- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Captain Richard Phillips was saved Sunday by an old-fashioned formula that pirates understand — Attack U.S. shipping, and you will die. Now that policy needs to be extended to the pirates' sanctuaries on land.

The Navy's bold actions were in sharp contrast to the instinctive waffling of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who promised that the Obama administration was seeking “an appropriate 21st-century response” to the pirates who seized a U.S.-flagged vessel and took its American captain hostage.

Thankfully, Vice Admiral William E. Gortney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, gets it. He made it clear that “The United States government's policy is to not negotiate.” Such a clear statement of resolve was a refreshing change from President Obama's usual “let's talk about it” approach. Mr. Obama has said that the United States is “resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region,” and the Defense Department reportedly is discussing ways to take the fight directly to the pirate safe havens. During his press conference on Easter Sunday, Adm. Gortney said matter-of-factly what that means: “The ultimate solution for piracy is on land.” Taking the offensive is the only remedy to the piracy disease, and there is ample precedent for such operations.

In 1851, the Navy sent the U.S. sloop-of-war Dale to Johanna Island, a pirate haven off the coast of Madagascar, in response to the seizure of Capt. Moore of the bark Maria by local strongman Sultan Abdullah bin Salim. The Dale's commander, Capt. Pearson, rejected any notion of ransom for Moore and instead demanded $20,000 from the pirates for our trouble, or he would open fire. In the ensuing negotiations, the sultan was willing only to give $5,000, most of which would be paid in trinkets, cattle and cotton cloth because of lack of cash on hand. Pearson was unimpressed, and after a series of threats from the sultan, the Dale commenced firing. It took 19 volleys to make the sultan see the error of his ways. He raised the white flag, said he would pay what he could of the demanded indemnity and promised never to harm Americans again - a promise he kept.

Piracy expert Martin Murphy, author of “Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money,” tells us, “Historically, piracy has always been stopped from the land, not from the sea.” A long-term solution to the piracy problem necessarily will be political and necessitate stabilizing the ungoverned areas where piracy has taken root. This will require more than a simple aid program. According to a recent United Nations report, the profits from piracy are funneled throughout the Puntland government, so it will be difficult to get the level of cooperation needed for development aid to be effective. Making matters more complicated is that the insular Somalis tend to be resentful of political meddling and military action in their affairs, a Catch-22 that the U.S. forces encountered in the early 1990s with disastrous effect.

Somali pirates have vowed revenge for the justifiable slaying of their comrades. Any American unlucky enough to fall into their clutches faces murder, tit-for-tat. The pirates should think twice about making good on these threats. If they harm helpless Americans, that will give the United States more license to take stronger steps against them. As Sunday's success on the high seas demonstrated, the U.S. military's solution to piracy is less 21st-century handholding and more 19th-century mettle.

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