There's been lots of talk about piracy in the news lately, what with a huge international naval flotilla patrolling the area to interdict it, and now the news that after scores of attacks on vessels from seemingly every country on earth, at long last the pirates have got around to attacking an American flagged ship. Unfortunately for them it looks like they attacked the wrong ship.
The pirates tried to hijack the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama on Wednesday, but Capt. Richard Phillips thwarted their takeover by telling his crew of about 20 to lock themselves in a room, the crew told stateside relatives. The crew later overpowered some of the pirates, but Phillips surrendered himself to the bandits to safeguard his crew, and at least four of the pirates fled with him to an enclosed lifeboat, the relatives said. It was the first such attack on American sailors in about 200 years.
Wow. That's one bold, selfless, bad-assed Captain. Or a sad, sorry lot of so-called pirates. Either way I'm glad that at least a small victory against such lawlessness has been won. But the war is still far from over because we (meaning U.S.) don't seem to have a strategy in place to deal with the broader issues of piracy in the Horn of Africa region. Sure, there are a hundred naval ships in the waters off Somalia, but even this massive military show of force hasn't slowed down the number of pirate attacks. Or as stated by Galrahn at the influential Information Dissemination naval blog:
...the naval power accumulated off the coast of Somalia includes the greatest collection of global naval power collected since the invasion of Iraq, and even with virtually every major navy in the world involved, the pirates are winning.
That site by the way is a fantastic resource if you're interested in international naval and maritime issues, but I digress. Strategy. Ours isn't working because apparently there's is nothing in that part of Somalia that a decent person can do that remotely comes close to paying the bills like being a pirate. Throw in the fact that there's no central government and thus no one to turn pirates in to even if they are caught, and you start to see the true scope of the problem. In other words, you can't solve the piracy problem at sea. It has to be dealt with on land and that means helping establish a stable, central government. Wait a minute, I seem to recall..., remember this?
...So let me get this straight; the U.S. backs an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in order to bring peace and security to the region even though the Somalian Union of Islamic Courts had already pretty much done that.
...Regardless of the fact that the Islamicists had, through their earlier victory, ushered in the longest period of relative peace in Somalia since the late 1980's, the decision for regime change was made because hey, they're Islamic. Unfortunately for the Somalian people, that aforementioned period of peace only lasted for about 6 months.
Yep, that was your boy DP writing in April 2007 about our support of Ethiopian invasion induced peace and security, and the one size fits all approach to fighting terrorism. Here we are a couple of years later and Somalia is in worse shape than before and now the whole world is feeling the effects.
I truly hope the Captain of the Maersk Alabama makes it home safely. But I can't help but wonder what might have been, for us and the Somalis, if we had left well enough alone back then. With the attempted hijack of an American ship, I can only hope it influences our best and brightest to come up with a proper strategy to deal with the issue in all of its complexity.