The daring rescue of Captain Richard Phillips from the Somali pirates who abducted him after failing to successfully steal his ship heartened the hearts of all Americans on Easter morning. But, the rescue does not solve the long-term problem of what to do about these pirates who have taken some one hundred ships previously and made the bad mistake this time of choosing an American vessel.
One suggestion, in an op-ed in this morning’s Washington Post, comes from Fred Ilke of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Kill the Pirates" is the title of the piece. That is one approach to the problem. Ilke points out that Somalia could easily become a hot bed for terrorism, that it is already more or less a failed state, and that "terrorists are far more brutal than pirates and can easily force pirates – petty thieves in comparison – to share their ransom money."
The problem with Ilke’s argument is, of course, that the introduction of massive American force is the surest way to drive the pirates into the arms of the terrorists. Ilke fails to explain why the pirates have not already joined forces with Al-Qaeda and it is, simply, that they are as he suggests "petty thieves." They are interested not in restoring the Caliphate or promoting Wahabism but in making cash and indulging the pleasures of the flesh. The paradise they seek is on this earth.
The problem of the pirates is similar to the problem in Darfur. The ideal solution would be for the African nations to band together and defeat the threats to civilization that plague the continent. But, they can’t or won’t. Too many African countries are corrupt, technically or morally or both, to allow them to support international scrutiny. And, the Chinese government can be counted on with its veto at the UN Security Council to further the argument for non-interference in the internal affairs of countries. And, the one way to make the situation in Darfur worse instantly is to introduce U.S. troops. Al-Qaeda would arrive the next day. I suspect the same would happen with the pirates.
This is not a time for military bluster. The pirates over-stepped when they attacked an American ship and three of them paid with their lives for their mistake. Let that fact sink in with their comrades. Perhaps, this American success will embolden other nations to more forcefully confront the piracy off the Somali coast and in the Gulf of Aden. But, if the past eight years taught us anything, it is to resist those who cry uncritically for employing American military might as the best solution to an international problem. America’s very big hammer has not yet turned all the world’s problems into nails, and in this case, we would more likely hit our own thumb than sink a nail into piracy’s coffin.
There is one other aspect to yesterday’s rescue. It was further proof, if further proof were needed, that President Barack Obama is lucky. He was lucky to draw a primary opponent who had Mark Penn as a strategist. He was lucky to draw a general election opponent who was at odds with the base of his own party. He was lucky that the economic meltdown was manifested on his predecessor’s watch. And, yesterday, an operation that coule easily have turned out badly ended up as the kind of feel-good moment Americans cherish. Napoleon used to examine the resumes of those who were to be promoted in his army, and always asked the same question: "But is he lucky?" In the complex world in which we live, like the chaos of the field at Austerlitz, the best of plans can go astray and the most skilled of men can see those skills defeated by bad luck. Obama is lucky. For all our sake’s let’s hope his luck holds.