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The lifeboat during the siege, while four pirates held sea captain Richard Phillips (AP phnoto/US Navy)

‘Obama may have shut up his critics…for the moment’

COMMENTARY | April 13, 2009

International reaction to the rescue of an American sea captain from pirates is favorable toward Obama but with a concern that piracy will continue and become more bloody in the future.

By Lauren Drablier

PARIS—Here is some of the early reaction in the international press to the April 12th rescue of American sea captain Richard Phillips from the grasp of pirates in the Indian Ocean.

A columnist in the UK’s Times Online reports that “By authorising the use of military force for the first time outside the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan that he inherited, President Obama may hope that he has shut some of his critics up. For the moment, at least.”  The Times also believes that:

“Mr Obama is determined that the international community recognizes its responsibility to share America’s burden on this and a host of other challenges including, most notably, Afghanistan. He is also keen that his own language should not escalate a situation as his predecessor so often did. Mr Obama’s message is that pirates are criminals, not “terrorists”, and that two wars are quite sufficient.”

Radio Netherlands  reports that “until now, piracy in Somali waters has passed off largely without bloodshed,” and the killing of three of the four pirates who held Phillips could mark a changing point in the pirates’ strategy.  Al Jazeera cites a Somali pirate chief who vows to “target Americans in revenge for the death of three pirates killed…”  The chief, Abdi Garad was quoted as saying, “The American liars have killed our friends after they agreed to free the hostage without ransom…"

The UK’s Financial Times states “In what was a classic asymmetrical standoff, the US Navy had been reluctant to use its overwhelming firepower to overpower the pirates because of concerns about endangering Mr Phillips.”  The rescue, however, “marked a success for Mr Obama who was facing one of the first security crises of his three-month presidency.”

China’s Xinhua believes “The attack shows the patrols by warships have not been an effective deterrent measure in the war on piracy since the bandits are determined to make money at whatever cost.”

(Click here for a Reuters story on the rescue and its aftermath.)

Posted by Don Capps
04/15/2009, 07:08 AM

I am inclined to think that there is little, if anything, that President Obama can or could ever do that would silenece certain of his critics given the generally toxic atmosphere that ssems to pass for the American political environment in the USA at the moment.

Now that the US had to escalate the use of force to the level necessary to prevent the probable death of the American captain who was kidnapped, the critics will now begin to blame the president for the increased number of high-jackings in the seas off Somalia.

One aspect of the situation in those stormy seas off the Horn of Africa is that there is not much in the way of an "easy" solution to the situation. As with much in the world, the origins of the piracy are generally overlooked or ignored, which means that often the "solution" being employed may have a minimal level of impact since the roots of the cause of the piracy are not addressed. On the other hand, there is also the issue that the problem has moved on from the roots and morphed into something else entirely.

At some point in the not too distant future, Western Europe and the US will have to begin moving towards some sort of policy or strategy to effectively engage at least this part of Africa and being to mitigate the conditions creating a breeding ground for piracy and near-endemic violence. I am honest enough to admit that I am not sure what would work at this point, but piracy is a symptom and not the disease.

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