Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The case of the Somali pirates and the media's sudden awareness that piracy is a growing international issue has been interesting to watch. The general rise in piracy has been a story that bubbled up here and there for some months now. The dramatic capture of the oil tanker by pirates has pushed the story to the fore of the cable news cycle. For the most part I've read and seen very little analysis of the situation that has really grabbed me, it has seemed to be entirely devoid of the context of history and the role of piracy across the centuries.

The U.S. battled with the Barbary Pirates in the early years of the Republic, it was a situation that exploded into a crisis on Thomas Jefferson's first day in office in 1801. Jefferson was forced to raise a United States Navy for the first time. The Battle of Tripoli is forever recalled in the United States Marine Corps hymn.

There's a long history outside of just our own involving piracy, it's ebbs and flows as a tactic and what those ebbs and flows tell us about the relative state of the world super power at the time; as great empires decline piracy rises as the declining power ceases to guarantee the safety of world shipping.

Today Andrew Sullivan points us to a rather interesting defense of the pirates. It's the first really interesting analysis I've read of the entire situation as it approaches piracy from a RealPolitik view point - namely that the pirates doing us more good than harm.

There are very few people dying from [Somali] piracy. The areas that are being governed by the pirate companies are functioning and less violent than areas where piracy does not exist, indeed pirate cities are thriving. The pirates are not only commercial in nature, but they are enemies of the Islamic extremists that represent the enemy of the United States. It sounds crazy to say, but the pirates are essentially the secular, liberal capitalists of Somalia, and the United States would prefer to deal WITH not AGAINST those types of people. Know your history, the Europeans preferred dealing with the Brashaws of the Barbary states than the alternative, the Islamic militant armies. We are essentially allowing the pirates to build themselves as regional Brashaws of Somalia with the ransom money from piracy, while the Islamists who remain violent are struggling for funding.

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