a ship with an American flag on it. You don’t do that! Or, better put, you don’t do it without excpeting that (a.) you’re going to die, or (b.) not only will you die, but your country might be invaded on a whim; Pentagon officials are already talking about bombing suspected Pirate strongholds. That shit sound familiar? This country melted two cities at the tail end of the last World War. We jumped ugly on Panama becuase its President didn’t want to take our marching orders anymore. We invaded Iraq just becuase we felt like it. And, as you pointed out, entire divisions of our nation’s defense forces spend oodles of time and tons of our tax dollars preparing themselves for slap-dash capers just like this. What the heck did you think was going to happen to those Pirates? Honestly, after reading your post, I wanted to post a link to that famed Chris Rock video about ‘How Not To Get Beat Up By The Police.’ All the points he made in that skit totally apply to those Pirate fools, just on a different level. "Take an American ship hostage? Expect the Yankees to bring as ass whuppin’ with them. " President Obama did EXATCLY what he had to do….and may God continue to bless and keep our current Commander in Chief.

  4. Killing three pirates is hardly a test of Obama’s national security policy, despite what some people may want to believe. I also don’t see how anyone can think that defending ourselves from the pirates can make matters worse. They are no different than the high school bully or the neighborhood mugger, giving into them only makes them bolder. Actually Somilia was getting better after years of fighting until the Al-Shabaab decided to try and implement their fanatical religious beliefs on the country.

  5. @ allThe post is really just a statement on the reality of the situation and how there are no easy answers. It is not a condemnation of the act. I don’t even condemn it in the post. (I pretty much just state that he did it without reservation. I don’t say if it was good or bad. Actually, I give no opinion for most of this piece. It’s largely informational.) I wanted to write about how we shouldn’t be alone in dealing with the piracy problem, but in many ways we are, with everyone looking to the US to do something while those who share culpability in Somalia’s mess do next to nothing. If we take the piracy to the next conclusion of invading Somalia, that’s bad. If we do nothing, that’s bad. So this wasn’t about one individual act. The whole piece is about a failed state and the impact it can have on a region, the dangers of larger countries meddling with smaller ones and the debt colonists have left unpaid to their former colonies.

  6. I was also writing from the standpoint that whether you realize it or not, President Obama basically signed us up for a possible third war in Somalia if the piracy continues to worsen and Somalia’s further decentralization makes it a terrorist haven. My point is what are we going to do about Somalia to keep it from getting to this point? The guys who stole the captain are small potatoes if we end up with troops and a naval blockade over commerce. I mean, would we really go to war over cargo no matter how messed up the country? Is this Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates in the War of 1812? Don’t be surprised if this goes from some occasional sharp shooting to us returning to Somalia, yet again, for war, yet again, only with a lengthy commitment because it’s tied to ship cargo and religious fundamentalists.

  7. I just love that the ad on the side of the story is date Somali girls, 100% Somali, and there’s some white girl in the picture

  8. Say there are some poor hungry kids in my town robbing other kids in the area as they walk back and forth to school. Reports of kids being beaten up are in dispute and some families in the neighborhood have begun giving the hungry kids extra cash to allow their own kids to keep some money for lunch & their iphones.Now it’s not my doing that made these punk kids hungry enough to rob & steal. In fact, if my husband’s football buddies would pay the child support they already owe to some of the women across town, none of this would be happening anyway. I may even be urging the town’s child welfare agency to address the larger problem of deadbeat dads.Yet, understand me very clearly when I say, they have just one time to mess with MINES. A special forces smackdown isn’t a matter for debate.Don’t start none. won’t be none.And I got something for their stank*** mama should she show up on my doorstep looking for vindication. Now I’m not promoting violence and I appreciate the beauty in a measured response. BUT it is in my kids’ best interest for me to be known as that mama that will cut you if provoked.

