Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Last Time People Were This Interested In Pirates Johnny Depp Was Involved

Now that we've had some time to cool down from the story of the Navy SEALs straight facing those Somali pirates and freeing the U.S. ship captain (I talked about it for 72 hours straight, even in my sleep. This subsequently led my girlfriend to threaten to break up with me. Since she's wholly uninterested in my blog, I've chosen this forum to talk about the situation further), I think it is time to reflect on what is happening on and around the Horn of Africa. I read this post by Ilan Goldenberg at Democracy Arsenal which I mostly agree with. He says that the recent hostage situation involving the American captain has created a frenzy of public attention surrounding the Somali pirate situation as if it is some kind of new phenomenon. Of course, this is not true because pirates have been a problem in that part of the world for awhile, but no one here really paid a lot of attention until an American was captured. This is a typical reaction for most people. You don't pay attention to a problem until it strikes home for you, and it struck home to Americans when the Maersk Alabama was taken over by pirates and the captain was held hostage. Now all of the sudden people are calling for the complete obliteration of these scallywags. Goldenberg points to an article in the NY Post in which the author paints an apocalyptic end to the pirates after the U.S. turns its full military might against them. Great idea buddy. Let's get involved in an all out sea, air, and land assault on a bunch of well armed fishermen in glorified row boats. Maybe I'm understating the skill of these pirates seeing as how a relatively low number of them can take over enourmous ships using pretty rudimentary means, but I'm just saying that we shouldn't want to mobilize the rest of an already strained military to go out and fight these guys. I do believe that the U.S. and other countries need to step up their presence in the region and take the fight to the pirates, but we don't need to wage war over there. I think we can control the problem with a concerted effort that focuses naval assets of several countries on stemming the problem. I only say that we can stem the problem because I don't think we can stop it without fixing the root problem in Somalia which is a big one. I don't think I would be going to far out on a limb here by saying that Somalia is the most lawless country in the world and that the word government can be used only loosely in describing who is running the country. It's that kind of lawlessness that leads to an environment in which the pirates can act with impunity in country.

While the piracy is a problem I think it pales in comparison to the potential that Somalia has to be the next terrorist safe haven. They already have a major radical Islamic group called al Shabab who is growing increasingly powerful. A relatively weak government and strong radical presence creates an ideal situation for Somalia becoming the next terrorist safe haven in the mold of Afghanistan. Nearby Sudan used to be al Qaeda's base of operations before it moved to Afghanistan so the region is not new to radical Islam. It's Obama's new policy to attack and destroy terrorist safe havens, but that policy seems to be confined to Pakistan and Afghanistan thus far.

If Somalia becomes a base of operations for terrorists will we start turning military attention there? Will Somalia be the next Iraq? I don't me to be sensationalist, but Somalia will need a strong government that can control terrorist activity if it is truly not going to be a safe haven. The U.S.'s main goal in Iraq and Afghanistan is to get strong central governments set up so that they can turn those countries around and stop them from becoming bases for terrorist activity. I think that we can make life very uncomfortable for terrorists in Somalia by directing more surgical military action at them (special operations, drone attacks, etc.) without a full scale invasion, but I don't know if we can completely disrupt terrorist operations there. This is all assuming that Somalia becomes a hub of terrorist activity, which may not happen, but I think it has all the symptoms of a potential safe haven which deserves some serious attention.

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