[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]
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.