  9. Oh, one more thing. Let’s give the former president of the Harvard Law Review, the very man that took down both the Democratic and Republican Parties, and was smooth enough to woo our fiercest FLOTUS a chance to remind us how brilliantly his mind worksThis President stays 2 steps ahead of the pack and I have all confidence in his ability to use the right measure of diplomacy and force to do what is in the best interest of the USA while considering the critical needs of Somalia.

  10. Another thing Snob. A while ago, you wrote: "I mean, would we really go to war over cargo no matter how messed up the country?"IMO, no, we’re not going back to Somalia. Not unless those fools do something that really ticks us off. Like, say for instance, if the attempt they made to kill a US Congress member was actually successful. Then we’d go in and, as one particular loundmouth Conservative (who shall not be named) once said, ‘to kill people and break things."But, if you’re a private contractor, and you’re in the security business, how difficult would it be to offer up yourself or your services as willing and able to defend high-value transport across the most dangerous seas? Not to hard. And not too shabby a way to make millions of dollars. Listen, no American Presdient has ever been impeached for killing Africans. Not a one. Obama could order airstrikes on Somalia tonight and see his public approval ratings jump a few percentage points. And given the dynamics surrounding a proposed strike, I’d be right there cheering him on. l positively love your writing and your site, but their was a little too much moral equivocating in that pirate-post.

  11. The captain may well be small potatoes. But how about a cruise ship full of people? One was attacked last year: the only reason there was no hostage situation is because the ship outran the pirates. How about the 16 ships currently being held for ransom by Somalian pirates? Are those big enough potatoes?I do not want a war with Somalia. However, I also want the seas to be safe. These pirates have moved their bases already because our patrolling (started by Obama) has been effective.I have gangstas in my neighborhood. My neighbors say, ‘these poor boys- they come from broken homes.’ And they do. That makes me sad. but what really makes me sad is that they sell drugs in front of children, throw garbage on the ground, torture their dogs, and make it unsafe for me to walk the streets at night. I’m in favor of counseling for those who want it, and job training. I’m also in favor of arresting their little raggedy asses and making them leave decent people alone. And if one of them should get shot by a police officer, I won’t shed a tear, because my parents were shits too, but I have a PhD instead of a prison record. These pirates tempt children with tales of easy money that will be given to them because other nations are frightened of them. I say that if some gun-toting teens turn up dead, piracy won’t seem like a viable job option. We are not dealing with a government, or even ‘freedom fighters’ with a political agenda and overall organization. We are dealing with armed thieves who kidnap and kill, and buy and sell weapons to terrorists. I have no problem sending in groups like doctors Without borders to patch up the wounded, and reporters can go in and talk about what must be done to help these people- but they are not going to stop because we hope they will.Kill some. Then negotiate with the ones who are left, after they free their over 200 hostages.

  12. This was kind of sad and scary to read. My head as been so deep in the recession’s ass that I’ve completely forgotten that there’s other things going on in the world that the U.S. needs/should be dealing with.

  13. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases of, ‘who will bell the cat’? The cat will keep killing mice if nothing is done, but every mouse has a reason on why they don’t want to deal with the problem. Some of them even imagine that the cat is not one entity, but a whole league of cats. While there will always be cats and mice, that is not the issue. This particular cat is the issue, and someone will have to put a bell on it. however, we also have to realize that while the whole country of Somalia is not going to come over here and attack us, there are a variety of other cats, waiting to see how we’re going to react to this issue. They see us as Mighty Mouse, and to most of the world, we are. Some a rats who don’t want a cat round, but want to see if we can defeat it before they make a play for us. Some are just scared mice who want it all to stop but won’t or can’t help for a variety of reasons. There are even a few curious cats who are just watching the game, but who don’t necessarily have a taste for nuclear-powered mice. Only one thing is for sure- this is not just about one sea captain and a little bit of cargo.

