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April 14, 2009

Pirate Mania
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

It's amazing how one hostage crisis involving pirates can turn an ongoing story that was basically being ignored, into a national outcry to somehow make this a top priority (Just look at the extent of the coverage) .  The reality is that Somalia is a mess and a combination of counterterrorism officials and Africa experts have been warning about this issue for a while and getting very little attention.  Now suddenly, there is a universal call to end the scourge of piracy.  The amount of stupid things written about this in recent days is remarkable with Ralph Peters of the New York Post being perhaps the craziest of all.

Attack their harbors with land, sea and air power. Kill pirates, sink their vessels (including those dual-use fishing boats) and wreck their support infrastructure. The clans behind the pirates must feel sufficient pain to rein in their young thugs. The price for piracy should be stunning.  And we don't need to stay to rebuild Somalia. End the fix-it fetish now. We need to leave while their boats are still burning down to the waterline.


I guess that is one option.  Even though just about everyone who has seriously covered this issue would tell you that it would only make things worse.  Or we could return to the land of reality and recognize that the piracy problem  and Somalia more broadly is a serious problem that needs to be effectively managed and addressed.  But we also need to deal with serious concerns regarding:  the financial crisis, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Russia, North Korea, Mexico, the Arab-Israeli conflict,  global warming, non-proliferation, etc...  The point is that Somalia and the piracy/terrorism issue belong somewhere on the list.  But it would be wise to take a deep breath and evaluate our options seriously, taking into account other priorities and limited resources before doing anything rash.  The whole country would benefit from a sane conversation and reasonable media coverage on this issue, instead of having a whole bunch of people who didn't even know this was an issue two weeks ago weigh in with all kinds of wacky options.

Update:  Noah Shachtman breaks down the options.

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Even though just about everyone who has seriously covered this issue would tell you that it would only make things worse.

Really? I haven't seriously looked at this issue, but I find that hard to believe. I mean, if you're willing to spend lots of money and cause horrific civilian casualties, then leveling all coastal cities, destroying key economic infrastructure, embargoes, and general indiscriminate killing would probably do the trick.

I think that the Somali pirate situation is drawing attention to a much bigger problem in Somalia and that is the potential for it to become a new terrorist safe haven. Somalia is a country with a strong extremist contingent and almost no central government. That seems like a perfect situation for Islamic terrorists to set up shop in Somalia much like they did in nearby Sudan some years ago. My question would be whether the U.S. will need to start attacking Somalia if it becomes a terrorist safe haven since part of Obama's strategy for fighting terrorists it to take away their safe havens? If we attack will that lead to another full scale invasion, and will the U.S. public be able to stomach another Iraq-like war to stop a terrorist threat and set up a central government to maintain it? This is speculation at this point, but I could conceivably see it going this way.

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