Pirate attacks are politically dangerous

April 13, 2009 7:19:39 PM PDT
There is high praise for the U.S. military's rescue of an American freighter ship captain off the coast of Somalia, but there's also concern this could lead to an escalation in violence. Some Somali pirates are already threatening revenge.

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The risks are minimized someone since there hasn't been a U.S. embassy in Somalia since 1991, so that is not a target. However, U.S. citizens in Somalia are in greater danger following the successful rescue of Captain Richard Phillips. President Barack Obama has also dodged a politically dangerous bullet as well.

President Barack Obama says he has resolved to halt the spread of piracy.

"We're going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks. We're going to have to be prepared to confront them when they arise and we have to insure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable," says President Obama.

A joint piracy task force led by the U.S. Navy is patrolling the Golf of Aden near the Somali coast. Pirates are vowing revenge on the U.S.

"Most of the time, it would be a head shot," says Ben Tisa, a former FBI agent turned SWAT instructor.

Tisa says the Somali pirates talk is just that and that the successful rescue has likely made U.S. commercial ships safer.

"If I was a Somali pirate, I'm going to think real careful about taking another American ship and American hostage because I know what's going to happen to me," says Tisa.

Regardless, it hasn't always worked out that way. In 1993 the U.S. attempt to take out a Somali warlord ended in disaster and a U.S. retreat. Then, there was the aborted Iran hostage rescue which sank the re-election chances of President Jimmy Carter.

Retired Special Forces Colonel Hy Rothstein is a leading military expert in unconventional war and is a senior lecturer at the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey. He spent 30 years in Army Special Forces before getting his Ph.D. in International Relations.

"Our response was less than forceful in all of those incidents which again made our enemies think that we had an Achilles heel; that Achilles heel being the death of U.S. citizens," says Professor Rothstein.

Rothstein believes the perception that the U.S. was weak, led to increased problems. But the threat of pirates off the coast of Somalia is more emotional than real.

"In the scope of things, very few ships have been taken and most of the ships that have been taken were recovered by the paying of ransom," says Rothstein.

Rothstein adds, shipping companies seem more willing to pay the ransom than to arm people to defend the ships.

Ironically that was the situation 200 years ago, when President Thomas Jefferson ordered the building of the U.S. Navy in response to politically embarrassing pirate attacks on U.S. shipping off the coast of North Africa.

These days, sending in the Marines is much more problematic and diplomatic negotiations irrelevant.

"The state of Somalia does not really control what's going on or what the pirates are doing," says Rothstein.

Both Tisa and Rothstein believe the answer is an international commitment to make the targets harder, by putting armed sailors aboard those commercial ships.

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