  14. Also keep this in mind. you might be tired of ‘Team America’. I am too. But do you honestly think that because we’re tired, there isn’t some nation that wants to be in charge? Maybe it should be Team China- they love journalists. Team Russia is heating up again, with all kinds of nice uranium. Or perhaps Team North Korea- now there are some reasonable blokes. I doubt they’d kill any pirates. I’m not being all neo-conny about this- we were wrong in not using diplomacy with most nations, we were wrong in not building a multi-ethnic CIA, we were wrong in only looking after our own selfish interests. but whether we like it or not, someone will want to be in charge. Perhaps the best nation to be in charge is the country that least wants the job but has the best ability to do the job well. ‘I’m tired’ is not a diplomatic solution.

  15. Michelle has written what should have been be the ‘official’ Black Snob postion on these Pirate jokers.She wrote: "I have no problem sending in groups like doctors Without borders to patch up the wounded, and reporters can go in and talk about what must be done to help these people- but they are not going to stop because we hope they will.Kill some. Then negotiate with the ones who are left, after they free their over 200 hostages."As was said last Sunday …. "Let the Church say Amen!"

  16. my husband has this pirate video game. His teeny ship flits in and out around the Spanish gallions — wreaking havok and generally enabling him to overtake the ship.I can’t help but think of that when I hear that the US sent gigantic warships to deal with this kidnapped captain held hostage in a lifeboat situation. I mean, wouldn’t a fleet of small, faster boats be more effective at fighting this problem?

  17. From where would you like these small, faster boats to lauch? In real life, larger boats carry small boats into hostile territory. Small boats need a) to be stationed in a friendly port nearby in order to launch without support and b) in order to succeed, they need to be fighting a tiny force. The government may not have known how many pirates were on board at that point, or what types of weapons they might have had. A rocket laucher for instance would knock a tiny boat out of the water.By the way, when the US government sent Marines after the Barbary pirates in the 19th century (‘…to the shores of Tripoli;) they didn’t send tiny boats. the British usually didn’t send tiny boats after pirates and privateers during that century, either. Nor did the French. hey sent ones big enough and fast enough to carry the supplies needed to decisively defeat their enemies. Pirates didn’t need large ships- they would take what they wanted and usually kill the crews on small merchantmen.The Maersk Alabama was not a tiny early 19th century merchantman. It was a freighter, and those are very large, with lots of hiding places. Maersk is also known to carry advanced weaponry cargo- the kinds of weapons Somalian warlords like to use to terrorize their home populations, or to sell to groups like Hamas, the Tamil Tigers, Al Fatah, the IRA, and God’s Resistance Army in return for money to pay their armies.This is not like non-existent weapons of mass destruction; you can Google what Somalian warlords do. The captain was unimportant. getting the payload on that ship? Real important. I’m not doubting that Obama got to see a copy of the ship’s manifest.There are smaller faster boats going after the pirates, though- the US has been sending them since Obama got in. the reason most people don’t know about it is because most Americans pay little or no attention to world affairs. Bush ignored the problem, but it’s grown worse- and the pirates are now getting more desperate since they are now being harassed. Which is why it was time to not so quietly flex some muscle.But I’ll just leave y’all with a thought. You are on a large slow-moving freighter, watching tv or brushing your teeth, when a group of pirates in speedboats run down your ship. you know from reports that pirates in this area are brutal, and hold crews for ransom. You see that some of the pirates are teens who are jumpy, nervous, and possibly hopped up on drugs. You know that jumpy, nervous pirates are more likely to kill you. and you know your company is not going to ransom you, because if it does, pirates will keep upping the ante by targetting their ships. you also know that you may or may not be carrying anything from radiation-grade uranium to crates of battle-ready automatic weapons as part of your cargo.Now- would you a) hope the POTUS is tired of acting all Team America, and allows you to stay right where you are, and lets the cargo (which even if it is only cigarettes, will help fund more death in Africa and beyond) remain with the pirates; b) sends a few small craft to go up against your ship and the pirates, especially after you have been there for a while and didn’t get freed by your fellow crewmen; c) feel sorry for the teenage boys who are fingering pistols and hope that if someone comes to rescue you, they won’t get shot; or d) pray to whatever powers above that some sniper aim true and take down each remaining pirate with a single shot while missing you and keeping the unknown cargo out of the hands of people who have shown no regard for human life?I’m a liberal. I’m scared of guns. I’m not fond of the military. The CIA gives me the heebie-jeebies. But I’m still picking D, unless I’m playing a video game that was probably not designed by someone who has read up on modern naval tactics and ship’s weaponry, and has probably never met a Navy SEAL. Why? For the same reason I dislike the racism, corruption and brutality endemic in the Newark police department, but feel a little safer when I see a prowl car in my neighborhood. Regardless of my personal feelings and politics, I recognize that we need police officers, even bad ones. I also know that the police do the job I’m too scared to do, which is to take down bad guys, and I really can’t be sure i’d do a better job than they do, despite my feelings of distrust.Unless some of you are willing to get weapons training or use the training you have to go in and stop bad things from happening, then you get a limited say in what to do. Unless you demonstrate a knowledge of what the political situation is among pirates and can speak from that knowledge rather than your dislike of our country being the Big Dog, then not very many people will feel a need to accept your views on foreign policy.It’s ok to be tired. Some people got so tired fighting for the Civil Rights movement after the 60s that they stopped marching and hoping. Thank goodness some of them didn’t get too tired though- or Obama wouldn’t be president right now. When we truly get tired of being the Big Dog, there are many who will be willing to take up the mantel. In time, one of those countries will be one that believes in democratic ideals and the rule of law that says humans have the right to choose their own destinies. North Korea, China and Russia do not. The Saudis don’t either. Canada does, but Canada doesn’t want to do anything but wag its finger at the US. Britain isn’t strong enough anymore. Japan is as right-wing and xenophobic as hell, and most of Asia hasn’t forgiven it for WWII. The US is nowhere near fulfilling all of its ideals – but at least it has some, and most people think we do a good enough job that they’re willing to take a chance on coming here if they can, and letting us do the heavy lifting in world affairs. That’s not the same as being ‘Team America’. That’s the price we pay for having, even with this recession, one of the best economies in the world, and the highest standard of living, as well as probably the most liberal immigration policy in existence. It’s the price we pay for having so many goodies for so cheap and relatively low taxes compared to Europe. You can put my words to the test by comparing how we live to the other comparable (large, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, relatively open societies) great nations in history; with all of them, the price paid is having to act as the peacekeeper.

