Friday, November 28, 2008

What Would Jefferson Do?

Today the world is faced with piracy on the high seas. Sea-borne Somali brigands are capturing ships not only off the coast of Somalia, but in the Gulf of Aden and in the open waters of the Indian Ocean, holding the ships and crews for ransom. At least one major shipping firm is avoiding the area altogether, choosing to take the longer (and more expensive) route around the southern tip of Africa. Currently, the navies of several nations are patrolling the seas off East Africa, but the area is large and hard to police effectively.

What would U.S. President Thomas Jefferson do if he were in office today? What did he do two hundred years ago? Pirates from the north coast of Africa (the Barbary States) held maritime commerce in the Mediterranean hostage. They seized ships, claiming the ships and their cargo, holding the crew for ransom or selling them into slavery. Several European nations paid tribute to the Barbary States to exempt their ships from pillage. Even the United States paid tribute for a time. But after a while, Americans said, "That is enough." The cry arose, "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."

Thomas Jefferson was president at the time. He and the U.S. Congress declared war on the Barbary states. We fought two wars in the Mediterranean. Port cities of North Africa were captured, including Tripoli, and the piracy was brought to an end.

I believe that if Jefferson were in office today, he would take decisive action. He would take the battle to the home ports of the pirates. One proposal for today would be to work together with the other nations patrolling the waters off Somalia to neutralize the home ports of the pirates. One way would be to divide the targets. Have the U.S. Navy take one, the Russian Navy another, the Indian Navy a third, and so on until all are covered.

Why not do this unilaterally? This is an international problem. The pirates are indiscriminate as to the nationalities of the crew members and the ships’ ownership, registration, cargo, origin and destination. It needs to be made clear that the world as a whole is taking action. The accounts of the Barbary Coast piracy point out that the pirate regimes played off the European powers against each other. Dividing up target pirate ports is preferred for three reasons:
-(1) It reduces friction and difficulties in coordination among the allies.
-(2) It reduces the time needed to execute the plan, also facilitating the element of surprise. The assembling of multinational squadrons would tend to give away the intent.
-(3) Each power is responsible for its own objective, and can therefore take credit for it.

What about the hostage crews? Just pay ransom for all and get them back. As soon as they are safely out of the way, move in. If done quickly enough, most of the ransom money can be recovered.

What do you think?

PS: A "Crisco" version of this was published in the Times-Reporter of Dover/New Philadelphia, OH, on 12/02/2008 <>.

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