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Opening Arguments

Yankees 3, Pirates 0

Hooray for the Seals, and three cheers to President Obama for telling the military they could handle the situation, up to and including the use of deadly force. Obama will face tougher tests in dealing with Iran, North Korea, et al., but he seemed to have pretty good instincts in handling this one.

For all the romance of the high seas we invest in "pirates," these were just seagoing armed robbers, and this was basically a hostage situation. And we have developed a very good rule of thumb for such cases: The hostage-takers don't get to leave the scene. One way or another, they have taken their last hostages. I'm in the camp that thinks we tend to overstate the threat of piracy:

In its current form and scope, piracy threatens no vital U.S. national security interests. It is in no way comparable to legacy threats that shape national strategy, such as terrorism or weapons of mass destruction proliferation. Hence, it is inherently disingenuous to inflate the piracy "threat" to justify either force structure or maritime strategic underpinnings.

Pirates are pirates mainly because it's been a high-yield, low-risk enterprise. It is that because it has been low-risk for the rest of us, too. The pirates don't usually hurt anybody, and the shipping companies consider the ransoms paid a cost of doing business. The percentage of ships attacked is very low, and the amount of ocean that would have to be patrolled as a threat-preventive is huge.

If piracy becomes more than an irritant -- if it becomes a serious threat to commerce or safety -- then the world will take piracy more seriously. One of the possible outcomes of our victory, in fact (as well as the French attack to take back some of their hostages) is that this seriousness will arrive. The Somali pirates vow they're going to "retaliate,' which would be an escalation they might regret.

Today's quiz: During the Washington administration, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson disagreed on how to handle the Barbary pirates. Who wanted to walk softly and who wanted to kick butt?


Bob G.
Mon, 04/13/2009 - 2:38pm

Thanks for my "moment of history" learning experience for the week, Leo...
T'was worth the price of admission.
And it was also enlightening.
(yeah, I can do enlightening..even on a rainy Monday)

Michael B-P
Mon, 04/13/2009 - 10:53pm

Well, at the time Adams was invested in Hamilton's belief that strong central government alongside a strong central bank was in America's best interests, so presumably he would have favored cutting a deal rather than taking on the pirates. I wonder if it ever occured to W. that perhaps Saddam might have had his price too.