  18. OMG! Michele, I LOVE YOU. You said so eloquently what I have been thinking the last 2 days. I’ll take option D too. Thank you. The UN in total would just stand around and play with their hats and say they are only here to "help" hand out aid. The EU is too busy yanking themselves in Brussels and too ineffectual at that to get anything done in their borders, forget TROTW. England ain’t what it used to be and hasn’t been in 75 years. France is still pissed it’s no longer the legend it was in it’s own mind. I too am tired of being the Big Dog and Team America: World Police, but I don’t trust any other to do it and have any of the sense or restraint the US has shown over the years. Like it was said, we fried a couple of cities back in the day. And those Daisy Cutters in the 1st months in Afganistan could seriously f’ up Somolia. Problem is, we can’t send it back to the stone age, it’s damn near there already. I tell others not to focus on what we are doing, but to think about what we COULD have done. I also tell them they need to start reading Janes and wake up to the fact that China is almost at the point of having a seriously kick ass Navy. Why are they building it? Because they are investing heavily in Africa and Eastern Europe (it’s the oil, energy and resources thing) and they have to get there, get it pumped, mined or harvested and then protect it getting out of there. The LAST thing we or TROTW want or need and need to fear is China becoming the Big Dog over there. China IS a whole lot closer to them than us, btw. When the pirating starts stealing kibble out of the China bowl, that dog will turn mean, ugly and go foaming mouth rabid bat shit all over them and anyone who gets in their way. If they run down, lock up and execute their own people for f’ing up, pissing them off, reporting the wrong thing or not mouthing the party line, does anyone think they give a tired rats or Somoli’s black ass about doing it to them? Say it with me: NO! So if this means the US has to keep being the Big Dog then so be it. The alternatives just do not suit me. I do not want any other way of life but mine in the US. So that means my Big Dog is patroling the property. He may be on a long leash, but it can be snapped. It’s happened.

