In case you haven't heard, the Somali pirates have netted a big catch:
Pirates who seized a Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million in crude oil anchored the ship within sight of impoverished Somali fishing villages Tuesday....
NATO said it would not divert any of its three warships from the Gulf of Aden and the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet also said it did not expect to send ships to try to intercept the MV Sirius Star.
Bill Handel's radio show devoted some time to the story this morning, and to the story of Somali pirates in general. Despite the Disney theme music used before and after the segment, Handel took care to note that these pirates are different than the older variety. The Wall Street Journal also noted these differences:
Highly organized seaborne gangs, boarding huge ships by flinging grappling hooks from tiny, high-speed motor boats, have significantly stepped up attacks against merchant shipping along the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden in recent months. The surge has turned the area into one of the most dangerous passages in the world for sea captains.
Dozens of ships have been attacked, and Handel speculated that this will be a major problem for incoming President Barack Obama.
But Obama won't be the first President to deal with pirates. Thomas Jefferson was dealing with pirates from another part of Africa two centuries ago. Actually, he was dealing with this before he became President.
One immediate effect of the American Revolution...was to strengthen the hand of those very same North African potentates: roughly speaking, the Maghrebian provinces of the Ottoman Empire that conform to today’s Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia. Deprived of Royal Navy protection, American shipping became even more subject than before to the depredations of those who controlled the Strait of Gibraltar. The infant United States had therefore to decide not just upon a question of national honor but upon whether it would stand or fall by free navigation of the seas....
[O]ne cannot get around what Jefferson heard when he went with John Adams to wait upon Tripoli’s ambassador to London in March 1785. When they inquired by what right the Barbary states preyed upon American shipping, enslaving both crews and passengers, America’s two foremost envoys were informed that “it was written in the Koran, that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find and to make Slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.” (It is worth noting that the United States played no part in the Crusades, or in the Catholic reconquista of Andalusia.)
So Jefferson and Adams, neither of whom were any huge fans of orthodox Christianity, were face-to-face with radical Islam, centuries before Osama bin Laden was born. Needless to say, both these envoys eventually secured higher positions in the new American government, but they followed different policies - at least initially.
There were many Americans—John Adams among them—who made the case that it was better policy to pay the tribute. It was cheaper than the loss of trade, for one thing, and a battle against the pirates would be “too rugged for our people to bear.” Putting the matter starkly, Adams said: “We ought not to fight them at all unless we determine to fight them forever.”
The cruelty, exorbitance, and intransigence of the Barbary states, however, would decide things. The level of tribute demanded began to reach 10 percent of the American national budget, with no guarantee that greed would not increase that percentage, while from the dungeons of Algiers and Tripoli came appalling reports of the mistreatment of captured men and women. Gradually, and to the accompaniment of some of the worst patriotic verse ever written, public opinion began to harden in favor of war. From Jefferson’s perspective, it was a good thing that this mood shift took place during the Adams administration, when he was out of office and temporarily “retired” to Monticello. He could thus criticize federal centralization of power, from a distance, even as he watched the construction of a fleet—and the forging of a permanent Marine Corps—that he could one day use for his own ends.
When Jefferson came into office, he did the thing that Ron Paul hated - declared war without authorization from Congress.
Jefferson had long sought a pretext for war. His problem was his own party and the clause in the Constitution that gave Congress the power to declare war. With not atypical subtlety, Jefferson took a shortcut through this thicket in 1801 and sent the navy to North Africa on patrol, as it were, with instructions to enforce existing treaties and punish infractions of them. Our third president did not inform Congress of his authorization of this mission until the fleet was too far away to recall.
So I guess you can say that Thomas Jefferson was the George W. Bush of his day. (Don't forget the Louisiana Purchase.) And, if you're pooh-poohing my idea of Thomas Dubya Jefferson, think about how Jefferson agents implemented regime change:
Watching all this with a jaundiced eye was the American consul in Tunis, William Eaton. For him, behavior modification was not a sufficient policy; regime change was needed. And he had a candidate. On acceding to the throne in Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli had secured his position by murdering one brother and exiling another. Eaton befriended this exiled brother, Hamid, and argued that he should become the American nominee for Tripoli’s crown. This proposal wasn’t received with enthusiasm in Washington, but Eaton pursued it with commendable zeal.
Well, sort of commendable.
He exhibited the downside that often goes with such quixotic bravery: railing against treasury secretary Albert Gallatin as a “cowardly Jew,” for example, and alluding to President Jefferson with contempt. He ended up a supporter of Aaron Burr’s freebooting secessionist conspiracy.
In the end, the Barbary States agreed to terms without going through regime change. However, here the parallels between the 19th and 21st centuries end, because in Somalia, there is no regime to change. Here's what the CIA says:
After the regime's collapse early in 1991, Somalia descended into turmoil, factional fighting, and anarchy. In May 1991, northern clans declared an independent Republic of Somaliland that now includes the administrative regions of Awdal, Woqooyi Galbeed, Togdheer, Sanaag, and Sool. Although not recognized by any government, this entity has maintained a stable existence and continues efforts to establish a constitutional democracy, including holding municipal, parliamentary, and presidential elections. The regions of Bari, Nugaal, and northern Mudug comprise a neighboring self-declared autonomous state of Puntland, which has been self-governing since 1998 but does not aim at independence; it has also made strides toward reconstructing a legitimate, representative government but has suffered some civil strife....
A two-year peace process, led by the Government of Kenya under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), concluded in October 2004 with the election of Abdullahi YUSUF Ahmed as President of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia and the formation of an interim government, known as the Somalia Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs). The Somalia TFIs include a 275-member parliamentary body, known as the Transitional Federal Assembly (TFA), a transitional Prime Minister, Nur "Adde" Hassan HUSSEIN, and a 90-member cabinet. The TFIs are based on the Transitional Federal Charter, which outlines a five-year mandate leading to the establishment of a new Somali constitution and a transition to a representative government following national elections. While its institutions remain weak, the TFG continues to reach out to Somali stakeholders and work with international donors to help build the governance capacity of the TFIs and work towards national elections in 2009.
Well, that sounds encouraging.
In June 2006, a loose coalition of clerics, business leaders, and Islamic court militias known as the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC) defeated powerful Mogadishu warlords and took control of the capital.
And this story just ran a couple of days ago:
The Somali government is close to collapse because disputes within its ranks have allowed armed Islamic insurgents to take control of much of the country, the president said.
President Abdullahi Yusuf's remarks to about 100 Somali lawmakers in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, late Saturday represent the first admission by any official that the government is losing control.
Hint: when the Somali lawmakers are meeting in Kenya, the situation probably isn't that good. Well, at least for the Somali lawmakers. It's good for the pirates:
According to residents in the Somali region of Puntland where most of the pirates come from, they live a lavish life....
"They have money; they have power and they are getting stronger by the day," says Abdi Farah Juha who lives in the regional capital, Garowe.
"They wed the most beautiful girls; they are building big houses; they have new cars; new guns," he says.
"Piracy in many ways is socially acceptable. They have become fashionable."
Most of them are aged between 20 and 35 years - in it for the money.
You know the world is weird when Thomas Jefferson becomes George W. Bush and pirates become Snoop Dogg.
(And yes, I'm freaking out about country Snoop.)
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
In case you haven't heard, the Somali pirates have netted a big catch: