Bush Policy on Pirates: Um, Good Luck, Sailor

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Bush Administration, Obama Administration

[Update, for people coming here from a right-wing site who plan to yell at me for "blaming Bush": Please note that in no place in the post below did I blame Bush for Somali piracy or the present hostage situation. Right-wing bloggers who said that's what I wrote are liars. -- maha]

The Right is blaming Barack Obama for Somali pirates, or at least the lack of a response to the Somali pirates. Short version: Barack Obama is Jimmy Carter.

I thought you might like to read a Wall Street Journal story about Somali pirates published while George W. Bush was still president:

In the waning days of the Bush administration, the National Security Council issued a detailed yet little-noticed plan for combating piracy off the coast of Somalia….

…But the vast majority of the tasks laid out in the plan either were aimed at making sure pirates never reached commercial vessels — encouraging ships to travel at night, increasing intelligence sharing, destroying vessels that appear outfitted for piracy — or ensuring that there were consequences for pirates that were ultimately caught.

It was nearly silent, however, on what to do if a ship is taken by pirates and crew members are held captive. And what little guidance it provided was vague. U.S. naval forces were given authority to “terminate the act of piracy and any included hostage situation.” Just how they were to do that was left unsaid.

Pay close attention:

The reason for the plan’s lack of guidance has now been made clear over the last two days off the coast of the Horn of Africa: The choices facing a hulking navy destroyer as it confronts a ragtag group of Somali pirates holding an American seaman hostage in a small, propulsion-free boat are extremely limited.

Pentagon and U.S. Navy officials have been reticent to engage in the kind of hostage rescues that could spring crewmembers from capture at sea, arguing it would set a precedent that would strain an already thinly deployed naval taskforce in the region and, more importantly, potentially lead to more bloodshed.

In other words, President Obama probably is taking the advice of the commanders on the ground, er, water. But does this mean George W. Bush also was Jimmy Carter? I hate to insult Carter so, but let’s not pull punches here.

John Keegan, who has written some of my favorite military history books, says that the one way to stop the piracy is to sink pirate ships on sight. I suspect he’s right about that. However, that doesn’t solve the present hostage crisis, unless we’re willing to sacrifice the lives of the hostages. But then he says European navies would need to be re-equipped to engage in a pirate ship sinking campaign, which seems odd to me. But Keegan knows military stuff better than I do.

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30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Blanca DeBree  •  Apr 11, 2009 @3:27 pm

    Maybe it’s just me but these Pirates of Somalia just aren’t as fun as the Pirates of the Caribbean.

  2. joanr16  •  Apr 11, 2009 @3:51 pm

    This BS criticism from the Right, blaming Obama for problems that began long ago on Bush’s watch, and that Bush never addressed or only made worse, is getting unbearably tiresome. It’s designed to distract and waste everybody’s time, and deserves nothing more than a rubber-stamped response: “WHERE WAS GEORGE? SO STFU.”

    [John Keegan] says European navies would need to be re-equipped to engage in a pirate ship sinking campaign.

    This scenario has flummoxed everybody, for some time now. It isn’t even George’s fault particularly. Right now I picture some low-ranking aide to the American Secretary of the Navy racing back to his or her boss’s office with an enormous green plastic bag full of paperbacks from Barnes & Noble. “These are all I could find, sir,” the aide says breathlessly, and dumps the bag’s contents onto the Secretary’s desk. “But surely the answer’s in here somewhere?” Spilled over reports on electronic guidance systems and computer-assisted sonar, are the collected works of Patrick O’Brian.

    We’re gonna need some older cannon.

  3. patrick  •  Apr 11, 2009 @3:52 pm

    From what I have read many of the smaller boats used for piracy are launched from larger vessels disguised as fishing boats. Unless one was willing to sink every fishing boat in the area it would be difficult to actually destroy all of the pirate mother ships. And of course, destroying fishing vessels off of the coast of starving Somalia has further ethical considerations.

  4. c u n d gulag  •  Apr 11, 2009 @4:46 pm

    These pirates are the result of years and years of economic hardship caused by overfishing by large national fleets from around the world. These fleets kept locals from supporting themselves by fishing the waters themselves. There were few fish left to them.

    They started by capturing the larger fishing boats and holding their crews hostage. Only to find out that nobody gave a crap about those that were captured. So, they found bigger fish to fry – large commercial vessel’s.
    BINGO! You hold some poor fishermen from some trawler hostage and no one gives a shit. You hold the crew of a huge cargo vessel with millions of dollars in the hold hostage, and all of a sudden, companies negotiate with you.

