Thursday, April 16, 2009

'Three scalps held aloft'

The Pirates Might Prefer Fish 
to Guns
William Pfaff, Truthdig: President Barack Obama's promise that the United States and its allies will put an end to Indian Ocean piracy had the forceful ring to it that good American citizens like to hear...

Why is there piracy off Somalia? If you listen to the pirates, it is retaliation against the piracy of the international fishing industry... They had no government to speak of to defend them, or go to the international courts to protest about the theft of their fish... 

American diplomats today are reported to be keen to take over from the military in putting order back into the world. Why not a big international effort to get an EU, UN, or NATO-policed agreement governing who can fish in Somalian waters, along with one more try to put together a provisional government?... And a big international fund set up by the world's principal shipping companies to help the Somalians get back into the export business?

Paul Woodward, War in Context: When the Daily Show turns on some triumphalist, hot-blooded American nationalism (notwithstanding some token irony) it makes me wonder how differently a Democratic president would have handled 9/11 from the way George Bush did.

The event of three teenage Somali pirates being shot has been treated as though President Obama has successfully traversed a national security rite of passage. Three scalps held aloft, he can now be hailed by his followers as a blood-anointed chieftain. The ghosts of Mogadishu have been exorcised.

Less attention has been given to the fact that the lifeboat containing the pirates and their hostage was tethered no more than 80 feet behind the USS Bainbridge, presenting a bobbing but not very distant target. Or, that we really have no way of knowing whether the critical moment came dramatically with Capt. Phillips' life in immediate danger or whether it came clinically when three pirates simultaneously found themselves in the snipers' cross hairs...

The elephant in the room here is that Somalia effectively has no government. Where there is no rule of law, there are in a practical sense no law breakers. Pressing leaders of a powerless government to 'take action against pirates' is really a rather transparent way of sidestepping the core political issue: the need to help in the establishment of an effective Somali government whose legitimacy is accepted by the majority of the population.