Monday, April 13, 2009

Barack Obama, Commander-in-Chief

Well, let's just say the Somalian pirate saga could have turned out differently, but fortunately it didn't. By all indications Capt. Richard Phillips was a good man who deserved to be rescued, and Obama's standing order to use force if his life was in jeopardy turned out to be a good move--for Phillips, his family, and for Obama's presidency.


Anne Gilbert said...

I,too, am glad the captain was rescued, but something has to be done about this Somalian pirate situation, because the area is getting more and more like the real Pirates of the Caribbean,some three centuries ago. There is no effective government in Somalia, for one thing. And a lot of these pirates were once fishermen, who claim to have been deprived of their living by various foreign fishing fleets taking advantage of the fact that there isn't any effective government of Somalia. Obama should pay attention to this. Still, I'm glad things were resolved with very little bloodshed,and the captain, who really does sound like a good and decent man, was rescued.
Anne G

Michael Balter said...

Anne, I totally agree that we need to look at the roots of the situation and see whether the pirates are really acting out of some sense of being wronged, although that of course does not excuse their behavior and in fact may just be an excuse--nearly everyone who commits awful deeds claims some justification for them! And I do think it is good that Obama is more determined to put a stop to it, although a long-term presence of the US Navy along the Somalian coast would be a provocation to extreme groups no doubt.

jqb said...

Perspective is important. The Somalian former fishermen claim that they are serving as Somali's coast guard in the absence of a government, and are reacting to pollution of their waters. I know virtually no relevant facts and so cannot make any judgment as to whether there is any truth to this -- although certainly it's not the whole truth. But I refuse to take the American perspective as fed to me via the media just because I happen to be American, especially given what I know from past events of how that perspective is often warped.

It is reported that Obama gave the order for deadly force if the captain's life was threatened, a gun was seen pointing at the captain, that was interpreted as his life being threatened, and deadly force was used. I know how these things work -- once the order was in place the use of deadly force was inevitable, as such interpretations are remarkably easy to come by regardless of the actual events or intent of the participants. I heard one talking head on CNN refer to this as "the best possible outcome" -- presumably, the handy shooting to death of three people rather than the messy details of dealing with them through the justice system. I would have thought that the best possible outcome from that mindset would have been to have killed all four.

That said, I think that, from a political and pragmatic perspective, Obama handled it very well and it works for him and disarms the Obama-is-making-us-weak lunatics like Cheney and Glen Beck. Hell, I think that even I, had I been in his position, would have given the same order, despite what I wrote above and my opposition to state-sanctioned killing -- one must choose among available options and outcomes (this is the same reason that I rejected voting for Nader even though I preferred his policies; voting for him didn't mean making him President, any more than writing in the name of others whose policies and governing ability I think even more highly of would made them President).

Richard said...

Before Americans high-five and congratulate themselves and their president for resolving the single (amongst many dozen others) Somali incident involving Americans (in a typical Chuck Norris manner), it might be worthwhile to read a bit more about both the background and the possible consequences of the Philips rescue.

Johann Hari: You are being lied to about pirates

Map of worldwide piracy and caution about escalation

Stephen Walt with another caution:

Navies are built for protecting shipping lanes - all well and good, but if it goes beyond that, towards blockade or land invasion, then you're into another self-induced quagmire.

Before the US Marines are sent in to demolish a few Somali coastal villages in a glorious re-run of Jefferson's war against the Barbary pirates, let us remember that the US has been a major contributor to the breakdown of Somali self-governance over the past 2 decades.

Anybody remember 'Black Hawk Down'?

Richard said...

"The moment I heard that an American ship had been raided by Somali pirates, I knew that someone would have to die for it; nowadays, American leaders -- and broad swathes of the public -- demand blood for the slightest perceived outrage against the nation's dignity. And once a hostage was taken -- by a bunch of rag-tag, Muslim darkies, no less -- a fatal ending was assured".

'Nuff said.

Anne Gilbert said...

Oh, I never said this piracy stuff shouldn't be stopped. Because it should. I just think people, the US and everybody else, shouldn't just charge in there, without finding out if there's some way other than shooting up the Somalian coast or something like that, where, if there really is a problem with fisheries being disrupted and the like, things can be changed for the better. And then prosecute the pirates if all they're doing is thuggery(and some of them do sound fairly thuggish). As I said, at least part of the problem is, there's no effective government in Somalia in the first place.
Anne G

Anne Gilbert said...

Just as an addendum to my previous comment, I think this article from the Beeb might be of interest:

It has lots of details about the conditions that have, apparently, precipitated this piracy epidemic in Somalia.
Anne G