    If you begin to allow the local people to support themselves, you begin to end the era of piracy.
    Yeah, I know. I’m not holding my breath either…

  5. Ian  •  Apr 11, 2009 @5:28 pm

    Hmmm … Mr. Gulag beat me to it …

    To whit, it might help most to actually address the causes of somali piracy. These guys are, or at least started out as, the de facto coast guard for a country with no functioning government (and thus no functioning coast guard), funding their efforts through a little light piracy.

    Because their coast was largely undefended, international fishing fleets did the equivalent of strip mining … plus various entities dumping pollution … the local fisherman ended up with very little choice in how to keep food on their tables. They had no fish to pull out of the water, but they did have motor boats and easy access to a variety of firearms…

    So, I’d say this seems like a job for the UN. Is there such a thing as naval UN peace keepers? Well, if not there should be … provide the country with a real coast guard for a few years, chase off the fish miners and the polluters, and see what happens.

    -me

  6. opit  •  Apr 11, 2009 @5:37 pm

    Somalia, guys. You know, “Blackhawk Down” and UN missions and Ethiopian army ‘stabilized’ place where the fearsome Taliban – who were keeping the peace – just had to be prevented from being the people governing their own country ?
    A couple of thoughts about this occur to me ( right, many more than that, but this is just a comment thread )
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=4682
    Since Somalis aren’t allowed a functioning government, that leaves a hole where defence of local interests should be
    http://bariisiyobasto.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/nuclear-and-toxic-waste-tsunami-uncovers-poisons-dumped-off-somali-coast/
    Listen to all the wailing about Somali lawlessness – Craig Murray just put out an excellent example. I cited your article over at his comments too BTW.

  7. joanr16  •  Apr 11, 2009 @6:14 pm

    [T]he fearsome Taliban – who were keeping the peace – just had to be prevented from being the people governing their own country.

    Um, yeah. As a woman and a religious freethinker, I’d jump at the chance to live under the governance of the Taliban. They certainly don’t allow lawlessness, not at home anyway, so I guess that’s the answer. Thanks for setting us all straight.

  8. maha  •  Apr 11, 2009 @6:15 pm

    Opit — the causes of the failure of a functioning government in Somalia go back a lot further than the UN mission there in the 1990s, which is what I assume you are talking about. Nobody was keeping the peace in Somalia then. I believe Somalia was engaged in civil war, and some Islamic warlords were running things, mostly by terrorizing the population. Nasty stuff. About Somalia not being “allowed” a functioning government, all manner of great powers have messed with Somalia, including the USSR and other African countries. It never had much of a chance.

  9. opit  •  Apr 11, 2009 @8:43 pm

    Rather sounds like Afghanistan, don’t you think ?
    joanr16 : woman and religious freethinker Like http://www.cayce.egympie.com.au/SGinspirational.htm or
    http://www.religioustolerance.org/islam.htm informed person who knows all the scare tactics employed against other people are made more true by getting rid of the sane ones ? I’ll let you consider the glorious success of government in the last few years when angry people without a clue let slip the dogs of war. This promotes civility how ? You are – knowingly or not – parroting ‘talking points’ designed to sell an agenda rather than a dispassionate analysis. I’m tired of quoting Orwell – though he was ‘in the business’ of bamboozling the public before he decided to fictionalize his experiences. Here’s a different POV
    http://dmiessler.com/blog/what-every-american-should-know-about-the-middle-east.

  10. maha  •  Apr 11, 2009 @9:02 pm

    opit — are you sure you aren’t a bot?

  11. Ken Lovell  •  Apr 11, 2009 @10:49 pm

    Seems like a convoy system would be the way to go, with each convoy protected by a suitable naval vessel. Or maybe every potential target vessel could carry a dozen marines armed to the teeth and a nice Gatling rapid fire cannon to deter boarding parties. I’m sure the shipowners will figure something out without opening another venue for trigger-happy commanders to call airstrikes on anything they think looks suspicious (and surely that’s what ‘sink on sight’ would mean in practice).

  12. lavanda dolce  •  Apr 12, 2009 @6:44 am

    OMG. You people are unreal. To blame this particular terrorist act on “Bush’s watch” is absolutely ludicrous. When are you going to hold Obama responsible for doing his elected job duties? FORGET about stupid remarks about anothers ‘watch’. I didn’t hear any of you sing that song when 911 hit and that it was on “Clintons watch”…such hypocrites. YES…THIS IS HAPPENING TODAY AND NOW AND TODAY AND NOW ON OBAMA’S WATCH. So now what have you say?

