- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009


Just when we need Captain Bligh he's gone AWOL. The harsh and unforgiving skipper of HMS Bounty would make quick work of the Somali pirates. Hanging a half-dozen of them from the yardarm would send just the right message, one of grit and gumption shorn of nicety and nuance. (And next time, no more Capt. Nice Guy.)

Everyone is having a little fun with the tale of pirates chasing booty and bounty over the bounding main, but the Somali salts bear no resemblance to Errol Flynn, with Maureen O'Hara under one arm and a bottle of rum under the other, or even to Johnny Depp, buff and blustery under the mainmast crying, “Avast, ye lubbers!” The Somali pirates are real pirates, armed not with scimitars and clubs but the latest technology, weapons and tactics.

Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, put the threat in the perspective that no one, so far, seems to consider. “There have been more than 50 attacks in the area this year alone and the problem isn't going away,” he says. “I plan to hold hearings to further examine the growing threat of piracy and the policy options that need to be on the table before the next fire drill becomes an international incident with big implications.”

Hearings give senators something to do and keeps them off the streets, but piracy calls for more than more jaw jaw and talk talk. Maybe not necessarily a task force to sea, but certainly not a task force to give cover to a sleeping government. Maybe this is the great foreign crisis that Joe Biden predicted would arrive early in the new administration to test the mettle and grit of the new president. Joe was suddenly uncharacteristically reticent Thursday, all but throwing reporters out of his office, presumably to get back to whatever it is that vice presidents do when the going gets tough and the government is supposed to get going. “This is being worked on around the clock since this happened,” he told the reporters before showing them the door, “but I'm not in the position right now to comment on it.”

This could be a “foreign-policy crisis” right up President Obama's street. Here's an enemy of the people that nobody, not at the ACLU or even at the U.N., could love. Since this latest attack was on a ship taking food to the starving children of Africa, who could object to punishing the men who would take bread (or strained bananas) from the mouths of African babes? The pirates, for all their derring-do, pose no threat to a couple of U.S. warships out for a little target practice. The president could invite the French and the Italians to the party, perhaps even the Chinese and the Russians, to give it the patina of international authority that we're supposed to see in the new world order.

The reticence - not to say the silence - of the White House, of Joe Biden, and the Pentagon suggests either that something is up and the pirates are about to get it good and proper, or that they'll get more of what we've already got plenty of, merely a warning (with a strong letter of protest to follow by registered air mail). If Barack Obama wants to deal with this as a mere “distraction” - he brushes aside repeated questions from prying reporters because he wants to “remain focused” on housing - he could at least send his teleprompter. The president is addicted to applause and here's his chance to get a lot of it, emulating Thomas Jefferson or Teddy Roosevelt.

Standing up to the pirates of the Barbary coast was not so easy for Jefferson two centuries ago. He didn't have much of a navy and most of what he had was assigned to protect the American coast; the capture of the frigate Philadelphia and its crew by Tripoli had more poetic power to stir the American masses to demands for revenge than the takeover of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama.

Nevertheless, the bad guys in Pyongyang and Tehran, to say nothing of the modern barbarians in the Middle East, will surely take into account how Mr. Obama deals with the piracy on the African coast. A few speedboats powered by Evinrude should be no match for as much of the U.S. Sixth Fleet as is necessary.

Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department is “studying” how to proceed, and is worried about how the incident “epitomizes” the limits of U.S. power in the face of “violence-minded faceless groups and individuals.” But these aren't “unknown faceless groups and individuals.”

Once the captain of the Maersk Alabama, drifting as a hostage in the Indian Ocean in the shadow of U.S. Navy ships, is safely rescued there shouldn't be any further reluctance to deal with pirates in the way civilized nations have always dealt with pirates. This should be an easy one for the commander in chief. The difficult ones are on the way.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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