  19. I finished the Snob’s essay was kind of wishy washy on the Pirates. Thanks Michelle for writing what the Snob should have.

  20. @ ALLI’m a little surprised that you all are surprised that I wouldn’t be harder on the pirates. (Um … I’m an "anti-globalization," "corporations are mean to people in third world countries", "Somalia’s gotten a raw deal" Liberal) Yeah, they’re breaking the law, but they’re also globally on the ass end of the world stick. It doesn’t give you the right to be a thug, but it does create thuggery and Western nations had a hand in that, then look around like they don’t know what folks are talking about when they say things like "colonialism," "foreign interference," and "failed state."I am realistic about it. I point out that the thuggery could lead to more civil war and a nation of insanely wealthy Nino Browns, but the reality is, while the pirates are packing some serious weaponry, there has been little actual violence or death (unlike in the US and its drug wars). It’s not necessary as most ships have been prime picking, unarmed and the cargo (both people and wares) were worth more unmolested. There’s been a lot of coverage of the Seals taking out the guys who took the captain (and I acknowledge that the military did what they had to do), but I just can’t snark on starving Somalis right now. I can’t when I know the desperation in that country. Even when we were dealing with the crack fueled 80s you could still move. You still had running water. You still owned a television. You didn’t live in the land of desolation and no-escape. You just lived in Detroit or St. Louis or Chicago or Compton or Watts or Brooklyn or Harlem or D.C. It just felt like hell compared to not having enough millet to make crappy bread.Really. It’s a world of a different situation and this, IMHO, needs an international solution, not the US going it alone because, as I said, I found it more interesting that the president pledged fighting the pirates by any means and the pirates TO ME are basically out of control drug dealers with boats or mobsters demanding "protection" money. You can’t fight symmetrical warfare against these kinds of criminals (aside from a blockade which would mean to a lesser extent, occupation, which would lead to a greater extent, flare up among African and Arab Muslims who will take this as further US barbarism and act accordingly.) I just don’t want a third war. I think we should be thinking of other options. I think we SHOULD be thinking of pressuring the EU. We are fighting two wars plus international terrorism, plus do you realize how many unstable countries we HAVE to keep an eye on? North Korea, MEXICO, Russia, China eyeballing Taiwan, etc. We CAN’T do this too. We don’t have the military. It’s just a reality.And at the end I point out that the AU, EU, et al need to be more forthright because the day IS coming when the US won’t be the sole superpower and if they don’t like what China is doing they’re going to have to be able to do more than come to New York and bitch at the UN. Get off yer asses and move something. You don’t like the pirates, offer some fucking solutions, that’s all I’m saying, but Obama is TRYING to win and damn near unwinnable war in Afghanistan right now. Pirates aren’t going to help that.

  21. Snob wrote: "Yeah, they’re breaking the law, but they’re also globally on the ass end of the world stick. "Did you really just write that? Ugh. There’s more qualifying in that last post than at a track meet. Excuse the cheeky, but how long before you start selling PIRATES ARE PEOPLE TOO T-shirts on this site?

  22. @ snobfanI’m not going to apologize for caring about abject poverty even among criminals. I never professed to be a member of the hardline. And if you know the story of Somalia and what state it is presently in it is one of the worst places on earth to live. That’s why they have a piracy problem and not South America or South East Asia. There are still laws in those places. And businesses. I’m sorry. I’m not someone who sees "black or white," pirates all bad, all corporations and their cargo all innocent and good. The world is never that clear and there is always nuance.Again, I DID also write that the piracy would only lead to further instability. Nino Brown was NOT a compliment. Neither was the crack comparison. Is my empathy so appalling that my condemnation means nothing?