    No word from our President, Chief in Commander. What a joke. Too afraid to speak up against this terrorist act? Pirates? Yeah right. A bunch of thugs with ak-47 hops a civilian unarmed ship is not a pirate. they’re terrorists. Where is Obama? Where is his “we will not tolerate terrorism” speech? Is his speech writer on Easter holiday? What do we do? Wait until Captain Phillips is dead and then come out and do some ‘his family has our prayers” speech? THIS IS RIDICULOUS. We are supposed to have the best army and tactics in the world…and yet we sit like a bunch of bumps on a log and I’m so positive it is due to Obama’s final say on what can transpire. We have navy seals that can swim and take over those 4 somalians, we have tranquilizer darts and snipers that can simultaneously take out all 4 of those simolians. WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR? OMG…this is so reflective of what is going to happen right here on American soil. EVERY TERRORIST IS WATCHING WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO. But I guess Obama doesn’t care. Truly, he doesn’t. He would have spoken out already. Fact is, why should he worry? He and his family will be well protected in a bunker when “it” hits the fan here in the US. My prayers to the family of Captain Phillips. I hope and pray that he will be safe…and I hope and pray if he is harmed that you never accept a word of sympathy from Obama.

  13. maha  •  Apr 12, 2009 @7:13 am

    lavanda — I am not blaming the piracy on “bush’s watch,” but since you are a rightie you have the reading comprehension skills of a garden slug and can’t know that.

    The point of the post that you are too stupid/inbred/brainwashed to read is that the actions Obama is following now are exactly the same ones laid out by the National Security Council, the Pentagon, and Navy officials laid out during Bush’s watch, and for reason’s Bush’s NSA, Pentagon and Navy explained there are no viable options now that wouldn’t get Captain Phillips killed.

  14. erinyes  •  Apr 12, 2009 @7:29 am

    Lavanda dolce, you are so right!
    Not only do we have the elite navy seals, don’t forget about Iron Man and Captain America! We could kick all their asses right now if only Obama had the balls, but NOOOOOOO! , he’s too busy trying to hide his Kenyan birth certificate.
    Obama had better work fast, those Somali pirates use trained monkeys to climb over the rails of the ships, bad monkeys who’ll rip your face off. OMG! we need president Bush back! And Cheney! THE TERRORISTS ARE WATCHING ME THROUGH MY COMPUTER SCREEN!!! H E L P !!!

  15. c u n d gulag  •  Apr 12, 2009 @7:42 am

    lavanda dolce,
    Better to do what Obama is doing.
    We know that your beloved tough guy, Bush, would have attacked!
    First, the security at “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride at Disney would have been put on full alert.
    Unfortunately, Bush would attack Sea World – killing Shamu, 7 dolphins, and 14 tourist’s. That’s not even counting the poor fish in the barrel’s.
    Then in a deadly surprise, he would carpet bomb Epcot Center, destroying the entire European village, killing dozens. Lederhosen stock would go through the roof. Fortunately, Cheney would have stock in Hallihosen, and make a fortune.
    Bush would then declare “Mission Accomplished!” on the Dumbo ride.

    As for the real pirates, well, they’d be about where they are now, with the Captain as hostage, and our ships waiting for the right opportunity.

  16. c u n d gulag  •  Apr 12, 2009 @7:57 am

    Oh, and Flipper would be “Airboarded” at Gitmo. Alll they would get out of him was, “Aaaa, Aaaa, Aaaa,” and continue the “harsh interrogation” technique’s.

  17. opit  •  Apr 12, 2009 @9:28 am

    maha
    ‘Am I sure I’m not a bot ?’ Are you then ? Dumbass.

  18. opit  •  Apr 12, 2009 @10:00 am

    maha
    ‘Am I sure I’m not a bot ?’
    Aren’t you the bright spark. WTF would you even ask that question from a guy who’s all over the net and shows up on even a cursory search ?

  19. maha  •  Apr 12, 2009 @10:09 am

    Opit — I ask because you aren’t making sense, your comments seem unrelated to what other people are writing, and the articles you linked to above contradict your own opinions. You remind me of a bot that used to infest Usenet newsgroups, and I’ve been trying to remember its name. Something like “Riley Cinder,” I think. It used to leave comments that were related to the topic but in an illogical way, causing many flame wars. What was amusing is that sometimes people continued to argue with it after being told it was a bot.

