It all worked out in Pirate Alley.
A brave American captain saves his ship and crew by putting his own life on the line. An untried American President deals with the crisis with wisdom and restraint, negotiating for days even as the standoff risks becoming an international embarrassment for his country. Then a team of skilled Navy snipers kills all the captors in a single burst of fire, knowing that even one wounded pirate would surely kill their American captive. The next day President Obama gives a tough speech vowing to “halt the rise of piracy” off the coast of Africa.
So why do I feel so uneasy about this triumph?
Because it increases a false trust that American military power will always destroy those who attack us. Because shooting pirates solves a short-term problem, but the emotions it generates help blind us to the need for better, longer-term solutions to 21st century security threats.
Piracy off the Somali coast has become a major growth industry for this failed state. While the pirates are hardly Al-Queda, they’ve learned from Al-Queda’s example the enormous power of the clever use of simple weapons.
But there’s a more important parallel here than tactics. Piracy in Somalia, like terrorism, is an act of violence fed not just by ideology or greed, but by the indifference of the developed world to the fate of poor, distant, lawless places where desperation grows unchecked.
Piracy and terrorism do not exist in a vacuum. They grow and thrive in failed states, like Somalia, like Afghanistan under the Taliban, like the border regions of Pakistan and next, perhaps, in parts of Saharan Africa. It’s easy in places like these to convince young men that taking on the US Navy in lifeboats or strapping bombs to their waists is an option.
What’s to lose for a young man in those places? There’s no job and no economy that might create one. Members of your family have died from malnutrition and disease. Your guidance comes not from a school but from the hateful bile of anti-American ideologues or the cunning blandishments of warlords and professional criminals.
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