  23. Danielle, it’s been confirmed that the ship was carrying weaponry bound for Iraq. I am positive that you are an intelligent person. There is no doubt in my mind. But it doesn’t sound like African politics (particularly on child-soldiers) are your strong point. Ditto modern piracy and its effects worldwide.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord's_Resistance_Armyhttp://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7997610.stmhttp://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7623329.stmhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somali_pirateDiplomacy can’t be based on feelings. A person can be anti-corporate and still acknowledge that we live in a corporate world. One cannot dismantle that world, but in order to do so one must understand how it works and deal with that, not pretend it works some other way. Somalian pirates who are gangsters (not all of them are) would love it if we get tired of being the ‘world police’.We as black people often talk about white privilege, or the privilege not to think about the lives of others. We often forget that we as Americans have American privilege, which allows us not to think about how our clothes, cars, hair products food and other goods got to us. Usually they are brought by freighter. In other words, it sounds like some people here have no problem wanting their nice shoes, Altoids, and tv sets; they just don’t want to think about how after those items leave factories that might or might not be staffed by children, they are carried by ship though waters that might or might not be filled with pirates, endangering the innocent crews. It reminds me of all the lefty hipsters who smoke pot, see it as harmless and think the War on Drugs is a joke (which it is to a great extent) but shirk thinking how they are funding Mexican narco-terrorists, who receive about half their income from the sale of marijuana.In the US, some of might want to stick it to the man, but to the rest of the world, we are as much ‘the man’ as every other American. Most black Americans know little or nothing about Africa or other countries populated by people of color, and quite frankly, most American bloggers of color don’t show any interest in enlightening their readers about that larger world or learning about it themselves. they act like the US is the center of the universe, just like white American bloggers do, only they add in complaints about racism and talk about black celebrities and pundits (most of whom aren’t even known or taken seriously in the mainstream). The same goes for most feminist bloggers and women’s issues, liberal bloggers and poverty/class issues, and so on. We very often harp (rightly in all cases that I’ve seen) on the intellectual laziness of the right; but I don’t see much rigor on the left, either. the same wishful thinking and trying to bend the realities of the universe to match the pictures we carry in our heads seems to be the order of the day; Colbert’s ‘truthiness’ can just as easily apply the people who read Jezebel as to the people who follow Ann Coulter. Fortunately, I don’t think you are as ignorant or as self-satisfied as most bloggers, and I believe you are capable of arguing from known realities and facts, not just from your gut and you feelings. I believe you are more than capable of challenging and educating your readers, not just entertaining them with trivia. But you and your readers have to believe it too, and we all have to be willing to demand more of ourselves and others. Isn’t that what it means to be one of the ‘Talented Tenth’?