  20. felicity  •  Apr 12, 2009 @10:37 am

    According to an ex-captain who sailed the waters off Somalia for years, attacks by pirates have been going on for years. He also mentioned that ships – didn’t specify registry – have been dumping nuclear waste in those waters which eventually wash up on Somalia’s shores and make people sick. He added that ‘we’ have installed an American toady “ex-laundry worker” as dictator-in-chief. According to him these and other offenses have angered Somalis which, again according to him, were the original reasons for pirate attacks.

  21. opit  •  Apr 12, 2009 @10:38 am

    lavanda and erinyes are trolls.
    Am I a bot ? Didn’t click on the link did you ?
    Opit isn’t some oddball furrin name from Slav country ( I should watch my mouth. There’s red hair in the family : a Norse trait ) but an acronym : Olde Phartte in Training. When my WordPress blog went T.U. I decided ‘training’ was over – but the acronym was identified with me and I kept using it.

  22. News Reference  •  Apr 12, 2009 @11:28 am

    “opit,” your arguments are like puzzles: confusing, difficult to understand, riddled with obscure references, and often difficult to piece together.

    It really is like deciphering a foreign language.

    Your arguments would be improved if you used paragraph breaks.

    And complete thoughts.

    And tried to stay on topic.

    Also, learn how to use [a href="" title=""] tags to embed links in comments.

    But never assume anyone will click on your links. Providing a link doesn’t take the place of taking the time to clearly write out your argument.

    And since you are “tired of quoting Orwell” try reading Orwell’s, “Politics and the English Language.”

    It’s about using clear English language to convey your ideas.

  23. maha  •  Apr 12, 2009 @11:36 am

    Opit — I clicked on one of the links in your first comment, the backgrounder on Somalia by Jeffrey Gettleman in Foreign Policy:

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=4682

    This is really good. I liked it so much I printed it out and read it carefully. Highly recommended, and thanks for the link.

    Of course, it contradicts everything you’ve been saying, which makes me wonder if you’ve read it.

    As for lavanda and erinyes — lavanda is just an idiot. I don’t think she/he rises to the level of “troll.” However, erinyes is one of The Mahablog’s most valuable assets, a long-time contributor who has consistently given us intelligent and original commentary, as does joan16, whom you insulted upthread.

    Insulting the “regulars” is a violation of commenting rules. Bye.

  24. News Reference  •  Apr 12, 2009 @11:39 am

    “opit,” for the record, I’m not disagreeing with your conclusions, I’m just not sure I understand what they are.

  25. CabinInThe Woods  •  Apr 12, 2009 @12:08 pm

    What The International Media Isn’t Telling You About Somalia Pirates
    By Susie Madrak Sunday Apr 12, 2009 6:30am

    http://crooksandliars.com/susie-madrak/what-international-media-isnt-telling

  26. joanr16  •  Apr 12, 2009 @12:53 pm

    You are – knowingly or not – parroting ‘talking points’ designed to sell an agenda rather than a dispassionate analysis.

    No, opit, I’m referring to information widely available for many years from many sources. You should check it out sometime.

    I’m not at all big on “letting slip the dogs of war,” as you say. But there are basic human rights for women and religious minorities that the Taliban doesn’t respect, anywhere, any more than Bush’s fundamentalist Christian cronies respect them here, or anywhere. You appear to have some issues of your own, since you refuse to accept that I can think for myself.

    woman and religious freethinker Like http://www.cayce.egympie.com.au/SGinspirational.htm or
    http://www.religioustolerance.org/islam.htm informed person who knows all the scare tactics employed against other people are made more true by getting rid of the sane ones ?

    That’s gibberish, even without the links to Edgar Cayce et al. As near as I can tell, from the aggregate of your comments, your point is: “Tolerance of intolerance, as practiced by fundamentalists of various faiths, trumps the rights of women and religious minorities.” If it isn’t, you need to learn to be clear.

    But I see you are banned, opit, for resorting to childish name-calling. So you won’t be honing your self-expression here.

  27. Swami  •  Apr 12, 2009 @1:43 pm

    Erinyes is making up the story of the bad monkeys. Not that there aren’t such a thing as bad monkeys, but the Somalian pirates aren’t using bad monkeys to hijack ships.

  28. joanr16  •  Apr 12, 2009 @3:11 pm

    But Swami, he’s right about Iron Man coming to the rescue… isn’t he?

  29. News Reference  •  Apr 12, 2009 @4:54 pm

    Distinguishing satire from serious would seem to separate the sentients from the bots.

    “‘Am I sure I’m not a bot ?’”

    I think. Therefore I am.

  30. News Reference  •  Apr 12, 2009 @4:55 pm

    Speaking for angry pink squares with monocles only.



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