Commenting briefly on the resolution of Somali pirate-hostage episode over the weekend, President Obama expressed relief at the rescue of Captain Richard Philips by a Navy SEAL team, noting that “his safety has been our principal concern” throughout the crisis. Obama also stated that “we are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region.”
Conservatives had clearly been gearing up to exploit the situation as an argument about Obama’s “weakness” in the face of provocation. Upon the news of the hijacking last week, National Review’s Andy McCarthy tauntingly asked “what our new commander-in-chief proposes to do about it.”
Writing in the Weekly Standard, Seth Cropsey kept things nice and predictable by advocating “taking the fight to the pirates,” i.e. an overly militaristic response, and wondering whether the president had the guts to follow through.
Drawing a tenuous parallel between piracy and legal threats against Bush administration officials for war crimes, the Wall Street Journal fret-itorialized “if the U.S. government won’t protect American citizens from the legal anarchy of postmodern Europe, how can we expect it to protect American sailors from the premodern anarchy of Somalia”?
As it was, President Obama — while clearly mindful of the larger implications of piracy for U.S. interests — made the life of the American hostage, and not the maintenance of perceptions of American strength, the immediate objective of the operation. With the captain’s life in apparent jeopardy, deadly force was authorized and used effectively, and the situation was brought to a satisfactory conclusion with a welcome lack of bluster that would have been unimaginable under the previous administration. After having cued up their outrage for Obama’s expected failure, conservatives are now strangely silent in the face of his actual success.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that even the smartest, most effective response can have troubling unintended outcomes. Earlier today, Somali insurgents fired mortars toward New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne’s plane as it took off from the Somali capital Mogadishu. Payne, who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, had met with the Somali president and prime minister to discuss “piracy, security and cooperation between Somalia and the United States.” It’s unclear whether the mortar attack was intended specifically as a response to the shooting of the pirates, but it does bring home the fact that in Somalia, as in Afghanistan, security threats are generated by a lack of governance, a larger and more complex problem that cannot simply be solved by resolute shows of force, regardless of how such shows get conservative tails wagging. As Somali government spokesman Abdi Haji Gobdoon told the Christian Science Monitor, concerned nations “send ships but we need stability on land.”