  24. One last thing. There’s nothing wrong with having sympathy for the pirates. I do, also- for some of them. The ones who are doing this to stop illegal dumping and destruction of their fishing? I sympathize, and want to see more done to help them. But a good number of them are not ding it for that reason, and they are NOT like Nino Brown, even as an insult. They are very sophisticated racketeers. The Nino Browns of this world don’t sell weaponry to Somalian warlords, or run ports in three countries. You are still minimizing what they do and how sophisticated they are. You are ignoring the impossibility of having an embassy in Somalia right now, and what that means for the lack of intel. You are ignoring that countries such as India are sending in large ships (apparently, they don’t know from playing pirate games on the computer that they can use tiny ships without refueling stops, perhaps because they’ve actually looked at a map of the area and haven’t found friendly and safe launching points) to combat piracy, and that the pirates hold up aid shipments of desperately-needed food and drugs, and that they are essentially shutting down the ports of Kenya, a friendly and free nation, by targeting shipping leaving from there.I feel sympathy for all the white Confederate soldiers who lived under horrifying conditions during the Civil War, too- and I still wish the Yankees had shot more of them earlier on. I feel pity for Germans forced into the military during WWII because of lies and coercion- and I’m really sorry we didn’t bomb Berlin earlier in the war, instead of bombing Dresden. Feeling sympathy does not stop me from seeing certain people as a danger to others and to world peace and safety. St Michael felt sympathy for Satan – he also defeated him and threw him into Hell. Sympathy didn’t stop him from recognizing the simple fact that Satan was not God and didn’t get to decide whether God could like humans or not. He understood that Satan, by the laws of the universe in which they both lived, was wrong. That Satan wanted the universe to change and meet his point of view was of no matter, since Satan wasn’t the Creator. As I said, you are very smart and I admire you. However, you are using the reasoning of a someone who is not a creator of the universe in which we live. The creators include everyone from Obama to nurses who are on a Doctors Without Borders plane, risking their lives to help the sick in warzones and lawless parts of the world. The rest of us, who simply live in the universe being created by these people, don’t get to determine policy based on our malcontent or feelings for the underdog. Thank goodness. Those of us who are arrogantly destructive and delusional as to the extent of our power and ability to escape punishment are like Satan and his minions.

  25. Yes current day Somalia is in ruins but lets be honest about who is responsible. Somalia was a colony and was doing pretty well after independence. The turning point in the country was in the late 70’s when Somalia went to war with their old enemy Ethiopia over land and was defeated. Civil war began and Somalia hasn’t really had a stable gov’t since then. The other problem is that the basis of most people’s allegiance is to their clan and not to the country.Let’s also be honest about another point, Somalia is in bad shape, however there will always be those that turn to crime and those that try to be honest no matter how bad the circumstances. The US should try to help but we can’t fix their country for them, they have to want it.

  26. The ships were bringing food aid to africa….I did not vote for him….I am a Republican..I was Impressed….he needs to stay away from gin control or its oklahoma city all over again,,im afraid

  27. @ MicheleWell, I’m all about spreading knowledge and since you feel rather passionately about this (with facts to back it up), how would you feel about writing a piece on modern piracy for the blog? I know about arms dealing and child soldiers, but I was focusing on something far more general in my post and you’re going at something more specific.Just drop me an email and let me know! (blacksnob (at) gmail (dot) com) If you do write something, it’ll probably go through my friend and editor Tiffany.

  28. Way brilliant idea Danielle! Michelle, I would love to read more of what you have to share on this or any other topic that you want to bring to light.Danielle, your aptitude for nuance is why I read your blog. This entire year has been about making the lesser of evil choices. It is so refreshing to see "we as a people" getting back into the art of dialogue where there is room for nuance and respectful disagreement without taking ourselves too seriously. That IMO is where real understanding and brighter ideas are born.This is a space where we can read/discuss news of the day and come away smarter than we were when we logged on. I don’t take lightly how rare that is- not just in the black community but in the country/world we live in. There are so many people out here thirsting for truth, knowledge and insights from a global perspective. I come here everyday looking for more.You rarely disappoint.(cough, Glitter & Chuckles, cough).

  29. Here’s my solution. When those pirates go on board the ships and say, "Surrender the booty," I think the crews should comply and that would end the standoffs and ransoms.

