Fiddling While It Burns

Somalia: Quixotic defiance by those the world betrayed | 15/04/2009


Very lucky Somali pirates are taken alive by French Commandos. Photo: ECPAD / French Ministry of Defence / AP by way of Time

I have to admit, a big part of me is vulnerable to super-awesome SF gun-slinging. This inner ten-year-old is thrilled when French Commandos storm a yacht and release the prisoners, or Navy SEALS use simultaneous sniper shots to take out three pirates at once.

There’s a lot of people around who let this sort of thinking colour their adult perspectives. They buy into cruise missile diplomacy, where all problems can be solved with an air strike or some gunmen in the right place. It doesn’t work, of course, but it can give politicians a poll bump, or dominate a news cycle just long enough – and it made for some of the best episodes of The West Wing.

Forces deployed to assist in hunting pirates. Not pictured: the Team America theme playing endlessly in everyone's heads. Photo: Reuters / Time.

Forces deployed to assist in hunting pirates. Not pictured: the Team America theme playing endlessly in everyone's heads. Photo: Reuters / Time.

This sort of thinking can easily get out of hand when it comes something like the piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Take them out! Let’s roll! And so far, the “solutions” have been along those lines, send more ships to patrol, use hostage rescue tactics. The problem is, however dangerous you make piracy, it will never get as dangerous as… being from Somalia.

The whole thing almost bears a Marxist interpretation. The impoverished people of Africa, living next to a shipping route through which flows much of the world’s wealth, rise up to seize the means of production. And then ransom it back, but no application of Marx to the real world has actually worked since Marx himself.

Somalia is a disaster of Clinton’s cowardice. After the events chronicled in the film Black Hawk Down (every inner ten-year-old’s favourite), Clinton took the most politically expedient route and quit immediately. For over a decade, no further serious attempts were made to fix the place, until Ethiopian troops advised by US Special Forces invaded to “aid” the Somali “government”.

The wrong lesson was learnt from September 11. The real lesson is that the world is a single interdependent organism in which the nation-state is an entirely unsuitable model for governing. If you allow Afghanistan to become hell on earth because you’re not Afghani, eventually hell boils out and affects rich white people. Sadly, the lesson world governments learned is that they should use violence against potential threats to rich white people, wherever they can be found.

Still, in the remarkable lack of triumphalism in the Obama administration, I see real hope. From Time:

The celebrating over Sunday’s daring rescue of Richard Phillips, the ship captain held hostage by Somali pirates, didn’t last too long at the Pentagon.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged on Monday that rescuing hostages — in this case, Navy snipers took out Phillips’ three captors — is only a stopgap way of dealing with the pirates now sailing the Gulf of Aden. “There is no purely military solution to it,” Gates told an audience of the Marine Corps War College in Quantico, Va. “It is a serious international problem, and it’s probably going to get worse.”
Gates made it clear that the real solution isn’t on the high seas. Instead, it’s back along the Somali coast in the impoverished villages and towns that the pirates call home. “As long as you’ve got this incredible number of poor people and the risks are relatively small,” he said, “there’s really no way in my view to control it unless you get something on land that begins to change the equation for these kids.”

Is he suggesting that there is some sort of context outside of right-and-wrong to the pirates’ actions??? Sometimes it seems like an Obama presidency is barely better than a Bush presidency. But that is really, really untrue.


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