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Where Is Stephen Decatur When You Need Him?

I don't have any particular love for cold warriors who block the progress that is so desperately needed these days, but it is situations like this that remind me that the old timers might have a point about longing for a world where things were clear cut:

In a dramatic escalation of high seas crime, Somali pirates hijacked a Saudi supertanker loaded with crude hundreds of miles off the coast of East Africa — defeating the security web of warships trying to protect vital shipping lanes.

I mean, when was the last time anyone on the short list for a national security or defense position had to deal with pirates? If you listened to some, this is a problem so serious as to cause vapor lock:

Operations undertaken by the coalition fleet are fraught with legal difficulties, ranging from restrictive rules of engagement to rights of habeas corpus, as the British Navy discovered when it detained eight pirates after a shootout last week. Yesterday the detainees were passed on to Kenya, where efforts to prosecute them will be closely watched for precedent.

Powerless? Really? Has it come down to this; the world's most powerful nations are helpless against brigands in a john boat? I mean why all the hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth when that's demonstrably untrue:

Somali pirates attempting to hijack a Japanese oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden were thwarted in part due to the intervention of German Navy frigate . . . the Takayam oil tanker was attacked early on Monday, April 21, by a small boat off the northern coast of Somalia . . . The tanker sent out a radio distress call, which was received by the [German frigate]. The frigate headed straight for the scene, sending ahead a helicopter to intercept the pirates. By the time the helicopter arrived, the pirates had fled in their speedboat, the spokesman said, adding that the mere threat of the naval force had been enough to scare off the bandits.

Feel free to do your own interpretation of the "Run away!" line from The Holy Grail.

No one likes war and no one wants to deal with excessive risk, but from a military standpoint this isn't any kind of contest. As with most martial issues however, it's not the fighting but the aftermath that tends to be a problem. Perhaps if we didn't largely ignore the 'small stuff' (a'la Somalia) we wouldn't have to worry about $100M in crude going missing or being held hostage by armed ragamuffins. People scoff at efforts like Africa Command, but you can trace a lot of evils (and project out even more serious ones) back to Africa. We can debate whether the outgoing administration would be doing a favor or disservice to the incoming one by laying the smack down on pirates, but it's an issue that will need be addressed decisively soon or we can stop debating about the need for more Joint Strike Fighters because they won't be effective against the next pressing military threat.

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