  30. @Snob You wrote: “ I’m not going to apologize for caring about abject poverty even among criminals. I never professed to be a member of the hardline. I’m sorry. I’m not someone who sees "black or white," pirates all bad, all corporations and their cargo all innocent and good. The world is never that clear and there is always nuance.” Well thank’s for stamping my passport to the land of Nuance! No one is asking you to apologize for feeling compassion for Somalia’s downtrodden.As an argumentative tactic, this is a less-than-subtle way of stapling a SCREW THE POOR sign to the back of a reader’s (digital) shirt. You may not want to separate ‘black’ from ‘white’ when it comes to the pirate issue, but a clear line needs to be drawn when it comes to empathizing with a oppressed population and excusing what acts of malfeasance certain members of said population engage in to their detriment. And that sentence rings just as true about brown people in our inner cites (the ‘Nino Brown’s’ you point to) as it does to those from the Mother continent. Those jokers messed up. Big time. Let’s not get all ‘William Julius Wilson’ about this shit.Don’t try to blame their environment , or the effects of globalization on native peoples, or China’s mining industry, or some other smoke-thin boogeyman for the rip-roaringly foolish idea these morons had: that taking an American sea captain hostage made perfect sense. If, in this case, the very people responsible for the tragic ending of lives lost forever, (their own, no less) end up harming themselves and other innocents—by virtue of their own insipid behavior—at what point do you decide that they could have just spared themselves by acting right in the first place? And just how far do you take this brand of moral relativism? Do you excuse the gangbanger that accidently shoots a child in a turf war? Do you blame corporations for the sky-rocketing out of wedlock birth rate in our community? Point an accusatory finger at—oh I don’t know, Mexico, for all the joints that’ll be lit in the cities this weekend? The world—like the very ghetto’s you use as an analogy—is stuffed tight with poor people. But not all the world’s poor turn to piracy. Or drug dealing. Some turn to religion. Some turn to a library. And to think that the human spirit isn’t strong enough to break through the bondage of poverty in Somalia … well, it doesn’t jibe with my sense of history. In fact, your replies read a bit like someone whose turned Somali suffering into something of a fetish. It’s very NPR of you.And, in turn, does as much a disserve to them as their current, crappy transitional government (their 15th by the way).Try not to confuse liberalism with moral laxity next time, okay? Martin Luther King Jr was a liberal. He knew right from wrong. And to him, it was just as clear and obvious to him as night and day. Or, better yet, black and white.

  31. For those wondering, I’ll be trying to get an article together on modern piracy by next week.

  32. @ SnobfanAll I was doing was explaining my position. None of that was code to disrespect yours and I don’t understand the undercurrent of rudeness in your comments given that if you’ve read my latest comments I’ve all but ceded the argument to you and Michele and asked Michele to write a post on her POV since she had so much interesting information. I feel like you’re just dragging this on when it’s pretty obvious I have no interest in debating the issue that I need to know more about. I want to now read more from all sides and see what Michele produces. That’s the point of the site. Not winning the argument, but better understanding the view. (Along with making fun of things.)I wrote about nuance because I wanted you to better understand me and my position. And Democracy/populism does come with a radical streak. That’s a different debate but I am someone who believes that sometimes you have to break the law to get radical change. As I recall, MLK went to jail for breaking the "law" by unlawfully protesting. There are just degrees. Some people get arrested for protesting. Others go the full Nat Turner, Harper’s Ferry or French Revolution on you and that’s when bodies start filling the streets.There’s a whole history of people breaking the law for the "right" (nee their moral view) reasons. People who blow up abortion clinics feel pretty fine about themselves. I think they’re monsters. But I don’t think Nat Turner or Jim Brown where monsters who staged revolts that slaughtered white slave owners. It’s relative.As for you and nuance, I wasn’t trying to color you as an absolutist. You’ve read this blog long enough to know that if I think someone is an absolutist I call them such. You wrote about poverty and problems in Africa, so I know you’re not an absolutist.So come back to the table, but tone it down a bit. We’re all still buddies here.

  33. You know what? You’re absolutely right. There was a much more intelligent, level headed route to take in offering my counter point. And I didn’t take it.My apologies. Keep up the wonderful writing you do. I love this site. And again, my apologies.

  34. @ SnobfanDon’t worry about it.Hey, if we didn’t have our passions, what would be the point? But you’re a regular commenter. You’re like family around here, so when we fight, just pull up to the domino table, slap down your tiles and have a good time. We shouldn’t be getting personal. After all, it’s the issue that’s got us all heated. Not each other. Flaming is for the trolls. (And Rolly Rolls!) LOL.

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