Letters to the Editor

Piracy Analysis ‘Ridiculous’

Matthew Davidson’s flattering and uncritical analysis of pirate activity off the coast of Somali is ridiculous in the extreme (“Power to the Pirates,” Nov. 25). The hijacking of the Sirius Star represents a new low in political and material security in the waters of East Africa. We should remember that these pirates are not the noble outlaws of Robin Hood. It is inspiring to imagine plucky and resourceful pirates battling the “global military-industrial empire” to improve the lives of ordinary Somalis.

Unfortunately nothing could be further from reality. Somali pirates represent the violent warlords who have torn that country apart for decades. Ransoms fund continued violence and insurrection against the legitimate government in Mogadishu and Baidoa. They enrich the worst actors in the Somali conflict and drive more and more young men into a cycle of violence.

Even worse than warlords, Somali piracy is becoming source of funding for al Qaeda through its allies in the al Shabab militia. Fighters from the al Shabab have declared their intention to capture the Sirius Star and its oil cargo worth $100 million. I shudder to think how much terrorism could be funded with the ransom from a cargo that size. Increased terrorism in East Africa could destabilize the fragile government in Kenya, expand the conflict with Ethiopia, or reignite smoldering tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The bottom line is that piracy fuels the violence that turned Somali into a failed state and threatens to ignite a larger conflagration that could spread across all of East Africa.

Davidson is right to point out that the outside world deserved some blame for the dire situation in Somalia. Somalia represents a particularly glaring failure of American policy and political grit at the UN and the African Union. However, none of that justifies warlords, militant Islamists, or terrorism. Most of the violence tied to pirate activity is directed against the Somali people, not against outside aggressors. As much as we should be ashamed that the world has not succeeded in rebuilding Somalia it is inexcusable to apologize for violence inflicted by Somalis on themselves and others.

It is also ridiculous to blame the Saudis or the crew of the Sirius Star for the ship’s hijacking. It would have been prudent to equip the vessel with more defensive measures, and it is likely that future vessels will be prepared. That said, I can’t imagine anyone arguing in court that the victim of a mugging is responsible because they didn’t carry a gun. As for the crew standing up to the pirates, I’d like to see Davidson pick up one of the RPGs that he thinks they should carried and use it against heavily armed pirates. Sailors aren’t trained or equipped for that sort of violence and the crew probably made a very rational choice to surrender.

Unlike Davidson I am saddened every time I hear of pirates capturing vessels, even those carrying Saudi oil (incidentally Sirius Star was bound for the United States, so it’s our crude). Piracy in Somalia is a product of past exploitation by outside powers, failure of the Somalis to rebuild their country, and a failure of the rest of the world to help them do so.

We should react as best we can by trying to fix our past mistakes. The Somali government needs much greater outside support, starting with the African Union and the United Nations fulfilling their promise to send peacekeepers. There is a long history of failure in Somalia that needs to be reversed. We have a lot of work to do.